Another reasonable look at this week’s Congressional budget deal.

Link here.

Mitchell correctly notes that this deal occurred because of the reality of divided government. While Republican leaders have often acted like weak-kneed wimps, there still remains a limit on how much they can get, not controlling two-thirds of the government. As I noted earlier in discussing the science budget, the federal budget is no longer growing uncontrollably, evidence that the voters’ wishes from 2010 and 2014 are beginning to be heeded.

Only when we have elected more conservatives will it then start to shrink.

University defunds Christian student organization because it wants to be Christian

Madness: A California university will deny funding to a Christian student organization because it requires its leaders to be Christian.

In other words, the university administration thinks it is discrimination for this Christian organization to not want Jews or Muslims in charge. Who would have thought?

Last three years the quietest for tornadoes ever

The uncertainty of science: 2014 caps the quietest three year period for tornadoes on record, and scientists really don’t understand why.

Harold Brooks, a meteorologist with the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Okla., said there’s no consistent reason for the three-year lull — the calmest stretch since a similar quiet period in the late 1980s — because weather patterns have varied significantly from year to year. While 2012 tornado activity was likely suppressed by the warm, dry conditions in the spring, 2013 was on the cool side for much of the prime storm season before cranking up briefly in late May, especially in Oklahoma, SPC meteorologist Greg Carbin said. Then, activity quickly quieted for the summer of 2013.

Global warming activists had confidently predicted that, because of global warming, we were about to see killer tornadoes of unprecedented frequency. Well, not only has the climate not warmed these past 18 years, we are seeing fewer extreme weather events.

Airbus attacked by French lawmaker for talking to SpaceX

The competition heats up: A French lawmaker lashed out at Airbus for daring to consider SpaceX as a possible launch option for a European communications satellite.

The senator, Alain Gournac, who is a veteran member of the French Parliamentary Space Group, said he had written French Economy and Industry Minister Emmanuel Macron to protest Airbus’ negotiations with Hawthorne, California-based Space Exploration Technologies Corp. for a late 2016 launch instead of contracting for a launch on a European Ariane 5 rocket. “The negotiations are all the more unacceptable given that, at the insistence of France, Europe has decided to adopt a policy of ‘European preference’ for its government launches,” Gournac said. “This is called playing against your team, and it smacks of a provocation. It’s an incredible situation that might lead customers to think we no longer have faith in Ariane 5 — and tomorrow, Ariane 6.”

Heh. SpaceX really is shaking up the launch industry, ain’t it?

A more positive conservative take on the budget deal

Link here. I think Lambo nails it. The deal might not be ideal, but it is only the beginning, and was written when Republicans only control one house of Congress, and still pushes back at many Democratic-passed initiatives.

Next year that changes. If we do not see significant cuts in the budget from Republicans when they control both houses of Congress I will then join the many conservatives who justly distrust the Republican leadership and want their heads.

No more Russian engines for ULA

The heat of competition: The new budget, passed by the House yesterday, includes a provision both banning ULA from buying any more Russian engines for its Atlas 5 rockets as well as providing $220 million to help develop a new engine.

Combined with the likely approval of SpaceX to also launch military payloads, ULA is under significant pressure to get those Russian engines replaces as quickly as possible.

Private company offers to fly packages to Moon

Fly me to the moon! A company building a small lunar rover as part of the Google Lunar X-prize competition is now offering, for a small fee, to include private packages with its lander.

Astrobotic Technology on Thursday (Dec. 11) announced the launch of its new “MoonMail” program, which offers to send heirloom rings, family photos, locks of hair and other small personal items on the company’s first private moon mission set to launch in the next few years. With prices based on the item’s size, MoonMail rates start at $460 for a half-inch wide by 0.125-inch tall (1.27 by 0.3 centimeter) capsule and increase to $25,800 for a one by two-inch (2.54 by 5.08 cm) payload. “You can think of the pricing for it to be very similar to ‘it fits, it ships’ at the post office,” John Thornton, Astrobotic CEO, told collectSPACE.com in a call with reporters. “It is essentially a flat-rate box.”

They hope to launch on a Falcon 9. More interestingly, they want to land and explore one of the Moon’s skylight caves.

The first Griffin is slated to launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and land at Lacus Mortis, or the “Lake of Death,” a plain of basaltic lava flows in the northeastern part of the moon as viewed from Earth. “There is a unique feature there called a ‘skylight,'” stated Thornton, adding that only about 300 of these sinkhole-like entrances into subsurface caves have been discovered on the moon. “What’s very unique about the skylight at Lacus Mortis is that its walls have collapsed creating a ramp into the cave. … Caves on the surface of the moon could be our natural shelter,” Thornton explained. “So our first mission goes to one of these caves where we hopefully think someday we could settle on the moon. We think it’s a fantastic location to place MoonMail, which ultimately will be a time capsule of our generation for future moon explorers.”

When did humans begin using fire?

A cave in Israel suggests that the human use of fire began around 350,000 years ago.

The researchers examined artifacts previously excavated from the site, which are mostly flint tools for cutting and scraping, and flint debris created in their manufacture. To determine when fire became a routine part of the lives of the cave dwellers, the team looked at flints from about 100 layers of sediments in the lowermost 16 meters of the cave deposits.

In layers older than roughly 350,000 years, almost none of the flints are burned. But in every layer after that, many flints show signs of exposure to fire: red or black coloration, cracking, and small round depressions where fragments known as pot lids flaked off from the stone. Wildfires are rare in caves, so the fires that burned the Tabun flints were probably controlled by ancestral humans, according to the authors. The scientists argue that the jump in the frequency of burnt flints represents the time when ancestral humans learned to control fire, either by kindling it or by keeping it burning between natural wildfires.

There are enormous uncertainties here, but the data also appears to match with what has been found in Europe. The problem however is that this date is long after humans had already migrated to colder climates, which means that they were somehow surviving for a long time in these hostile environments without fire, something that is puzzling.

NIH panel recommends cancelling multi-billion dollar study

An government advisory panel has recommended the NIH cancel a controversial nationwide study to track the health of 100,000 children.

The study has already cost one billion, has had two scientists resign because they didn’t like how the study was being run, and has as yet only enrolled 4,000 children.

Update: The NIH officially cancelled the study later the same day the panel’s report was released.

Seven surgeries made possible by 3D printing

Link here. In all but one case, 3D printing was used to replace bones of the human body with 3D produced parts. The last surgery, however, illustrated the vast potential of this technology, where engineers used it to produce a duplicate of a child’s heart so that surgeons could plan the complex surgery required to fix it.

Comet 67P/C-G in color

Comet 67P/C-G in color

You might not believe it, but the image on the right is the first color image taken by Rosetta of Comet 67P/C-G. (Click on the link to see a full image.)

To create an image revealing 67P’s “true” colours, the scientists superposed images taken sequentially through filters centred on red, green, and blue wavelengths. However, as the comet rotated and Rosetta moved during this sequence, the three images are slightly shifted with respect to each other, and are taken from slightly different observing perspectives. Painstaking work is needed to superimpose the images accurately, which is one reason it has taken so long to come up with the first meaningful colour image of 67P/C-G.

As you can see, there really isn’t much color there. Moreover, the comet is so coal-dark that they had to brighten the images to bring out any detail.

Global views of six Saturnian moons

Using images collected after ten years in orbit around Saturn, Cassini scientists have released global color maps of six of Saturn’s icy moons, Mimas, Enceladus, Tethys, Dione, Rhea and Iapetus.

These enhanced colour views have yielded several important discoveries about the icy moons. The most obvious are differences in colour and brightness between the two hemispheres of Tethys, Dione and Rhea. The dark reddish colours on the moons’ trailing hemispheres are due to alteration by charged particles and radiation in Saturn’s magnetosphere. The blander leading hemispheres, the sides that always face forward as the moons orbit Saturn, are all coated with icy dust from Saturn’s E-ring, formed from tiny particles erupting from the south pole of Enceladus.

“Why the media’s fact problems are much bigger than Rolling Stone.”

Link here.

For those who haven’t been following the story, Rolling Stone recently published an expose about a supposed gang-rape at a fraternity at the University of Virginia that they and their reporter used to illustrate the terrible rape culture of today’s universities.

The article has turned out to be largely a fabrication and has instead illustrated the terrible state of modern journalism as well as the corrupt truth-challenged intellectual elite of our society. Mollie Hemingway’s devastating analysis at the link above summarizes this situation nicely, also illustrating why much of what comes out of modern intellectual discussions today is total hogwash.

She doesn’t mention it, but I could not help thinking about global warming as well as the recent Orion test flight (“the spacecraft that will take us to Mars!”). In both cases the press has been seriously challenged to show some justifiable skepticism of official press releases and has failed miserably.

The geography of scientific plagiarism

A review of the text of hundreds of thousands of papers submitted by scientists worldwide has revealed the countries from which plagiarism is most likely.

Researchers from countries that submit the lion’s share of arXiv papers—the United States, Canada, and a small number of industrialized countries in Europe and Asia—tend to plagiarize less often than researchers elsewhere. For example, more than 20% (38 of 186) of authors who submitted papers from Bulgaria were flagged, more than eight times the proportion from New Zealand (five of 207). In Japan, about 6% (269 of 4759) of submitting authors were flagged, compared with over 15% (164 out of 1054) from Iran.

The global map illustrating this geography at the link is quite fascinating to peruse, as it generally shows the cultural roots of plagiarism. Happily, western culture does not appear to be the source.

A Russian commercial reusable space shuttle?

A news report from Russia today described a project to build a commercial and reusable space shuttle for putting tourists into space.

The company, KosmoKurs, presently has eight employees and says it will launch by 2020. However, this quote from the article illustrates the difficulties faced by any new private companies in Russia:

Russian rocket and space industry is planned to produce this space shuttle. “We will talk to the United Rocket and Space Corporation. If we find common language, we will manufacture produce jointly with them,” the KosmoKurs head said. The company also pins hopes on backing of Russian Federal Space Agency and its scientific institutes.

Since Russia has now consolidated its entire aerospace industry into one government-controlled entity called the United Rocket and Space Corporation, any new private effort needs to get the cooperation of that company as well as the agreement of the government officials who control it. Such backing is not so easy to get, especially if the new company is seen as competition and a distraction from government goals.

Comet 67P/C-G unveils a scientific surprise

Data from Rosetta of Comet 67P/C-G strongly suggests that the origin of the comets of its class come from a wide range of locations within the early solar system, and that many of these comets might not have delivered the water to Earth as previously believed.

The data also suggests that the Earth’s water came more from asteroids, not comets, something that scientists had not expected.

Solar maximum ramp down continues

The monthly update by NOAA of the solar cycle, showing the sunspot activity for the Sun in November, was released on December 8, just before NOAA completely revamped its website. As I have been doing every month for the past four years, I am posting it here, with annotations to give it context.

As noted in previous months, the 2009 prediction of the solar scientist community is looking better and better with time. Though there was an increase in sunspot activity in November, the overall trend continues downward very close to that prediction, though at levels that have generally been less than predicted.

November 2014 Solar Cycle graph

The graph above has been modified to show the predictions of the solar science community. The green curves show the community’s two original predictions from April 2007, with half the scientists predicting a very strong maximum and half predicting a weak one. The red curve is their revised May 2009 prediction.

Future updates will depend on whether NOAA continues to track sunspots using these same standards. After much searching I was finally able to locate the graph above at this link, suggesting that at least for now, they are holding to these standards. I note however that the links to the 2007 and the 2009 solar cycle predictions have vanished down the memory hole. Fortunately, I still have this data, and can continue to annotate the graphs to compare prediction with actual data.

That they might have removed these predictions from their webpage however is a shame. I have emailed them to ask them about this and will let you know what I learn.

Science spending steady in proposed Congressional budget

The proposed budget deal announced by Congress yesterday essentially leaves level the overall spending on science.

I have a spreadsheet where I track the budgets of the various science agencies in the federal government, and from this I can say that since the Republicans took control of the House in 2010 the funding has remained very steady. Despite the partisan screams from the left that Republicans are destroying science, all these science agencies have pretty much gotten stable funding in the past four years.

Nonetheless, much of this funding could be trimmed significantly, as there is enormous featherbedding and pork among these science agencies. That won’t have a chance of happening until next year, when the Republicans control both houses of Congress. Even then, Obama and much of the Republican leadership will oppose significant cuts, Obama because he wants to see increases and the Republican leadership because they wish to maintain the status quo.

The unending growth in these budgets, routine from the 1970s through the 2000s, has definitely ceased. I also expect the political pressure to cut these budgets to grow with time. The newer Republican members of Congress tend to be much more radical than their leadership, and are much more willing to slash budgets radically.

A planetary cubesat mission by Japan

When Japan launched Hayabusa-2 last week it also sent a secondary payload towards the asteroid, a cubesat designed to test the engineering of using minisats for future planetary missions.

PROCYON, which stands for PRoximate Object Close flYby with Optical Navigation, is a 65-kg (143 lb.) spacecraft designed to demonstrate that micro-satellites can be used for deep-space exploration. In addition to testing out micro-sat systems in deep space, the spacecraft is to conduct a close flyby of an asteroid. Developed by the University of Tokyo and JAXA, PROCYON was launched as a secondary payload along with Hayabusa2 on Dec. 3. JAXA reports that controllers have received confirmation that PROCYON was inserted into its planned interplanetary orbit as scheduled two hours after launch.

The spacecraft, which measures only 630 x 550 x 550 mm (24.8 x 21.65 x 21.65 in), has a mission that is divided into nominal and advanced phases.

If this engineering proves viable, which we have every reason to expect, it will open the door to many more planetary missions, costing far less and requiring much smaller rockets to launch.

Lame duck Congress agrees to $1.1 trillion budget

Faced with the threat of a government shutdown, Congress has worked out a continuing resolution that will fund the government through its fiscal year ending in September 2015.

There has been a lot of gnashing of teeth among conservatives about this deal. Many wanted the Republicans to fight harder now and limit this deal more. I am less worried. The political winds are clearly favoring conservatives and tea party ideals. Come next year Congress will be controlled by Republicans, and the 2016 budget will be shaped by their concerns. Whatever small gains the Democrats and Obama get now will be stymied then.

And then will come the 2016 elections. I expect an even greater win for conservatives, since Obama is making it clear he will continue to stand firm in support of Obamacare and many other liberal issues that have proved to be poison at the ballot box.

Jonathan Gruber grilled by Congress over Obamacare

During his testimony today at a House hearing, Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber essentially admitted that not calling the individual mandate penalties a tax was a trick by the Obama administration and the Democrats in order to get the law passed.

Below the fold I also include a video excerpt of Congressman Trey Gowdy’s questioning of Gruber today. It is high entertainment as Gowdy easily highlights the dishonesty of Gruber and the Obama administration in its writing and passing of Obamacare. However, it is important to stay with the clip to the very end, when Chairman Darrell Issa proves with one simple question how Gruber was not alone in his contempt for the American voter, and that this contempt was held by everyone at every intellectual conference Gruber attended and spoke at.

It is very important for the American public to be aware of this intellectual contempt, for it will tell them to stop listening to this intellectual elite. They are not trustworthy, and are willing to screw the general public in order to impose their will on everyone.
» Read more

Orbital Sciences to use Atlas rocket to launch next Cygnus freighter

The heat of competition: Orbital Sciences today announced that they have contracted with United Launch Alliance to use Boeing’s Atlas 5 rocket to launch their Cygnus freighter to ISS while they reconfigure the first stage of Antares so that it no longer uses old Russian engines.

NOAA admits that California drought is not man-made

A new study by NOAA scientists has confirmed that the recent severe California drought was not caused by the human-caused increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere but was instead the result of natural weather patterns.

The persistent weather pattern over the past several years has featured a warm, dry ridge of high pressure over the eastern north Pacific Ocean and western North America. Such high-pressure ridges prevent clouds from forming and precipitation from falling. The study notes that this ridge — which has resulted in decreased rain and snowfall since 2011 — is almost opposite to what computer models predict would result from human-caused climate change. [emphasis mine]

The climate models, which have all spectacularly failed to predict the lack of warming in the past 18 years, had also predicted that global warming would cause more rain in California, not less.

The article quotes both fake scientist Michael Mann and his buddy in the climategate scandal Kevin Trenberth in their effort to refute the study. They don’t provide much convincing data to explain why the models were all wrong, only loud whines about how they are right and everyone else is wrong.

Book news!

Two book items which I think my readers will be interested in:

First, my publisher of the ebook edition of Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8 has asked me to ask my readers to please post book reviews of the book on amazon.com. Presently the book has 47 reviews. If it gets three more, we will be eligible for a number of additional Kindle promotions.

So, whether you liked the book or not, please go to its webpage on amazon and give it a review. Your support will be very much appreciated.

Note also that the sale on amazon continues until the end of December. Until then, you can get the ebook edition of Genesis the Story of Apollo 8 for only $2.99!

Second, I have just published a new book, though on a topic that has nothing to do with space. Circuit Hikes of Southern Arizona was written during my spare time during the past two years while Diane and I explored the many beautiful trails out here in Tucson. Though there are many good Arizona hiking guidebooks, I noticed a lack of guidebooks describing loop trails. Since that is what we were doing anyway, I figured why not assemble my knowledge into a new guidebook and use the opportunity to learn about the modern world of both ebook and print self-publishing.

The print edition of Circuit Hikes is available directly from me here for $15, including shipping. The ebook can be purchased here (directly from me) or from amazon, barnes & noble, and all your normal ebook venders for $10.

This post will remain at the top of the webpage for the next twenty-four hours.

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