Sarah Brightman pulls out of her flight to ISS later this year

Citing family issues, Sarah Brightman has suddenly canceled her plans to fly to ISS later this year as a space tourist.

All the press announcements of this decision emphasize that she was doing quite well in the training program, but one wonders. There had been rumors of being replaced in recent weeks, and the “family issues” cited in today’s announcement could be a cover for anything.

Either way, this is unfortunate, because her flight would have been quite entertaining and would have done a great deal to promote the space tourism industry.

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What caused the failed separation of the Soyuz and Progress?

A good translation of this week’s press release from the investigation into the April 28 Progress failure indicates that the failure occurred because of an abnormal separation of the freighter from the upper stage.

After reviewing all the materials, members of the State Commission came to a preliminary conclusion that a version of the abnormal separation had been objectively confirmed, which includes two subsequent events related to the depressurization (disintegration after the cutoff of the third-stage engine) first of the oxidizer tank and then of the fuel tank, Roskosmos said.

In other words, the separation was so abnormal it put both the freighter and the upper stages in the wrong orbits, with the Progress tumbling and damaged, and with the upper stage almost immediately disintegrating.

They are now studying the data to try to figure out what caused the bad separation so they can inspect other Soyuz upper stages for the same problem and fix them before launch.

New Horizons spots all of Pluto’s 5 known moons

New Horizons has now been able to image all of Pluto’s known moons.

Pluto’s five known satellites are Charon, Hydra, Nix, Kerberos and Styx. At 648 miles (1,043 km) in diameter, Charon is nearly half as wide as Pluto itself, but the other four moons are minuscule. Kerberos and Styx, for example, are thought to be just 4 to 13 miles (7 to 21 km) and 6 to 20 miles (10 to 32 km) wide, respectively.

That the spacecraft has been able to spot them all this soon bodes well for what it will see when if flies past Pluto in July.

NASA announces bold plan to still exist by 2045

Heh.

“It may seem impossible now, but we hope to realize the vision of establishing a human presence in NASA deeper into the century than ever before imagined,” Bolden added.

When questioned about the plan’s viability, Bolden told reporters that while certain doubts remain, the project was nonetheless an absolutely crucial undertaking for NASA. Bolden further emphasized that the Fortuna Program’s goal was technically achievable on paper, and could feasibly be accomplished in a real-world scenario so long as everything “goes perfectly” for the space agency.

“The first critical step toward reaching our goal is to still be here by the year 2020,” said Bolden, adding that the plan allowed absolutely no room for error. “From there, we will move on to the next phase of the mission, which is to implement an intensive 10-year plan to remain operational. If we meet that goal in 2030, then there’s no reason to believe NASA won’t make it to 2045.”

Read it all. As far as I can tell, there really hasn’t been much difference between NASA’s past two decades and what this Onion piece proposes for NASA’s next three decades.

In fact, after you read the Onion piece above, then read this Orbital ATK press release about the successful results from the solid rocket booster test firing in March. As successful and as legitimate as the engineering was for the booster test, why does the press release sound so much like the Onion article?

Russians confirm flip of Progress and Soyuz launches

It’s official: The launch of the next crew to ISS will be delayed until late July to allow both a Progress freighter to launch first as well as give investigators more time to figure out what went wrong with the Soyuz upper stage during last month’s Progress launch.

In addition, the crew that had been slated to return to Earth this week will remain on board for another month to reduce the amount of time the station is manned with only 3 astronauts.

It appears that investigation is zeroing in on the upper stage of the Soyuz rocket, whose tanks apparently depressurized prematurely, causing the freighter to separate early and end up in an incorrect orbit.

Is the dark material along Europa’s long surface fissures sea salt?

The uncertainty of science: By creating what they call “Europa in a can” here on Earth, scientists have determined that the dark material that appears to have seeped out of Europa’s long linear fractures might be sea salt from the underground ocean, turned brown by the harsh radiation hitting the moon’s surface.

This result is quite intriguing, but the only thing certain about it is its uncertainty. The only way we will know what this brown material really is will be to go there again with much better equipment and study the material itself

Prototype variable star has a previously unknown companion

The uncertainty of science: The star that gave its name to the class of variable stars called Cepheid variables — used by astronomers to measure distances to nearby galaxies — has after more than 200 years of study been suddenly found to be a binary system.

Delta Cephei, prototype of the cepheids, which has given its name to all similar variable stars, was discovered 230 years ago by the English astronomer John Goodricke. Since the early 20th century, scientists have been interested in measuring cosmic distances using a relationship between these stars’ periods of pulsation and their luminosities (intrinsic brightness), discovered by the American Henrietta Leavitt. Today, researchers from the Astronomical Observatory of UNIGE, Johns Hopkins University and the ESA show that Delta Cephei is, in fact, a double star, made up of a cepheid-type variable star and a companion that had thus far escaped detection, probably because of its low luminosity. Yet, pairs of stars, called binaries, complicate the calibration of the period-luminosity relationship, and can bias the measurement of distances. This is a surprising discovery, since Delta Cephei is one of the most studied stars, of which scientists thought they knew almost everything. [emphasis mine]

This discovery illustrates the shaky foundation of a great deal of astronomical research. The presence of a companion is an additional variable that could very significantly skew the relationship between the stars’ pulses and its luminosity, thus making the use of this data to determine distance much less reliable. This in turn could have a significant effect on the present estimate of the expansion rate of the universe, which in turn could have a significant effect on the theories of dark energy. Moreover, if the past distance estimates to many objects are wrong than what we know about those objects is far less certain.

Ted Cruz’s finest moment

As Rothman correctly notes at the link, “This is how well-adjusted citizens who do not have a vested interest in destroying another’s prospects behave.”

Read it. It describes how Cruz could have used the crude behavior of a reporter to pump up the modern political outrage machine, this time from the right. Instead he shrugged his shoulders and told everyone this wasn’t something mature people waste time on.

If only more politicians and pundits, on both the right and left, took this attitude. I read these stories and their effort to produce outrage theater by partisan hacks on both sides of the political spectrum, and all I ever think is, “Boy, what a bunch of childish brats. Why do I waste my time reading this stuff?”

This doesn’t mean I don’t use the information. In the future, any story by the reporter in question, as well as the news organization that still employs him, will be instantly dismissed by me as a poor source of information, and not worth reading. I just don’t plan on obsessing on the whole sad tale for very long.

Speak free or die

The rage builds:

Oh, you came so close. For so long, we wrongly imagined that your lies about racism, sexism, Islamophobia, and all the rest were just part of some big misunderstanding. Sure, we knew you were wrong, that we were being falsely accused, but we thought you were at least sincere, if misguided. Except now the mask is off.

Racism? You don’t care. Ask Clarence Thomas about your love of minorities who don’t toe your line.

Sexism? You don’t care. Ask any of Bill Clinton’s victims, who you eagerly sacrificed to save your progressive knight.

Homophobia? Poverty? Corporate abuses? Civil rights? You care nothing about any of them. You leftists just want control. You trash gays who get between you and power, and ignore the gays being murdered in the Middle East because that oppression isn’t useful to you. You keep the poor poor and addicted to your paltry handouts so you can maintain a docile voting bloc. Corporate abuses are terrible right up until the big companies start paying off your candidates. And civil rights? Gimme a break. The First Amendment stopped being useful back in January 2009, so now you’re eager to drown it like Mary Jo Kopechne.

We’re done. You fascists, whether Islamo- or liberal, want to shut us up? Then you better be ready to rumble, because submission isn’t one of the options. We will speak free or die.

Read it all. It illustrates how alike the Islamic fanatics and the liberal fascists have become. There really is no difference, and if freedom-loving Americans bow to either or both they will then turn on themselves in a new war of hate.

Construction at SpaceX’s new spaceport about to begin

The competition heats up: SpaceX has begun prepping the construction sites at its private spaceport in Brownsville, Texas.

The county has begun work on a road to where the spaceport command center will be, and SpaceX has established its construction headquarters in a double-wide trailer there. It is expected that actual construction of the command center will begin in August, with the launchpad construction to follow.

The expected cost for building the entire spaceport: $100 million. Compare that to the billions the Russians are spending for Vostochny, or the billions that NASA spends on comparable facilities.

Sunset on Mars

sunset on Mars

Cool image time! The image above is not a sunset over the Blue Ridge Mountains of Tennessee. It is a beautiful blue sunset on Mars, taken by Curiosity from Gale Crater.

The image is the first sunset imaged by Curiosity in color, and is calibrated to match what the human eye would see.

Meanwhile, the rover’s journey continues, with a slight detour to check out an interesting hillside.

New images of Dawn’s double bright spot

The double spot on Ceres

Cool image time! Dawn has released a new animation made from images taken in early May, showing more details of the dwarf planet’s double bright spot.

As they note at the link, the double spot is now “revealed to be composed of many smaller spots.” As they also add, “Their exact nature remains unknown.”

Dawn’s engineers are now beginning to ease the spacecraft down to its survey orbit, about 2,700 miles above the surface.

The Americanization of Emily – “War is not moral”

An evening pause: A fine performance by James Garner from a Paddy Chayefski screenplay. While I agree that putting soldiers on pedestals is often a misplaced emotion that can lead to future unnecessary wars, I do not agree that all war is immoral. There are times, as a last resort, when good people have to stand up and fight, if only to prevent bad people from dominating the battlefield. In 1964, when The Americanization of Emily was released, Americans could be forgiven for being hostile to war. After World War II the country had gotten itself into a string of wars, the goals of all having been poorly considered. It was also a time when evil people were well restrained by our willingness to stand up to them.

Today, our fear and hostility to war is allowing evil to run rampant worldwide. It will very soon descend upon our heads if we do not begin to fight back.

Having said that, this is a fine and thoughtful scene from a fine and thoughtful movie, raising many profound thoughts about the nature and consequences of war. Hat tip to Phil Berardelli, author of Phil’s Favorite 500: Loves of a Moviegoing Lifetime.

The liberal bias of pollsters

In a strained attempt to explain the failure of pollsters to predict the election results yesterday in Great Britain, pollsters and pundits seem unable to see the elephant in the room that explains their problems.

And what is that elephant? Take a look at this list of bad polling predictions provided by Nate Silver, the mainstream media’s big polling guru because he correctly predicted both Obama victories:

  • The final polls showed a close result in the Scottish independence referendum, with the “no” side projected to win by just 2 to 3 percentage points. In fact, “no” won by almost 11 percentage points.
  • Although polls correctly implied that Republicans were favored to win the Senate in the 2014 U.S. midterms, they nevertheless significantlyunderestimated the GOP’s performance. Republicans’ margins over Democrats were about 4 points better than the polls in the average Senate race.
  • Pre-election polls badly underestimated Likud’s performance in the Israeli legislative elections earlier this year, projecting the party to about 22 seats in the Knesset when it in fact won 30. (Exit polls on election night weren’t very good either.)

Does anyone notice a trend? I could also reference other elections that pollsters badly predicted, such as the Sandinista defeat in Nicaragua in 1994, the Republican victory in 1994, Bush’s victory over Kerry in 2004 and practically every vote for or against the European Union. And there are others. For a bunch of so-called intellectuals who claim to be experts in predicting human behavior, they seem very oblivious to the obvious.
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Tory victory in UK even better than predicted just yesterday

The final tallies of the election in Great Britain have given the conservatives an outright majority.

They don’t have to form a coalition with anyone to form a government. Moreover, this is after months of listening to pollsters and pundits insisting they would at best achieve a tie with the left, and most likely get kicked out of office.

Read it all. The results strongly suggest that, except for the separatist movement in Scotland, conservatives rule Britannia.

Obama administration admits it defied a judge’s injunction

The law is such an inconvenient thing: Lawyers for the Obama administration admitted yesterday that Homeland Security had continued to issue work permits to illegal aliens even after a judge’s injunction had specifically ordered them to stop.

The Justice Department lawyers said Homeland Security, which is the defendant in the case, told them Wednesday that an immigration agency had approved about 2,000 applications for three-year work permits, which was part of Mr. Obama’s new amnesty, even after Judge Hanen issued his Feb. 16 injunction halting the entire program.

Top Obama officials, including Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, had repeatedly assured Congress they had fully halted the program and were complying with the order.

The judge has been considering sanctions against the lawyers for previously misleading them on a related matter. To my mind, he is being remarkably kind. The Obama administrations actions here are a direct violation of the law. He is within his rights to charge these lawyers and a number of high officials in Homeland Security with contempt, and have them serve time in prison.

In fact, this contempt for the law by the Obama administration is not going to stop until someone is put into jail for a bit. That would make a lot of people think twice before they followed orders from above that were blatantly illegal, as these orders clearly were.

XCOR progress report in construction of Lynx

The competition heats up: In a press release today XCOR announced new progress in the assembly of its Lynx suborbital space plane.

They revealed that they have “bonded the XCOR Lynx Mark I strakes to the Lynx spacecraft fuselage.”

To be honest, my impression of the work at XCOR from the photo at the link is that of one or two guys working in their spare time in their garage on restoring a classic car. Though I wish them well, the progress seems very slow, and piecemeal. In fact, it reminds me much of Richard Branson’s many false promises at Virgin Galactic. For example, back in 2012 XCOR announced a test flight schedule for 2013. None of those flights ever happened. Then in 2014 they said they hoped to begin flight tests before the end of that year. Again, nothing happened.

At least with this most recent release they aren’t saying when they plan to fly, since from the picture it appears they are quite a long ways from doing so. It is far better to make real promises that false ones, and XCOR might have learned that lesson watching the public relations problems Richard Branson has had in recent years.

Even so, I have been consistently very skeptical of this project. In fact, back in October 2013, in describing the effort of Blue Origin in the suborbital tourism trade, I predicted the following:

That the present ship [Blue Origin’s New Shepard] is being designed for suborbital tourist flights makes it a direct competitor of Virgin Galactic and XCOR. And considering the problems that Virgin Galactic has with SpaceShipTwo [written one year before its crash], and that XCOR doesn’t have the big bucks of Bezos, Blue Origin might actually be in the lead in the race to put the first tourists in space.

It appears now that this prediction was right on the money.

Russian sources confirm their plan to flip launches to ISS

Though not yet officially decided, managers in the Russian space agency are definitely considering switching the launch dates of the next Soyuz and Progress missions to ISS, so that the unmanned cargo flight flies first.

Both spacecraft use the Soyuz rocket, and it now appears that the cause of last week’s Progress failure was a problem in the Soyuz third stage. They want to check out all Soyuz third stages before they put any humans on one. Switching the flights gives them time to do it. It also gets needed cargo to ISS sooner.

Progress failure causes delay in next manned mission to ISS

Russian sources suggest that they will postpone the next manned mission to ISS from May 26 to June 11 as they investigate the failure of the Progress freighter last week.

This article also suggests that the Russians might flip the next Progress and Soyuz flights to have the Progress go first. (This schedule change is something I suggested might happen last week, right after the launch failure.)

Tory Party unexpectedly wins big in Great Britain

The rage builds: Conservatives in Great Britain have won a much larger victory in today’s election than polls or pundits had predicted.

The article attributes the surprisingly big win to a variety of factors. Yet, this election reminds me of the Israeli election, which the polls and pundits all said would be a tie, or go to the liberal parties. Instead, Netanyahu’s rightwing party won big.

Both elections, plus other recent elections in the U.S., suggest to me that there is a growing disconnect between the electorate and the intellectual class who makes these predictions. With such a disconnect, don’t be surprised if the candidate who wins the election in 2016 is the one who is least liked by that pundit class.

Michigan voters resoundingly reject tax increase proposed by Republicans

The rage builds: Eighty percent of Michigan voters rejected a tax increase proposed by their Republican governor and legislature and backed by a gigantic almost $10 million advertising campaign.

The colossal defeat of Prop 1 is even more intriguing since it had the backing of both the Republican and Democratic parties as well as the governor, who campaigned for it in the final weeks. With a few exceptions the mainstream news media also overwhelmingly favored the measure, with the state’s three statewide print and online news sources (Detroit Free Press, The Detroit News, MLive) all calling for a “yes” vote.

The defeat came despite the fact that a scattered opposition was massively outspent. According the most recent reports the election committee Safe Votes Yes raised $9.6 million to get the measure passed, mostly coming from road builders but also from other special interests that appeared to have no direct stake in the outcome, such as large utilities (who have separate issues of their own pending before the current Legislature).

“The distance between voters on one side and the mainstream media and political class on the other is both startling and unprecedented,” said Jack McHugh, the legislative analyst for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, in an email. “According to MIRS News the measure passed in just three communities, two of which (Ann Arbor and East Lansing) are considered by many to be elitist and disconnected from the mass of Michigan voters (Kalamazoo was the third community).”

The proposition was pushed by a Republican governor and a Republican legislature. The voters bluntly told them to go to hell. I ask: When will Republicans wake up and start doing what the voters want, rather than what they think the media, their liberal friends, and their big money backers demand? The public wants government trimmed, cut back, shrunk, and reorganized to be more efficient. They do not want more taxes, as they know that the government is already taking far more money from them than it really needs.

Elections like this tell me that the 2016 election is likely to be a shocking surprise to our society’s elite community.

Pamela Geller a non-person to the Obama FBI

Whose side is Obama on? Though ISIS has specifically put Pamela Geller on its kill list, her calls to the FBI have gone unanswered.

This story reminds me of the fake FBI investigation into the IRS scandal. Obama was outraged by the scandal and said he would hunt down the wrong-doers with every ounce of his being, but the FBI never assigned anyone to lead the investigation, and none of the conservatives who were harassed by the IRS were ever interviewed by any FBI agents.

Here, an American is threatened with death by an Islamic terrorist state, and the FBI, and the Obama administration, does nothing. As I said, whose side is Obama on?

The plans for the first Arab probe to Mars revealed

The competition heats up: The United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Thursday unveiled its plans for its first unmanned mission to Mars, dubbed al-Amal (“Hope”).

They hope to launch by 2020.

Forgive me if I am skeptical. Unlike India, which just succeeded in doing this, the UAE has no history or background in space exploration. India has been building satellites for decades. It has its own rockets. It had already launched a successful mission to the Moon. The UAE has done none of this yet. They are starting from ground zero.

Then again, one has to start somewhere.

This UAE effort illustrates again what I call the new colonial movement, where nations across the globe are increasingly pushing to participate in the exploration of space, because they realize that if they don’t, they will get left behind by their neighbors. Whether or not UAE succeeds, their decision to enter the competition proves the competition exists, and such a competition can only add energy to the effort to colonize the solar system.

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