House approves Senate budget resolution repealing Obamacare

The House today approved the Senate budget resolution repealing Obamacare’s tax and spending provisions.

The House voted 227-198 Friday to approve the resolution a day after the Senate voted 51-48 to clear it. Nine conservative House Republicans voted against the measure: Justin Amash of Michigan, Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Walter Jones of North Carolina, John Katko of New York, Raul Labrador of Idaho, Tom MacArthur of New Jersey, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Tom McClintock of California.

The resolution, which is nonbinding, sets budgetary and spending levels for Obamacare. It will act as a vehicle for Republicans to craft legislation that would gut Obamacare via the reconciliation process.

What the article does not note is that the Democrats voted 100% against the bill, once again demonstrating their steadfast marriage to this disastrous law. The Republicans who voted against the bill did so because they are sincerely worried about its budgetary impact. The Democrats who voted against it did so because they have become close-minded on the issue, and will defend this law no matter how many voters they offend.

When the next election comes we should remember this and remove more of these fools from office, if only to finally get the Democratic Party to wake up and abandon this bad policy.

“We do see ourselves as preventing a peaceful transition of power.”

Fascists: The leaders of a leftwing protest group planning protests for Inauguration Day admitted during a press conference yesterday that they opposed the idea of a peaceful transition of power in the United States.

Watch the video at the link. Essentially what these leftists are arguing is that, though they agree with Trump that Washington is corrupt, they don’t like Trump himself because he isn’t them. Their solution to that corruption isn’t a peaceful election where the voters choose someone new but the violent overthrow of the government so that they can take over and rule.

NASA names acting administrator

NASA yesterday named Robert Lightfoot as the Acting NASA administrator, taking over from Charles Bolden when he leaves on January 20, 2017 at the start of the Trump administration.

Lightfoot is a former Director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, having begun his NASA career there in 1989. He transferred to NASA Headquarters in 2012 to serve as Associate Administrator, the highest ranking civil service position in the agency. It is traditional for the highest ranking NASA civil servant to take over as acting administrator during changes in presidential administrations. The Trump transition has not always followed traditional paths so today’s announcement provided some degree of reassurance. Bolden said the Trump transition team officially told NASA yesterday that Lightfoot will serve in that job. A mechanical engineer, he has served in many capacities at Marshall, Stennis Space Center and Headquarters, including assistant associate administrator for the space shuttle program (2003-2005) at headquarters and manager of the space shuttle propulsion office at MSFC (2005-2007). He was named MSFC Deputy Director in 2007 and Director in 2009.

Essentially Lightfoot will act as a placeholder until the new administration names its pick for the position.

NASA asteroid redirect mission delayed again

Due to the uncertainty of its budget NASA has decided to delay the award of the contracts to begin work on its asteroid redirect mission (ARM).

The uncertainty is that Congress has never budgeted any real money for it. The mission was proposed by Obama but only vaguely, without any real support. First it was to be a manned mission to an asteroid, using Orion. Then it was to be an unmanned mission to bring a large asteroid closer to Earth to be later visited by astronauts in an Orion capsule. Then the large asteroid became a mere boulder, with the manned mission delayed until the unforeseen future.

I think NASA sees the writing on the wall here. They expect this vague unsupported mission to die with the next administration, and have decided it is better not to waste money on it now.

Berkeley professors demand silencing of dissent

Fascists: Merely because they disagree with Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos, a group of more than 100 University of California-Berkeley professors have signed a letter demanding that he be banned from their campus so that he will be prevented from speaking there during a scheduled lecture on February 1.

More significantly, these so-called intellectual educators demonstrate that they have never once read or listened to a single word Yiannopoulos has written or said by their claim that he supports “white supremacy, transphobia, and misogyny”. My god, the guy is as openly homosexual as can be imagined. More importantly, his primary advocacy is for freedom and human rights. I guess these are ideas that modern academics can no longer support. Instead, they like to grind their boots into the faces of those they oppose.

Leftist organization organizes boycotts of many companies for Trump support

Fascists: Merely because someone in the company or the company itself expressed support for a Presidential candidate they do not like, the leftwing organization #GrabYourWallet is demanding a boycott of those companies.

The focus of the article is about the boycott of LL Bean, because one of its 50 co-owners donated to Trump, but this quote reveals the more fascist agenda of this organization:

“#GrabYourWallet” is officially boycotting 39 companies, including Kmart and Macy’s. It advises supporters to “consider” boycotting an additional 22 companies, but advises that another 10 Trump-linked companies (such as bookstores carrying Trump book) should not be boycotted because their association with him is incidental. (Regarding bookstores, #GrabYourWallet adds: “Note: this policy does not necessarily cover bookstores that may choose to feature Ivanka as an author in live events for her upcoming book release / tour. That activity will be evaluated at the time it takes place.”)

Under their rule of tolerance, it is unacceptable for anyone to dissent from their beliefs. If you do, you are evil, a racist, and must be crushed.

Note that the boycotts have nothing to do with the quality of the work of the specific businesses. They are advocating a boycott because of they disagree with the opinions of the companies or of individuals associated with these companies. This distinction is crucial.

Senate passes Obamacare partial repeal

In a party line vote last night, the Senate passed an Obamacare repeal bill that ends the law’s tax and financial components.

It must be emphasized that the failure to repeal the law’s regulations is entirely due to the unwillingness of any Democrats to cross party lines, end the filibuster, and allow a vote. The result: we are still stuck with some of the most egregious components of the law. In 2018 many of those same Democrats will be faced with difficult re-elections. It will be time to remove them.

I should add that, just like Obamacare itself, the manner in which this repeal is being written and approved actually appears to be unconstitutional. It is tax policy and it is originating in the Senate. The Constitution however clearly states “All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives.” (Article 1, Section 7) The same section also states that the Senate can propose, so I suppose this is how they get around this issue.

A centrifuge costing 20 cents based on a toy

Scientists at Stanford have developed a centrifuge costing 20 cents to make, based on a child’s toy, that can be used in the field to separate blood samples.

According to Stanford, Prakash and post-doctoral fellow Saad Bhamla came up with the “paperfuge” while looking at toys like tops and yo-yos for inspiration. Noticing how the disc of a whirligig spins when the cords on either side are pulled, they decided to make a slow motion video of one, only to discover that it rotated at 10,000 to 15,000 RPM.

The pair started developing prototypes using a blood capillary tube mounted on a paper disc, but they went beyond simple tinkering as they recruited three undergraduate engineering students from MIT and Stanford to create mathematical models of how the whirligig could change a pulling motion into a rotary motion. Looking at variables like disc size, string elasticity, and pulling force, they combined this with equations from the physics of supercoiling DNA to gain a better understanding of the whirligig’s mechanism.

The result was a centrifuge made of 20 cents of paper, twine, and plastic that could spin at 125,000 RPM, generate 3,000 G’s, and process samples in 1.5 minutes.

I have embedded a video explaining the paperfuge below the fold. I wonder if a variation of this on ISS could do low gravity experiments.
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SpaceX to land both Falcon Heavy first stages and Dragon at Cape Canaveral

An environmental report, prepared by SpaceX, describes in detail their plans to build landing facilities for their Dragon capsule as well as two more landing pads to facilitate the vertical landing of all three Falcon Heavy first stages at Launch Complex 13 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

It is not clear when this work will go forward, though I suspect it will not be too far in the future.

Russians complete investigation into Progress launch failure

The news is not really good.

According to Roskosmos, the accident led to the unplanned separation between the third stage of the launch vehicle and the spacecraft. Members of the commission established that the most probable cause of the accident had been the disintegration of the oxidizer tank of the third stage as a result of the failure of the 11D55 engine, following the fire and disintegration of its oxidizer pump, Roskosmos said. The fire in the pump and its disintegration could be triggered by a possible injection of the foreign particles into the pump’s cavity or by violations during the assembly of the 11D55 engine, such as a wrong clearance between the pump’s shaft and its attachment sleeve, floating rings and impellers, leading to a possible loss of balance and vibration of the rotor.

The fault, which has a production nature, manifested itself during the flight, Roskosmos said. The State Corporation promised to prepare a plan of immediate action at enterprises of the the rocket industry to ensure the safe launch of the Progress MS-05 spacecraft, Roskosmos announced. [emphasis mine]

It appears that though they have not definitely established what went wrong (due to a lack of telemetry), they have determined that all of the possible causes are related to quality control issues.

Launch industry trends, based on recent history

The worldwide competition to launch the most rockets each year, first noted by Doug Messier about the 2016 race that was won by a squeak by the U.S., and then augmented by my own post about the various predictions by different nations and companies about what they hope to achieve in 2017, got me to thinking. How do these numbers compare with the past? What are the launch trends? Who has been moving up and who has been moving down? And most important, what would a close look at the trends for the past two decades tell us about the future?

In order to answer these questions, I decided to compile a table of all worldwide launches since 1998.

Worldwide Launches since 1998

This table reveals some very interesting trends and facts that I had not recognized previously.
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The raging storms of Jupiter’s south pole

Cool image time! Below the fold I have embedded an animation that was assembled from 30 Juno images taken during its third orbital close approach of Jupiter. It is at first a little hard to watch, which is why I have not made it visible on the main page, but it is worth watching because it gives a real sense of how powerful and violent the storms are in the polar regions of the gas giant planet. Keep your eye especially glued to the storms near the center of the image. In a very short time that it took Juno to zip past Jupiter, less than a day, these storms rotated about one third. Remember too that each storm would probably cover at least half of the Earth’s surface.

We desperately need a fleet of weather satellites orbiting Jupiter to give us a continuous view of these storms. The knowledge gained about atmospheric weather patterns would be priceless.

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The X-37B flies on

The Air Force’s X-37B reusable space vessel is now approaching 600 days in orbit on its second space mission, and is only two and a half months away from setting a new record.

There is as yet no word on when it will return to Earth, though there are rumors that when it does return it will do so at the Kennedy Space Flight Center and not at Vandenberg in California.

Japanese SS-520 rocket launch scrubbed due to weather

The launch of Japan’s new small rocket, SS-520, was scrubbed today due to bad weather.

Japanese officials announced a few minutes before the launch that the flight would be postponed due to bad weather at the space base. Authorities did not immediately set a new launch date.

The SS-520-4 will try to become the smallest rocket to ever put an object in orbit. Its sole payload is the six-pound (three-kilogram) TRICOM 1 spacecraft, a CubeSat from the University of Tokyo designed for communications and Earth observation experiments. Standing 31 feet (9.5 meters) tall and spanning around 20 inches (52 centimeters) in diameter, the SS-520-4 will blast off from a rail launch system and head east over the Pacific Ocean, dropping its lower two stages and payload enclosure into the sea in the first few minutes of the flight.

Primarily funded by a $3.5 million budget provided by the the Japanese government’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, the SS-520-4 program is a one-off demonstration by Japan’s space agency, which aims to validate low-cost technology and launch operations procedures for a future “nano-launcher” to deploy tiny satellites in orbit on dedicated rides.

The last paragraph is disappointing, but not surprising considering that this rocket is entirely owned and built by the government, which like NASA, routinely builds things and then abandons them, no matter how useful they are. I hope that some private company grabs the design here and runs with it.

Coordinated bomb threats against Jewish schools and community centers

While the left worries about Islamaphobia: Coordinated bomb threats occurred yesterday against numerous Jewish schools and community centers in the U.S. and Great Britain, forcing the evacuation of thousands.

Jewish schools across the United Kingdom were placed on alert after bomb threats were called into metro London Jewish schools in Roehampton, Ilford and Brent on Monday morning. The schools were “warned” that explosive devices had been planted on the premises. Thorough searches were conducted at all three sites and other schools were placed on precautionary lock-downs until the “all clear” was received. Bomb threats were also called in to a few non-Jewish schools as well, according to the British Jewish Chronicle news site. “Police were alerted at around 10:30am hrs on Monday, 9 January, to phone calls made to schools in Roehampton, Ilford and Brent in which bomb threats were made. Police officers attended the schools. All three incidents were stood down a short time later. An investigation into the threat will be conducted,” Metropolitan Police said in a statement.

Meanwhile, in the United States, bomb threats were called into Jewish Community Centers (JCC)s in Delaware, Tenafly, New Jersey; Miami Beach and Jacksonville, Florida; in Rockville, Maryland; in West Nashville, Tennessee, and Columbia, South Carolina. In Delaware, police were called to search the Siegel Jewish Community Center north of Wilmington on Monday, after a bomb threat was called into the facility at around 11:45 am.

This story has gotten practically no coverage, even though it indicates a very serious and widespread threat that could very easily morph into real bombs very soon. Instead, the focus is on the Democrat protesters who appeared at congressional hearings for Jeff Sessions, Trump’s attorney general nominee, dressed most appropriately as KKK members. They were trying to imply they supported Sessions and he supported the KKK, but I think they merely proved that Democrats are very comfortable dressing as KKK members and expressing racist opinions. They certainly do not seem to have a problem with Islamic terrorism, oppression, and bigotry.

Private money to VLT to search for Earthlike planets at Alpha Centauri

The privately funded Breakthrough Initiatives project has committed funds to upgrade the Very Large Telescope in Chile in exchange for telescope time to look for Earthlike planets in orbit around Alpha Centauri.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner and physicist Stephen Hawking are hoping to find Earth-like planets in our neighbouring star system, Alpha Centauri. Together they will upgrade the Very Large Telescope (VLT) to look for potentially habitable worlds as part of the ‘Breakthrough’ initiatives.

These planets could be the targets for a launch of tiny space probes to track down aliens within our lifetimes, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) said.

This is exactly how astronomy used to function. Rather than get money from the government in exchange for doing the research it wanted done, astronomers obtained funds from wealthy individuals or businesses to build and upgrade their telescopes in exchange for doing the research that interested these funding sources. The difference? The work was privately funded voluntarily, rather than coerced from the public through taxes.

Utah climate scientists whine about possible NASA cuts

The squealing of pigs: In the kind of journalistic pro-government spending propaganda that I despise, the Salt Lake Tribune today published this article giving climate scientists in their local area a platform to lobby the public in favor of their NASA funding.

The article provides a quick quote from a Trump campaign official noting their strong hostility to the politicization of climate research, and then spends the rest of the article allowing scientist after scientist to condemn that position and to defend that spending, repeatedly implying that should the NASA cuts go through, the research will end and even possibly that access to the data from NASA climate satellites will be denied to the public and to the scientists. At no time does the article provide any thoughtful information to explain that Trump administration perspective, which is based on some reasonable and very justifiable concerns.

I note this article as a warning. Expect more of this very bad journalism. Most of the press are blindly liberal and Democratic Party partisans. They are going to work blindly with the climate community to help them defend their funding, without the slightest effort at objective reporting. The public should be aware of this, and see this political lobbying for what it is.

Japan unveils new small rocket

The competition heats up: Japan will this week inaugurate a new rocket, the SS-520, designed to launch smallsats quickly and cheaply.

The rocket is small, only 10 meters tall and 30 centimeters in diameter, and was developed for less than $3.5 million. It was developed by JAXA, Japan’s space agency, as a vehicle to encourage the growth of that nation’s smallsat industry.

The status of telescopes the NSF is getting rid of

Back in 2012 the National Science Foundation (NSF) proposed that it cease funding a slew of older, smaller telescopes in order to use that money to fund the construction and operation of newer more advanced facilities. This article, focused on the fate of the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, provides a nice table that shows the status of these telescopes.

The options were either to find new funding, be mothballed, or even demolished. It appears that most of the telescopes in question have found new funding and will remain in use in some manner. The one telescope that has apparently failed to obtain any additional funding from others is the McMath–Pierce Solar Telescope on Kitt Peak in Arizona, which when built in 1962 was the world’s largest solar telescope, an honor for which it is still tied.

In 2015 I had written an article for Sky & Telescope about how these budget cuts were effecting the telescopes on Kitt Peak. At that time the people in charge of McMath-Pierce were hunting for new support but were coming up short. Almost two years later it appears that their hunt has been a failure, and the telescope will likely be shut down, and possibly demolished.

It will be a sad thing if McMath-Pierce is lost, but I am not arguing to save it. If its observational capabilities were truly valuable and needed by the scientific community than someone would have come forward to finance it. That no one has suggests that the money really can be spent more usefully in other ways.

Could Tabby’s Star have eaten a planet?

A new theory has been proposed by astronomers to explain the unprecedented dimming of Tabby’s Star, and it isn’t an alien civilization.

If Tabby’s star devoured a planet in the past, the planet’s energy would have made the star temporarily brighten, then gradually dim to its original state. The bigger the planet was, the longer the star would take to dim. Depending on the size of the planet, this event could have happened anywhere between 200 and 10,000 years ago.

As the planet fell into its star, it could have been ripped apart or had its moons stripped away, leaving clouds of debris orbiting the star in eccentric orbits. Every time the debris passes between us and the star, it would block some light, making the star seem to blink.

If true, this theory would suggest that such events can happen more than scientists has expected. Moreover, this theory can be tested during future observations when the star experiences its next dimming.

Pentagon test flies a swarm of 100 micro-drones

Sci-fi comes to life! The Pentagon in October test flew a swarm of 103 micro-drones, showing that they could work as a unit in a coordinated manner in targeting specific points.

“ Due to the complex nature of combat, Perdix are not pre-programmed synchronized individuals. They are a collective organism, sharing one distributed brain for decision-making and adapting to each other like swarms in nature,” said SCO Director William Roper. “Because every Perdix communicates and collaborates with every other Perdix, the swarm has no leader and can gracefully adapt to drones entering or exiting the team.”

Video of the test flight is embedded below the fold. I can imagine these drone swarms used in a number of very unpleasant ways, all of which have been portrayed in sci-fi movies and books.
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China’s Kuaizhou rocket launches first commercial payload

The competition heats up: China’s Kuaizhou solid rocket, upgraded from a military mobile-launched ballistic missile, today placed its first three commercial satellites in orbit.

The rocket is designed to quickly launch smallsats into orbit for a reasonably low cost, and is built and marketed by China’s second commercial launch company, Expace.

In the China Daily report, he added that Expace is in talks with satellite manufacturers in Asia, Europe and Latin America, and has bid for contracts to launch their spacecraft. Guo Yong, president of the CASIC Fourth Academy, told China Daily that the organization intends to capture 20 percent of the global small satellite launch market by 2020. The Kuaizhou 1A rocket can deliver satellites of up to 300 kilograms — about 660 pounds — into low-altitude orbits, according to China Daily.

Expace is China’s second commercial launch services provider after China Great Wall Industry Corp., which sells Long March rocket missions, with an emphasis on launches of large communications satellites heading for geostationary orbit.

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