Another ISEE-3 update

The team trying to resurrect ISEE-3 had very mixed results in its attempt today to get the spacecraft’s propulsion system working.

They managed to get “several instances of thrust,” which suggests there is fuel, the system can function, and that their strategy is on the right track. They did not however get full thrust as hoped, and are not quite sure why the spacecraft only partly responded. They are analyzing the data while they apply to NASA for an extension of their license to transmit to the spacecraft.

This last point is merely a formality. What can NASA do if they continue anyway? Nothing. NASA will say yes, partly because it is good public relations and partly because most of the people at NASA are also fans of this effort.

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University of hate

Shades of climategate: An activist has released to the public the correspondence from a Brandeis University listserv devoted to expressing hatred for conservatives, Jews, Christians, and anyone who doesn’t conform to modern leftwing dogmas.

More here. It seems that 92 professors, many from Brandeis but also including academics from other institutions, belong to this listserv and post there regularly. Many also signed the petition that protested Brandeis’s decision, later rescinded, to give Muslim dissident Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s an honorary degree.

Read the articles. The language used by these so-called intellectuals is childish, simple-minded, bigoted, and hateful. It reveals to the world who they are, and what they stand for, and should serve as a warning to anyone thinking of attending Brandeis or who is there now: It is time to find another place to go to college.

House slashes budget of National Security Council

Pushback: The House has approved a one third cut to the budget of the National Security Council in response to its mandate that agencies withhold information from Congress.

As I said yesterday, when an agency of the federal government decides to defy Congress, elected by the people, than the best and most effective action for Congress to take is to use the power of the purse to reduce or eliminate that agency’s funding. Without money their power disappears, and Congress takes control.

It has been decades since Congress used its power in this way. The more it does this now, however, the more it is going to realize how powerful it really is.

White House defies House subpoena

Claiming that White House officials have absolute immunity from testifying to Congress, the administration today ignored a subpoena issued by a House committee investigating violations of the Hatch act.

The White House warned Issa late Tuesday that David Simas, director of the White House Office of Political Strategy and Outreach, would not be appearing. White House Counsel Neil Eggleston wrote that Simas is “immune” from any effort by Congress to compel him to testify. “[T]he committee’s effort to compel Mr. Simas’s testimony threatens longstanding interests of the Executive Branch in preserving the president’s independence and autonomy, as well as his ability to obtain candid advice and counsel to aid him in the discharge of his constitutional duties,” Eggleston wrote. “In light of those principles… Mr. Simas is immune from congressional compulsion to testify on matters relating to his official duties and will not appear at the July 16, 2014 hearing.”

Issa said late Tuesday that he would hold the hearing in the hopes that Simas would appear, and when the hearing started Wednesday morning, Simas was not there. Issa started the hearing by saying he received Eggleston’s “deeply disturbing” letter late Tuesday night, and argued that this decision goes against court rulings that say White House officials are not immune from having to appear before Congress. “A federal judge wrote that senior advisers to the president of the United States are ‘not absolutely immune from congressional process,’ ” Issa said.

Why am I so strongly reminded of Richard Nixon and his claim of executive privilege to prevent his subordinates from being questioned by Congress? As Issa notes correctly, the courts ruled against Nixon, and we eventually found out that executive privilege was merely Nixon’s way of stonewalling the investigation. I suspect this is Obama’s sole reason now for stonewalling.

Lawyer threatened with disbarment because of his political views

Fascists: A South Carolina lawyer has been threatened with disbarment by his state’s legal agencies because they want to prevent him from publishing his political opinions.

Todd [Kincannon] is now reporting that the South Carolina governmental authorities responsible for governing the professional conduct and ethics of attorneys have decided that Todd’s conservative political and religious advocacy on Twitter, and elsewhere, is too offensive to be permitted, and needs to be gagged.

Specifically, Todd has written that the South Carolina Commission on Lawyer Conduct and the South Carolina Office of Disciplinary Counsel have informed him that his political and religious commentary is “unethical” to a degree sufficient to warrant legal sanction to the point of disbarment. … More specifically, Todd writes that these governmental agencies have threatened him with disbarment should he proceed with his planned publication of a book advocating conservative political and religious beliefs.

He has been forced to delay the release of this book, as well as stop posting his opinions on line, while he files a lawsuit to prevent his disbarment.

The UAE wants to go to Mars

The competition heats up: The United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced today that it is creating a space agency to build and launch an unmanned mission to Mars by 2021.

The announcement included this statement by his Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai:

Despite all the tensions and the conflicts across the Middle East, we have proved today how positive a contribution the Arab people can make to humanity through great achievements, given the right circumstances and ingredients. Our region is a region of civilisation. Our destiny is, once again, to explore, to create, to build and to civilise. We chose the epic challenge of reaching Mars because epic challenges inspire us and motivate us. The moment we stop taking on such challenges is the moment we stop moving forward.

I wish them luck, since building spaceships and exploring the heavens is a far better occupation that trying to kill Jews. I remain skeptical however. They will have to show real achievement before I will believe this is something more than a simple feel-good public relations stunt by the UAE’s leaders.

The elusive effort to detect gravitational waves.

After spending more than half a billion dollars and eight years of looking without a single detection, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) has gotten a major upgrade.

If commissioning continues to go relatively smoothly, plans call for the first Advanced LIGO observing run to start in late 2015. A second run, with a decent shot of finding a gravitational wave, would occur in the winter of 2016–17. (Weiss likes to point out that a 2016 discovery would be a nice 100th-anniversary commemoration of Einstein’s paper describing gravitational waves.) By the third science run, planned for 2017–18, the machine should be getting sensitive enough to almost certainly nail a detection, says Reitze.

It is hoped that the increased sensitivity, ten times better than before. will allow LIGO to finally make the first detection of a gravitational wave.

Another update on ISEE-3

Dennis Wingo has written a detailed report on the engineering analysis of ISEE-3, including what they plan to do on Wednesday to troubleshoot the problem and possible fix it.

The bottom line is that there is still a good chance they can get the spacecraft thrusters to fire and change the spacecraft’s trajectory. We will know more tomorrow.

What others really think of America

Travel tips for Russian, French, Chinese, and Japanese travelers to the United States.

Read them all. Not surprisingly, the French are the most bothered by American habits while the Russians struggle mightily with our general niceness. All told, however, these tips will each give you warm feelings for the wild, crazy, enthusiastic culture that is America, as seen objectively by outsiders, and best summed up by this Japanese advice:

In Japan, there is great fear of failure and mistakes in front of other people. It is better to do nothing and avoid being criticized than to taste the humiliation of failure. As a result, there are things we wanted to do, but did not, and often regret.

In America, you can make mistakes, fail, and it doesn’t matter. It is a fundamental feeling that to sometimes be incorrect is natural. In addition, rather than thinking about mistakes and failures, American’s have curiosity and say, “Let’s try anyway!”

As noted so wisely in the 1982 comedy Night Shift, “Is this a great country, or what?”

Israel repairs Gaza power line

Another Israeli war crime! Even as Hamas continued to hurl bombs at them, Israeli electric workers on Monday repaired a power line, destroyed by a Hamas rocket, that fed electricity to Gaza.

After a day without power, electricity was restored to some 70,000 Gazans when the Israeli government gave the Israel Electric Corp. the green light to repair a high-power line damaged by a rocket on Saturday. … The IEC employees dispatched to repair the damage were accompanied by Israel Defense Forces soldiers and outfitted with bulletproof vests. They wore special helmets as well to minimize the threat of shrapnel injuries.

Can you wrap you mind around this? Not only did the Israelis do the repair, ending a blackout in Gaza, the story makes it clear that this power is supplied to Gaza by Israel. And this is all taking place while Hamas tries to kill as many Israelis as possible, from Gaza.

So, just who is the hate-monger here?

TSA don’t know nothing about geography

Does this make you feel safer? A TSA agent did not recognize a District of Columbia drivers license and did not know it is part of the United States.

When Gray handed the man his driver’s license the agent demanded to see Gray’s passport. Grays told the agent he wasn’t carrying his passport and asked why he needed it. The agent said he didn’t recognize the license. Gray said he asked the agent if he knew what the District of Columbia is, and after a brief conversation Gray realized the man did not know.

What was unfortunate for this particular agent was that the individual he questioned also happened to be a television news reporter.

More images from Rosetta

67P

The comet that Rosetta will orbit is getting stranger and stranger, with new images suggesting that it is really two objects stuck together.

The pictures show that 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko appears to be not one but two objects joined together. It is what scientists call a “contact binary”. How the comet came to take this form is unknown. It is possible that 67P suffered a major fracture at some point in its past; it is also possible the two parts have totally different origins.

What is clear is that the European Space Agency (Esa) mission team now has additional and unexpected considerations as it plans how to land on the comet later this year – not least, which part of the comet should be chosen for contact?

The House slashes IRS budget

The Republican-controlled House has slashed the IRS’s tax enforcement budget by 25%.

The cuts reflect GOP outrage over the agency’s scrutiny of tea party groups seeking tax-exempt status and frustration over the agency’s failure to produce thousands of emails by Lois Lerner, the official formerly in charge of the IRS division that processes applications for tax-exempt status.

“The use of a government agency to harass, target, intimidate and threaten lawful, honest citizens was the worst form of authoritarianism,” said Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., author of an amendment to cut the IRS tax enforcement budget by $353 million. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., followed up with an amendment to cut $788 million more.

The Democratic floor leader on the funding bill, Rep. Jose Serrano of New York, opposed the amendments but opted against demanding a roll call vote. [emphasis mine]

This is the right way to deal with the IRS abuse of power. Cut their funds. Use the power of the purse. I also highlight the Democratic position because it illustrates several things:
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DARPA awards contracts for XS-1 spaceplane

The competition heats up: DARPA has announced contract awards to three companies for the construction of its experimental XS-1 spaceplane, designed to take off and land like a airplane.

The contracts go to Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and Masten Space Systems, and have them each respectively partnered with Blue Origin, XCOR, and Virgin Galactic. More details on the Boeing contract can be found here.

The description of the XS program is quite exciting:
» Read more

Sixty science papers retracted

The uncertainty of peer review: An internal investigation has caused the retraction of sixty peer-reviewed scientific papers that were published by a single journal, the Journal of Vibration and Control (JVC).

The network of JVC papers that emerged was incestuous, with the same small group of authors reviewing each other’s work and appearing together as co-authors. By the end of the year, the investigators had a list of 130 e-mail addresses associated with 60 papers, with one scientist as co-author on all of them: Chen-Yuan Chen of NPUE, who goes by “Peter.” When SAGE sent an e-mail to all 130 e-mail addresses requesting that the authors confirm their identity, none responded. “The authors were contacted again by SAGE in May 2014 to inform them that their papers would be retracted in the July 2014 issue,” says Sherman, but again none responded. According to SAGE’s official statement, Chen resigned from NPUE in February. Neither Chen nor officials at NPUE responded to e-mails from ScienceInsider

How was it possible for a scientist to become the sole reviewer on dozens of his own papers? The answer appears to be that Chen was allowed to nominate his own reviewers, who were not vetted by JVC,

Chen apparently created fake gmail accounts for both real and non-existing scientists and then chose these scientists both as his co-authors as well as his peer-reviewers.

Great Britain’s proposed suborbital spaceport locations

The competition heats up: More information was released today describing Great Britain’s suggested spaceport locations.

These spaceports are specifically aimed at the suborbital space tourism market, for American companies like Virgin Galactic or XCOR, or for the developing British company Skylon.

It is interesting that 6 of 8 are located in Scotland, which might very well not be part of the United Kingdom after a vote on separation this fall.

The next Proton and Angara launches

The competition heats up: Russia has set September 28 as the next launch date for its troubled Proton rocket.

The most interesting detail gleaned from this article however is this:

The Proton-M carrier rocket previously launched on May 16 from Baikonur space center collided with communications satellite Express АМ4R and burned up in the atmosphere above China, leaving Russia without its most powerful telecommunications satellite.

Previous reports had not been very clear about the causes of the May launch failure. All they would say is that “a failed bearing in the steering engine’s turbo pump” had caused the failure about nine minutes into the flight. This report suggests that this failure occurred after separation of the payload and that it then caused the upper stage to collide with the satellite.

Russia is also about to ship its new Angara 5 rocket to the launch site for a planned December launch. This will be the first launch of the Angara configuration that is expected to replace the Proton rocket, and is expected to place a dummy payload into geosynchronous orbit.
» Read more

An illegally destroyed hard drive blocks an investigation into a collegue of Lois Lerner

Obstruction of justice: The investigation of April Sands, a subordinate of Lois Lerner when both were at the Federal Election Commission, was stymied because the agency destroyed and recycled her computer illegally.

The FEC’s Office of Inspector General sought to conduct a criminal investigation into Sands’ activities but were stymied when they found that the agency had recycled her computer hard drive. “Therefore the OIG was unable to show that Ms. Sands’ solicitations and political activity were done from an FEC computer,” reads the letter. Because of this, the U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Columbia declined criminal prosecution. “The FEC’s failure to retain Ms. Sands’ hard drive prevented the FEC OIG from fully pursuing appropriate criminal sanctions for Ms. Sands’ admitted violation of federal law,” wrote Issa and Jordan.

Sands was under investigation for using her position in the government for partisan purposes. In other words, though she was being paid to work for the Federal Election Commission, she was actually working illegally for the Democratic Party instead.

John Prine and Iris DeMent – In Spite of Ourselves

An evening pause: Thanks to Keith for sending me this video. Note that I am open to any recommendations of good videos for posting as an Evening Pause, including music, engineering, comedy, anything quirky or interesting with a spark of originality.

Let me add that if you have something you want to recommend, don’t post the link in the comment. Just say in your comment that you want to recommend something and I will email you direct. I want to view and schedule these posts rather than have them appear in the comments first.

A request in connection with Genesis

Since a new ebook edition of my first book, Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, was released in the summer of 2013 the reviews and sales have been excellent. However, in changing distributors in late June, causing the kindle price to rise, the reviews on amazon.com have temporarily disappeared. We are trying to get them back, but I would be very grateful if any of my readers who read and enjoyed Genesis would take the time to go to amazon and post a review of the book there.

I am not asking for good reviews. I am asking for honest reviews. I am quite confident that the quality of the book will make those reviews good reviews, without my asking.

The darkest material ever made

Scientists have developed a material so dark it is difficult to discern the shape of any object it coats.

The material absorbs all but 0.035 per cent of light, a new world record, and is so dark the human eye struggles to discern its shape and dimension, giving the appearance of a black hole. Named Vantablack, or super black, it also conducts heat seven and half times more effectively than copper, and is ten times stronger than steel. It is created by Surrey NanoSystems using carbon nanotubes, which are 10,000 thinner than human hair and so miniscule that light cannot get in but can pass into the gaps in between.

The pictures at the website are especially amazing. They coated half of a sheet of aluminum foil with the material and then crinkled the foil. You can see the crinkles in the uncoated material, but the coated material just looks black.

This will be very useful for astronomical instruments, as well as many other technical applications. For example, if you coat the body of your telescope with this material it will help eliminate stray light, which means that you will increase the efficiency of your observations.

Falcon 9 launch

The competition heats up: SpaceX’s Falcon 9 has successfully launched six Orbcomm commercial satellites into orbit.

The six satellites still must be deployed. We will know if this is successful sometime in the next hour or so. Also, no news yet on SpaceX’s effort to recover the rocket’s first stage after a soft splashdown in the ocean.

Update: All 6 Orbcomm satellites have successfully deployed.

Update 2: From Elon Musk as to the first stage recovery: “Rocket booster reentry, landing burn & leg deploy were good, but lost hull integrity right after splashdown (aka kaboom).”

CDC suspends shipments of dangerous pathogens

Due to a series of recent errors and mishaps in the shipment of dangerous pathogens such as anthrax and influenza, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has suspended future shipments while it conducts an investigation.

After news of the anthrax exposure broke on 19 June, the CDC began investigating why its lab workers did not follow proper procedure to inactivate Bacillus anthracis spores before shipping them to another lab on the agency’s Atlanta campus. The receiving lab was not equipped to handle the pathogen, and once the mistake was discovered, more than 70 people were pre-emptively treated for anthrax infection. The CDC now says that the lab never needed to work with B. anthracis in the first place; another bacterium would have sufficed to test the diagnostic equipment that the lab was evaluating. The good news, Frieden says, is that the CDC now does not believe that anyone was actually exposed to anthrax spores.

But the agency’s ongoing investigation has revealed more bad news: on 12–13 March, the CDC’s influenza lab contaminated a harmless flu strain with the highly dangerous H5N1 variety, and sent it to a laboratory operated by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Athens, Georgia. The mistake was discovered on 23 May, but Frieden says that he was not notified until 9 July. “Why it took six weeks for that to be made apparent, I can think of no valid explanation,” he says. The USDA lab was equipped to handle highly infectious agents, and the agency is confident that there were no exposures.

A spaceport for Great Britain?

The competition heats up: The government of the United Kingdom today outlined its intention to build its first spaceport by 2018.

The announcement listed eight potential sites, six of which were in Scotland, which is presently threatening to break away from the United Kingdom. This announcement I suspect is less a call for British space exploration and instead a political effort to encourage Scotland to remain in the UK.

Surprising support for Israel against Hamas

If true this is very good news: In the present conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, Israel is getting either support or fair treatment from a number of very surprising sources both internationally and inside the Arab community.

These sources include important leaders in Egypt, France, Lebanon, the United Nations (!), and even the press. As the author notes,

In large part the coolness toward Hamas results from the belated realization that Islamists pose a greater threat than Zionists. But media sobriety suggests that, in part, it also follows from a weariness of Hamas’ vile tactics and revulsion against its hideous goal of destroying Israel. As Hamas’ goal in this war is political, this lesser support is of supreme importance to it.

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