New Horizons gets closer

Pluto and Charon

Cool image time! Even as the engineers successfully completed last night their last course correction engine burn, the New Horizons science team released an image showing both Pluto and Charon.

The 23-second thruster burst was the third and final planned targeting maneuver of New Horizons’ approach phase to Pluto; it was also the smallest of the nine course corrections since New Horizons launched in January 2006. It bumped the spacecraft’s velocity by just 27 centimeters per second – about one-half mile per hour – slightly adjusting its arrival time and position at a flyby close-approach target point approximately 7,750 miles (12,500 kilometers) above Pluto’s surface.

The image, which I have cropped to focus on the planets, is still somewhat fuzzy, though it also shows the increasing sharpness as the spacecraft gets closer.

Only two weeks to go!

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Share

Another Dawn image of some of Ceres’ bright spots

The double bright spot, not over-exposed

Cool image time! As part JPL’s regular release of images from Dawn, one image of Ceres’ bright double spots was purposely not over-exposed. Thus, the surface is almost black (as it really looks), while the small cluster of spots stands out brightly but with some additional detail. (If you download the full image and use a graphics program to brighten it you will see that this is the double bright spot located inside a large crater.)

I have cropped and enlarged the original image to focus on the double spot. As you can see the brightest spot has a mottled look, almost like we are looking down at a snow-capped peak.

Though the leading theory remains that this is ice, this theory has not been confirmed yet. Make no assumptions or you may discover you are wrong.

Road to Mauna Kea to remain closed for the rest of the week

The University of Hawaii, which manages the astronomy facilities on top of Mauna Kea, said today that the road to the summit will remained closed for at least the rest of this week so that they can do repairs and maintenance resulting from the protests last week.

I think I finally understand what is going on, and why the protesters themselves offered last week to remove the boulder barricades they had built, something that had not made sense to me at the time.

Because of landslides and the hostile environment, the road needs constant maintenance. The barricades prevented that, which gave the governor and the University the justification to shut the road. And by shutting the road, the University has essentially locked the protesters out. I am sure that the repairs could be done much faster, but the University is probably dragging its feet to make sure they get all the protesters out and things cool down. When the reopen the road, I expect them to make sure it is secure and only official personal use it.

This is why the protesters suddenly offered to remove the barricades. They realized that they had shot themselves in the foot, and wanted to remedy the situation in a way that would allow them to continue protesting. It appears they have failed.

Russian sets record for most time spent in space

Russian astronaut Gennady Padalka has now set the record for the most total time spent in space, passing the previous record of 803 day set by Sergei Krikalev.

Padalka is due to return to earth on 11 September, by which time he will have spent 878 days in space – almost two and a half years. On 21 June he celebrated his 57th birthday in orbit. The commander said at a press conference before his flight in March that he would like to try for 1,000 days in space after his current record-breaking mission is over.

NASA to waste $150 million on SLS engine that will be used once.

Government marches on! NASA’s safety panel has noticed that NASA’s SLS program either plans to spend $150 million man-rating a rocket engine it will only use once, or will fly a manned mission without man-rating that engine.

The Block 1 SLS is the “basic model”, sporting a Delta Cryogenic Second Stage (DCSS), renamed the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion System (ICPS) for SLS. The current plan calls for this [interim] stage to be used on [the unmanned] Exploration Mission -1 (EM-1) and [manned] Exploration Mission -2 (EM-2), prior to moving to the [Exploration Upper Stage] – also to be built by Boeing – that will become the workhorse for SLS.

However, using the [interim upper stage] on a crewed mission will require it to be human rated. It is likely NASA will also need to fly the [Exploration Upper Stage] on an unmanned mission to validate the new stage ahead of human missions. This has been presenting NASA with a headache for some time, although it took the recent ASAP meeting to finally confirm those concerns to the public.

Up until now, no one at NASA would admit that their SLS plans called for flying humans with an upper stage that has not been man-rated. They don’t have the funds to man-rate it, and even if they get those funds, man-rating it will likely cause SLS’s schedule to slip even more, something NASA fears because they expect the commercial manned ships to be flying sooner and with increasing capability. The contrast — a delayed and unflown and very expensive SLS vs a flying and inexpensive commercial effort — will not do SLS good politically.

However, if they are going to insist (properly I think) that SpaceX and Boeing man-rate their capsules and rockets, then NASA is going to have to man-rate its SLS systems as well. The result: more problems for SLS, contributing to what I believe will be its inevitable cancellation.

The future roadmap of religious persecution in America

The article describes the inevitable legal consequences of the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage. Some key quotes:

The first attacks will be on small churches that don’t have the wherewithal to mount a legal defense against the IRS and against civil lawsuits. They will be confronted with a loss of their tax exempt status and the personal bankruptcy of their corporate officers if they do not allow homosexual weddings. The effect this will have on small congregations will be profound. Some will become “house churches”, much like what you see in Communist China. Many, however, will fall in line. The larger Protestant denominations will toe the line. Some, like the Episcopalians, are only nominally Christian as is. The Lutherans (ELCA variety) have had actively homosexual clergy for some time as have the Methodists. The two big targets for the government will be the Southern Baptist Convention — which is a voluntary association of independent churches — and the Roman Catholic Church. The pressure will ratchet up on them until they are confronted with confiscation of property or “discovering” hidden meanings in Scripture that reveal homosexual marriage has always been allowed.

Churches won’t disappear but the churches that you will see on Main Street will be peddling a warmed over and watered down version of Christianity that is a combination soup kitchen and twelve step program sans belief in a higher power. Real Christian churches will go underground but it will be a rearguard action. Christianity that chooses to ignore the very Word of God is not a religion, it is a cultural artifact.

The real price will be paid by those of us who are not actually employed by our churches. Organizing to resist homosexual marriage will bring down the FBI upon you as surely as if you were organizing a KKK chapter and with more alacrity than if you were an al Qaeda cell or blocking a polling station in Philadelphia. If you work for a large corporation or are in the military you can look forward to having your affirmatively support of homosexual marriage becoming an item on your performance appraisal. [emphasis mine]

And then there’s this:

Rather consistently local judges and others have said that religious liberty does not prevail for individuals who own businesses or engage in commerce. In effect, you can have religious liberty, so long as you don’t own a business. Here too there are legal nuances, but the fundamental trajectory is clear: Anyone who opposes the celebration of same-sex unions and lifestyle are going to be increasingly entangled in the courts and face more and more charges. [emphasis mine]

Read it all. If you don’t believe it will happen you are living in a fool’s paradise. Either Americans stand up now and defy the tyrannical strain that is beginning to dominate our society, or we will find all of our remaining but shrinking freedoms gone.

Falcon 9 explodes two minutes into launch

Today’s Falcon 9 rocket launch of a Dragon freighter to ISS ended in failure slightly past 2 minutes after lift-off when the upper stage exploded.

My first thought about this failure is the supply problems it causes at ISS. The Progress failure in April strained the supply lines, making this Dragon flight somewhat critical.

In a presentation to a committee of the NASA Advisory Council here April 9, NASA officials said that food supplies on the ISS would reach a threshold called “reserve level” on July 24, and go to zero by Sept. 5. That assumed that the station received no more supplies beyond a SpaceX Dragon cargo mission launched to the station in April.

The other major limiting consumable is a solid waste container known by the Russian acronym KTO. Without additional cargo missions beyond the Dragon flight, KTO supplies would reach the reserve level July 20 and be exhausted on Sept. 2. Other consumables, including water, would not reach reserve levels until later in the year or early 2016.

In other words, some of the station’s toilets are going to begin to overflow without more supplies. It is possible however that this problem will be alleviated by the planned July 3 launch of the next Progress, especially since NASA officials claimed just prior to the launch failure today that ISS had enough supplies to last through October.

As for the launch failure, I expect that SpaceX will quickly pinpoint the problem and schedule another launch. I have embedded video of the launch below the fold. Prior to the explosion of the first stage all looks completely normal. In fact, immediately before the failure the announcer notes this fact, making what happens next especially shocking.

Update: I have corrected the first paragraph, correcting it from “first stage” to “upper stage.”
» Read more

Audi joins race to the Moon

The competition heats up: The carmaker Audi has joined one of the teams competing for the Google Lunar X-Prize.

Audi’s part in the project will be to supply technical know how though its Audi Concept Design Studio, including the application of its quattro all-wheel drive technology and its experience in lightweight construction, electric mobility, and piloted driving. The company says it will also help in testing, trials, and quality assurance.

The rover, now named the “Audi lunar quattro,” is scheduled to launch sometime in 2017 and is aimed at a landing zone north of the lunar equator somewhere near 1972 Apollo 17 mission landing site, through the law prevents the rover from actually visiting it because it’s a protected area. “The concept of a privately financed mission to the moon is fascinating,” says Luca de Meo, Audi Board Member for Sales and Marketing. “And innovative ideas need supporters that promote them. We want to send a signal with our involvement with the Part‑Time Scientists and also motivate other partners to contribute their know‑how.”

I should note that the article is wrong when it states “the law prevents the rover from actually visiting” the Apollo 17 site. This law was passed by the U.S. Congress, and this Google team and Audi are not based in the U.S. They are not under its jurisdiction.

Hawaii governor condemns protesters

Pigs fly! The liberal Democratic governor of Hawaii today strongly condemned the protesters against the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) for blocking the roads to Mauna Kea and made it clear that his administration will do what is necessary to prevent that from happening again.

To quote his statement:

“We expected there to be a protest when construction resumed, and there was. We hoped we would not have to arrest people but were prepared to do so, and we did when they blocked the roadway. We also saw, in what amounts to an act of vandalism, the roadway blocked with rocks and boulders. We deployed to remove the rocks and boulders, but the protesters wisely chose to remove them themselves. And then we saw more attempts to control the road. That is not lawful or acceptable to the people of Hawai‘i. So let me be very direct: The roads belong to all the people of Hawai‘i and they will remain open. We will do whatever is necessary to ensure lawful access.”

Forgive my cynicism and hostility to the Democratic governor. In my experience, it is rare for a Democrat to actively oppose liberal protesters such as these. Normally, Democrats encourage their misbehavior, and do what they can to aid them. For example, in Ferguson, Missouri Democrat governor Jay Nixon intentionally delayed calling out the National Guard in order to allow the riots to continue. Similarly, the Democratic mayor of Baltimore intentionally restrained the police in order to allow the demonstrators, in her own words, “space to destroy”. And then there was the entire Occupy Wall Street protests, all of which trespassed illegally in Democratically controlled urban areas. In every case, there trespass was allowed, and even applauded, by Democrats.

David Ige however has made it clear that he will no longer tolerate any blockage of the road to Mauna Kea, and will do what is necessary to allow the legally agreed construction of the the TMT to go forward. Hooray for him!

Cruz proposes requiring judges to face voters periodically

In response to this week’s decisions by the Supreme Court, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) today proposed several laws and constitutional amendments, one of which would require judges to face the voters periodically and be removed if rejected.

Cruz’s analysis here is interesting in that he recognizes the right of Congress to impeach and remove judges, but also recognizes that this Congress, under this Republican leadership, just won’t do it. As he notes,

A Senate that cannot muster 51 votes to block an attorney-general nominee openly committed to continue an unprecedented course of executive-branch lawlessness can hardly be expected to muster the 67 votes needed to impeach an Anthony Kennedy.

He also correctly notes that if something isn’t done, the movement to amendment the Constitution using Article V convention of the states will likely gain momentum, something that we all know carries its own risks, including changing the Constitution in ways that are not beneficial.

SpaceX reviews its previous first stage landing attempts

In anticipation of tomorrow’s attempt to once again vertically land and recover the Falcon 9 first stage, SpaceX today released a review of its previous attempts, including new videos,

It sure looks to me like they have a pretty good shot of succeeding during Sunday’s Dragon launch.

The foolish petty Republican response to the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court rules that it has the right to ignore the actual words written in a law so it can provide support to a particular political position. The Republican response? Let’s force the judges to enroll in Obamacare!

The Supreme Court rules that the will of the electorate, which has rejected same-sex marriage in more than thirty elections, should be ignored because it wishes to support a particular political position. The Republican response? So far, a lot of bluster and toothless proposals.

What should they do to answer both rulings? They control Congress. The Constitution gives them the right and the power to impeach and remove judges. It is time for them to show they really oppose these decisions and move to fire the justices who ruled on these two cases.

Any other action will show us that they really do not have the courage to defend the will of the electorate.

I should add that I really do not expect the Republicans in Congress to do what I suggest. They are cowards, and have repeatedly shown that they will not stand up to leftwing attacks. They will fold here as well.

An update on Rosetta’s effort to re-establish contact with Philae

This update describes the status of the effort by the Rosetta science team to re-establish a stable communications channel with the Philae lander on the surface of Comet 67P/C-G.

Confirmed contacts between Rosetta and Philae have been made on 13, 14, 19, 20, 21, 23, and 24 June, but were intermittent during those contact periods. For example, the contact on 19 June was stable but split into two short periods of two minutes each. Conversely, the contact on 24 June started at 17:20 UT (on board Rosetta) and ran for 20 minutes, but the quality of the link was very patchy and only about 80 packets of telemetry were received. Prior to this, on Tuesday, 23 June, there was a 20-second contact, but no stable link was established and consequently no telemetry data were received.

There are many reasons why the contacts have been so intermittent, much of it related to Philae’s position on the surface. To improve things, they are carefully adjusting Rosetta’s position relative to the comet while avoiding placing the spacecraft in a position where the coma’s dust will cause problems.

Lois Lerner’s hard drive failed because of “impact”

Working for the Democratic Party: It appears that the reason Lois Lerner’s hard drive crashed initially is because of “an impact of some sort.”

So, how often have you seen a hard drive fail because something got thrown at it, or it got thrown at something? And if such a thing happened, how often do you think it happens by accident?

And of course, the IRS immediately did its job and had that hard drive shredded and destroyed, so that no one could look at it and determine precisely how it failed.

Black hole awakes after 26 years

For the first time since 1989, the black hole in V404 Cygni, a system comprising a black hole and a star, has reawakened, suddenly emitting high energy outbursts beginning on June 15.

First signs of renewed activity in V404 Cygni were spotted by the Burst Alert Telescope on NASA’s Swift satellite, detecting a sudden burst of gamma rays, and then triggering observations with its X-ray telescope. Soon after, MAXI (Monitor of All-sky X-ray Image), part of the Japanese Experiment Module on the International Space Station, observed an X-ray flare from the same patch of the sky.

These first detections triggered a massive campaign of observations from ground-based telescopes and from space-based observatories, to monitor V404 Cygni at many different wavelengths across the electromagnetic spectrum.

The outbursts are probably occurring because the black hole is gobbling up material that has fallen into it.

While the 1989 outburst helped astronomers gain their first understand of the behavior of a black hole in a star system, this outburst will help them understand how such systems evolve and change over time.

House leadership reinstates conservative lawmaker

Only days after stripping him of his chairmanship, the moderate House leadership has reinstated the lawmaker who is a member of the House Freedom Caucus and who had voted against the leadership during the fast track trade debate.

It appears the pressure coming from the conservatives in the Freedom Caucus forced the leadership to back down. Good! More pressure should be brought to bear, as the voters elected these guys to pass conservative legislation, not negotiate with the Democrats to get the liberal agenda passed.

Finding Pluto is really New Horizon’s biggest problem

As New Horizons speeds towards its planned fly-by of Pluto on July 14, the biggest problem faced by its engineers is making sure the spacecraft actually finds and photographs the planet.

Because astronomers discovered the dwarf planet in 1930, they have seen only part of its 248-year path around the Sun, and they don’t know exactly where Pluto is. And New Horizons is so far from Earth that it takes 9 hours to send and receive a signal, making the spacecraft hard to direct in real time. “Everything is pushed to the extreme,” says Bobby Williams, an engineer at KinetX Aerospace in Simi Valley, California, who heads the mission’s navigation team.

This fact, which has not been mentioned previously as far as I remember, suggests that there is a good chance that New Horizons might fly through its planned window and aim its cameras at the wrong spot in the sky, missing Pluto entirely. It also explains partly why the images released so far have been so fuzzy: They are focused mostly on doing navigation work, and are taking wide angle shots to make sure they catch Pluto in their picture frame. Zooming in too close might actually miss Pluto as they don’t exactly know where it is.

All this only makes the July 14th fly-by even more exciting. Let us hope they do due diligence and get the pictures we all want!

OneWeb awards major launch contracts

The competition heats up: OneWeb today announced it had raised a half billion dollars in investment capital, and has also awarded two major launch contracts, one to the Arianespace/Russian Soyuz partnership and the other to Virgin Galactic’s LauncherOne.

The Soyuz gets 21 launches while LauncherOne gets 39. For Virgin Galactic this contract might save the company, as their effort to fly tourists on SpaceShipOne has badly stalled. The effort to build LauncherOne, however, seems to be gaining steam.

The world launch market embraces launch reusability

The competition heats up: After years of resistance, rocket companies the world over are now shifting to the holy grail of reusability, pressured by the effort of SpaceX to land its first stage vertically and recover it.

While the article gives a nice overview of the efforts of ULA and Airbus to recover the engines from their first stage, its summary of SpaceX’s effort is especially complete, and is excellent background for anyone interested in that company’s next recovery attempt, set for Sunday’s Dragon launch.

Hawaii governor halts TMT construction again

In a very vague statement the governor of Hawaii has once again stopped construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) while he reassesses the situation after protesters yesterday blocked the road to the mountain summit with boulders.

“We are disappointed and concerned that large boulders were found in the roadway leading to the summit of Mauna Kea,” McCartney said in the statement. “This action is a serious and significant safety hazard and could put people at risk. “Because of this, we are making an assessment to determine how to proceed,” he said. “We will be working to clear the roadway tomorrow. Therefore, construction is on hold until further notice.”

The statement implies that he is trying to figure out a way to prevent the protesters from blocking the road, without causing more conflict. I instead suspect he sympathies with the protesters, and is looking for a way to stop construction, which he legally cannot do.

If the road is not reopened by the end of this week and construction is still blocked, I think the TMT managers, as well as the operators of the other telescopes on the mountain, should seriously consider moving from Hawaii. I also repeat that a boycott of Hawaiian tourism might also be appropriate now. This is what these nativist activists want, no more outsiders. We should give them what they want.

“Words no longer have meaning.”

Working for the Democratic Party: The Supreme Court today upheld the Obama administration’s decision to award subsidies under Obamacare to individuals in states lacking a health exchange, even though the law expressly excludes such subsidies.

Justice Antonin Scalia summed up the situation quite nicely in his dissent:

“The court holds that when the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act says ‘Exchange established by the State’ it means ‘Exchange established by the State or the Federal Government,’ Scalia wrote. “That is of course quite absurd, and the court’s 21 pages of explanation make it no less so.”

He also complained that, “Words no longer have meaning if an Exchange that is not established by a State is ‘established by the State.’ … Under all the usual rules of interpretation, in short, the Government should lose this case. But normal rules of interpretation seem always to yield to the overriding principle of the present Court: The Affordable Care Act must be saved.”

Once again Chief Justice John Roberts voted with the liberal side, indicating again that he is willing to “evolve” to the left, as it seems so many Republican appointees have done in the past.

In the end, the ruling only leaves us where we were before, which means, to get rid of Obamacare, we as citizens are going to have to elect more legislators willing to repeal it, and then get it repealed. Doing that will also help heal the court, which today is very clearly willing to ignore the law to prop up the political positions of the Democratic Party.

Conservative journalist harassed by customs agents

Conservative muckraker and video journalist James O’Keefe was told on Monday by custom agents that they intend to harass him every time he crosses the border because he made a video that made their border control work look like a joke.

Read the transcript. The Customs agent clearly tells O’Keefe that they will delay him every time he goes through customs specifically because of his journalist work critical of them.

Why are they wasting their time with this petty stuff? They should simply arrest him and put him in jail already for daring to oppose the will of the government. Isn’t that the politically correct thing to do?

Construction crews turned back by protesters at Mauna Kea

Despite an announcement that construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea would resume today, construction crews turned back when faced with protesters who blocked the road at 10,000 foot elevation.

The protesters, who number about 200, left the road when police asked them to, then regrouped further up the road. The caravan came to an abrupt stop at the 10,000-foot level at about 12:30 p.m. because protesters had placed boulders in the road, blocking the vehicles.

Andre Perez, a Hawaiian activist and teaching assistant at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, was among the protesters arrested at about 11:30 a.m. “We have a human right to control our land. This is not American land,” Perez said as police took him away.

The first arrest happened at 8:39 a.m. and police arrested more people as the protest moved up the mountain. [emphasis mine]

First, I want to know exactly when this activist purchased the land, since he claims he has the right to control it. Second, what right does he have to rank himself above everyone else in this matter? Does he consider native Hawaiians superior to non-natives? If so, isn’t that somewhat racist and bigoted?

Finally, based on his own words above I think the activist revealed the true hatred that fuels his actions (as well as his fellow protesters). He really doesn’t care about the mountain’s sacredness. He simply hates the United States and wants to destroy it.

House conservatives push back against Boehner

The conflict between the moderate House leadership under John Boehner and the conservative House Freedom Caucus appears to be heating up.

The opening lines of the article are quite intriguing:

The House Freedom Caucus has a secret it wants to share with Democrats. “If the Democrats were to file a motion to vacate the chair [remove Boehner] and were to vote for that motion unanimously, there probably are 218 votes for it to succeed,” one member of the House Freedom Caucus told CQ Roll Call Tuesday night, as he exited an meeting in the basement of Tortilla Coast.

If that’s true, Democrats could certainly use a vote to remove Speaker John A. Boehner as leverage in any number of upcoming battles: the Export-Import Bank, a highway bill, all sorts of spending measures. But absent any real talk from Democrats, the official response from Boehner’s communications director, Kevin Smith, was simply to dismiss CQ Roll Call’s reporter. “Matt Fuller is a prop for Freedom Caucus propaganda,” Smith wrote via email.

What this suggests is that the Freedom Caucus is looking for ways to pressure the House leadership to pay more attention to their concerns instead of Democratic concerns. And if the data from the article is correct and that the caucus’s membership has swelled to as much as 70 members, then Boehner is in deep trouble.

Then again, this could all be a game to make the caucus look more powerful than it is. If it can work out a deal to depose Boehner, however, even if it is weak, it might still be able to get a true conservative Republican named as House Speaker.

One month after it realized it needed them, IRS erased email backups

Working for the Democratic Party: One month after the IRS realized it had lost many of Lois Lerner emails demanded by a number of investigations looking into the tax agency’s harassment of conservatives, IRS employees erased the backup tapes for those very emails.

The lost emails were to and from Lois Lerner, who used to head the IRS division that processes applications for tax-exempt status. In June 2014, the IRS told Congress it had lost an unknown number of Lerner’s emails when her computer hard drive crashed in 2011.

The IRS had discovered that the emails were lost in February 2014. A total of 422 computer backup tapes were erased a month later, George says in his testimony. At the time, IRS officials said the emails could not be recovered.

[IRS Inspector General J. Russell] George says the workers were unaware of a 2013 directive from the agency’s chief technology officer to halt the destruction of email backup tapes. The IRS says it has produced 78,000 Lerner emails, many of which have been made public by congressional investigators. George says his investigators were able to recover more than 1,000 additional Lerner emails. However, he said, as many as 24,000 emails were destroyed when IRS employees erased the computer tapes.

And then there is this: “The investigators, however, concluded that employees erased the tapes by mistake, not as part of an attempt to destroy evidence.”

They really do think we are stupid. This scandal has been a major story for several years, one that every IRS employee has got to be aware of. In March 2014 it was an especially hot story, with IRS commissioner John Koskinen about to testify to Congress about it (which is when he revealed the loss of these emails).

For them to continue to routinely destroy backup tapes at that time, and for their bosses to do nothing to stop them, can only because they wanted those tapes destroyed.

1 2 3 4 420