Monthly Archives: February 2013

A 150 foot wide asteroid will buzz the Earth tomorrow at a distance of only 17,000 miles.

Chicken Little report: A 150 foot wide asteroid will buzz the Earth tomorrow at a distance of only 17,000 miles.

There have been numerous news articles about this fly-by for the last two weeks, all hyping the dangers of an impact that in this case simply won’t happen. A threat of an impact from an asteroid is real and should be dealt with, but the reporting here has at times been somewhat silly. Asteroid 2012 DA14 is not going to hit us as it goes by. All that will happen is that scientists will have take advantage of this opportunity to look at it.

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The hot fire test of the Antares first stage tonight was aborted at the last second.

The hot fire test of the Antares first stage tonight was aborted at the last second.

The planned first stage propulsion system “hot fire” test of Orbital’s new Antares medium-class rocket was halted in the final seconds of the countdown by the rocket’s flight computer, which detected an anomalous condition. The Antares team will evaluate the data from the test to determine the nature of the abort. A new date for the test has not been determined.

With any new rocket this kind of thing is to be expected. The concern here is the tight schedule that Orbital Sciences is under to get Antares and Cygnus operational. Long delays will not be good for them, considering the politics in Congress. Every delay will be used by certain politicians to get this program cut so the money can go to the very expensive Space Launch System that feeds the jobs in their districts.

Update: It appears the issue was that the computer detected a low pressure reading and aborted the burn. (A similar issue occurred on several of SpaceX’s early launches as was very quickly corrected.) A rescheduled hot burn is expected to take place next week.

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Under the weather

Among cavers there is a saying: “The most dangerous part of any cave trip is the drive to and from the cave.” Well, that might just apply to trips to Israel. On my last flight home on Thursday there was a woman sitting behind me wearing a face mask, the kind used to protect the wearer from other people’s germs. In her case, however, it was to protect everyone else. During the whole flight to Phoenix she coughed continually.

On Friday night my throat felt scratchy. By Sunday it was clear that I had caught a bad cold. Today is day five, which is usually the worst. I had intended to write up my last report about my trip to Israel but I just don’t have the energy. The best I can do today is post some news items, do some easy reading for another Astronomy article I’m writing, and tape an appearance tonight on the John Batchelor Show. The longer essay will have to wait until tomorrow.

Update: Just for your added pleasure, the image below the fold shows the view of Bethlehem from the main highway south out of Jerusalem. The tunnel and high security fence were installed after the most recent intifada. Before then you had to drive through town, which was slow, but also dangerous as Bethlehem is controlled by the Palestinian Authority. During the intifada the danger became acute as commuters would have rocks thrown at them, and some were even shot at. The security fence, condemned by all the world, was an attempt to protect commuters from this threat.
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Some details have been released about that deal between Russia and Kazakhstan over the Baikonur spaceport.

Some details have been released about that deal between Russia and Kazakhstan over the Baikonur spaceport.

It seems the conflict does revolve around Russia’s new spaceport under construction in Vostochny, and how it might compete with Baikonur. Kazakhstan feels threatened, and is trying to forestall a loss in business.

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Russian investigators, having pinpointed the cause of a December 2012 launch failure, have cleared the Proton rocket to resume commercial launches in March.

Russian investigators, having pinpointed the cause of a December 2012 launch failure, have cleared the Proton rocket to resume commercial launches in March.

It is interesting that this failure of the Proton’s Briz-M upper stage was not related to two previous failures of that same upper stage. It is also interesting that the article does not describe what actions have been taken to correct the problem.

If I was a future Proton launch customer I would be very concerned. Three launch failures all related to the Briz-M upper stage, and all from different causes. This appears to suggest some fundamental problems with the stage itself, or with the company that manufactures it.

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Bigotry in Israel

It is often claimed by those who oppose Israel that it is an apartheid state that imprisons its Arab population, both in Israel itself as well as in the West Bank and Gaza.

Like much that is said about Israel, however, this claim has little to do with reality, and in fact, as I said yesterday, turns reality on its head.

Inside Israel, Arabs have the option (though some have decided not to take it) of becoming full citizens. Thus, not only are Israeli Arabs among the most prosperous Arabs in the Middle East, they have more rights under the Israeli democratic government than most Arabs in every other Arab country. They can vote, and have even served as elected members of Parliament.

Compare that with the way Arabs treat their religious minorities. Jews are of course forbidden. Christians meanwhile are fleeing the Islamic Middle East because of its persecution of non-Muslims.
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The newly released “ObamaCare Survival Guide” has rocketed to the No. 2 spot on The New York Times’ bestseller list for advice-giving paperbacks.

I wonder why: The newly released “ObamaCare Survival Guide” has rocketed to the No. 2 spot on The New York Times’ bestseller list for advice-giving paperbacks.

It is also No. 1 on many amazon.com lists. This quick demand only indicates once again how bad this law is, requiring people to desperately search for ways to deal with it. Sadly, its negative impact on business and healthcare in the coming years is going to continue.

Update: And in related news, Virginia’s state liquor organization is limiting the hours of all part-time workers to avoid the costs of Obamacare.

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“The bishops have made it very clear that the institutions for which we’re responsible will simply not cooperate.”We’ve only just begun: “The bishops have made it very clear that the institutions for which we’re responsible will simply not cooperate.”

We’ve only just begun: “The bishops have made it very clear that the institutions for which we’re responsible will simply not cooperate.”

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Comparing the price of Falcon 9 with the Atlas 4.

Comparing the price of the Falcon 9 with the Atlas 4.

Today’s launch was conducted aboard the “plain Jane” version of the Atlas V, the 401, which has no strap on boosters, a single upper stage engine and a 4 meter fairing. It was originally awarded to Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services in 2007 for a $124 million fixed fee contract. By contrast the first NASA science launch awarded to the SpaceX Falcon 9, that of the Jason -3 satellite for 2014, was for $82 million. With current pricing for similarly equipped Atlas V 401 vehicles for NASA launches at roughly $150 million, based on awards from 2011, the difference is hardly trivial.

In other words, Falcon 9 is almost half the price. No wonder satellite companies are flocking to buy a launch on it.

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The HOAs of Israel

What is a West Bank settlement? If you read the press, it is a place where Israeli Jews have moved in and stolen the land of Arabs in order to occupy their land unfairly. It is a place where Arabs are forbidden, where apartheid has been established against the indigenous population.

Not only are these statements false, they actually turn reality on its head.

In my two visits to Israel I have stayed or visited four different West Bank settlements, and in each place my first impression was that I was visiting a typical American gated community, a suburban community run by a home-owner-association (HOA). You enter by driving through a gate where an attendant waves at you as you go by. He doesn’t stop you, because he either knows you or he has profiled you and sees no reason to ask you any questions. Once inside the roads wind about, passing individual homes or apartments. At the center of the community is a recreation center, often with a pool and library, where events are held and people go for entertainment.

Alon Shvut
The gated community of Alon Shvut, south of Jerusalem in the West Bank.

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The founder of the green movement sees the light.

The founder of the green movement sees the light.

I am an environmentalist and founder member of the Greens but I bow my head in shame at the thought that our original good intentions should have been so misunderstood. We never intended a fundamentalist Green movement that rejected all energy sources other than renewable, nor did we expect the Greens to cast aside our priceless ecological heritage because of their failure to understand that the needs of the Earth are not separable from human needs. … Although well-intentioned it is an erosion of our freedom and draws near to what I see as fascism.

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The leaders of Russia and Kazakhstan have announced that an agreement has been reached regarding Russia’s lease for the Baikonur spaceport.

The leaders of Russia and Kazakhstan have announced that an agreement has been reached regarding Russia’s lease for the Baikonur spaceport.

No details were released but I suspect that Kazakhstan has probably backed down from some of its demands, fearful of losing the Russians when the new Russian spaceport in Vostochny opens in 2015.

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Life as it should be

An evening pause: I posted this clip from the 1972 film, Man of La Mancha back in 2010, where Peter O’Toole, as Cervantes, explains why he does not like to look at life, “as it is.”

It is worth revisiting ever so often, as it invokes hope and the possibility that even in the worst times, all things are possible, if we demand it.

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The weak solar maximum continues

On February 4, NOAA released its monthly update of the Sun’s sunspot cycle, covering the period of January 2013. As I do every month, I have posted the latest graph, with annotation, below the fold.

Not surprisingly, the sunspot numbers in January showed a recovery and rise from the steep plunge in December. What is surprising, however, is that the rise is not very much, barely bringing the sunspot number for the month back to the weak numbers we’ve seen for most of 2012.
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Hitchhiking and supermarkets in the occupied territory

In my visit to Israel this past week, I spent almost all my time in the West Bank. In all, I have now either stayed in or visited a total of four West Bank settlements. In addition, while there I also did some sightseeing in Jerusalem and elsewhere. From this short experience I have gleaned some very fascinating facts, many of which are very surprising, though they shouldn’t be as they are facts that in many cases are fundamental to understanding the long-running and seemingly unsolvable Middle East conflict.

In the next few days I will post a series of short essays describing my experience and thoughts, with this essay being the first.

First and foremost, the assumption everyone makes about the West Bank and Israel is that it is a very dangerous place, especially for Jews. This assumption is entirely false. It is so false it is downright laughable.
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