Monthly Archives: March 2015

Air Force demanded too much in its SpaceX certification process

In the heat of competition: A military review of the Air Force’s certification process of SpaceX has found that the Air Force has demanded far more changes from the company than were justified or proper.

The report, prepared by former Air Force Chief of Staff General Larry Welch, said the Air Force treated the process like a detailed design review, dictating changes in SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and even the company’s organizational structure. That approach resulted in over 400 issues that needed to be resolved, which was “counterproductive” to a national policy aimed at encouraging competition in the sector.


In fact, the process was intended to show that SpaceX met overall requirements to launch military satellites, not carry out the more detailed review required for each launch on a case-by-case basis, he said.

The review also concluded that SpaceX was too resistent to any proposed changes.

SpaceX might have been too resistent, but this report confirms my suspiciion that the Air Force purposely created hoops for SpaceX to jump through because the Air Force really didn’t want to have to deal with SpaceX and wanted to make it too difficult for them to be approved.

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Dark matter is even more of a mystery that expected

The uncertainty of science: Using the Hubble and Chandra space telescopes astronomers have discovered that dark matter is not only invisible to direct observation, it is invisible to itself!

In this new research, Harvey and his team realized just how invisible this stuff is, even to itself. As two galactic clusters collide, the stars, gas and dark matter interact in different ways. The clouds of gas suffer drag, slow down and often stop, whereas the stars zip past one another, unless they collide — which is rare. On studying what happens to dark matter during these collisions, the researchers realized that, like stars, the colliding clouds of dark matter have little effect on one another.

Thought to be spread evenly throughout each cluster, it seems logical to assume that the clouds of dark matter would have a strong interaction — much like the colliding clouds of gas as the colliding dark matter particles should come into very close proximity. But rather than creating drag, the dark matter clouds slide through one another seamlessly.

I guarantee that this result is not definitive. The data here is on the very edge of reality, built on too many assumptions. We know that something undetected as yet is influencing the motions of galaxies, but what exactly it is remains completely unknown. These results only make the mystery more mysterious.

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Stay tuned for photo tour of Vandenberg

I am presently at Santa Barbara Airport waiting for my flight home to Tucson after spending the day at Vandenberg Air Force Base. After Steve and Jessica Tullino of the Vandenberg Section of the AIAA gave me a tour of the base, including a close look at one launchpad, I then was their speaker at their section’s luncheon meeting.

Anyway, I took a bunch of pictures and plan to post these sometime tonight or tomorrow. Stay tuned.

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GAO denied access to Webb telescope workers by Northrop Grumman

In a report as well as at House hearings today the GAO reported that Northrop Grumman has denied them one-on-one access to workers building the James Webb Space Telescope.

The interviews, part of a running series of GAO audits of the NASA flagship observatory, which is billions of dollars overbudget and years behind schedule, were intended to identify potential future trouble spots, according to a GAO official. But Northrop Grumman Aerospace, which along with NASA says the $9 billion project is back on track, cited concerns that the employees, 30 in all, would be intimidated by the process.

To give Northrop Grumman the benefit of the doubt, these interviews were a somewhat unusual request. Then again, if all was well why would they resist? Note too that the quote above says the cost of the telescope project is now $9 billion. That’s a billion increase since the last time I heard NASA discuss Webb. If the project was “back on track: as the agency and Northrop Grumman claim, than why has the budget suddenly increased by another billion?

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NASA has decided to grab an asteroid rock rather than bag an asteroid

Rather than try to bag an entire small asteroid with an unmanned probe and bring that back to Earth, NASA has decided to send an unmanned probe into orbit around an asteroid and use it to grab one of the asteroid’s boulders.

The $1.25 billion mission, which is planned to launch in December 2020, would send a robotic spacecraft for a rendezvous with an asteroid in 2022. After touching down on the asteroid’s surface, the spacecraft would snatch a boulder several meters across. The spacecraft would then orbit the asteroid for up to 400 days, testing out an idea for defending Earth from a catastrophic asteroid impact: using the spacecraft’s own gravitational field to subtly alter the asteroid’s orbit. Next, the spacecraft would bring the snatched rock back to Earth’s vicinity in 2025. Finally, as part of preparations for a possible mission to Mars, astronauts would visit and examine the rock for some 25 days, using the planned Orion spacecraft to make the trip.

From both a science perspective as well as a manned space perspective, the unmanned part of this plan is a very good idea. Whether it will get funded depends upon Congress, since its roots go back to President Obama’s April 2010 commitment to send astronauts to an asteroid by 2025. Such a commitment was never really realistic, so it has devolved to capturing a rock and sending astronauts to visit it, thus meeting Obama’s commitment in a Potemkin Village sort of way.

Much better to bring the rock back to Earth orbit where it can be captured and brought to ISS by any number of vehicles and studied there. Whether Congress will fund this in the manner proposed in order to help Obama meet his commitment however remains very doubtful.

Posted from Santa Barbara, California.

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A drastic drop in complaints immediately after San Diego outfitted its police with body cameras

Surprise, surprise! Immediately after San Diego outfitted its police force with 600 body camera the number of complaints plunged.

The report, which took one full year into account, found that complaints against police have fallen 40.5 percent and use of “personal body” force by officers has been reduced by 46.5 percent. Use of pepper spray has decreased by 30.5 percent.

Two benefits can be seen immediately. First, the police are being harassed less from false complaints. Second, and more important, the police are finding ways to settle most disputes without the use of force, which means they are abusing their authority less.

These statistics do confirm what many on both the right and the left have begun to believe in recent years, that the police have been almost certainly using force against citizens inappropriately too often. In San Diego at least the cameras are serving to stem this misuse of authority.

Posted from Tucson International Airport, on my way to Vandenberg to get a tour and give a lecture.

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College punishes students for sexist chanting at party, even those not there

Fascists: The University of Mary Washington has punished its entire rugby team of 46 because 8 attended a party where some had participated in “sexist chanting.”

The microaggression unfolded last November at a house party near the Fredericksburg, Virginia, campus, according to Jezebel’s Erin Gloria Ryan. Some students, likely drunk, sang a demeaning song about raping corpses and “wiggling it” inside whores—inappropriate stuff, to be sure, though not really targeted at a specific entity in a threatening way. The chant apparently has its origins in rowdy “pub” songs. It’s a curious tradition, though not one intended to inspire actual malice, it seems.

But someone at the party recorded the chant; eventually, UMW’s Feminists United on Campus found out about it and made sure university administrators were informed. This led to an investigation, and eventually, the end of the rugby team. The location of the party was said to be a “rugby house”—even though only two members of the team actually lived there—and so the entire team had to pay the price.

First of all, the chanting, as ugly as it might have been, is perfectly legal under the first amendment. Not only was it merely speech, it took place off campus in a private residence, where the college has limited jurisdiction.

Second, what kind of justice is it for the college to punish all the members of the rugby team when only a few even attended the party? Even if it had to right to do so (which I question), punishing innocent third parties is beyond Stalinistic.

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Survey shows Obamacare reduced worker hours

Finding out what’s in it: A survey of businesses has found that employers have reduced employee work hours significantly to avoid Obamacare.

A new survey by the Society of Human Resource Management released Tuesday found about 14 percent of businesses have reduced part-time hours and another 6 percent plan to do so. Employers are reducing hours to avoid Obamacare’s employer mandate, which requires companies to provide health insurance to all workers that work 30 or more hours a week. In addition, 5 percent of companies already reduced or plan to reduce the total number of employees.

Believe me, this is only the start. Essentially, Obamacare makes it difficult if not impossible to make a profit.

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Republicans criticize Obama administration for program attacking legal businesses

Fascists: At House hearings yesterday Republican congressmen attacked the FDIC for creating a program that encouraged banks to cease any dealings with businesses the Obama administration happened to dislike.

Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) called on a top banking regulator to fire top employees or step down himself after certain businesses saw their accounts shuttered as part of a government program known as “Operation Choke Point.” Banking regulators have since walked back guidance that was interpreted by some as calling for banks to halt operations with entire types of businesses, but GOP lawmakers say regulators that pushed that notion still need to be held accountable. “I fear that activists at the Department of Justice and [Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation] are abusing their power and authority,” said Duffy. “They’re weaponizing government to meet their ideological beliefs.”

Martin Gruenberg, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, told lawmakers Tuesday that bank examiners had misinterpreted regulatory guidance to suggest that entire categories of businesses should be barred from traditional banking services. He said earlier guidance outlining high-risk areas had been “misunderstood,” leading examiners to believe that banks should not be providing services to certain types of businesses, like payday lenders and firearms dealers. [emphasis mine]

The FDIC simply decided that certain legal businesses, specifically businesses liberals in the Obama administration were strongly hostile to, should be barred from access to banks. They weren’t illegal. They simply were disliked by liberals. The result was that many of these businesses were forced to shut down.

This quote best illustrates who was and continues to be willing to use the power of government to attack legal businesses they happen to dislike:

But Duffy accused Gruenberg of “slow walking” the matter, having failed to punish FDIC employees that pushed banks to cut services with certain industries. He went so far as to suggest that if Gruenberg did not punish those employees, he should step down as chief regulator. “I don’t think you want to hold them accountable,” said Duffy. “If you can’t go after the problem in the FDIC…you have no place as the chairman.”

For their part, Democrats largely defended the FDIC as attempting to properly implement policy and protect the banking sector.

So, the Democrats think it’s a good idea. Interestingly, Democrats took an almost identical position in regards to the IRS harassment of conservatives. To me, it seems kind of fascist. But who am I to say?

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Rosetta makes the first detection of nitrogen at a comet

Rosetta has made the first detection of molecular nitrogen in the coma of Comet 67P/C-G.

The in situ detection of molecular nitrogen has long been sought at a comet. Nitrogen had only previously been detected bound up in other compounds, including hydrogen cyanide and ammonia, for example. Its detection is particularly important since molecular nitrogen is thought to have been the most common type of nitrogen available when the Solar System was forming. In the colder outer regions, it likely provided the main source of nitrogen that was incorporated into the gas planets. It also dominates the dense atmosphere of Saturn’s moon, Titan, and is present in the atmospheres and surface ices on Pluto and Neptune’s moon Triton.

It is in these cold outer reaches of our Solar System in which the family of comets that includes Rosetta’s comet is believed to have formed.

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Wisconsin to evict Amish family from their home

Fascists: Because an Amish family’s religious beliefs forbid them from using modern technology, the state of Wisconsin plans to evict them from their home.

At a Monday hearing, a Circuit Court judge ordered the Eau Claire County sheriff’s office to evict Amos and Vera Borntreger, a farming couple with four children under the age of six, from their home in the Old Order Amish community of Fairchild, Wisconsin. The order comes as the latest development in a five-year battle with the Borntregers, who like other Wisconsin Amish families say they cannot even sign Uniform Dwelling Code permits without violating their faith.

“The Amish object to the new UDC requirements that require modern technology such as smoke alarms—a modern convenience expressly prohibited by their religion,” said the National Committee for Amish Religious Freedom, Eau Claire Chapter, in a Monday statement. “The Amish are willing to pay the fees, but claim that even signing the permit violates their religious beliefs because the form states they would be ‘subject to’ regulations that require modern electricity and plumbing,” the statement said.

We must remember that humans lived freely without this technology for most of human history. To force someone to have it, even when it is against their religious beliefs, is plain fascism. Under such an oppressive rule, freedom cannot exist.

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Russians to offer tourists six-month tour on ISS

The competition heats up: The Russians are considering offering tourists the ability to buy a full six month tour on ISS when they resume tourist flights in 2018.

They don’t yet have any customers for such a flight, but in order to make some money, or “lowering the budgetary load” as they put it, they are considering offering it.

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Whose side is Obama on?

I ask this frightening question because it is becoming increasingly clear that Obama’s loyalties do not seem to be firmly lodged on the side of western civilization, the United States, or even our allies in the Middle East, both Jewish and Muslim.

To give you an idea, here is a small selection of links:

The last is interesting in that it includes these comments by Obama:

In a Nowruz (Persian New Year) video address, Obama said that a “reasonable nuclear deal… can help open the door to a brighter future for you, the Iranian people. I believe that our nations have a historic opportunity to resolve this issue peacefully — an opportunity we should not miss,” added Obama.

The collection above is only a sampling in the past week. It ignores past stories, such as Obama’s snub of the Charlie Hebdo demonstrations in France, for example.

I repeat: Whose side is Obama on? The evidence sure is mounting that he is not allied with the United States.

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New bill would repeal Patriot Act

Some good news: Two Congressmen have introduced legislation to repeal the Patriot Act as well as end all unconstitutional domestic spying by government agencies.

The article notes that there is bi-partisan support for “doing something” about the out-of-control surveillance of federal agencies like the National Security Agency. I agree. Expect something like this to get passed. Whether Obama will veto it is another question. Despite what he says (which no one should every believe), he likes the idea of prying into the lives of private citizens.

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More Democrats discover the Obamacare law they wrote is a bad law

Finding out what’s in it: A group of Democratic senators, all supporters of Obamacare, are now begging Obama to delay implementation of one aspect of the law they wrote and voted for.

In a letter exclusively obtained by The Daily Caller, Senate Democrats pleaded with Health and Human Services secretary Sylvia Matthews Burwell to delay an Obamacare rule change that puts companies with 51 to 100 employees in the costlier “small group” market instead of the “large group” market. The rule change, which will result in higher premiums for many companies, goes into effect in 2016. The letter was signed by Democratic Sens. Claire McCaskill, Heidi Heitkamp, Chris Coons, Joe Manchin, Joe Donnelly and Jon Tester and independent Sen. Angus King, who caucuses with the Democrats.

Some of these Democrats were not in Congress when the law passed, but since then they have all voted against all Republican proposals to change or repeal the law, including proposals that wanted to do this very thing.

But they are Democrats! They are so very smart! And they care! It must be Bush’s fault Obamacare was passed!

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Poles cheer as an American military convoy passes through

Those evil American imperialists! As an American military convoy passed through the Polish Bialystok during a NATO exercise the entire town came out to cheer.

Gee, I wonder if the Poles would give the Russians or Germans or maybe any other foreign army the same greeting. In fact, isn’t it strange that this is the same greeting American troops get from ordinary people in every nation they have ever gone to? Could it be because we as a nation have never gone to conquer but only to liberate? Could it be because once we are finished these places have always been better off than before we got there? Could it be because we have always demanded that freedom, justice, and the rule of law be the guidebook for the local regimes we leave behind?

Nah, none of that can be true. My leftwing college professors told me that America is the source of all evil in the world. That must be true. They couldn’t have lied to me.

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Curiosity finds nitrates on Martian surface

Using data from Curiosity scientists have for the first time identified nitrates, also called fixed nitrogen, on the Martian surface.

There is no evidence to suggest that the fixed nitrogen molecules found by the team were created by life. The surface of Mars is inhospitable for known forms of life. Instead, the team thinks the nitrates are ancient, and likely came from non-biological processes like meteorite impacts and lightning in Mars’ distant past.


Features resembling dry riverbeds and the discovery of minerals that form only in the presence of liquid water suggest that Mars was more hospitable in the remote past. The Curiosity team has found evidence that other ingredients needed for life, such as liquid water and organic matter, were present on Mars at the Curiosity site in Gale Crater billions of years ago.

The data also suggests that these nitrates are widespread on the Martian surface.

The most important aspect of this discovery to me is not so much that it suggests the faint possibility of past life on Mars but that it makes Mars a more hospitable place for life in the future. Nitrates are essentially fertilizer, and for Mars to have this material in the soil already means it will be easier to figure out how to grow crops there.

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Sierra Nevada makes deal with Houston airport authority for Dream Chaser landings

Sierra Nevada has made an agreement with Houston’s airport authority to use Ellington Airport there to land its Dream Chaser spacecraft.

This announcement is part of the public relations push going on right now as NASA prepares to award its next round of cargo freighter contracts to two private companies. Sierra Nevada has bid to use an unmanned version of Dream Chaser to launch that cargo.

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Opportunity’s flash memory reformatted successfully

A three month old flash memory problem on the Mars rover Opportunity has finally been fixed by reformatting the rover’s memory banks.

Since the problem came up in December they have been operating the rover without any flash memory, essentially running it on the equivalent of its ram memory. This fix allows them to once again store data on the rover and gives them more flexibility of operation.

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A photo tour of Vostochny

The Siberian Times has posted a very interesting photo tour of Russia’s new spaceport, Vostochny, presently under construction.

The article is very much a propaganda piece pushed by the Russian government (some photos were actually taken by Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin himself), but it still gives you a sense of the scale and size of the project.

It is quite instructive to compare how the Russians do things, with a giant public works project costing $5 billion and taking more than a decade to build, with how the Americans do things, with a small privately-built space port being constructed by SpaceX in Brownsville for mere millions and in only a few years.

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India extends Mangalyaan’s mission by six months

Western slopes of Arsia Mons

Having successfully completed its nominal six month mission and continuing to operate perfectly, ISRO has extended the mission of India’s Mangalyaan Mars orbiter for another six months.

Take a gander at the images the orbiter has been sending down. Quite impressive. The cropped image on the right shows the western slopes of the giant volcano Arsia Mons, with white water vapor hovering above those slopes. (Click on the image for the full resolution version.) The water vapor is significant because scientists believe that this region once had many glaciers, and that much of that water is still present and trapped below the surface as ice, possibly in many of the caves that are there. The vapor’s presence, a routine occurance here, strengthens this theory.

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Test flight of rail-guided launcher delayed to October

The competition heats up: The first test flight of a rail-guided military small satellite launcher has been delayed until October 2015.

“Launch delays of the new launch system were driven primarily by technical development challenges on the first stage motor including design and delivery of the rocket motor case and the integrated rocket motor,” Anttonen said in a response to written questions from Spaceflight Now. “This motor is now complete along with the rest of the launch vehicle, and the launch is on hold pending an opening in the range schedule,” Anttonen said.

The launch system is designed to provide launch capability for small satellites like cubesats, with a launch cost of $12 to $15 million. If successful, it will be a direct competitor to Virgin Galactic’s LauncherOne, except that it appears it might be operational first.

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Russian tourism flights to resume in 2018

The competition heats up: Faced with the loss of income from NASA in 2017, when private commercial ferries take over the job of bringing Americans to ISS, Russian officials today revealed that they plan to resume launching tourists to the station in 2018.

The problem the Russians will have then is that they will have competition from the American companies, who will likely be able to compete in price with them, and will be easier to work with.

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GAO says IRS taxpayer security stinks!

This will make your day: A GAO report has found the IRS financial security system has gigantic holes, including allowing former employees access to taxpayer confidential records long after they have left the agency.

The GAO report says the IRS uses old outdated software without proper security functions. IRS passwords can easily be compromised, the report notes. Even worse, the report says the IRS does not always delete employee access when workers quit or are fired.

But don’t worry. The IRS might not be able to protect your private data, but it is still very good at losing the emails of employees like Lois Lerner, who do the work the Democratic Party needs done, such as using the tax code to harass their political opponents.

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Henry Mancini – The Baby Elephant Walk

An evening pause: From the 1962 Howard Hawks film Hatari!, this scene, and the music that goes with it, shows off the film’s light-hearted adventurous tone. And yes, that’s John Wayne following the girl. Since then this music has been reused innumerable times in youtube pet videos.

Hat tip Diane Zimmerman.

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The myth of Netanyahu’s racism

A close analysis of last week’s elections in Israel finds that the place where Netanyahu got the most votes was an Arab village.

The residents were uninterested in any of the accusations of racism being aimed at Netanyahu by the media. Instead they were interested in housing. As one resident put it, “I used to sleep in a cave with my goats. Now I ask my daughter what wallpaper she wants in her room.”

The article provides a very detailed and educational breakdown of the Arab vote, which is far more complicated than portrayed by the leftwing media. For example, in other areas the Arabs voted not for Netanyahu but for another right-wing party in his coalition. If the right was so bigoted, as the left likes to claim, why did this happen?

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