Russia launches criminal investigation at Vostochny

The Russian government has launched a large-scale investigation into the disappearance of 300 million rubles ($6 million) at their new Vostochny spaceport.

The criminal case was opened on the charges of large-scale embezzlement, the interior department said. According to a pre-investigation check, an agreement was signed in October 2014 between the client represented by the state special construction company and a contractor on fulfilling contractual work for building roads as part of the Vostochny cosmodrome infrastructure development, the interior department said. “The client under the contract made an advance payment of 300 million rubles to the contractor. However, the contractor did not start work and did not return the advance payment,” the interior department said, adding the investigation was continuing.

It appears the Russian government is finally tightening the screws at what appears to be widespread corruption at Vostochny.

I suspect the real problem here is not that the contractor pocketed some money illegally, it is that the contractor pocketed too much money illegally. Had he simply skimmed off a bit off the top but made sure construction proceeded, Putin and his gang would have gladly looked the other way. They skim off enough of their own too y’know, on numerous other projects. Skimming off so much that the project isn’t even built, howver, is unacceptable!

FBI found to have routinely faked incriminating data

Does this make you feel safer? For more than two decades before 2000 the FBI’s forensic unit gave flawed and misleading testimony in almost every case in which its experts testified.

This study was launched after the Post reported that flawed forensic hair matches might have led to possibly hundreds of wrongful convictions for rape, murder, and other violent crimes, dating back at least to the 1970s. In 90 percent of the cases reviewed so far, forensic examiners evidently made statements beyond the bounds of proper science. There were no scientifically accepted standards for forensic testing, yet FBI experts routinely and almost unvaryingly testified, according to the Post,”to the near-certainty of ‘matches’ of crime-scene hairs to defendants, backing their claims by citing incomplete or misleading statistics drawn from their case work.” [emphasis in original]

But hey, let’s extend the spying authority of the National Security Agency, as is being pushed by Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), leader of the Republican Party. What could possibly go wrong?

Judge rules family should be destroyed for refusing to bake a cake

The state religion rules! A Oregon administrative law judge has recommended that a family should be fined $135,000 because the parents, who once ran a now shuttered baking business, refused to participate in a homosexual wedding by baking its cake.

Why did the Oregon judge stop there? The crime, of daring to disagree with the homosexual agenda, is so egregious that it seems to merit imprisonment. I think Oregon should maybe even consider concentration camps for these bigoted religious wackos who have the audacity to believe something different than the official state religion of liberalism. And how dare they think they have the right to feed and clothe their own children? We must take those children away immediately and put them in education camps so they can be raised properly!

Students vote to ban Chick-fil-A from Johns Hopkins campus

Fascists: In an 18-8 vote, the Student Government Association at Johns Hopkins has voted to ban Chick-fil-A from opening a franchise on campus because of the conservative opinion of its CEO towards same-sex marriage.

Most of the news reports on this story have focused on the reasons the students voted for the ban. Having such a restaurant on campus will cause students to experience “microaggressions” that will make them feel uncomfortable. We can’t have that!

I want to focus on the vote itself. That such a large majority of the student government body supports the idea that it is okay to squelch someone’s business merely because of a political disagreement speaks volumes about our future, and it is not good. These are the people that will be running society in a few years, and it is clear that they believe oppression and the use of force against their opponents is appropriate. The cultural norm for them is not to debate their opponents but to smash a boot into their face.

Based on this, if you think modern American culture is getting oppressive now, just wait. You ain’t seen nothing yet.

Seismic data of Yellowstone has found a bigger second magma chamber

Geologists have mapped the existence of a second deeper and larger magma chamber under Yellowstone National Park.

Scientists had already known about a plume, which brings molten rock up from deep in the mantle to a region about 60 kilometers below the surface. And they had also imaged a shallow magma chamber about 10 kilometers below the surface, containing about 10,000 cubic kilometers of molten material. But now they have found a deeper one, 4.5 times larger, that sits between 20 and 50 kilometers below the surface. “They found the missing link between the mantle plume and the shallow magma chamber,” says Peter Cervelli, a geophysicist in Anchorage, Alaska, who works at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Yellowstone Volcano Observatory.

The discovery does not, on its own, increase the chance of an eruption, which is driven by an emptying of the shallow chamber. The last major eruption was 640,000 years ago, and today the threat of earthquakes is far more likely. But the deeper chamber does mean that the shallow chamber can be replenished again and again. “Knowing that you have this additional reservoir tells you you could have a much bigger volume erupt over a relatively short time scale,” says co-author Victor Tsai, a geophysicist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. The discovery, reported online today in Science, also confirms a long-suspected model for some volcanoes, in which a deep chamber of melted basalt, a dense iron- and magnesium-rich rock, feeds a shallower chamber containing a melted, lighter silicon-rich rock called a rhyolite.

Russia ends effort to build a nuclear-powered rocket engine

The competition cools down! The Russian government has decided to shut down its research project to build a nuclear rocket engine for interplanetary travel in space.

The article doesn’t give a reason, but I suspect Russia’s continuing economic problems is the source.

The idea of using nuclear power for propulsion in space has been around since the 1960s, and has shown great promise. It would provide far more power for less fuel than any existing engine. The U.S. unfortunately abandoned this research in the 1960s, partly because of the cut-backs after winning the space race and partly because of environmental protests that fear anything to do with nuclear. If the Russians had followed through, it would have given them an advantageous position in any competition to colonize the planets.

Chinese scientists do genetic experiments with human embryos

What could possibly go wrong? A Chinese team of scientists have been experimenting with genetically manipulating the human embryo to see if they can prevent a genetic blood disorder.

The team attempted to modify the gene responsible for β-thalassaemia, a potentially fatal blood disorder, using a gene-editing technique known as CRISPR/Cas9. The researchers say that their results reveal serious obstacles to using the method in medical applications. “I believe this is the first report of CRISPR/Cas9 applied to human pre-implantation embryos and as such the study is a landmark, as well as a cautionary tale,” says George Daley, a stem-cell biologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston. “Their study should be a stern warning to any practitioner who thinks the technology is ready for testing to eradicate disease genes.”

They not only found the technique unreliable in curing the genetic disease, it also produced many more unpredicted mutations.

Aerojet Rocketdyne faces the possible loss of most of its business

In the heat of competition: Because of a combination of increased competition, launch failures, political decisions, and quality control questions, the rocket company Aerojet Rocketdyne could lose almost all of its rocket customers in the next few years.

Link fixed! (Once again caused by trying to post while sitting in the passenger seat of the car and typing on a tiny tablet.)

The first reflected light from an exoplanet detected

For the first time scientists have detected directly the reflected light coming from an exoplanet.

Astronomers using the HARPS planet-hunting machine at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile have made the first-ever direct detection of the spectrum of visible light reflected off an exoplanet. These observations also revealed new properties of this famous object, the first exoplanet ever discovered around a normal star: 51 Pegasi b. The result promises an exciting future for this technique, particularly with the advent of next generation instruments, such as ESPRESSO, on the VLT, and future telescopes, such as the E-ELT.

Russia slashes spending on space

In the heat of competition: Economic hard times have forced the Russian government to cut spending on its space program by more than a third.

The cuts have mainly come from abandoning their effort to build a heavy lift rocket to compete with SLS. They might not realize it, but I think this will be a blessing in disguise, as they will no longer be wasting money building a giant rocket that will have little value in the competitive launch market. Instead, they will focus their investment on Angara, which has the possibility of earning them a profit.

Meanwhile, however, they still have to deal with the quality control problems and corruption that appears to permeate Russia`s entire aerospace industry: Russian defense rocket fails and crashes immediately after launch. I have posted the video of the crash below the fold. It appears that the rocket was successfuly propelled from its launch silo, but then its rocket engines never ignited.
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The building rage is not just against Democrats

People who read my website only intermittently might get the impression that I am partisan and specifically hostile to the Democratic Party. This is false. I am an equal opportunity opponent to anyone that likes oppression and the use of government to impose it.

Some stories today, describing the actions or opinions of some of the so-called conservative or moderate leaders of both the Republican and Democratic parties, illustrate clearly that we still need a major house-cleaning in Congress if we are to get this out-of-control monster under control:
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Hubble finds something astronomers can’t explain

The uncertainty of science: The Hubble Space Telescope has spotted the explosion of a star that does not fit into any theory for stellar evolution.

The exploding star, which was seen in the constellation Eridanus, faded over two weeks — much too rapidly to qualify as a supernova. The outburst was also about ten times fainter than most supernovae, explosions that destroy some or all of a star. But it was about 100 times brighter than an ordinary nova, which is a type of surface explosion that leaves a star intact. “The combination of properties is puzzling,” says Mario Livio, an astrophysicist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. “I thought about a number of possibilities, but each of them fails” to account for all characteristics of the outburst, he adds.

We can put this discovery on the bottom of a very long list of similar discoveries by Hubble, which this week is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its launch.

On that note, as part of that celebration today has published a long interview with me about Hubble and my book, The Universe in a Mirror, the saga of the Hubble Space Telescope and the visionaries who built it. They have also published an excerpt from the book. Check both out.

New Shepard test flights to begin within weeks

The competition heats up: Blue Origin is expected to begin regular test flights of its suborbital resusable manned spacecraft, New Shepard, within mere weeks.

This news came from a government FAA official involved in approving flight permits. The company itself has declined to comment.

Even if it is a few months rather than weeks, these flight tests will put more pressure on Virgin Galactic in the race to become the first commercial suborbital tourism company to sell and actually fly a passenger. And if I had to bet who’d win the race, I would no longer put my money on Virgin Galactic.

NASA ISS cargo contracts delayed

The competition heats up: NASA has delayed, for the second time, when it will award its next round of cargo contracts to ISS, pushing the date back from June to September.

Though agency officials said they could not reveal why they had delayed the contract awards, they did say it was to gather more information. My guess is that the agency wants to see how SpaceX’s launch abort tests turn out this year before it makes a decision. If successful, they will then have the option of dropping SpaceX’s as a cargo carrier and pick someone else, possibly Dream Chaser, to provide up and down service to ISS. That way, they would increase the number of vehicles capable of bringing people and supplies up to ISS.

Delaying the award decision until September gives them time to evaluate the abort tests results, as well as give them a cushion in case those tests get delayed somewhat.

Liberals may regret their new rules

Link here. Two quotes:

Which brings us to America in 2015. It’s becoming a nation where an elite that is certain of its power and its moral rightness is waging a cultural war on a despised minority. Except it’s not actually a minority – it only seems that way because it is marginalized by the coastal elitist liberals who run the mainstream media.

Today in America, we have a liberal president refuses to recognize the majority sent to Congress as a reaction to his progressive failures, and who uses extra-Constitutional means like executive orders to stifle the voice of his opponents. We have a liberal establishment on a secular jihad against people who dare place their conscience ahead of progressive dogma. And we have two different sets of laws, one for the little people and one for liberals like Lois Lerner, Al Sharpton and Hillary Clinton, who can blatantly commit federal crimes and walk away scot free and smirking.

Today in America, a despised minority that is really no minority is the target of an establishment that considers this minority unworthy of respect, unworthy of rights, and unworthy of having a say in the direction of this country. It’s an establishment that has one law for itself, and another for its enemies. It’s an establishment that inflicts an ever-increasing series of petty humiliations on its opponents and considers this all hilarious.

That’s a recipe for disaster. You cannot expect to change the status quo for yourself and then expect those you victimize not to play by the new rules you have created. You cannot expect to be able to discard the rule of law in favor of the rule of force and have those you target not respond in kind.

And this:

When you block all normal means of dissent, whether by ignoring the political will of your opponents or using the media to mock and abuse them, you build up the pressure. In 30+ years as an active conservative, I’ve never heard people so angry, so frustrated, so fed up. These emotions are supposed to be dissipated by normal political processes. But liberals are bottling them up. And they will blow. It’s only a matter of how.

Liberals need to understand the reality that rarely penetrates their bubble. Non-liberal Americans (it’s more than just conservatives who are under the liberal establishment’s heel) are the majority of this country. They hold power in many states and regions in unprecedented majorities. And these attacks focus on what they hold dearest – their religion, their families and their freedom.

What is the end game, liberals? Do you expect these people you despise to just take it? Do you think they’ll just shrug their shoulders and say, “Well, I guess we better comply?” Do you even know any real Americans? Do you think you’ll somehow be able to force them into obedience – for what is government power but force – after someone finally says “Enough?

Read it all. I can’t quote it all, but every word carries a wisdom that the left — as well as the status quo Republican establishment — better heed before it is too late.

As I’ve said before, the rage is building.

I am also reminded of this scene, below the fold, from the 1966 masterpiece A Man for All Seasons:
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Protesters prevent minorities from attending class

Fascists: In order to protest what they preceive as a hostile environment on campus for minorities, protesters blocked access to the school so that minorities could not attend classes.

Up to 50 students gathered and prevented foot traffic through the gate. On multiple occasions, students, including minorities, tried to break through so they could attend class. In response, the protesters violently attacked them. Three assaults were reported during the protest. The University of California Police Department (UCPD) at Berkeley did not take action against the protesters, despite the fact that they acknowledged that protesters were breaking the rules and potentially committed crimes.

You can’t make this stuff up. To highlight oppression these fascists impose oppression. According to the article, the protest only ended when students teamed up and “bull-rushed” the protesters in order to get to their classes.

Rosetta records the appearance of a new jet on Comet 67P/C-G

jet appears on comet

Cool image time! Images taken two minutes apart by Rosetta have captured the emergence of a new jet on Comet 67P/C-G.

The two images released today show the remarkable onset of such a jet for the first time. They were taken on 12 March from a distance of 75 kilometres. In the first image, obtained at 07:13 CET, several rays of dust jets frame the upper, illuminated side of the comet. The dark underside shows no such features. Two minutes later, the picture has changed: a spectacular new jet has emerged on the dark side, hurtling dust into space and displaying a clearly discernable fine structure.

This was the first jet observed in a shadowed area, and the scientists think this jet might have started because it was just before dawn there.

More strikes at Vostochny

Another worker strike has broken out at the new Russian spaceport at Vostochny by workers who say they have not been paid their wages.

The strike itself is not the significant fact here. The significant fact is that even though the project has been under the close supervision of Putin himself since September, the wages were still not paid. Supervisors have been pocketing wages even as very high Russian officials have been publicly demanding that they get the construction back on schedule. And this story suggests that they continue to do so.

The entire situation implies a very extensive level of corruption at all levels of the Russian infrastructure, something that will make it very difficult for them to accomplish much in their future efforts in space.

Japan to the moon!

The competition heats up: Japan’s space agency has announced plans to send an unmanned lander to the Moon, as early as 2018, as part of a longer range plan to explore Mars.

They also intend to use their new Epsilon rocket to launch it.

Gee, I wonder if the successful efforts of India and China to send probes to both the Moon and Mars had some influence on this decision.

TMT construction postponed again

The builders of the Thirty Meter Telescope have temporarily extended the suspension of construction originally demanded by Hawaii’s governor.

The tone of the article, especially the comments by the governor, suggests that the state is accepting the reality that they have no legal right to stop construction, and are making that fact very public. Instead, the govenor is now beginning the public relations campaign to make construction possible despite the protests, including negotiating some other givebacks to the protesters to shut them up. Sadly, those giveback appear to be the decommissioning of some other working telescopes as well as some increased restrictions on access to the mountain by the public.

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