Monthly Archives: December 2016

George Washington University drops American history requirement

The coming dark age: George Washington University has eliminated the requirement that its history majors take American history.

The department eliminated requirements in U.S., North American and European history, as well as the foreign language requirement. Thus, it is possible that a student can major in history at GWU without taking a survey course on United States history.

The new requirements mandate at least one introductory course, of which American history, World History and European civilization are options. Yet, like at many elite universities, the introductory course requirement may be fulfilled by scoring a 4 or a 5 on the Advanced Placement exams for either U.S. History AP, European History AP or World History AP.

As a result, it will be possible for a graduate of this university’s history department to earn a degree and not even know who the university is named after.


The recent changes in Earth’s magnetic field

New data from Europe’s Swarm constellation of satellites detail the recent bigger-than-expected changes that have been occurring in the Earth’s magnetic field.

Data from Swarm, combined with observations from the CHAMP and Ørsted satellites, show clearly that the field has weakened by about 3.5% at high latitudes over North America, while it has strengthened about 2% over Asia. The region where the field is at its weakest – the South Atlantic Anomaly – has moved steadily westward and weakened further by about 2%. These changes have occured over the relatively brief period between 1999 and mid-2016.

It was already known that the field has weakened globally by about 10% since the 19th century. These changes appear to be part of that generally weakening. Some scientists have proposed that this is the beginning of an overall flip of the magnetic field’s polarity, something that happens on average about every 300,000 years and last occurred 780,000 years ago. At the moment, however, we have no idea if this theory is correct.


U.S. tests anti-missile interceptors

The U.S. Navy and the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) on December 14th successfully test fired two missile interceptors, designed to destroy an incoming missile attack.

The test occurred Dec. 14 and launched two Raytheon-built Standard Missile-6 Dual 1 (SM-6) missiles from the Navy destroyer USS John Paul Jones from just off the coast of Hawaii, MDA officials said in a statement. The two SM-6 projectiles were launched against a medium-range ballistic missile target as part of the MDA’s Sea-Based Terminal Program, using Navy ships equipped with the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System.

The interceptor missiles also used an explosive warhead to destroy their target, which appears to be an advance on previous interceptors, which relayed merely on hitting the target.


Lobbying for the Moon

Several news articles in the past few days, partly fueled by the make-up of some of the new members of Trump’s NASA transition team, have exhibited a strong push to get the new administration to restart the Bush administration’s goal of returning to the Moon.

All of this might happen. What these stories suggest to me is that the big contractors, Boeing and Lockheed Martin who are building SLS and Orion, are pushing the new administration to give this rocket and capsule a mission, something it presently does not have. At the same time, the stories might also indicate some of Trump’s typical and very smart negotiation tactics. Unlike Obama, who never knew how to play the game, Trump appears to understand that if he is going to institute major changes in NASA’s future projects, he needs to get Congress to agree.

Rather than eliminate SLS and Orion right off the bat, as Obama tried to do when he unilaterally cancelled Constellation, Trump could offer the Moon to Congress as an interim goal for this giant rocket and capsule. This was what both were really designed for initially, as they are essentially modern copies of the Saturn 5 and the Apollo capsule. In exchange, Trump could then get Congress to place more emphasis on commercial space needs, getting the competing privately built capsules and new cargo vessels (Dragon, Starliner, and Dream Chaser) better funded and built faster. He could also propose that NASA encourage private companies to compete to design and build lunar orbiting facilities, ideas that both Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Orbital ATK have been pushing now for several years.

I should note that giving a lunar goal to SLS/Orion does not mean that the program will get bigger or last significantly longer. Congress could simply fund one or two more missions through 2024. By that time, the competing successes of private space will make it very clear that this boondoggle is not the way to go into the future. By then, the new commercial space industry will have also grown enough that Congress will have no problem letting this industry replace SLS/Orion, and will thus have less objections in letting that program die.

I must also emphasize that I am speculating here. It is probably a bit soon to predict what a Trump administration will do with NASA and space. The signs however are pointing in this direction.


A rover review of 2016

Link here. While my rover updates are focused entirely on where the rovers are, where they will be heading in the immediate future, and the present condition of the rovers themselves, this update provides a very good summary of the entire year’s events for both rovers, focused especially on the science learned by Curiosity. Definitely worth a read.


ESA signs contract for construction of its part of ExoMars 2020

On Friday the European Space Agency signed a contract with Thales Alenia Space for the construction of the European portion of the ExoMars 2020 lander/rover mission.

The contract signed in Rome, Italy, secures the completion of the European elements and the rigorous tests to prove they are ready for launch. These include the rover itself, which will be accommodated within the Russian descent module, along with the carrier module for cruise and delivery to Mars. ESA is also contributing important elements of the descent module, such as the parachute, radar, inertial measurement unit, UHF radio elements, and the onboard computer and software. The science instruments for the rover and surface platform are funded by national agencies of ESA member states, Roscosmos and NASA following calls to the scientific community.

I had missed this last week. The Thales Alenia press release has more information.

I wish them luck, especially the Russians, whose luck with missions to Mars has been truly terrible. I suspect that the Russians will use some variation of their bouncing balloon technology for the lander, which worked on their 1960s lunar rover missions and was successfully copied by NASA for its 1997 Pathfinder/Sojourner rover mission.


Trump puts Boeing and Lockheed Martin in competition!

On Thursday President-elect Donald Trump said that, because of the high cost overruns in building Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter, he has asked Boeing to submit an offer to build their F-18 instead.

The point here is not that Trump is going to change contractors. The point is that he is making them both aware that he can change contractors. Also, his meetings earlier this week with the CEOs of both Boeing and Lockheed Martin does not mean he is going to do what they want. Trump’s pattern has repeatedly been to meet with people who are likely going to be his opponents to ease their minds, and then sideswipe them immediately afterward with plans that they would have opposed. His meetings with Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio to discuss climate change did nothing to prevent him from picking a slew of climate skeptics for every single one of the cabinet posts involved in climate policy, people that both Gore and DiCaprio oppose strongly

Getting back to Boeing and Lockheed Martin, Trump’s actions in connection with their federal aviation contracts bodes well for commercial space. He is encouraging competition, a concept that the entire commercial space program is based on. I am willing to bet that when he finally begins setting NASA policy, he is going to demand SLS/Orion compete as well, or go by the wayside.


Mars rover update: December 22, 2016


Curiosity's location, Sol 1555

For the overall context of Curiosity’s travels, see Pinpointing Curiosity’s location in Gale Crater.

After weeks of drill diagnostics and enforced lack of travel while those diagnostics were on-going, Curiosity finally moved last weekend (Sol 1553). The traverse map to the right, cropped and reduced in resolution to show here, indicates where they went, which wasn’t far and doesn’t really tell us yet which route they plan to take to pick their way through the surrounding dune fields. Thus, the options I indicated in my November 14, 2016 rover update all remain possible. If you go to that update you can see a much better Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) overhead image showing the upcoming terrain.

In the meantime, the Curiosity science team is preparing to take a well deserved Christmas-New Year’s break (see update for sols 1566-1568). So that Curiosity doesn’t sit idle during that time, they have uploaded to it an 8-sol plan to cover December 22 to December 30 followed by a 3-sol plan from December 31 to January 2. The rover will not move during this period, but will take lots of different observations in situ.

As they note rightly at the link above, “It’s been quite the year for our rover: we have drilled six holes, performed two scoops, driven 3 km, and climbed 85 vertical meters!” What is more significant is that the best is yet to come!


For the overall context of Opportunity’s travels at Endeavour Crater, see Opportunity’s future travels on Mars.
» Read more


EPA only archived 86 out of 3.1 million agency texts in 2015

Cover-up: The EPA and its employees only archived 86 out of 3.1 million agency texts sent during 2015.

The EPA Office of Inspector General (IG) released the report requested by Texas Republican [Lamar Smith], which described enormous text message retention problems within the EPA. One unnamed senior official configured his phone to automatically delete texts after 30 days. The IG claimed EPA officials never “intentionally” violated the Federal Records Act and did not include the low number of archived texts in the body of its report, relaying it instead to congressional staff.

Multiple federal laws and regulations require that officials preserve all documents — including email and text messages — created in the course of conducting official business of the U.S. government.

Like the Pentagon officials I noted earlier today, how stupid does this inspector general think we are? When a government agency, in clear violation of numerous laws, archives less than 0.000003 percent of all texts, you either have to be willfully blind, stupid, or a participant in the cover-up to claim that this behavior was “never intentional.” Furthermore, the report included these juicy details, all clear evidence that the failure to archive was for at least two senior officials very intentional indeed:

The anonymous senior official who configured his phone to delete texts may have deleted vital information, the IG found. “The senior official responded that he did not have any text messages on the device for that (three-month) period,” IG auditor Teresa Richardson said in a podcast. “The device had been set to automatically delete text messages every 30 days. So it is likely that any text messages that were substantive and should have been preserved were deleted.”

The report found another senior official claimed to have zero texts, despite EPA’s quarterly mobile device usage report showing frequent texts from that person. Another official, a regional administrator, potentially lost federal records by failing to transfer or otherwise preserve texts after replacing an old phone.

The more people fired at the EPA, the better. It is presently being run by dishonest political hacks who are very willing to do things in direct violation of the law.


Fake Hate Crimes

A new website has been created to keep track of the numerous fake hate crimes that are being committed by crazy people on all sides of the political spectrum.

I generally don’t post stories about “hate” crimes, because almost invariably they are either fake or staged in the reporting for the express purpose of creating disinformation or discrediting a political movement, on either the right or the left. Rarely are they real hate crimes. Moreover, I detest the very term “hate crime”. A crime of violence is a crime of violence. To add a further condemnation to the motives or emotions involved can too easily shift into squelching freedom of speech and religion. In fact, this is exactly what has happened.

However, this entire list is instructive. First of all, the distribution of fake hate crimes is not even. A vast majority are being committed by leftists or Muslims aimed at discrediting the right or western civilization. Thus, the claim that the election of Donald Trump has sparked more rightwing racism against minorities or the left is shown to be bogus, right from the start.

Second, this uneven distribution gives us all a sense of the kind of people who are being attracted to the left and to Islam. While you can find this kind of craziness in any political, racial, or religious group, at this time in history the majority of this craziness is gravitating to liberal, islamic, and leftwing movements.

Think about that. There is a strong element of madness that is gaining power on the left, and in Islam. To ignore this fact is to ignore reality.


Pentagon makes believe Iran isn’t using $1.7 billion for military

Does this make you feel safer? General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told Congress last week that the Pentagon does not believe Iran’s military development is being funded by the $1.7 billion given to them by the Obama administration.

“Intelligence assesses that the $1.7 billion transferred to Iran probably was allocated predominately to Iran’s economic sector, in accordance with Tehran’s stated emphasis on economic expansion, modernization, and diversification,” Dunford said in response to multiple questions from lawmakers, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) and 17 other senators.

Lawmakers suspect that Iran has used this cash infusion to boost its military operations in the region, including in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq.

However, Dunford maintained this is not the case. “Iran continues to seek improved missile systems and the replacement of aging military equipment, particularly aircraft and naval vessels,” he wrote. “However, there is a lack of information to suggest Iran is attempting to use the $1.7 billion towards these interests.”

Either this guy and everyone in the Pentagon is downright stupid, or they think everyone else is. The Obama administration handed Iran $1.7 billion, and almost immediately Iran announced it was going to spend $1.7 billion more on military development. And that means there is “a lack of information to suggest Iran is attempting to use the $1.7 billion” for military purposes?

I think this guy, and his cohorts at the Pentagon, should find work they are better qualified to do, such as serving burgers at McDonalds.


Lace on Mars

Lace on Mars

Cool image time! The image on the right, cropped and reduced in resolution to show here, was taken by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter June 21, 2016. It shows a region in the high northern latitudes, 80 degrees.

Some seasonal ice on Mars is transparent so that the sunlight penetrates to the bottom of the ice. Heat from this sunlight can turn the ice directly into a gas in a process called sublimation and this gas can scour channels in the loose dirt under the ice. Channels formed by sublimation of a layer of seasonal dry ice are so dense in this area that they look like lace. Gas flow erodes channels as it escapes to the surface of the overlying seasonal ice layer seeking the path of least resistance.

The resolution of the full image is 9.7 feet per pixel. This means that if Curiosity was driving across this surface we would see it. I guarantee however that Curiosity would not find driving here very easy. The ice surface is likely very delicate, and would likely cause any vehicle to bog down. The surface is also likely very alien-looking, which makes me very much want to see what it looks like, up close. This look will unfortunately have to wait, as we as yet do not have the right technology to do it. We would need I think a drone, capable of flying in Mars’s thin atmosphere.


Close-up of Pandora


Cool image time! The image on the right, cropped and reduced to show here, is that of Saturn’s small moon Pandora. The full resolution image was taken on December 18, 2016 during Cassini’s closest fly-by of the Moon ever. It was taken from a distance of 25,200 miles, and has a resolution of 787 feet per pixel.

Note the pooling of dust-like material in the crater. Note also the brighter exposed surfaces on the inner crater rim above that pooled material. It appears to my eye almost as if the dust that had coated the higher elevations of this inner rim has for some unknown reason suddenly settled into the crater’s floor.

Pandora orbits just outside Saturn’s F ring, which means it is well exposed to the material in the ring. I would also expect that much of its surface is well coated with particles from the rings.


Fatal clinical drug trial failed because company did not review all data

The company that conducted a fatal French clinical drug trial that killed one and left four permanently damaged has revealed that it did not review all the available data before administering increased dosages to patients.

Not only is it astonishing that they failed to use all the available data, it is even more amazing that the company itself admits to this.

As I noted when this story first broke in February, this is a big deal, and should get major coverage by news organizations.

…it is disturbing that a research company could be so cavalier about the lives of the human beings it is using as test subjects.

This story also illustrates indirectly the significant decline in the state of today’s modern mainstream press as well as the greater interests of the general public. This is a major science story. For a clinical drug study to kill one of its test subjects is a big deal. Yet I am certain that this will get no coverage in any cable news outlet. (If anyone see a video story about this, please let me know.) The written news outlets on the web will likely do a story, but it will not give it wide exposure.

As far as I can tell, this story got no coverage in the press then, and I expect none now. A dark age is surely coming.


China and the UN open future Chinese space station to international research

China the the UN’s Office for Outer Space Affairs will soon announce a partnership for soliciting proposals from the international community for research projects to be performed on China’s upcoming space station.

UNOOSA and CMSA will work together to solicit proposals for payloads and experiments for the space station from scientists all over the world, with projects to be decided by international selection committees. UNOOSA Director Simonetta Di Pippo, in comments provided to gbtimes, stated that: “We expect that the first announcement for project proposals should come in late 2016 or early 2017. Other activities will be undertaken as the environment for their implementation becomes ready.”

The 20-tonne core module of the Chinese Space Station (CSS) is expected to be launched in 2018, with the addition of two experiment modules to complete facility around 2022. “While the space station is being made operational, UNOOSA and CMSA will prepare to call for technical proposals from entities worldwide for the design of experiments to take place on-board the station,” Ms Di Pippo said.

While open to all, the initiative will focus especially on developing nations as part of the UN’s Human Space Technology Initiative (HSTI) which aims to involve more countries in space activities and encourage non-spacefaring countries space research and to benefit from space applications.

The agreement is a good one, but its goal is not entirely altruistic on China’s part. In the article it is clear they are trying to score some propaganda points against the U.S., which by law bars China from ISS and any other U.S./China space partnership because of their bad habit of stealing technology for military purposes. With this UN partnership they are immediately claiming that they are “more open and democratic” than the U.S., as stated in the article. The claim is a lie, however. Just like the U.S. they will surely reject any international proposals they consider a security risk. They simply will, with the UN’s cooperation, be less public about it.


Leftist and Muslim student organizations make demands at University of Maryland

The fascists team up! 25 totalitarian student organizations at the University of Maryland have issued a list of 64 demands.

The project, known as ProtectUMD, is a collaborative effort between 25 student organizations at the University of Maryland, including Students for Justice in Palestine, Bisexuals at Maryland, and the Black Student Union. There are 64 demands across 8 subsets of students—Marginalized, American Indian, Black, Latinx, LGBTQIA+, Muslim, Pro-Palestine, and Undocumented—including scholarships for “students of marginalized communities,” a ban on Columbus Day, beginning every on-campus event with an acknowledgement that “this is Indigenous Land,” that African American professors get tenure, that preferred pronouns are included on rosters, and that “queer diversity training” is required.

Muslim students also want “one room in each major building designated for prayer” and “shuttle services to [the local mosque] for Muslim students to have access to a place of worship.” Among the Pro-Palestine demands, students want the administration to condemn the “conflation of Pro-Palestinian activism with Anti-Semitism,” claiming that “Pro-Palestinians do not reject the human rights of any group of people.” [emphasis mine]

I have highlighted the important words that indicate the totalitarian and fascist nature of these groups. They do not wish to negotiate. They aren’t interested in diversity or tolerance. They have no interest in compromise and learning to live with their neighbors. No, they demand, ban, require, and condemn. They are also racists and bigots, despising anyone who does not belong to their favored minority groups. They also expect free scholarships and tenure for those same groups, merely because of their race, gender, sexual preference, or leftwing political beliefs.

Note also how the leftists here have no problem allying themselves with Islam, a religion that routinely murders homosexuals and oppresses women. This should reveal to everyone their priorities, which isn’t protecting the rights of “marginalized communities” but is instead the acquisition of power, which once obtained they will then use to brutally oppress anyone who opposes them.

I fully expect the administration of the University of Maryland to agree to all their demands, mainly because most modern academic administrators are just as bigoted and totalitarian and leftist as these fascists.


Computer modeling suggests light fluctuations at Tabby’s Star are natural

A computer analysis of the light fluctuations of Tabby’s Star suggest to astronomers that the changes are not caused by objects blocking the star (such as an alien Dyson Sphere under construction) but are instead natural variations caused as the star evolves.

This conclusion is decidedly uncertain. They do not know the nature of this stellar evolution. And they are applying avalanche models to the star to come to this conclusion.


What happened at SpaceX the first time they landed a first stage

Cool image time! The National Geographic Mars series is combining fiction with high quality documentary footage of real events. The clip below shows the first ever vertical landing of a used rocket first stage in December 2015, and includes footage taken of SpaceX engineers and Elon Musk during that launch and landing. The landing ranks as one of the most important events in space history. And it still gives me goosebumps. Seeing that it also caused goosebumps to those who made it happen only emphasizes the significance of the moment.


Fifth Google Lunar X-Prize team gets launch deal

Japan’s Team Hakuto has signed a deal to partner with another Google Lunar X-Prize competitor, Team Indus, to share the cost and launch together on a Indian PSLV rocket.

Essentially, both competitors will launch together. They will then race to the Moon to see which can first achieve the X-Prize goal of landing and roving 500 meters.


Russia conducts anti-satellite missile test

According to Pentagon officials Russia today conducted the fifth test of its anti-satellite Nudol missile, designed to directly hit a satellite after launch from the ground.

Few details of the test were revealed. The Russians deny that Nudol is an anti-satellite missile, claiming instead that it is designed to attack enemy missiles.


A review of Trump’s current cabinet picks

Link here. Despite being a CNN article, the review is reasonable and fair-minded, though it tends to see these picks as more conservative than they are. Overall, however, I would agree with the analysis, except that I see Trump’s cabinet, heavily dominated by businessmen, as leaning more towards practical management than conservative ideology.

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