Today’s blacklisted American: Democrat wants IRS to shut down conservative organization

The future show trials desired by Democratic Party Senator Sheldon Whitehouse
Show trials are what Sheldon Whitehouse and the Democrats really want

Blacklists are back and the Dems’ have got ’em: Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) has demanded that the IRS strip the conservative college organization Turning Point USA of its non-profit status because it had held large events in the last year (similar to many Black Lives Matter protests during the same time period).

According to Whitehouse, the Turning Point USA events were “superspreader” events and a threat to public health. Apparently he also believes that the coronavirus can’t appear at comparable Black Lives Matter protests, nor does he appear interested in finding out if any such superspreader events actually occurred following the Turning Point USA gatherings (they did not). From Whitehouse’s letter:
» Read more

China developing 13,000 satellite communications constellation

The new colonial movement: China appears to be merging several different large satellite communications constellation projects into a single mega-constellation employing possibly 13,000 satellites.

Recent comments by senior officials indicate that plans are moving ahead to alter earlier constellation plans by space sector state-owned enterprises and possibly make these part of a larger “Guowang” or “national network” satellite internet project.

Spectrum allocation filings submitted to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) by China in September last year revealed plans to construct two similarly named “GW” low Earth orbit constellations totaling 12,992 satellites.

Two previously announced constellations, dubbed Hongyan and Hongyun, are being reshaped to join this single larger constellation.

Obviously, coordination will be required between these satellites and the other mega constellations begin built by companies such as OneWeb, SpaceX, and Amazon. In fact, the tiff between OneWeb and SpaceX this week over the close fly-by of two of their satellites illustrates well this need.

SpaceX accuses OneWeb lobbyist of making false claims about a Starlink and OneWeb satellite close approach

Capitalism in space: In an FCC filing on April 20th, SpaceX accused a lobbyist for OneWeb to have made false claims against SpaceX in connection with a close approach between Starlink and OneWeb satellites.

In yesterday’s filing to the FCC, SpaceX said that “OneWeb’s head lobbyist recently made demonstrably inaccurate statements to the media about recent coordinations of physical operations. Specifically, Mr. McLaughlin of OneWeb told the Wall Street Journal that SpaceX switched off its AI-powered, autonomous collision avoidance system and ‘they couldn’t do anything to avoid a collision.’ Rather, SpaceX and OneWeb were working together in good faith at the technical level. As part of these discussions, OneWeb itself requested that SpaceX turn off the system temporarily to allow their maneuver, as agreed by the parties.”

SpaceX’s “autonomous collision avoidance system was and remains fully functional at all times,” SpaceX also wrote.

SpaceX also claimed that OneWeb admitted that the claims of its lobbyist were false, but OneWeb subsequently denied this.

It appears overall that OneWeb and its lobbyist tried to use this event to not only attack SpaceX, but to hinder SpaceX’s development of Starlink. According to SpaceX’s filing,

OneWeb’s misleading public statements coincide with OneWeb’s intensified efforts to prevent SpaceX from completing a safety upgrade to its system. For instance, immediately after the first inaccurate quotes came out in media accounts, OneWeb met with Commission staff and Commissioners demanding unilateral conditions placed on SpaceX’s operations. Ironically, the conditions demanded by OneWeb would make it more difficult to successfully coordinate difficult operations going forward, demonstrating more of a concern with limiting competitors than with a genuine concern for space safety.

Based on SpaceX’s overall past history and the track record of its competitors, I tend to believe SpaceX here. While the company has a very aggressive development culture, it also reacts instantly to any circumstances where its actions conflict with others. This doesn’t mean it backs off completely, only that it has always been willing to work with others to address their concerns.

First images of Ingenuity’s second flight

Ingenuity's second flight, April 22, 2021
For full images go here, here, and here.

According to Mimi Aung, the project manager for Ingenuity, they attempted their second flight of the Mars helicopter early this morning, with the following flight plan:

[W]e plan to trying climbing to 16 feet (5 meters) in this flight test. Then, after the helicopter hovers briefly, it will go into a slight tilt and move sideways for 7 feet (2 meters). Then Ingenuity will come to a stop, hover in place, and make turns to point its color camera in different directions before heading back to the center of the airfield to land. Of course, all of this is done autonomously, based on commands we sent to Perseverance to relay to Ingenuity the night before.

No live stream was provided this time. However, the three images above from Perseverance, just downloaded today and taken about nine minutes apart, show Ingenuity before, during, and after that flight. If you compare the first and third images you can see that the helicopter was able to successfully return to the same landing spot.

I expect an announcement of this successful flight to be posted shortly.

UPDATE: JPL has now released an image taken by Ingenuity during its flight.

Perseverance technology experiment produces oxygen from Mars’ atmosphere

An engineering test experiment dubbed MOXIE on the Perseverance rover has successfully produced oxygen from the carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere, a technology that will be essential for future human missions.

MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-situ Resource Utilization Experiment), a small, gold box-shaped instrument on the rover, successfully demonstrated a solid oxide electrolysis technology for converting the Martian atmosphere to oxygen. The atmosphere on Mars is about 95% carbon dioxide.

MOXIE’s first oxygen run produced 5.4 grams of oxygen in an hour. The power supply limits potential production to 12 g/hr — about the same amount that a large tree would produce.

…The oxygen production process starts with carbon dioxide intake; inside MOXIE, the Martian CO2 is compressed and filtered to remove any contaminants. It is then heated, which causes separation into oxygen and carbon monoxide. The oxygen is further isolated by a hot, charged ceramic component; the oxygen ions merge into O2. Carbon monoxide is expelled harmlessly back into the atmosphere.

Human missions to Mars will not just need oxygen to breath. They will need it to provide the fuel for leaving the planet and returning to Earth, since it will be very impractical and expensive to bring everything they need with them. For colonization and planetary exploration to truly happen future space-farers must live off the land.

Glacial layers in a northern crater on Mars

Crater filled with many layered glacial features
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, cropped to post here, was taken by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on March 6, 2021, and shows a mid-latitude crater in the northern lowland plains of Mars with what appear to be layered glacial features filling its interior.

The theory that scientists presently favor for explaining many of the features we see on Mars is based on many climate cycles caused by the wide swings the planet routinely experiences in its obliquity, or rotational tilt. When that tilt is high, more than 45 degrees, the mid-latitudes are colder than the poles, and water ice sublimates southward to those mid-latitudes to fall as snow and cause active glaciers to form. When that obliquity is low, less than 20 degrees, the mid-latitudes are warmer than the poles and that ice then migrates back north.

Such cycles, which are believed to have occurred many thousands of times in the last few million years, will place many layers on the ground in both the mid-latitudes and at the poles. The layers in this crater hint at this.

The overview map below gives some further context.
» Read more

Today’s blacklisted American: John Schnatter, founder of Papa John’s Pizza

One burned witch is not enough! Burn them all!
One burned witch is not enough! We’ve got to burn them all!

They’re coming for you next: The effort by the left and many like-minded fascists in modern America to destroy anyone who disagrees with them did not begin with the ascension to power of Joe Biden and the Democratic Party following the elections in 2020.

No, the blacklisting and slander campaigns started decades ago, maybe as early as the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for nominees Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas, but clearly accelerating after Trump’s election in 2016.

In 2018 we had a perfect example. Then the founder of Papa John’s Pizza, John Schnatter, was forced out of the company he founded based on lies and slanders issued by the public relations company Laundry Services that he himself had hired to improve his public image after he had publicly criticized the NFL for not stopping the national anthem protests.

Apparently, that pr firm had carefully edited comments Schnatter had made during a telephone call with them, making it look like he was a bigot and had used curse words against blacks. The resulting scandal, spread eagerly throughout the mainstream press, served to destroy his reputation and his business, making him a pariah to the entire world.
» Read more

Astronomers detect largest flare ever, on Proxima Centauri

In May 2019 astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) have detected the largest flare ever seen from any star, including our Sun, on the nearest star, the red dwarf Proxima Centauri.

The detection was 100 times stronger than the Sun’s typical flares.

In May 2019, Proxima Centauri ejected a violent flare that lasted just seven seconds, but generated a surge in both ultraviolet and millimeter wavelengths. The flare was characterized by a strong, impulsive spike never before seen at these wavelengths. The event was recorded by five of the nine telescopes involved in the study, including the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) in ultraviolet, and ALMA in millimeter wavelengths. “The star went from normal to 14,000 times brighter when seen in ultraviolet wavelengths over the span of a few seconds,” said MacGregor, adding that similar behavior was captured in millimeter wavelengths by ALMA at the same time.

Red dwarfs are known to issue very powerful flares, a high solar activity that would likely make life as we know it impossible on any Earth-sized planet in its habitable zone, since the star’s small size and dimness requires that zone to be so close to the star. This powerful flare only cements this reality. The exoplanets that have been found circling Proxima Century will therefore not be great places for life, though building the first interplanetary colony there might make sense.

NASA to buy spacesuits from commercial market

Capitalism in space: NASA last week announced that it is looking for private companies to build spacesuits and other spacewalk equipment that the agency can buy.

In a request for information (RFI) published April 14, NASA revealed that it is looking for feedback from the space sector on its newly updated strategy to work with commercial partners in space. In this new strategy, NASA is looking to collaborate more with commercial partners in developing, building and maintaining technology for spacewalks, or extravehicular activities (EVAs), including spacesuits, the agency said in a statement.

Under this new strategy, the agency will be “shifting acquisition of the exploration extravehicular activity (xEVA) system to a model in which NASA will purchase spacesuit services from commercial partners rather than building them in-house with traditional government contracts,” the statement reads.

This request, issued only days prior to the award of the lunar lander contract to SpaceX, continues the shift at NASA from running things like the Soviet Union, where everything is designed, built, and owned by the government, to the traditional American model of capitalism and free enterprise, where the governement is merely the customer that gets what it needs from the private sector.

The timing also suggests that NASA’s management wants to firm up this shift prior to the arrival of big government guy, former senator and Democrat Bill Nelson, who is undergoing his confirmation hearing today as NASA administrator.

The upcoming first launch of China’s space station

The Chinese Space Station

The new colonial movement: Later this month, on April 29th, China will use its Long March 5B rocket to launch the first module of its space station, dubbed Tianhe, thus beginning the assembly over the next year or so of their first space station, with ten more launches planned in that short time span.

The T-shape, 100-metric-ton CSS [Chinese Space Station] will comprise three major modules: the 18-meter-long core module, called Tianhe (“Harmony of the Heavens”), and two 14.4-meter-long experiment modules, called Wentian (“Quest for the Heavens”) and Mengtian (“Dreaming of the Heavens”), which will be permanently attached to either side of the core. As the station’s management and control center, Tianhe can accommodate three astronauts for stays of up to six months. Visiting astronauts and cargo spaceships will hook up to the core module from opposite ends. Both it and Wentian are equipped with robotic arms on the outside, and Mengtian has an airlock for the maintenance and repair of experiments mounted on the exterior of the station. Tianhe has a total of five docking ports, which means an extra module can be added for future expansion. The station is designed to operate for more than 10 years.

Much of the work on this station will be similar to the scientific research done on ISS. One additional science project linked to the station however is far more impressive:
» Read more

Momentus losing contracts due to security concerns

Capitalism in space: The orbit tug company Momentus appears to be losing some of its contracts because of security concerns that have delayed FAA approvals of its launch licenses and forced the cancellation of flights.

The company delayed the launch of its first Vigoride vehicle, which was to fly on a SpaceX rideshare mission in January, because it could not complete a payload review by the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation in time. Momentus said that the FAA could not approve the payload “due to national security and foreign ownership concerns regarding Momentus raised by the DoD during an interagency review.”

Momentus now hopes to launch that first Vigoride mission on another Falcon 9 rideshare mission in June. The company said the FAA is still working on that interagency review that is being held open by the Defense Department. The review needs to be completed by the end of May for the company to keep its slot on that June launch.

The company has also lost a contract with Lockheed Martin, which though the reasons have not been stated probably relates to the same issue.

That issue apparently is the company’s former chief executive Mikhail Kokorich and its co-founder Lev Khasis and his wife. To address these concerns, Kokorich has stepped down, and the Khasis have put their shares in the company in a voting trust and will divest them within three years.

All does not appear lost however. Momentus Vigoride tug is presently the only option available for cubesats that need an upper stage to move them to different orbits, and it appears that neither Lockheed Martin nor its other customers are entirely abandoning it. They are simply playing safe, standing back, and waiting until the security issues are resolved and the FAA gives its approval.

The anti-satellite missile the Soviet Union designed for one of its early space stations

Link here. Apparently a prototype was actually flown in 1975 on the second successful Soviet space station, Salyut 3, a military mission. A more sophisticated version was never flown when the Soviet’s cancelled their military space station program. However, its design was most fascinating:

[L]ittle is known about the specifications and operation of the system, but, according to the Head of Science and Research Center at NPO Mashinostroenia Leonard Smirichevsky, who introduced the weapon, the vehicle’s grenade-like solid propellant charges doubled as engines!’s 3D recreation of the displayed variant established that it held 96 casings with solid propellant arranged in a globular fashion like the petals of a dandelion around a central combustion chamber. Upon their ignition, the chambers/grenades might have fed hot propulsive gas into a single or multiple combustion chambers at the center of the contraption, producing either the main thrust and/or steering the vehicle. When the missile reached the proximity of the target, according to its guiding radar, the entire vehicle would explode and the small solid chambers would eject under their own propulsive force in every direction acting as shrapnel.

The missile had a flight range of about 70 miles, and was designed to destroy any hostile satellite or spacecraft that approached the military station.

Four more flights for Ingenuity in the next eleven days.

According to MiMi Aung, Ingenuity’s project manager, the test flight campaign for the Mars helicopter Ingenuity has only about eleven days left, during which they will try to complete full flight program of four more test flights.

The helicopter’s one-month test flight campaign officially began April 3, then the Perseverance rover deployed Ingenuity onto the surface of Mars. “We have a 30 day experiment window, so we have two weeks left,” said MiMi Aung, Ingenuity’s project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

She said the helicopter will attempt “increasingly bolder flights” that could travel more than 2,000 feet (600 meters) from its takeoff location. “We do want to push it, and I believe we have enough time to squeeze the next four flights in the next two weeks left.”

The second flight, where the helicopter will go up about 16 feet and then move sideways about seven feet before landing at its take-off point, could happen tomorrow. The third flight, which will travel as much as 150 feet, will follow soon thereafter.

Weather delays next manned flight on Endeavour capsule one day

NASA and SpaceX have chosen to delay tomorrow’s second manned flight on SpaceX’s Endeavour capsule one day because of “unfavorable weather conditions forecast along the flight path for Thursday.”

The launch is now scheduled for 5:49 am (Eastern) on April 23rd. NASA of course will live stream it, though you will have to listen to a lot of pro-NASA propaganda, even though this flight is almost entirely run by SpaceX using a SpaceX rocket, a SpaceX capsule, and SpaceX launch and landing crews. NASA’s real involvement is as a very interested and involved customer during launch and recovery, and then in charge while the crew is docking or is on board ISS.

This will be the first time astronauts will fly on a reused SpaceX capsule. Endeavour was used for the first manned test flight last spring. That earlier flight also creates an interesting human interest side story on this flight. Of the four person crew, pilot Megan McArthur also happens to be the wife of Bob Behnken, who flew on Endeavour last year.

Today’s blacklisted American: Liberal black journalist Juan Williams for not being “black enough”

Blacklists are back and PBS has got ’em: He might be liberal, a Democratic Party cheerleader, and black, but that didn’t stop a PBS host from blacklisting television pundit Juan Williams from appearing on his show because Williams was simply not “black enough”.

Williams alleges the host is on the PBS-affiliated show “This Is America & The World” and that he declined to have Williams talk about race-related issues because he was born in Panama, not America. Williams, a Democrat, said he received a note from the show host telling him about his decision.

“A white TV host recently dismissed me from appearing on his show to discuss race relations by telling me I didn’t qualify because I was born in Panama,” Williams said in his opinion piece in The Hill. “He thinks I’m not Black enough. Seriously.”

When you make race and skin color your number one criteria in all your decisions, then you will begin to make insane and very bigoted decisions like this. Ideas no longer matter. Nor does talent or skill. Only skin color determines who you like or dislike. The only thing that makes this particular example of the left’s constant blacklisting of others for racial reasons different is that it was aimed at a Democrat and a moderate leftist who also happens to not fit the exact racial measure they needed for their narrative.

Nor is this the end. The demand to judge people based solely on their race or ethnicity and the unwillingness of most people to challenge it is leading us directly to race war. Sooner or later the oppressed are not going to take it anymore, especially when some of those oppressed are highly qualified and will view their subjugation as unjust and will have the brains to do something about it.

Americans of all colors have got to start standing up and defying these bigots, loudly. It is the only way we can prevent that race war, and bring us back to the free society we have been for most of the last half century.

NASA’s choice of Starship proves government now fully embraces capitalism in space

Five years ago, before Donald Trump had even announced he was running for president, before Elon Musk had proposed his Starship/Superheavy rocket, and even before SpaceX had successfully begun to dominate the launch market, Jerry Hendricks at the Center for for New American Security (CNAS) asked me to write a policy paper on the state of the American launch industry, providing some background and more importantly, some recommendations that policy makers in Washington, dependent on that launch industry, could use as guidance in the coming years.

CNAS is a Washington, D.C., think tank that was founded in the middle-2000s by two political Washington insiders, one a Democrat and the other a Republican, with a focus on foreign policy and defense issues and the central goal of encouraging bi-partisan discussion. Hendricks’ area of focus was defense and aerospace matters, and at the time he thought the changes being wrought by SpaceX’s with its partly reusable Falcon 9 rocket required in-depth analysis. He had heard my many reports on this subject on the John Batchelor Show, and thought I could provide him that analysis.

The result was my 2017 policy paper, Capitalism in Space: Private Enterprise and Competition Reshape the Global Aerospace Launch Industry. In it I reviewed and compared what NASA had been getting from its parallel rocket programs, the government-designed and owned Space Launch System (SLS) rocket versus the privately-designed commercial rockets of SpaceX and Orbital ATK (now part of Northrop Grumman). That review produced this very simple but starkly revealing table:

SLS vs Commercial space

From this data, combined with my extensive knowledge as a historian of American history and culture, resulted in the following fundamental recommendations:
» Read more

Study: U.S. mortality rates suggest background radiation actually beneficial

The uncertainty of science: According to a new study by researchers at Ben-Gurion University in Israel of mortality rates across the entire United States, people that live in regions of higher background radiation have lifespans on average 2.5 years longer.

Background radiation is an ionizing radiation that exists in the environment because of natural sources. In their study, BGU researchers show that life expectancy is approximately 2.5 years longer among people living in areas with a relatively high vs. low background radiation. Background radiation includes radiation emanating from space, and radiation from terrestrial sources. Since the 1960s, there has been a linear no-threshold hypothesis guiding policy that any radiation level carries some risk. Hundreds of billions of dollars are spent around the world to reduce radiation levels as much as possible.

…According to BGU Professors Vadim Fraifeld and Marina Wolfson, along with Dr. Elroei David of the Nuclear Research Center Negev, lower levels of several types of cancers were found when the radiation levels were on the higher end of the spectrum rather than on the lower end. Among both men and women, there was a significant decrease in lung, pancreatic, colon and rectal cancers. Among men, there were additional decreases in brain and bladder cancers. There was no decrease in cervix, breast or prostate cancers or leukemia.

Their data “covered the entire US population of the 3139 US counties, encompassing over 320 million people,” according to their paper’s abstract.

Up until now the assumption has been that any radiation is bad, based not on research but on assumptions gained by the negative consequence of exposure to high radiation. There has been no good data on the consequences of low level background radiation, because it is so hard to gather. The time frames are long and the numbers small, all of which causes the impact of background radiation to be overwhelmed by other factors. This study’s statistical use of the entire U.S. population is an attempt to overcome these obstacles.

This study is statistical, which means it found a correlation between higher radiation and longer lifespans. Correlation however does not prove causation. The study found no direct evidence that humans health benefits from background radiation. We should therefore take these results with a large grain of salt.

At the same time, their extremely large database is quite telling, and adds some weight to their conclusion.

Video of Ingenuity’s flight, taken by Perseverance

JPL yesterday released a short one minute long video created from images taken by the high resolution mast camera on Perseverance.

You can view the animation here.

Stitched together from multiple images, the mosaic is not white balanced; instead, it is displayed in a preliminary calibrated version of a natural-color composite, approximately simulating the colors of the scene as it would appear on Mars.

Amazon signs ULA’s Atlas 5 for first 9 Kuiper satellite launches

Capitalism in space: Amazon today announced that it has signed a launch contract with ULA to use its Atlas 5 rocket for the first 9 Kuiper satellite launches.

The announcement did not say when these flights will take place, nor how many Kuiper satellites will be on each. Amazon’s license with the FAA requires that it launch half its 3,200 satellite constellation by ’26. Also ULA intends to retire the Atlas 5 in only a few years, replacing it with its Vulcan rocket. This suggests that the launches will occur in the next three years.

They better. Starlink is already going operational, and OneWeb is about to. Plus several other internet constellations are in the pipeline. If Amazon wishes to compete it needs to get those satellites in orbit as quickly as possible. Internet customers don’t generally change their servers easily, tending to stick with whom they’ve got. If Starlink and OneWeb scoop up all the best low-hanging internet fruit Amazon will find itself facing an uphill battle getting customers.

The article revealed one tidbit of interest. Rajeev Badyal, Amazon’s VP of technology for the Kuiper project, was one of the managers Elon Musk fired from his Starlink project in 2018 after realizing that that management team was moving far too slowly for his tastes. It appears Jeff Bezos then hired Badyal to run Kuiper.

Mask madness even as scientists confirm once again their uselessness

Even as a just published new study has shown once again the utter uselessness of masks to limit the spread of respiratory diseases like COVID-19, the control freaks of our now largely oppressive society are clamping down with new totalitarian rules requiring masks to be worn at all times, no matter what.

First let ‘s look at the study, which was published by the National Center for Biotechnological Information government website, a branch of the National Institute for Health. From the paper:

The physical properties of medical and non-medical facemasks suggest that facemasks are ineffective to block viral particles due to their difference in scales. According to the current knowledge, the virus SARS-CoV-2 has a diameter of 60 nm to 140 nm [nanometers (billionth of a meter)], while medical and non-medical facemasks’ thread diameter ranges from 55 µm to 440 µm [micrometers (one millionth of a meter), which is more than 1000 times larger. Due to the difference in sizes between SARS-CoV-2 diameter and facemasks thread diameter (the virus is 1000 times smaller), SARS-CoV-2 can easily pass through any facemask. In addition, the efficiency filtration rate of facemasks is poor, ranging from 0.7% in non-surgical, cotton-gauze woven mask to 26% in cotton sweeter material. With respect to surgical and N95 medical facemasks, the efficiency filtration rate falls to 15% and 58%, respectively when even small gap between the mask and the face exists.

Clinical scientific evidence challenges further the efficacy of facemasks to block human-to-human transmission or infectivity. A randomized controlled trial (RCT) of 246 participants [123 (50%) symptomatic)] who were allocated to either wearing or not wearing surgical facemask, assessing viruses transmission including coronavirus. The results of this study showed that among symptomatic individuals (those with fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose etc…) there was no difference between wearing and not wearing facemask for coronavirus droplets transmission of particles of >5 µm. Among asymptomatic individuals, there was no droplets or aerosols coronavirus detected from any participant with or without the mask, suggesting that asymptomatic individuals do not transmit or infect other people. This was further supported by a study on infectivity where 445 asymptomatic individuals were exposed to asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 carrier (been positive for SARS-CoV-2) using close contact (shared quarantine space) for a median of 4 to 5 days. The study found that none of the 445 individuals was infected with SARS-CoV-2 confirmed by real-time reverse transcription polymerase.

There is a lot more in the study. Read it all. It shows, based on extensive research, that even when worn properly masks are relatively useless in stopping viral diseases. And since as mandated no one ever uses them properly, they end up becoming likely collectors of pathogens instead, at the very spot where people breath, thus contributing to the spread of infection.

The study also documented the numerous physiological and psychological costs caused by the forced continuous use of masks, from restricting oxygen to causing people to become socially isolated.

The paper’s conclusion:
» Read more

Spring arrives on the northern polar cap of Mars

Buzzell dunes and pedestal crater near the Martian north polar ice cap
Click for full image.

Cool image time! It is now spring in the northern hemisphere of Mars, and the first bits of sunlight are finally reaching its north polar ice cap. During the winter, as happens each Martian year, that polar cap of water ice gets covered by a thin mantle of dry ice no more than six feet thick. Moreover, this mantle doesn’t just cover the ice cap, it extends south as far as about 60 degrees latitude, covering the giant sea of dunes that surrounds the ice cap.

When spring comes that mantle begins sublimate away, with its base first turning to gas. When the pressure builds up enough, the gas breaks out through the frozen mantle’s weakest points, usually the crest or base of dunes or ridges, leaving behind a dark splotch caused by the material thrown up from below that contrasts with the bright translucent dry ice mantle.

Each year for the past decade scientists have been using the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) to monitor this sublimation process. The photo above, taken on February 24, 2021 and cropped, enlarged, and brightened to post here, marks the start of this year’s monitoring program. Dubbed informally “Buzzell” by Candice Hansen of the Planetary Science Institute in Arizona, it shows dunes with a round pedestal crater just right of center. Though almost everything when this picture was taken is still covered by that dry ice mantle, in the lower left is a single splotch, the first breakout of CO2 gas that marks the beginning of the annual disappearance of this dry ice.

Last Martian year I repeatedly posted images of Buzzell to illustrate this annual process. The second image below was taken on April 4, 2019, at about the same comparable time in spring.
» Read more

Today’s blacklisted American: Anyone who is white, Christian, or male at Cigna

Cigna training presentation
According to Cigna’s training, these are bad things.

They’re coming for you next: Company documents as well as interviews have confirmed that the health insurance company Cigna actively discriminates against whites in its hiring practices, as well as runs training sessions using Critical Race Theory that aims at making all whites, males, and Christians ashamed of what they are, because by definition such people are automatically racist bigots.

The original story is here. From the first link:
» Read more

Boeing confirms next Starliner unmanned demo flight delayed until August

Capitalism in space: Boeing on April 17th confirmed what had already been rumored, that the second unmanned demo flight to ISS of Starliner, its manned capsule, has been delayed until August.

In a statement, Boeing said that the company and NASA are projecting the uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT) 2 mission will take place in August or September. That date is “supported by a space station docking opportunity and the availability of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and Eastern Range.”

Boeing had been working toward a launch of OFT-2 in late March or early April. However, by early March, NASA officials acknowledged that was no longer likely because of delays from the replacement of avionics units on the spacecraft that were damaged by a power surge during ground tests, as well as power outages in the Houston area caused by a winter storm in February that interrupted software testing.

They still hope to make the first manned demo flight before the end of the year, assuming the summer unmanned flight goes as planned.

For Boeing, the sooner they get this capsule operational, the sooner it can start earning money by flying commercial flights. At the moment the delays have meant that SpaceX is getting all that business, with two private flights already scheduled and rumors that it will win a flight from the UAE as well. Furthermore, other commercial competitors are on the horizon, including both China and India.

Starship prototype #15 readying for flight, possibly tomorrow

Starship #15 on launchpad
Screen capture from Labpadre launchpad live stream.

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s 15th prototype of its Starship upper stage, is preparing to do a static fire test today, with its first test flight possibly as soon as tomorrow, though at present the FAA has not given its approval.

They have done tank tests already, and installed three upgraded Raptor engines yesterday. This spacecraft is a major upgrade from the previous prototypes, and SpaceX probably plans to eventually fly it higher and farther than the previous prototypes. Though no details about those flight plans has yet been released, the first flight will almost certainly repeat the previous flights, going up about ten miles, flipping sideways to simulate a controlled atmospheric descent, and then uprighting itself and landing vertical on the landing pad. Hopefully the upgrades will result in the first truly clean landing with this prototype.

Though the FAA under the Biden administration has seemed eager to flex its bureaucratic muscles and slow development, that NASA has chosen this vehicle as the one that will take astronauts to and from the Moon will put pressure on it to not slow things down too much.

Ingenuity flies!

Ingenuity takes off!
For full images go here and here.

The first autonomous flight of the helicopter Ingenuity on Mars successfully took place early this morning, according to JPL engineers.

NASA has pulled off the first powered flight on another world. Ingenuity, the robot rotorcraft that is part of the agency’s Perseverance mission, lifted off from the surface of Mars on 19 April, in a 40-second flight that is a landmark in interplanetary aviation. “We can now say that human beings have flown a rotorcraft on another planet,” says MiMi Aung, the project’s lead engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

As shown by the two images taken by Perseverance above, the first flight was very simple. The helicopter simply rose about 10 feet, hovered for about 30 seconds as it swiveled 90 degrees, and then carefully descended back down. I have also embedded the video that JPL scientists have created compiling by high resolution Perseverance images below the fold.

Four more flights will next be attempted in the coming weeks.

Four further flights, each lasting up to 90 seconds, are planned in the coming weeks. In these, Ingenuity is likely to rise up to 5 metres [16 feet] above the surface and travel up to 300 metres [1000 feet] from the take-off point. Each successive flight will push Ingenuity’s capabilities to see how well the drone fares in Mars’s thin atmosphere, which is just 1% as dense as Earth’s.

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The rovers’ view of Mars

The view from the top of Mont Mercou
Click for higher resolution. For original images, go here and here.

Some cool images to savor from Mars! Above is a panorama from Curiosity, created by me from two images taken by the rover’s left navigation camera today, April 18, 2021. The view is southwest towards the canyon regions where Curiosity will be heading in the coming months. Note the roughness of the ground. Travel is going to be tricky from here on out.

The photo was taken from the top of Mont Mercou, the 20-foot high outcrop that the rover spent several weeks studying at the cliff’s base. The Curiosity science team is presently preparing to drill into the bedrock at the top.

Ingenuity on the floor of Jezero Crater
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The photo to the right, reduced to post here, was taken by Perseverance on April 13, 2021, and looks west across the floor of Jezero crater. The high mountains in the distance are the crater’s rim. The low and much closer hill is the delta that is the rover’s primary geological target.

In the center of the picture is the helicopter Ingenuity. You can also see the tracks of Perseverance’s wheels just below it.

This will be the rover’s vantage point when Ingenuity attempts its first test flight in the early morning hours of April 19, 2021. The helicopter will head to the right once it lifts off.

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