Author Archives: Robert Zimmerman

SpaceX to offer NASA its own plans for a heavy-lift rocket

SpaceX is putting together its own plans to provide NASA a heavy-lift rocket. Key quote:

Fast-track development, multi-use and low cost are key, says [SpaceX owner Elon] Musk. “The development timeframe is on the order of five years and would come to fruition before Obama’s likely second term ends. It has got to fit within a NASA budget that fits in 2008 levels, and it’s got to have operational costs when functioning that is as close to zero as you can make it. That latter point demands that whatever components are in use for super-heavy lift must be in use for launching other satellites for say, geostationary commercial and government customers. If not, then the likelihood of success in my opinion is zero.”


X-37B has returned successful to earth

After more than seven months in orbit, the unmanned X-37B space plan has successfully returned to Earth. Key quote:

“Boeing and the Air Force are building another X-37B vehicle scheduled for launch in the spring of 2011.”

Update: Since several different reports are listing slightly different totals for the number of days in orbit, I’ve edited my note above to be less precise. I could add up the days myself, but that involves more math than I prefer to do!


More caves on Mars

And damn, do I want to rappel into them!

This week’s release of images from the HiRISE camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter included these spectacular photos of two deep pits, approximately 180 and 310 meters in diameter and located aligned with a series of depressions that suggest additional passages at their base.

The first image shows the pits in the context of the surrounding terrain. From the caption:

These pits are aligned with what appears to be larger, degraded depressions. The wispy deposit may consist of dark material that has been either blown out of the pits or from some other source and scattered about by the local winds.

wide shot of pits

The next two images are heavily processed close-ups of each pit in order to bring out the detail within. From the caption:

The eastern most and smaller of the two pits contains boulders and sediment along its walls and brighter aeolian dune sediments on its floor. The larger, western most pit contains sediment and boulders with faint dune-like patterns visible on the deepest part of the floor. Both pits have steep eastern walls and more gently sloped western walls that transition gradually into the pit floor. Steep resistant ledges containing boulders that overhang and obscure the pit floors form the eastern walls.

The smaller pit, with dunes on floor

The larger pit


The next to go — astronauts!

White House initiates a study on whether astronaut corps should be trimmed.

This story is more evidence that I was right when I said Obama was lying when he claimed he loved manned spaceflight. If he was serious about sending humans to asteroids and beyond, he wouldn’t be so eager to find ways to shrink the astronaut corp.

Update: I should emphasize that I am not criticizing the idea of trimming the astronaut corp. I just want it clear that Barack Obama is clearly not a supporter of manned space, and that I believe his proposals (the commercial space subsidies) are merely window-dressing to placate his opponents while he dismantles the program.


When journalism runs wild…

A commenter to one of my other posts, ZZMike, asked this question today: ” What is NASA’s Secret Astrobiology Announcement?” and quoted this from another website, “Science fans across the Internet are eagerly awaiting an announcement from NASA’s astrobiology team. All NASA will say about the press conference is that it will “discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life.”

Unfortunately, Mike, this great discovery is not the big news that everyone is hoping for, such as the discovery of life on Mars. Instead, it is about the discovery that a certain microbe can eat and digest arsenic, using it as one of the six vital basic components of life (carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, sulfur, phosphorus) in place of phosphorus. This is very significant since it tells us that alien life could very well be far more alien than previously imagined.

What makes this story interesting, however, is not the discovery itself (which is important). Instead, because NASA was so vague in its press announcement it allowed a large number of irresponsible reporters and bloggers to go nuts trying to guess what the story was about. When these rumors began to get out of control, the magazine Science finally sent out a notice to journalists noting the specific paper and discovery so that they at least would know in advance what the conference was about.

As Mike above as well as several other people noted to me in emails, I had written nothing about this story on behindtheblack. This was intentional. Without knowing what the conference was about, I wasn’t going to speculate about it. Once I knew, I still remained silent because the story was under embargo by Science and I respect these embargos. Now that the embargo has been lifted, I can speak.

What I want to speak about is the danger of speculation, especially among journalists. This is a serious problem today. Too often journalists speculate off the cuff, without knowing a goddamn thing about the subject, And all too often, they are downright wrong, and help contribute to misinforming the public. The result: the field of journalism has a terrible reputation with the public. No one trusts what journalists tell us. Worse, this lack of trust is helping fuel the ignorance and anger that seems to be rising in society, as no one knows what to believe about some of the most important issues of our time.

Journalists need to stop doing this. Rather than fantasize what they don’t know, journalists need to focus on what they do know. If they do that, they will significantly help repair the sagging reputation of their field.


Congress, Obama, and NASA fiddle while manned space burns

The space war continues to heat up again. In a hearing today in the Senate, several senators complained loudly that NASA isn’t implementing the details of the September authorization act.

What clowns. These same senators haven’t provided NASA (or anyone) with a budget. They have also given NASA an authorization bill that does not provide the agency with enough money while simultaneously demanding that things be done faster. And they’ve done this at a time the federal government is almost bankrupt. Moreover, the bill requires that NASA build things that the Obama administration doesn’t want to build (though in truth, the Obama administration itself is so confused that no one, including them, knows what they are going to do).

All in all, the whole thing is a mess.

As I’ve said earlier, it’s all pork. Even if NASA gets the money laid out in the authorization bill, it will accomplish nothing except spread some cash around to several congressional districts. Nothing will get built. And in the process of sending that money to new aerospace companies NASA will do much to squelch their creativity and innovation.

Better to cut it all, and let the aerospace industry sink or swim on its own. It will almost certainly do better that the government at this point. In fact, how could it do worse?


Church Groups Harass Clyde’s Sport Shop – Plan Protest Demonstration

Battle of the protesters! Three Baltimore-based anti-gun church groups have begun a campaign to harass Maryland gun stores. In turn, the first store targeted has fought back. Key quote:

The religious leaders obtained a Baltimore County permit for an anti-gun demonstration from 2 PM until 7 PM in front of Clyde’s Sport Shop. They reportedly requested a permit for 1,000 demonstrators. The Baltimore County Police limited their permit to 75 demonstrators. In response to the planned demonstration, Clyde’s scheduled a Customer Appreciation Day featuring free hot dogs, hamburgers, soft drinks, side dishes, popcorn and a DJ to provide music.

The church groups were nowhere to be found but over 200 gunnies had a very good time and enjoyed good food. It seems that several local churches took the Heeding God’s Call group to task for harassing Clyde’s, whom they consider to be a good neighbor and law abiding business.


Debt Commission Agrees to postpone report

Sadly, the pigs are winning! Obama’s deficit commission apparently does not have the votes to release a report today. Key quote:

The New York Times reports that there is unanimous opposition from the six Democrat and six Republican members of Congress who sit on the president’s debt-reduction commission to issuing a final report today. . . . In order to issue a report, the commission must win support for its recommendations from 14 of the 18 members; but that is looking unlikely at the moment, even though the commission has extended its deadline to Friday. Predictably, Democrats don’t want to endorse many of the spending cuts, while Republicans are averse to tax increases.


House May Block Food Safety Bill Over Senate Error

These guys are really idiots: The House may block approval of the Senate’s so-called “Food Safety Modernization Act,” because it includes various new taxes, and such bills are required by the Constitution to originate in the House, not the Senate. Key quote:

By pre-empting the House’s tax-writing authority, Senate Democrats appear to have touched off a power struggle with members of their own party in the House. The Senate passed the bill Tuesday, sending it to the House, but House Democrats are expected to use a procedure known as “blue slipping” to block the bill, according to House and Senate GOP aides.


Scientists pinpoint where Venus’s sulphuric acid clouds come from

Apropos of the desire of IPCC chief Rajendra Pachauri to re-engineer the climate to battle global warming, including spraying “sulphate particles high in the atmosphere to scatter the sun’s rays back into space,” planetary scientists have pinpointed the source of Venus’s sulphuric acid clouds, and from this believe that the IPCC scheme might backfire badly, doing more harm than good.


NASA’s human spaceflight program is ‘adrift’

The space war over NASA continues. NASA’s human spaceflight program is “adrift,” according to John Karas, the general manager of Lockheed Martin’s human space flight division. Key quote:

“Everybody’s arguing, debating. We are in this giant storm with no direction, and more than likely we’re gonna get hit with more waves of money cuts. So we have to have some future plan here; some future direction — or we’re just going to get capsized,” he said.

The use of the word “adrift” is ironic, as this was the very word that President Obama used to describe NASA’s state shortly after taking office. It seems to me, however, that under Obama things are far more confused and chaotic then they ever were under Bush.

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