Author Archives: Robert Zimmerman

The Space War, in a nutshell

Bumped, with update below

This Christian Science Monitor article gives a nice summary of the present state of war between the President, the House, and the Senate over NASA’s future.

All in all, things do not look good. With so much disagreement, whatever Congress and the President eventually agree to is going to be a mess, accomplishing little while spending gobs of money that the federal government simply no longer has. The result will almost certainly be a failed NASA program, an inability of the United States government to get astronauts into orbit, and an enormous waste of resources.

The one shining light in all this is that we still have a unrelenting need to get into space, not merely to supply the International Space Station but to also compete with other nations. It is my belief that this need — and the potential profits to be made from it — is going to compel private companies to build their own rockets and capsules for getting humans and cargo into space. And I think they will do it whether or not the federal government can get its act together.

Thus, though the U.S. might find itself a bystander in the space race for the next decade or so, in the end we will have a vibrant, competing aerospace industry, capable of dominating the exploration of the solar system for generations to come.

So buck up, space cadets. The near term future might be grim, but the long term possibilities remain endless.

Update: This announcement today from Boeing and Space Adventures illustrates my above point perfectly. For decades Boeing has been a lazy company, living off the government dole while doing little to capture market share in the competitive market. Now that the dole of government is possibly going away, however, the company at last appears to be coming alive. Instead of waiting for a deal with NASA, Boeing has been going ahead with its CST-100 manned capsule, figuring it can make money anyway by selling this product to both private and government customers.

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How blind cave fish find food

How blind cave fish find food. Key quote:

“Vibration Attraction Behavior” (or VAB) is the ability of fish to swim toward the source of a water disturbance in darkness. Postdoctoral associate Masato Yoshizawa measured this behavioral response in both wild caught and laboratory raised cave and surface-dwelling fish using a vibrating rod at different frequencies as a stimulus. Most cavefish displayed VAB and would swim toward the vibrating rod and poke at it, while few surface fish did.

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Building a lunar vegetable garden on Earth

University of Arizona scientists have built a hydroponic lunar vegetable garden on Earth. More information here. Key quote:

The membrane-covered module can be collapsed to a four-foot-wide disk for interplanetary travel. It contains water-cooled sodium vapor lamps and long envelopes that would be loaded with seeds, ready to sprout hydroponically.

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Government high speed railroad and elections

The federal government’s very expensive and probably unnecessary project to build a high speed railroad line between two cities in Wisconsin — using stimulus money — is having a significant influence on the elections there. Key quote:

With the U.S. economy in shambles and our national debt strangling the country, it doesn’t bode well for Feingold that he supported the wildly unpopular health-care bill, which [challenger] Johnson wants repealed, as well as last year’s big clunker, the stimulus bill. Feingold’s support for the unfunded and bottomless money pit of [high speed rail] doesn’t appear to be working for him either. If an entrenched insider like Feingold loses, it could have serious ramifications for the future of high-speed rail across the country. [emphasis mine]

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Space Makes Polymers Hard

The harsh environment of space, normally hostile to most materials, acts beneficially to cure certain epoxy resins. Key quote:

“You don’t have to take it up there in the shape that you eventually want,” said University of Sydney physicist Marcela Bilek, a co-author of the new study. “You can take something in a packaged form, all folded up, and then inflate it in space and have it cure into a mechanically solid structure.”

Read the research paper here.

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Scientists predict when the first Earthlike planet will be discovered

Don’t bet the bank on this: In a preprint paper posted tonight on the astro-ph website, scientists predict the discovery of the first Earthlike extrasolar planet — using statistical analysis alone! Fun quote:

Using a bootstrap analysis of currently discovered exoplanets, we predict the discovery of the first Earth-like planet to be announced in the first half of 2011, with the likeliest date being early May 2011.

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The pain of spacesuit gloves

The number one injury reported by astronauts appears to be fingernail and hand injuries resulting from the use of spacesuit gloves. Key quote:

A previous study of astronaut injuries sustained during spacewalks had found that about 47 percent of 352 reported symptoms between 2002 and 2004 were hand related. More than half of these hand injuries were due to fingertips and nails making contact with the hard “thimbles” inside the glove fingertips. In several cases, sustained pressure on the fingertips during EVAs caused intense pain and led to the astronauts’ nails detaching from their nailbeds, a condition called fingernail delamination.

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ISS’s life expectancy

Engineers are reviewing the life expectancy of the International Space Station, in light of the desire of politicians to keep it operating through the 2020s. Intriguing quote:

Airlines and airplane contractors commonly inspect aircraft for such fractures, but with the space station out of reach more than 200 miles up, engineers rely on complex models to predict their growth in orbit.

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Our Debt Is More Than All the Money in the World

There is a lobbying push among a lot of space activists to get the House NASA authorization bill changed so that more money is spent for commercial space. Unfortunately for these activists, reality is about to strike (almost certainly on November 2). Also see this story: Our debt is more than all the money in the world.

With a new Congress almost certainly dominated by individuals who want to shrink the size of government, I doubt anyone in the space industry is going to get much of what they want in the coming years.

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The variability of stars according to Kepler

More data from Kepler! In a paper [pdf] published today on the astro-ph website, scientists outline Kepler’s census of the variability of stars. Key quote from the abstract:

We have separated the sample in 129,000 dwarfs and 17,000 giants, and further sub-divided, the luminosity classes into temperature bins corresponding approximately to the spectral classes A, F, G, K, and M. G-dwarfs are found to be the most stable with < 20% being variable. The variability fraction increases to 30% for the K dwarfs, 40% for the M and F dwarfs, and 70% for the A-dwarfs. At the precision of Kepler, > 95% of K and G giants are variable.

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