Author Archives: Robert Zimmerman

Penn at airport threatens to press charges against TSA for assault

A blow for freedom! Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller) called the cops and threatened to press charges against a TSA security agent for assault during his airport screening. Fun quote:

I tell the cop the story, in a very funny way. The cop, the voice of sanity says, “What’s wrong with you people? You can’t just grab a guy’s crank without his permission.” I tell him that my genitals weren’t grabbed and the cop says, “I don’t care, you can’t do that to people. That’s assault and battery in my book.”

The story gets even crazier afterward, when a pr gal from the TSA calls Penn and tries to placate him. This quote is especially telling:

“If you give me your itinerary every time you fly, I’ll be at the airport with you and we can make sure it’s very pleasant for you.”

Update: I just realized that this event occurred in 2002, so it isn’t part of the recent TSA craziness, only past TSA craziness that is as unacceptable as the new TSA craziness.

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Shades of foam and failed o-rings?

A fourth crack has been found on Discovery’s external tank. How this will affect Discovery’s November 30 launch remains unknown. There will a briefing on Monday to discuss the status of the schedule. This quote however gives me the willies:

External tank crack repairs are not unusual. Some 29 stringer cracks were found in 18 previous tanks, according to an official familiar with their history. Four have now been found in Discovery’s tank, ET-137, and three were found in a tank scheduled for use by the shuttle Atlantis next summer, ET-138. Doublers were used in 23 repairs.

There is a saying that we always fight the last war. After the Challenger accident NASA made great effort to prevent another o-ring failure in the solid rocket boosters, and ignored the foam falling from the external tank. After the Columbia accident, NASA then made great effort to prevent another piece of foam from hitting an orbiter.

Unfortunately, it appears that NASA may now be ignoring this crack problem. Even though they have been able to repair past cracks, for this many cracks to occur this often should cause alarm bells to ring throughout the agency, forcing a look at the problem in toto. Instead, it appears management has been making catch-as-catch-can repairs.

What makes this situation even more difficult is the factory that makes the external tanks has shut down. No new tanks are available. Thus, there are not many options for flying these last few shuttle missions except by using the already existing tanks, and repairing them as needed.

Like I said, this is beginning to give me the willies.

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Continuing resolution likely into 2011

The space war returns! The lame duck session of Congress is now expected to pass a continuing resolution that extends into next year, leaving the final decisions about the budget to the next Congress. This is very bad news for NASA and what’s left of the government space program.

Update: I should add that I’m not bothered in the slightest that this might happen. The money that the present Congress proposed giving to NASA will not make the exploration of the solar system possible, and in fact might hinder that exploration significantly under the weight of government regulation. It is time to cut the cord, and stop depending on the damn government to conquer the stars.

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The coming train wreck for Commercial Human Spaceflight

This post by retired NASA engineer Wayne Hale explains why it probably is a good idea if Congress cuts the subsidies for new commercial space: The coming train wreck for commercial human spaceflight. This is the key quote, where Hale describes the regulations NASA is requiring these new companies to meet:

The document runs a mind-numbing 260 pages of densely spaced requirements. Most disappointing, on pages 7 to 11 is a table of 74 additional requirements documents which must be followed, in whole or in part. Taken all together, there are thousands of requirement statements referenced in this document. And for every one NASA will require a potential commercial space flight provider to document, prove, and verify with massive amounts of paperwork and/or electronic forms.

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