Author Archives: Robert Zimmerman

NASA narrows asteroids to visit to three

NASA officials have reviewed the list of Near Earth Objects and found only three that meet all the constraints for a manned mission. Key quote:

Out of the 44 reachable asteroids, 27 were too small, and only 15 have orbits that allow for exploration between 2020 and 2050 — the timeframe NASA wants to pursue for NEO missions. The 180-day mission constraint further cuts the list to three.

It must also be noted that none of these asteroids are reachable without a heavy-lift rocket like the Ares V.

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Rebuilding the American space program — the right way

In reading my post, Both for and against the Obama plan, reader Trent Waddington emailed me to say that this “is so fatalistic that it seems you don’t think it is worthwhile even spending a few minutes explaining why the policy is good. It’s easy to dismiss something a politician says as the stopped clock that is right twice a day. It’s harder to set aside your skepticism and explain why something is good policy.”

Trent is absolutely correct. What I wrote was very depressing and fatalistic. However, I think it very important to be coldly honest about things, no matter how bad they look. Once you’ve done that, you then have the right information necessary for fixing the situation.

My problem with most of the debate about the future space policy of the United States, — as well as innumerable other modern issues faced by our government — is that people don’t seem to want to face up to the reality of the problem. In the case of space and Obama, I doubt any advice, gentle or otherwise, is going to move him into putting forth a plan for NASA that has any realistic chance of getting passed by Congress. As I noted in a different post, he doesn’t play the game. He acts like the worst sort of autocrat, convinced that if he simply says what he wants to do, everyone must agree.

The reason the good part of his plan (commercial space) is not passing Congress is not because people think it is a bad idea. It is being rejected because » Read more

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Diversifying your research portfolio

In this paper [pdf] adapted from a lecture he gave at an astronomy conference, Harvard researcher Abraham Loeb warns young scientists that their tendency today to take on safe research projects is unwise. Moreover, he notes the increasing “herd mentality” due to “stronger social pressure”, “more competition in the job market,” and the “growing fraction of observational and theoretical projects . . . done in large groups with rigid research agendas and tight schedules.” Key quote:

It is always prudent to allocate some limited resources to innovative ideas beyond any dogmatic “mainstream,” because even if only one out of a million such ideas bears fruit, it could transform our view of reality and justify the entire effort. This lesson is surprisingly unpopular in the current culture of funding agencies like NSF or NASA, which promote research with predictable and safe goals.

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Hubble image of face-on galaxy

Another spectacular Hubble Space Telescope image was released today, showing a face-on spiral galaxy in the Coma cluster, located about 320 million light years away. Key quote:

The galaxy, known as NGC 4911, contains rich lanes of dust and gas near its center. These are silhouetted against glowing newborn star clusters and iridescent pink clouds of hydrogen, the existence of which indicates ongoing star formation. Hubble has also captured the outer spiral arms of NGC 4911, along with thousands of other galaxies of varying sizes.

NGC 4911

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Interview with Elon Musk

Spacevidcast has posted on YouTube as well as on their own webpage the first 10 minutes of a 20 minute interview with Elon Musk of SpaceX. You can see the full 20 miutes if you sign up for their Epic service.

For me, the interesting part of the interview is when he discusses the recent story about SpaceX’s plans to build a heavy-lift rocket, dubbed Falcon X. He explained that the proposal was not actually part of the company’s official plans. but the brainstorming ideas of one of the company’s engineers at an engineering conference. He also made it clear that he did not reject the idea. He likes giving his engineers the freedom to talk about such things publicly, even if the company is not yet ready to pursue them.

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Historians identify early English scribes

Two University of York researchers have identified the scribes who first made copies of some of English literatures most important early works. Key quote:

The discoveries were the result of painstaking research in the London Metropolitan Archives, where the York scholars matched the handwriting of scribes copying important early English literary manuscripts with the hands of Guildhall clerks copying documents and custumals.

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Repair strategy for Wednesday spacewalk

NASA engineers are working out a strategy for the next spacewalk, now tentatively scheduled of Wednesday, to continue repair efforts on the International Space Station. The new plans call for the astronauts to close several valves on the leaking coolant line while ground controllers lower pressure on the line, then drain the excess ammonia from it. This will hopefully allow the astronauts to disconnect the line from the pump without spewing ammonia all over the place, and then proceed with the removal of the failed pump.

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Griffin’s take on the Obama space plan

On August 6 former NASA administrator Mike Griffin bluntly attacked the Obama proposals for NASA in a speech at the 13th Annual International Mars Society convention in Dayton, Ohio, Key quotes:

We’re not going anywhere and we’re going to spend a lot of money doing it.

The US space program has not accomplished as much in its last 15 years as in its first 15 years, given more money. So, if you like that, you’ll really like the next decade, in which we do almost nothing and spend just as much.

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The Sun’s oxygen content does match the galaxy’s

A preprint paper [pdf] published today on the Los Alamos astro-ph website has found evidence that the oxygen and neon content of our Sun matches the abundances found in the galaxy. This result is important in that previous research has suggested that the Sun’s oxygen abundance was significantly higher than the rest of the galaxy, a possibility that not only caused problems for the theorists but raised interesting questions about the uniqueness of our solar system.

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Robot to explore Egyptian pyramid

British engineers/scientists are about to send a robot into the Great Pyramid at Khufu in Egypt to find out what lies hidden behind the doors at the end of two 200 foot long shafts. Fun quote:

No one knows what the shafts are for. In 1992, a camera sent up the shaft leading from the south wall of the Queen’s Chamber discovered it was blocked after 60 metres [200 feet] by a limestone door with two copper handles. In 2002, a further expedition drilled through this door and revealed, 20 centimetres [8 inches] behind it, a second door.

“The second door is unlike the first. It looks as if it is screening or covering something,” said Dr Zahi Hawass, the head of the Supreme Council who is in charge of the expedition. The north shaft bends by 45 degrees after 18 metres [60 feet] but, after 60 metres, is also blocked by a limestone door.

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ISS tour, part 1

An evening pause: We talk a lot about the International Space Station. Why not take a tour? In this January 2009 video, part 1 of 4, astronaut Mike Finke starts us out at the docking port used by the shuttle and takes us through the Harmony and Kibo modules. Along the way he gives a great view out the port side of the station.

You can see the remaining parts of Mike’s tour by clicking through, or you can wait until I post them over the next week.

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Aqua tracks carbon monoxide over Russia from wildfires

Data from the AIRS instrument on NASA’s Aqua satellite shows the dramatic increase in carbon monoxide in the atmosphere at 18,000 feet over Russia due to the wildfires there. Key quote from press release:

The concentration of carbon monoxide is continuing to grow. According to Aug. 4 NASA estimates, the smoke plume from the fires spans about 3,000 kilometers (1,860 miles) from east to west.

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