Author Archives: Robert Zimmerman

Challenger accident, 25 years ago

An evening pause: Twenty-five years ago today.

The final words in Reagan’s speech come from a poem by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ing there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace,
Where never lark, or even eagle flew;
The high, untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.


Electric cars and their cold-weather shortcomings

Reality meets feel-good politics: Electric cars and their cold-weather shortcomings. Key quote:

“If you live in an area where the winters get extremely cold an all-electric vehicle will have to be garaged and equipped with some kind of plug-in battery warmer for it to be effective in the coldest months of the year. Keep these thoughts in mind if you’re planning an electric car purchase; we don’t want you finding out the range of your car has been halved when it’s five below zero and you’re fifteen miles from home.”


Egyptians brace for Friday protests as internet, messaging disrupted

The triumph of freedom: Protests spread to Egypt and Jordan.

We should recognize that though the overthrow of these Middle East dictatorships is certainly not a bad thing, the regimes that replace them are very likely not going to be much better, and could very well be worse. However, the free flow of information in the Arab world can only be a good thing, and in the long run can only lead to freedom and peace between nations.


Challenger, 25 years later

Today is the 25th anniversary of the Challenger accident. There are innumerable links from many sources talking about the event, too many for me to list here. You can find most at this link on Jeff Foust’s website,

Though I think it is very important for us to remember and honor these events, I have become somewhat disenchanted with the modern American obsession with memorials and anniversaries. Rather than build a memorial, I’d much rather we focused entirely on building new spaceships, new space stations, and new lunar bases, while flying multi-year missions on ISS, all in preparation for exploring and colonizing the solar system.

If we actually made the solar system a place for humans to live in and explore, we would build a far better memorial to those who have sacrificed their lives for the sake of exploration. And I think these heroes would be far more pleased by that memorial than by a stone statue or emotional op-ed that describes their courage.


Arab world shaken by power of Twitter and Facebook

The truimph of freedom: The Arab world, shaken by the power of the internet. Key quote:

On Dec. 17, in Sidi Bouzid, deep in the interior, Mohamed Bouazizi set himself aflame in front of a government building, in protest after police confiscated his produce stand. Horrible images of his act circulated lightning-fast on the Internet. Protests followed.

“Thanks to Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, images of those first protests went around the world instantly, and everyone knew about it,” says Tlili. “Even 20 years ago, you could have had those uprisings in the interior and few would have known.”


A Fizzy Ocean on Enceladus

A fizzy ocean on Enceladus? Key quote:

[Scientists believe] that gasses dissolved in water deep below the surface [of Enceladus] form bubbles. Since the density of the resulting “sparkling water” is less than that of the ice, the liquid ascends quickly up through the ice to the surface. “Most of the water spreads out sideways and ‘warms’ a thin surface ice lid, which is about 300 feet thick,” explains Matson. “But some of it collects in subsurface chambers, builds up pressure, and then blasts out through small holes in the ground, like soda spewing out of that can you opened.”


New research finds that the Himalayan glaciers are not melting

New research finds that the Himalayan glaciers are not melting. Key quote:

The new study by scientists at the Universities of California and Potsdam has found that half of the glaciers in the Karakoram range, in the northwestern Himlaya, are in fact advancing and that global warming is not the deciding factor in whether a glacier survives or melts.

The last part of the above quote, on global warming, is almost certainly an overstatement of what we do or don’t know. Warming will cause glaciers to melt, but how much and when are factors that are still not understood. Moreover, we are still not sure how much warming has even occurred.


Ex-state official who illegally searched “Joe the Plumber’s” private records gets county job

Meanwhile, here’s another reason why everyone should be disgusted with the government we presently have: The former state official who illegally searched “Joe the Plumber’s” private records has now gotten another government job, working for the Montgomery County Drug Addiction & Mental Health Services Board in Ohio.


I’m back

As you can see, I am finally back at the computer.

I want to thank everyone who made encouraging comments or sent me private emails. The situation was a simple one: For a variety of reasons, we needed to move my 93-year-old mother to a new residence. I therefore spent the last five days packing and unpacking boxes, and guiding the movers as they transported her stuff either to her new home or storage.

Moving for anyone is always a pain in the neck. Doing it for someone else can be harder, as you have to make decisions about someone else’s possessions, about what can go and what must be discarded. Fortunately, everything worked out far better than I could have expected and she is now safely settled in a far better place.

So, back we go to space, history, science, and politics!


Congressional Budget office says Social Security Now Officially Broke

And you still think NASA (or any other federal program) is going to get a lot of money? The Congressional Budget office (CBO) admitted today that Social Security is now officially broke. Key quote:

The CBO’s revenue/expenditure estimates now place the program in permanent deficit. There had been some hope that payroll taxes would recover sufficiently post-recession to put the program back into the black (the theoretical black) for at least a few more years, putting off the day of reckoning for an election cycle or more. No more: The new CBO estimates put Social Security in the red for as far as the eye can see. [emphasis mine]


Japan’s IKAROS Solar Sail Mission Extended for a Year

More solar sail news: Japan’s solar sail mission, IKAROS, has been extended for a year. Key quote:

With the extended lease on life, the team will try new navigational tricks, such as varying the sail’s angle toward the sun and changing the craft’s trajectory. Mori called these “risky” maneuvers because they are not sure if the sail will remain fully extended. They intend to model the sail’s behavior and the craft’s response to plan future solar sail missions.

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