Category Archives: Behind The Black

Palestinian Authority arrests Palestinian-American for property sale to Jews

The true Middle East bigots: The Palestinian Authority has arrested a Palestinian-American for aiding in the property sale of a house in Jerusalem to a Jewish organization that provides housing to orthodox Israelis.

“The 55-year-old man, who is a US citizen, is being interrogated by the Palestinians security agencies in Ramallah for his role in the sale of an Arab-owned house in the Old City of Jerusalem to a Jewish organization,” the sources told The Jerusalem Post. They said the man was suspected of acting as a “solicitor” between the owner of the house and the Jewish organization that bought the house.

A senior PA security official in Ramallah refused to comment on the arrest of the US citizen.

The Post has obtained a copy of the man’s US passport, but due to the sensitivity of the case has chosen not to publish his name.

US government officials said they were aware of the arrest and expressed concern that he would be treated fairly. They said the State Department was in touch with the PA regarding the arrest.

Last week, the Palestinian Islamic religious authorities in east Jerusalem reaffirmed a fatwa (religious decree) prohibiting Palestinians from selling their houses and lands to Israelis. Some Palestinians have called for imposing the death penalty on those who violate the ban. [emphasis mine]

1. If any American tried to outlaw the sale of a piece of property to anyone, solely because of their religion, we would call them a bigot.

2. This property is in Jerusalem, which is entirely under Israeli jurisdiction. That Islamic leaders are trying to impose their bigoted views on that country, despite its own laws forbidding religious discrimination, tells us all we need to know about Islam.

3. The arrested man might live in Israel, or in the West Bank, but he is also a U.S. citizen, and I suspect the Trump administration will not take kindly to this.

4. Finally, expect the Israeli authorities to step in. Already they have arrested three Palestinians for organizing a kangaroo court aimed at punishing everyone involved in the property sale.

Last week, Palestinian activists in east Jerusalem summoned Atari [the supposed Palestinian buyer] and a representative of the Joudeh family [the sellers of the property] for what some Palestinians described as a kangaroo court in an attempt to find out who sold the house to Ateret Cohanim [the Jewish organization]. A video of the “court” hearing that was later posted on Facebook has gone viral, with many Palestinians calling for the “execution” of those involved in the transaction for “high treason.”

On Thursday, the Israel Police arrested three east Jerusalem residents on suspicion of incitement for their role in organizing the “court” hearing and threatening Atari. The three are: Abdullah Alqam, Fadi Mtur and Kamal Abu Kweider. The three were arrested hours before the second “court” session was scheduled to convene on Thursday evening.

This whole story could get hot, as it reveals the bigoted and discriminatory behavior of the Palestinians, something I have written about previously. It also is occurring during a Trump administration that has decided to no longer look the other way when it comes to Palestinian corruption or injustice.

Share

Land of swiss cheese and spiders

Swiss cheese on Martian south polar cap

Time for some cool images! In one of their periodic captioned releases of an interesting high resolution image, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) science team this week released a picture of the strange “swiss cheese” terrain found throughout the Martian southern polar cap. (I have already highlighted in an early post the spiders that form in the south pole as the carbon dioxide evaporates.) The image to the right is a cropped section of that image, which you can see in its entirety if you click on it.

The South Polar residual cap is composed of carbon dioxide ice that persists through each Martian summer. However, it is constantly changing shape.

The slopes get more direct illumination at this polar location, so they warm up and sublimate, going directly from a solid state to a gaseous state. The gas then re-condenses as frost over flat areas, building new layers as the older layers are destroyed.

The captioned link above also included a link to a gif animation showing how this terrain has changed since 2009. The holes have become bigger, their cliffs retreating with time.

The section I highlight above not only shows the retreating swiss cheese dry ice, you can also see ghosts of several buried craters slowly becoming visible as the dry ice evaporates away.

This is only one of many images taken of the south pole by MRO. In the October archive release, I found almost two dozen, and that’s only the images taken during August of this summer. MRO takes images of the south pole regularly to track its changes, though I suspect it took more this summer because the global dust storm blocked imagery in the middle latitudes. Below and to the right is just one of these images, a particularly good illustration of the swiss cheese formation.
» Read more

Share

First Man: Trivializing the lunar landing

First Man movie flightsuits, without American flag

This past weekend movie-goers finally got to see the world premiere of First Man, a movie based on the biography with the same title telling the life story of Neil Armstrong, the first man to step onto the surface of another world.

Prior to the movie’s release there was some controversy when Ryan Gosling, the actor playing Armstrong, said that they had left out the scene on the Moon when the astronauts planted the American Flag because their goal was to highlight Armstrong’s personal story as well as the global nature of the achievement.

Star Ryan Gosling, who plays Armstrong, defended director Damien Chazelle’s decision to omit the star-spangled moment when asked about it in Venice. “I think this was widely regarded in the end as a human achievement [and] that’s how we chose to view it, ” Gosling said per the Telegraph. “I also think Neil was extremely humble, as were many of these astronauts, and time and time again he deferred the focus from himself to the 400,000 people who made the mission possible.”

The Canadian actor added that based on his own interviews with Armstrong’s family and friends, he doesn’t believe the pioneering astronaut considered himself an American hero. “I don’t think that Neil viewed himself as an American hero,” Gosling said. From my interviews with his family and people that knew him, it was quite the opposite. And we wanted the film to reflect Neil.” [emphasis mine]

Many on the right including myself, strongly criticized this statement. The movies director, Damien Chazelle, immediately responded, saying he was not trying to devalue the importance of the American achievement but to focus instead on telling Neil Armstrong’s personal story. “My goal with this movie was to share with audiences the unseen, unknown aspects of America’s mission to the moon — particularly Neil Armstrong’s personal saga and what he may have been thinking and feeling during those famous few hours.”

I decided I had been unfair to criticize the film without seeing it, and decided I would make a rare trip to a movie theater as soon as it was released to see it and then review it.
» Read more

Share

Russia: Next Soyuz manned flight likely not delayed

According to Roscosmos officials, they will likely not have to delay the next manned Soyuz launch, as they have three unmanned Soyuz launches on their schedule beforehand.

“The Soyuz rocket will be launched only after the inquiry has identified the causes of the emergency and measures have been taken to prevent such situations in the future. Under the existing rules there must be at least one unmanned launch before the flight of a manned spacecraft. We have plans for at least three launches (before the next manned mission due in early December) from the Kourou space site, the launch of an unmanned spacecraft and of an unmanned spacecraft Progress. The confirmations will be more than enough to put the next crew in space,” Krikalyov said.

Makes sense.

The real question isn’t whether they will identify the specific problem that caused last week’s Soyuz launch failure (which I have every confidence they will), but whether they will identify and fix the underlying culture that is allowing these failures to occur with greater frequency. I don’t think they can, since that culture is caused by the very way they have organized their space program, as a single giant corporation controlled by the government. Without the natural process of competition, the culture of Russia’s aerospace industry has nothing to force it to do good work.

Share

Treasury employee arrested for revealing confidential bank info to press

Working for the Democratic Party: An anti-Trump Treasury employee was arrested today for revealing confidential bank info to press.

Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, 40, a senior official at the department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), is accused of illegally giving a reporter bank reports documenting several suspicious financial transactions, known as Suspicious Activity Reports (“SARs”), from October 2017 to the present. The financial transactions involved Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort, campaign official Richard Gates, accused Russian agent Maria Butina and the Russian Embassy, federal law enforcement officials said Wednesday.

An unidentified, higher-ranking Treasury colleague was cited in court papers as a co-conspirator with Edwards, but was not charged. That person, identified only as an “associate director” at FinCEN to whom Edwards reported, exchanged more than 300 messages with a reporter via an encrypted messaging application. [emphasis mine]

I wonder why this higher-ranking has not been arrested and charged as well.

The article also includes details about other anti-Trump officials now in trouble, including the former security director for the Senate Intelligence Committee, who pleaded guilty in connection with his leaking of national security information to the press, as well as recent revelations about the “leak strategy” of anti-FBI officials.

Share

Moon Express and Canada cement business relationship

Capitalism in space: Moon Express today signed deals with seven Canadian companies, further cementing an agreement with that country’s space agency to work together to provide Canada with a lunar mission capability.

The news comes just two weeks after Moon Express had signed an MOU with the Canadian Space Agency whereby “the CSA and Moon Express will explore the possibilities of using Moon Express lunar orbiter and lander systems for potential CSA payloads and will promote possibilities for collaboration between Moon Express and the Canadian space industry and academia.”

Moon Express was co-founded by Canadian Bob Richards who has strong ties to Canada’s space sector having started his career in Canada. Richards moved to the U.S. to pursue his dream of building a company that would be an enabler for a sustained economy based on lunar resources.

Moon Express has been working for some time on developing relationships and laying the necessary groundwork, to expand into Canada. More agreements could come as result of today’s Industry Day.

The company has not said when the first mission will fly, though there are hints they are aiming for late 2019 or early 2020.

These deals however point to the future of planetary exploration. Rather than create a big lumbering space program, Canada is hiring a private company to build its lunar probe so that it gets it quickly and for little cost. I expect other nations will soon follow.

Share

U.S. astronaut describes Soyuz launch failure

Link here. There really isn’t any news here, but it is definitely interesting to read his perspective on the experience of returning to Earth during a launch abort. Up until now, the only humans to have experienced this have been Russians.

This article provides more info.

Meanwhile the Russians have made it clear that this crew will fly in the spring of 2019. Both were trained to do specific spacewalks on ISS, and the Russians think it wise to use that training.

Share

Rocket Lab chooses Wallops as first U.S. launch site

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab has picked the spaceport at Wallops in Virginia as its first U.S. launch site.

The company is planning its first launch of Electron from U.S. soil and its Wallops facility for Quarter 3 of 2019, less than a year from today’s announcement. “We needed to get pad and support up quickly, and Wallops met the bill completely for what we needed to achieve in this time,” said Mr. Beck to NASASpaceflight.

Overall, the Wallops launch pad, known as Launch Complex 2 (LC-2), will be Rocket Lab’s second dedicated launch complex, will be capable of supporting monthly orbital launches, and is designed to serve U.S. government and commercial missions. The site will bring Rocket Lab’s global launch availability across two launch complexes to more than 130 missions per year.

It really does appear that once they successfully complete their next two launches in November and December, the company will be aiming to meet a launch cadence of at least one orbital launch per week.

Share

A new virus that mimics polio appears in U.S.

Not good: Several dozen children in twenty-two U.S. states have been struck by a new polio-like virus that causes paralysis.

Sixty-two AFM cases in 22 states have been confirmed in recent weeks, scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta said at a news conference today; 65 more are under investigation.

Similar waves occurred in 2014 and 2016, and scientists have fingered a relative of the poliovirus, called enterovirus D68 (EV-D68), as a possible culprit. But the evidence isn’t conclusive yet, and it’s unclear why the virus would only paralyze a small minority of children it infects. Solving these mysteries is urgent because the paralysis can be severe and irreversible. AFM is “pretty rare, but it’s pretty devastating,” says Priya Duggal, a genetic epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, who’s studying whether some patients may have a genetic vulnerability to the virus. “And it appears that it’s cyclical. It’s not going away.”

It appears that in most cases the virus simply causes cold-like symptoms that go away like a cold. In a few cases, however, it produces paralysis.

Share

Atlas 5 launches Air Force military satellite

ULA successfully launched an Air Force military satellite early today using its Atlas 5 rocket.

You can watch the launch at the link.

The leaders in the 2018 launch race:

28 China
17 SpaceX
8 Russia
8 ULA
6 Europe (Arianespace)

China leads the U.S. in the national rankings 28 to 26. Note that Russia has now been tied by ULA in the number of successful launches this year, and has a chance of topping Russia before by year’s end, a possibility that would have been impossible only a few years ago. The Russian launch count has crashed in the past four years. Nor is Russia alone in this. ULA’s numbers have also slumped slightly. Prior to last year, ULA routinely had had a dozen launch per year. It only had 8 launches last year, and it does not look like it will a dozen again in 2018.

This slump is not because of an overall slump in launches. It is because SpaceX has grabbed the commercial market with its less expensive rockets.

Share

Gerry & Pacemakers – Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying

An evening pause: I haven’t posted this band since 2011. Time to do it again. The sound is the from the studio recording, sync’d to this stage performance. I’d rather have seen the live version, but I suspect the sound quality was so poor this is a better choice.

Hat tip Jim Mallamace.

Share

Mini-drones for the military

A new drone design for the military would allow vehicles to carry four miniature helicopter camera drones, capable of flying two at a time.

The Black Hornet drone feels like a movie prop. Roughly the size and weight of a sparrow, the robotic scout helicopter has already seen use with British special forces. At the 2018 Association of the United States Army exposition in Washington, D.C., Black Hornet-maker FLIR showed off the latest way to carry the drone into combat: a miniature hanger for four drones, roughly the size of a large breadbox. It’s called the Vehicle Reconnaissance System.

Like a description from a lost G.I. Joe catalog, the VRS fits four helicopters into chambers known as cassettes. The box containing cartridges full of robots can be mounted on vehicles, including people-transporting machines and also uncrewed ground vehicles. That’s right, this is a box full of robots that can go on a robot and launch more robots. It’s quite the exhibit of remote warfare.

The goal is to provide the soldier in the vehicle a way to gain information about nearby enemy positions from the air, in real time.

What is intriguing, and somewhat scary about this, is that it prefigures a time when many tiny drones will be instantly deployable, but with killing capabilities, not simply camera.

Share

Another Zimmerman op-ed: Congress Needs To Stop Pouring Money Into NASA’s Contractor Black Hole

The Federalist yesterday published an op-ed by myself, focused entirely on the disaster that is big government space, both here and in Russia: Congress Needs To Stop Pouring Money Into NASA’s Contractor Black Hole. Key section, beginning with my description of SLS:

That’s approximately $40 billion over 20 years to launch a single manned mission, in an Apollo-style capsule on a Saturn-type rocket, reusing (supposedly to save money) already built shuttle engines and upgraded shuttle solid rocket boosters. I repeat: It will take NASA more than 20 years and $40 billion to fly one manned mission on SLS. And that’s not including the almost $18 billion NASA will spend to build the Orion capsule that will fly on that mission. Does no one in Congress and in the Trump administration see anything wrong here?

The story gets worse. In September, NASA released what it has dubbed its “National Space Exploration Campaign Report,” a 21-page document outlining the agency’s plans for deep space exploration through 2030, using SLS and Orion as well as a new NASA boondoggle to be built in lunar orbit, dubbed the Gateway. To label this road map a joke would be an insult to comedians everywhere. It lays out deadlines and budgets that are so vague and ambiguous that the project could take a half century, cost a trillion, and still have never launched.
Lawmakers Need to Wise Up to This Black Hole

The worse part of this sad story is that it appears Congress and the Trump administration are buying into it, pushed partly by heavy lobbying by the big space companies — Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman — that hope to get the contracts to build it. It must be understood, however, that the companies advocating Gateway and all future big space projects using SLS and Orion don’t really care if anything ever actually gets built. Like SLS and Orion, what they really want is endless appropriations and cost-plus contracts that will funnel money to them endlessly, even as the launch dates of their projects recede forever into the future.

Nor are Congress and the bureaucracies in NASA and the executive branch interested in accomplishing anything. All Congress wants is to be able to claim they brought jobs to their districts and states, even if those jobs never accomplish anything at all and waste the taxpayers’ money. The bureaucrats merely want to perpetuate their jobs, building empires in fancy Washington offices while attending lots of conferences on the taxpayers’s dime.

None of them care about the national interest. Their goal is to line their pockets, regardless of the harm it does the United States. This must change. If Trump truly wants to empty the swamp, he has to stop funding such boondoggles. This does not mean that Americans should cede the future exploration of space to China and others, but we can clearly do this in a better and smarter way.

Read it all.

Share

Paul Allen dead at 65

Paul Allen of Microsoft fame and the man behind Stratolaunch passed away today at the age of 65.

Allen ranked among the world’s wealthiest individuals. As of Monday afternoon, he ranked 44th on Forbes’ 2018 list of billionaires with an estimated net worth of more than $20 billion.

Through Vulcan, Allen’s network of philanthropic efforts and organizations, the Microsoft co-founder supported research in artificial intelligence and new frontier technologies. The group also invested in Seattle’s cultural institutions and the revitalization of parts of the city.

What this will mean for Stratolaunch of course cannot be predicted. Its design — using a giant airplane to air-launch payloads into orbit — is somewhat radical, a fact that generally requires the will and power of a single individual to force it to fruition. Allen’s absence here could make the completion of their effort much more difficult.

Share

China launches two GPS-style satellites

In launching two more GPS-style satellites with its Long March 3B rocket, China today also did their first test of equipment to be used in a parachute system designed to recover the rocket’s first stage.

The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) confirmed the mission to be a success four hours later, following direct insertion of the Beidou-3 satellites into their intended medium Earth orbits (MEO).

The China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) which developed the Long March 3B rocket reported that data logging and active tracking equipment was placed aboard for tests to determine to altitude and timing for future parachute landings for boosters.

The trial phase of parachute booster landings is expected in 2019. Expended rocket boosters frequently land in or near populated areas downrange of Xichang.

It is about time. The article also included a short video showing the booster wreakage that landed near a town during a previous launch. For any nation to allow rocket stages crashing near habitable areas speaks poorly of that nation.

The leaders in the 2018 launch race:

28 China
17 SpaceX
8 Russia
7 ULA
6 Europe (Arianespace)

In the national rankings China leads the U.S. now 28 to 25. I must add that with every launch China is setting a new record for itself in its annual totals. Previously its highest total of launches in a year had been 20.

Share

Giant planets around young star defy model predictions

The uncertainty of science: The recent discovery of four Saturn/Jupiter-sized planets orbiting a star only about two million years old throws a wrench into all existing solar system formation theories.

The star, CI Tau, is located about 500 light years away in a highly-productive stellar ‘nursery’ region of the galaxy. Its four planets differ greatly in their orbits: the closest (the hot Jupiter) is within the equivalent of the orbit of Mercury, while the farthest orbits at a distance more than three times greater than that of Neptune. The two outer planets are about the mass of Saturn, while the two inner planets are respectively around one and 10 times the mass of Jupiter.

The discovery raises many questions for astronomers. Around 1% of stars host hot Jupiters, but most of the known hot Jupiters are hundreds of times older than CI Tau. “It is currently impossible to say whether the extreme planetary architecture seen in CI Tau is common in hot Jupiter systems because the way that these sibling planets were detected – through their effect on the protoplanetary disc – would not work in older systems which no longer have a protoplanetary disc,” said Professor Cathie Clarke from Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy, the study’s first author.

According to the researchers, it is also unclear whether the sibling planets played a role in driving the innermost planet into its ultra-close orbit, and whether this is a mechanism that works in making hot Jupiters in general. And a further mystery is how the outer two planets formed at all.

“Planet formation models tend to focus on being able to make the types of planets that have been observed already, so new discoveries don’t necessarily fit the models,” said Clarke. “Saturn mass planets are supposed to form by first accumulating a solid core and then pulling in a layer of gas on top, but these processes are supposed to be very slow at large distances from the star. Most models will struggle to make planets of this mass at this distance.” [emphasis mine]

In other words, the present models are absurdly premature. We simply don’t know enough to formulate any theory that can be taken seriously.

This is not to say that models shouldn’t be formulated, only to emphasize that no one should consider them predictive of any part of reality. They give astronomers some guidance on what to look for, but if they take them too seriously they might not look in the right places.

Share

Hayabusa-2 will do two touchdown rehearsals prior to landing in January

In order to test whether they can bring Hayabusa-2 down to the surface within a circle only 20 meters (65 feet) across (the largest smooth landing area they have found so far on Ryugu), their engineering team has decided to first do two more touchdown rehearsals in October.

In the area where the spacecraft will touchdown, it is dangerous to have boulders with a height greater than about 50cm. Since the length of the sampler horn is about 1m and the spacecraft will be to be slightly inclined during the touchdown, there is a possibility that if a boulder with a height above about 50cm is present, it will strike the main body of the spacecraft or the solar panels. Viewed from the position in Figure 2, there is no boulder larger than 50cm in the area L08-B. L08-B is the widest part within all the candidate sites without a boulder larger than 50cm.

The difficulty is that area L08-B is only about 20m in diameter. Originally, it was assumed that a safe region for touchdown would be a flat area with a radius of about 50m (100m in diameter). This has now become a radius of just 10m; a fairly severe constraint. On the other hand, during the descent to an altitude of about 50m during the MINERVA-II1 and MASCOT separation operations, we were able to confirm that the spacecraft can be guided within a position accuracy of about 10m for a height 50m above the surface of Ryugu (Figure 3). This is a promising feature for touchdown.

Although the spacecraft can be controlled with a position error of 10m at an altitude down to 50m, there remains the question of whether this accuracy can be retained as the spacecraft descends to the surface. This must be confirmed before touchdown operations. Therefore, the touchdown itself will be postponed until next year, during which time we will have two touchdown rehearsals; TD1-R1-A and TD1-R3.

After the rehearsals in October they must wait until January to do the landing because in November and December the sun will be in-between the Earth and the spacecraft, making operations more difficult. They want to also use this time to review the results of the rehearsals to better prepare for the January landing.

Share

Curiosity sends down images for the first time in weeks

Good news! For the first time since September 15 Curiosity has sent back images.

The last raw images were received on Sol 2171, equivalent to September 15. Today’s images (Sol 2199) from the front and rear hazard cameras and the two navigation cameras suggest that the engineers have solved the computer issues that prevented the rover from sending its science data to Earth.

No press release has yet been released, but I suspect we shall see something shortly.

Share

Updates on Russian investigation of Soyuz launch failure

Three stories from Russia today on the investigation into last week’s launch failure during a Soyuz launch to ISS.

The first two simply outline additional changes in the Russian upcoming Soyuz launch forced upon them by the failure. It is already clear that the December launch of a new crew will be delayed also.

The third story has one piece of information that I think is intriguing:

The emergency commission looks into the Baikonur spaceport staff who worked on the Soyuz-FG carrier rocket preparing it for the launch with the manned capsule Soyuz MS-10 atop, but the liftoff ended up in a failure, a source said.

“Some members of the emergency commission are staying at the Baikonur Cosmodrome to investigate the circumstances of the failure of the Soyuz-FG rocket. They will have to check all the employees who were working on the rocket,” he said.

That they specifically mention the investigation of the employees who worked on both the rocket and the capsule suggests that they are seriously considering the possibility that one of those individuals might be the cause of both this failure as well as the drill hole in the Soyuz capsule now at ISS.

Nor can anyone blame them. The evidence so far surrounding the drill hole suggests it was done when the capsule was being prepared for launch at Baikonur. If there is an individual working there with an animus toward the Russian government or its space program, they might have possibility done something to this rocket as well.

Share
1 2 3 625