Chronological Encyclopedia of Discoveries in Space cover

After being in print for twenty years, the Chronological Encyclopedia of Discoveries in Space, covering everything that was learned on every single space mission in the 20th century, has finally gone out of print.

 
I presently have my last four hardback copies available for sale. The book sold new for about $90. To get your own autographed copy of this now rare collector's item, please send a $120 check (which includes shipping) payable to Robert Zimmerman to


Behind The Black, c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652


"Useful to space buffs and generalists, comprehensive but readable, Bob Zimmerman's Encyclopedia belongs front and center on everyone's bookshelf." -- Mike Collins, Apollo 11 astronaut

 

"The Chronological Encylopedia of Discoveries in Space is no passionless compendium of information. Robert Zimmerman's fact-filled reports, which cover virtually every spacecraft or probe to have ventured into the heavens, relate the scientific and technical adventure of space exploration enthusiastically and with authority." -- American Scientist

Bezos’ Feb Amazon stock sale earned $3.4 billion, not $1.8 billion

In early February Jeff Bezos sold of 3% of his Amazon stock, almost twice what had been reported at the time, earning him $3.4 billion not $1.8 billion.

This information is part of an overall sell-off in early February by the top executives of many U.S. companies, totaling $9.2 billion.

While Mr. Bezos’s sales accounted for more than a third of the 2020 sales, thousands of other insiders sold stock. More than 150 executives and officers individually sold at least $1 million worth of stock in February and March after having sold no stock in the previous 12 months, the Journal analysis found.

Wall Street executives also sold large dollar amounts, including Laurence Fink, CEO of BlackRock Inc., who sold $25 million of his company shares on Feb. 14, pre-empting potential losses of more than $9.3 million and Lance Uggla, CEO of IHS Markit Ltd., a data and analytics firm, who sold $47 million of his shares around Feb. 19. Those shares would have dropped in value by $19.2 million if Mr. Uggla had retained them. A spokesperson said the shares were sold under a preset plan.

These early February sell offs are in addition to the sudden sales of stock by four Senators, all conveniently timed to beat the crash that has since occurred.

If I was a cynic I would say they got inside information from their buddies in Congress and the state governments, telling them that the government was going to shut down the economy because of COVID-19, and you better sell.

If I was a fool I’d say that can’t be, these people are all upfront and honest, especially those in Congress. They would never work with the big stockholders on Wall Street to manipulate stocks so those stockholders could make a killing. Never!

Meanwhile, Bezos’ stock sale now gives him a total of $8.2 billion in cash from all his stock sales since 2017. While he has said this money was intended to support his space company Blue Origin, he has also said he wants to spend $10 billion on “climate change.”

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Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

 
The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit.

 
The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.
 

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs." --San Antonio Express-News

$1 trillion COVID-19 aid bill includes significant funds for foreign aid

According to this close look at the new $1 trillion COVID-19 aid bill that Congress is now considering, a significant amount of the money being allocated will go to foreign aid.

Note that the conservative narrative this past weekend was that the Democrats blocked passage of the aid bill because they wanted to stuff it with their own pet political projects. Meanwhile, the Republicans only wanted to get it passed in order to rush aid to Americans because of the government’s panic that has caused an economic crash.

While the Democratic portion of this narrative is true, the Republican part is a lie. The Republicans have their own pet political projects, and they are stuffing the bill with them also. Moreover, that stuffing includes, according to the article, lots of cash to “the salaries and expenses” of many DC government agencies.

The article also notes this:

To put that into perspective, the first COVID-19 legislation exceeds the $1.1 billion appropriated for Zika in 2016, the $5.4 billion for Ebola in 2014, and the $7 billion for swine flu in 2009.

All of those epidemics were actually much larger and more dangerous than the Wuhan flu. None resulted in panic and the establishment of martial law.

I promise you, the only real stimulus in this bill will be aimed at Washington. While the bill might give a free handout exceeding a thousand dollars to poorer Americans (in order to buy votes), most of the money will likely end up raising salaries, increasing staff, and improving the lifestyles of the bureaucracies in DC. Like the Obama stimulus, it will do little to stimulate the economy.

Meanwhile, the imposition of martial law continues, shutting down the American economy while making the pursuit of happiness impossible. I just got back from Costco with my wife. The store was opening two hours early in order to reserve those extra hours for those over sixty years old. We went because the panic has made it impossible to get some goods we need. We got there just before 8 am, when the store was supposed to open, and found a line so long already that would probably take two hours to get into the store. By that time most of what we need would likely be gone. We came home.

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Long March 5B launch still set for mid-April, despite Wuhan virus

The new colonial movement: China is moving forward with its plans to complete the first launch of its big Long March 5B rocket in mid-April, despite the lockdowns because of COVID-19.

The Long March 5B is a variant of the Long March 5, which after two launch failures finally completed its first successful launch in December. The 5B is also the rocket they intend to use for all their manned missions, as well as launching the components of their manned space station.

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Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

 
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

 
The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.


He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

 
Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit.
 

Astra Space suffers failure during launch dress rehearsal

Capitalsm in space: Astra Space, attempting again to complete its first orbital launch, suffered what they call “an anomaly” during a launch dress rehearsal countdown yesterday.

The “anomaly,” of which we presently have no description other than it has cancelled their launch attempt later this week and that no one was hurt, apparently was serious enough that they noted that the launch site is “still hazardous and should be avoided.”

The company has said that it expected it would take three launches before they succeeded in getting into orbit, so this failure probably does not worry them overally. At the same time, I suspect that expectation was for actual launches, not explosions during the countdown.

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Bigelow lays off everyone

Bigelow Aerospace, builder of commercial space stations, has laid off its entire workforce, stating this was due to the lockdown by Nevada’s state government due to the Wuhan flu.

According to sources familiar with the company’s activities, Bigelow Aerospace’s 68 employees were informed that they were being laid off, effective immediately. An additional 20 employees were laid off the previous week.

Those sources said that the company, based in North Las Vegas, Nevada, was halting operations because of what one person described as a “perfect storm of problems” that included the coronavirus pandemic. On March 20, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak signed an emergency directive ordering all “nonessential” businesses to close.

A company spokesperson confirmed March 23 that the company laid off all its employees because of the governor’s order, and that it faced “fines, penalties and threats of having our business license revoked” if it remained open. The spokesperson added that the company planned to hire workers back once the emergency directive was lifted, although other sources interpreted the layoffs as a permanent measure.

Considering how Bigelow has allowed other commercial space station companies, such as Axiom, to move ahead of it, this decision is not surprising. The panic over COVID-19 only pushed it along.

Whether Bigelow as a company returns once the coronavirus panic subsides however remains an open question.

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Leaving Earth cover

In March I obtained from my former publisher the last 30 copies of the now out-of-print hardback of Leaving Earth. I quickly sold 10, and with only 20 left in stock I am raising the price. To get your own autographed copy of this rare collector's item please send a $75 check (includes $5 shipping) payable to Robert Zimmerman to
 

Behind The Black, c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652
 

I will likely raise the price again when only ten books are left, so buy them now at this price while you still can!


  Also available as an inexpensive ebook!
 

Leaving Earth: Space Stations, Rival Superpowers, and the Quest for Interplanetary Travel, is now available as an ebook everywhere for only $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit.

 


Winner of the 2003 Eugene M. Emme Award of the American Astronautical Society.

"Leaving Earth is one of the best and certainly the most comprehensive summary of our drive into space that I have ever read. It will be invaluable to future scholars because it will tell them how the next chapter of human history opened." -- Arthur C. Clarke

China launches three satellites with its Long March 2C rocket

China today successfully placed three military surveillance satellites into orbit, using its Long March 2C.

This rocket uses toxic hypergolic fuels, and is designed for placing satellites in low Earth orbit. Its first stage will likely fall somewhere in the Chinese interior, where the government will warn residents of the danger.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

6 China
5 SpaceX
4 Russia
2 Europe (Arianespace)

The U.S. still leads China 8 to 6 in the national rankings.

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Power is what the COVID-19 government panic is really about

While common sense, caution, and the human ability to adapt to fluctuating circumstances requires our society to react to the COVID-19 epidemic spreading across the globe, our additional ability to think coolly and rationally requires us to not allow our emotions to run wildly and out-of-control, taking actions that might feel good for a moment but do no good and maybe more harm in the long run.

It also requires to look closely at the actions of our lawmakers, whose motives are now commonly not driven by an interest in the country but by their own interests and an insatiable desire for power. Two stories this past weekend were quite revealing in this context.

First we have the incredible request by the Justice Department for new special powers so that it can supposedly react to the epidemic properly.
» Read more

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Layers upon layers upon layers on Mars

Layered mesa on Mars
Click for full image.

Cool image time! Or rather, a bunch of cool images! On February 17, 2020 the science team for the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) released a very cool captioned photograph of a terraced mesa in a crater just north of Hellas Basin, shown in the image to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here.

The color strip down the center of this image illustrates how the colors of the different layers indicate the different make-up of each. These distinctions are not obvious in black & white. That array of colors also leads to some very beautiful scenery, as noted by planetary scientist Alfred McEwen in his caption:

Sedimentary layers record a history of Mars’ erosion and deposition by water and wind, and they make great landscapes for future interplanetary parks.

That this terraced mesa is located on the northern edge of Hellas Basin, the basement of Mars, is possibly not surprising. Other similarly terraced mesas like this have been found on the basin’s eastern edge, highlighted in my September 2019 post. The geology here appears to encourage this kind of erosion, where the different sedimentary bedrock layers erode away at different rates, leaving behind terraced mesas.

Terraced layers on Mars however come in other varieties, some of which build up over time instead of getting eroded away.
» Read more

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Another Chinese state-sponsored company about to launch orbitally

Galactic Enterprise, another Chinese state-sponsored “private” company, says it will attempt its first orbital launch this coming June.

The rocket is named Ceres-1, after the largest body in the asteroid belt, and will launch from China’s Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert. With three solid fuel stages and a liquid propellant fourth stage, it will be able to lift 350 kilograms of payload to an altitude of 200 kilometers in low Earth orbit. [emphasis mine]

Want to know why I do not consider this a real private company? From the article:

[Galactic Energy CEO and founder Liu Baiqi] earned a PhD from the prestigious Beihang University in Beijing before moving to the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), a major subsidiary of the country’s main space contractor. He says everyone on the core team at his company has 10 to 20 years of background in research and development, as well as experience in spaceflight.

The Chinese national strategy of military-civil fusion is a crucial ingredient in China’s nascent commercial launch sector. It facilitates the transfer of restricted military technologies for civilian use, and vice versa. Liu notes that the strategy strengthens China’s commercial aerospace companies by establishing supply chains, providing access to test and launch sites, and securing orders from the government. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted text in both quotes above explains all. First, solid rocket technology is almost always reserved for missiles, as it can be stored easily for long periods, yet be ready to launch quickly. No private company, even in the U.S., can use it without heavy government involvement.

Second, Liu admits that his entire team comes from China’s long established space industry, which has always been dominated and controlled by that country’s government and military. I guarantee that everyone in his company has security clearances, and has worked on the past for China’s missile programs

Third, Liu’s own words confirm my conclusion. He calls it a “military-civil fusion,” but that’s just government weasel-words, another way of saying the government is running the show, entirely. It might be allowing him to form his own operation, using investment capital from Chinese investors, but everything he does is approved and supervised by the Chinese military and government.

It is for this reason I will not list these Chinese “companies” separately in my launch race updates, like I do with U.S. companies. They are not really private, or separate. They are all divisions of China’s military-communist government, and thus should be lumped together.

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Astra to try its first orbital launch again this week

Capitalsm in space: After aborting its first orbital launch attempt at T-53 seconds, Astra has announced that it will to try its first orbital launch again this week.

They have not revealed the payload. They also admit that they will not be surprised if they fail to reach orbit, as they already assume it will take about three launches to iron out their rocket and systems.

Regardless, if they succeed, they will become the second company, after Rocket Lab, to successfully enter the smallsat market.

No word on whether they will live-stream the launch.

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Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2 awake for 16th lunar day

Engineers have reactivated their Chang’e-4 lander and Yutu-2 rover on the far side of the Moon to begin their sixteenth lunar day of operations.

The article provides some good information about the future plans for Yutu-2, including some maps showing its overall travels and planned route.

[A] new plan has been formulated for the Yutu 2 rover, which has already provided insights into the composition of the surface and what lies below. Li Chunlai, deputy director of the National Astronomical Observatories of China (NAOC), told the state-run news outlet CCTV+ that the Yutu 2 team are targeting distant areas.

Yutu 2 has been driving across an area covered in ejecta from impact craters, but reaching new ground would be insightful. “If it can enter a basalt zone, maybe we can better understand [the] distribution and structure of ejecta from meteorite impacts,” Li said. “The distance may be 1.8 kilometers [1.1 miles]. I think it may take another one year for the rover to walk out of the ejecta-covered area.”

The rover has been averaging less than a hundred feet of travel per lunar day, so going 1.1 miles will take some time. Kudos however for the rover’s science team for deciding to attempt it. The decision reminds me of a similar decision by the Opportunity rover team to send their rover to Endeavour Crater, miles from their landing site. They made it, and thus explored a region no one ever expected the rover to reach.

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Webb telescope further delayed by COVID-19

As part of its decision to shut down most of the agency’s operations due to fear of the COVID-19 virus, NASA’s has suspended all work on the James Webb Telescope, further delaying this much delayed space telescope.

The follow-on to the popular Hubble Space Telescope [Ed: a NASA lie that is not true], years late and billions over budget, it was on track for launch in March 2021, though some NASA officials were hinting there might be another delay. Today’s action almost certainly assures it. “The James Webb Space Telescope team … is suspending integration and testing operations. Decisions could be adjusted as the situation continues to unfold over the weekend and into next week. The decision was made to ensure the safety of the workforce. The observatory remains safe in its cleanroom environment.” — NASA

I must repeat this incessantly, as it appears too many modern space reporters are very ignorant about their own field. Webb is not a” follow-on to Hubble.” Astronomers made the decision in the late 1990s to build an infrared space telescope instead, which is what Webb is. For more than a decade they, and NASA, lied to the public about this, claiming Webb was a better version of Hubble, in order to garner support for building Webb.

I have been calling NASA on lie this since 2008, when I wrote The Universe in a Mirror, which I think eventually forced the agency to stop doing it. It is shameful however for a reporter now, in 2020, to still spread it.

As for Webb, this decision by NASA will certainly delay it again. The project is already fourteen years behind schedule, with its budget ballooning from $500 million to about $10 billion. All told, a perfect example of government in action.

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The real facts about COVID-19 show the panic about it is absurd

UPDATE 2: The article censored by Medium has now been posted at zero hedge, and I have changed the link below. As I said, spend some time reading it. The information is substantial, the analysis thoughtful and detailed, and the perspective calm and rational.

UPDATE 1: The article I link to has been blocked by the server. You get this message:

Error
410
This post is under investigation or was found in violation of the Medium Rules.

Or to put it more bluntly, “Medium Rules” are hostile to thoughtful, fact-based analysis. Quite disgusting. If I was the writer I would switch servers in a heartbeat. And if I was another writer on the same server I’d tell them to go to hell as well.

You can read another analysis of the article here, which provides a few more quotes from the article. I will also not be surprised if the article reappears shortly.
—————————————————————–
Original post:

Link here. The article is incredibly detailed about every single aspect of the virus, and finds that it is simply not significantly different from the flu. The numbers outlined also confirm my conclusions from earlier in the week, that the panic over the Wuhan/COVID-19/coronavirus are simply unwarranted. More than anything else, this fact about the virus illustrates this fact:

Dr. Paul Auwaerter, the Clinical Director for the Division of Infectious Diseases at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine echoes [other findings], “If you have a COVID-19 patient in your household, your risk of developing the infection is about 10%….If you were casually exposed to the virus in the workplace (e.g., you were not locked up in conference room for six hours with someone who was infected [like a hospital]), your chance of infection is about 0.5%”

According to Dr. Auwaerter, these transmission rates are very similar to the seasonal flu.

To put it mildly, this epidemic is a nothing burger. Yes, it is killing a small percentage of the population worldwide, but almost all of those are old and already sick. Yes, it is spreading fast, but the spread is comparable to the flu and is thus not special or unusual.

And yes, actions to slow the spread will be helpful to both the scientists trying to come up with treatments and cures and the healthcare system that has to treat this new influx of patients, but the autocratic restrictions being imposed by state and city governments in the U.S. are almost all counter-productive. As the article notes:

Local governments and politicians are inflicting massive harm and disruption with little evidence to support their draconian edicts. Every local government is in a mimetic race to one-up each other in authoritarian city ordinances to show us who has more “abundance of caution”. Politicians are competing, not on more evidence or more COVID-19 cures but more caution. As unemployment rises and families feel unbearably burdened already, they feel pressure to “fix” the situation they created with even more radical and “creative” policy solutions. This only creates more problems and an even larger snowball effect. The first place to start is to stop killing the patient and focus on what works.

Start with basic hygiene: The most effective means to reduce spread is basic hygiene. Most American’s don’t wash their hands enough and aren’t aware of how to actually wash your hands. Masks aren’t particularly effective if you touch your eyes with infected hands. Ask businesses and public places to freely distribute disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer to the customers and patrons. If you get sick or feel sick, stay home. These are basic rules for preventing illness that doesn’t require trillions of dollars.

Meanwhile, our federal government is about to pass a one to two trillion dollar stimulus bill that will further bankrupt the government, aimed at distributing money, not for developing and making available the necessary drugs to combat the virus, but to their buddies and to Americans as a pay-off for their terrible policies that are destroying jobs, incomes, lives, and the economy.

Read it all. Take your time doing it, as the amount of information is substantial. The bottom line, however, is that if you inform yourself properly about COVID-19, you will realize that we are panicking for no reason. And with our panic we are allowing corrupt politicians to destroy our freedoms and rights while they increase their power over us.

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OneWeb faces bankruptcy, even as it is about to launch more satellites

According to reports today, OneWeb, one of two companies presently building a constellation of satellites for providing worldwide internet access, is facing a serious cash crunch and might have to file for bankruptcy.

The main investor, Softbank, apparently is short of cash due to bad investments, worsened further by the stock market crash due to the Wuhan virus panic this week. Furthermore, the panic has caused Arianespace, which is launching many of OneWeb’s satellites, to suspend all launches from its French Guiana spaceport.

OneWeb has already launched 74 satellites, with a Soyuz launch of 34 more from Russia tomorrow. While fewer than the 360 that its main competitor SpaceX has launched of its Starlink constellation, OneWeb doesn’t need as many based on constellation’s design to become operational. After tomorrow’s launch, OneWeb will have launched about 18% needed, compared to SpaceX’s 24%.

If OneWeb goes out of business, it will do great harm to both Russia’s launch industry as well as Europe’s Arianespace, both of which have contracts for launching most of OneWeb’s satellites. In fact, for Russia, OneWeb is pretty much the only commercial customer they have. If they lose that it will be a serious financial blow.

Similarly, Arianespace’s next generation rocket, Ariane 6, has had problems garnering contracts. Losing the OneWeb launches will also hurt their bottom line.

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Justice Dept abandons Mueller indictments of Russian companies

Earlier this week the Justice Dept quietly announced that it was dropping the indictments that the Robert Mueller Russian collusion investigation had made against several Russian-based companies.

Though I missed reporting this when it happened because of other events, it merits comment, even a few days late.

For one thing, when Mueller announced these indictments, I read them, and concluded that they were absurd, and nothing more than a political maneuver.

Mueller’s indictment is first and foremost a political document. If you read it, it is quite obvious that its purpose was not to bring these Russians to justice, but to imply that Russia was working with Trump to get him elected, even though a careful analysis of everything the Russians did shows that this is not the case.

Why do I say this? The indictment spends numerous pages describing in incredible detail every single pro-Trump action taken by these Russians, from organizing social media campaigns to anti-Clinton protests to pro-Trump rallies, while providing only one or two very short summaries of the anti-Trump actions they took, thus giving the impression if you do not read the indictment closely that they were essentially a Trump operation.

This however is false. Not only does the indictment lack any evidence of any links between the Russians and the Trump campaign, the details indicate strongly the non-partisan nature of the Russian strategy. While prior to the election it appears they favored Trump, once he was the candidate they shifted tactics to attack both him and Clinton. The goal was not so much to get Trump elected but to cause the most negative disruption to the American election process as possible. The indictment itself admits this, though almost as an aside.

People far more expert on this subject than I, such as Andrew McCarthy at the link above, had quickly come to the same conclusion. And McCarthy had predicted two years ago that the indictment would never fly if the Russian companies challenged it in court (something Mueller’s team clearly never expected). They did challenge it, resulting in some incredibly embarrassing moments in court for these Democratic Party hacks.

I think this story is only one example of the corrupt nature of Mueller’s Russian investigation. It was a political action against a duly and legally elected president, through and through, created by those in DC who did not like the result, and wished to overturn it illegally, by any means necessary.

Or to put it bluntly, it was an attempted political coup.

People in that operation should be the ones indicted, and convicted. I wait with great pessimism whether the investigations by Trump’s attorney general will result in such indictments. They should, but I have little faith they will. In Washington DC we now have two sets of rules.The little people must obey all laws, or they will be severely punished. Those in Washington however are exempt from any prosecution, and can do as they please.

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Friday at the non-existent Lunar & Planetary Science Conference

Global distribution of Martian ice scarps
Today was supposed to have been the last day at the cancelled 51st annual Lunar & Planetary Science conference. As such, only a half day of presentations had been scheduled in order to give participants the option of returning home sooner.

While many of the abstracts of the planned-but-now-cancelled presentations were on subjects important to the scientists but not so interesting to the general public, two sessions, one on Martian buried glaciers/ice and a second focused on Mercury, would have made the day very worthwhile to this science journalist, had I been there.

The map above, from the first abstract [pdf] of the Mars session, might possibly epitomize our present knowledge of ice/glaciers on Mars. It provides an update of the continuing survey of ice scarps in the high mid-latitudes of Mars (see the most recent post on Behind the Black from February 12, 2020). Clearly, the more they look, the more they find of these ice scarps, cliff faces with visible exposed pure ice layers that will be relatively easy to access.

But then, finding evidence of some form of buried ice on Mars is becoming almost routine. Of the thirteen abstracts in this Mars session, ten described some sort of evidence of buried ice or glaciers on Mars, in all sorts of places, with the remaining three abstracts studying similar Earth features for comparison. The scientists found evidence of water ice on the top of one of Mars’ largest volcanoes (abstract #2299 [pdf]), in faults and fissures near the equator (#1997 [pdf]), in the eastern margin of one of Mars’ largest deep basins (#3070 [pdf]), in Gale Crater (#2609 [pdf]), in the transition zone between the northern lowlands and southern highlands (#1074 [pdf]), and of course in the northern mid-latitude lowland plains (#2648 [pdf] and #2872 [pdf]).

The results tell us not that there is water ice on Mars, but that it is very plentiful, and that its presence and behavior (as glaciers, as snowfall, and as an underground aquifer) make it a major factor in explaining the geology we see on Mars. I’ve even begun to get a sense that among the planetary scientists researching Mars there is an increasing consideration that maybe ice formed many of the river-like features we see on the surface, not flowing water as has been assumed for decades. This theory has not yet become dominate or even popular, but I have been seeing mention of it increasingly in papers, in one form or another.

If this possibility becomes accepted, it would help solve many Martian geological mysteries, primary of which is the fact that scientists cannot yet explain how water flowed as liquid on the surface some time ago in Mars’ long geological history, given its theorized atmosphere and climate. If ice did the shaping, then liquid water (in large amounts) would not be required.

Now, on to the Mercury session.
» Read more

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Inactive hot springs on Mars?

Inactive hot springs on Mars?
Click for full image.

Overview of Vernal Crater

Cool image time! In prepping my report of the interesting abstracts from Friday of the cancelled 51st annual Lunar & Planetary Science conference (to be posted later today), I found myself reading an abstract [pdf] from the astrobiology session about the possibility of now inactive hot springs on Mars! This was such a cool image and possibility I decided to post it separately, first.

The top image to the right, cropped and expanded to post here, was taken by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2009. It shows some dark elliptical splotches inside the floor of a crater dubbed Vernal. The second image to the right, taken from the abstract, shows the context, with the top image a wide shot showing the southern half of Vernal Crater where these features are located, and the bottom image zooming into the area of interest. The white box focuses on the elliptical features seen in the first image above. From the abstract:

The elliptical features consist of concentric halos of high but varying albedo, where the highest albedo in each occurs in a small central zone that mimics the shape of the larger anomaly. Each feature is also traversed by circumferential fractures. Several similar tonal features extend for 5-6 km, on stratigraphic trend with the elliptical features. Hypotheses considered for the origin of the elliptical features included springs, mud/lava volcanoes, pingos, and effects of aeolian erosion, ice sublimation, or dust, but the springs alternative was most compatible with all the data.

The abstract theorizes that the small ligher central zone is where hot water might have erupted as “focused fluid injection” (like a geyser), spraying the surround area to form the dark ellipses.

I must emphasize that this hypothesis seems to me very tenuous. We do not really have enough data to really conclude these features come from a formerly active hot spring or geyser, though that certainly could be an explanation. In any case, the geology is quite intriguing, and mysterious enough to justify further research and even a future low cost mission, such as small helicopter drone, when many such missions can be launched frequently and cheaply.

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NASA considering shutting down Curiosity in 2021

Even as the space agency is about to launch a new rover to Mars, it is considering cutting operations for the rover Curiosity as well as considering shutting down its operation as soon as 2021.

Other ongoing missions are threatened by the administration’s fiscal year 2021 budget proposal. “The FY21 budget that the president just recently submitted overall is extremely favorable for the Mars program, but available funding for extended mission longevity is limited,” [said Jim Watzin, director of NASA’s Mars exploration program].

That request would effectively end operations of the Mars Odyssey orbiter, launched in 2001, and reduce the budget for Curiosity from $51.1 million in 2019 to $40 million in 2021, with no funding projected for that rover mission beyond 2021.

The penny-wise-pound-foolish nature of such a decision is breath-taking. Rather than continue, for relatively little cost, running a rover already in place on Mars, the agency will shut it down. And why? So they can initiate other Mars missions costing millions several times more money.

Some of the proposed cuts, such as ending the U.S. funding for Europe’s Mars Express orbiter, make sense. That orbiter has accomplished relatively little, and Europe should be paying for it anyway.

These decisions were announced during a live-stream NASA townhall that was originally to have occurred live at the cancelled Lunar & Planetary Science conference. I suspect its real goal is to garner support for more funding so that the agency will not only get funds for the new missions, it will be able to fund the functioning old ones as well.

Sadly, there would be plenty of money for NASA’s well-run planetary program if our Congress and NASA would stop wasting money on failed projects like Artemis.

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NASA shuts down all in-house work, suspending SLS/Orion testing

In its panicky response to COVID-19, NASA is now requiring all workers to work from home, forcing the agency to suspend all in-house testing of SLS and Orion hardware.

NASA will temporarily suspend production and testing of Space Launch System and Orion hardware. The NASA and contractors teams will complete an orderly shutdown that puts all hardware in a safe condition until work can resume. Once this is complete, personnel allowed onsite will be limited to those needed to protect life and critical infrastructure.

We realize there will be impacts to NASA missions, but as our teams work to analyze the full picture and reduce risks we understand that our top priority is the health and safety of the NASA workforce.

This guarantees further delays to the first Artemis unmanned launch sometime in 2021. It also is par for the course for NASA’s entire effort to build this rocket. In just the past two weeks three different blistering inspector general reports have blasted different components of this project at NASA (overall management, construction of the launch systems, and development of software), proving that out-of-control cost overruns and endless delays in building SLS and Orion have been systemic throughout the agency.

Now they have shut down testing, even though the Wuhan virus is probably going to end up no more dangerous than the flu (now that treatment options exist).

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California: where politicians consider criminals their base and ordinary citizens their enemy

Three stories (two from today and one from two days ago) illustrate starkly the fascist mentality of California Democrats, clearly more interested in giving criminals as much freedom as possible while restricting the freedoms of ordinary law-abiding citizens.

The first story is especially grotesque. Senator Harris (D-California) wants to release criminals into the general population, even though these individuals cannot generally be relied upon to follow any quarantine restrictions. In prison however they are in the perfect quarantine, easily isolated from others.

Harris however is horrified by this. As she writes,

[The Federal Bureau of Prisons] is responding to the threat of coronavirus with extreme measures that both maintain current levels of incarceration and penalize the incarcerated community— including by suspending social and legal visitation, suspending inmate facility transfers, and potentially locking down institutions.

O the horror! We must release these individuals immediately, since restricting their freedom is so against what America stands for!

Meanwhile, the second story illustrates how California politicians have no problem imposing these same restrictions on innocent citizens. While Harris wants to release criminals, San Francisco politicians have imprisoned every citizen in these counties, while shutting down numerous businesses at great cost to their owners.

And the third story reveals the hidden fascist reasons for these actions in California. Because a flu-like virus might someday infect a lot of people, San Jose officials decide they have to shut down a gun shop.

Makes sense to me. We can’t have those evil Wuhan viruses buying guns, can we?

The goal of Democratic politicians in California (and elsewhere) isn’t to stop the virus. Their goal is to establish a totalitarian state, with them in power. This epidemic is only making this fascist desire more obvious.

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Thursday at the non-existent Lunar & Planetary Science Conference

Jezero Crater, under theorized ocean

It is now time for today’s virtual report from the non-existent 51st annual Lunar & Planetary Science conference, cancelled because of the terrified fear of COVID-19.

Unlike the previous three days, the bulk of the abstracts for presentations planned for today are more what I like to call “in-the-weeds” reports. The science is all good, but it is more obscure, the kind of work the scientists will be interested in but will generally hold little interest to the general public. For example, while very important for designing future missions, most of the public (along with myself) is not very interested in modeling studies that improve the interpretation of instrument data.

This does not mean there were no abstracts of interest. On the contrary. For today the most interesting sessions in the conference program centered on Mars as well as research attempting to better track, identify, and study Near Earth asteroids (NEAs).

The map above for example shows the location of Jezero Crater, where the rover Perseverance will land in 2021, under what one abstract [pdf] proposed might have been an intermittent ocean. The dark blue indicates where the topography suggests that ocean might have existed, while also indicating its shoreline. If it existed in the past, Perseverance might thus find evidence of features that were “marine in origin.” This ocean would also help explain the gigantic river-like delta that appears to pour into Jezero Crater from its western highland rim.

There were a lot of other abstracts looking closely at Jezero Crater, all in preparation for the upcoming launch of Perseverance in July, some mapping the site’s geology, others studying comparable sites here on Earth.

Other Mars-related abstracts of interest:
» Read more

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More Boca Chica residents move out, accepting SpaceX offers

More Boca Chica residents have accepted SpaceX purchase offers, and are finding other places to live.

While not all are thrilled with the circumstances, the article suggests that there is far more good will then unhappiness. It appears the excitement of what SpaceX is doing, and its willingness to give these residents special viewing privileges in the future, has done wonders to ease the pain for many of them for having to sell their homes.

It has also produced youtube channels providing 24 hour live streams of SpaceX operations.

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SpaceX recovers both fairing halves from Starlink launch

Capitalism in space: The two reused fairing halves that SpaceX used in yesterday’s Falcon 9 Starlink launch were both successfully recovered.

Starlink V1 L5 is now the second time ever that SpaceX – or anyone, for that matter – has successfully reused an orbital-class launch vehicle payload fairing, while the mission also marked the first time that SpaceX managed to recover a reused Falcon fairing. The burn from booster issues certainly isn’t fully salved, as twin fairing catchers Ms. Tree and Ms. Chief both missed their fairing catch attempts, but both twice-flown fairing halves were still successfully scooped out of the Atlantic Ocean before they were torn apart.

The first reused fairing however was not recovered, making this recovery the first of used fairings. The company now has the ability to study them in order to better design future reusable fairings.

The article provides a lot of information about the difficulties of catching the fairings before they hit the water. It also notes that the reused fairings have all been fished out of the ocean, suggesting that in the end catching them in the ship’s nets will be unnecessary.

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NASA confirms May target date for first manned Dragon flight

Capitalism in space: In announcing today it is beginning media accreditation for SpaceX’s first manned Dragon flight to ISS, the agency confirmed earlier reports from SpaceX that they are now aiming for a mid-to-late May launch.

Much can change before then. COVID-19 could get worse, shutting down all launches. The engine failure on yesterday’s successful Falcon 9 launch could require delays.

However, right now, things look good for May, which will be the first time since 2011 that Americans will launch from American soil on an American-built rocket, an almost ten year gap that has been downright disgraceful. Thank you Congress and presidents Bush and Obama! It was how you planned it, and is also another reason we got Trump.

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NASA’s inspector general finds more budget overruns at Artemis

A new report [pdf] released today from NASA’s inspector general has found more budget overruns and managerial issues relating to developing the ground software required by both Orion and SLS.

There are two software components involved, called SCCS and GFAS for brevity. This report focuses on the latter. A previous report found that “SCCS had significantly exceeded its initial cost and schedule estimates with development costs increasing approximately 77 percent and release of a fully operational version of the software slipping 14 months.” According to that previous report [pdf], that increase went from $117 million to $207 million.

As for GFAS:

Overall, as of October 2019 GFAS development has cost $51 million, about $14 million more than originally planned.

This report, as well as yesterday’s, are quite damning to the previous management of NASA’s manned program under Bill Gerstenmaier. It appears they could not get anything done on time and even close to their budget.

It also appears to me that the Trump administration has removed the reins from its inspector general offices. During the Obama administration I noticed a strong reticence in IG reports to criticize government operations. Problems as outlined in both yesterday’s and today’s reports would have been couched gently, to obscure how bad they were. Now the reports are more blunt, and are more clearly written.

Also, this sudden stream of releases outlining the problems in Artemis might be part of the Trump administration’s effort to shift from this government program to using private commercial companies. To do this however the administration needs Congressional support, which up to now has strongly favored funding SLS and Orion. Having these reports will strengthen the administration’s hand should it propose eliminating these programs, as it is now beginning to do with Gateway.

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