Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Breaking Ground for Space

Two recent groundbreakings heralded coming activities at two spaceports. Yesterday, spaceport authorities and public officials broke ground for construction of the new launch pad at Wallops Island, VA for the Taurus II rocket that will help to resupply the International Space Station. And just a couple of weeks ago, a similar ceremony was held to begin construction of Spaceport America in New Mexico, which could host suborbital tourist flights into space in two or three years.

Perfect Weather for a Weather Sat Launch

Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

After a Friday night scrub and even a delay at the beginning of Saturday's launch window, both due to Florida thunder storms, the GOES-O weather satellite was launched into a bright blue sky Saturday evening.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Flawed Bill for a Unsettled Premise

The US House today narrowly (219-212) passed the Waxman-Markey energy/climate change bill which includes "Cap & Trade" provisions to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Most of the debate centered on the likely huge economic costs of the legislation and the rushed process in which the bill was passed (much like the stimulus package earlier this year). Even some who support carbon controlling legislation, as in this Washington Post editorial, questioned the process and the bill that would pass today. The bill still has to be debated and voted on in the Senate.

But as the House leadership, with the support of the Obama Administration, rushed to pass this bill, the whole premise behind it remains in question. After years of the the drumbeat that the issue of human caused global warming was "settled", the question is becoming more and more unsettled around the world, according to Kimberly Strassel of the Wall Street Journal.
Among the many reasons President Barack Obama and the Democratic majority are so intent on quickly jamming a cap-and-trade system through Congress is because the global warming tide is again shifting. It turns out Al Gore and the United Nations (with an assist from the media), did a little too vociferous a job smearing anyone who disagreed with them as "deniers." The backlash has brought the scientific debate roaring back to life in Australia, Europe, Japan and even, if less reported, the U.S.

The renewed debate is not just among politicians. More and more scientists are coming out and challenging a "consensus" that may have never really existed.
The number of skeptics, far from shrinking, is swelling. Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe now counts more than 700 scientists who disagree with the U.N. -- 13 times the number who authored the U.N.'s 2007 climate summary for policymakers. Joanne Simpson, the world's first woman to receive a Ph.D. in meteorology, expressed relief upon her retirement last year that she was finally free to speak "frankly" of her nonbelief. Dr. Kiminori Itoh, a Japanese environmental physical chemist who contributed to a U.N. climate report, dubs man-made warming "the worst scientific scandal in history." Norway's Ivar Giaever, Nobel Prize winner for physics, decries it as the "new religion." A group of 54 noted physicists, led by Princeton's Will Happer, is demanding the American Physical Society revise its position that the science is settled. (Both Nature and Science magazines have refused to run the physicists' open letter.)

The collapse of the "consensus" has been driven by reality. The inconvenient truth is that the earth's temperatures have flat-lined since 2001, despite growing concentrations of C02. Peer-reviewed research has debunked doomsday scenarios about the polar ice caps, hurricanes, malaria, extinctions, rising oceans. A global financial crisis has politicians taking a harder look at the science that would require them to hamstring their economies to rein in carbon.

So what kind of climate policy should we have? Since change in the global or regional climates, whether natural or man-made and whether warming or cooling, can have a real impact on people, a vigorous climate research and monitoring program is warranted. And developing alternative sources of and more efficient ways of using energy is important for a number of reasons, including for security, prosperity and general environmental stewardship.

However, we should not pursue a policy of turning our economic lives upside down in an effort to address a problem about which there is not so much of a "consensus" as has been claimed.

In the interest of airing both sides of this anything but "settled" debate, here are links to a NOAA climate site and one maintained by the Heartland Institute.

UPDATE: 6/28/09 Information has been leaked about an internal dispute between two EPA employees and their superiors. The employees claim the EPA is suppressing their report documenting that the agency is blindly following the analyses of other organizations without its own evaluation in light of more recent climate research.
Carlin and Davidson go on to recite the scientific work that shows rather clearly that human activity is a minor factor, at most, in climate change--which has, of course, been occurring from the beginning of Earth's history to the present. Their report is a useful summary of the evidence for those who are not familiar with it.

If the Obama administration gets its way, Americans will not become aware of the scientific evidence: Obama's EPA suppressed the Carlin/Davidson report and tried to keep it secret for political reasons. The emails obtained by the CEI are revealing.

This is the Obama Administration that seems to be suppressing scientific evidence. Haven't we had it drummed into us by much of the media that only the Bush Administration and those evil Republicans would suppress scientific evidence?

Monday, June 22, 2009

DC Metro Rail Tragedy

An awful disaster occurred this afternoon around 5 PM EDT on the Washington, DC region's Metro Rail system on the Red Line, with at least six persons dead.

I didn't have any event to attend tonight but I often use the Red Line around that time when I do attend evening events in DC.

Let's keep in our prayers the victims and their loved ones.

Iran Protests Persist

Despite violent repression by the regime, Iranians continue to protest in large numbers following the suspicious outcome of recent elections. Despite attempts by the government to stifle independent and foreign media, videos and images are getting out.

Here's a suggestion from a friend on Facebook on how Twitter subscribers here can help brave Iranians who are trying to get information out:

If anyone is on twitter, set your location to Tehran and your time zone to GMT +3.30. Security forces are hunting for bloggers using location/timezone searches. The more people at this location, the more of a logjam it creates for forces trying to shut Iranians' access to the internet down. Cut & paste & please pass it on.

Friday, June 19, 2009

On To the Moon!

Photo credit: United Launch Alliance/Pat Corkery

The LRO/LCROSS launch to the Moon took place late Thursday at Cape Canaveral, Florida. This is the first US lunar mission in over a decade and joins a parade of missions by Europe Japan, China and India in recent years as interest in the Moon is on the rise world wide.

Meanwhile the Augustine Committee studying the future of the US human spaceflight program held its first public meeting (which I attended) in Washington, DC on Wednesday. Clark Lindsey summarizes and provides numerous links. The presentations are provided at the committee's documentation web page.

I'll summarize my own overall impression that the committee appears to be curious and open minded while dealing with a tidal wave of reading material accompanying the public presentations and other inputs. They are considering the options for the White House, Congress and NASA to execute a robust and sustainable human spaceflight program.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Launch Two-Step This Week

Shuttle Endeavour is set to launch early tomorrow morning to the International Space Station (though stormy weather has delayed the start of fueling the vehicle). Then the robotic LRO/LCROSS lunar launch is set for Thursday at the earliest. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile I am taking the day off tomorrow to attend the first public meeting of the Augustine Human Spaceflight Plans Committee in DC. If you can't attend in person, you can watch on NASA TV (web site).

Iranians Thirst for Freedom

The outpouring of public demonstration by the people of Iran in the face of violent repression by authorities following the suspicious outcome of last week's elections is reminiscent of the mass movement in 1978-79 that deposed the Shah. Unfortunately that only replaced one dictator with a worse tyranny. May our prayers be that this time the Iranian people succeed in achieving real peace and freedom.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Milestone in Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI)

Alan Boyle writes on the start of science operations at the Allen Telescope Array (ATA) in California. This facility, still only partially completed, vastly expands the capabilities of searching for intelligent extraterrestrial signals, if they are there.
The Allen Telescope Array was conceived more than eight years ago, and it's been two years since the system's switches were flipped on in a remote valley near Mount Shasta in Northern California. Scientists have been tinkering with the equipment and testing the software since then. Finally, on May 28, astronomers kicked off regular rounds of SETI surveys, seven hours a day, roughly four to five times a week, according to Peter Backus, the SETI Institute's manager of observing programs.

Backus said the significance of the milestone sank in a couple of days later, when he and other members of the research team were sitting around a table for a planning meeting.

"We just looked at each other and said, 'Hey, we're actually observing again!' It was a great feeling for the whole gang," he told me.

Congratulations to the SETI team! With the ATA in operation, the Hubble Telescope upgraded, the launch of the Kepler, Herschel and Plank telescopes (and more advances to come), what wondrous discoveries await us?

Yes We...Oh, Never Mind!

President Obama may remain personally popular, but the policies he and the Democratic Congressional leadership are advancing are meeting increasing resistance from much of the public. A Rasmussen survey released this week indicates that voters favor the Republicans on six out of ten key issues, including the economy. Meanwhile, more polls appear to be confirming a trend of more Americans identifying themselves as "prolife" than "prochoice".

Beyond poll numbers, key constituencies may be realizing that they didn't get the kind of "change" they were "hope"-ing for. Michael Malone analyzes the situation of high-tech companies, big and small. (Hat tip to Rand Simberg.)
But that was in November. It’s June now, and while the big companies have largely gotten their wish when it comes to new start-ups - as I’ve said, entrepreneurship is under assault in the U.S. like we have not seen in our lifetimes - the tech giants are now discovering they may have made a devil’s bargain. The Administration’s brute force handling of the Chrysler and GM take-overs, seemingly violating contract law in the process; its mutterings about managing executive bonuses; its creation of industry czars without the need for Congressional approval; and the prospect of endless debt, economic stagnation and runaway inflation waiting in the wings - all have to be making the same CEOs pretty darn nervous these days . . . and asking themselves if they’ve made a terrible mistake.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Augustine Committee Web Site

The Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee has established a web site to enable the public to provide inputs and follow developments.

Monday, June 01, 2009

The Future Is Now

When you see this report from a San Francisco local TV newscast in 1981, your reaction may already be like that of Scotty when he encounters late 20th Century technology while visiting from the 23rd (in Star Trek IV ): "How Quaint!" (Hat tip to Jonah Goldberg.)

While I don't recall it, I was living in the SF Bay Area in 1981, so I may have actually seen this report when it was aired.

Augustine Committee Members, First Public Meeting

The membership of the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee was announced today. The committee is described as an "independent review of U.S. human space flight plans", though the announcement came through NASA, so it's a little unclear exactly who selected the members. In any case, it does appear to be a well qualified group coming from diverse interests in the space community. The members are:
- Norman Augustine (chair), retired chairman and CEO, Lockheed Martin Corp., and former member of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush

- Dr. Wanda Austin, president and CEO, The Aerospace Corp.

- Bohdan Bejmuk, chair, Constellation program Standing Review Board, and former manager of the Boeing Space Shuttle and Sea Launch programs

- Dr. Leroy Chiao, former astronaut, former International Space Station commander and engineering consultant

- Dr. Christopher Chyba, professor of Astrophysical Sciences and International Affairs, Princeton University, and member, President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology

- Dr. Edward Crawley, Ford Professor of Engineering at MIT and co-chair, NASA Exploration Technology Development Program Review Committee

- Jeffrey Greason, co-founder and CEO, XCOR Aerospace, and vice-chair, Personal Spaceflight Federation

- Dr. Charles Kennel, chair, National Academies Space Studies Board, and director and professor emeritus, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego

- Retired Air Force Gen. Lester Lyles, chair, National Academies Committee on the Rationale and Goals of the U.S. Civil Space Program, former Air Force vice chief of staff and former commander of the Air Force Materiel Command

- Dr. Sally Ride, former astronaut, first American woman in space, CEO of Sally Ride Science and professor emerita at the University of California, San Diego

The details for first public event for the panel were also included in the announcement:
The committee will hold several public meetings at different U.S. locations. The first public meeting will take place June 17 from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. EDT at the Carnegie Institution, located at 1530 P Street NW in Washington. Topics on the agenda for the meeting include previous studies about U.S. human space flight; national space policy; international cooperation; evolved expendable launch vehicles; commercial human space flight capabilities; and exploration technology planning.