Saturday, February 27, 2010

Raging Space Debate as March Storm Rises

Continuing debate among space leaders over the Obama Administrations new space policy was intensified this week by some feisty congressional hearings. Since my slow typing fingers haven't been able to blog at the crazy pace at which these developments are occurring, thankfully Alan Boyle has posted a good summary of these developments.

One particularly interesting twist covered in the article is the position of entrepreneur Burt Rutan who, after clarification following one confusing media article, comes out favoring the new policy's support for commercial services to low Earth orbit and for advanced technology development while calling for a stronger commitment for NASA to lead in exploration beyond Earth orbit.

Meanwhile the annual Prospace March Storm enters the fray this week, where I'll join other citizens in promoting a frontier enabling space agenda.

Chile Earthquake and Its Wideranging Effects

Chile was struck this morning by a massive magnitude 8.8 magnitude earthquake that also raised tsunami flags throughout the Pacific region. While this earthquake was 500 times as intense as the one that hit Haiti last month, there are some contrasting circumstances that indicate that this one, while still quite devastating, will likely result in a much lower death toll than the Haiti quake last month.

UPDATE: Here is info on organizations aiding the Chilean earthquake victims.

SETI: Looking Back and Looking Forward

Scientist engaged in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) looked at the history of and future challenges for the enterprise at a recent science conference.
Some astronomers say that in the grand scheme of things, 50 years isn't all that long, and the effort expended so far hasn't been all that exhaustive. "I think we have not yet begun to search," said Peter Backus, an astronomer at the SETI Institute in California's Silicon Valley.

But the technology is getting better all the time. "Fifty years ago, Frank Drake would never have imagined the directions in which SETI has moved," said Jill Tarter, director of the institute's Center for SETI Research (and the scientist who inspired the main character in the "Contact" book and movie).

Blogging this topic gives me the opportunity to finally get around to adding Alan Boyle's MSNBC Cosmic Log to the space section of my sidebar. Definitely worth checking frequently for wide ranging articles.

Health Care Summitry Takes an Unplanned Twist

I didn't see much of the health care summit held on Thursday, other than the brief clips shown later on TV. Apparently the outcome was not what President Obama and other Democratic leaders hoped for, with the Republican participants getting good reviews from at least some pundits for emphasising the substance and presenting positive alternatives.

A prime example is Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) dissecting the economics of the health care issue. Rep. Ryan really cuts to the chase in this brief (~3 min.) video clip.

These impressions appear to be consistent with the latest Rasmussen survey.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Night Landing in Florida

The Space Shuttle Endeavour landed safely last night after its highly successful mission to the International Space Station.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Checking Out After a Job Well Done

The Shuttle Endeavour and its crew departed from the International Space Station (ISS) this evening, completing a mission highlighted by the delivery of the Tranquility habitation module and its cupola observation deck providing spectacular views of Earth and space.

This YouTube clip (hat tip to Spaceports) only gives a hint of the spectacular views these astronauts are seeing for themselves.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday Starts the Lenten Journey

Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of the Lenten season of preparation for the glorious celebration of Easter. Pope Benedict XVI calls Lent a time for conversion.
Beginning his Ash Wednesday observance with the general audience, the pope told an estimated 6,500 visitors that Lent, in the words of St. Paul, reminds people "not to accept the grace of God in vain," but to recognize that God is calling everyone to penance and spiritual renewal every day.

When life seems exhausting and fraught with difficulties and failure, and when one is tempted to abandon the faith, it is a call to "open ourselves up to God's love in Christ and to live according to his logic of justice and love," he said.

Some ideas for Lent are posted by the St. Michael Society.

Settled Science? Never Mind!

Professor Phil Jones, one of the researchers at the center of the unraveling "climate change" affair, admits that the science is not so settled after all, and that some of the ambiguity may be due to his less than stellar organizational skills. (I guess a messy desk can set off a global "crisis".)
Professor Jones told the BBC yesterday there was truth in the observations of colleagues that he lacked organisational skills, that his office was swamped with piles of paper and that his record keeping is ‘not as good as it should be’.

The data is crucial to the famous ‘hockey stick graph’ used by climate change advocates to support the theory.

Professor Jones also conceded the possibility that the world was warmer in medieval times than now - suggesting global warming may not be a man-made phenomenon.

And he said that for the past 15 years there has been no ‘statistically significant’ warming.

For many links on the climate situation, check out Climate Depot.

Happy First Birthday Stimulus!

Public Domain

President Obama signed the huge stimulus package into law one year ago today. Whether this is an occasion for celebration is debatable at best, but it does give me an excuse to trot out "The Pig".

Friday, February 12, 2010

Getting to Know Our Sun

Photo credit: NASA/Sandra Joseph and Tony Gray

The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) was launched yesterday to gain a greater understanding of processes in the Sun and how they affect conditions on Earth.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Blizzard Conditions!

Much of the Mid-Atlantic region is under a blizzard warning this morning as the second major snow storm in less than a week is coming through here. Less snow this time but I can hear some nasty winds outside.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Awesome Predawn Launch


In what was probably the last Space Shuttle night launch, Endeavour lifted off early this morning on the STS-130 mission to the International Space Station (ISS) to deliver a new module and a cupola that will allow sweeping views from the ISS along with other supplies.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

They're just so Enlightened, Compassionate and Progressive

Gerard Alexander writes in the Washington Post about the attitude many modern liberals have about those who disagree with what they assume are their obviously enlightened opinions.
Every political community includes some members who insist that their side has all the answers and that their adversaries are idiots. But American liberals, to a degree far surpassing conservatives, appear committed to the proposition that their views are correct, self-evident, and based on fact and reason, while conservative positions are not just wrong but illegitimate, ideological and unworthy of serious consideration. Indeed, all the appeals to bipartisanship notwithstanding, President Obama and other leading liberal voices have joined in a chorus of intellectual condescension.

For example, Mona Charen writes at NRO how a recently published study affirming the benefits of abstinence education challenges the assumption that proponents of liberal positions on issues always have science and reason on their side.
The Obama administration had disdained and defunded abstinence education in favor of "evidence-based" programs to prevent teen pregnancy. (Note the assumption that liberal ideas are founded on evidence whereas conservative ideas spring from prejudice, ignorance, or downright orneriness.) No single study settles things, but this one, conducted by an African-American professor at the University of Pennsylvania, will be hard to ignore.

And of course, there are the Earth shaking revelations that in the last three months have caused the collapse of the "global warming"/"climate change" advocacy and it's claim that the science is "settled."
"I don't think it's healthy to dismiss proper skepticism," says John Beddington, the chief scientific adviser to the British government. He is a staunch believer in man-made climate change, but he also points out the complexity of climate science. "Science grows and improves in the light of criticism. There is a fundamental uncertainty about climate change prediction that can't be changed." In his view, it's time to stop circling the wagons and throw open the doors. How much the public will keep caring is another matter.

Just for grins, here's an article citing a recent proclamation from one famous activist that global warming has caused a scarcity of winter weather here in the DC Area.

Pictures from the Storm

Here are a few of the pictures I took yesterday and today of the storm from front and back of my house and of my car (the white lump with a side view mirror). My attempts to measure came up with about 33 inches. The digging out is underway, taking back our civilization one shovelful at a time.

Friday, February 05, 2010

"Snow-pocalypse" Arrives

The winter storm we've been hearing about for days has arrived. The predictions are for possibly 20-30 inches before it is out of here tomorrow. Spring will really be welcome here this year.

Monday, February 01, 2010

New Direction for Space

OK, the budget for FY2011 is out. Here is the NASA budget release with statements and related information and some media links.

The announcements accompanying the release, headed by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, described the new direction NASA is taking. In summary:

-Cancellation of the ongoing Constellation program aimed at a return to the Moon by 2020.

-Extension of the International Space Station to (at least) 2020 with a major push to enlist American commercial providers to transport crew and cargo to the ISS. Several companies were awarded funding to assist development of such projects under an existing program.

-Major investment in technology research and development including heavy lift vehicle (apparently no rapid Shuttle derived development though), in space propulsion (e.g. VASIMR), in -space propellant depots, radiation research and mitigation.

-Continuing unmanned exploration and science along with other miscellaneous initiatives.

So, the loss of the specific exploration goals and program is sad though the program was running into technical and budget issues that may have prevented its realization in the long run anyway. The Ares I/V launch vehicles were particularly troubled by design changes, escalating costs and delays. I think that a DIRECT type Shuttle derived launcher might have been workable and may re-emerge through Congressional action or, better yet, even as an initiative of a commercial consortium.

Needless to say, the reaction across the Internet space community is at such a high level that is virtually impossible to keep up with it all. Opinions range from exuberant enthusiasm for the new initiative to apocalyptic pronouncements of the end of (US) human spaceflight. Alan Boyle has a summary of the new direction and the ensuing debate here.

As for me, I think the initiatives to enable commercial human spaceflight and fund a range of frontier enabling technology developments are overdue and have my strong support. It will be exciting to see the additional initiatives of new and established space companies that may emerge in response to the new direction in space. I understand the cancellation of the troubled Ares I/V vehicles but had hoped that a more affordable heavy lift vehicle might have emerged. As I've said above , that may re-emerge one way or another.

It must also be understood that there is some amount of risk in this new initiative and that some thought should be given to what happens if the the commercial transport services are delayed, leaving us reliant on Russian transort for an extended time.

I am concerned that while the dispersal of space activities into a diversity of innovative initiatives can be a very promising development, there is a risk that the smaller programs might be vulnerable to future cuts by Congress or the Administration (Obama or a successor) to fund other priorities. I hope the space community will not remain so divided over these changes that it cannot come together to ensure that our space development efforts are not diluted

Finally, even a transition to a wider future involves traumatic dislocation so I am concerned about the many fellow workers in the space industry that will be affected. I haven't seen or heard anything specific about the satellite servicing project I'm working on now but it would seem to fit in well with the enhanced technology development program.