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September 2006

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We're still under construction

A new SpaceNow is in the works -- bringing the same content you saw on the old site. Meanwhile, this blog will continue the spirit of "Education, Arguments and Ideas".

Ryan on 06.07.06 @ 08:44 AM CST [link]

Monday, September 11th

Atlantis Docks with Space Station

I'm happy to report that the space shuttle Atlantis successfully docked with the International Space Station today at 6:48 am EDT. Spaceflight Now has posted a lovely description of its flight, some of which I will include here - they even use the word "pirouetted". Awww.

"Commander Brent Jett guided the shuttle Atlantis to a gentle docking with the international space station today after a spectacular end-over-end flip across Africa, Italy and the Balkans to let the lab crew photograph the spaceplane's heat shield.

While the rotational pitch maneuver is a now-standard part of every post-Columbia flight, the lighting today was ideal and video beamed down from the space station provided crystal clear views of the orbiter as it slowly pirouetted some 600 feet below against the backdrop of northern Africa and the Mediterranean Sea.

The smooth flight of the shuttle and the seemingly sedate passage across the Earth below belied the orbiter's five-mile-per second velocity, its open payload bay showing the massive 35,000-pound solar array truss that will be attached to the station Tuesday.

The shuttle's underbelly looked pristine, but engineers will have to wait for the station crew to downlink high resolution digital still images to get the clarity needed to assess the health of the tiles on the belly of the shuttle."

Subscribers to Spaceflight Now's site can view video footage of Atlantis as well.

[Karma: 3 (+/-)] Jaime on 09.11.06 @ 09:05 AM CST [link] [1352 Comments]

Thursday, August 17th

Space as Political Platform

Now this is cute.

Looks like this guy - Michael Goodspaceguy Nelson - is running in the democratic primary for Washington state's senate seat. Read Jeff Foust's forehead smack about it here - I am off to write a final exam, eat some ice cream, hit up H&M, and on my way home I thought I'd discover a few new planets and begin drafting my own campaign for political office.

[Karma: 13 (+/-)] Jaime on 08.17.06 @ 11:54 AM CST [link] [1310 Comments]

Wednesday, August 16th

All things ridiculous.

Space advocates see a lot of ridiculous things.

I was tempted to leave the update at that, and let you all draw your own conclusions. I'm certain every reader would draw to a different event or presentation in a different field that made them shake their head in utter incredulity. My original draft of this update referred to an incident where the President of a respected space movement dropped the ball and embarassed a lot of people with his poor sense of good taste and modesty when given a public forum. There's no sense in going into greater detail, we all know it was ridiculous.

There are some people that argue that heavy-lift is ridiculous, some that argue that the ISS is ridiculous. Some think going to the Moon is ridiculous, others feel that way about Mars. In a planet super-saturated with ridiculousness, we've managed to find a way to shovel more into space.

And then I saw this in today's headlines from Boston.

"Xena the warrior planet knocks Pluto out of orbit"

Wow. That's pretty ridiculous. One might even call it fraudulent. It continues...

"It’s doing a fine job, thank you very much - ruling the sign of Scorpio with an even hand, solidly anchoring the mnemonic ‘‘My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nice Pizzas,” allowing a 125-pound woman to weigh only 10 pounds if she were lucky enough to live there."

Now, of course, the ridiculous article is just raising awareness of the identification issues surrounding what to call large ice-balls like Pluto, "Xena" and whatever else lies in the Kuiper belt. It seems the IAU has made its proposal on what to do about this dilemma: increase the number of planets kids learn about to 12 and identify a class of "Plutoids".

The new additions?

Charon, Pluto's moon. Now a planet. Yes, that makes them a binary-planet system.
Xena, which by day poses as mild-mannered 2003 UB313, is now a planet.
Finally the asteroid Ceres, yes...that's planet 4.5. If elementary schoolers learn about Pluto, Charon and Xena...they'll have to learn about Ceres too. (If you can coin a good mnemonic to remember all 12, trademark it now)

Learning 12 planets and half-planets seems to be an unneccesarily complex solution when compared to dropping the list to 8 "planets that count". One wonders the rationale behind this decision. Cue another bit of ridiculousness.

"School feels they helped save Pluto"
"Today's schoolchildren and at least one teacher still believe that effort helped save the planet discovered in 1930 by their hometown hero, Clyde Tombaugh."

"We didn't want him (Tombaugh) to be forgotten. He was the only American to discover a planet."

"Clyde would have loved to know that he not only discovered Pluto but also discovered the first double planet."

Is the United States, a nation that put a man on the Moon, beat Communism and commanded this world in every meaningfully measurable way, so insecure about how many planets it can claim discovery over that it warrants classifying 3 new objects and the 10,000 likely objects just beyond the horizon as "planets" just to bolster a sense national (local) pride? I refuse to accept this as a double planet. It's a ball of ice and a ball of ice half its size acting as a moon.

The IAU even admits that when more Kuiper belt objects are discovered, the list will have to grow larger. We'll be throwing the word planet around at anything we can land a probe on at this rate. The IAU will vote on the proposal next week. Books will be re-written. Teachers will try to catch up.

Why do people defend this as though dismissing Pluto as a planet would cause it to no longer exist? It was an ice-ball before. It's still an ice-ball. There are a LOT of them waiting to be discovered out there. Get out your telescopes, you too can be like Clyde.

A 12-planet system. Pretty ridiculous.

[Karma: 6 (+/-)] Ryan on 08.16.06 @ 09:57 AM CST [link] [1347 Comments]

Monday, August 14th

Branding the Space Industry

Bob Clarebrough over at The Space Review offers a compelling piece today as to the marketing and "branding" of the emerging space industry. Emphasizing the need for space entrepreneurs to find their niche - to offer a real, tangible service to customers - Clarebrough argues that one can only rely on the vague lure of space for so long; that ultimately, the old standbys of a unique product/service and customer-driven innovation must take over.

Writes Clarebrough, "Space does not have a value proposition any more than an unexplored continent on Earth does before the first settlers arrive. There may be rumors that the land is rich in natural resources, but they are worth little until people develop technologies to cross the ocean and adapt tools and methods to live off the land... people can only assess the value of a new world after establishing a permanent foothold in it and exploring widely. Space exploration will follow a similar path."

He does pause to emphasize that the commercial space industry is still in its infancy, and that initial intangible force known as inspiration must still provide the impetus for exploration. "... The general population needs to know about space and be inspired by its human, not financial, potential," writes Clarebrough. "As pioneer aviator Antoine de St. Exupéry wrote [and I love this]: 'If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the crew to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.' Only when the skies have been populated with space travelers can we populate the spreadsheets with real numbers."

The article in its entirety is definitely worth a read. It's certainly kept me in full slack mode today at work.

[Karma: 7 (+/-)] Jaime on 08.14.06 @ 11:16 AM CST [link] [13 Comments]

Pluto's Identity Crisis

For decades, Pluto has had its place among the other eight planets in our solar system, though many experts remain reluctant to place it there. Considerably smaller and more distant than its brethren, Pluto's true status has been a matter of constant debate. Now with the discovery of a more distant object, larger than Pluto and also orbiting the Sun, astronomers are debating whether some new nomenclature is needed.

The newly found icy rock thus far known as "2003 UB313", discovered last summer by astronomer Michael Brown of the California Institute of Technology, is raising eyebrows and bringing the need for a working definition of "planet" to the forefront. Said Alan Stern, who heads the Colorado-based space science division of the Southwest Research Institute of San Antonio, "It's time we have a definition. It's embarrassing to the public that we as astronomers don't have one."

Indeed there are no distinctions made amongst the many objects we call planets - no system of classification distinguishing gas giant from rock from icy dwarf, and therein lies the problem presented by this new discovery. It's one which delegates to the International Astronomical Union conference opening today in Prague hope to address. Will this new icy body be named the tenth planet? Will Pluto be demoted? Will a new litmus test for "planethood" be developed? Within twelve days, we may have our answer at last.

[Karma: 5 (+/-)] Jaime on 08.14.06 @ 08:07 AM CST [link] [1296 Comments]

Friday, August 11th

A NASA News Day

NASA has produced the logos that the public will be associating with the next lunar missions. The CEV and moon landing program is being unofficially designated "Orion" according to an internal source. The Orion program, and accompanying badge will join the new badges for the Office of Exploration Systems, the Constellation Program and Project Ares--the heavy-lift rocket to take us there. Well that's the hard part done.

NASA Astrobiology magazine is featuring an interview with planetary scientist and Mars fanatic Chris McKay regarding the 2009 Phoenix Lander.

For those of you who care about Pluto, recommendations have been made to the International Astronomical Union that the ice-ball retain its planet designation, and that a new class of "dwarf planets" be created including other ice-balls, large asteroids and random Kuiper belt objects.

Finally, and arguably most interestingly, NASA has announced that it will support an advanced mission concept study for the SuperNova/Acceleration Probe. The probe, dubbed SNAP, is an experiment designed to learn the nature of dark energy by precisely measuring the expansion history of the universe. At present scientists cannot say whether dark energy has a constant value or has changed over time or even whether dark energy is an illusion, with accelerating expansion being due to a gravitational anomaly instead. I really hope this one survives the cuts, but that depends more on Congress than anything else it would seem.

[Karma: 10 (+/-)] Ryan on 08.11.06 @ 10:23 AM CST [link] [4 Comments]

Thursday, August 10th

RIP James Van Allen

As I'm sure you've heard by now, James Van Allen, a pioneer of the US space program, passed away yesterday at the age of 91. Perhaps best known for his discovery of the radiation belts which surround the earth and bear his name, Van Allen was an exceptional scientist, though an outspoken supporter of robotic space exploration at the expense of the human variety.

Jeff Foust's is my favourite treatment of Van Allen's legacy, so I'm going to direct you there.

Be sure to have a look at yesterday's entry as well - Foust comments on the Mars Society's recent acknowledgment of the apparent discord at NASA between science and exploration. Er... the what? Is it just me who finds it terribly sad that such a divide can possibly exist?

[Karma: 13 (+/-)] Jaime on 08.10.06 @ 10:59 AM CST [link] [1321 Comments]

Monday, August 7th

The Mars Underground

Dr. Robert Zubrin has never been shy about putting himself out there. A former Martin Marietta engineer, founder of The Mars Society and outspoken space advocate, Zubrin has made a career out of getting his message across. That message: that humans must explore and colonize Mars, sooner rather than later.

Now filmmaker Scott Gill has captured Zubrin’s message in a new documentary, The Mars Underground, which Gill debuted on August 3 to an audience of approximately 100 people on the opening night of the Mars Society conference in Washington, DC, reports The Space Review’s Dwayne A. Day. The film focuses primarily on Zubrin and his ideas about human exploration and settlement of the Red Planet, with some attention also given to industry supporters and skeptics alike.

The documentary is available in DVD format overseas, but has not yet been broadcast or distributed in the United States. Gill is hoping for an eventual cable television broadcast, with the twin goals of presenting the documentary to a broader audience, and giving the space advocacy community the chance to see Zubrin’s ideas largely stripped of his occasional abrasiveness. Day writes that, “the film does a better job at selling Zubrin’s ideas than he does himself. After watching The Mars Underground, many people will be convinced that exploring, settling, and even terraforming Mars is far easier than NASA would have you believe.”

Though rightly skeptical of some of Zubrin’s claims, Day endorses the film heartily as a “quality documentary that does a better job explaining both an activist space agenda and possible future human exploration than virtually anything shown on television to date.” Let’s hope that it will find its way to television soon.

[Karma: 6 (+/-)] Jaime on 08.07.06 @ 09:14 AM CST [link] [1410 Comments]