Tag: NASA

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A colleague at one of the NASA research centers sent me a news item on their Diversity Day. The article was for internal consumption only so I hesitate to post it here, but I think it’s fair to quote some excerpts with my comments. I noted there were several microaggressions in the Diversity Day news […]

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Alright, Rico-scientists, I turn this over to you for further explanation and evaluation. From IFL Science: The latest news regarding the EM Drive, which produces a thrust seemingly from nowhere, comes from Paul March, one of the principal investigators on the EM Drive, and was published on the NASA Spaceflight forum. The post is in reply to an […]

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Government Funding of Basic Science? Knock It Off.

 

The-MartianFor decades now, even free-market economists have argued that the government should fund basic scientific research. I myself have always felt suspicious of the argument — this is one reason I remain skeptical of NASA, despite the ridicule of my comrades Rob Long and James Lileks, who can barely contain their pleasure at the thought of spending untold sums to send someone to Mars — but I confess that I’ve never possessed the analytical skills to investigate the argument, let alone refute it.

Along comes Matt Ridley in this weekend’s edition of the Wall Street Journal, where he has published a brilliant essay called “The Myth of Basic Science.” Excerpts:

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Mars Is Safe from NASA

 

The-MartianOver at USA Today, I have a column on the recent hit movie The Martian and contrast the attitudes in it to today’s real-life space agency:

Going back decades, one of the favorite, albeit mindless, phrases in policy on human spaceflight is “safety is the highest priority.” Then-NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin invoked it in 1996, on the 10th anniversary of the loss of the space shuttle Challenger. It has continued into the present, with recent repetition from current Administrator Charles Bolden and space committee leadership on Capitol Hill, including Reps. Chaka Fattah, D-Penn., and Donna Edwards, D-Md. It can be found in NASA training documents and was recently cited in the NASA authorization act.

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“The Martian” Is Thrilling, Surprisingly Funny, and Scientifically Accurate

 

The_Martian_film_posterThe Martian features Matt Damon as NASA astronaut Mark Watney, who with a six-member crew including commanding officer Jessica Chastain, is on a month-long science mission on the beautifully desolate surface of Mars. Of course, one month is only the planned duration of their stay on the surface; the deep space transit to and from Mars takes several hundred days each way, which becomes important later in the film.

We enter the story partway into the surface mission. The crew is collecting Martian soil samples when NASA sends them an urgent message about an impending storm. The storm is apparently so severe that the rocket which is supposed to lift the crew back into space at the end of their mission won’t survive the harsh winds on the ground. So the crew is forced to abort their surface mission and perform a hasty emergency launch. In the rush and confusion, Watney is left behind, presumed dead. All of this introductory material is completed in a very breezy few minutes, plunging us right into the survival story.

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This could be even bigger for NASA than the whole “Muslim outreach” thing! More

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What Still Works?

 

338745main_13-lgApollo 13, Ron Howard’s glorious 1995 epic, tells the heroic true story of America’s doomed third manned mission to the moon. On April 14, 1970, some 56 hours into the flight, a crippling explosion rocked the spacecraft’s service module, forcing NASA to abort the moon landing and concentrate on bringing the crew safely back to earth. The movie grippingly captures the first tense moments after the jolt of the explosion, as the astronauts and mission control engineers in Houston grapple with a cacophony of alarms and flashing warning lights, and try to make sense of torrents of contradictory incoming data amidst the din of crosstalk and reports of mounting system failures.

After several interminable minutes, Gene Krantz (Ed Harris), NASA’s legendary flight director, steps in to impose order on the barely controlled chaos inside Mission Control. He tells his engineers to quiet down, lights a cigarette, takes a long, deep draw, and says:

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Earth’s the Right Place for Love

 

ClassroomAs a pre-emptive act of self-defense, I wish to post Birches, by Robert Frost. This won’t mean anything to you until you listen to the podcast that Rob, James and I just recorded, but when you do, and you get to the end, and hear Rob and James berate me for failing to share their Mr. Science-like goggling enthusiasm for NASA — well, then you’ll know what I mean.

As I say, a pre-emptive act of self-defense:

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Dick Shelby, Vlad Putin’s BFF

 

Earlier this week, I pointed out how Congress seems determined to keep us dependent on the Russians for access to space indefinitely:

…despite the desperate need and warning from the administrator, just before the most recent Russian failures, in a vote on June 3rd, the House once again cut the NASA 2016 request for Commercial Crew by about 20%, from $1.243B to an even billion dollars, while once again increasing the SLS budget by almost half a billion, an increase of over a third from the request of $1.365B.

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Congress Fiddles with Monster Rockets, While Human Spaceflight Burns

 

Art_of_SLS_launchOver at PJMedia this past weekend, I have yet another piece on what a godawful mess the civil space program is, in its ongoing dependence on the Russians.

Just in the past six years, the Russians have now had sixteen space mission failures, one of which had NASA actually contemplating temporarily abandoning the ISS in 2011. Their industry is beset by strikes, underpaid workers, and the need to rapidly reproduce hardware that in the past would have been acquired from Ukraine, the flow of which has been interrupted by Russia’s ongoing war on that nation. In addition, as reported in a story this past weekend, there is also massive corruption. With each failure, there is a management shakeup, but the underlying systemic quality problems never seem to get fixed.

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Slipping the Surly Bonds

 

shutterstock_251316592In my lifetime, I believe that the greatest symbol of American exceptionalism has been NASA, the United States space program, and the American flag that waves (in a manner of speaking) over the Sea of Tranquility on the Moon. In an age when anti-American, anti-imperialist sentiment was building steam, America may not have been universally loved, but it was universally respected. In a rickety vessel that now seems more primitive than the boats in which Columbus sailed the Atlantic, three Americans blasted off, crossed an empty void, landed on a new world and, just to show off, televised the whole thing. And the reaction of the whole world to this incredible spectacle was: “well, of course it is the Americans.”

You had to think twice before you’d mess with someone who could do that.

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Leonard Nimoy. There. I’ve made this post topical. (For the record, I cannot remember a time when I did not find the religiosity of Star Trek to be anything but an unbearable embarrassment. I liked the show because it was entertaining, and–let’s be honest–the casting of Nimoy vs. Shatner was Roddenberry’s single brilliant decision [which […]

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Remembering Challenger

 

Twenty-nine years ago today I was wrapping up a class at the Navy’s Nuclear Power School in Orlando, Fla. Just before our lunch break, a Chief Petty Officer slipped in the back of the room and quietly said, “the Shuttle just exploded.”

About half of us laughed, because the thought of an space shuttle accident seemed ridiculous. Rocket and shuttle flights seemed routine to kids like us who had grown up after NASA’s early trial-and-error phase. A couple weeks earlier, a group of us traveled to Cape Canaveral to watch a routine Columbia launch in person.

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The Latest Conservative Misfire On Space Policy

 

space2Some time this month — perhaps this Friday — an American space company will attempt to land part of a launch system on an autonomous drone ship in the Atlantic, the first time any system has landed on a hard surface since the final Space Shuttle flight. Its goal is to dramatically reduce the cost of launch by reusing the stage. Later this summer, that same company plans to test a new launcher that will deliver over 100,000 pounds of payload to orbit, the largest rocket since the Saturn V that took astronauts to the moon. About the same time, a NASA probe will fly past Pluto a mere 6,200 miles from the surface, giving humanity its first close look at our distant neighbor. At least two — perhaps three — new commercial capsules are in development to take NASA astronauts and private citizens into space, ending our dependence on the Russians to get to our space station. In Mojave, California, a small rocket plane is in the last stages of construction before taking passengers into space for less than $100,000. The billionaire founder of Amazon.com has his own rocket company developing new engines and new vehicles, with the goal of putting millions of people into space.

But despite all this, some ostensible conservatives continue to act as if America’s space activities are in eclipse. When you bring up the topic of space policy with them, the only thing they seem to know about it is the (completely false) notion that NASA’s primary mission is “Muslim outreach.” As the latest example, I was recently compelled to dismantle a foolish and ignorant piece at The American Spectator. As I conclude over at PJMedia:

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Asteroid Defense: A Proper Function of Government

 

In less than two hours, a 60ft-wide asteroid will whiz past the Earth. It’s not going to hit us or cause any other harm, but it will come to within about 25,000 miles of our planet’s surface, or about 1/10 the distance to the Moon.

We’re talking about a rock the size of a whale moving at 24,500 mph relative to the Earth. By comparison, the Chelyabinsk meteor that exploded over Russia last year was a little smaller, though moving faster. This particular rock isn’t the sort of thing that could end civilization, but — if it were a little larger and had a slightly different path — it could easily have destroyed a city, sparked an enormous wildfire, caused a monstrous tsunami, or some combination of the three.

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I’ll be on his show at either 4:20 or 4:40 PM EDT today (that is, in less than an hour) to talk about the current mess in both civil and military space policy. [Update a few minutes later] More

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Apollopalooza

 

shutterstock_83323393With yesterday’s 45th anniversary of the first lunar landing, there’s been an unusual amount of space coverage and commentary in the media. I’ve tried to do my share. As I noted on Friday, I had a piece over at USA Today, declaring that it’s time to end the Apollo Cargo Cult:

After over four decades, it is time to stop awaiting a repeat of a glorious but limited and improbable past. We must, finally, return to and embrace the true future, in which the solar system and ultimately the universe is opened up to all, with affordable, competing commercial transportation systems, in the way that only Americans can do it.

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Does Scarcity Yield Better Results?

 

While at a weekend church retreat, we discussed those amazingly beautiful letters to home written by soldiers of even the lowest rank on either side of the American Civil War. The question arose, does scarcity yield better results?

Did having only a few pages of paper and one pencil (and maybe even a pen!) make the soldier writing a letter home want to write a letter with punch and vigor that said everything he wanted it to say? In contrast, look at the language and diction of tweeting and texting, of emails and even full-on essays in blogs.

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Simberg: Safe Is Not an Option

 

The successful expansion into space requires tradeoffs in cost and safety. But the government’s obsessively risk-averse regulations are preventing us from being able to make those tradeoffs. That’s the message of the new book by Ricochet member, CEI adjunct scholar and “recovering aerospace engineer” Rand Simberg. Safe Is Not an Option: Overcoming the Futile Obsession With Getting Everyone Back Alive That Is Killing Our Expansion Into Space is getting rave reviews from prominent experts, knowledgable politicians, and successful entrepreneurs.

Simberg notes that, throughout the history of exploration, science and technology has always entailed risk to the health and lives of the explorers. Yet, when it comes to exploring and developing the high frontier of space, the harshest frontier ever, the highest value is apparently not the accomplishment of those goals, but of minimizing, if not eliminating, the possibility of injury or death for the humans carrying them out.

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That’s right. Not only are “Elite wealth monopolies” the scourge of the present but will, in fact, cause societal apocalypse, reports The Guardian. The study took the factors involved in the collapse of previous civilizations, including the Roman empire, into account: “Population, Climate, Water, Agriculture, and Energy.” More

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