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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Iron And Ice

This just popped up on io9 for some reason:

In 1178, a group of monks at Canterbury saw the moon suddenly explode into sparks, "writhe," and "take on a blackish appearance." What the hell did they see?
[S]om experts believe that they saw the impact that led to formation of the Giordano Bruno crater on the moon. Others disagree, believing that such an impact would have kicked up debris that would lead to a week-long pelting of the Earth. Such a thing would have caught the attention of more than a few monks.

The most credible theory is the monks just saw a particularly spectacular meteor hit the atmosphere. From their point of view, and their point of view alone, it would have looked like part of the moon exploded. No one else would have seen it as anything more than a bright shooting star.

Yeah, people who read my blog know they didn't see a lunar impact.  We know what it looks like.


PS--Sam's been advising his friends that if a meteor strikes near us and "we are in a building, we'll probably be okay, but our windows will blow out.  Unless it's big and we die like the dinosaurs."  Perhaps I tell him too much.

March 31, 2015 in Mars, Bitches! | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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Friday, March 27, 2015

A Year At The Beach

Bon Voyage!

Three crew members representing the United States and Russia are on their way to the International Space Station after launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:42 p.m. EDT Friday (1:42 a.m., March 28 in Baikonur).

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko will spend about a year living and working aboard the space station to help scientists better understand how the human body reacts and adapts to the harsh environment of space.

“Scott Kelly’s mission is critical to advancing the administration’s plan to send humans on a journey to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “We’ll gain new, detailed insights on the ways long-duration spaceflight affects the human body.”

Launching with Kelly and Kornienko was cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, who will spend a standard six-month rotation on the station. The trio is scheduled to dock with the station at 9:36 p.m., about six hours after launch. NASA Television coverage of docking will begin at 8:45 p.m. Hatches are scheduled to open at about 11:15 p.m., with coverage starting at 10:45 p.m.

A year could take you to Mars and back--really into deeper waters of outer space instead of shallows by the beach.  I become impatient.


March 27, 2015 in Mars, Bitches! | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Life, Liberty, And The Pursuit Of Sandwiches

Two items of interest at Space.com:

  • Life: The more scientists learn about Mars, the more intriguing the Red Planet becomes as a potential haven for primitive life in the ancient past ... and perhaps even the present.

    A study released today (March 23) reports that ancient Mars harbored a form of nitrogen that could potentially have been used by microbes, if any existed, to build key molecules such as amino acids. An unrelated study suggests that atmospheric carbon monoxide has been a feasible energy source for microbes throughout the Red Planet's history. Both papers were published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

  • Liberty: Just about two hours into the flight of Gemini 3, NASA's first two-man space mission 50 years ago Monday (March 23), pilot John Young reached into his spacesuit's pocket and pulled out a surprise.

    "Where did that come from?" Gus Grissom, the mission's commander, asked his crewmate.

    "I brought it with me," Young replied, somewhat matter of factly. "Let's see how it tastes. Smells, doesn't it?" 

There were no more sandwiches in spaceships after that.  Even astronauts live under tyranny.

Perhaps the first colonists on Mars will get to have picnics on the red sands, with Martian ants picking up their crumbs.  Of course, the robot colonists already there don't eat corned beef.


March 23, 2015 in Mars, Bitches! | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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Grissom and Young make history.

And about that name:

Initially, Gus wanted to name his spacecraft Wapasha after a Native American tribe that had lived in Grissom's home state of Indiana. "Then some smart joker pointed out that surer than shooting, our spacecraft would be dubbed the Wabash Cannon Ball. Well, my Dad was working for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and I wasn't too sure just how he'd take to the Wabash Cannon Ball. How would he explain that one to his pals on the B & O?"

 Wapasha got scratched off the list of prospective names and Grissom began a new search. The Broadway musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown provided him with a source of inspiration. With the loss of Liberty Bell still on his mind, Gus decided to poke fun at the whole incident. Molly Brown had been strong, reliable and most importantly, unsinkable. It was a perfect name for Liberty Bell's successor. However, some of Grissom's bosses insisted that he choose a more respectable name. Gus replied, "How about the Titanic?"

 It was clear that Grissom was not going to back down on this one. Given a choice ofMolly Brown or Titanic, disgruntled officials backed off. Without further ado, Gemini-Titan 3 became known as Molly Brown.

Anyway, Ole Gus didn't screw the pooch this time.


March 23, 2015 in Mars, Bitches! | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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Sunday, March 22, 2015

It's A Wonderful Wonderful Life

Why'd you have to say goodbye?


PS--Gwen's live performance reminds me of Sally Rand and The Right Stuff.  Just in time for Gussie's/Gemini's 50th anniversary tomorrow.

March 22, 2015 in Mars, Bitches! | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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Monday, March 16, 2015

Kubrick Faked Apollo

I'm ridiculously excited about seeing this:

Indie action comedy Moonwalkers picked up a distributor after its world premiere at SXSW over the weekend. We're excited, given its cast (Ron Perlman, Rupert Grint) and premise, which puts a hilarious-sounding spin on the long-held conspiracy theory that Apollo 11 failed to land on the moon.

It's directed by first-time feature helmer Antoine Bardou-Jacquet, and written by Dean Craig (who penned both the British original and American remake versions of comedy Death at a Funeral).

Wish Emma Watson could've been in it, too, but we can't have everything...


March 16, 2015 in Mars, Bitches! | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Is Earth Not In Space?

There is no Planet B, asshole:

Two days after bombing in a speech before a firefighters’ union, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was rebuffed in a Senate subcommittee hearing while trying to criticize NASA’s increased emphasis on studying climate change, Mashable reported.

“We can’t go anywhere if the Kennedy Space Center goes underwater and we don’t know it — and that’s understanding our environment,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told Cruz on Thursday. “It is absolutely critical that we understand Earth’s environment because this is the only place we have to live.” 

The exchange came during a meeting of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Space, which Cruz now chairs. Cruz expressed skepticism toward President Barack Obama’s $18.6 billion budget request for the agency — specifically recent increases in funding for studying Earth phenomena compared to a slight decrease in money for space exploration efforts.

“I would suggest that almost any American would agree that the core function of NASA is to explore space,” Cruz said. “That’s what inspires little boys and little girls across this country. It’s what sets NASA apart from any agency in the country.”

Holden explained that the decrease in funding for outer space-related projects was due in part to a desire to reduce the cost of those types of missions.

“The fact that earth science [funding] has increased, I’m proud to say, has enabled us to understand our planet far better than we ever did before,” Holden added. “It’s absolutely critical.”

For example, Holden said, NASA supports studies in Cruz’s home state of Texas that measured the effects of emptying out the state’s aquifers on local land elevations.

“That’s just looking at our environment, trying to make sure that we have a better place for all of us in which to live,” he told the senator. “I think that’s critical.”

Probably not a good idea to send our astronauts out there with nothing to come home to, you maniac.


March 12, 2015 in And Fuck..., Biofuels, Bitches!, Mars, Bitches! | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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Sailing Cosmic Oceans

More neato stuff in the Jovian system:

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has the best evidence yet for an underground saltwater ocean on Ganymede, Jupiter’s largest moon. The subterranean ocean is thought to have more water than all the water on Earth's surface.

Identifying liquid water is crucial in the search for habitable worlds beyond Earth and for the search of life as we know it.

“This discovery marks a significant milestone, highlighting what only Hubble can accomplish,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, Washington. “In its 25 years in orbit, Hubble has made many scientific discoveries in our own solar system. A deep ocean under the icy crust of Ganymede opens up further exciting possibilities for life beyond Earth.”

Ganymede is the largest moon in our solar system and the only moon with its own magnetic field. The magnetic field causes aurorae, which are ribbons of glowing, hot electrified gas, in regions circling the north and south poles of the moon. Because Ganymede is close to Jupiter, it is also embedded in Jupiter’s magnetic field. When Jupiter’s magnetic field changes, the aurorae on Ganymede also change, “rocking” back and forth.

By watching the rocking motion of the two aurorae, scientists were able to determine that a large amount of saltwater exists beneath Ganymede’s crust affecting its magnetic field.
Scientists first suspected an ocean in Ganymede in the 1970s, based on models of the large moon. NASA's Galileo mission measured Ganymede's magnetic field in 2002, providing the first evidence supporting those suspicions. The Galileo spacecraft took brief "snapshot" measurements of the magnetic field in 20-minute intervals, but its observations were too brief to distinctly catch the cyclical rocking of the ocean’s secondary magnetic field.

The new observations were done in ultraviolet light and could only be accomplished with a space telescope high above the Earth's atmosphere, which blocks most ultraviolet light.

Been learning a lot about Ganymede over the last few years...


March 12, 2015 in Mars, Bitches! | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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Sunday, March 08, 2015

It Shines In The Mind Of God

From one of my favorite Cosmos episodes:

The man who sought harmony in the cosmos was fated to live at a time of exceptional discord on Earth. Exactly eight days after Kepler's discovery of his Third Law, there occurred in Prague an incident that unleashed the devastating Thirty Years War. The war's convulsions shattered the lives of millions of people...

The conflicts, portrayed on both sides as a holy war, was more an exploitation of religious bigotry by those hungry for land and power. This war introduced organized pillage to keep armies in the field. The brutalized population of Europe stood by helpless as their ploughshares and pruning hooks were literally beaten into swords and spears. Rumor and paranoia swept through the countryside enveloping especially the powerless.

Now, as it turns out, today (as opposed to May 15th) marks the anniversary of Kepler's initial conceptual breakthrough on the 3rd law, as he wrote in Harmonicus Mundi (1619):

[I]f you want the exact moment in time, it was conceived mentally on 8th March in this year one thousand six hundred and eighteen, but submitted to calculation in an unlucky way, and therefore rejected as false, and finally returning on the 15th of May and adopting a new line of attack, stormed the darkness of my mind. So strong was the support from the combination of my labour of seventeen years on the observations of Brahe and the present study, which conspired together, that at first I believed I was dreaming, and assuming my conclusion among my basic premises.

While he passively admitted an error (what would he have done if he'd owned a computer?), in his introduction Kepler bragged:

Now, eighteen months after the first light, three months after the true day, but a very few days after the pure Sun of that most wonderful study began to shine, nothing restrains me; it is my pleasure to taunt mortal men with the candid acknowledgment that I am stealing the golden vessels of the Egyptians to build a tabernacle to my God from them, far, far away from the boundaries of Egypt. If you forgive me, I shall rejoice; if you are enraged with me, I shall bear it. See, I cast the die, and I write the book. Whether it is to be read by the people of the present or of the future makes no difference: let it await its reader for a hundred years, if God Himself has stood ready for six thousand years for one to study Him.

And thank God for him, lest we still be chained to the Earth for want of understanding the Book of Creation...


March 8, 2015 in Mars, Bitches! | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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Friday, March 06, 2015

Serial Orbiter


NASA's Dawn spacecraft has become the first mission to achieve orbit around a dwarf planet. The spacecraft was approximately 38,000 miles (61,000 kilometers) from Ceres when it was captured by the dwarf planet’s gravity at about 4:39 a.m. PST (7:39 a.m. EST) Friday.

Mission controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California received a signal from the spacecraft at 5:36 a.m. PST (8:36 a.m. EST) that Dawn was healthy and thrusting with its ion engine, the indicator Dawn had entered orbit as planned.

"Since its discovery in 1801, Ceres was known as a planet, then an asteroid and later a dwarf planet," said Marc Rayman, Dawn chief engineer and mission director at JPL. "Now, after a journey of 3.1 billion miles (4.9 billion kilometers) and 7.5 years, Dawn calls Ceres, home."

In addition to being the first spacecraft to visit a dwarf planet, Dawn also has the distinction of being the first mission to orbit two extraterrestrial targets. From 2011 to 2012, the spacecraft explored the giant asteroid Vesta, delivering new insights and thousands of images from that distant world. Ceres and Vesta are the two most massive residents of our solar system’s main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Apropos of this, I am nearly finished with Caliban's War, second tome in the Expanse series.  The first one, Leviathan Wakes, has a lot of action on a spun up Ceres, an active spaceport where 6M people live in tunnels.  Fun books.

That is all.


March 6, 2015 in Mars, Bitches! | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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Thursday, March 05, 2015

Constitutional Republicans In Space!

[The Moon] is ours! If we rightly improve the heaven sent boon, we may be as great, and as happy a nation, as any on which the sun has ever shone...

 - David Ramsay, May 12, 1804

After snarking about NACA and the Constitution, I was in a playful mood last night and decided to check out what Apollo astronaut Jack Schmitt had to say about such agencies.  Why?  Because after NASA he became a Senator (R-NM), headed the Annapolis Center for Science-Based Public Policy, and directed NM's Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.  And this is what I do for fun.

To that end, I found a collection of his papers on the subject called Space Policy and the Constitution.  I don't have a big narrative about it, but while reading I was struck by a few items I wanted to highlight.

I didn't even make it through the Foreword by one Michael D Griffin, a Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering prof from Rocket City before getting tripped up:

Jack believes the Constitution means what it plainly says, that (not having been written primarily by lawyers) lawyers are not required to explain its meaning...

Why not start with a big factual error?  Over half the Framers were lawyers (with different legal perspectives).  What's more, 80% of them had served in the Continental Congress, and almost all had local or state government experience.  That's Mamet level of ignorance right there.

IANAL, but I do love examining the Constitution's meaning, and agree that one need not be a Con Law professor to do so.  That said, it's not entirely plain all the time if one doesn't understand terms of art, history, context, etc.  And one must remember that however plain you might think the words might be, we have always argued about them from the very beginning.

So that statement is pretty much meaningless.  But haha, lawyers are such elitist jerks and we don't need them at all, amirite?

Anyway, there was some other silly stuff in there, but I did eventually get to what Jack wrote.  Not surprisingly, he slagged on subsidies while seemingly not being aware how long they've been embedded in American development of science, industry, etc.  

Yet he's no Ron Paul.  To his credit, Schmitt cites not only "common defence" but also "general welfare," "science and useful arts", and "necessary and proper" clauses to justify a variety of space-related expenditures.  

At first I was a bit shocked that he discussed climate science as something important since he's a big climate change denier.  Upon reflection, though, it makes sense that he would want to study it even (or especially) if he thinks the current consensus is bunk.

Probably my favorite graf:

Returning to the Moon and to deep space constitutes the right and continuing space policy choice for the Congress of the United States. It compares in significance to Jefferson’s dispatch of Lewis and Clark to explore the Louisiana Purchase. The lasting significance of Jefferson’s decision to American growth and survival cannot be questioned. Human exploration of space embodies the same basic instincts—the exercise of freedom, betterment of one’s conditions, and curiosity about nature. Such instincts lie at the very core of America’s unique and special society of immigrants.

Jefferson himself doubted the constitutionality of his big purchase, so I love seeing this in the context of space policy.  Exploration is just something we do.  For commercial purposes, yes, as well as defense, and also because learning stuff is an important part of republican virtue and supporting a well-informed nation that can effectively govern itself.  

It is both necessary and proper for Congress to spend money on such things.  And you don't need a lawyer to tell you that plain truth.


March 5, 2015 in Biofuels, Bitches!, Constitution, Schmonstitution, Mars, Bitches! | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Unconstitutional NACA

Since I was kinda busy yesterday, I didn't get around to posting this:

On March 3, 2015, NASA celebrates 100 years since the founding of its predecessor -- the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, or NACA.
With a small budget and no paid staff,  the NACA began developing the capabilities our nation needed to gain leadership in aeronautics.  Throughout and beyond World War II, the NACA developed or helped develop many aeronautical breakthroughs that are still used today -- from engine cowlings, to retractable landing gear, and jet engine compressors and turbines.
When the nation's focus began turning to space during the 1950s, it was decided that the NACA's 7,500 employees and $300 million in facilities would transition on October 1, 1958, to a new agency. Some of the NACA's brightest minds became leaders of the space effort and directors of NASA research centers. One former NACA employee put the first footprints on the moon. 

Yet I don't see anything in the Constitution about airplanes (or spaceships), right Mr Paul?


PS--I think it counts as irony that the first Shuttle was originally going to be called Constitution before Nimoy and Shatner fans got it changed.

March 4, 2015 in Constitution, Schmonstitution, Mars, Bitches! | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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Saturday, February 28, 2015

I Am As Constant As The Northern Star

A new fellow in the firmament:

A newfound cosmic object may be a long-sought missing link that could help flesh out the black hole family tree.

The object appears to be an intermediate-mass black hole (IMBH), astronomers say. Called NGC-2276-3c, it lies in an arm of the spiral galaxy NGC-2276, about 100 million light-years from Earth.

IMBHs are thought to contain the mass of a few hundred to a few hundred thousand suns. The black holes are therefore intermediate in size between stellar-mass black holes and the behemoths that lurk at the hearts of galaxies, which can harbor billions of solar masses.

Researchers have long hypothesized the existence of IMBHs, which are believed to be the seeds from which supermassive black holes grow. But the midsize structures have proven elusive thus far.

"Astronomers have been looking very hard for these medium-sized black holes," study co-author Tim Roberts, of the University of Durham in the United Kingdom, said in a statement. "There have been hints that they exist, but the IMBHs have been acting like a long-lost relative that isn't interested in being found."

There is no true-fix’d and resting quality to our understanding of this Cosmos...


February 28, 2015 in Mars, Bitches! | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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Beam Me Up, Scotty

Life could very well be on other worlds in our solar system besides Earth.  Still no indication of whether there's intelligent life anywhere, though...


February 28, 2015 in Mars, Bitches! | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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Friday, February 27, 2015

There Are Always Possibilities

Quite logical:

Solar power has been studied and tested for nearly 40 years, but only within the last few years have we seen innovations truly make leaps and bounds. Looking towards the future, scientists are now saying that with the technology we have in development today, giant solar-powered satellites able to collect energy and shoot it back down to earth could be used to power the entire globe as soon as 2041. John Mankins, former NASA scientist and U.S. Space Agency former Head of Concepts, is credited with pioneering the theory, which is creating quite the buzz with a number of international scientists and organizations.

Naturally, this reminded me of Asimov's story Reason:

Half a year later, the boys had change their minds. The flame of a giant sun had given way to the soft blackness of space but external variations mean little in the business of checking the workings of experimental robots. Whatever the background, one is face to face with an inscrutable positronic brain, which the slide-rule geniuses say should work thus-and-so.

Except that they don't. Powell and Donovan found that out after they had been on the Station less than two weeks.
"I've come to have a talk with the two of you," [the robot said quietly.]

"Oh!" Powell looked uncomfortable. "Well, sit down. No, not that chair. One of the legs is weak and you're no lightweight."

The robot did so and said placidly, "I have come to a decision."

Donovan glowered and put the remnants of his sandwich aside. "If it's on any of that screwy-"

The other motioned impatiently for silence, "Go ahead, Cutie. We're listening."

"I have spent these last two days in concentrated introspection," said Cutie, "and the results have been most interesting. I began at the one sure assumption I felt permitted to make. I, myself, exist, because I think-"

Powell groaned, "Oh, Jupiter, a robot Descartes!"

"Who's Descartes?" demanded Donovan. "Listen, do we have to sit here and listen to this metal maniac-"

"Keep quiet, Mike!"

Cutie continued imperturbably, "And the question that immediately arose was: Just what is the cause of my existence?"

Powell's jaw set lumpily. "You're being foolish. I told you already that we made you."

"And if you don't believe us," added Donovan, "we'll gladly take you apart!"

The robot spread his strong hands in a deprecatory gesture, "I accept nothing on authority. A hypothesis must be backed by reason, or else it is worthless – and it goes against all the dictates of logic to suppose that you made me."

Powell dropped a restraining arm upon Donovan's suddenly bunched fist. "Just why do you say that?"

Cutie laughed. It was a very inhuman laugh – the most machine-like utterance he had yet given vent to. It was sharp and explosive, as regular as a metronome and as uninflected.

"Look at you," he said finally. "I say this in no spirit of contempt, but look at you! The material you are made of is soft and flabby, lacking endurance and strength, depending for energy upon the inefficient oxidation of organic material – like that." He pointed a disapproving finger at what remained of Donovan's sandwich. "Periodically you pass into a coma and the least variation in temperature, air pressure, humidity, or radiation intensity impairs your efficiency. You are makeshift.

"I, on the other hand, am a finished product. I absorb electrical energy directly and utilize it with an almost one hundred percent efficiency. I am composed of strong metal, am continuously conscious, and can stand extremes of environment easily. These are facts which, with the self-evident proposition that no being can create another being superior to itself, smashes your silly hypothesis to nothing."

Donovan's muttered curses rose into intelligibility as he sprang to his feet, rusty eyebrows drawn low. "All right, you son of a hunk of iron ore, if we didn't make you, who did?"

Cutie nodded gravely. "Very good, Donovan. That was indeed the next question. Evidently my creator must be more powerful than myself and so there was only one possibility."

The Earthmen looked blank and Cutie continued, "What is the center of activities here in the station? What do we all serve? What absorbs all our attention?" He waited expectantly.

Donovan turned a startled look upon his companion. "I'll bet this tinplated screwball is talking about the Energy Converter itself."

"Is that right, Cutie?" grinned Powell.

"I am talking about the Master," came the cold, sharp answer.

It was the signal for a roar of laughter from Donovan, and Powell himself dissolved into a half-suppressed giggle.

Cutie had risen to his feet and his gleaming eyes passed from one Earthman to the other. "It is so just the same and I don't wonder that you refuse to believe. You two are not long to stay here, I'm sure. Powell himself said that at first only men served the Master; that there followed robots for the routine work; and, finally, myself for the executive labor. The facts are no doubt true, but the explanation entirely illogical. Do you want the truth behind it all?"

"Go ahead, Cutie. You're amusing."

"The Master created humans first as the lowest type, most easily formed. Gradually, he replaced them by robots, the next higher step, and finally he created me; to take the place of the last humans. From now on, I serve the Master."

Hari Seldon never could have anticipated...


February 27, 2015 in Biofuels, Bitches!, Mars, Bitches! | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Paint Mars By Numbers

In 1964, NASA was still years away from its first moon landing. Failed missions and botched technology were common, but the agency was determined to learn more about the universe. On November 28, 1964, Mariner 4 set out to orbit Mars.

It took over seven months for the probe to reach Mars, and when it got there, it spent just 25 minutes observing the atmosphere. On July 14, 1965, scientists gathered at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to celebrate the probe’s historic flyby. But though the probe successfully transmitted 22 close-up images and 5.2 million bits of data, the team had to wait for a data translator to create a photograph.

McKinnon reports what happened next:

Instead of waiting for the entire image processing procedure to create the official photograph, the employees in the telecommunications group at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory mounted the strips in this display panel and hand-coloured the numbers to create a quick and dirty visualization.

Once the mosaic was complete, the Telecommunications System employees framed the completed image and presented it to their director, William H. Pickering.

(h/t Suzie Kidnap)

Which brings to mind one of my fave Cosmos episodes...


February 25, 2015 in Mars, Bitches! | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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Sunday, February 08, 2015

That's One Small Theft For A Man

Everybody likes to take souvenirs:

These are the contents of a mysterious white bag found hidden in Neil Armstrong's closet: Weird looking lamps, wrenches, utility brackets, sights, and a film camera that later was identified as the one that captured the famous Apollo 11's descent on the Moon's surface. Nobody knew about it, including his widow.

According to NASA, Carol Armstrong sent photos to Allan Needell, curator of the Apollo collection at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, who immediately knew what was inside: It was a McDivitt Purse full of parts from the Eagle, Apollo 11's Lunar Module...

Cernan kept a moon buggy fender.  Wonder what else people will find as Apollo astronauts die...


February 8, 2015 in Mars, Bitches! | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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Friday, February 06, 2015

Abort Discrete

I've blogged about Apollo computing before, including on 14.  That flight involved one of my favorite computer stories ever:

In the center of Antares’ control panel was a red circular push button labelled “Abort.” Its purpose did not require a huge amount of explanation, except that pressing it would set in motion a chain of events to terminate the lunar landing, activating the ascent engine and boosting Shepard and Mitchell back up toward Roosa and Kitty Hawk. “The switch,” wrote Gene Kranz, one of the mission’s four flight directors, “had electrical contacts to issue signals to the LM engines, computer and abort electronics. When the abort switch for Apollo 14’s LM had been manufactured, a small piece of metal had been left in the switch. Now, in zero gravity, and with both crew and ground oblivious, this piece of metal was floating among the contacts of the switch, randomly making intermittent connections.”

Since the drama of Apollo 13, more than $15 million-worth of modifications had been incorporated into the Mission Operations Control Room, one of which included changes to help a controller to rapidly identify any change in status in critical spacecraft systems. From his chair as Antares’ control engineer for descent and landing, Dick Thorson glanced at his monitor and noticed a red light blink on; it seemed to imply that either Shepard or Mitchell had pushed the Abort button. Thorson was perplexed. Why would they do that? They had yet to begin their Powered Descent. Maybe there had been a telemetry patching error to the light panel on his console; a quick check, however, confirmed that everything was as it should be. As the engineer’s eyes widened, it became clear that, if this was for real, it signalled bad news for the landing at Fra Mauro. In the back room, two of Thorson’s colleagues, Hal Loden and Bob Carlton, also noticed the problem and suggested that one of the astronauts should tap the panel on which the Abort switch was located, in an effort to resolve the indication.

“Gerry,” Thorson called up Flight Director Gerry Griffin on the intercom loop, “I’m seeing an abort indication in the lunar module. Have the crew verify that the button is not depressed.”

Capcom Fred Haise duly passed the request up to Antares, and Mitchell tapped the panel with a flashlight. The abort light blinked off, then came back on again a few minutes later. “What’s wrong with this ship?” Shepard wondered. They were barely 90 minutes away from the initiation of Powered Descent, and the landing was temporarily waved off until a solution could be found. “Thorson’s dilemma was a thorny one,” explained Kranz in his autobiography, Failure Is Not An Option. “To land, we needed to bypass the switch, but if we had problems during landing, we needed the switch to abort. It was a hell of a risk-gain trade.” Thorson’s team identified a software “patch” for Antares’ computer, which would lock out both the Abort and Abort Stage switches, allowing the mission to continue. However, in an emergency, should Shepard and Mitchell need to perform an abort close to the surface, they would need to use the keyboard to manually initiate the abort program. Gerry Griffin was willing to accept the risk, confident that Shepard would probably do the same. He rescheduled the landing attempt for two hours’ time, on the next pass.

Key to this effort was the Draper Laboratory at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which had developed the guidance and navigation systems for the Apollo spacecraft. Their engineers now shifted into high gear to wring out the software patch and make it work. Within the hour, a procedure had been devised, whereby the Abort switch could be bypassed when the descent engine was ignited and then re-enabled immediately thereafter. Amidst ratty communications with Antares, Haise radioed up instructions to Mitchell. First, the astronauts would start the descent engine at low power, using the acceleration to move the contaminating metal—probably a bit of solder—away from the switch contacts. As soon as Shepard fired the engine, Mitchell would input a string of 16 commands to enable steering and guidance, then another string of 16 more commands to disable the Abort program, then another 14 commands to lock into the landing radar and the descent software.

“This entire sequence,” wrote Kranz, “would occur as the crew was descending to the Moon. The mission now rested on an emergency patch to the flight software that was less than two hours old, had been simulated only once and was being performed by a crew that had never practiced it.” Nevertheless, when the engine lit, Kranz was astounded that Shepard had lost nothing of his sharpness and marvelous calmness as the instructions were entered into Antares’ computer. As the engine climbed steadily toward 10 percent thrust, Thorson monitored his display and saw no evidence that the Abort switch had been activated. So far, the mission was back on track.

“Thank you, Houston,” radioed Shepard. “Nice job down there!”

In his biography of Shepard, Neal Thompson related the singular contribution of one young MIT programmer, Don Eyles, who had helped to design Antares’ software. Eyles recalled being shocked from sleep as an Air Force car screeched to a halt outside his apartment at two in the morning and a uniformed officer hammered on his door. He was told that he had 90 minutes to come up with a solution for Apollo 14’s problems. Eyles threw a jacket over his pyjamas and was driven to his nearby lab to create, virtually from scratch, a substitute program to eliminate Antares’ faulty abort signal.

Can you imagine Microsoft needing to come up with a patch in a couple hours?  I mean, a working one that didn't need another patch and a .NET Passport account...


February 6, 2015 in Mars, Bitches! | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

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Thursday, February 05, 2015

"Okay, we made a good landing."

Decided to go for historical drama this year, rather than NASA's poor attempt at perpetrating their Hoax.


February 5, 2015 in Mars, Bitches! | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

High Flight

By John Gillespie Magee, Jr:

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth 
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings; 
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth 
Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things 
You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung 
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there, 
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung 
My eager craft through footless halls of air. 
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue 
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace 
Where never lark, or even eagle flew - 
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod 
The high untrespassed sanctity of space, 
Put out my hand and touched the face of God. 

Another day, another NASA disaster anniversary...


January 28, 2015 in Mars, Bitches! | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack