Tuesday, January 31, 2006

A little bit of moondust please.....

Apollo 12 astronaut Alan Bean displays a "thermos" for moondust--a.k.a. a Special Environmental Sample Container. (HT Science@NASA)

Monday, January 30, 2006

The 7 Challenger Myths

I like to read Obreg's columns. I never heard about the seven myths about Challenger disaster before. Here they are:
1. Few people actually saw the Challenger tragedy unfold live on television.
2. The shuttle did not explode in the common definition of that word.
3. The flight, and the astronauts’ lives, did not end at that point, 73 seconds after launch.
4. The design of the booster, while possessing flaws subject to improvement, was neither especially dangerous if operated properly, nor the result of political interference.
5. Replacement of the original asbestos-bearing putty in the booster seals was unrelated to the failure.
6. There were pressures on the flight schedule, but none of any recognizable political origin.
7. Claims that the disaster was the unavoidable price to be paid for pioneering a new frontier were self-serving rationalizations on the part of those responsible for incompetent engineering management — the disaster should have been avoidable.

Oberg is right, we should all make sure the story is told right. We must correct the problems so disasters won't happen again. I hope they learned after Columbia. Replacing the Shuttle should have been sooner than after another tradgey.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Challenger 20 years ago....

"Without risk, there's no discovery, there's no new knowledge, there's no bold adventure. The greatest risk is to take no risk."--June Scobee Rodgers Jan. 28, 2006

The night before the launch I was worried. Something told me this flight would not go. With the pictures of icicles hanging off Challenger and temperatures below freezing I was worried that the flight should not go. In the morning before take off I prayed. I turned on the radio to listen to the launch. The launch on the radio was only 60 seconds of live feed on CBS, and then went back to local news. I ran to the TV to turn on the launch on one of the Networks. Yes, it was still going up and still ok at that point. But 12 seconds later I saw the explosion. I felt so weak I had to sit down. I could not believe what had just happened. Challenger was gone; one of the solid rockets was still climbing. The big white cloud in the middle still there. Still no Challenger rising. I rushed to call my sister. Yes, she had seen it on TV too. Unenviable. On the west coast it was a little bit after 6 am. I was starting Ventura College that day spring semester. I was new to the campus and got lost. I eventually found my classroom and my teacher Mr. Pauley understood. We all confused that day.

Later that day I went to my Mom and Dads house for lunch. Mom was teaching Kindergarten at the time. Mom was a bit shaken up too. We all were. The nation was in mourning for our first teacher in space and her crew. We were all looking forward to Crista's lessons. Mom was excited about it, using Crista's journey into space to enrich her students. She had a traveling science cart and would go to some of the classrooms at her school to teach science.

I too was inspired and wrote many letters to the editors. Space exploration was too important to just give up because it was too risky. All the Astronauts and test pilots knew the risks. We can't just sit us humans. We must explore and reach out, Ad Astra--To the Stars! Space exploration is our own baby, even though the USSR beat us with the first manned mission. We caught up, and over took. NASA was our crowning achievement. We had it all and in 72 seconds with full throttle up Challenger reached the heavens, never looking back.

The most remembered speech that night was from President Ronald Reagan. It was to be the Presidents state of the Union speech, but canceled due to the tragedy. Instead, it was a consoling speech to a hurting nation.

....The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved good-bye and “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.”

The Challenger families have done well these 20 years. They have not let their loved ones memories fade. Space exploration is still going on. Our nation’s youth are still inspirited to explore the unknown realms of space. Thanks to the Challenger crew.

Amen. God bless the families and crew.

NASA Remberance page here.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Lieutenant Colonel Virgil Ivan "Gus" Grissom

Of the Orignial Mercury 7, I liked Gus the best. I was really young when Libery Bell was launched so I don't remember him. But when the Right Stuff came out I really admired his career and his antics in the beginning of our Manned Space program. When he was being tested to enter the Astronaut program the doctors were about to deny him because he suffered hayfever.
Without missing a beat, Grissom informed them that his allergies would not be a problem because "there won't be any ragweed pollen in space". Since no one could argue that point, they passed him on to the next series of tests.

The "Lemon" story really made me realize how the "can do" attitude at NASA was forming. Even though the spacecraft was falwed, they went ahead.
The arrival of Spacecraft 012 to the Cape only brought more problems. It soon became obvious that many designated engineering changes were incomplete. The environmental control unit leaked like a sieve and needed to be removed from the module. As a result, the launch schedule was delayed by several weeks. The Apollo simulator which was used for training purposes had its own set of problems and was not in any better shape than the actual spacecraft itself. According to Astronaut Walter Cunningham, "We knew that the spacecraft was, you know, in poor shape relative to what it ought to be. We felt like we could fly it, but let's face it, it just wasn't as good as it should have been for the job of flying the first manned Apollo mission." Nonetheless, the crew made do with what they had and by mid January of 1967, preparations were being made for the final preflight tests of Spacecraft 012.

On January 22, 1967, Grissom made a brief stop at home before returning to the Cape. A citrus tree grew in their backyard with lemons on it as big as grapefruits. Gus yanked the largest lemon he could find off of the tree. Betty had no idea what he was up to and asked what he planned to do with the lemon. " 'I'm going to hang it on that spacecraft,' Gus said grimly and kissed her goodbye." Betty knew that Gus would be unable to return home before the crew conducted the plugs out test on January 27, 1967. What she did not know was that January 22 would be "the last time he was here at the house".

(HT Gus Grissoms' Bio at NASA History by Mary C. Zornio)

Robotic Vs. Manned Space

With the grounding of the Shuttle and barely manned ISS the robots have taken over the exploring space these days. I've always felt that probes are an integral part to man's exploration of space. We use our technology to gather information. But one thing it doesn't do is let man actually experience the exploring. It’s like reading a book about the Grand Canyon instead of physically hiking down into the canyon itself. The probes explore and gather information, and answer some scientific questions. As our probes get more technically accurate at gathering information we come away with more questions than answers. Eventually man will explore the solar system and answer those questions. We can't let the probes do all of the exploring. Humankind needs the sensory experience itself.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

A day of Remembrance....


The following is a statement by NASA Administrator Michael Griffin on
NASA's Day of Remembrance. The Day or Remembrance honors those who
gave their lives for the cause of exploration and discovery. This
includes NASA employees, the astronauts who died in Apollo 1 and on
the Space Shuttles Challenger and Columbia.

" Today we pause to remember the loss of all of our employees,
including our Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia astronauts, and to
honor their legacy. Nearly 50 years into the space age, spaceflight
remains the pinnacle of human challenge, an endeavor just barely
possible with today's technology. We at NASA are privileged to be in
the business of learning how to do it, to extend the frontier of the
possible, and, ultimately, to make space travel routine. It is an
enormously difficult enterprise. The losses we commemorate today are
a strong and poignant reminder of the sternness of the challenge."

Update: Here is the website of NASA Remembers.

Apollo One Crew

From left, Apollo 1 astronauts Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee pose in front of their Saturn 1 launch vehicle at Launch Complex 34 at the Kennedy Space Center.

Link to NASA Remembering Apollo one page here.
Link to NASA History page here were you can retrieve all the information on the mission and acident reports.

Apollo One 39 years later....

Launch Pad 34-A
HT Space.com

I remeber that Janurary day when my Mom told me about the Apollo One fire. I thought we would never get off the ground and land on the Moon. I was devistated at nine years old (same age as my KK)!

Astronauts Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee died during a blaze inside their Apollo capsule while conducting a countdown test on January 27, 1967 – three weeks before their scheduled liftoff from Kennedy Space Center.

A cumbersome hatch prevented technicians from rescuing the astronauts as the fire raged inside the Apollo 1 command module’s pure oxygen environment. Investigators later determined an electrical short was the fire's most likely cause. An extensive redesign of the Apollo spacecraft, with an emphasis on fireproof materials, was conducted in the wake of the tragedy. The first piloted Apollo mission, Apollo 7, took place in October 1968.

20 years ago this week

Twenty years ago this week, The Space Shuttle Challeger blew up. HT to Space.com for this article on a film on Christa McAuliffe:

Armed with gumption and bankrolled by credit cards, the pair started shooting a full-length documentary in 2001. It took five years, but they were buoyed by luck, the cooperation of McAuliffe's family and some help from the likes of Carly Simon and Susan Sarandon.

The result is a 75-minute film, Christa McAuliffe: Reach for the Stars, that was to be screened Tuesday night at Framingham State College, McAuliffe's alma mater.

“It brought her alive,'' said McAuliffe's mother, Grace Corrigan, who got an early viewing of the film. “It's was very well done.''

“What a wonderful celebration of her legacy,'' she said.

The showing commemorates Saturday's 20th anniversary of the Challenger explosion, which arrives on Saturday. More than that, it is the completion of a journey for Sotile and Godges, who started filming at Framingham State on the 15th anniversary of McAuliffe's death.

Iran to Test in March

Shameful Iran plans to test its nukes on my daughter's birthday.....
Tehran is planning a nuclear weapons test before the Iranian New Year on March 20, 2006 says a group opposed to the regime in Tehran.

I pray we can disarm them soon.......
The Foundation for Democracy citing sources in the U.S and Iran offered no further information.

The FDI quotes sources in Iran that the high command of the Revolutionary Guards Air Force have issued new orders to Shahab-3 missile units, ordering them to move mobile missile launchers every 24 hours in view of a potential pre-emptive strike by the U.S. or Israel. The order was issued Tuesday, Jan. 16.

Hat tip to BlogsforBush and GOPBloggers.

We must move quickly to stop Iran from testing their weapons. Seriously.

Update on Iran: (HT From Captain's Quarters)
Any parent whose child has a game station has to play this negotiation out at every bedtime. Until the parent finally takes the game away from the child, the negotiations never end until the game gets fully played out -- and in this case, that "game" would put nuclear weapons in the hands of radical Islamists with well-established links to terror groups. It's time for the grown-ups to take charge of the negotiations and start getting tough with the Iranians before that happens.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Iran's Spy Satellite

With all the news about its Nuclear program Jerusalem Post now reports:
Iran is working with an Italian company to build a spy satellite, showing documents outlining the deal and still photos of meetings between Italian company officials and Iranians.

The documents, with the title "The Mesbah Project," explain what the satellite's abilities would be and what it would look like.

The Iranians are working with the Italian company Carlo Gavazzi Space, the report said. An Israeli satellite expert said Mesbah would be a simple satellite, but that the Iranians are gathering important research and development data that will allow them to independently build their own satellite in the future.

New Horizons beyond the Horizon!

With my daughter's birthday and Girl Scouts I hadn't the chance to post on the New Horizons Launch on Thursday. My four year old Megan and I watched the launch. She loved counting 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 Blast-OFF!

National Space Society's press release here.
"The New Horizons craft will look back in time to the birth of our solar system. It will answer fundamental questions about where we came from and what lies at the far reaches of our solar system."

And from The Planetary Society President Louis Freedman's message:

Planetary Society members, acting hand-in-glove
with the scientific community, saved this mission
to Pluto and the Kuiper belt when bureaucratic
behemoths in Washington tried to stamp it out,
claiming it was of little scientific value and
the public didn't care whether or not humanity
ever got a glimpse of these icy worlds on the
edge of our solar system.

Without the "Pluto Underground" of planetary scientists in 1989 andThe Planetary Society the New Horizon probe would not have gotten off the ground. The probe was canceled twice by the Bush Administration. In 2004 the Planetary Society urged members to write to Congress to fully fund the New Horizons probe. Congress threatened to cut $55 million from the project and extend the mission time frame.
In an impressive example of the power of the people, the U.S. Senate's Appropriations Committee approved full funding of New Horizons in the NASA budget for fiscal year 2004.

This is a great beginning to a wonderful scientific mission. I remember the Pioneer and Voyager probe missions and the scientific information it collected. Needless to say we had to re-write Astronomy Textbooks. Each time we explore our Solar System we understand it better, yet we find more mysteries to solve. Our humankind must explore, our thirst of knowledge must expand. Thanks to the "Pluto Underground" and the Planetary Society members this mission would not have gotten off the ground.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Augustine eruption from Space

Pluto Probe launch delayed till Thursday

The launch of New Horizons is planned for tomarrow at 1:08 PM EST.
NASA wants to try again Thursday to launch the Atlas 5 rocket carrying its New Horizons probe after postponing Wednesday's attempt because of a power outage at a spacecraft control center in Laurel, Md. However, mission managers were to meet late this afternoon to determine if that's possible or if they'll wait until Friday.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Safety of the Launch

NASA has for 40 years used RTG or radioisotope Thermoelectirc generators in their spacecraft. The Plutonium dioxide fuel is contained in a fire resistant ceraminc in pellets to reduce the spread of fuel in small pieces. If the ceramic does fracture, it will do so in larger pieces or chuncks that would be easier to recover. Then protective layers of iridum capsule amd high-strength grahite blocks contain the fuel reducing the spread of plutonium dioxide.

Needless to say, I believe even if an accident did occur the plutonium whould be self-contained and easy to recover with little damage to living organisms. We would not have a disaster such as Chernobyl.

The launch had drawn protests from anti-nuclear activists because the spacecraft will be powered by 24 pounds of plutonium, which will produce energy from natural radioactive decay.

NASA and the U.S. Department of Energy have put the probability of an early-launch accident that could release plutonium at 1 in 350. The agencies have brought in 16 mobile field teams that can detect radiation and 33 air samplers and monitors.

"Just as we have ambulances at football games, you don't expect to use them, but we have them there if we need them," NASA official Randy Scott said.

Saftey plans are at the Cape here.

New Horizon's Launch blog

Florida Today is live Blogging here.

Live coverage is here.

Update--Right now the winds are at the launch limit of 30 - 35 knots at 12:15 PM EST. Watch out for next wind predictions. Exactly one hour to launch T - 60 mins.

2:15 EST--Launch delayed till 2:30 PM. Upper level and ground winds data taken. Antiqua tracking station is down. Should be up and ready for launch at 2:30 PM.

2:53 EST--Launch is moved to 3:05 PM if all winds are within limits. The launch window will close at 3:23 PM est for today. Cross your fingers!

3:00 EST--Launch moved to last time available, 3:23 pm. Studying the winds with new software installed. Polling data is ok.

3:21 EST-- NO Go on Launch, Red line monitor fault--Scrub it today! 24 hours till next launch.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Pluto's new moons

Even before New Horizons rockets off Earth, Pluto has done its best to keep scientists guessing about the far-flung planet and Charon, a companion moon. Last month, NASA announced that the Hubble Space Telescope had observed that Pluto may have not one, but three moons.

New Horizons Buddies

To Pluto, Alice! (HT from New Horizons website).
Ralph's main objectives are to obtain high resolution color maps and surface composition maps of the surfaces of Pluto and Charon. The instrument has two separate channels: the Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) and the Linear Etalon Imaging Spectral Array (LEISA). A single telescope with a 3-inch (6-centimeter) aperture collects and focuses the light used in both channels.

Alice is an ultraviolet imaging spectrometer that will probe the atmospheric composition of Pluto. A "spectrometer" is an instrument that separates light into its constituent wavelengths, like a prism, only better. An "imaging spectrometer" both separates the different wavelengths of light and produces an image of the target at each wavelength.

REX is an acronym for "radio experiment," - it is really just a small printed circuit board, containing sophisticated electronics, integrated into the New Horizons radio telecommunications system. All communication with New Horizons, including the downlink of science data, takes place through the radio package, which makes it critical to mission success.

The instrument that provides the highest spatial resolution on New Horizons is LORRI - short for Long Range Reconnaissance Imager - which consists of a telescope with a 8.2-inch (20.8-centimeter) aperture that focuses visible light onto a charge coupled device (CCD). LORRI has a very simple design; there are no filters or moving parts. Near the time of closest approach, LORRI will take images of Pluto's surface at football-field sized resolution, resolving features approximately 100 yards or 100 meters across.

The Solar Wind Analyzer around Pluto (SWAP) instrument will measure charged particles from the solar wind near Pluto to determine whether Pluto has a magnetosphere and how fast its atmosphere is escaping.

Another plasma-sensing instrument, the Pluto Energetic Particle Spectrometer Investigation (PEPSSI), will search for neutral atoms that escape Pluto's atmosphere and subsequently become charged by their interaction with the solar wind.

The last scientific instrument on New Horizons is an Education and Public Outreach project. The Student Dust Counter (SDC) will count and measure the sizes of dust particles along New Horizons' entire trajectory, which covers regions of interplanetary space never before sampled. Such dust particles are created by comets shedding material and Kuiper Belt Objects colliding with one another. The SDC is managed and was built primarily by students at the University of Colorado in Boulder, with supervision from professional space scientists.

Moon rock samples stolen

An educator's car in Virgina Beach, VA had their car broken into and briefcase stolen containing Moon rocksamples . I say check e-bay.

Augustine Erupts

The USGS has a page with day to day photos of the Volcanio Augustine here.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Stardust Returns

Stardust has landed in the Utah desert and the cosmic samples are safe. They have been taken to the clean room for inspection. Great job on recovery!

Saturday, January 14, 2006

New Horzion launch ok'd

The launch is ok to go on Tuesday. On the Space Politics page has a good round up on the anti-nuke protests about the launch.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Iraqi Marshes

Iraqi Marshes were drained during Saddam’s regime to combat the Marsh Arabs. The “fertile crescent” is the birth place of Abraham, Babylon and the Garden of Eden. With the fall of Saddam the Marshes are being reborn by the Marsh Arabs coming back to the area and efforts in Iraq to refill the marshes. Here is a picture of the marshes in 2001 from NASA.

Hat tip to the Anchoress . I love to read her blog. It inspired me to go find a satellite picture of the area.

Here is the website for the reclamation of the marshes, called Eden Again.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Two year Aniversary for Vision

NASA Chief Griffins statement:
"Two years ago this week, President Bush committed our nation to the
Vision for Space Exploration. This Vision commits America to a
journey of discovery and exploration with new and exciting plans to
return astronauts to the moon. From there, to voyage to Mars and
beyond, while continuing to engage in groundbreaking space science
and pioneering advances in innovation, creativity and technology.
Together with the partnerships we have in the International Space
Station program, our nation has the tremendous opportunity and solemn
responsibility to lead the way toward the dawn of a new space age."

Stardust Observers

If you are Northern California or the Pacific Northwest you will be able to see the Stardust capsule re-enter the earth's atomosphere on Jan. 15 (Mid-night - 1 am). You can sign up to contribute your pictures here.

2005 year review from Planetary Society

Here is a nice review of the Planetary discovery's in the year 2005.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Calling all Volunteers

I just found this wonderful program with the return of Stardust this weekend. In March volunteers will be able to help out on the project by inspecting the 1.5 million aerogel samples for interstellar dust. Discover a dust grain sample and you'll get to name it.

Volunteer scanners must pay close attention to aerogel images to pick out dust tracks from false signals. and must first pass an initial test using sample pictures, project officials said.

“We will throw in some calibration images that allow us to measure a volunteer’s efficiency,” Westphal said.

Westphal estimates that some 30,000 man-hours will be required to go through each image from Stardust’s aerogel sample return capsule four times.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Launch next week of Pluto Probe

The long awaited mission to Pluto will be launched next week, Janurary 17, 2006. The probe is called New Horizons and will explore Pluto-Charon and the Kepler belt. It will arrive at Pluto in 2015, nine years from now.

Interesting facts about Pluto and Charon from this article.
Scientists continue to discuss whether Pluto is a planet or should be considered a refugee from the Kuiper belt. Whatever its classification, Pluto and its moon Charon are certain to harbor secrets about the early history of planet formation. Charon is roughly half the diameter of the planet itself, and they form a unique pair in our solar system. How they came to be together remains a mystery.

-The surface tempature for Pluto is about about 43 K (-382 degrees F)and Charon is 53 K (-364 degrees F). It is the coldest body in our solar system.

- Pluto can be as close to the sun as 30 astronomical units (AU) and as far away as 50 AU.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Pioneer Anomoly

I heard Bill Nye talk about the Pioneer Anomoly back in July 2005 at the Comet Bash. It apears the Pioneer Probes are speeding up rather than slowing down as they exit the Solar System. JPL engineer John Anderson held back on this information for almost ten years (From a Seattle Times article) Three reasons could be:
One possibility is that dark matter is holding the spacecraft back. Some cosmologists believe dark matter exists because only 10 percent of the expected mass of the universe has been found. If 90 percent of the universe's mass and energy is invisible, maybe it could exert gravitational pull on spacecraft.

Another possibility, even more fanciful, is that invisible dimensions are tugging at the Pioneers. This idea has its origin in string theory, a two-decade-old school of thought that suggests we are surrounded by more than the three dimensions we know about. Some versions of string theory suggest there could be as many as 11 dimensions, most of which are curled up and hidden from us.

A third possibility is that gravity has been hiding secrets that three centuries of research have failed to uncover.

Too bad Pioneer 11 in 1995 communication stopped, Pioneer 10 last communication was in 2003. To fully study this Anomoly is to send another probe, but NASA has said no and ESA won't send one untill 2015. Most JPL Pioneer project scientist's won't be around to look at the data.

Stardust is coming back with Comet samples

Stardust was launched in 1999 to collect a sample from Wild-2 and it will be returning around January 15th.
In the early morning hours of January 15, 2006, the Stardust mission returns to Earth after a 4.63 billion kilometer (2.88 billion mile) round-trip journey carrying a precious cargo of cometary and interstellar dust particles. Scientists believe Stardust's cargo will help provide answers to fundamental questions about the origins of the solar system.

Update: Here are some facts about the probe,

-- The Stardust spacecraft was launched on February 7, 1999, from Cape Canaveral Air Station, Florida, aboard a Delta II rocket.

-- The probe collected dust and carbon-based samples during its encounter with Comet Wild 2 on January 2004, after nearly four years of space travel.

-- Stardust is bringing back samples of interstellar dust, including recently discovered dust streaming into our Solar System.

-- The capsule will re-enter Earth's atmosphere and parachute to the ground in the Utah Test and Training Range, landing on January 15, 2006, at 5:12 a.m. ET.

Source: NASA

The recovery team website and landing site directions is here.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

New Year and NASA

With StarBaseOC's Blog Aniversary coming in February, I would like to focus on the Moon, Mars and the Vision to renew interest in the exploration of space.

Here is an editorial on NASA's Budget in 2007 NYT.
But authorization bills do not actually provide money. The real test will come when President Bush submits his budget proposal for fiscal year 2007 in February, and Congressional appropriations committees decide how much money they are willing to put up. If it is significantly less than NASA needs for its assigned tasks, the agency and Congress will need to curtail some of them, lest NASA fall into the old trap of cutting corners and jeopardizing safety. From our perspective, the costly shuttle and the space-station complex look more expendable than pathfinding robotic probes of the solar system and a transition to new manned space vehicles.

We have to work hard at lobbying and writting letters to get all of the Vision funded.

Happy New Year!

Impact on Moon

On Drudge this morining, "Nasa team sees explosion on Moon". A meteoroid crashed into the Moon in the Sea of Rains, Mare Imbrium.
Rob Suggs of Nasa's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, US, was testing a new 10-in telescope and video camera they assembled to monitor the moon for space strikes.

On 7 November, his first night using the telescope, he observed one.

Renewed interest

"People just do not look at the moon anymore," said Dr Suggs, of Marshall's engineering directorate.

"We tend to think of it as a known quantity. But there is knowledge still to be gained here."

Monday, January 02, 2006

Two Year Aniversary

I'm still amazed at those Mars rovers, they are still working on Mars. They have travled a total of 7 miles on Mars' surface so far.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

TS Zeta the 27th Storm

The storm season is still going into the New Year! As Northern California is getting drenched, the Alantic is still churning Storm systems here.

Zeta had top sustained wind of about 50 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. Forecasters said it was not expected to become a hurricane or threaten land.