Saturday, December 30, 2006

Follow the water

From SpaceDaily on the debate on finding life and the Viking Mars landers.
In the context of this debate, this is for fun, just to discuss what we can imagine out of our own brains about what life might be like if it were not so Earth-centric.

Steve Benner: I agree with that. The Viking 1976 experiments were designed by Joshua Lederberg, Norm Horowitz and Gil Levin, excellent outstanding molecular biologists. They should have been designed by organic chemists, and that was a paid political announcement brought to you by the American Chemical Society - and a card-carrying member of that.

One of the problems with life detection on Mars was that the 1976 experience contaminated the history of designing life detection. What's quite clear is that we have to throw at Mars whatever we can get in terms of sophisticated chemical analysis and instruments.

Every paper that I write, I say that it makes absolutely good sense for pragmatic reasons to follow the water, not because I can't conceive in an atmosphere of a life form that lives in ammonia or supercritical hydrogen helium fluids, but because it's the most likely way to not only find life, but to be able to recognize it if we do find it. It's hard enough to design something to find life in water. I couldn't even begin to design something to detect life that's a little bit different chemically from what we know.

From Astrobiology the series of discussions on finding life in the cosmos called "Launching the Alien Debates":

Thursday, December 28, 2006

President Ford's Space legacy

Do you remember Apollo-Soyuz? The Mars Viking landers? And the beginnings of the Shuttle program? All under President Ford's watch. Here is the article here.

On July 17, 1975, Gen. Thomas Stafford and Col. Alexei Leonov met in the middle, between their docked Apollo and Soyuz spacecraft, and heralded a new era of space travel and cooperation.

Later, Astronauts Vance Brand and Donald "Deke" Slayton, along with cosmonaut Valery Kubasov joined them for two days of scientific experiments and goodwill exchanges.

"Flying this mission required more than technological know-how," said NASA Administrator Dan Goldin. "It required courage, diplomacy, hardheaded perseverance and good humor -- not unlike what is necessary for the International Space Station."

Apollo-Soyuz not only set the stage for the Shuttle-Mir program, where astronauts flew aboard the Russian station Mir, but also provided what will likely be the template for an era of space exploration that takes us beyond Earth orbit.

And a year later the Viking I and II lands on Mars:
Viking was an ambitious mission. Altogether there were four spacecraft, two orbiters and two landers. Each orbiter and lander flew as a coupled pair from Earth to Mars, and separated in Mars orbit when the lander was ready to descend to the Martian surface. The twin Viking orbiters had cameras, an infrared thermal mapper, and a Mars atmospheric water detector. In addition to instrumentation to measure the composition and structure of the Martian atmosphere during descent, the Viking landers carried a full suite of sophisticated science experiments, including cameras, a meteorology boom, three biological instruments, separate organic and inorganic chemistry experiments, and a seismometer. Although the primary purpose of the landed mission was the search for life, the characterization of the Martian surface was also of great scientific importance.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Fourth Space Walk at ISS

NASA Photos From Day 5

Those pesky solar panels still are giving the space walkers a hard time. They were successful in rewiring half the ISS Thursday. Today they should finish the wiring job then go to the stuck solar panels to see if they can unstuck them.
NASA hopes to duplicate the success it had with rewiring the international space station earlier this week so it can continue tackling a problem that has vexed it for days.

Spacewalking astronauts rewired half of the orbiting lab on Thursday and were set to rewire the other half on Saturday. The task went so flawlessly last time that U.S. astronaut Robert Curbeam and Swedish astronaut Christer Fuglesang were ready to go back into the space shuttle Discovery an hour ahead of schedule.

This time, Curbeam, a veteran spacewalker, and Sunita Williams, a rookie, will venture out to complete the rewiring task. If they have time to spare, they plan to make their way over to a halfway retracted solar panel, which so far has refused to fold properly.

The Flame Trench has the latest and video of the space walk that will occur about 2:30 EST today here.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The ISS tele is fixed


I saw this on friday about Senator's Inhofe's guide to debunking Global Warming here.
Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the outgoing Chairman of Environment & Public Works Committee, is pleased to announce the public release of the Senate Committee published booklet entitled “A Skeptic’s Guide to Debunking Global Warming Alarmism. Hot & Cold Media Spin Cycle: A Challenge To Journalists who Cover Global Warming.”

Click here to download the "Skeptic's Guide"

The color glossy 64 page booklet -- previously was only available in hardcopy to the media and policy makers -- includes speeches, graphs, press releases and scientific articles refuting catastrophe climate fears presented by the media, the United Nations, Hollywood and former Vice President turned-foreign-lobbyist Al Gore.

Too bad this Senator will step down from his committee in the new year.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Space Storm a'coming

It looks like we will have a space storm due to the sunspot 930 flare activity. So that means our cell's, telcoms and satellites will have difficulties Thursday afternoon. Those in the north will have a spectacular aurora activity. I wonder how the astronauts will do?
Space weather forecasters revised their predictions for storminess after a major flare erupted on the sun overnight threatening damage to communication systems and power grids while offering up the wonder of Northern Lights.

"We're looking for very strong, severe geomagnetic storming" to begin probably around mid-day Thursday, Joe Kunches, Lead Forecaster at the NOAA Space Environment Center, told this afternoon.

The storm is expected to generate aurora or Northern Lights, as far south as the northern United States Thursday night. Astronauts aboard the international space station are not expected to be put at additional risk, Kunches said.

Radio communications, satellites and power grids could face potential interruptions or damage, however.

Solar flares send radiation to Earth within minutes. Some are also accompanied by coronal mass ejections (CME), clouds of charged particles that arrive in a day or two. This flare unleashed a strong CME that's aimed squarely at Earth.

"It's got all the rights stuff," Kunches said.

Solar Flare warning

The Shuttle astornauts and ISS members took cover last night due to the big solar flare activity from sunspot 930 here.

This is what the astronauts do to take cover from the radiation (from the Flame Trench here):
NASA flight surgeons and agency radiation experts determined that the burst of highly energetic particles approached a limit that made preventative action prudent.

Station commander Michael Lopez-Alegria and shuttle skipper Mark Polansky were told to move their crews to the most shielded areas in either spacecraft.

They include the middeck of the shuttle's crew compartment and temporary sleeping quarters in the station's U.S. Destiny science laboratory.

The back ends of the American lab and a Russian command control center at the outpost also were options.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Back to the Moon

Unveiling the agency's bold plan for a return to the moon, NASA said it would establish an international base camp on one of the moon's poles, permanently staffing it by 2024, four years after astronauts land there.

It is a sweeping departure from the Apollo moon missions of the 1960s and represents a new phase of space exploration after the space shuttles are retired in 2010.

NASA chose a "lunar outpost" over the short expeditions of the '60s. Apollo flights were all around the middle area of the moon, but NASA decided to go to the moon's poles because they are best for longer-term settlements. And this time NASA is welcoming other nations on its journey.

The more likely of the two lunar destinations is the moon's south pole, because it's sunlit for three-quarters of the time. That offers a better locale for solar power, and the site has possible resources to mine nearby, said associate deputy administrator Doug Cooke.

"This is not your father's Apollo," said John Logsdon, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University. "I think it's the only way to sustain something like this over decades. This is not a flag-and-footprints. This is the idea of starting an outward movement that includes long stays on the moon."

To get to the moon, NASA will use two vehicles — the Orion exploration vehicle and an attached all-purpose lunar lander that could touch down anywhere and be the beginnings a base camp, said exploration chief Scott Horowitz.

He likens the lander to a pickup truck.

"You can put whatever you want in the back. You can take it to wherever you want. So you can deliver cargo, crew, do it robotically, do it with humans on board. These are the types of things we're looking for in this system," Horowitz said at a news conference in Houston.

Last Great Launch from 39B

Another try for a launch

The shuttle astronauts are getting ready to board the Shuttle Discovery for another try to launch. Winds are a bit high 18 MPH and launch limit is 15 MPH. Lets hope they come down a bit.

I'll be a bit busy to live blog all of the launch stuff. But Flame Trench here and the NASA blog here do a better job. I have Christmas cards to do, dinner and keep an eye on the girls Christmas crafts (they can get a little bit carried over with glue and cut paper!)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Water Flowing out of Mars

I watched the press conference this morning. Before MGS was lost it captured pictures of water flows and new impact craters on Mars.
New photographs from space suggest that water occasionally flows on the frigid surface of Mars, raising the tantalizing possibility that the red planet is hospitable to life, scientists reported Wednesday.

The new images, taken by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor before it lost contact with Earth, do not actually show flowing water. Rather, they show changes in craters that provide the strongest evidence yet that water coursed through them as recently as several years ago, and is perhaps doing so even now.

"This is a squirting gun for water on Mars," said Kenneth Edgett, a scientist at San Diego-based Malin Space Science Systems, which operates a camera on the Global Surveyor.

The news excited scientists who hunt for extraterrestrial life. If the finding is confirmed, they say, all the ingredients favorable for life on Mars are in place: liquid water and a stable heat source.

In all of its Mars exploration missions, NASA has pursued a "follow the water" strategy to determine if the planet once contained life or could support it now.

Scientists believe ancient Mars was awash with pools of water. And at present-day Mars' north pole, researchers have spotted evidence of water ice. But they have yet to actually see water in liquid form.

"This underscores the importance of searching for life on Mars, either present or past," said Bruce Jakosky, an astrobiologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, who had no role in the study.

"It's one more reason to think that life could be there."

Monday, December 04, 2006

Shuttle crew at the Cape

Discovery Shuttle Astronauts Arrive at NASA Spaceport
By Ker Than
Staff Writer
posted: 3 December 2006
5:56 p.m. ET

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – The astronaut crew of NASA's next shuttle mission arrived here at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) late Sunday, flying in aboard white and blue T-38 training jets.

The seven-member STS-116 crew was greeted by veteran astronaut Jerry Ross and Mike Leinbach, NASA’s launch director for the upcoming space shot. The astronauts’ family members also welcomed their Florida spaceport arrival.

"It was a beautiful flight out…I'm very, very excited to be here," the mission’s shuttle pilot, William Oefelein, said at NASA’s KSC Shuttle Landing Facility. "We seven certainly are very ready to go and we're looking forward to executing a great mission."

The astronauts are slated to launch aboard NASA’s shuttle Discovery on a 12-day construction flight the International Space Station (ISS) on Dec. 7 at 9:35:47 p.m. EST (0235:47 GMT). The planned liftoff will mark NASA's third shuttle mission this year and the agency's first night launch since 2002.

"We're going to go ahead and hopefully have one heck of a night show to give everybody this Thursday night," Discovery’s STS-116 commander Mark Polansky said.

The mission will include the delivery of a new portside piece of the ISS and a trio of spacewalks to rewire the outpost's power grid. It will also include the swap of Expedition 14 crewmember Sunita Williams for European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Reiter, who is finishing up a nearly six-month stint aboard the orbital laboratory.

"I'm just really happy to be here. It's been a long time coming," Williams said, adding that she’s spoken with her Expedition 14 crewmate-to-be Mikhail “Misha” Tyurin. "Misha Tyurin called the other day and said 'Suni, we're waiting for you!', so I just can't wait to get to my new home."

STS-116 mission specialists and multilingual crewmembers Nicholas Patrick and Christer Fuglesang—Sweden's first astronaut to fly—added a few words in Spanish and Swedish, respectively.

Not to be outdone, Alaskan native Oefelein added a few words in his state's official language: English. "I'll start by saying a few words in Alaskan—It's warm out here," he said.

Mission specialist Robert Curbeam turned the attention away from his fellow astronauts.

"This is a tribute to the guys that got our vehicle ready, to get all of us ready as well, for our 12 day trip and Suni's six month trip," Curbeam said. "We appreciate it and thank all of them…Also thanks to our family and friends and coaches and relatives for all the years of motivating us to do our best. We hope to make all those people who helped get us here proud."

For mission specialist Joan Higginbotham, the flight to KSC was a return home of sorts.

"I'm very happy to be here…I actually began my career here at Kennedy Space Center," she said. "To finally come back as an astronaut and get to work and fly on the vehicle that I used to work on is absolutely beyond words.

"When I got out the plane, Mike said to me 'That's a megawatt smile,' and that's how I feel," Higginbotham added. "I'm not going to wipe this grin off my face until December 19 when we land and I'm sure you'll still have a hard time wiping it off my face."