Monday, June 30, 2008


Monday is the 100th anniversary of the Tunguska event. On June 30, 1908 a mysterious visitor from Space entered Earth's atmosphere and exploded in the skies above remote Siberia. 100 years later there are still competing theories what it was: meteorite, comet, even a tiny Black Hole. Humans are still woefully unprepared to deflect such objects. In the case of Black Holes, most scientists don't admit they could exist in our Solar System. Concerning asteroids, humans will venture to them asteroids or they will venture into us.

Labels: ,

Saturday, June 28, 2008


The latest configuration of the Altair lunar lander. This is still a work in progress, subject to many redesigns. The main cabin supports 4 people for stays up to a week. An airlock big enough for two has been added, connected by a tunnel at the rear. This would be left behind, along with Spacesuits, on the Moon.

A moonwalker steps out onto what Hawaii realtors call a wraparound lanai. We can imagine astronauts bringing telescopes and aluminum deck chairs. That's a long ladder to descend backwards in a Spacesuit. NASA is more concerned about the lack of visibility for the pilot on landing. One could almost suggest a conning station out on the lanai, but that would take away abort capability.

NASA sources tell that Altair is designed to carry big cargoes to a lunar base. The lander performs its own Lunar Orbit Injection burn so that it can reach the Moon without the manned Orion. Altair would not drop a stage on descent (which would save weight) because engineers don't trust a computer to restart the engines. For long trips to the Moon or Mars, more payload is better.

Speaking of big, NASA is still determined to build Ares V. It will be the largest rocket ever built, bigger than Saturn V. Current plans have it 381 feet tall and capable of placing 140 tons in orbit. Studies support adding a 6th main engine and 6-segment Solid rocket Boosters. NASA systems managers with their Gant diagrams and triple constraints have concluded that this will reach the Moon.

Below an earlier model of Altair is placed next to the Ares 1-B from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. Combined with its Earth Departure Stage, Altair is nearly as big as 2001's moonship. The movie Ares did not need an ascent stage or return fuel because it could refuel at a Moonbase. Studies are already underway to make fuel from lunar regolith. Let us hope that we stay to build the Moonbase, then the huge Ares V could deliver the Pan Am Ares to Space.

NEXT WEEK: We learn more about Moon hardware from the source.

Labels: ,

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Sands of Mars

Microscopic view of fine-grained materiel seen by Robotic Arm Camera aboard Phoenix Lander June 20, 2008

The Phoenix Lander has completed its first chemistry experiment. The soil is very close to what one would find in the dry valleys of Antarctica. Those valleys have similiar atmospheric conditions to Mars. Salts found include magnesium, sodium, pottasium and chloride; all nutrients that support life. The salts themselves are still more evidence of water. In many aspects of its mineralogy Mars is very much like Earth. We are amazingly close to discovering life on another planet.

This week Slacker Astronomy hosts the Carnival of Space!

Labels: ,

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Poles Are Hot

Saturn's polar aurora imaged by Hubble Space Telescope

Earth's changing climate is always on our mind. According to a newspaper, the North Pole is melting faster than usual, so fast that some scientists think it could melt completely. For the first time in recent memory the Northwest Passage between Atlantic and Pacific is navigable. This is not the first time the climate has changed, for Greenland was once green. Fossils found in the Arctic indicate that it was once home to turtles and even champsosaurs, creatures similiar to Australia's crocodiles.

Humans still put too much junk in the air. A US presidential candidate has proposed a 300 million dollar prize for a better car battery. His people must have been inspired by the Google X-Prize and NASA Centennial Challenges. These prizes nearly all end up being won. This would bring out every lab and backyard inventor until a battery was invented.

In research published by NATURE, scientists have found that the North Pole is home to massive volcanic eruptions. A 1999 event was a big as the eruption that buried Pompeii. The eruption occurred at a depth of 4000 meters beneath the Arctic. Previously scientists thought that explosive eruptions were impossible at such crushing depths. Though humans still put too much junk in the air, these eruptions may contribute to polar melting. Some of this research was done by Germany's Alfred Wegener Institute for Sea and Polar Research. Wegener spent much of his life arguing that the continents moved. Though he was ignored in his own time, Wegener's work led to the theory of plate tectonics.

In the Antarctic, we have found massive lakes thousands of feet beneath the ice. Existence of liquid water where sunlight never shines is proof of massive sources of heat. Though we think of them as cold, Earth's North and South poles are home to volcanic activity. As this blog has chronicled, we have found many examples of polar hot spots. Saturn's poles contain the highest temperatures of the surface. Most telling, the moon Enceladus contains a massive eruption of vapour at its South Pole. As we saw earlier this week, the heat is many times more than could be caused by "radioactive decay." Something is causing the poles of these highly diverse worlds to be hot.

Carl Brannen has pointed out this article:

Chemical clues point to dusty origin for Earth-like planets.

""To achieve this condition, the density of dust in the chondrule-forming regions of the early solar system must have been at least about 10 grams per cubic meter, and possibly much more. This is at least 100 times the densities considered by previous models of chondrule formation, which had assumed at most densities of only about 0.1 grams per cubic meter, and normally considerably less."

The biggest mystery about Earth is how it formed at all. Since Pierre Laplace scientists have theorised that planets collapsed from dust clouds. Particles colliding at orbital velocities will simply not stick together, unless those particles have the mass of mountains. Hypothesising that gas in deep Space could have densities near 10 grams per cubic meter just adds more epicycles.

The Big Bang created many billions of tiny Black Holes. If these little holes collided with dust clouds, they would trigger planetary formation like a pearl forming around a grain of sand. These Black Holes are too tiny to suck everything up, but the small amount they do eat produces radiation. That radiation would exit in polar jets, the classic sign of a singularity. If tiny Black Holes existed in planets they would tend to make the poles warmer, exactly as observed. A Black Hole woud also account for planetary magnetic fields and how planets first formed.

We know more about outer space than we do about Earth's interior. Our North Pole is warming at an alarming rate. Some of this warming might be due to volcanic activity. We have found such activity at the South Pole, and at the poles of Saturn and Enceladus. A planet 's core could easily conceal mysteries like a Black Hole.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, June 23, 2008

The DIRECT Route?

Government programs tend to grow in weight, size and complexity. The Space Shuttle began with the dream of a reusable Spaceship launched on a winged booster. Budget cuts eliminated the flyback booster, replaced by Solid Rocket Boosters (see Challenger) and a foam-covered external tank (see Columbia). To fit all customers the payload diameter was increased to 5 meters. Heavy drag-inducing delta wings were added to give crossrange capability, which has never been used. High wing-loading led to the TPS tiles, which are a maintenance and safety nightmare (see Columbia again). The dream of airliner-like service led to an expensive and ungainly system.

The Space Station was conceived as a stepping stone to other worlds. The US decided to save money by assigning major components to Russia. That caused delays in getting the Russian modules ready, and forced ISS into a high-inclination orbit serving Kazakhstan launch sites. The Space Station enjoyed the nice view of New Zealand we saw yesterday, but is useless as a stop for the Moon or Mars.

The Vision for the Moon and Beyond called for new boosters using existing technology. Constellation conceived of a Ares I with an SRB as the first stage and a J-2 powered second stage. A larger Ares V would have 2 SRB's attached to a center stage derived from the Shuttle External Tank. Studies then showed that 4-segment SRB's would not suffice, we would need 5 segments for Ares I and possibly 6 segments for Ares V. Building longer SRB's means a long testing process. The long skinny Ares I has vibration issues, as the rocket acts like a giant organ pipe. This may require heavy isolation machinery in the spacecraft.

Even with lengthened SRB's doubts exist whether Ares I could carry a loaded Orion, leading to a drastic effort to save weight. Capability to land on solid ground may be sacrificed for more water landings, requiring another Navy task force each time. The Essex-class aircraft carriers that recovered Apollo don't exist anymore, so a Wasp or Nimitz-class carrier might have to be diverted from the battle group's normal duties. Has anyone from the US Navy brought this up? Hello?

Ares I could not reach orbit without its J-2X powered second stage. The new engine would be an expensive and time-consuming project. Ares V now increases diameter of the External Tank, requiring new tooling. A sixth engine may be needed. The booster would be so heavy that it would exceed limits of the crawlerway leading to pads 39A and 39B. The pads themselves would have to be rebuilt to accommodate a wider vehicle, the VAB would have to be reconfigured...and so on.

The five-year gap between Shuttle and Ares I would mean thousands of NASA and contractor job losses. As happened in the 1970's, talented people would become unemployed and their expertise lost forever. Ares V would be a very expensive project that would be easy for a future administration to cut. This would leave the US where it started, stuck in Low Earth Orbit.

Presently NASA is determined to develop Ares I and V. In April 2009 an unmanned demonstration of Ares I-X is planned. This test will use 4-segment boosters, a dummy second stage and Orion that will not reach orbit. While it will be spectacular to watch, the test will be far from the vehicle that would carry humans. No doubt with enough time and money the engineering issues could be patched. The Ares I and V designs are capable of reaching the Moon, with work.

Any NASA employee would support Constellation and do whatever possible to make it work. However, a few have quietly been developing an alternative. Last month this writer was in the room for their presentation at ISDC. Yesterday the DIRECT plan reached the front page of the local Orlando Sentinel.

NASA remains silent on a rocket that could rescue the Cape.

"Indeed, an unfinished internal NASA study -- shut down and disowned by the agency last fall -- showed Direct 2.0 would outperform Ares, which the agency is designing for its Constellation program to return astronauts to the moon. The initial results showed Direct 2.0 was superior in cost, overall performance and work-force retention -- a big issue for Florida."

DIRECT 2.0 (website) would make maximum use of common hardware. Jupiter-120 would use 2 standard Shuttle SRB's, around a core built from the Shuttle ET with two currently available RS-68 engines. The crewed spacecraft would match the cargo ability of Shuttle. Jupiter-120 could easily lift Orion into orbit with payload to spare.

The larger Jupiter-232 would add a third RS-68 and an upper stage powered by a J-2 engine, to carry cargoes to the Moon and Beyond. Possibly it could be upgraded to carry payloads up to 140 tons. With a similiar footprint to Shuttle, these new boosters would use NASA's existing launch infrastructure. DIRECT backers claim the system would carry humans to the Moon by 2017, two years sooner than Ares.

Given the challenges to reaching the Moon, DIRECT 2.0 deserves official consideration. A new adminsitration will certainly reassess NASA's progress. In the 1960's a few brave engineers proposed Lunar Orbit Rendezvous, which got the US to the Moon in time to meet Kennedy's goal. Presently NASA engineers are working on DIRECT in their spare time without knowledge of their bosses. There may be time to change direction, and possibly get us to the Moon sooner.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Photos from STS-124

Photos taken during the last Shuttle mission. This is real high-rise construction, showing how big the Space Station is. Does anyone recognise the coastline below? Mission STS-124 successfully installed the Japanese Kibo module.

Labels: ,

Friday, June 20, 2008


Today's biggest news is the discovery of water ice just beneath the surface of Mars. The Phoenix lander needed to dig just a few centimetres to find this white stuff, which evaporated a few days later just like water. This behaviour has led scientists to rule out frozen CO2 or salt. The fact that Phoenix found water so quickly suggests that it could be ubiquitous in the polar region, covered by just a thin layer of dust. Satellite data suggests that 1/4 of Mars could have water beneath the surface. Though scientists suspect that it exists on many worlds, this is the first positive find of water on another planet.

Scientists at University of California Santa Cruz have found that Enceladus could not possibly produce enough tidal heat to keep its South pole warm. The pole, which should be the coldest region, is the hottest! Enceladus' orbit is free of tidal stresses. Radioactive decay could account for no more than 0.32 gigawatts, yet Enceladus gives off 5.8 gigawatts! This has led scientists to conclude that the moon should freeze up in a few million years. Perhaps we should consider that something else is going on.

Enceladus' core can be modelled with a central mass of about 10^12 kg. This mass is typical for a primordial singularity. This object consumes only 2.8 kg per year and generates 10^9 watts of radiation. Water and other molecules near this centre are heated to a plasma. Electrons are stripped from atoms, and the resulting ions are drawn into circular orbits. The resulting current generates a magnetic field with the "positive" pole in the South. Electrons and positively charged ions spiral along magnetic field lines to form bipolar jets, the classic sign of a Black Hole.

The Northern jet is composed of electrons which are absorbed by the moon's interior. More energetic ions of the Southern jet penetrate these layers to warm the South Pole. Escaping ions spiral into Space, exactly as observed by Cassini. Unless Saturn's Rings are replenished, they would decay within 100 million years. Then we would face the anthropic question of why they exist in the right time for humans to view them. Thanks to the Cassini spacecraft, we have witnessed the E Ring being resuppllied from a moon. This observation suggests that similiar processes maintain the rings indefinitely.

Not long ago Earth was thought to be the only place with water in the solar system. Today we have found evidence for water on Mars, asteroids like Ceres, and moons like Europa and Enceladus. Ice on Mars shows conditions that might support life. Water could provide drinks and fuel for future settlers. Enceladus polar water is a mystery that could lead to a Black Hole. The water that we sometimes take for granted is today's most important discovery.

Check out the new Carnival of Space!


Labels: ,

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Sending the Bill

By an overwhelming 409-15 vote, the US House of Representatives has passed a new NASA authorization bill. The 20.2 billion is far more than the 17.6 billion requested by the White House. With more funding for science, the bill directs an additional Shuttle mission for the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. NASA administrators have resisted the extra flight because of safety and eagerness to end the Shuttle program. (The crew would avoid an accident by leaving the Shuttle in Space and returning by Soyuz.) Congress also budgeted an extra billion to get Orion on line faster. Already international partners have spent 1.5 billion on AMS. While the US government is divided on many things, this day shows strong bipartisan support for Space.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Mercury 13

Janet Christine Dietrich left the Earth this month. In 1961 Dietrich (left) was one of 13 women given the same tests as men to become American astronauts. Dietrich was a pilot with 12,000 lifetime hours behind the stick. She won trophies in air races throughout the 1940's and 1950's. Despite passing all the same tests as the men, Dietrich and her sisters were never given the chance to reach Space.

Dietrich and her twin sister Marion (right) earned their student pilot certificates at age 16. After graduating from college Janet became chief pilot of Cessna. The twins won the first Chico-San Mateo Air Race in 1947, and placed second in the Women's Transcontinental Air Race ("Powder Puff Derby") in 1951. In 1960 Janet became the first American woman to earn an Airlkine Transport Pilot License.

In 1961 famed aviator Jacqueline Cochrane started a program to test women as astronauts. Janet, Marion and 11 others were invited to the Lovelace Clinic in Alburquerque where NASA astronauts were screened. The women passed the same rigorous tests as the men. Despite their success, the program was ended in 1961 without explanation. No American women reached orbit until 1983, and no woman has been beyond LEO.

Today most people agree that women can meet the same standards as men. Today women in aviation and science still face entrenched sexism. Despite the challenges, women have proven themselves in every field from piloting to physics. When men travel again to the Moon women will go too. If humanity is to reach Space, women must be part of the equation.


Saturday, June 14, 2008

The New Suit

Nearly a year ago an advanced Spacesuit was unveiled. This week NASA chose the suit design it wants for the Moon and Beyond. Since the days of Apollo, EVA suits were the proud domain of Hamilton and Sundstrand. In a surprise decision, NASA has chosen a team led by Oceaneering and Paragon Systems. The process is such that NASA decides what it wants, then chooses contractors to build to NASA's specifications. The design chosen is strikingly similiar to what was shown to NASA last year.

Single suit system for IVA, EVA and lunar EVA

Common helmet with open-flip visor (Apollo and Shuttle EMU's can't open the visor.)

Soft inner layer

Rear Entry (The current ACES suit has a zipper in front.)

Removable outer armour for lunar EVA

The counter-pressure technology is not yet included, but that is till under development. Since the suit system is modular, MCP can be added piece-by-piece starting with the gloves. It is very pleasing when NASA adopts your ideas!

Check out the new Carnival of Space!


Friday, June 13, 2008

"Inflation Deflated?"

That title wasn't written here, but news has reached this week's cover of New Scientist that the old theory may be in trouble. In the late 1970's Alan Guth and others suggested that the early universe expanded at warp speed, many times faster than light. Though it solved problems with the Big Bang, inflation would violate both the First Law of Thermodynamics and Relativity's stipulation that nothing moves faster than light. The trouble with inflation was even subject of the editorial:

Why the Best Theories Aren't Always Right

"The theory has inspired a generation of experiments and observations that have hugely increased our understanding of the universe. Questioning and replacing long-held ideas is what science does best."

For decades inflation has served as a useful step. No one has a clue what could make the universe expand faster than light. The multitude of theories rely on mysterious "scalar fields" or "inflaton potentials." None of these fantasies has ever been observed in nature. Though it has been good for theorist's careers, inflation can not be proven. Humans can not time travel to the first 10^{-33} seconds, and no human experiment can approach the titanic energies near the Big Bang.

We can search the Cosmic Microwave Background for signs of inflation. At a conference in Cambridge last December, physicist Benjamin Wandelt showed evidence of non-gaussianity in the CMB. Inflation predicts that the CMB should be the same at all scales and in all directions. Discovery of non-gaussianity would be evidence that inflation is leaking. Wandelt's preliminary results have reached the critical pages of Physical Review Letters v. 100, 181301, Evidence of primordial non-gaussianity (f) in the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe Data at 2.8$\sigma$

New Scientist continues about inflation:

"But it has its flaky side too. Michael Turner of the University of Chicago compares it to a patchwork of duct tape repair. 'It might last for 10 years, but it won't last forever,' he says."

The magazine also quotes Paul Steinhardt, one of the original architects of inflation who has abandoned ship and is working on cyclic universes. Neil Turok, who works with Steinhardt on alternatives to inflation, has recently been named head of Perimeter Institute. More and more big scientists are expressing their doubts. The PLANCK spacecraft to be launched next year will examine the CMB with much greater accuracy, possibly finding evidence that drives nails in the coffin.

New Scientist concludes with an optimistic note:

"Why would this be good news? Because we might then be forced to go back to the drawing board and conjure up a deeper, more satisfying theory. this could be based on existing alternatives to the inflation and cyclic universe ideas--theories that invoke a varying speed of light or modified gravity..."

Did someone say speed of light? We are winning this game! Questioning and replacing long-held ideas is what we do. (Attacking new ideas is what children with computers do.) It is a painfully long process, but eventually the mass of scientists will drift this way.

On the plane from Washington, one of the movies was STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT. Mr. Worf's line to the Borg: "Assimilate this!"

Labels: , ,

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Sacrifice for AMS?

Shuttle Discovery photographed from ISS during STS-124. Below is the KIBO pressurised module, and to the right is the Japanese logistics module. Discovery undocked from ISS at 0742 EDT (see below) and is due to return Saturday. The Hubble Space Telescope repair mission is scheduled for October, but may be delayed due to launch damage to Pad 39-A. Previously STS-125 was to be Atlantis' last mission, but she may be saved for STS-128 and STS-131. The three surviving Shuttles are scheduled for retirement.

Today NASA is due to announce a decision on the Constellation Space Suit Program. While we are waiting, the US Congress is considering a new NASA authorization bill. H.R. 6063 will give NASA 2.9 billion more than the White House requested. It also orders one more Shuttle flight to deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. NASA administrators are resistant to AMS because of safety concerns and delays in implementing Constellation. They are eager to junk the Shuttles and make way for Orion.

There may be a way to make everyone happy. It would be cheaper, get AMS into Space without any chance of a Columbia accident, and accelerate retiring of Shuttle. Since this would be the last flight, we could use the Shuttle to deliver AMS and leave it in Space. This follows a long Navy tradition of scuttling the ship to save the mission.

While most Shuttle flights carry seven, nominal mission STS-134 could be accomplished with a crew of three: Commander, Pilot and Mission Specialist. Attaching AMS to the Station will require two crewmembers and multiple EVA's. The Mission Specialist will be responsible for installing AMS assisted by the pilot, with the ISS crew available for extra help. Once installation is complete, the Shuttle is no longer necessary.

The crew of three will return by Soyuz. There are extra seats available on returning Soyuz flights, which is how Expedition Six returned after Columbia. Hopefully the Soyuz problem of ballistic entry will be solved by 2010. NASA may even do like Sergei Brin and charter an extra Soyuz mission.

Concerning Spacesuits, the three EMU's brought by the mission would add to the ISS collection. The current EMU was designed for Shuttle and will not fit in Soyuz or Orion. Once the Shuttles stop flying the ISS crew will have to make do with the EMU's they have until those suits wear out. Any additional Shuttle mission will be valuable in bringing extra small payloads-perhaps the ISS toilet will need more parts.

At the conclusion of its mission the Shuttle will be stripped of useful equipment and cut loose from ISS. This should be done shortly before a station-keeping maneuver, which will boost ISS into a higher orbit and leave the Shuttle behind. Atmospheric drag will take care of the rest. While Mission Control has limited ability to control an unmanned Shuttle, hopefully they can steer her to come down in the Pacific.

Columbia showed us what would happen next. Uncontrolled, the Shuttle would glide in as far as ground control would take it. At a certain point she would tumble out of control and break up. Like Columbia or Captain Kirk's Enterprise, her death would be a spectacular event seen from Earth.

Since NASA is so eager to end the Shuttle programme, they might consider the same profile for STS-133. Endeavour's mission to deliver Express Logistic Carriers 3 and 4 could also be accomplished without Shuttle return. Abandoning the Shuttle would ensure that the program is not continued. Museums that were hoping to have Shuttles in their collections would be most disappointed, but the cost of "safing" a Shuttle is quite high. Giving the museums Shuttle mockups would be far cheaper, and we could easily include parts from the "real" Shuttles.

Leaving a Shuttle would be a simple and safe way to end the program while carrying AMS into Space. There may be technical details overlooked here-NASA personnel are welcome to point them out. Presently NASA is reluctant to make any plans concerning AMS; that will change if Congress gets their way. This would be a fitting end to the Shuttle era, opening the way for the future.

The Constellation Space Suit contract has just been awarded to my friends at Oceaneering. More about this soon!

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Journey to the Sun

As the Northern hemisphere's climate warms in annual event called Summer, thoughts return again to the Sun. Tuesday NASA announced the Solar Probe Plus. The spacecraft will pass within 7 million km, or 9 solar radii. The conical shield will protect the spacecraft from extreme temperatures. Solar variablility affects Earth's climate in the most direct way. Though humans have wondered about our star for thousands of years, they are just beginning to understand the Sun

As late as the 1920's most physicists would lecture that the Sun is made of iron, and burns in the sky like a red-hot poker. Quantum mechanics was new, and physics of the Sun's interior had yet to be figured out. A young woman named Cecilia Payne first suggested that the spectral lines could be interpreted as hydrogen. As a woman, Payne was ignored but eventually she was proved right. Sincer we have no direct samples, the Sun's composition is still a matter of conjecture.

The "Faint Young Sun" has long been a paradox. According to models of astrophysics, life should not have evolved here because at Earth's formation the Sun was only about 75% as bright. Earth would have been frozen solid, making evolution of life impossible. Geology and the fossil record contradict the model, telling us that Earth had both liquid water and life billions of years ago. Because the Sun turns fuel into energy according to E=mc^2, change in c precisely accounts for this paradox. If c had not changed in precisely the amounts predicted, life would not have evolved to read this post.

Today there is plenty of evidence that the Sun fuses hydrogen into helium, but few understand how this reaction is maintained. Sustained nuclear fusion in a reactor is a dream that has eluded humans for decades. Scientists have yet to understand how the reaction is triggered in billions of stars. While stars are known to condense from gas clouds, those clouds should dissipate before fusion is triggered. Something else is needed to trigger a cloud's collapse into a star.

Photos of infant stars show twin jets reminiscent of those produced by Black Holes. If the Sun and other stars formed around them, Black Holes' gravity would draw gas inward until fusion began. Their presence in stars would maintain those immense pressures indefinitely. A Black Hole could easily exist in the second last place humans would expect, in front of our faces each morning.

Temperature of the Sun's surface is measured in thousands of degrees yet in the corona it is million of degrees. Scientists can not agree why the corona is so hot, though the answer is related to transfer of energy by magnetic field lines. The magnetic field lines originate in the Sun's mysterious core. The 11-year sunspot cycle is still a mystery. If launched in 2015, Solar Probe Plus will arrive at the end of Solar Cycle 24 and finish near the maximum of Cycle 25. It will pass directly through the hot corona. We can wish this mission the best of luck.

TOMORROW: NASA is scheduled to announce a decision on the Constellation Spacesuit system. The suit system will be used for decades, supporting flights to the Moon. Wednesday the US House of Representatives will vote on a NASA authorization bill that will order one additional Shuttle flight to take the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer into Space. This is a very exciting time in Washington!


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Candidate on Mars

While the Phoenix Lander continues its exploration of Mars, this weekend America's presidential race went down to two. Video of a candidate's comments about Mars is here. This does not constitute an endorsement for one candidate. The blog cited to is considered left-leaning and opposed to Mr. McCain. We eagerly await Obama's position on Space. Bradbury's THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES is part of many people's childhood reading, a true classic of literature.


Friday, June 06, 2008

When We Left Earth

White House May 31, 2008

At ISDC we received gift boxes from Discovery Channel containing Astronaut Ice Cream and preview copies of WHEN WE LEFT EARTH. The series premiering Sunday in the US presents footage of humans going to the Moon in HD. It includes interviews with many of those involved, even Neil Armstrong. Flight Director Eugene "failure is not an option" Kranz offers some surprisingly philosophical words.

"The power of Space was to raise our aspirations to those things that are possible," Kranz punches his words for emphasis, "if we will commit."

"If we will commit" is a challenge. It is easy for nations or individuals to lose focus when things get difficult. Leaving Earth orbit requires development of hardware and huge new boosters. As with Apollo, the commitment must extend across different administrations and political parties. Dreams of landing on Mars or asteroids depend upon reaching escape velocity.

Last week we met with representatives of all three presidential candidates. (That number will shortly be reduced to two.) As if in response, today in Florida one candidate came out in favour of people to Mars. He claimed that one of his favourite books as a child was THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES. Whoever becomes president, the commitment must continue. If not, the brief time When We Left Earth will fade into history.


Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Astronomical Unit Changing?

The Lunar Laser Ranging Experiment from 1969 provided one more indicator that the speed of light is slowing to this day.

Tuesday's New York Times reported the dismal state of "dark energy" research. Even the revered Ed Witten is at a loss to figure it out. There is no compelling theory for DE, researchers can't even agree on a mission concept, and the amount NASA has budgeted for JDEM is barely half what would be needed. All it would measure is an "equation of state." With all this flailing about in the dark, the reputation of science is slowly eroding. "We are placing a large bet," admitted the Director of the Space Telescope Science Institute, "using our credibility as collateral that we as a community know what we are doing."

GM = tc^3. As age of Universe t increases. light slows down. This would affect the redshifts of distant supernovae, making the Universe appear to accelerate. This produces a precise fit to supernova observations. A child could figure it out, yet until recently talk of changing c would get reactions ranging from willful ignorance to sexist attacks. Publishing papers on a changing c is still quite difficult. Childishness can not stop a growing body of evidence.

There is yet another indicator that c is slowing. The astronomical unit is the distance from Earth to Sun. By using Earth's orbit as a baseline, astronomers use the AU in calculating the parallax distance to nearby stars. Accurate measurements of the AU affect all our measurements of distant objects, as does the speed of light. Recent experiments seem to indicate that the AU itself is growing!

By analyzing radio echoes from the planets, G.A. Krasinsky and V.A. Blumberg measured change in the AU at about 7 cm/yr (Note 1). Independently E.M. standish estimates the change as about 5 cm/yr (Note 2). These estimates are made from many measurements, so they are likely to vary. Unlike the Moon's drift from Earth, growth in the AU can not be explained by tidal effects.

If the speed of light us slowing, the time for radio waves to return would increase, making the AU appear to grow. Suppose we measured the AU directly by bouncing light rays off the Sun. We can't do that for obvious reasons, but we can determine the approximate size of the effect. We have:

GM = tc^3 where t is age of the Universe, about 14 Gyr

c(t) = (GM)^{1/3} t^{-1/3}

cdot/c = -1/3t = -1/(42 Gyr)

Multiplied by an AU of 149 million kilometers, that distance will appear to increase by:

-(149E9 meters)/(42 Gyr) = 3.5 m/yr

The AU should appear to grow by 3.5 m/yr. If the measured recession appears smaller, Earth could conceivably be moving closer to the Sun! That would be very logical, as many theories of the solar system state that planets should drift inward. Earth could be headed toward a very hot fate, which we are kept from realising by scientists' insistence that c is constant.

The hypothesis of a repulsive "dark energy" has led nowhere. Betting on it has eroded the reputation of science. Data from Type Ia supernovae, the Lunar Laser Ranging Experiment and "Faint Young Sun" also indicate that c has slowed at the rate GM = tc^3 predicts. Eventually the weight of evidence will be too big to ignore. In the meantime, making new discoveries is a daily joy.

Women of Space are saluted in the new Carnival of Space!


[1] G.A. Krasinsky and V.A. Brumberg, "Secular increase of astronomical unit from analysis of the major planets motions, and its interpretation," Celest. Mech. & Dyn. Astron. 90:267, 2004.

[2] E.M. Standish, "The Astronomical Unit Now," in Transits of Venus: New Views of the Solar System and Galaxy, Proceedings IAU Colloquium No. 196, page 163. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2005.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, June 03, 2008


Washington DC June 1, 2008

In the Air and Space Museum, this is one of the best photo spots. The Spirit of St. Louis, X-1 and Spaceship One appear to converge toward a common point. While the media blasts us with false Idols, out of the spotlight people of differing backgrounds are quietly working toward a better future. Decisions are being made that will affect the course of humanity in Space for decades. Many possibilities converge on a single future.

5 years after Columbia, a Vision for the Moon and Beyond continues. The International Space Station is the first permanent human presence outside Earth's atmosphere. The longtime dream of Space Solar Power will finally be demonstrated. Vehicles are being designed for extending human settlement to the Moon. In their wake, many private companies are competing to take passengers into Space.

Out of the spotlight, a new industry is being born. Space News reports that industry revenue has increased 50 percent in a year. We may see a boom like we once saw in the Web or biotech industries. Like the Pan Am shuttle waltzing toward a Space Station, we are approaching the 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY dream of commercial flights to orbit.

Much will depend on the next occupants of the White House. One candidate has talked about "delaying" the Vision 5 years, effectively killing it. There is room for added initiatives, like the DIRECT architecture or an asteroid mission. If the US cedes leadership, another nation will take the high ground. If the right moves are made, all humanity will converge on a future in Space.


Sunday, June 01, 2008

Witnessing the Dream

Saturday before lunch the panel “Living on ISS” included Space travelers Greg Olsen and Anousheh Ansari. After an afternoon walk by the White House, we gathered in the ballroom to watch Discovery’s launch live. Among the ISDC crowd there were loud cheers as the bird lifted off. Views here span the spectrum from left to right, but support for Space cuts across such boundaries.

ISDC also saw screenings of the new documentary THE WONDER OF IT ALL. Filmmakers interviewed nearly all the surviving men who walked on the Moon. (They couldn't get Armstrong.) The normally taciturn John Young expressed great disappointment that we don't have large Moon settlements by now. Nearly two generations have been denied even a chance to visit the Moon. Women are disappointed that we have not been to the Moon. Returning to the Moon would be worthwhile if only to correct that slight.
Locations of visitors to this page