Friday, February 27, 2009

Spacesuit and an Award

UPDATE: Here are pictures of the new suits. The skintight suit is an advanced project. NASA prefers to use hardware simliar to Apollo 40 years ago.

The George M. Low Quality and Performance Award is NASA’s premier honor for quality and performance. Oceaneering Space Systems (OSS) was nominated by Johnson Space Center, and received the award yesterday. Separately on Friday, Oceaneering signed the contract to develop the new Constellation Space Suit System. OSS originally won the contract in June 2008, but a protest caused the process to be delayed. Oceaneering now leads a team including the David Clark company, Paragon Space Systems and Hamilton-Sundstrand.

The Configuration 1 CSSS suit will be used during launch and entry of the Orion spacecraft, and for contingency EVA. The contract also includes options for support, training and more suits. Configuration 2 provides capability for EVA and walking on the Moon. The contract could extend to 2020, the Moon and beyond. With contracts being signed and suits being sewn, it looks like we are going to the Moon.

Check out the new Carnival of Space!


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

India In Moon Race

India's Chandrayaan spacecraft has been orbiting the Moon since Noivember. Among its 11 experiments is a mini-Synthetic Aperture Radar that gives us a first look inside the permanently shadowed polar craters. Chandrayaan has been slow to return data due to a heating problem. Because the extreme temperatures encountered while circling the Moon, the spacecraft is in constant danger of overheating. To compensate, the electronics are run for minimal periods, making science data scarce.

Despite the small setbacks, India continues to plan for human spaceflight. They hope to send humans into orbit by 2014 and to the Moon by 2020, four years ahead of Chinese plans. If the US does not keep up the effort, India could beat them too. Above is the plan of their spacecraft--note the docking port for other spacecraft like ISS.

With all the media attention given to China, it is easy to forget that India's economy is growing as quickly and its population even faster. By the middle of the century India could be the world's most populous nation; it is already the largest democracy. Conceivably India could someday be the largest economy too. A large and educated population could support a large Space program.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Biggest Explosion

On September 15, 2008 the Fermi Space Telescope spotted the brightest gamma ray burst ever seen. A supernova can briefly outshine an entire galaxy, and GRB 080916C had the power of 9,000 supernovae. The GRB appeared in the constellation Carina, and dates from 12.2 billion years ago. Given an estimated age of 13.7 billion years for the Universe, this blast dates from only 1.5 billion years after the Big Bang.

The image afove combines data from Fermi's UV/optical and X-ray telescopes. Only a massive Black Hole could produce this much energy. Size of primordial Black Hole is limited by a "horizon distance" that light can travel in a given time. Once it was thought that primordial Black Holes could only be tiny, due to a limited speed of light. Immense explosions like GRB 080916C are more indicators that c was not always the same value as today.

The Fermi telescope searches for gamma rays, the most powerful particles in the Universe. The telescope was formerly called GLAST, before being named for Enrico Fermi. We could also name it for physicist Bruce Banner, known for his work on gamma rays. Just don't get him angry...

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

STS-119 Delayed

Shuttle mission STS-119 to the International Space Station has been delayed again. This mission will deliver the final set of solar arrays to ISS. Possible problems with flow control valves have delayed the mission from February 12 to February 19, 27 and now to an indeterminate date. If the delays stretch past March 12, STS-119 will have to be indefinitely delayed to make room for a Soyuz flight later in the month. The delay most affects Sandra Magnus aboard ISS, for STS-119 is her ride home.


Friday, February 20, 2009

Race For the Higgs (or no Higgs)

In the early 1990's, under the first President Bush, the United States planned the Superconducting Supercollider. Designed to find (or possibly not find) the legendary Higgs Boson, the project was spearheaded by Nobel Laureate Leon Lederman--see his book "The God Particle." The SSC was cancelled during the Clinton administration. The unemployed physicists took jobs in other fields, like supernova cosmology, and tried to find new energies there. In the ensuing years, with the construction of CERN, the Higgs was expected to be found by Europeans.

Tommaso Dorigo has kept us faithfully posted about progress at the CDF in Fermilab. From the AAAS meeting in nearby Chicago, we learned that they may find (or not find) the Higgs first. One week after turning on, the LHC suffered damage (picture above) that will keep it out of action until next year. A CERN physicist I talked to called this a "gas release," most people would call it an explosion. Director Pier Oddone, whom this writer was introduced to in St. Louis last May, put the odds at better than 50% of Fermilab finding the Higgs. If the mass is lower, in the 170 MeV range, Fermilab's odds go to 96%. The CERN people visting Chicago would heartily disagree, so the race is on.

There is also the possibility that the Higgs does not exist, at least at the mass range predicted. If so, the two teams will be racing for something that is forever beyond their reach. With physicists invading astronomy with their high-energy methods, it is tempting for competing groups to make premature claims. From experience with "inflatons" and "dark energy," even standard models can be wrong. Higgs or no, CDF and LHC both explore energies where no one has gone before.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

New World

John Hancock building seen from Navy Pier, Chicago.

Galileo's telescope was first used as an aid to sailors. In Galileo's time trade was by sea, and the New World was across the oceans. Over centuries millions would make the one-way journey. Today we are on the edge of another great ocean.

From the American Association for Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting in Chicago: Dr. Alan Boss says our galaxy could contain billions of planets similar to Earth. He bases that on the simple assertion that every G-type star like our Sun has at least one planet in a habitable zone. Press Release The galaxy has over 250 billion stars, a number whicxh is hard to imagine. Humans in their folly try to match Nature with trillion-dollar deficits, but those are not pleasant to behold. It is better to dream of the future.

Someday a giant Starship will voyage across light-years on the first human interstellar mission. Its destination will be an Earthlike world in another solar system. Even at relativistic speeds the journey will take years, so the mission will be one-way. A self-sustaining ecosystem like Earth, the ship will be filled with plants and gardens for oxygen and food. Arriving in orbit, the Starship will launch a Space Shuttle carrying two astronauts. The first man and woman will step onto a New World.


Monday, February 16, 2009

Yet It Moves

Today is "Presidents Day" in the US, a holiday for NASA employees. Abraham Lincoln was born February 12 and George Washington February 22. More important for science, February 16 is Galileo Galilei's birthday! 2009 is International Year of Astronomy because 400 years ago Galileo first demonstrated his telescope. This replica is on display at the Griffith Observatory. The telescope offered clues that Earth was not centre of the Universe.

Just as they claim today about the speed of light, scientists of Galileo's time insisted that Earth was fixed. To explain retrograde motion they invoked epicycles, wheels within wheels. (Read: "dark energy") The mathematics of epicycles were highly complicated, which kept most people from understanding astronomy and insured scientists their place in society. If someone claimed that Earth circled the Sun, they could claim that this conflicted with epicycle math.

Galileo did not start his career believing that Earth circles the Sun. When a foreign scholar visited Italy to talk on Copernican Theory, Galileo missed the lectures. Only later did Galileo realise that Copernicus might be on to something. He realised that while believers in Ptolemy had converted to Copernicus, not a single believer in the Copernican system had converted back to Ptolemy. Logically Galileo chose to join the converted.

Galileo's telescope showed phases of Venus, Rings of Saturn, and moons circling Jupiter. These were all indicators that Earth was not centre of everything. Some chose to completely ignore the evidence before their eyes, claiming it was some trick of the telescope. The discovery of double stars was seen as a fault in the telescope!

Galileo gained many detractors. Since Newton's Laws of gravitation had not yet been formulated, detractors would claim that Galileo lacked any mechanism for holding the planets in orbit. Galileo's detractors could also claim the Moon as evidence--if the Moon revolves around us, so should everything else. The learned can be the most resistant to change. Today we know who was right, and 445 years after his birth Galileo is an example for today's scientist.


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Beginning of the End For Free Speech?

Physicists pose beneath Newton's apple tree in Cambridge, having just accepted the Guber Prize in cosmology. Peter Gruber is a former Hollywood studio head who now tries to do charitable work. The prize was awarded for discovering "dark energy" and the accelerating Universe. These are not bad people, but the dark genie they have unleashed has led others to warn that Dark Energy Is Bad For Astronomy. Speculation about repulsive energies has been so dominant that other important topics, like X-ray astronomy, have been crowded out. Hopefully Gruber will have some prize left for those who actually solve the problem.

The wondrous Kea is still waiting to begin her new job in Oxford. She has displayed great patience while being locked out of the UK due to immigration nonsense. At last word, processing for UK visas from New Zealand was being moved to Australia. How can the UK function when travellers are waylayed like this? The country does not function--it can not defend its borders, pay its bills or protect freedom of speech.

The controversial Dutch politician and filmmaker Geert Wilders was denied a visa for the UK. Unwilling to accept this decision, Wilders flew to Heathrow anyway and was sent back home by UK authorities. (Hint from experience: The Cadbury bars in the office vending machine make good souvenirs.) He has commited no crime other than being controversial. Whether we agree with all Wilder's views or not (we don't), this is an attack on freedom. Fortunately Kea has a high score on the points system and will in all likelihood be let in.

Britain has welcomed rabble-rousers from Karl Marx to Abu Hamza al Masri and Omar Bakri Muhammad. Al Masri gained British citizenship by marrying a woman who was already married. Among his preachings at the Finsbury Mosque, he claimed that the Shuttle Columbia accident was a punishment from the Almighty. He has collected thousands in welfare benefits for himself and his wives. Omar Bakri Muhammad collected 250,000 pounds in welfare before slipping away to Lebanon. The July 21 bombers had also received welfare payments. US intelligence now considers Britain to be the most dangerous source of terrorist plots. Britain's policies have kept good people out and let the wrong people in.

(As this goes to press, we learn that on February 3 HMS Vanguard of the nuclear submarine fleet blindly collided with a French submarine. Britain once had a Navy too.)

Though technology promises information at the speed of light, the dark energy of censorship still persists. One can only hope for the people in Britain, and hope that Kea will soon join them. If not, we have a Cadbury factory in Tasmania.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Something We Don't Know?

Happy Valentine's Day! Another nod to the wondrous Kea, who has also shown great patience with the world. She points out a new paper by Spanish physicists Antonio Ranada and Alfredo Tiemblo, The Pioneer Anomaly as a Quantum Cosmological Effect. See the post from September 007 about this anomaly, Pioneers. Ranada and Tiemblo explain the anomaly as a change in the rate of time. Change in the rate of time is mathematically equivalent to a changing speed of light!

The new issue of ASTRONOMY magazine puts Pioneer on the cover while asking, "Is There Something We Don't Know About Gravity? Spacecraft flybys and the Moon's orbit aren't following predictions. Whatever is causing this could usher in a new theory of gravity."

In addition to Pioneer, ASTRONOMY points to evidence that the Astronomical Unit, the distance from Earth to the Sun, appears to be growing. Estimates of planetary distances have many sources of error, so researchers make multiple measurements. Astronomers Georgij Krasinsky, Victor Brumberh and Elena Pitjeva of St. Petersurg compiled 204,000 observations to conclude that the AU was growing at about 15 meters per century. If the speed of light were slowing, the AU would appear to grow almost exactly as observed.

The ASTRONOMY article also points to lunar laser ranging. As readers of this blog know, an anomaly in the Moon's orbit is one clue that the speed of light is slowing down. The Lunar Laser Ranging Experiment has measured the Moon receding from Earth at 3.82 ± .07 cm/yr. Geology and paleontology can tell more precisely how the Moon’s orbit has changed. According to Bills and Ray, the Moon has been receding at 2.9 ± 0.6 cm/yr. As with Mercury, small discrepancies in orbits can be very significant. When the Moon appears to recede 1/3 faster than geology says, it is a serious anomaly.

If the speed of light slows, that would increase the time for light to return each year, making the Moon appear to recede faster as seen by LLRE.

Start with GM = tc^3

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

cdot(t) = (-1/3) (GM)^{1/3} T^{-4/3}

cdot/c = -1/3t

Given an estimated age of the Universe t = 13.7 Gyr, cdot/c is -1/(41.1 Gyr)

Multiplied by the Moon’s distance of 384,402 km, that distance will appear to increase an additional 0.935 cm per year. An anomaly in the Moon’s outward drift is precisely accounted for, indicating that c is slowing to this day.

Venturing out into the Universe forces us to change old ideas. The Pioneer anomaly has led to many theories, including changes in c. Apparent growth in the Astronomical Unit may be another indicator of change. The Lunar Laser Ranging Experiment may indicate that c is still slowing. There is also evidence from Type Ia supernovae and the "Faint Young sun." Science may be opening to change, even in the speed of light.

Another Happy Valentine from the new Carnival of Space!

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Satellite Collision

Thanks to the modellers at Analytical Graphics Inc., here is computer simulation of the satellite collision February 10. This was quite a subject of conversation at NASA, with some darkly hinting that Low Earth Orbit is not as safe a place as we think. The astronauts accept collision as part of the risk.

SpaceX Aims High

As we heard yesterday, the last flight of the Space Shuttle is scheduled for September 16, 2010. this could leave a 5-year gap before Orion is ready. Since January 10 SpaceX's Falcon 9 has been poised on a pad at Cape Canaveral. Video above shows an uncrewed Falcon 9 and Dragon spacecraft delivering cargo to ISS. The lack of an escape tower shows that this is an unmanned flight. SpaceX is prepared to fill the "gap" with an all-American spacecraft.

SpaceX's press release includes another cool video of humans riding a Dragon into orbit. Falcon 9 and Dragon will already be rated to carry living things like bugs or mice. Dragon will also be rated safe to carry humans in Space, as they will have to enter when Dragon is docked to ISS. The biggest item that needs to be developed is an escape tower.

SpaceX recently won a 1.6 billion+ contract to deliver cargo. If all goes well, by 2010 an unmanned Dragon will begin demonstration flights to ISS. For an additional 1.5 billion a human-rated Dragon could deliver astronauts to Space. this is a bargain that the United States should consider.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

STS-134 Is On

Way back in June 2008 this blog first suggested a Shuttle mission designated STS-134 to deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, A Sacrifice For AMS?Today NASA has officially put STS-134 on the launch manifest with a projected launch date of September 16, 2010. The idea of retiring a Shuttle in Space was seen as so revolting that there is now funding for a full 2-way mission with a full crew.

The person who suggested STS-134 now has an office at Johnson Space Center. Just last Monday I talked with astronaut Dave Wolf, who was heavily in favour of the added mission. Astronauts have a lot of influence on what flies--they love the AMS mission because it means new physics and seven more flight slots.

Happy birthday Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln! Today everyone considers Lincoln a great president, but in his time the country was literally divided over his leadership. Darwin was also considered crazy in his time. There are people out there today who still doubt Darwin, but we will never please everyone. 200 years from now some will still think that the speed of light is fixed, like the Earth.

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Friday, February 06, 2009

Wayne Hale Speaks Up

Former Shuttle program manager Wayne Hale publishes this blog. For the most part he repeats that the current Constellation architecture is best for the job. Last week he released this 10-minute video where a (fictional) NASA contractor is stifled at every turn. She has a better idea for a spacecraft, but she is (1) too junior, (2) working in spacecraft design, (3) working for a contractor that doesn't want to rock the boat. Nobody in her chain of command wants to question the current design.

"Recently I had a couple of events which affected my thinking on this. I have been out of the Shuttle Program manager job for almost a year now and a trusted coworker just a week ago told me that people in his organization had been prevented from giving me important alternative choices for some program choices that occurred a couple of years ago. This was staggering. It was happening right in front of me and I was totally unaware that people - who I trusted, who I hoped would trust me - kept their lips sealed because somebody in their middle management made it clear to them that speaking up would not be good."

What choices could Wayne Hale have been referring to?

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

Your Planet Shouldn't Exist

This terrarium is at the new California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. By ascending a series of passageways one passes through all levels of a rainforest, from underwater to above the treetops. Hopefully we will build such domes on the Moon someday.

San Francisco State University is often overlooked in favour of those other colleges across the Bay. At SFSU Geoffrey Marcy and Paul Butler became the first extrasolar planet hunters. At first no one believed their findings, and they had difficulty getting published. Today science recognises hundreds of planets in other solar systems. Dr. Debra Fischer continues the planet hunt at SFSU today. (Disclaimer: Dr. Marcy also taught in Berkeley, and gave the writer an A in Honours Physics.)

From the time of Pierre Laplace, scientists have thought that planets coalesce from rotating disks of gas surrounding stars. New computer simulations by Joseph Barranco of San Francisco State University call this old theory into question. Using hundreds of parallel processors, Barranco made the first 3D simulations of planet formation. These more complex simulations introduced turbulence from Coriolis forces and vertical shearing. Because of these forces, early planets would have been torn apart. According to the simulation, our planet should not exist.

The old theory of planet formation has long suffered flaws. If particles collide at orbital speeds, they would ricochet rather than stick together. Small particles would need the masses of mountains to form planets. Planet hunters have also found many “hot Jupiters,” giant planets orbiting very close to stars. Under the old theory, such worlds should not form. Heat from the star would boil their surfaces and tidal forces would tear them apart. The old theory of planet formation needs something else to work.

The Big Bang may have created many billions of tiny Black Holes. They would have formed from quantum fluctuations grown large by expansion of the Universe. A primordial Black Hole would have the mass of a mountain, yet be smaller than an atom. Quietly orbiting in Space, they would be very difficult to detect. Tiny holes could be ubiquitous, even within our solar neighbourhood.

When our solar system was nothing but a cloud of gas, small Black Holes would have drawn the gas into their influence. The Black Holes were too tiny to suck everything up, but the tiny amount they did eat made the rest grow hot. Eventually a Black Hole would be surrounded by rock with a hot center. This was the birth of the planets.

If our Earth contained a tiny Black Hole, outward radiation pressure would prevent us from being eaten. Earth’s centre would be a whirlpool of charged particles surrounding the Black Hole. Radiation from the core would reach the surface as volcanic heat. If the Black Hole rotated, it would generate a magnetic field whose axis would not necessarily be parallel with Earth’s spin axis. Our planet behaves exactly as if it contained a Black Hole.

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