Sunday, May 31, 2009


Wondrous Kea has spent the last week in a cosmology conference at Perimeter Institute in Ontario. She links to Glenn Starkman's talk, If the CMB is right, it is inconsistent with standard inflationary Lambda CDM. Starkman has been a voice crying out in the wilderness, pointing out that the inflationary paradigm is ruled out by both COBE and WMAP experiments. Here is the data graph, this time from David Spergel of the WMAP team. Even those people are asking whether the Universe is finite after all.

According to the inflationary paradigm, the Universe was initially small but expanded at warp speed, many times faster than light. Today it would be flat, like Earth. Density fluctuations would be the same at all scales. Reality intrudes: fluctuations are nearly zero beyond 60 degrees. This indicates curvature in the Universe as surely as a ship's sails disappearing over the horizon.

Why does this graph not get more attention? Physicists blindly follow the epicycles of inflated LCDM because no alternatives have been presented to them. In the past those alternatives had difficulty even getting published. The world is changing, and people are starting to wonder whether the Universe is curved or the speed of light can change. The data is consistent with a Universe of radius R = ct. Theory also predicts 4.507034% baryons and 23.87% dark mass, precisely as found by WMAP. A growing body of evidence supports the most surprising prediction, a changing speed of light.

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Friday, May 29, 2009


NASA is bending metal to build spacecraft for the Moon. Previously in Johnson Space Center Building 220 we saw a mockup Moonbase under construction. Today we have an exclusive look at a mockup of the Altair lander being built. Here is the airlock module and small model of the completed Altair.

The ascent and airlock modules are posed with a Spacesuit for scale. The designers chose to minimize the size of the ascent module. 4 people will have to spend a week in that little thing! For scientists, the weight of lunar samples that can be returned will be limited. We hope to include modern miniaturised microscopes so that the astronauts can choose which rocks are valuable enough to return. Altair is designed to return 100 kg of samples, but designer John Gruner said at the Lunar Planetary Science Conference that it can be raised to 250 kg.

The completed Altair will be big, nearly 4 stories tall. These platforms will allow engineers to rapidly stack the modules for different configurations. They are still not sure how payloads will be lowered to the surface. Altair will be the last Constellation spacecraft to be built, so the design is subject to change. If all goes well, 10 years from now people will again walk on the Moon.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Beagle 2 the Moon

The years 1968-69 were a very exciting time in Space. 1968 saw Apollo 7 launch into Earth orbit and Apollo 8 boldly circle the Moon. 40 years ago this month the Apollo 10 crew came within a few miles of the lunar surface. The Apollo and lunar module were respectively named Charlie Brown and Snoopy.

The 1960's were also the heyday of Charles Schulz' Peanuts comic strip. After the tragedy of Apollo 1, NASA adopted Snoopy as a safety mascot. Schulz first drew Snoopy as an astronaut for a pin awarded to exemplary employees. He also drew Snoopy for safety posters which appeared at NASA workcenters. Schulz thought that Snoopy's voyage into Space with Apollo 10 was the highlight of his successful life.

Today, the black & white Communications Carrier Assemblies that astronauts wear beneath their helmets have are known as "Snoopy caps." The Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, California is hosting a unique exhibit "To the Moon: Snoopy Soars With NASA" through July 20. The exhibit includes original drawings and NASA memorabilia from that exciting time. On June 27 they welcome special guest Rusty Schweickhart. Bring your skates, because the museum has a very nice ice skating rink.

Beagle 2 (named after Charles Darwin's ship) was the unsuccessful Mars lander that disappeared in 2003. We are still not sure if the lander actually reached Mars. Scientists here at Johnson Space Center have proposed Beagle 2 the Moon. This inexpensive mission would test the Beagle 2 science package on our satellite. We may someday hear from the Moon that the Beagle has landed.

NEXT: Looking forward, an exclusive look at a new lunar lander taking shape.

Mang's Bat Page hosts the new Carnival Of Space!

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

No Sex Pt II: Houston, We Have a Hit

Thanks to all those who made the last post one of the most-viewed ever. Before we return to scientific matters, here is a photo from the theatre poster now appearing all over Johnson Space Center. (I wonder who did that?) Houston, your last chance to see the play is this weekend!

On the meantime, Britain's government has proven that matter can implode into a Black Hole. Alistair Darling, Chancellor of the Exchequer, thinks he can solve the budget problem by raising the top tax rate to 50 percent. This drew protests from artists like Andrew Lloyd Webber and Michael Caine. We greatly admire Caine and would give him a warm welcome in Texas.

Today we learn that Alistair Darling has avoided paying taxes himself. He changed his address 4 times in 4 years to avoid the tax rules. Darling hired an accountant to show him how to avoid taxes, and made the taxpayer pay for the accountant! The Prime Minister claimed two different grace and favour homes to avoid taxes, while enjoying a free home at Downing Street. They have produced a man-made Black Hole, and Britain is spiralling into it.

Speaking of accountants and tax avoidance, the company's next play is THE PRODUCERS!

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Monday, May 25, 2009

No Sex Please, We're British!

The unforgettable words of Lubos Motl from 2006:

"This is another contribution to the discussion whether physics PhDs must inevitably understand basics of modern physics. Well, they may have other virtues, of course. ;-)"

The Number One Players began performing for NASA employees at Johnson Space Center in the 1980's. In 1991 the Company moved to the beautiful Harbour Playhouse, largest live theatre in the area. The farce NO SEX PLEASE, WE'RE BRITISH ran for 8 years in London. This photo, from a Galveston paper, features Brian Treybig and Rebecca Bauerlein. In the centre, as Susan the Call Girl, is a familiar face--the programme says she is a scientist at JSC and a member of Screen Actors Guild. Due to overwhelming crowds, NO SEX has been extended to May 31.

Many, many scientists secretly engage in prostitution. This usually involves following fashionable ideas, like strings or dark energies, to get funding and jobs. Because of the rampant prostitution in science, more logical ideas like a changing speed of light are willfully ignored. If an actress is able to play one onstage, she may be unconcerned about becoming a real prostitute.

The real British government is madder than any farce. Previously this blog has sadly noted the Orwellian incompetence of the Home Office, Send In the Clowns and Borders as a Weapon of Censorship. Like a character in our farce, the Home Secretary's husband (who was already on the public payroll as a Parliamentary Aide) was caught watching dirty movies at home alone and charging them as expenses. Since the above posts, Immigration Minister Phil Woolas (appointed by the Home Secretary) was caught charging women's shoes, nail polish and panty liners to the taxpayer. The same week the Prime Minister's makeup notes were left in a taxicab by a bungling aide. (Gordon Brown uses Clinique.) Many other MP's have made the public pay for second homes they did not need. Since these expenses were revealed in the Daily Telegraph, public outrage at Parliament has exploded.

On May 14, Speaker Michael Martin resigned in disgrace, the first Parliament Speaker to resign in 314 years. Martin, like every other parliamentary scofflaw, is still voting and drawing salary. While Martin's expenses were relatively small, he covered up the scandal by making expense reports a State secret. When the story broke, Martin hinted at prosecuting those who leaked the information.

The secret expense reports were leaked to the Daily Telegraph by brave ex-SAS officer John Wick and American expatriate Henry Gewanter. Gewanter now fears arrest, deportation or worse.

‘I am an American. I was brought up there and I believe that a free Press is the most important and the only defence of our personal freedoms, our liberty and democracy.

‘This Government has been systematically cutting back on our freedoms, our liberty and democracy for some years. That is why I have done it and why I have done it for nothing.

‘Your Government seems to think that people like me are about to sell the stuff to criminals and terrorists and are undermining democracy, but I am not. I am exposing these people for what they are.’

He said his involvement would mean ‘a real serious problem. I’ll get deported or I’ll get locked up or they’ll make life miserable for me for ever’.

On June 4 Britain elects representatives to the European Parliament. The Labour Party is polling below 20%, behind even the UK Independence Party! UKIP believes that Britain should stop surrendering her sovereignity before it is too late. Already the Queen has expressed her great displeasure to Gordon Brown. If Labour does even half as badly as expected, Brown will be forced to call an election he will certainly lose.

A sure sign of dictatorship is that mediocre people rise to the top. The Prime Minister, his Home Secretary, Immigration Minister and entire government are going down faster than a cheap hooker. In the meantime, someone is having a wonderful, wonderful time spoofing the British. She has been cheered by hundreds and will be appearing for other audiences worldwide. Who is smiling now?


Thursday, May 21, 2009


Johnson Space Center Building 220 was once home to the X-38 Crew Return Vehicle, which unfortunately was cancelled in 2002. Let us wish better luck for this project. Every human being has contemplated the Moon, and humans have dreamed about living there for decades. In the 1950's Arthur Clarke proposed a lunar base composed of inflatable modules. Today, there are serious planes to finally go to the Moon and stay. For the first time, NASA is building full-scale mockups of a lunar base!

Here for the first time we see the mockups under construction. To the left is a cylindrical habitat, and in the background is a toroidal module. Between the modules, the Lunar Electric Rover is poised for docking with its wheels pointed sideways.

This cylindrical habitat module would be carried in one piece atop a lander like Altair. How it would be lowered from a 3-story tall lander is still being explored. Living space may get cramped in here, for the diameter is even smaller than ISS modules.

The interior of the toroidal module offers much more space. In this concept, a central core would be placed on the Moon and the outer volume would be inflatable. This concept offers much more living Space, and is close to Arthur Clarke's proposal. The wait has taken decades, but this time a lunar outpost may finally happen.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009


How much is a trillion? Watching old episodes of COSMOS, it is easy to recall Carl Sagan marvelling at “billions and billions.” Soon Americans will face a proposed annual deficit of 1.8 TRILLION dollars. This is a big, big number--so far removed from our experience that few can conceive of it. Such numbers are beyond astronomical, for previously only physicists or astronomers had to use them. Perhaps someone thinks that voters are not intelligent enough to grasp 1.8 trillion. It is science’s duty to explain the meaning of trillions.


One trillion is 10 raised to the twelfth power, 10^12, 1 followed by 12 zeroes or 1,000,000,000,000. A million, million dollars are very difficult to put into perspective. A million dollar bills laid end to end would form a row 156 kilometres long. To make a trillion, each dollar in that row would be the base of a million-strong column. Each of those columns would reach 65 kilometres. A trillion dollar bills would cover an area of 10,000 square kilometers, large as the States of Hawaii or Massachusetts.

Such a pile of money would truly touch the sky. The paper that makes up dollar bills is 0.01 cm thick. If a trillion dollars were stacked one atop another, they would reach to 100,000 kilometres, more than 1/4 the distance to the Moon. Just stacking those dollars would create a Space Elevator and ensure perpetual access to Space. A trillion dollars would build a city-sized settlement on the Moon or a constellation of solar power satellites. Would the taxpayer get as much for a 1.8 trillion-dollar deficit?

Possibly the only way to envision astronomical numbers is through astronomy. Our Milky Way galaxy contains about 250 billion stars. The number of galaxies in the Universe is also in the hundreds of billions. The years 2000-2008 contained the highest US deficits in history. The highest of these deficits was 450 billion, roughly equal to the number of stars in a galaxy. The projected 2009 deficit is double the record, over 900 billion. The proposed deficit of 1.8 trillion is double 2009’s deficit, 7 times the number of stars in our galaxy! Humans on our tiny dot have barely the vision to conceive of such numbers, much less borrow them.

The proposed deficit is 6000 dollars for every woman, man and child in the US. Only 100 million Americans actually pay federal tax, so each would incur 18,000 dollars of additional debt in a single year. This would add to the 11 trillion dollars of existing US national debt; over 100,000 dollars for each taxpayer. In addition to his or her personal debt, each taxpayer already owes enough for a 4-year college degree, a light plane or a very nice car.

The deficit cannot be blamed on one political party. It grew during 2000-2008 and doubled in 2009, when one party was in power. One reason for the spike was the 700 billion dollar TARP bank “bailout,” signed by the same party’s President. The 787 billion-dollar “stimulus” package was pushed by the other party’s President. Many more billions were spent on "bailouts" for well-connected companies "too big to fail." (see below) These vast sums spent by both parties did not prevent the US from sliding into recession or stop today's unemployment from growing.


The downside of a deficit is inflation. If a government prints money excessively, it erodes the value of a currency and causes prices to rise. In extreme cases, like 1930’s Germany or Zimbabwe today, a currency can become virtually worthless. The last period of US inflation was in the 1970’s, beyond the memory of many voters. If deficits continue to grow, they may learn the meaning of inflation.

In the late 1970’s, when high prices were on everyone’s mind, physicist Alan Guth and others came up with the inflationary paradigm. According to this idea the early Universe inflated at warp speed, many times faster than light. Inflation had the convenient property of being untestable. No experiment could time-travel to the first 10^(-33) seconds of the Universe, or approach the titanic energies near the Big Bang.

Inflation would violate both the First Law of Thermodynamics (conservation of energy) and Relativity’s stipulation that nothing travels faster than light. The various inflationary theories rely on “inflatons,” scalar fields and other entities that have never been seen in Nature. Despite its lack of success the inflationary paradigm persists, crowding out more promising ideas like a changing speed of light.


This explanation of trillions may be a voice crying out in the wilderness. Few will likely read it; or it will be crowded out by noise in the media. Like inflation, a faulty idea can gain momentum of its own, drawing attention from a changing speed of light. A government will try to pass a 1.8 trillion-dollar deficit over a public which cannot conceive of such a number. The deficit, and the 11 trillion dollar national debt, will be passed on to our generation.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Too Big To Fail

If an enterprise has truly damaged the planet, maybe it should be allowed to fail.

NEXT: The meaning of "Trillions"


Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Week Among the 4.507034%

This has been another busy week. Monday saw the launch of STS-125 from the Johnson Space Center Building 2. Wednesday saw the docking with Hublle Space Telescope from Mission Control. Both Wednesday and Thursday had an opportunity to meet with the members of Expedition 19, Sandra Magnus and Mike Fincke. They showed some incredible HD video of the mission, also the STS-119 and STS-126 missions that visited while they were aboard ISS. Thursday was privileged to meet former Shuttle Program Manager Wayne Hale, who was please that I ride a motorcycle. During lunch I often go over to Mission Control, especially during EVA's. More photos coming soon.

Not to be forgotten, both Herschel and Planck launched together this week. The Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) measures the proportion of baryonic matter at 4.4 +/- 0.3%. Planck should narrow that down to +/- 0.1%, closer to the prediction of 4.507034%.

The old inflationary paradigm predicts that the Universe is flat, like Earth. Temperature fluctuations should be the same at all scales. Both predecessor spacecraft, COBE and WMAP show that fluctuations are zero beyond 60 degrees. This shows that the Universe is spherical as certainly as a ship's sails disappearing over the horizon. Inflation's prediction is ruled out by both COBE and WMAP.

The Hubble, now under repair, shows that either the universe is accelerating OR that the speed of light slows down. So far the former interpretation gets discussed everywhere but the latter seems nearly ignored. Shiny new instruments are great, but when will humans learn to interpret what is around them?

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Friday, May 08, 2009

"Borders as a Weapon of Censorship"

From time to time we defer to brave and wondrous Kea. She is still blogging from her post at Oxford, despite the silliness of Britain's Home Office. Many scientists have missed appointments because of silly immigration rules. 2 months ago, Send in the Clowns, this blog reported than even circus performers are prevented from joining their tours. What a grave terrorist threat that circus clowns pose to Britain! The real clowns, the real threats to freedom are in government.

Speaking of clowns, California radio personality Michael Savage has been banned from Britain solely for his views. Savage had no plans to visit Britain, and has not done so for at least 20 years. As far as is known, he has never advocated violence nor been conviced of violent acts. Michael Savage is just a funnyman who poses no threat. Though his show is not even broadcast in Britain, the Home Office has singled out a private citizen out for defamation.

How does Home Secretary Jacqui Smith justify this laughable ruling? "I think it's important that people understand the sorts of values and sorts of standards that we have, the fact that it's a privilege to come and the sort of things that mean you won't be welcome in this country," Smith told a GMTV interviewer, "and what's more we will make public those people we have excluded."

Jacqui Smith's dictatorial rules have turned even Labour allies against her. Jameel Jaffer, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, told the San Francisco Chronicle that the UK was prepared to "use their borders as a weapon of censorship. It also deprives the citizens of that country of their ability to hear dissenting views."

The Gurkha Rifles are among Britain's proudest defenders. Recruited from their Himalayan homeland, they are known far and wide for their bravery and trademark curved swords. A new ruling by the aforementioned Home Office strips them of the historic right to settle in Britain. Gurkha Justice Campaign. The Gurkhas have found a spokesperson in the Absolutely Fabulous Joanna Lumley:

"Via a single-page document published on the internet, the Government delivered a wicked blow to loyal and brave British Army Gurkha veterans.

"The bond between the British people and the Gurkhas is paid in the blood of 50,000 of them who died for our freedom. The Gurkhas stood by this country through its darkest hours; now, those Gurkhas call on every Briton in their own hour of need.

"The British people are not fair-weather friends. The Government has miscalculated the depth of support from the public. The new policy is deliberately designed to exclude nearly every Gurkha who retired before 1997. Gurkha Riflemen were limited to a maximum of 15 years’ service in the Brigade, yet the new immigration policy requires that a Gurkha must have served for 20 years before he can live here.

"Ministers now say that Gurkhas can live here if they have family in Britain — but Gurkhas’ families were previously excluded from Britain. They also say that they can live here if they have served in Britain (not in war zones) continuously for three years — yet Gurkhas toured Britain for only two years and their stay here was broken by tours of duties in war zones."

On April 9 Britain's Counterrorism Chief Bob Quick resigned. He was photographed by the press entering 10 Downing Street carrying a document marked SECRET in the open. The paper detailed to the world a plan to round up 11-12 terrorism suspects. 10 of the suspects were Pakistani nationals who had entered the UK on "student" visas. The Home Office let them in but keeps Gurkhas and others out. Bob Quick, who will retire to a million-pound pension, was appointed by the Home Secretary. Jacqui Smith's husband, Richard Timney, is also on the government payroll as Smith's parliamentary aide. Recently Timney confessed to watching adult films in their home, then charging them as expenses.

Innocent people have been locked out of Britain for nothing more than their opinions. This is truly a form of censorship. From entertainers to Gurkha veterans, noone is safe. Who voted for these Orwellian regulations? Who desires a government that has bankrupted the UK while making taxpayers pay for minister's second homes? If Britain's science and democratic government are to advance, the Home Secretary and those around her must be shown the door.


Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Let's Light This Candle

In Houston every Mexican restaurant celebrates Cinco de Mayo. May 5 is also the anniversary of Alan Shepard's suborbital flight from 1961. When launch control was not sure whether to proceed, Shepard said "Let's get off our %&*# and light this candle!" In 2004 Spaceship One repeated the feat of launching one pilot into suborbital flight. Many have bought tickets in hope of following in Shepard's footsteps. We wish them all a lighted candle.
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