Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Candidates and Veterans

Monday during the Newspace Conference at NASA Ames in California: Seven classroom teachers are named astronaut candidates in a privately funded Teacher-in-Space program. Here they are introduced by our friend THE SPACE SHOW's David Livingston. As Christa McAuliffe once said, I touch the future.

Wednesday night at Ames a panel of NASA veterans remembered Apollo.

Friday's main event at Space Center Houston featured a rare appearance by Neil Armstrong. The crowd went sky high when Neil took the stage.His short speech told of his group of astronaut selectees, the "9 nearly perfect." Armstrong also emphasized the team effort that made Apollo fly.

Armstrong was followed by Buzz Aldrin with his own opinions on the future in Space. Buzz admires the Shuttles and thinks we should keep them operational until a replacement is ready. He thinks a crew transport should be based on the X-37, X-38, or HL-20 lifting bodies. Buzz wants international partners cooperating in settling the Moon, with NASA reaching toward asteroids, Phobos and eventually Mars.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Splashdown With Neil and Buzz

Back at Johnson Space Center from NASA Ames today, pictures coming soon!

Tonight at Space Center Houston we are celebrating the anniversary of the Apollo 11 splashdown. JSC Director Mike Coats began by introducing Charlie Bolden, who arrived this week. We then heard from Congresswoman Barbara Lee, then a panel of veterans: George Abbey, Gerald Griffin, Chris Kraft, Gene Kranz and Glynn Lunney.

Then came the highlight of a star-studded evening, appearances by both NEIL ARMSTRONG and BUZZ ALDRIN. The Space Center crowd went sky high when Neil took the stage. His short speech told of his group of astronaut selectees, the "9 nearly perfect." He also emphasized the team effort that made Apollo fly.

Buzz, in contrast, sketched out his detailed plans for exploring Space. Buzz admires the Shuttles and thinks we should keep them operational until a replacement is ready. He thinks a crew transport should be based on the X-37, X-38, or HL-20 lifting bodies. Buzz wants international partners cooperating in settling the Moon, with NASA reaching toward asteroids, Phobos and eventually Mars. This evening of Apollo veterans will be remembered a long time.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

One Way to Mars

Today July 21 to July 23 is the Lunar Science Forum at NASA Ames in California. Nearly everyone in Moon research is here. Pictures coming soon.

Monday afternoon in the closing session of the Newspace conference (also at Ames) we heard from Ames Director Pete Worden. Many people in the Space biz are convinced that the way to settle Mars is to send someone one-way. Saturday I discussed the idea with former NASA engineer Jim Blaine, who has been promoting the idea. Jim thinks that his "Lone Eagle" plan would unite humanity. A human going to another planet would be one of history's great adventures.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Apollo 40th

Monday was climax of the Newspace Conference here at NASA Ames. Representatives of the Space industry; along with the 10,000 who attended the Moonfest; remember the significance of this date. The Apollo program was an enormous bounty for science. A whole generation of scientists were inspired by seeing people reach for the Moon. American schools began emphaising science and math to stay ahead of the world. The most productive years in particle physics, leading to discovery of the J-psi particle, coincided with the height of Apollo. The program may have left us the biggest gift of all.

The Lunar Laser Ranging Experiment left behind by Armstrong and Aldrin has been worth the price of the program. LLRE has allowed precision mesasurements of the Moon's distance, measurements of the gravitational constant, and one more check of Relativity, 400 years ago Galileo suggested measuring the speed of light using lanterns on distant hilltops. Following Galileo's idea, LLRE may have provided some important data.

LLRE reports the Moon receding at 3.82 +/- 0.07 cm/yr, anoimolously high. This implies that the age of the lunar orbit is only 1.55 Gyr. Apollo Moon rocks are over 4.5 Gyr old, proving to science that the Moon and planets are at least that old. Multiple clues from geology and paleontology (which will be described later) indicate that the Moon has receded at only about 2.8 cm/yr. How can LLRE be so far off? The answer may be as obvious as the Moon in the sky.

If the speed of light is slowing according to GM=tc^3, time for light signals to return would increase each year, making the Moon appear to recede faster as seen by LLRE. If the Moon's distance were fixed, LLRE would still report it receding at 0.935 cm/yr. change in c precisely accounts for the discrepancy. Apollo may have proven that the speed of light slows as we speak.

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Sunday, July 19, 2009


Thanks to the magic of jet travel, this weekend we celebrated the 40th Anniversary of Apollo 11 at both Johnson Space Center and Ames Research Center in California. Saturday afternoon was a reunion of ED, the engineers who made Apollo fly. That evening was "Fly Me to the Moon," a public celebration at University of Houston Clear Lake. We saw Apollo footage introduced by Flight Director Glenn Lunney and his son Brian, who is a flight director today!

Sunday Ames Research Center was open for a Moonfest. On the parade ground were many exhibits and a rap band doing space rap!. Speakers included scientists Paul Spudis and Astronaut Don Pettit. Over 10,000 people showed up at Ames, proving how much enthusiasm exists for the Moon.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Apollo 11 Launch

From the NASA files, the launch of Apollo 11 on July 16, 1969. Who would have believed that humans can accomplish a feat like this? Prior to Apollo even some NASA engineers doubted that it could be done. They came close to failure many times, but this was the result.

Will we see a simliar scene in 10 years time? Some are starting to doubt that we can reach the Moon by 2020. Tuesday SpaceX reached orbit for the second time and Wednesday the Shuttle Endeavour finally launched. What an exciting time!

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Armageddon and Asteroids

"The Bible calls this day "Armageddon" - the end of all things. And yet, for the first time in the history of the planet, a species has the technology to prevent its own extinction. All of you praying with us need to know that everything that can be done to prevent this disaster is being called into service. The human thirst for excellence, knowledge; every step up the ladder of science; every adventurous reach into space; all of our combined modern technologies and imaginations; even the wars that we've fought have provided us the tools to wage this terrible battle. Through all of the chaos that is our history; through all of the wrongs and the discord; through all of the pain and suffering; through all of our times, there is one thing that has nourished our souls, and elevated our species above its origins, and that is our courage."

--The President in ARMAGEDDON--

This fanciful rover vehicle was built for the movie. Euro-Disney's ARMAGEDDON attraction also takes us inside the movie's broken down Russian Space Station. Through special effects we experience collisions, fires and depressurisation! The artists were inspired by the Russian MIR station, which experienced all three.

Though the movie is fun, it contains more technical errors than STAR WARS. A wheeled vehicle could not get traction in the low gravity of an asteroid, so it has upward-pointing jets pinning it to the surface! Even small asteroids "whoosh" by in the movie's vacuum of Space. One forecast, however, may have been ahead of its time. The 2 movie spacecraft are launched around the Moon and to an asteroid atop standard Shuttle Enternal Tanks and 4-segment Solid Rocket Boosters. This is very much like the "Sidemount" concept being studied by NASA and the Augustine Commission.

The hardware being built for the Moon can also take humans to an asteroid. After movies like ARMAGEDDON and DEEP IMPACT, such a mission would fire the public imagination. Despite their danger, asteroids could also be the source of limitless resources. Even a small asteroid could potentially contain more iron than humans have used in all history! Some scientists believe that asteroid Ceres contains more water than Earth. Realistic versions of this vehicle could someday be drilling for minerals on the Moon and asteroids.

UPDATE: Congratulations to the crew of Endeavour and Godspeed for a successful mission!

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Congratulations to SpaceX for a second successful flight of Falcon 1 into orbit! Note the "Columbiad" cannon on Space Mountain. Jules Verne foresaw it all!

The "Mysteries of the Nautilus" is unique to Euro-Disney. California Disneyland put the sets of 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA on display until the 1960's. Under the guidance of Hollywood propmaster (and LEAGUES fan) Tom Scherman, Disney's Nautilus has been rebuilt in the lagoon alongside Space Mountain. With a plot that is actually better than the novel, the 1956 movie is a true classic.

We descend "underwater" to explore the interior, including Nemo's cabin. Captain Nemo, being an independent explorer, relied on neither Paris nor Greenwich for longitude. As in the movie, distances on the chart are measured from his base at Vulcania.
Verne described the Nautilus as spindle-shaped. Originally Walt Disney wanted a streamlined hull, like modern subs. Production Designer Peter Ellenshaw added the barbed fins and Victorian detailing that filmgoers fell in love with. In Verne's novel the salon, dining room and library were separate compartments. The movie combined them into one big set. An animatronic giant squid lurks outside the viewports, occasionally approaching the ship.

Verne wrote that Nautilus used electric motors, but was unclear about the source of electricity. In 1956 the US Navy had built a real Nautilus, and Disney made the movie sub atomic-powered.

Verne dreamed about a limitless source of energy. As late as 1909 if someone had lectured about the future of energy they would have talked about coal and oil. Though the world had not yet taken notice, in 1905 a scientist had written E=mc^2. By 1945 humans had built both nuclear reactors and an atomic bomb. In 1954 the real Nautilus was launched.

If someone in 2009 lectures about the future they may talk about solar, power satellites, and the always-distant possibility of controlled fusion. Already we know of far greater sources. Nuclear fusion turns only 0.7% of its fuel into energy. Matter falling into a Black Hole can turn almost 50% into energy. Instead of scarce Helium-3 the fuel could be anything, even old issues of National Geographic. The food that a single Frenchwoman eats, about 1 ton per year, could provide all the electricity needs of Europe! All we need is to capture a single microscopic Black Hole. That could be nearer than we think.

The access point for the nuclear reactor is visible between the aft personnel hatch and the skiff. As we wait in line for Space Mountain, Verne's Nautilus provides wonder and much food for thought. NEXT: Death by asteroid?

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Shadow of the Moon and Wonder Of It All

STS-127 attempted to launch bot Saturday and Sunday nights. After each day's launch was scrubbed, the evening was not lost. Saturday night, University of Houston Clear Lake (adjacent to JSC) played the documentary SHADOW OF THE MOON, introduced by Flight Controller Glenn Lunney. The movie told the intimate story of 8 men who landed on the Moon. Only 9 moonwalkers survive, and their experiences are priceless.

Sunday night at 8:00 PM Space Center Houston's IMAX theatre was host to the new film THE WONDER OF IT ALL. Way back in May 2008 we previewed this fine film at ISDC in Wahington. WONDER also features interviews with the men who walked on the Moon. Here director Jeffrey Roth answers questions with Apollo 7 astronaut Walter Cunningham (who looks great, by the way).

Another launch attempt is scheduled for 6:51 PM ET Monday. Our hopes still travel with the astronauts into Space.

UPDATE: At about 6:30 PM EST, we received a NO GO for weather. They will try again Wednesday. Meanwhile in the Pacific, SpaceX is counting down to launch Falcon 1 into orbit. What an exciting week!

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Disney in Paris

Each Disney park is a bit different, which makes it fun to visit them all. Disneyland Resort Paris emphasises the European roots of fairy tales, starting with the castle.

Tomorrowland has become Discoveryland, inspired by France's native son Jules Verne. The decor is 19th century steampunk, full of brass and rivets. A redesigned Space Mountain blasts you off in a cannon like FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON. The Hyperion airship from Disney's ISLAND AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD was inspired by the French Lebaudy airships of 100 years ago.

Not everything in Discoveryland is steampunk-- this X-wing fighter decorates the Star Tours outpost. There is no monorail, but the park has a rail station served by TGV and RER from Paris. In Europe the dream of superfast trains has already come true. NEXT: Mysteries of the Nautilus.

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Change Coming

Thursday was a meeting with JSC Director Mike Coats. He was full of praise for incoming administrator Charlie Bolden. Not only were Coats and Bolden both astronauts, but they were in the same class at Annapolis years ago. There are possible changes to the Constellation program. The Orion shape is here to stay but can also fit on alternate boosters. As this is being written STS-127 is poised for launch after a delay from lightning Saturday. This is a very exciting time to be at NASA.

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Ole Roemer and the Observatoire

For the "Invisible Universe" conference, Paris Observatory was location of a welcoming ceremony Sunday and a farewell cocktail Friday. The grounds contain a line marking the Prime Meridian. For many years navigators disagreed whether to measure longitude from here or Greenwich. Eventually Britain's mastery of the seas led the world to adopt the Greenwich Observatory as Prime Meridian.

For centuries scientists disagreed whether light had a finite speed at all. Aristotle and even Kepler believed that light travelled instantaneously. This was once a reasonable assumption, for light travels so fast that to most observers it seems instantaneous. Galileo suggested stationing observers on distant hilltops with lanterns to determine if there was a time delay. This would have been difficult for Galileo, because a good clock had not been invented!

Young astronomer Ole Roemer came to work at this observatory in 1672, working for Dominic Cassini. At the time there was an anomaly in observations of the Galilean moon Io. The time when the moon emerged from behind Jupiter appeared strangely delayed. Cassini ordered his staff to make more precise observations to resolve the puzzle. Roemer realized that, if light had a finite speed it would take time to cross Io's orbit, delaying the moon's apparent emergence. Using data from this observatory, Roemer was first to measure the speed of light.

Having made a great discovery, Roemer was unable to convince his elders. Cassini was a distinguished astronomer in his own right, but believed that light travelled instantaneously. Finally in 1675 Roemer was bold enough to present the results on his own. He also predicted that on November 9, 1676 Io would appear at 5:35:45 rather than 5:25:45 as astronomers had calculated. Though Roemer's prediction was correct, Cassini and others who followed him insisted that there was no speed of light. It was 50 years before other experiments proved that light had a finite speed.

As scientists once believed that light travelled instantaneously, today they say that its speed is finite but fixed. This was once a reasonable assumption, for channge in c is so slow that to most observers it seems constant. Observations of high-redshift supernovae indicate that light has slowed over time. This result is corroborated by measurements of solar luminosity and light signals reflected from Earth's moon. We will not have to wait 50 years to prove that the speed of light is slowing.

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Wednesday, July 08, 2009


As promised, photos from Paris and the "Invisible Universe" meeting. Here is the view from UNESCO headquarters, the conference site. The parade ground lies in front of Ecole Militaire, where French officers are trained.

Eiffel Tower from Champ Du Mars. In 1783 the Montgolfier Brothers launched their first manned balloon from this site. Since radios were introduced a century ago, the tower has been a natural site for transmitting antennas. Signals radiate outward at the speed of light. Space and Time are one phenomenon, also related by the speed of light. If an event is outside this expanding sphere, its separation is spacelike-the tower's signal is too late to affect that event. If you are "within the sound of my voice" our separation is timelike, literally a matter of time. From this simple principle (without a fixed c) one can derive all the equations of the Lorentz tranformation.

Wednesday the scientists took a boat tour down the Seine and around Ile St. Louis. A long day of meetings leaves one worse for wear. On a hot Summer night crowds gathered around the riverbanks. In the cafe atmosphere of Paris, scientists discussed new ideas like a changing speed of light.

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Saturday, July 04, 2009

Paris in the Summer When It Sizzles

The weather in Paris has been quite warm this week, around 80 F. After Houston and 100 F temperatures, the weather seems cool. The climate is getting better for new ideas in physics. The "Invisible Universe" conference heard a variety of alternatives to cosmology's standard model. MOND received particular attention, culminating in a long talk by John Moffatt Thursday. Though the majority still believes in Dark Matter, a small group of researchers worldwide are still studying MOND. It is pleasing that other ideas are bieng heard and considered.

Focus on a cosmic constant as the explanation for "dark energy" has led science nowhere. Scientists are now considering a number of soultions including modifications to gravity. Alternative ideas face a high barrier in matching the "predictions" of LCDM. Soon science will learn of a Theory which actually predicts the standard parameters, and also predicts a changing speed of light.

Proportion of baryonic matter is predicted as 4.507034%, where WMAP has found 4.4 +/- 0.3%

The amount of dark mass in galaxies and clusters is 23.87%, where WMAP has found 23 +/- 4%

That leaves 71.62% for other stuff, where WMAP has found 73 +/- 4%

In solving the problem of "dark energy," GM=tc^3 has a very bright future. Pictures from Paris coming soon!


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