Tuesday, January 26, 2010


The Puffin is a project of NASA's Langley Research Center. It is designed to fly entirely on electricity, a far more efficient form of power than combustion. Without its pilot, Puffin will weigh only 180 kg. This Spring the designers plan on unveiling a 1/3 scale mockup. Who wouldn't want one of these in the garage? Electric flight may be closet than we think!


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Lakes of Mars

On May 25, 2008 the Phoenix lander touched down in the Green Valley of Vastitas Borealis at a latitude of 68 degrees North. Landing near the Arctic North of Mars, Phoenix returned images of ice just beneath the surface. With a planned lifetime of 3 months, Phoenix continued transmitting for 5 months before going silent to the Martian Winter. Today JPL scientists are trying to re-establish contact. The Odyssey orbiter will complete 30 overflights this week, with more passes planned for February and March.

This week French scientists have concluded that water ice from Planum Borum, the polar ice cap, is exceptionally pure. Data from the Shallow Radar (SHARAD) instrument about the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter points to 95 percent purity. The Martian North would be an excellent place for humans to settle and stay. a settler could bet her life on finding water beneath the surface.

Calcium carbonates found by Phoenix are more evidence of a warm, wet past for Mars. Abundant photos point to ancient lakes and stream beds. A lake bed is difficult to spot from orbit, so even more may exist. This adds to evidence from meteorites that early Mars had conditions suitable for life. Billions of years ago the planet may have been awash with water.

The "Faint Sun" hypothesis speculates that the early Sun was only about 75% as bright as today. Earth and Mars would have been frozen solid, making evolution of life unlikely. Abundant evidence from both planets shows that they were both warm enough for life. Since the Sun turns fuel to energy according to E=mc^2, a higher speed of light would have made solar luminosity nearly equal to today. Ancient lakes on Mars are more evidence that the speed of light has changed.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010


For friends at Car Lust, this is the "Landram" vehicle from the classic 1978-79 BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. This episode, "Gun on Ice Planet Zero" made the most extensive use of this vehicle. The Landram was based upon the Thiokol "Imp" snow vehicle. Thiokol earned a mention in GALACTICA's closing credits, and also won the contract for the Space Shuttle solid rocket boosters!


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Had Enough Yet?

January 7, 2010

We are always concerned with Earth's climate. NASA's Terra satellite made this image of the British Isles completely blanketed in snow. The barely visible grey spots are Manchester, Birmingham and London. Most of the country experienced nighttime temperatures of -10 C and lower. This has led to shortages of fuel oil and salt for roads. These people need better leaders.


Friday, January 08, 2010


One year ago January 15, 2009 US Airways Flight 1549 made an emergency landing in the Hudson River. Monday morning January 4 we had the honour of welcoming Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger to Johnson Space Center. Introducing him, JSC Director Michael Coats noted that NASA astronauts are also trained in dead-stick landings. Sullenberger's father let him stay home from school to watch Mercury flights. He was inspired by the precision of engineering and the freedom of flight. Later in the day Sullenberger visited Mission Control and spoke on the telephone with Expedition 22 astronauts.

With a lifetime of experience in safety, Sullenberger has learned many valuable lessons:

"There's always a way to make your own little part of the world a little better. Now, I know - I acknowledge - that faced with the enormities of the world's complexities and its issues, it sometimes feels easy to give up. Sometimes, it looks like facing new challenges is akin to emptying the ocean with a teaspoon. But when you choose - and it is a choice - to make positive differences to the things you can control, you can bring benefit to the world."
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