Monday, January 30, 2012

T Minus 1 Day in Florida

With the retirement of the Shuttles, NASA layoffs and a general lack of direction, it has been easy to believe that Washington does not care for spaceflight. Thanks to the Florida primary, for the last week Space has been an issue in the US. Newt Gingrich, with the audacity of hope, called for a Moonbase by the year 2021. Last week, Space an Issue For 2012? this blog suggested that Mitt Romney come up with a turnaround strategy. Along with a changing speed of light, this prediction has come true.

Friday a letter supporting Romney appeared signed by eight Space notables. These included Mike Griffin, former NASA administrator and architect of the Constellation Program. The list also included Eric Andersen, CEO of Space Adventures, astronauts Gene Cernan and Bob Crippen. In October 2010 Cernan, Neil Armstrong and Jim Lovell signed their own letter severely criticizing what has happened to NASA. Cernan has also called upon NASA administrator Charlie Bolden to resign.

Text of Letter from

"The U.S. space program is a strategic national asset, which makes critical contributions to our scientific knowledge, technological innovation, economic competitiveness, national security, and international leadership. We have watched with dismay as President Obama dismantled the structure that was guiding both the government and commercial space sectors, while providing no purpose or vision or mission. This failure of leadership has thrust the space program into disarray and triggered a dangerous erosion of our technical workforce and capabilities. In short, we have a space program unworthy of a great nation."

Newt Gingrich's call for a Moonbase ignited a debate about Space. The quick response, with experts on board, shows Mitt Romney's organizational skills. Unlike Gingrich, Romney has not yet offered a specific goal for Space. The competitiveness of this race has forced the Space issue into the open. Whatever the results of tomorrow's primary, whoever ends up in the White House, he will have a promise to keep.

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Friday, January 27, 2012

Witness For the Prosecution

Tabitha Clegg, the eccentric witness in Agatha Christie's WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION, playing onstage in Houston this weekend. More about expert witnesses coming soon!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Moon in 2021?

"Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed."

On July 20, 1969 humanity established a base on the Moon. Achieving that goal accelerated human science, from smaller microprocessors to evidence for a changing speed of light. Thousands were inspired to study math and science. Not by coincidence, human achievement flowered in the time of the Moon landings. Tranqulity Base was soon evacuated, but could be established again. A permanent base on the Moon is simply a matter of will.

Continuing the election story, a gauntlet has been laid. Tuesday in Florida, candidate Newt Gingrich vowed to start a base on the Moon by the end of his second term, the year 2021. Plans for the Moon have been seduced and abandoned for the past 40 years. Is a Moon settlement in that time frame possible? The Moon is achievable by more than one path.

The Orion Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle is being developed by Lockheed Martin. Officially Orion's mission is crew return from low Earth orbit. A first unmanned flight has been scheduled for early 2014 atop a Delta IV booster. That flight will go to an altitude of 8000 km, exposing Orion to the radiation environment of deep Space. The reentry will be at speeds approaching that of lunar return. In today's difficult budget environment Lockheed engineers are designing Orion to go beyond.

The Space Launch System is being designed at Marshall Space Flight Center. SLS will initially be based on Shuttle-derived hardware--an 8.3 meter diameter first stage, RS-25 engines, and 5-segment solid rocket boosters. The big booster will have an initial payload to orbit of 70 metric tons. The first flight of SLS is scheduled for 2017, carrying an unmanned Orion toward the Moon.

Presently the year 2021 is envisioned with a crewed flight of Orion boosted atop SLS. The destination has not been chosen, but it could easily be an Apollo 8-type flight around the Moon. Other destinations will be possible, such as a Lagrange point or an asteroid.

If plans are started early enough, following flights could carry a Lunar Surface Module. Lunar landings would require 2 SLS launches, one for Orion and a second launch for the Lunar Module. If the lunar module is ready, the landing could occur as early as 2022. This seems early, but Apollo 11 followed Apollo 8 by only 7 months. This landing, the first step in a lunar base, would occur within a few months of Mr. Newt's goal.

Gingrich also spoke about prizes for private Space companies, akin to the Orteig Prize won by Charles Lindbergh. The SpaceX Falcon Heavy booster will be capable of placing 53 tons in low Earth orbit. Their Dragon capsule has an escape system that is also adaptable to planetary landings. With modifications Dragon could land a crew on the Moon. With the right incentive, perhaps SpaceX could reach the Moon faster and cheaper than NASA.

A lunar landing could also occur with international partners. The head of Russia's Roskosmos recently spoke about cooperating with Americans on the Moon. The Space Station was originally a West-only project, then nearly abandoned by the Clinton administration before being reimagined as a partnership with Russia. Perhaps international partners could contribute a Lunar Module to dock with Orion.

There are numerous paths to a lunar base. Orion and SLS could be combined with a new Lunar Module. The SpaceX Faldon Heavy and Dragon might be capable of a lunar landing. International partners could be involved. Any of these combinations could land the first elements of a lunar base by 2021. All that is required, all that has been required for 40 years, is the will. Perhaps another President will set a goal of lunar settlement.


Monday, January 23, 2012

Space an Issue in 2012?

During 2000, Americans learned that a presidential election can hinge on a few votes in the "Swing State" of Florida. The swing votes are concentrated in the Interstate 4 corridor, running from Tampa to Kennedy Space Center. President Bush paid little attention to Space until 2003. In the wake of Columbia, Bush enacted the Vision for Space Exploration. NASA Administrator Mike Griffin responded with the Constellation program.

Candidate Barack Obama in late 2007 proposed paying for an expanded education program by delaying Constellation 5 years, effectively killing it. When Florida became a battleground in the presidential primaries, he reversed himself and promised to support Constellation. (Hillary Clinton decisively won the Florida primary, but due to a rules fight Florida delegates were stripped of half their votes). In the general election, Obama won Florida and the presidency.

Once in office, President Obama did more than delay Constellation, he cancelled it. Thousands of NASA employees, many living in the I-4 corridor, have been laid off. The man-caused depression affects thousands more, from the restaurants where NASA workers eat to the salons that do our hair. The budget for education, in contrast, has soared dramatically.

Space was not an issue in the 2012 election, until last week. The current White House occupant never meets with NASA's Administrator. Mitt Romney had been expected to easily win South Carolina and Florida, sealing the Republican nomination. Because of Newt Gingrich's surprise win in South Carolina, the battle to challenge Obama will extend to the January 31 Florida primary and probably beyond. Again those votes in the Space Coast and I-4 corridor will be critical.

Newt Gingrich has promised to give a "visionary" speech on Space this week.
Gingrich has a longstanding interest in Space, and even once wrote a book about Space development. If the nomination battle extends to Texas, Space could even be an issue in Houston. Romney, if he wants to remain in the game, would be well-advised to come up with a turnaround strategy involving Space. Thanks to South Carolina, Space could become a critical issue in choosing the next US President.


Thursday, January 19, 2012


During the 2009 protests in Iran, the world watched as the young woman Neda Soltani was shot and bled to death on the street. Neda was a symbol of thousands who were murdered, beaten or imprisoned by this terrible regime. Despite the terrible actions of the regime, the world's leaders did nothing.

Gelareh Bagherzadeh, 30, was a scientist and molecular biology student at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. She was a key member of SabzHouston, a group peacefully protesting for women's rights and freedom in her native Iran. In interviews Gelareh was reticent about giving her full name, in fear of retribution. Late Sunday night she was silenced by a single bullet to the head near her home in Southwest Houston.

The Houston police have no clues in the murder. The assassin, who followed or laid in wait for her, has escaped without a trace. This terrible act of violence against a women's rights advocate is suspiciously like an international "hit". (Travelling to another country to murder someone is called war.) Will there ever be justice for Neda or Gelareh?

Monday, January 16, 2012

King Day

Happy Martin Luther King Day in the US! In researching the life of Dr. King, I was surprised to learn he was a Republican. During the 1960's most of the opposition to civil rights came from the other party. This post was originally published in 2010:

Another Nobel Prize Winner: This Sunday, October 16, Washington's Martin Luther King Memorial will be dedicated. The ceremony would have happened earlier, but the surprise earthquake in September caused postponement. Even the US Eastern seaboard is vulnerable to earthquakes and tsunamis. Because of the delay, we visitors to DC have been able to preview the monument. Behind a 30-foot King statue is a marble wall filled with his quotes. One of King's bits of wisdom could apply to physicists puzzling about "dark energies."

"Darkness can not drive out darkness, only light can do that."

The answer to apparent acceleration of the universe has not been found in hypothetical "dark" energies. Such speculations are rejected by the public and will harm the reputation of physicists. Redshifts of distant objects are roughly proportional to recession velocity divided by the speed of light, v/c. The non-linear redshifts of Type Ia supernovae, which just won its discoverers their own Nobel, is more plausibly due not to v accelerating, but to c slowing down. The answer to the mystery is not in the dark, but in light.

In 2009 the Nobel Peace Prize committee inexplicably rewarded a man with no record of peace, leading to much ridicule. This year's award goes to Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee from Liberia, and Tawakkol Karman from Yemen. All three women have faced and continue to face formidable opposition. Karman, the first Arab woman to win the Prize, has been detained and harassed by mobs with clubs. Women who face such challenges deserve the Nobel Prize.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Crystals From Space

Happy New Year! In October, The Whole Pie, this blog recounted the Nobel Prize-winning discovery by Dr. Daniel Schechtman of quasicrystals. Unlike most crystalline structures, quasicrystals form mathematical patterns that do not repeat. Dr. Schechtman discovered quasicrystals in 1982, waiting 29 years for his prize.

At first noone believed him. Someone handed Schechtman a crystallography book and suggested he reread it. He was asked to leave his research group. It was 2 years before he could get a paper published. Nobel winner Linus Pauling condemned Schechtman's work. He had great difficulty getting other researchers to confirm his results.

The first evidence of extraterrestrial life came from a Martian meteorite. Naturally formed quasicrystals were discovered during 2009 in the Koryak mountains of Russia. No one could explain how they formed. The January 2 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences contains a paper claiming that these quasicrystals arrived on Earth via another meteorite. The paper proposes that naturally occurring quasicrystals formed in deep Space. Evidence for the extraterrestrial origin of a natural quasicrystal

“Our evidence indicates that quasicrystals can form naturally under astrophysical conditions and remain stable over cosmic timescales.”

According to the paper, these quasicrystals formed about 4.5 billion years ago. At one time scientist doubted that quasicrystals existed at all. Daniel Schechtman faced great opposition to his findings. Discovery in Russia of natural quasicrystals was baffling. They may have originated in Space near the dawn of our solar system.


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