By Kate Woods, Galactic Sandbox Writer-At-Large
August 31, 2015
W A T C H T H E B I R D I E
A big story this week is one the national mainstream broadcasters won’t dare to report because they can’t turn it into a putrid giggly cliché. Former astronaut and scientist Will Marshall has created a company that is not only opening eyes to the environmental assaults and perils on this planet, but it’s also saving lives.
San Francisco-based Planet Labs creates “toaster-sized cubesats,” which Marshall coins “doves.” Once placed in low-Earth orbit, the bantam-sized birdies … (oh gag, I just did it) can spot details on the planet’s surface often missed by larger Earth-spying satellites.
The results are paying off. “We can track deforestation, we can track the ice caps melting. In general, it is very helpful for climate change,” said Marshall. “We can help people respond to natural disasters like earthquakes and floods.”
Earlier this year, the dove sats took pix of Nepal before and after that nation’s devastating earthquakes, revealing two remote villages that no one knew even existed. The discovery enabled aid workers to scramble to the exact locations with food and medical supplies.
Recently a Japanese rocket delivered an additional 14 dove sats to the International Space Station (ISS) last week, and when ISS astronauts disperse them into orbit, the company’s flock will be 87-strong. Eventually, the Dove mission will take a photo of every single place on Earth, every single day.
Here’s the kicker: CEO Marshall has publicly announced that all stored data and images gathered from his company’s mini-sats will be accessible to anyone in the world. You can bet that conservative politicians who relentlessly vote to defund NASA hardly had such benevolent socialism in mind when they insisted “space commercialism” could replace the agency. Now that’s funny.
G L A C I A L P R O P O R T I O N S
One of those big Earth observation satellites did manage to find evidence of what scientists believe to be the biggest glacier calving in recorded history. Since humans keep belching out planet-boiling carbon dioxide and methane into our atmosphere, glacier melts and ice crack-offs are occurring with monotonous regularity these days.
As with the dove sats, before and after pix taken by Europe’s Sentinel-A sat revealed that two weeks ago a massive ice chunk the size of Manhattan Island broke off Greenland’s Jakobshavn Glacier (the same glacier that produced an infamous problem-child in 1912, a calved iceberg with the Titanic’s name on it). I found only one article on this recent incident, from a news site called HNGN. They ended the story with: “Some people believe this event is related to climate change.” No, really? I’m shocked. Shocked!
D U N G H O
Again, brace yourselves. The national TV newsreaders are going to have accidents in their pants clucking over this one. “Waste not, want not: NASA hopes to recycle poop into food.” That’s the actual headline used by the usually sober-toned Weather Network site. So imagine how the vacuous talking heads are going to giddily butcher this tidbit as more and more news outlets pick up on it throughout the week. NASA is allocating $200,000 to start the experiments. It seems a ghastly proposition, but keep in mind that ISS astronauts routinely recycle their own urine and sweat into potable water, yes, and drink it. I know that if I were on the ISS participating in the human dung trial, I’d also be breaking into that Japanese whisky experiment…routinely.
H U B B L E N E T S B U T T E R F L Y N E B U L A E
Meanwhile, back in deep space, the Hubble Space Telescope took a gorgeous photo of the iridescent Twin Jet Nebula, a bipolar planetary nebula. I realize that sounds like the psychiatric category for, say, your unstable snitching neighbor, but it simply means the object consists of two old dying stars doing a very slow dance. (They circle each other every 100 years.) Scientists estimate one of them had an outburst – hence the butterfly winged jets — just 1,200 years ago.
A L I E N D E T E N T E R E D U X
In our “Lettuce Entertain You” post of August 16, we covered a story about Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell’s beliefs in Earthly extraterrestrial visitations. We third-handed the original source: a now-disputed “interview” a reporter from The Mirror says he had with the moonwalker. Huffington Post interviewed Mitchell after the Mirror story broke and grew, and he claims the British tabloid’s quotes were fabricated and that he never granted an interview to the paper. The disputed quotes relate to the belief that UFO’s buzzed New Mexico weapons bases and disabled launch capabilities to spare earthlings World War III. Like the game of telephone, news reporting can sorely mangle an original statement. So, like “fair and balanced” Fox News always quips, “You decide!” Here are the links to our retelling in “Extraterrestrial Détente,” the original Mirror story, and Huffington Post’s retelling of all involved tales.
T H E U N S C I E N T I F I C U N A M E R I C A N
I was cheered when I opened my Scientific American this month to read an overdue opinion put forth by the mag’s entire editorial board, entitled “Don’t Blind NASA to Earth’s Climate.” In it, the editors call out Senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz (R-TX) for “egging on” his fellow congressional Republicans to cut NASA’s Earth Science budget by $260 million. Climate change-denying politicians say they want that money to go to the robotic voyage to Europa, Jupiter’s frozen moon. But NASA only needs $30 million for that mission.
Cruz – who bears an eerie likeness to Senator Joe McCarthy, the 1950’s witch hunting, career-ruining Communist chaser – claims Earth science is not part of the agency’s “core mission” (wrong) and that the field is not even a “hard science” (nauseatingly wrong). It’s amazing how these guys are forever pulling crap right out of their…. As for NASA’s sister agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the lawgivers want to kill it outright. They slashed NOAA’s budget by 5 percent, and rationed out only $8.4 million rather than the $30 million requested to study the catastrophic acidification of the world’s oceans. They don’t want satellites analyzing the seas because that preposterous planet-killing problem is driven by climate change, which is a hoax, don’t ya know. In 2012 Congress unceremoniously tried to “move” NOAA’s Earth sensing sats to NASA’s jurisdiction, and make them point the other way…toward Jupiter, one supposes.
Congressman Sam Farr (D-CA…my representative, by the way), infuriated by the brainless attitude of his associates, recently dropped his otherwise mild-mannered demeanor and fumed from the floor, “Don’t tell me there isn’t money available…. Are you going to save this planet or put all the money into the moon of Jupiter?”
Ah well, Sam. Your star-crossed effort was, as always, heroic.
And this comes as no surprise: Cruz is Chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness. Why do they always give the gavel to a power-grubbing dolt who doesn’t even believe in science?
So the naysaying deniers who are hired to protect the health and welfare of the people they represent will do anything to stifle the truth. Don’t pay attention to that man behind the curtain! Look at anything but the Earth.