Gone With the Windbags

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September 28, 2015

By Kate Woods, Galactic Sandbox Writer-At-Large

Even while the Times Square New Years Eve Ball drops toward Earth’s environmental Doomsday, Congressional Republicans aren’t even bothering to double-talk and whitewash their aversion to NASA’s earth monitoring space programs anymore.  They are outright voicing and voting their disdain for the health of our wheezing planet.

True to form, the Republican-heavy House Science, Space and TechnologyScreen shot 2015-09-27 at 3.33.43 PM Committee recently slashed $300 million from NASA’s Earth-science budget consisting mostly of weather and Earth-sensing satellites, in space.  Unfortunately, the GOP-laden committee, which has oversight on the EPA and NASA budgets, among others, is one of the few committees that Congressional peers actually heed.

NASA head administrator Charles Bolden, a former U.S. Marine Corps Major General and astronaut, indicated a controlled disgust in his response to the cuts: “NASA leads the world in the exploration of and study of planets, and none is more important than the one on which we live.”

In a press event this week, committee head Texas Republican Congressman Lamar Smith, aged 67,  gushed lovingly about space exploration.  He wants to be an astronaut!  Isn’t that special?

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Lamar Smith – If you don’t study climate change, it doesn’t exist.

When he was pinned down on his feelings about monitoring Earth’s changing environment, Smith finally blurted, “I don’t want to cut NASA, I don’t want to cut what we do in space, and that’s why I’m resisting the administration’s transferring funds from NASA to climate change! I want to keep NASA, NASA!”

In other words, don’t study it so you can continue to deny it.

It should also be noted that NASA’s written mission statement since the late 1950s includes exploring the environmental systems of our own planet for mankind’s welfare and to better understand our relation to the rest of the Universe.
Earth-science sat

Sadly, any proposal or satellite mission that might galvanize the overwhelming evidence proving the exponentially growing threat of global warming, or “climate change,” is program non grata now.  And whether climate change is caused by humans or is naturally cyclical, or both – it’s immaterial to them.  As far as these conservative, bought-out lawgivers are concerned, climate change doesn’t exist … especially since what they perceive as the  Earth-science Greenland“Muslim President Obama” pushed for Earth-science funding in NASA’s budget.  Whatever President Obama is for, they are against.  If Obama wanted them to not cut off their noses to spite their faces, they would snip their beaks off, pronto.

Not surprisingly,  Smith’s budding 2015-2016 re-election campaign has accrued, so far, $27,900 from a plethora of carbon-belching oil/fracking companies and $5,500 from lobbyists.

All Wet
Ironically, it just so happens NASA also announced this week that sea-level sea-level riserise due to global warming and Earth’s melting ice caps will eventually submerge Cape Canaveral and a myriad of NASA facilities into the oceans in as little as 35 years.

NASA’s Climate Adaptation Science Investigators (CASI) Working Group recently reported that the agency’s five coastal facilities can expect between five and 27 inches of sea-level rise by 2050. It also warned that the coastal flooding that usually occurs about once a decade in these areas will become more frequent. As for the San Francisco Bay/Ames Research Center area, it could become up to ten times more frequent.

In terms the GOP might understand, the future loss equals an estimated $32 BILLION and 60,000 jobs.  Maybe they’ll wipe the glee off their faces when they finally grasp what that means for their chances at re-election.

Cosmic College Bowl
HIAD heat shield Mars landerAnd while Congress also cut some funding for NASA’s Orion human mission to Mars – now bumped ahead to 2023 — the agency plans on using any resources they can scrounge.  NASA just put out a call to university and college science students to submit ideas for inflatable spacecraft heat shields for the Mars lander.  Students are to send in white papers by Nov. 15, after which NASA will divide those with winning concepts into three to five groups.  Each finalist team will be given $6,000 to develop their creations, and present their heat shields before a NASA panel at Langley in Hampton, Virginia, on April 16.

Go To the Head of the Class
ion space driveTrolling science students for their brains is proving to be a good move on NASA’s part.  University of Sydney PhD student Paddy Neumann recently came up with an ion space drive that blasts all of NASA’s fuel efficiency records to smithereens.

Like the rest of the world’s space agencies, NASA has been burning standard chemical propellants to move spacecraft since we started watching The Jetsons in the ‘60s.  Ion propulsion technology uses some of the same chemicals, but ionizes or electrically charges the gases.  We’re hoping Neumann’s findings will be applied to the Orion Mars Mission, yet we know that nuclear propellants are in the running.

NASA uses Xenon gas for its ion propulsion-driven craft, while Neumann uses a range of metals for his ion propulsion, including metal magnesium.  So far, Neumann’s system is way ahead of NASA’s in getting the biggest bang for the buck.

Wizards of Id
HI-SEAS IVAnother preparation for our Mars quest is the study of human psyches – including the abilities and limitations of our social graces – on extended space missions.  In a dejà-vu scenario of Biosphere 2, six scientists entered a self-contained (and much smaller) domed habitat on the slope of a dormant volcano in Hawaii on Aug. 23.  The mix of men and women will reside there, 8,000 feet above sea level, for a year, and whenever they step outside to gather rocks or fix a solar panel, they must wear the bulky spacesuits astronauts are expected to don on the surface of Mars.

The NASA-funded Hawai’i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation habitat (HI-SEAS) is 993 square feet on the ground floor where they will exercise, cook, and conduct experiments, with a smaller upstairs to contain their personal spaces and sleeping quarters.  A former shipping container attached to the dome serves as a workshop.  Let’s hope ball ping hammers are not allowed in the habitat.

Crackpot House
tin foil houseTin Foil Hatter of The Month:  And the award goes to … (drum role) …  Arthur Brown of Pennsylvania, who wrapped his suburban house in tin foil and shines ‘round-the-clock spotlights from his porch in order to thwart the imminent extraterrestrial alien invasion. (Rim shot!)

Let’s ask his neighbors how much they appreciate Brown as a foil guyteam-member of the community:  “Who wants to buy my house?”  said a frustrated Nancy Raich, who lives across the street from Brown.  “A nice decent house, garages, acreage in Hermitage, a nice place to live, when this yahoo across the street decides he wants to shine lights on me?”

It gets better.  Raich recently learned that Brown now believes she and her husband are secret liaisons for the aliens, out to “foil” Brown.  How dastardly.

A judge ordered Brown to take down the lights and pay a $500 daily fine.  Brown refuses to comply and has chalked up more than $20,000 in penalties for breaking local public disturbance and “eyesore” laws. At least the aliens haven’t attacked yet.


Edward Snowden

Lost in Translation
In the more credible pursuit of intelligent life outside the Earth, our signals sent to ET and our attempts to find a signal from them through the SETI program are getting screwed by high-tech encryption meddling, according to NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden.  The former National Security Agency employee is still living in asylum from U.S. prosecutors somewhere in Russia.

In a remotely podcasted StarTalk interview with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, Snowden said that since tech companies and the NSA started encrypting communication signals, any message from ET would be indecipherable from background microwave radiation noise – and vice versa.  The only time signals were distinguishable and therefore, noticed, was in the early days of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence efforts, kicked off by Dr. Frank Drake in 1961 from West Bank, Virginia and continuing today at the Hat Creek installation in California.

It’s an interesting theory, considering the only and best candidate as a genuine signal from a distant planet, to date, is still the “Wow!” signal picked up in April, 1977, by SETI’s University of Ohio “Big Ear” radio telescope installation.

Snowden said humanity would not even realize it had received such communications today.

Always the optimist, a smiling deGrasse Tyson said to Snowden, “Only, if they have the same security problems as us.”

Monster Mash

black-hole-collisionTwo black holes are about to smash into each other in the constellation of Virgo, according to astronomers at Columbia University.  Their research concludes that a pulsating light emanated by the regurgitations of two black holes in the pulsar PG 1302-102 are indicating an imminent collision … about 100,000 years from now.  That is considered soon, in astronomical time.
Astronomers believe quasars, the brightest objects in the Universe, are powered by black holes.

This One’s Just Right
In more black hole news, scientists at NASA Goddard have discovered a third class black holenew class of these exotic light-gulping bodies.  Until now there were two kinds: stellar massive black holes about a dozen times the mass of our Sun, and supermassive black holes a million to several million times the size of our Sun (one of those big guys is looming at the center of the Milky Way right now,  and according to recent studies, is about to feed again on hapless nearby stars).

Now there’s a “mama bear” of black holes, a medium-sized one that is in the middle of the two others, about 5,000 times the mass of our Sun.

Galactic Sandbox readers will be treated soon* to a fascinating new world concerning these phenomena when we introduce “amateur” astronomer Tom Chargin and his absorbing new theories.  Believe me, this protégé of the late John Dobson is anything but amateur.  *Soon – in impatient human terms.  Seriously.

Basket Case
PongSatLaunch Alert!  A traditional Native American Indian basket will soon be launched to the edge of space.  I’m not kidding.  Young students of the Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians’ Noli Indian School of San Jacinto, Calif. are teaming up with JP Aerospace to blast-off the basket.  The students’ teacher, Kim Marcus, wove the basket by hand and gave it the name “Tukmal Tuupayum,” a Luiseno term meaning “Basket to symbolize connecting the Heavens and Earth.”

Accompanying the basket will be 70 ping-pong balls.  I wish I were yanking your chain, but alas, I am not.  The students’ experiment is called PongSat, and each student gets to load their ping-pong ball with whatever they want: magnets, a Lucky Charms marshmallow, candy, seeds. One student, Poe Pacheco, put two pennies and a corn seed in his.  When he plants the corn seed on the payload’s return, he predicts, “I think when the corn grows, it will be weird.”  Yeah.

The launch is slated for Oct. 4.  JP Aerospace uses a small sounding rocket and a platform called the “Tandem AirShip” balanced between two balloons.

Show Stopper

space junk 1

Ring around the collar – Orbiting junk belt poses galactic threat to future space missions.

This last story is about low-Earth orbit space junk.  Again.  But now it seems the problem has jumped to what experts are calling “critical density,” which means if the problem of orbiting trash isn’t solved soon, space exploration missions (like the Orion Mars Mission) to far points in deep space will have to be scrubbed.

NASA scientist Donald Kessler led the agency’s Orbital Debris Program Office for 20 years, and recently retired.  But since the problem has reached critical mass, he came out of retirement to help NASA come up with a plan.  We hope.
space junk 2

Some 200 miles above Earth there are currently half a million pieces of man-made space trash – nuts, bolts, paint chips, parts of satellites – flying at 17,500 mph.  An estimated 23,000 of these chunks are the size of softballs, or larger.  This is treacherous for the crew onboard the International Space Station, not to mention lethal for satellites and other craft in geosynchronous orbit as well.  The clogged belt around the Earth gets compounded when the space junk flies into each another, causing yet more pieces of space junk to join the garbage belt.

For decades we have heard how the problem gets worse and worse, but no one is stepping forward with a solution – like how about some kind of orbiting garbage trawler, a cow-catching scooper … anything, please!  Now, a gaggle of companies want to get in on what they call the “Space Situational Awareness” (SSA) game.  These firms expect to cash in on the object tracking market for space companies, but no, not actually invent a way to remove the trash.  Oh the humanity.


Galactic Sandbox Exclusive! Near-total through partial total Lunar Eclipse taken Sunday evening September 27 by Managing Editor Agnett Bonwit – Enjoy!

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