February 29, 2016
H a c k t o t h e M o o n
Members of the illustrious tin foil-crowned House Science, Space and Technology Committee are trying to introduce a bill that would make NASA Obama-proof, I mean, Hillary-proof, oops! …. Basically, they say they want the agency to be “President-proof” in the future.
The bill is called the Space Leadership Preservation Act, and the Republicans on the Committee (which is about 99 percent of the entire body) say it would render NASA impervious to Presidential terms by changing the President-appointed NASA Director position into a ten-year tenure, chosen from a Board of Directors made of astronauts and scientists (I am surprised they didn’t require aerospace lobbyists to be on this dream team).
Oh, and Congress would pick eight of the members and the President would pick three. When it comes time for a new NASA director, the President would have to pick one from the Board – and only if the current chief’s 10-year tenure was up –, and that same Board would also be organizing and submitting NASA’s $19-billion budget, not the White House Office of Management and Budget.
Do you get the feeling that Science Committee gavel-banger and Charlie McCarthy look-alike Lamar Smith (R- Seceded Texas) is still a little irritated about how that “socialist” Obama dumped the Back-to-the-Moon Constellation Program in 2010 for the Mars Mission?
“Presidential transitions often have provided a challenge to NASA programs that require continuity and budget stability, but few have been as rocky as the administration change we experienced seven years ago,” Smith declared when he opened the hearing.
But if you think Lamar is spitting sawdust, check out former NASA chief Merv Griffin, who testified at the hearing last Friday. To say he was filled with piss and vinegar is an understatement.
“The OMB [Obama’s Office of Management and Budget] is a haven for largely unelected, unappointed, not very well qualified staff who seek to exercise a level of power and control in their area that their accomplishments have not earned,” groused Griffin during the hearing.
I can understand Griffin’s frustration (but not Lamar’s, because he is a corrupt, power-mad witch hunter). Under President Little George Bush, NASA had been directed to work on a back-to-the-Moon mission, called Constellation, which was supposed to include a push for Mars in the latter part of its goal. Griffin and many Republican Obama-bashers say the current President trashed years of work and money when he called for an end to the Moon return effort and redirected NASA’s goal to get directly to Mars, while maintaining the International Space Station work.
But the fact is that Obama and his bean counters realized that without a massive influx of money into the NASA budget, the Moon mission was impossible. That should not have been a surprise to the Bush cheerleaders since it was discovered some years before 2010 that Bush and President Cheney had put the $3-trillion Iraqi War (when we cluster-bombed the wrong country and killed some 300,000 people) on a credit card which they thought had no ceiling. They figured the little people taxpayers would pick up the tab. And they did! With a big smile, and a hearty “U.S.A., U.S.A.!”
The Cheney Administration, er, Bush reign was, simply put, dreadful when it came to budgets.
Nonetheless, Griffin, in Friday’s hearing, tried to slip in a condition of the “NASA Leadership Preservation Bill” that would reinstate the Constellation Program! Using what for money, Griffin? Beans?
Knowing Lamar Smith’s infamous pandering toward any anti-Obama voice, I have no doubt that when this kangaroo hearing resumes this week, the Committee will pass it with flying colors and push it hard on Mitch McConnell to bring it up on the Senate floor.
in the end, I don’t think that any work accomplished on figuring out how to get off this planet is done in vain. And NASA has mentioned lately that going back to the Moon is not only part of their Asteroid-Redirect Program, but also may be important for resourcing a way to Mars as well.
If only these guys would present recent history unrevised and keep Lamar Smith’s jaw locked.
H o m e w a r d B o u n d
International Space Station sojourners US astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko are slated to return to Earth this week after spending a record 340 days circling the globe. The spacefarers’ marathon stay in orbit provided researchers a rare chance to ponder over various medical, physiological, psychological, and performance challenges astronauts will face during long duration journeys to Mars, and inevitably, beyond. Kelly’s identical twin brother, former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, conducted parallel biological studies on Earth to provide scientists the closest apples to apples comparison on how space-based environments affect humans.
NASA TV will begin coverage of the duos’ homecoming starting at 3:10 PM EST (US), and will continue through landing in Russia at 11:27 March 1 (10:27 a.m. on March 2, Kazakhstan time). US astronaut TIm Kopra (who will be the ISS’s new commander), Yuri Malenchenko of Roscosmos and Tim Peake of ESA (European Space Agency), will operate as a skeleton station crew until the arrival of three new astronauts in two weeks. NASA astronaut Jeff Williams and Roscosmos cosmonauts Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka are scheduled for liftoff from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, on March 18 EST.
K i c k i n g i n t o H ig h G e a r
A recent NASA-funded paper by a University of California physics professor suggests that directed energy photonic technology has developed to the point where some day we could see the potential of sending astronauts to Mars in as little as three days or propelling probes to nearby stars in less than a human lifetime. According to Philip Luben of UC Santa Barbara, it is now possible to start building macroscopic systems capable of reaching relativistic speeds that would be “a watershed in our path to the stars” In fact, this sea change in directed energy know-how would allow for modular and scalable technology without “dead ends,” with laser-driven spacecraft zipping along at one quarter the speed of light.
In addition, this same laser technology used to drive probes into deep space can also create a beacon visible to other planetary systems, thus exponentially broadening our search for extraterrestrial life. “The implications for SETI searches are quite profound,” writes Professor Luben. In fact, optical SETI scans would not only inspect nearby planetary systems, but could examine the entire universe for similar of more advanced civilizations than our own. The ramifications are staggering, given the number of potentiall planetary candidates within eye shot is 10 to the 22nd power.
C o s m i c C a s i n o
That sonic boom you may have heard recently was probably the sound of risk capital reaching the heavens as venture funding into commercial space start-ups grew twice as much last year than the previous 15 years combined. According to a new report by The Tauri Group, Daddy Warbucks-types wishing to hitch their wagon to a star shot $1.8 billion toward cosmic enterprises in 2015, with $2.7 billion in total investment and debt financing. “Sophisticated senior investors believe that significant returns from space ventures are possible and are willing to accept the risk for those transformative results,” observes Carissa Christensen, Tauri Group’s managing partner. You can now make money with space investment, which wasn’t largely a true statement before,” said one equity backer.
According to the Virginia-based Tauri Group, the 21st Century galactic gold rush has attracted 250 investors that the firm has identified as supporting space-related ventures, with 110 VC companies coughing up seed capital since 2000. The Tauri Group also reported that 66 percent of these patrons are based in the US, with half of these located in California. Tauri Group’s report also gave a tip of the hat to our favorite space gazillionaires Jeff Bezos, Richard Brason, and Elon Musk, who lead the pack of 21 on Forbes’ Billionaaires List having some affiliation to a space-based enterprise.
B l a s t f r o m t h e P a s t
Afraid to be left behind eating the hydrazine fumes of Elon Musk’s private space taxi? Then for a mere $19,000, you can still cash in and snatch a vintage, one-ton Titan or Juno rocket engine from 1957. Owner and former aerospace engineer Jim Milburn is also considering best offers for the retired workhorse he bought at an auction 20 years ago along with other space-related items for $10,000. After years of enjoyment, Milburn figures it’s time to pass the rusted torch to a new generation. “Let some youngster buy it,” he told a local television station recently.
S t a r r y N i g h t
An astonishing new image of the Milky Way reveals a nearly frozen universe of gas and dust only a few tens of degrees above absolute zero. The icy portrait completes the mapping of the Galactic Plane visible from the southern hemisphere by the 12-meter APEX telescope in Chile. Focusing on submillimeter wavelengths between infrared light and radio waves, the APEX Telescope Large Area Survey of the Galaxy (ATLASGAL) is the sharpest such atlas of our galaxy to date. (Click on image to enlarge)
L u n e y T u n e s
The latest much ado about nothing item — or shall we dare say Tin Foil Hat moment — is the media buzz about “UFO conspiracy” allegations regarding “strange music” heard by Apollo 10 astronauts back in 1969 as they sailed above the far side of the Moon out of radio contact with Earth. Apparently, a recent episode of the Science Channel’s “NASA’s Unexplained Files” program was the ground zero causing all the hubbub in which the show aired an audio file of the Apollo moon travelers discussing an unexplained whistling sound they could hear in their headsets for over an hour. In an attempt to diffuse the media feeding frenzy and “reports” of “accusations” of a government cover-up, NASA’s took to Tumbler to set the record straight:
“While listed as ‘confidential’ in 1969 at the height of the Space Race, Apollo 10 mission transcripts and audio have been publicly available since 1973. Since the Internet did not exist in the Apollo era, NASA has only recently provided digital files for some of those earlier missions.
“The Apollo 10 audio clips were uploaded in 2012, but the mission’s audio recordings have been available at the National Archives since the early 1970s. As for the likely source of the sounds questioned in the television program, Apollo 10 Lunar Module Pilot Gene Cernan told NASA on Monday, ‘I don’t remember that incident exciting me enough to take it seriously. It was probably just radio interference. Had we thought it was something other than that, we would have briefed everyone after the flight … We never gave it another thought.”
To put things in perspective, the far more famous Apollo 10 moment at the time involving a radio broadcast was when Cernan cussed over an open channel for everyone’s five-year-old to hear. To be fair, he probably doesn’t remember that being a big deal either.