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Kate Woods

Photo: Tom Chargin

For regular readers of Galactic Sandbox’s Weekly Revolution, most likely you are aware of Kate Wood’s passing last week of injuries suffered in a single car crash near her home in New Idria, CA. No doubt, a good chunk of our audience is comprised of friends, associates, or fans of Kate who are heartbroken that this vibrant and irreverent life force is no longer with us. Having known Kate for almost 30 years, I can join with many who feel that her death is all too sudden and way too soon. That said, I am grateful for her rich legacy, part of which was her conviction that politics is entwined in all the minutiae of our lives and the planet, and if we don’t become masters of political forces, they will be our masters.  And she didn’t mean that we just holler, “throw the bums out!” (although she did that too),  but encouraged an intelligent resistance of and alternative to the consumptive virus infecting modern civilization (of which the morally-bankrupt Donald Trumps of this world are but a symptom) that will destroy the Earth for life as we know it.  

On a personal note, I will mourn the loss of Kate’s “voice,” and will simply miss my good friend. And like all true companions, Kate provided a mirror (however irascible) for my own life, giving it meaning, context, and purpose.  Hopefully, we can continue Galactic Sandbox so long as it serves a good end, and one that Kate would be proud of!

  • Brian McMahon (Agnett Bonwitt) May 29, 2017


And Then There Was One

Despite pressure from G7 leaders last weekend to endorse the historic 2015 Paris climate change accord, America’s greenhouse gas emissions friend-in-chief played coy with the fate of the Earth, tweeting that he would wait until this week to decide if the U.S. will back the 195-nation agreement (Spoiler Alert – Fat chance!). G7 heads of state who intensely pushed Trump during meetings in Italy last week to reaffirm U.S. commitment to the climate agreement, expressed frustration over President Cheese Puff’s “America First, Earth Last” platform. According to the Atlantic, German chancellor Angela Merkel said the discussions with Trump “had been very difficult, and not to say very unsatisfactory,” adding that “here we have a situation of six against one, meaning there is still no sign of whether the U.S. will remain in the Paris accord or not.” Newly-elected French President Emmanuel Macron said it was “essential for international equilibrium and the reputation of America that it remains engaged with the Paris treaty. The G7 had shown [that] issues such as climate change are not side issues that can be left to others.” Update: On Sunday afternoon, the Axios news outlet citing three knowledgable sources reported that Trump has told “confidants,” including EPA head hatchet man Scott Pruitt, he indeed plans to have the U.S. exit the Paris accord. (Hmm … sounds like Trump’s “evolving” view of the Paris deal grew a tail and scampered back to the Cretaceous Period.)

Not Yer Grandfather’s Jupiter

Taken by NASA’s Juno spacecraft 32,000 miles above Jupiter’s south pole, this composite pic shows oval-shaped  cyclones up to 600 miles in diameter.

The first scientific results from NASA’s Juno probe are in, and space agency brainiacs are breathlessly marveling at what they’re calling a “whole new Jupiter,” filled with Earth-sized polar cyclones, a gargantuan “lumpy” magnetic field, and swooping storm systems piercing deep into the belly of the gas giant. According to NASA, these initial findings based on Juno’s 2,600-mile Jovian flyby last August 27 were published last week in the journal Science, as well as in Geophysical Research Letters. “We knew, going in, that Jupiter would throw us some curves,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “But now that we are here we are finding that Jupiter can throw the heat, as well as knuckleballs and sliders. There is so much going on here that we didn’t expect that we have had to take a step back and begin to rethink of this as a whole new Jupiter.” Juno’s next close pass of the gas giant will be on July 11, when the probe will focus its scientific instruments on the planet’s iconic Great Red Spot.

Lunar Bombed

Last Thursday,  NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, witnessed the Moon throwing some shade in a space-based partial solar eclipse that lasted an hour. According to the space agency, our closest celestial neighbor blocked 89 percent of the Sun’s face during the peak of the transit.  A much ballyhooed Earth-based total solar eclipse will be visible in parts of the US this August 21st in a 70-mile-wide ribbon of land stretching from Oregon to South Carolina. A partial eclipse will also occur that day throughout the rest of North America as well as parts of of South America, Africa, Europe and Asia.

Joining the Fray

US-New Zealand commercial space firm Rocket Lab is celebrating the first test launch of its state-of-the-art “Electron” rocket partly made of carbon fiber and equipped with engines fashioned from a 3D printer. While the spacecraft’s third stage failed to reach its planned 500-km orbit above Earth, the company’s founder Peter Beck hailed the mission a success anyway:

We didn’t quite reach orbit — we’ll work out exactly why.But we got a long, long way there. It was really a fantastic first flight.

Rocket Lab is gunning for a niche sector of the booming private satellite launch business, targeting the nano satellite market in which swarms or constellations of devices are used for weather reporting or natural disaster prediction. In fact, Rocket Lab has customers already signed up, including NASA.  “We have a very busy 2018, and a business 2019 — and we’ve got a lot of customers booked and backlogged so it’s time to open the throttles,” said Mr Beck. A second Electron test is slated for this week.



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Sentimental Journey

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May 22, 2017

By Kate Woods, Galactic Sandbox Writer-At-Large
and Agnett Bonwitt, Managing Editor

Requiem for a Dream

While the nation recoils at every infantile, moronic, mortifying move flailing out of the White House, scientists and space pundits are having a burly debate about NASA’s Moon/Mars plan, announced only last week.

Unfortunately, we’re hearing a lot of raspberries…and very few cheers.

First, we better explain what the new plan entails, and the most readable and succinct explanation I’ve read yet – out of dozens of news reports, including NASA’s own phantom proposal that has yet to be uploaded onto their “Journey to Mars” page within their extensive website  – is the one written by Naia Carlos in Nature World News, although there seems to be two variations on a theme:  

Variation 1: The crew that is going to Mars must first spend a year orbiting the Moon before taking the 1,000-day journey to and from the Red Planet.  That won’t happen until 2028.  Before that, NASA will launch at least five lunar missions on their new super booster Space Launch System, four of them crewed in the new Orion capsule, in order to get the hardware and infrastructure in place for the new cislunar space station.  From what we can gather, that thing is named the Deep Space Transport, because, it is going to double not only as a Moon-orbiting space station, but also as a spaceship that will break away after a year to zoom to Mars and back.

Variation 2: OR, a crew will spend a year in orbit around the Moon before coming home and then NASA will debrief them and use their knowledge before sending a new crew back to the lunar space station, this time briefly, and then on to Mars… I guess in the same habitat that served as their space station? 

After studying countless reports on this, we cannot decipher exactly which it would be – not even from the article in Nature World News.  That in itself, is maddening.  But NASA says the experience and knowledge gleaned from this pre-Mars nursery layover of a throat-slitting year in lunar orbit will be indispensable to their astronauts – although we are not quite sure whether the final Red Planet team will be the lunar-saturated one or a “new” squad, whom, after 999 days of an unbearable and cramped Iliad, will no doubt be musing thoughts of cutting off their crew-mates oxygen lines in order to get them to shut the hell up.

If it all seems kind of obtuse and nebulous to you – like our nation’s current Administration – you ain’t alone.

The screams of “Hell No” began almost immediately.  A Forbes magazine editorial said the scheme, “Takes Humanity Nowhere,” in a headline.  And, believe me, those greedy money-grubbers know something about a return on their money…even if it’s only a lofty and ethereal knowledge of the cosmos  Forbes contends, “If you want to go to the Moon, you design a system to put humans on the Moon. If you want to go to another world, you design a system to put human beings on that world.”  They make a much more intricate, albeit non-algebraic, case for shitcanning the Moon detour than my truncated account of it, but they ultimately surmise, “It’s a great way to spend a great deal of money, advancing science and humanity in no appreciable way.”  But let’s move on.

There are many other talking heads carping on this proposal, such as Ed Morrissey on his “Hot Air” blog.  Let me warn you that this moron Morrissey is a right-wing zealot – of the same ilk who believe knee-capping underprivileged people, literally, will result in a formidable and perfect oligarchy of “Father Knows Best,”  (without telling his audience he is der father and he knows best.)  Unfortunately, his bull-poopy pulpit, so aptly named “Hot Air,” reaches too many morons who need to have the website read to them by their old grade-school teachers or their long-suffering wife-first-cousins.  With that in mind, I will merely give you his “headline” (obviously written by someone other than “Ed” who actually obtained a high school degree and had to take, at least, remedial grammar), and it is:  “Dear NASA: A space station orbiting the moon is pointless.”  His reasons, not surprisingly, are equally pointless.

The one guy we should pay close attention to in this debate is Red Planet King Robert Zubrin.  The outspoken 65 year-old aerospace engineer, prolific science author, and oh!  That’s right… the inventor of the Mars Direct concept (take a hint, NASA) ,described the space agency’s new Moon Purgatory/Mars Bedlam Proposal as the “Worse Plan Yet.”  And as GS Editor Agnett B. and I know all too well, Zubrin never holds back on his scathing critiques regarding any outer space plans.  So that latest description is rather kind and generous, I’d say. 

According to the Washington Post, Zubrin considers the lunar spaceport “a waste of money – an idea designed merely as a way to give the new Space Launch System rocket and Orion capsule somewhere to go.”  We use the quotes garnered by a WAPO journalist who actually got the chance to talk to Zubrin at a recent D.C. forum he participated in, sponsored by The Atlantic, titled “On the Launchpad: Return to Deep Space.” 

I like Zubrin, and always have.  He has guts and conviction, is immeasurably tenacious, not to mention the owner of an intensely creative brain.  However, I do not agree that NASA’s Moon/Mars plan, half-baked it might be, is altogether a bad one.  Given, I am an old NASA brat from back in the day and I  love to keep loving NASA.  That aside, the brilliant talent in that agency – and yeah, NASA still attracts great scientific minds much like the Alexandrian Library would attract a lost ancient Greek philosopher should he wander through a parched modern desert called the Trump Administration on an island called the United States in the 21st Century, during an implausibly modern, stingy, imbecilic Republican Reign of Greed and Exploitation, on the verge of self-implosion at any moment – merely wants to work out humanity’s problems in peace and quiet, and are surprisingly innovative when they are allowed to be.  NASA scientists and engineers are simply seeking Shelter from the Stupid.

Many thanks Randall Munroe, xkcd.

OK. Sorry for the enraged tangent.  But my point is, we haven’t done so bad by NASA this last century.  In fact, they have managed to transform what could have been the world’s worst sink-hole of tax money and loop-fed bureaucracy into an eye-popping pillar of managed resources and genius, the one federal agency that amazes us weekly with unimaginable discoveries – and with only one 100th percent (.01) of the national budget.

I, for one, want to give NASA a chance on this one before I start screeching.  I know….that’s weird.  Hey, in the meantime, if you want to impeach that idiot-child  tweeting through the halls of the White House, sign this.  You didn’t think I’d top it off without some kind of outrage, did you??  – Kate Woods, Writer-At-Large


It’s a Wrap

NASA, through its Van Allen Probes, has discovered an unexpected human-created “halo” around the Earth, and, no, its not the glow of a gazillion pieces of space junk circling the globe, but an on-again-off-again anti-radiation force field caused by very low frequency (VLF) radio communications interacting with particles in space. This electromagnetic bubble is actually a good thing say scientists, because it acts as a shield against solar storms caused when our Sun blows its top and spews electrically-charged plasma our way, potentially wrecking havoc on communications satellites, terrestrial power grids, and, basically, civilization itself.  “A number of experiments and observations have figured out that, under the right conditions, radio communications signals in the VLF frequency range can in fact affect the properties of the high-energy radiation environment around the Earth,” Phil Erickson, one of the researcher involved, said in a statement.

Brainiacs involved in the observations point out a direct correlation as the VLF shroud expands, it actually pulls the inner edge of the protective Van Allen radiation belt out with it, forming a larger cushion of safety from harmful magnetic space storms. Dan Baker, director of the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder, believes that absent any human VLF transmissions, the VA belts would likely be closer to Earth. In fact, Van Allen Probe data show that the belt’s inner boundary is much further away than its 1960s recorded position when VLF transmission were less plentiful.

The Promised Lander

Calling all brainiacs!  NASA has announced a competition open to all scientists to come up with a design proposal for their future Europa lander.  The main idea is for the probe to find life.  Since the 1990s, NASA and space aficionados have been intrigued by Jupiter’s ice-encrusted moon (and let’s not forget Enceledus, Saturn’s darling icy ball!), but especially what might be swimming around beneath that hard glacial barrier.  It is now known that gravitational pull may account for a heat-up beneath those frozen oceans, which in turn cause geysers to erupt and shoot miles above the surface.  On Europa, those plumes reach heights up to 200 km, as captured by the Hubble Telescope.

NASA plans to evaluate all entries and whittle the field down to 10 proposals.  The lucky 10 will be given $1.5 million each to conduct their work.  Now it’s true NASA has not yet secured the funding for a landing mission – only for the Europa Clipper…a half-baked, it not useless fly-by.  We’re hoping the space agency will lay out the details on their Europa Lander Acquisition Page, sometime soon.  No frets though, since many details of the competition can be found on Space Ref.  

Fine Print

Made in Space technicians test prototype 3D printer in microgravity conditions.

The nascent 3D printing industry is taking a giant leap off the planet as Made In Space, the California-based company that owns and operates the commercial 3-D printer aboard the International Space Station (ISS), is working on a snazzy “Archinaut” technology that would enable the assembly of  large structures in low Earth orbit. “The real difference maker for this technology is in the area of being able to put stuff up that you can’t origami fold up [for launch], or that would be really, really difficult to do with a traditional deployable” system, Made In Space CEO Andrew Rush told last month. Building off terra firma would also allow structures “to be space-optimized,” Rush noted, “rather than engineered to survive launch.” Rush added that the  Archinaut concept envisions a single spacecraft capable of forging and erecting parts in space, as well as repairing and upgrading existing satellites.  Made in Space is six months into an 18-month, $20 million NASA contract focusing on the best way to build “extended structures” in space, while a yet-to-be-announced Phase-2 would involved a demonstration mission in low Earth orbit.

NASA’s 4D, space-age “chain mail.”

And for those of you who feel that 3D printing is “so 2014,” then you might be interested in advancing efforts toward what is known as a “4D” technology that, according to Space Daily, allows “a 3D-printed component to transform its structure by exposing it to heat, light, humidity, or other environmental stimuli,” thus “resulting in additional design flexibility that can lead to new types of products which can adjust its functionality in response to the environment, in a pre-programmed manner.” In fact, NASA last month showed off its 4D printed metallic “space fabric” capable of transmogrifying so it can wrap around spacecraft or spacesuits to serve as protective “chain mail.” The nifty 4D material could even be used to keep machinery toasty during very sub-zero excursions to other planets and their moons.

Flashes in the Pan

Scientists may have solved a 24-year long mystery that left even Carl Sagan stumped.  Decades ago Sagan and other brains used the Galileo spacecraft to take a breather from studying Jupiter and its moons to look back at Earth to see if its instruments could detect life from that far away. It didn’t, but what it did capture were unexplained flashes coming from the Earth – and lightning was quickly ruled out.  At the time the scientists believed all the flashes were coming off of bodies of water, mostly the oceans.  It turns out they were popping off on land as well.  So fast forward a couple of decades to NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) on-board NOAA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) that has caught 866 of the flashes.  (That’s right, that is the very same observatory the Trump Cabal axed from the NASA budget because the mission has that icky word “Climate” in it.  Oy Vey…) Anyways, long story short:  Turns out the flashes are made by large horizontally oriented ice particles whizzing around cold clouds high above.  So if you see a story claiming the flashes are a big mystery or a UFO, turn the page.

Urning To Be The Best

The 4-inch (10-centimeter) Elysium Star II cubesat would orbit for two years before re-entering Earth’s atmosphere as a shooting star.

Celestial funeral service provider Elysium Space will usher in a new phase for an industry dedicated to sending cremated remains into orbit with the launch of its own spacecraft designed and built for that purpose. Specifically, the company plans to launch its Elysium Star II atop a SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket in the near future carrying the ashes of 100 individuals on a 2-year ride in Sun Synchronous Orbit. “We are honored to assist families in achieving their dreams, riding on one of the greatest rockets in the world,” said Thomas Civeit, founder and CEO of Elysium Space. “This historical launch provides the perfect conditions to make this memorial spaceflight an exceptionally meaningful experience for all participants.” Elysium, whose competitor Celestis offers suborbital to deep space requiem flights, is marketing its out-of-this-world ES II services for $2480 a pop, with a special discount to members of the US armed forces. In addition, Elysium plans to offer a lunar option where a love one’s remains can be sent to the Moon aboard Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander for $9,950.

Tip O’ the Tin Foil Hat

It’s the end of an era in pseudo-ufology, as we are saddened to report that Scott Waring’s infamous UFO Sightings Daily website went lights out last Friday.  Waring is the guy who zoomed in on pix taken from the Mars Curiosity and Opportunity rovers, or from reconnaissance craft orbiting the Moon, and imagined anything and everything:  giant snails, a 100-mile long human skeleton, big mice, a lone buffalo, Mesopotamian head sculptures, a T-Rex head fossil, frolicking baboons – and yes, Elvis – in fact two shots of the King, in both the white sequined outfit and the black chintz affair.  Waring gives a number of reasons for the unexpected exit from the 24-hour UFO patrol platform he updated daily since 2010.  He wrote in his farewell edition, “This is serious stuff that has depths that even I can’t fathom.  It deserves serious thought and research, not contempt and ridicule.” Sounds like Scott got tired of the ribbing. 

But honestly, some of his claims were so over the top, we often wondered if he was spoofing himself or the pursuit of UFO studies.  In his last post, Waring said he started the site to give credence to the thousands of UFO witnesses around the world who faced ridicule, and to that end, he says, he succeeded in his mission.  He also takes credit for making NASA keep the outward aimed cameras on the International Space Station rolling.  Maybe.  But maybe Scott finally realized he was turning the UFO movement into one long-running joke. “How many people really believe his photographic evidence that everything from massive skyscrapers to squirrels exist on the surface of Mars,” said respected ufologist Nigel Watson, author of the UFO Investigations Manual. He added, “Ninety-nine percent of his site was wishful thinking, yet you can’t help but be amazed by his imagination and enthusiasm.”   We agree.  So in honor of Scott Waring’s tireless and highly entertaining endeavors, Galactic Sandbox bestows him our Tin Foil Hat Lifetime Achievement Award. We doff our aluminum halos to you, Waring.

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Mirror, mirror

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May 15, 2017

By Kate Woods, Galactic Sandbox Writer-At-Large
and Agnett Bonwitt, Managing Editor

Through a House Bill, Darkly

We didn’t think it could get more bizarre, yet in a week’s time, we are on the brink of a Constitutional crisis worse than Watergate.

The Psychopath-Narcissist-in-Chief fires the man leading the investigation into his criminal and treasonous arrangements with Russia; and then his hand-picked Himmler-midget Attorney General Jeff Sessions not only breaks his oath to recuse himself from that clusterfrack, but he also announced on Friday to re-instate the moronic War on Drugs by prosecuting pot-smokers with life sentences again, and refilling the prisons, once again – undoing the progress so boldly commenced by President Obama and former AG Eric Holder. Is it any wonder?  After all, there is a direct connection between Republican campaign coffers and the private prison conglomerate and the U.S. prison guard union.   Will these morons ever realize that prohibition only begets violence and criminality??

Ah well.  We here at the Galactic Sandbox won’t be bothered by this week’s national political pettifoggery.  But we will concern ourselves with the latest political stink bomb fobbed at this planet’s environment.  Specifically, our thumbs-down vote goes to the latest GOP attempt to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency.  Yeah, that’s right. In fact, the world is just now learning that in February, Florida congressmen Matt Gaetz (R-Dante’s Inferno) introduced to the House Science, Space and Technology Committee the bill which he shamelessly admits is an out-and-out wipe-out of the EPA.

Think about it, though: Gaetz, plus four other GOP “freedom caucus” Tea-anderthals who co-sponsored this abomination, have been trying to shove this through the right-wing-heavy Congress for the past three months.  In the meantime, the hits keep coming as:

  • The Greedy Crybaby in the White House has signed a platoon of executive orders that attempt to undo all of Obama’s executive orders that placed tighter regulations on polluting corporations in order to save our rivers, our air and our land. 
  • Trump’s chosen EPA chief, oil lobbyist and law-skirting Scott Pruitt, has worked with anti-science republicans to re-write the 300-year old scientific method of peer review to make it impossible for Earth scientists to present their facts without fear of the political ax to their federal grant-sponsored work on behalf of all things living on this planet – including humans. 
  • And we have now learned that late last week, Pruitt somehow fired every scientist on the EPA Science Advisory Board, to be reportedly replaced by pro-corporate Big Oily lobbyists. 

It’s been said by far greater thinkers than myself that Pruitt et al are trying to dismantle the EPA and all environmental safeguards piece-meal.  They are trying to murder the 50-year-old Clean Air and Clean Water Acts via death by a thousand cuts, not by the simple quick shock of cut throats.  (The optics would not favor that.) That’s why I figure only now media outlets are finding out about the Kill EPA Bill, that it has been darkly slumming around DC since last winter.

If nothing else, remember this… it is something that GOP elected bastards, especially the newest ones, somehow miss, even when and after they swear an oath to “uphold and protect the United States Constitution”… and it is this:  Will there ever be a time when these Trumpenfuhrer loyalists realize that they are traitors to the notion of democracy, that their unwavering party-pulling line is detrimental to the health, safety and welfare of this nation and the Earth??  It is that last clause they so cavalierly deny and turn their backs to that we, as a civilization on the brink of totalitarianism and/or destruction, can never forget.

In the meantime, sign this petition to let yer lawgivers know you do not dig erasing the EPA.

 – Kate Woods, Writer-At-Large


But First, a Year of Hell

NASA lunar base concept.

NASA now says they want to put astronauts in orbit around the Moon for a year before blasting them off to Mars in the 2030s.  At the Humans to Mars Summit held last week in Washington DC, a NASA spokesman said that the four-part plan to get to Mars will begin in 2027 with placing a crew to cislunar orbit first, for a year, on the Deep Space Transport system, before beginning the 1,000-day voyage to Mars and back.  But before any of that happens, NASA has to spend a few years getting stuff up to lunar orbit on its new super-duper Space Launch System – which just got pushed back, again.  Trump’s White House told NASA to put humans on the SLS maiden voyage – which is not only moronic but unnecessarily reckless – and NASA looked into it, but said publicly on Friday that, ah, no, it ain’t gonna happen that way. The first unmanned launch of the SLS is now moved up a year to 2019.  

Galactic Prix

Buzz Aldrin explains his Cycling Pathways to Mars concept.

Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin has called on NASA to hand over the International Space Station (ISS) to private hands such as Space X, Boeing, and Blue Orbital so the space agency can focus its energies on human interplanetary missions to Mars and other extraterrestrial locales. “We must retire the ISS as soon as possible,” Aldrin said at the 2017 Humans to Mars conference in Washington, D.C. this week reports the Houston Press. “We simply cannot afford $3.5 billion a year of that cost.” The octogenarian, who believes NASA is wasting precious resources in low-Earth-orbit, peddled his his own plan to get humans on Mars, based on the concept of “cycling pathways,” a sort of space-age Silk Road in which spacefaring Earthlings and equipment hitch rides on rocketships constantly shuttling between Earth and Mars.. These celestial express routes would first be established between the Earth and the Moon to easily settle a lunar colony where trans-solar system living can be tested and developed. The next “evolutionary development” would be to expand the cycler space-based highway to a near Earth asteroid by 2020, then on to a landing on Venus by 2024, and finally to a permanent human presence at the Red Planet by the 2030s.

Workers of the Universe Unite

Wonder Boy Elon Musk’s Space X corporation just got bitch-slapped when they lost a class-action lawsuit this week.  Seems Musk forgot to pay his employees at the Hawthorne, CA plant for their government-mandated breaks.  (The Hawthorne headquarters is where the company manufactures its swimmingly successful Falcon 9 reusable rockets.)  According to Inverse publication, $4 million will be paid to some 4,100 employees who say the company refused to allow them to take legally mandated breaks during the workday.Each worker will get about $500 – with the highest payouts coming out to about $2,000 per person.”  But here’s the bigger rub: one third of that payout – about $1.3 million – will go to the plaintiffs’ lawyers.  No justice, no peace.

Surf’s Up

Boasting the latest advances in land-based imaging technology and “adaptive optics,” astronomers announced Friday in the publication Nature that they have used the Large Binocular Telescope perched atop Arizona’s Pinaleno mountains to detect two massive lava waves undulating around a volcanic crater the size of Lake Ontario on Jupiter’s pockmarked moon, Io. While the scientific observation in itself is significant, what’s stunning is that professional star-gazers from the (relative) comfort of terra firma can now – at least for solar system observations – rival findings from space-based instruments like the Hubble Telescope, and identify cosmically tiny features 391 million miles away on a Jovian satellite approximately the size of our own.  This new-fangled wizardry enabled cosmologists in March 2015 to take snapshots of a rare orbital alignment in which Jupiter’s icy moon Europa gradually eclipsed the volcanically-active Io, blocking more and more light emanating from the magma-filled Loki Patra crater (see gif on right). From this data, researchers were able to create a “heat map” indicating how the temperature varied across the basin, revealing one lava wave moving clockwise and the other staring from a different direction swirling counterclockwise.


Off the Blacklist

Star scientists have recently concluded that supermassive black holes are not as indiscriminately voracious as once thought – or at the least, their perceived rapacious “consume all and anything” reputations could never hold a candle to Republican congressmen seeking re-election.  Astronomers started to change their tunes about black holes some years back, but it became a lot more convincing recently after they observed a slew of galactic head-ons merging into one another when they realized that it takes a ginormously disruptive event to make the humongous critters to get sufficiently provoked, and thereby hungry.  Using their NuSTAR space telescope, NASA brains studied 52 galaxy collisions and concluded that it was in the late stage of the smash-ups that galactic black holes got hot and bothered and then started gobbling what was orbiting them.

Great Balls of Fire

For illustration purposes only.

Adding to your list of existential fears including Donald Trump ordering a nuclear strike instead of a Coke or a giant asteroid walloping our planet, researchers now believe the “kill zone” in which a supernova could cause mass extinctions on Earth is probably 50 light years wide instead of the previously calculated 25, reports Space Daily. Or at least this is an estimate made by brainiacs at the University of Kansas in a follow-up to their 2016 report regarding the effects of supernovae on Earth’s biology and the “slam dunk” evidence that radioactive debris from an exploding star rained on our planet some 2.6 million years ago. According to KU scientist Adrian Melott, while the isotopic shrapnel from a spent sun that bombarded Earth originated a relatively safe 150 light years away, we wouldn’t be so fortunate if such a cataclysm occurred much closer:

People estimated the ‘kill zone’ for a supernova in a paper in 2003, and they came up with about 25 light years from Earth … Now we think maybe it’s a bit greater than that … We don’t know precisely, and of course it wouldn’t be a hard-cutoff distance. It would be a gradual change. But we think something more like 40 or 50 light years.

That said, it’s probably not something not worth losing sleep over. According to, there are “only” 133 stars located within a 50 light-year radius of the Earth, so while the potential exists that life on Earth could be obliterated by a gas ball blowout, the probabilities within our lifetime is pretty low. So sweet dreams – sort of.

Through Many Lenses, Brightly

NASA has a new view of the Crab Nebula, and to see it in this new light is spectacular.  The agency combined photos from an array of their space telescopes set on the same angle of the massive cloud of dust and gas that resides 6,500 light-years away – and the group effort is decidedly out of this world.  NASA achieved the new view of our neighbor by layering pix from the Spitzer Space Telescope, and of course the Hubble Space Telescope, the XMM Newton to capture ultraviolet waves and the Chandra Space Telescope to grab the X-Rays.  The result, as one can see, is quite stunning.  The good ol’ Crab Nebula is part of the “Local Group” of galaxies orbiting our larger Milky Way Galaxy, and its sun  supernovaed in 1054 A.D.  We thank Dog that Chinese astronomers observed and documented it while the tribal Anglo-Saxons were still bickering about the Battle of Hastings.

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Too Big to Fail

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May 8, 2017

By Kate Woods, Galactic Sandbox Writer-At-Large
and Agnett Bonwitt, Managing Editor

Fossil Fools

♪ The beat goes on.

It’s startling how diametrically different the mindsets are between politicians and scientists in this insane world. In just this last week, the world’s scientists have discovered a seemingly boundless galaxy cluster, named Abell 370, and then a solar system they are calling “a much younger version of our own,” again, in the backyard of our own Milky Way. Last week, NASA announced finding another exoplanet – a frigid ice-ball – a mere 13,000 light-years away.

Promising a rose garden from the Rose Garden.

Meanwhile back in fact-free land, Republican congressmen voted Thursday to literally kill poor, elderly and disabled Americans – so far the count is 24 million – with their new “health care bill” that repeals the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) and replaces it with nothing more than the old system of insurance companies denying anyone who is sick or gets sick, and charging those that get coverage exorbitant rates. The gall in calling it a health care bill is the zenith of Orwellian madness.  In France, Putin and his minions pulled the same stunts they did in our election with fake news stories, email thieving and leaking, and crafted terror attacks in order to get an avowed fascist, Marine Le Pen, elected. (Thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster that the French are smarter than we are and voted for the moderate!)

And on the environmental front, the schism between scientific thinking and cowardly political greed and stupidity is vividly aggravated. It will be daunting for me to list all the environmental crimes against this planet that have been committed by politicians in just the past 10 days, but I will try to name the most visible ones:

  • Global warming has melted the Arctic so severely that new shipping lanes have opened – which made it easy-peasy for Der Trumpenfuhrer to throw out Obama’s protections against oil exploration in the region and let the drilling begin.
  • The Planet-Killer-in-Chief, also in one of his copious Executive Orders, opened offshore drilling along the California coast and many other sensitive marine areas, including the Caribbean.
  • Scientists just announced that global warming has also made Quebec’s vast forests very vulnerable to mega-forest fires.
  • Scientists also warned that global warming will be responsible for a huge increase in air-flight turbulence since the jet-stream of air in flight paths is becoming super-heated.
  • Trump is still playing “she loves me, she loves me not” publicly on whether to decide if we will be in or out of the hard-fought 2015 Global Climate Accord between developed and developing nations made in Paris, while naturally, he has vowed to his idiot base that he will dump it. Environmentalists, indeed, the entire world, are hoping he pulls another about-face, as he has with so many other issues, and to that end Democrats – including CA governor Jerry Brown – have written the Moron-in-Chief a formal letter warning him of the existential dangers of scrapping the deal.

And then there’s Trump’s new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt. Here we have a proven former lobbyist for filthy Big Energy (and many believe he is still working for the Big Oil/Fracking companies, while he is leading the EPA to oblivion), who actually sued the agency he is heading 14 times while he was Attorney General for Oklahoma (all this was illegal, but barely got a “meh” from Republican senators during his confirmation hearings). As a foreshadowing of the hell this crony-in-a-box plans to release, some two weeks ago he removed the “climate change” data page on the EPA website, angering environmentalists and scientists worldwide. Obviously, the incalculable harm and suffering this guy has the power (and intention) to inflict (including abolishing 56 EPA rules, dismantling the bipartisan chemical safety Lautenberg Act, and deep-sixing the Mercury and Air Toxics Rule) is breath-taking.

Late last month, Pruitt met with the National Mining Association’s executive committee members to personally request that the group write Trump to request that he withdraw the US from the Paris climate accord.

But here’s the latest: In a DC hearing on Wednesday, Pruitt was grilled by Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, who asked him if he would recuse himself from his own ongoing lawsuits against the EPA, the agency he heads. He refused to say, other than he would rely on the advice of agency ethics lawyers. Huh?? Let’s not forget that Pruitt and his Political Action Committees were paid hundreds of thousands by Big Oil to push against drilling/fracking/spilling regulations while AG of Oklahoma.

“If you don’t agree to recuse yourself,” said Edward Markey (D-Mass.), “then you become plaintiff, defendant, judge and jury on the cases you are bringing right now as attorney general of Oklahoma against the EPA.”

During the tense, packed hearing, protesters against Pruitt swarmed outside the chambers, and two managed to slip in: one was dressed as a BP technician carrying a fake can of oil, another as an oil-drenched seabird. The “BP technician” was removed by security after he yelled that Pruitt would gut the EPA.

Then there was the exchange Pruitt had with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).When Sanders asked Pruitt why the climate was changing, Pruitt said that his opinion was “immaterial.”

“Really?” Sanders countered. “You are going to be the head of the agency to protect the environment, and your personal feelings about whether climate change is caused by human activity is immaterial?” (♪ crickets chirping.♫)

Getting any answers out of this turnip was like pulling donkey-teeth, apparently.

Yet as I write this, a tiny light appeared at the end of this blackest of tunnels. On late Friday night, The Hill announced that Pruitt has acceded to recuse himself from any of his own lawsuits against the EPA. What a guy! He will also not be involved in any cases challenging the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, the Clean Water Rule, the 2015 ozone pollution rule, the methane emissions limits for oil and natural gas, and more.

We applaud the decision. The next obvious question is, why in hell is he even at the EPA? But for the diligence of these democratic senators and the tireless protesters, Pruitt would at this moment be awarding millions of our dollars to the Big Oily and blowing up every environmental safeguard going back to Nixon. The Galactic Sandbox urges you, dear reader, to keep screaming at them, and in the meantime, contact your senators and representatives urging that the US remain in the Paris climate change pact, as well as sign this petition to defend the EPA. – Kate Woods, Writer-At-Large 


Sith Happens

Space X officially became a card-carrying member of the industrial military complex last week with the successful launch and orbital deployment of a hush-hush payload for the National Reconnaissance Organization (NRO). According to TechCrunch, the mission, which was nearly scrubbed for a second time because of high winds, also included a controlled landing of the company’s Falcon-9 first stage booster on the LZ-1 pad at Cape Canaveral.  While the rocket’s generically-named “NROL-76” secret stash was classified, Space-X did provide blast-off footage as shown below:


While We Were Sleeping

Hazmat-donned technicians secure secrete X-37B space plane after landing on Sunday.

Speaking of dark missions, the US Air Force’s ultra-undercover space plane prototype returned to Earth Sunday at Cape Canaveral following a record two-year stint orbiting the globe, reports Reuters. The uncrewed X-37B craft – a quarter the size of the mothballed Space Shuttles – ended its fourth flight in orbit 700 days after it blasted off for space aboard an Atlas 5 rocket in May 2015. Air Force reps said the orbiter performed “risk reduction, experimentation and concept-of-operations development for reusable space vehicle technologies.” Of course the cost of the program is under wraps. The nonprofit Secure World Foundation that promotes the peaceful exploration of space believes the military is likely testing or evaluating intelligence-related hardware due to the clandestineness of the project.

Suicide Squad

Depiction of a Breakthrough Starshot microprobe arriving at an Earth-like planet in the  Proxima b star system 4.2 light years away. Credit: Planetary Habitability Laboratory, University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo

Like bugs ker-splatting on a celestial windshield, Earth’s first messengers to an alien world may involve self-immolating nano sats crashing into a nearby exoplanet – at least that’s what the brainiacs at the $100 million Breakthrough Starshot initiative envision for their proposed fleet of tiny interstellar robotic craft that would buzz through the cosmos at 20 percent the speed of light. “I want 10 — at least 10 ships, not just one,” Harvard University astronomy professor Dimitar Sasselov said last month at the annual Breakthrough Discuss conference at Stanford University, reports LiveScience. “So then, two of them I’ll point at the planet, straight into the planet, hit the planet and create a thermal event in the atmosphere,” added Sasselov. The remaining eight probes would “beam the data back, because you’ll get a lot better characterization of what’s in the atmosphere,” he said.

The postage-stamp-sized “starchip” would be laser-blasted from Earth tethered to a tiny sail, and at 20 percent the speed of light, would reach Pluto in three days and the nearest star in 20 years.

Philip Lubin, a physics professor at UC Santa Barbara, and the mastermind of Breakthrough Starshot’s planned lightning-speed, laser-propulsion system, curiously described how such a kamikazi mission would play out:

“Maybe you have a small mothership that sends out little daughters [and] drops them in the atmosphere,” Lubin said during the Stanford conference. “And then perhaps you could telemeter data back from the daughters to the mother saying, ‘I’m sacrificing myself for the good of science and humanity back home.’

Gee, even in interstellar space women have it tough.

One For The Dipper

NASA has cut a short movie comprised of images taken by the Cassini spacecraft as it swooped as close as 4,200 miles above Saturn late last month in a first of a series of encores before it plunges into the gas giant’s swirling cauldron of an atmosphere this September.  Imaging-editing magicians at the space agency stitched together one hour of observations as the venerable probe moved from the eye of the hexagon-shaped storm at the planet’s north pole down toward the equator. “I was surprised to see so many sharp edges along the hexagon’s outer boundary and the eye-wall of the polar vortex,” said Kunio Sayanagi, an associate of the Cassini team who helped produce the film. “Something must be keeping different latitudes from mixing to maintain those edges,” he added. And if you feel the quality of the photos are a little rough, just wait for the sequel, says Andrew Ingersoll, a Cassini team member at Caltech. “The images from the first pass were great, but we were conservative with the camera settings. We plan to make updates to our observations for a similar opportunity on June 29 that we think will result in even better views.”

Young At Heart

Eridanus constellation

Scientists steering the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) have discovered a solar system remarkably like our own, only 10.5 light-years away but only one-fifth the age of ours.  It is named Epsilon Eridani, or “Eps Eri,” and it is located in the Southern Hemisphere of the Eridanus constellation.  Scientists have also found that the budding planetary arrangement not only has a star identical to our Sun, it also has a debris disk that’s still forming planets – one of which is very similar to our Jupiter.   The more we read about this latest SOFIA discovery, the more we are kind of creeped out… it’s like looking at a cloned Earth system in its infancy, wondering how much of our own history will be repeated.

Gas Guzzler

Researchers working with the Chandra X-Ray Space Telescope have just reported finding a colossal tidal wave of hot gas twice as big as the Milky Way galaxy, measuring 200,000 light years across.  That’s enough hot air to rival that coming from Washington DC!   The massive plasma tsunami, which scientists call a Kelvin-Helmholtz wave, was found cruising through the Perseus Galaxy Cluster, and it is thought to have been caused by a smaller galactic array that passed by billions of years ago, which in turn churned up the gas in the Perseus cluster, and, well…it just kept kept growing, sort of like the Great Garbage Patch of plastic coagulating in the Pacific Ocean which is believed to be bigger than the state of Texas at this point, and won’t dissipate for many millions of years. The researchers plan to publish their findings in the June issue of Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society


Remember the days when they would show a “supercomputer” the size of an office floor (but at the time only had the computing power of a pocket beeper) on TV?  You don’t?  OK, so you’re younger than I or fearless editor Agnett Bonwitt.  But that’s the stuff you’d have to deal with if you want to win part of a $55,000 prize (a ton of dough in 1970s dollars) from NASA to update the speed – up to 10,000 times its current rate – of its old Pleiades supercomputer design software, written in ye olde Fortran code. The two categories that First and Second Place winners will compete in are ideation and architecture. Only U.S. Citizens can compete (since Fortran was written and created by the U.S. Government), and the deadline to enter is June 29, 5 pm Eastern Time.  Enter here and download the FUN3D link. Please, no punch cards!

Final Frontiers

This stunning pix of Abell 370 was taken as part of NASA’s Frontier Fields program that used 630 hours of Hubble observing time.

NASA”s unrivaled Hubble Space Telescope outdid itself again as it snapped a portrait of galaxy cluster Abell 370 with never-before seen clarity as the massive galactic neighborhood stares back at us 6 billion light years away.

According to the space agency, Abell 370’s ginormous gravitational clout warps spacetime around it, making background galaxies appear both distorted and magnified (seen as streaks and arcs in the photo). This phenomenon actually turns these clusters into natural telescopes providing a close-up peek of the distant galaxies behind the colossal cosmic assemblage, and a glimpse of how they looked in our Universe’s infancy just a few hundred million years after the Big Bang. Now that’s something to sing about.


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Take a Hike

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May 1, 2017

By Kate Woods, Galactic Sandbox Writer-At-Large
and Agnett Bonwitt, Managing Editor

Pot, Meet Kettle

Trump’s assaults on this planet now seem to be incoming on a daily basis.  This week I read in horror as his hand-picked oil lobbyist, new EPA head Scott Pruitt, threatened to unplug the agency’s Open Data Web Service – a source of essential information on environmental justice, health impact analysis and climate change.

But after public outcry, the agency – in true Trumpian style – lied its way out of the issue by saying it was a misunderstanding over a possible government shut-down on Friday if Congress did not agree over the nation’s budget.  The website would remain up, Pruitt acquiesced, with only a few “outages.”  We’ll see.

Just days later our Conman-in-Chief made a big deal out of yet another Executive Order by “giving the federal monuments back to the people.”  Let me translate that: It means that states may soon be allowed to place 27 national monuments under their own jurisdiction, and in turn allow oil drilling, fracking, coal mining and logging on one billion acres of pristine federal public lands, and yes, ocean sanctuaries too, in the Pacific and the Caribbean.  Everyone – even the TV news talking glamour pusses – could crack the code of this corporate land-grab executive abomination. 

“Trump and the anti-public-lands zealots in Congress are plotting to destroy some of the country’s most stunning landscapes and cultural treasures,” said Randi Spivak, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s public lands program. “They couldn’t care less how much Americans treasure these iconic places. Their goal is to hand our public lands over to corporations to mine, frack, bulldoze and clear-cut till there’s nothing left to dig up.”

Pinnacles National Park

National Monuments are often precursors to becoming National Parks, and as such lack fewer protections from bully-in-the-pulpit shenanigans that Trump pulled last week. For example,  where I live, in San Benito County, CA, we boasted the Pinnacles National “Monument” for decades – a beautiful expanse full of ancient volcanic spires, caves, endangered species like the California Condor and legends of banditos from the Old California days (before we stole it from Mexico).  Tenacious teeth-pulling from our long-time former Congressman Sam Farr (D-Monterey) finally resulted in its designation as a full-fledged National Park some seven years ago.  Naturally, residents here were relieved and delighted for his victory, since the Miocene-era sanctuary is now less vulnerable from plutocratic wrecking balls.

Grand Staircase-Escalante, UT

Which – getting back to my point – is why the grabby Baby-Rattler-in-Chief is going after the easier pickings of Monuments. HIs executive order directs the Department of the Interior (which is responsible for protecting our federal lands, parks and monuments) to review all national monuments “over 100,000 acres” in size, then decide how far to shrink them down in order to open them up to corporate raping.  The Union of Concerned Scientists makes it clear that Trump and his greenhouse gas-breathing overlords are specifically drooling over the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments, which together comprise 3.23 million acres in Utah.  The Secretary of the Interior as much as signaled the drum beat by describing Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears as the “bookends of modern Antiquities Act overreach.” If that ain’t the pot calling the kettle black! To which environmental organizations say, “Hey, DC:  See you in court!”

Mind the gap: Greenland’s Petermann Glacier formed a new crevasse, setting the stage for massive ice field to crack in half.

After the massive Marches for Science last weekend and the March for Climate Change on Saturday, we don’t know if the Administration is utterly tone deaf to the will of the people or if they just don’t give a rat’s ass.  I suspect it is both, along with a rapacious greed for more money.  We’re expecting Trump to pull out of the planet’s Paris Climate Accord any day now, as we are also expecting the Petermann Glacier in Greenland to break off the mainland at any moment. A new crack found by NASA’s aerial fly-overs and sat monitoring (the agency’s Operation IceBridge program) show the massive fissure heading towards an intersect with an older fracture, which could break the glacier – three times the size of Texas – in half.  Do you think that if the Trump Gang realized global warming causes ginormous real estate loss, they would start paying attention?  

Enumerating all the Trump Coterie’s attacks on our environment since he cheated his way into office would take up volumes at this point.  You would destroy a forest if it were ever to be printed out on paper.  Is it any wonder we here at the Galactic Sandbox keep hollering for humankind to get off this poor planet and leave it alone?  In the meantime, here are some petitions (click here or here) to sign to let the politicians know you won’t stand for this pillaging of our most cherished national sites.  – Kate Woods, Writer-At-Large


Last Hurrahs

NASA last week received the closest photos ever taken of Saturn as the remarkable Cassini spacecraft begins its “Grand Finale” with a first pass between the planet’s icy ring system and the giant gas ball itself.”No spacecraft has ever been this close to Saturn before. We could only rely on predictions, based on our experience with Saturn’s other rings, of what we thought this gap between the rings and Saturn would be like,” said Cassini Project Manager Earl Maize of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. The raw pix released by the space agency shows “ethereal blips and blotches against the planet’s swirling clouds,” reports NPR. The probe’s final chapter will end after an additional 23 swooping maneuvers through Saturn’s ring/planet gap when on September 15 the craft will make a last swan dive into a data-rich Saturnian atmosphere.

Cosmik Eyesore

You would think it would be NASA to call on the international space community to do something, for Dog’s sake, about the ever-growing threat orbiting Earth – the shroud of dense space junk that now compromises all missions that launch off this planet, posing a hazard to astronauts on the ISS, China’s station as well, and all space-faring craft, not to mention the welfare of all satellites residing above the exosphere.  But no.  It was the European Space Agency that gathered more than 400 scientists, engineers, university reps and space experts together in Germany last week for a four-day conference to come up with solutions to the menace.

At this point there are 750,000 pieces of space junk measuring between one and 10 cm in diameter floating in our low-Earth orbit space, that’s up from 500,000 pieces we reported on just half a year ago.  This doesn’t even include the tens of thousands of pieces larger than softballs shooting around like  pinball balls, and at much greater speeds, in the same orbit as the International Space Station.  But one thing that Sandbox writers noticed was glaringly absent from all stories about this latest development was any solution being offered.  Hey!  We put men on the Moon half a century ago.  Why can’t we clean up our backyard (and send Trump to the Moon permanently), for the good of this planet and its reputation in the multi-Galactic Sandbox?

Green is the New Red

Future Mars dwellers won’t have to live off just potatoes grown in human waste like Matt Damon’s character in “The Martian.”  NASA has teamed up with the University of Arizona to build some prototypes for future greenhouses on Mars, where many humans hope to someday have a working, sustainable colony. 

  And what they’ve come up with are nothing near the old-fashioned concepts of your great aunt’s outside hothouse.  The Mars greenhouses – at least in this initial incarnation – are 18-foot-long, seven-foot-wide inflatable cylinders that recycle water and waste.  But the real kicker is that they would be buried under the surface of the Red Planet, or the Moon, to avoid the radiation so prevalent in both orbs’ atmospheres.  The tubes will not only grow fresh veggies for future explorers, they will use the carbon dioxide expelled by the visiting humans and convert it to oxygen.  The greenhouse tubes will also employ LED lighting, with fiber-optics to give concentrated light to specific plants.

X Marks the Sucker

The late Moon-walker Gordon Cooper has sparked a frenzy among treasure hunters and get-quick rich dreamers.  In the ’60s, while Cooper was on the Mercury-Atlas 9 (Faith-7) flight orbiting Earth, he was presumably on the hunt for signs of Soviet nuclear warhead activity (during the Cold War), equipped with specialized photo equipment to zoom in on anything suspicious.  But what he found was what he believed to be the relics of a shipwreck in the Caribbean.  Just before Cooper died in 2004, he revealed to friend Darrell Miklos his subsequent research on the X Spot he wanted to explore, but according to Miklos, Cooper knew his time was running out.

Further investigation using magnetometers and special dives in the area has Miklos believing that there are, indeed, colonial shipwrecks, in the area.  And now the Discovery Channel is on it like a duck on a junebug, following Miklos and his crew around, betting against common sense that they will be gurgling “Eureka!” during any episode of their new reality treasure hunt series.  Do you think it will end up like the Oak Island farce they reeled viewers into a few years ago, with a big fat nothing at the end?  We do.

Project Runaway

A new audit of NASA says that the agency blew $80.6 million on a new spacesuit design it didn’t need, and yet the astronaut corp is currently in dire need of spacesuits for the International Space Station. It seems there were crossed decisions made after the Obama Administration canceled the back-to-the-Moon Constellation Program in 2007 and someone forgot to tell the lunar surface suit designers to never mind.  What’s worse, says NASA Inspector General Paul Martin, there are now only 11 space threads left from the original 18 for the ISS environment –  four of which are on the station. On top of that, those suits are woefully outdated and inadequate, and are particularly susceptible to water getting into the helmets.  

And now NASA has to get cracking on a new generation of deep-space suits for Mars exploration. Make it work! Chop, chop!

Das Boot?

First the good news: NASA and the European Space Agency have announced they will pool resources for a combined landing mission to Jupiter’s icy moon Europa, to occur hopefully in the mid-2020s.  The first five years of the Joint Europa Mission (JEM) would be spent just getting the spacecraft to its destination.  But here’s the part that leaves us stumped: The last year and a half of JEM will be spent orbiting the Jovian moon to obtain data, with only a “lander” slated to rove the icy surface for 35 days, screening for biomolecules and metabolites. This is great, but don’t we want to also send a submarine probe beneath the ice shell to study just what may be swimming around that cold ocean?  Since water plumes were discovered shooting from the satellite in 2013, scientists have been eager to know what sort of life Europa’s ice-sea could be harboring.

Finally, at the end of the mission, the orbiting craft would be crashed onto the ice surface, taking measurements of Europa’s atmosphere (particularly for life-related gasses like carbon dioxide and oxygen).  Hmmmm.  We still don’t detect a sub in this scheme.  Still, the Sandbox applauds NASA’s willingness to work with ESA on joint missions – especially when it bypasses the Trump Cabal’s designs for world management and underfunding of space endeavors.  Recently, DC only approved of funding a future Europa flyby, with no mention of a lander or sea-ice probe for any of our backyard moons.

Trump on ICE

Well, they asked for it, and they got it: The Moron-in-Chief’s much ballyhooed plan to establish an immigrant SNITCH hotline for “victims of illegal aliens” reaped its just rewards for the Idiot-Administration’s absurd and fascist nationalism when, upon initiating the dial-a-fink line, the “service” was inundated with crank calls about extraterrestrial aliens breaking into people’s backyards.  While an official Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE)I email denounced the calls as “a cheap publicity stunt … designed to harm victims,” there is a sinister repetition of history to the administration’s rat-out-an-alien program. In fact, the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) is practically a carbon copy of Hitler’s “reward program” of the 1930’s and early 40s in which German citizens were encouraged to tattle to the Gestapo about one’s  “irregular” neighbor, especially if said neighbor were Jewish or a foreigner. So, imagine the horror by many when last February during the not-written-by him joint speech to Congress and America, Der Trumpenfurher proclaimed through audible gasps in the room the establishment of VOICE, and that ICE would enforce it. It’s not surprising then, that organized groups of merry punksters determined that history not repeat itself swamped the “weasleline” the moment it was opened last week, crashing the VOICE website as well as the phone message service.  All we can say, gang, is KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!


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