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.
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 Space.com 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.