July 31, 2017
By Elizabeth McMahon, Galactic Sandbox Writer-At-Large
and Agnett Bonwitt, Managing Editor
Burning Down the House
While the US media continues to be gobsmacked by “The Apprentice – White House Edition” meat grinder narrative where contestants cannibalize each other as our Republic burns to the ground, concertmaster der Trumpenfuhrer makes sure his administration keeps on truckin’ in its accelerated fossil-fueled assault on planet Earth and the US citizens it purports to govern.
In a recent DCReport.org article titled, “An Environmental Disaster in the Making,” author Sarah Okeson sounds the alarm bells, reporting that the US Interior Department is fast-tracking drilling permits for the “New Texas Oil Boom,” while the EPA turns a blind eye as it works to unravel “Obama-era regulations on methane, a greenhouse gas that worsens climate change and has been linked to asthma.”
The recipe for this environmental time bomb starts with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (the same goon who last week threatened Alaska Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan with retaliatory actions agains their state if Murkowski continued to vote against the [ultimately] failed Republican healthcare reform bill), who is making it easier for energy companies to slice up the Permian Basin, a region covering Texas and New Mexico that is rich in oil and gas reserves with “more recoverable oil than any field outside Saudi Arabia.” So much crude, in fact, that North American drillers plan to drop most of their $84 billion play money this year in the area, which Citigroup estimates “could be producing 5 million barrels of oil a day by 2020, more than Iran or Iraq.”
Then the EPA – led by big-oil stooge Scott Pruitt – steps in and stonewalls new regulations restricting methane emissions at new oil and gas wells even though more than 203,000 Americans, about a quarter of them children, live within half a mile of the 18,000 gas and oil facilities subject to the EPA rule, according to the FracTracker Alliance, a nonprofit that studies oil and gas development. (The Interior Department also is quashing a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) dictum limiting the amount of methane that can be vented, burned or wasted from oil and gas operations on federal and Native American lands.)
Fortunately, a federal appeals court has blocked Pruitt’s attempt to delay the EPA statute, and .environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity, are suing Zinke and the Interior Department for not enforcing provisions of the BLM rule. The attorney generals in California and New Mexico have also sued over the delay in enforcing the BLM edict.
“As much as Zinke talks about valuing our public lands and emulating Teddy Roosevelt, the truth is that he and Donald Trump share the same priority: giving Big Oil free rein on our publicly-owned lands, whatever the cost to our health and our environment,” said Kelly Martin of the Sierra Club.
To keep the fire blazing under their toes and not ours, we encourage folks to send love messages to both Pruitt (Facebook and Twitter sites,Pruitt.scott@Epa.gov / Phone: 202-564-4700) and Zinke (202-208-3100, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20240, Facebook and Twitter sites).
Facts of Life
Researchers are abuzz over the detection within the smoggy nitrogen/methane atmosphere of Saturn’s moon, Titan, of a molecule instrumental in the creation of life. The European Space Agency last week revealed that the international Cassini-Huygens mission may have found a “universal driver for prebiotic chemistry,” forming conditions that may be similar to those that led to the development of life on Earth. The new Cassini-Huygens findings, published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, describes the unexpected discovery of a particular type of highly-reactive, negatively-charged molecules “understood to be building blocks towards more complex molecules, and may have acted as the basis for the earliest forms of life on Earth.” When exposed to sunlight, these energetic particles generate reactions involving nitrogen, hydrogen, and carbon, leading to more complex compounds that eventually drift down towards Titan’s lower atmosphere, possibly reaching the moon’s surface.
Over the Moon
In a potential new coup for the Kepler Astronomy Telescope, scientists are reporting initial findings showing that the space-based planet-seeker may have recorded data of an extraordinarily-large moon the size of Neptune orbiting a giant planet nearly 4,000 light years away, reports the National Geographic. If confirmed, the discovery of the ridiculously-huge satellite marks the existence of an “exomoon,” opening a new chapter in the study of worlds beyond our solar system. In order to affirm their detected signals, researchers have booked time this October to aim the Hubble Space Telescope at the planet’s home star. “This candidate is intriguing, and we obviously feel good enough about it that we’ve asked for Hubble time,” coauthor Alex Teachey, a graduate student at Columbia University, says in an email. “But we want to be crystal clear that we are not claiming a detection at this point.” Until then Teachey’s team will be keeping their fingers crossed, hoping that Kepler will add a remarkably new feather in its cap, on top of the already confirmed 2,000 alien worlds and 4,000 potential exoplanets it has spotted.
According to a newly-released report obtained by Buzz Feed, NASA passed up the opportunity to send astronauts around the Moon in 2020 – not because it wasn’t safe – but due to lack of sufficient funding. The document explains the reason space agency acting head Robert Lightfoot last May declined the Trump administration’s urging to include humans on the first mission of the jumbo Space Launch System rocket that would make an eight-day express trip around our nearest celestial neighbor in 2019. “NASA concluded crew could have flown on Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), provided timely and sufficient funding,” if the launch were postponed until 2020, the report signed by Lightfoot read, A crewed EM-1 mission would have had “significant” benefits, the report adds, including a “better overall flow” of future flights and by accelerating the possibility of shipping humans to Mars aboard spacecraft launched via SLS rockets. “NASA wants people to know it could have done this, if they had the money, but won’t because they don’t,” Keith Cowing of NASA Watch told BuzzFeed News. While NASA usually refrains from sending human guinea pigs on maiden space voyages, the maturity of the repurposed space shuttle rockets integrated into the SLS vehicle and the successful flight test of an Orion capsule in 2014 dispelled signifiant fears regarding astronaut safety. However, the $600 million $900 million NASA needed to cough up in order to add life support systems was the ultimate show-stopper.
Up in Arms
The U.S,. along with France, Germany, and Britain, cried foul last week after Iran announced that it had successfully tested a rocket that can launch satellites into orbit, a move the group of nations said breached a U.N. Security Council resolution regarding ballistic missile development. Acting further, citing continued “provocative actions,” the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control imposed sanctions on six Iranian missile manufacturing firms owned or controlled by the Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group that was involved in the production of the rocket. According to Reuters, the move enables the U.S. government to block those companies’ properties under its jurisdiction and prohibits U.S. citizens from conducting business with the firms. “The U.S. government will continue to aggressively counter Iran’s ballistic missile-related activity, whether it be a provocative space launch … or likely support to Yemeni Houthi missile attacks on Saudi Arabia such as occurred this past weekend,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a statement. Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, on the other hand, defended his country’s space program on Twitter, arguing that it does not build missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons. “Iran—unlike the U.S.—has complied in good faith with the letter and spirit of JCPOA [the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran, the U.S., and five other powers],” Zarif said, adding that the United States’s “rhetoric and actions” “show[ed] bad faith.”
New Kids in Town
A Russian-made Soyuz rocket lofted three astronauts – including veteran American, Russian, and Italian space farers, to the International Space Station, joining two NASA astronauts and a Russian cosmonauts already onboard the orbiting laboratory. According to NASA, the new Expedition 52 crew members will spend more than four months conducting a smorgasbord of approximately 250 science investigations in fields such as biology, Earth science, human research, physical sciences and technology development. The new additions also mark the first time the space agency has four crew members (including Italy’s Paolo Nespoli) available for these scientific demonstrations, effectively doubling the amount of research time for NASA and its partners.