Fast and Dubious

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July 31, 2017

By Elizabeth McMahon, Galactic Sandbox Writer-At-Large
and Agnett Bonwitt, Managing Editor

Burning Down the House

Revealing NASA photo taken in 2012 shows extensive methane flaring that occurred at oil extraction operations in the Bakken region of North Dakota (highlighted in box). Such unnecessary methane flaring that contributes to climate-changing greenhouse gassing and wastes vast amounts of energy could be possible again under the Trump Administration.

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 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.”

Bringing back wild west oil drilling – Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke As with several other Trump Cabinet members, Zinke has called for increased energy drilling and mining on public lands and has expressed skepticism about the urgency of climate change.

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, / 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

Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, boasts the most complex atmosphere in the solar system that many scientists believes mimics the atmosphere of early Earth before the build-up of oxygen.

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.

Penny Pinching

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

Iran’s “Simorgh” rocket was launched at the Imam Khomeini Space Center, Iran, on July 27. (Tasnim News Agency/Handout via Reuters)

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

Soyuz MS-05 carrying NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik, Sergey Ryazanskiy of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, and Paolo Nespoli of ESA (European Space Agency) docks with the International Space Station on Friday, July 28.

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.

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As the Worlds Turn

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July 24, 2017

By Elizabeth McMahon, Galactic Sandbox Writer-At-Large
and Agnett Bonwitt, Managing Editor

Hype Dreams

SpaceX CEO and uncharismatic Tony Stark action figure Elon Musk continues to kick his plans for a space-faring civilization down the information-overloaded corridors of public opinion, recently calling for a human outpost on the Moon. “To really get the public real fired up, I think we’ve got to have a base on the moon,” Musk told attendees of the 2017 International Space Station Research and Development (ISSR&D) conference held in Washington, D.C last week. “Having some permanent presence on another heavenly body, which would be the kind of moon base, and then getting people to Mars and beyond — that’s the continuance of the dream of Apollo that I think people are really looking for,” the gazillionaire entrepreneur told NASA Space Station program manager Kirk Shireman, who interviewed him onstage at the conference.

Musk also said this September in Australia he plans to announce a tweaked version of his  Interplanetary Transport System designed to colonize Mars, and possibly lead to further human expansion on Jupiter’s moon, Europa, and Saturn’s tantalizingly enigmatic satellite, Enceladus. According to Musk, the downsized ITS spaceship — originally designed to carry at least 100 people — will now be used in some profit-generating “Earth-orbit activity” to help make Mars colonization economically feasible, reports NBC News. “That’s one of the key elements in the new architecture,” Musk said. “It’s similar to what was [unveiled earlier this year] at IAC, but it’s a little bit smaller — still big. I think this one’s got a shot at being real on the economic front. You know, that’s the trick.”

The high-tech empresario also touted yet another of his ventures, The Boring Company, which he said could assist in Mars colonization by burrowing space-age catacombs to shield Red Planet pilgrims from high doses of radiation on the Martian surface. “You can build a tremendous amount underground with the right boring technology on Mars, so I do think there’s some overlap in that technology-development arena,” Musk said. However, unlike Earth-optimized tunneling juggernauts that weigh several tons, Martian counterparts would need to be featherweights by comparison. “The Earth ones are really heavy. Like, really heavy,” Musk said. “You’re not worried about weight for an Earth tunneling machine; actually, you want one that’s nice and heavy. But a Mars one, you’d have to redesign it to be superlight — that’s a tricky one — and then just take into account the different conditions on Mars and everything else.”

Faster than a speeding bullet, Elon Musk’s Hyperloop system would zip passengers on a cushion of air via subterranean vacuum-sealed tunnels.

Musk earlier this month claimed that The Boring Company had received verbal government approval to build an underground, supersonic hyperloop transportation system connecting New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. The New York to Washington, D.C. hyperloop, which Musk boasts will take 29 minutes to travel from city center to city center, will be built in parallel with the Los Angeles tunnel system announced in May.


Street Cred

Last week, Google maps officially linked Earth and the cosmos, publishing “Street View” images of the International Space Station. Taken by ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet during his just-completed six-month stint aboard the ISS, the annotated photos were produced using DSLR cameras and other equipment already on the orbiting laboratory and then beamed down to Earth where they were “stitched together to create panoramic 360 degree imagery of the ISS,” said Pesquet. “The mission was the first time Street View imagery was captured beyond planet Earth … [and] provide additional information or fun facts like where we work out to stay physically fit, what kind of food we eat, and where we conduct scientific experiments,” Pesquet added in a Google blog posted last Thursday.


NASA’s eagle-eyed Hubble Space Telescope continues to amaze with a short string of photographs released by the space agency showing Mars’ tiny moon Phobos zipping around the Red Planet.  Apparently the football-shaped satellite photobombed Hubble’s portrait of Mars as it recently snapped a series of 13 separate pix over a 22-minute time period. The tiny, pockmarked Phobos, which measures just 16.5 miles by 13.5 miles by 11 miles making it one of the smallest moons in the solar system, appears as a small star in a short video NASA released last week produced from the multiple Hubble images.

Bidding Adieu

In a follow-up to last week’s “Grab Bag” item, the auctioned satchel used by astronaut Neil Armstrong to bring back the first lunar dust samples to Earth was sold to an anonymous winning bidder who snatched the historic item for the gavel price of $1.8 million — less than the anticipated $2-4 million reported last week. According to USA Today, Sotheby’s was still beaming about its space memorabilia sale marking the 48th anniversary of the first moonwalking mission, as it raked in $3.8 million from other items that sold way above their appraised values including the Apollo 13 Flight Plan that fetched $275,000, a $17,500 pic of man’s first look at the Earth from the Moon, and a Snoopy astronaut doll that went for a galactically-inflated price of $27,500.

Trillions and Trillions

Image of the Sun taken through the Earth in “neutrino light.” The most abundant substance in the universe, neutrinos interact so weakly that trillions pass through each of us every second.

Bigwigs from science and politics congregated deep underground at an abandoned gold mine in South Dakota last week for a stone-turning ceremony at the planned site of a gargantuan particle detector that will serve as part of the next grand physics experiment designed to determine the nature of the spooky, elusive neutrino. “We couldn’t be more excited to be actually starting construction,” says Mike Headley, head of the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority in Lead, adding, We’re absolutely thrilled that [the project] is moving forward and about what it’s going to do for the U.S. scientifically,” Known as the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF), the $1.5 billion project will fire neutrinos from Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Batavia, Illinois, to a the Lead detector 1300 kilometers away, and will help determine how different neutrino types morph into one another as well determine how slight asymmetries between neutrinos and antineutrinos caused the infant universe to form.

Can of Worms

A team of researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, are giving a new meaning to the phrase “creepy crawler,” with a newly-created robot that expands exponentially as it slithers with the determination of a Terminator T1000 to accomplish its programmed mission. A recently-published article in Science Robotics introduces the grow worm concept that was conceived by the group lead by Elliot Hawkes, a roboticist at UCSB who was inspired by watching his English ivy plant grow around a corner seeking sunlight. Up until now most robot designers have used locomotion similar to humans or animals to move their machines; however the UCSB team’s “growbot” expands by using eversion powered by either pneumatic or hydraulic pressure basically turning inside out as the material coiled in it emits from its tip. The scientists believe self-propagation has advantages over typical locomotion such as the ability to maneuver in constrained spaces, widen, and become 3D. Until now, rudimentary cyborgs’ ability to extend had been constrained to only about 5 times their body length and it was done very slowly (centimeters per hour). Depending on the dimension of the coil and power of the pressure this new contraption can grow very quickly from inches to hundreds of feet at 22 miles per hour! Tests have shown that it can withstand surfaces covered with nails and glue, squeeze through small crevices, move around awkward angles, lift heavy weights, and still keep going. Cameras installed on the tip allow the operator to see what is happening, and maneuver it. It has been tested on several tasks so far, including pulling cable, spraying water on a fire, lifting a heavy crate, and generally going places that would be dangerous or un-accessible to humans. All sorts of practical applications from search and rescue emergency response, medical procedures to the more mundane construction and packing tasks, to more out-of-this world uses (see “Getting a Grip” below on a similar idea) could be made possible/easier by this type of device. For now it is constructed of easily procured, lightweight plastic but more robust materials are also being tested.

Getting a Grip

Underside view of proposed space trash “gripper.”

Engineers at Stanford University are working on a robotic “gripper” that would be used to help mop up the approximately 500,000 pieces of space junk orbiting our planet at potentially destructive speeds of up to 17,500 miles per hour, reports Space Daily. Abandoning traditional terrestrial adhering materials that fail in extreme space environments as well as more invasive tactics that could ricochet debris into more dangerous trajectories, researchers are testing “gecko-inspired adhesives” as an “outgrowth of work we started about 10 years ago on climbing robots that used adhesives inspired by how geckos stick to walls,” says Mark Cutkosky, professor of mechanical engineering and senior author of a study published in the June 27 issue of Science Robotics. The team has already performed tests aboard the International Space Station, and look to see how their concept works outside the craft. “We could also eventually develop a climbing robot assistant that could crawl around on the spacecraft, doing repairs, filming and checking for defects,” adds Aaron Parness of NASA JPL.

Russian designed Mayak satellite would use metallic reflectors to remove space junk circling the Earth.

In related news, Space Daily also reports that students at the Moscow State University of Mechanical Engineering are cheering the launch earlier this month of a satellite they designed that will test aero-braking techniques used in removing space junk from Earth’s orbit.





Nothing to Hear Here

The red dwarf star in the nearby Ross system known as Ross 128 has been used as the setting for a few science fiction novels and even a video game from the 90’s, so when it was reported recently that there were some very odd and inexplicable radio signals coming from it, ET hunters went into speculative high gear. Alas for those persistent zealots, the truth, it seems, is probably much less fantastic and possibly downright snooze worthy. Abel Mendez, a professor at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo’s Planetary Habitability Laboratory, suggested in a blog post this week they could be caused by: 1) solar flares from Ross 128; 2) emissions from another object in the field of view; or just 3) bursts from a high orbit satellite (sigh). But while these are good working interpretations, they are not watertight, so our faithful scientists will be looking and listening again to try to clarify which it is – or not. True believers can take heart in Mendez’s sign off that “In case you are wondering, the recurrent aliens hypothesis is at the bottom of many other better explanations.” Mendez jokes that he “has a pina colada ready to celebrate if the signals result to be astronomical in nature.” Amen to that!


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Hot Spots

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July 17, 2017

By Elizabeth McMahon, Galactic Sandbox Writer-At-Large
and Agnett Bonwitt, Managing Editor

That Sinking Feeling

Our celestial observatories do more than just look skyward; they are also used to stockpile valuable data about what is going on right here on our home planet. An important example of this is the project started in 1958 by Charles Keeling who began to measure the amount of CO2 in our air from the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii. It was originally planned to run for only a year, but half a century later the project is still being run by his son Ralph, and the information produced is used to measure how human activity is affecting the planet. This knowledge has been employed many times by climate scientists who call it the “Keeling curve”, an uncomfortably rising line that we have not successfully leveled out despite the lowering of emissions in the last few decades.

Charles Keeling receives the National Science Medal from President Bush in 2001. Also in 2015, the The American Chemical Society designated the Keeling Curve as a National Historic Chemical Landmark.

And now we may have the answer as to why we’re continuously chasing our tail. It seems that humans have nearly maxed out ‘carbon sinks’ – large areas of land and ocean that absorb huge amounts of CO2 as we pump it into the atmosphere. In the past, these carbon eaters helped keep the planet from warming as quickly as it otherwise could have, but now they are approaching capacity. Ralph Keeling explains that the sinks we have now can only suck up about half of greenhouse gases, the rest builds up in the atmosphere. In order to at least stop the toxic hemorrhaging, we would have to reduce our emissions by a drastic 50%, a number no country is anywhere near, and is far more radical that what is called for in the 2015 Paris climate change accord. As the sinks reach saturation we have to continue to lower our greenhouse gas belching to basically zero and then begin creating new carbon collectors to take out what we have already produced.

So for the past several decades, the full effects of our emissions have been kept somewhat in check, allowing many to disavow that the situation calls for urgent action because the data is not sufficient. But now some are sounding the alarm that our window of opportunity for avoiding the worst effects is closing fast.

Thanks to Randall Munroe, xkcd.

An open letter by six scientists and diplomats states that we have approximately three years before the worst effects of climate change take hold. They aren’t just Cassandra’s with no solutions however, they propose six goals to hit by 2020 to avert this catastrophe, but the whole world would have to adopt them. And this is of course at the time our current de-evolutionary administration has declared climate change is not on the agenda, and has freed the US from the burden of ensuring the Earth has a chance of supporting the existence of future generations. Unfortunately, by the time it’s no longer possible to deny the science on CO2 emissions and our part in them, it will be too late to update anyone’s agenda.


Spot On

“Sleepy Eye” by Tom Momary.

Detail of Great Red Spot by Gerald Eichstädt / Seán Doran.

Last week, NASA’s state-of-the-art Juno probe in its most recent Jupiter flyby snapped the most detailed pix of the gas giant’s iconic Red Spot, displaying what the space agency calls “a tangle of dark, veinous clouds weaving their way through a massive crimson oval.” Stretching 10,159 miles wide (as of April 3, 2017), the famous Jovian “storm”  is 1.3 times as wide as Earth, and has been monitored since 1830. The magnificent maelstrom, which is believed to have lasted 350 years, appears in recent years to be shrinking. “For hundreds of years scientists have been observing, wondering and theorizing about Jupiter’s Great Red Spot,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “Now we have the best pictures ever of this iconic storm. It will take us some time to analyze all the data from not only JunoCam, but Juno’s eight science instruments, to shed some new light on the past, present and future of the Great Red Spot.” As with other photos snapped by Juno, “citizen scientists” have been taking the available raw images and transforming them into glorious works of art. “I have been following the Juno mission since it launched,” said Jason Major, a JunoCam citizen scientist and a graphic designer from Warwick, Rhode Island. “It is always exciting to see these new raw images of Jupiter as they arrive. But it is even more thrilling to take the raw images and turn them into something that people can appreciate. That is what I live for.”

Skating on Thin Ice

In a CNN opinion piece written by John Sutter titled, “That huge iceberg should freak you out. Here’s why,” the author challenges the media blitzkrieg last week that scientists believe the trillion-ton runaway ice block that broke off of the Larsen C South Polar shelf has nothing to do with human-created climate change – a characterization which he calls at best misleading, and at worst, wrong. Among the five “takeaways” Sutter concludes after spending time discussing the Antarctic ice shelf calving with scientists is that we shouldn’t brush the event off as just a naturally-occurring event, with many researchers worried that their compatriots are failing to see the forest for the trees. “They’re looking at it through a microscope” rather than seeing macro trends, including the fact that oceans around Antarctica are warming, helping thin the ice,” Sutter quotes Kevin Trenberth, a distinguished senior scientist at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research. Again, Sutter records the concerns of another leading researcher: “To me, it’s an unequivocal signature of the impact of climate change on Larsen C,” said Eric Rignot, a glaciologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of California, Irvine. “This is not a natural cycle. This is the response of the system to a warmer climate from the top and from the bottom. Nothing else can cause this.” Colleagues who say otherwise, added Rignot, are burying their heads “in the ice.” (To read Sutter’s full column, click here.)

Red Hot

Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin kicked off a multi-year commemoration leading up to the 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing in July 2019 with his own version of a star-studded gala as he raised $190,000 for his ShareSpace Foundation and rolled out the red carpet to hype his goal of landing humans on Mars by 2040. According to CBS News, Apollo astronauts Walt Cunningham, Michael Collins and Harrison “Jack” Schmitt joined Aldrin  at the sold-out fete held under the shadow of a historic Saturn V rocket. “I like to think of myself as an innovative futurist,” Aldrin told a crowd of nearly 400 people in the Apollo/Saturn V Center. “The programs we have right now are eating up every piece of the budget and it has to be reduced if we’re ever going to get anywhere.” (Editors Note: Although, if NASA is forced to blitz its Earth observing programs, we may not have a place here to come from.) Aldrin’s Foundation also awarded and spaceflight company Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos with the first Buzz Aldrin Space Innovation Award. “We can have a trillion humans in the solar system. What’s holding us back from making that next step is that space travel is just too darned expensive,” Bezos said. “I’m taking my Amazon lottery winnings and dedicating it to (reusable rockets). I feel incredibly lucky to be able to do that.”

Also honored at the festivities was former NASA astronaut Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman to travel in space, who was bestowed with the Buzz Aldrin Space Pioneering Award. “When Buzz says, ‘Get your ass to Mars,’ it’s not just about the physical part of getting to Mars. It’s also about that commitment to doing something big and audacious,” Jemison told The Associated Press. “What we’re doing looking forward is making sure that we use our place at the table.”


Buzz Kill

There may be, however, no table to scoot up to, at least according to the gloomy assessment by a NASA official, who speaking at the recent propulsion symposium, admits that at current costs, the space agency doesn’t have the resources to “put boots on the face of Mars,” by 2030 as Vice President MIke Pence put it just as week or so ago. “I can’t put a date on humans on Mars, and the reason really is the other piece, at the budget levels we described, this roughly 2 percent increase, we don’t have the surface systems available for Mars,” NASA’s William H. Gerstenmaier said on Wednesday during a propulsion meeting at the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics. “And that entry, descent and landing is a huge challenge for us for Mars.”

NASA’s Deep Space Habitat near the Moon would help test astronauts’ ability to withstand long-duration space missions.

That said, NASA is expecting to get more funds to focus on human exploration to the Red Planet, and, according to Gerstenmaier, returning to the Moon is still within the agency’s grasp. “If we find out there’s water on the Moon, and we want to do more extensive operations on the Moon to go explore that, we have the ability with Deep Space Gateway to support an extensive Moon surface program,” he said. “If we want to stay focused more toward Mars we can keep that.”

Grab Bag

Other space-age collectables on the auction block this week include the Apollo 13 flight plan annotated by its crew, a spacesuit worn by U.S. astronaut Gus Grissom, and lunar photographs taken by NASA.

The tale of a long-lost sack used by Apollo 11 moonwalker Neil Armstrong to collect lunar dust should be coming to an end this week when it is expected to be auctioned off for about $4 million along with other space memorabilia by Sotheby’s in New York City. The 12 by 8.5-inch bag tagged “Lunar Sample Return” disappeared for decades after the first Moon landing, and eventually turned up in the garage of a Kansas museum manager who was convicted in 2014 of pinching It. After the U.S. Marshals Service unsuccessfully put it up for auction three times, the satchel was bought in 2015 by a Chicago-area attorney Nancy Lee Carlson for $995. When she sent it to NASA for authentication, the space agency decided to keep it after discovering that it still had traces of moon dust inside. Carson successfully sued NASA’s butt, and the hoopla generated by her legal challenge brought several potential buyers out of the woodwork, so Carlson decided to have it auctioned again. Sotheby’s Cassandra Hatton told Reuters she was confident the bag would find a good home. “Just know that the kind of person that would pay money like this for this item is going to take excellent care of it,” she said. “Nothing is lost forever.”

Piece of the Pie

Moon Express’ proposed “Harves Moon” expedition to bring back lunar samples back to Earth.

One of the contestants looking to nab Google’s $20 million Lunar XPRIZE contest has revealed its long-term plans to mine the Moon and bring back samples by 2020. Last week, Florida-based startup Moon Express unveiled its ambitious two-phase proposal that will include 1) a 2019 “Lunar Outpost” mission that will establish a research station on the Moon’s south pole to search for ore as well as ice lurking in dark, chilly craters, and 2) “Harvest Moon” slated for a 2020 launch that will employ three robotic spacecraft to bring lunar rocks back to Earth to be available for scientific research as well as for collectors. Still, the private firm needs to get its MX-1E robotic lander off the ground and prove that it can get the craft to the lunar surface and perform the required hopping around and video taking by the December 2017 deadline so it can qualify for the XPRIZE gold ring. So far, however, the company’s “Lunar Scout” mission continues to face some roadblocks in that the experimental “Electron” rocket designed to launch the lander from New Zealand has in tests only reached sub-orbital space, and the MX-1E itself has yet to be completed. Other that that, if the firm can clear these hurdles, it will become the first private company to squish its toes on our nearest celestial neighbor.

Small Wonder

A team of astronomers led by the University of Cambridge has boasted finding the smallest star yet measured, with a size just an ooch larger than Saturn,  and a gravitational pull about 300 times stronger than what’s felt on Earth. Part of a binary system, the newly-measured, fun-sized “EBLM J0555-57Ab” is about 600 light years away, and was discovered as it passed in front of its much more significant other, using a method usually employed to detect exoplanets.  “Our discovery reveals how small stars can be,” said Alexander Boetticher, the lead author of the team’s findings that will be published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.“Had this star formed with only a slightly lower mass, the fusion reaction of hydrogen in its core could not be sustained, and the star would instead have transformed into a brown dwarf,” he added. Such celestial mini-mes are of particular interest to scientists, since they are the best candidates for being the home of temperate Earth-sized, liquid-water containing planets such as those recently-found surrounding  the ultra-cool TRAPPIST-1 dwarf star.

Spot Check

Dubbed Active Region 12665, the recently-appearing sunspot area is the only one currently on the Sun’s surface. To give a sense of scale, the darker core on the right is bigger than Earth.

NASA scientists are monitoring a new, rapidly-growing dark patch on our Sun that is currently facing Earth. Spotted by the space agency’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), the ominous  sunspot area, which is appearing at a relatively low ebb in solar activity, could create flares, which at a minimum can generate increased amounts of polar auroras to at worse possibly creating potential disruptions in communication satellites and electric power grids here at home.




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Far Out

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July 10, 2017

By Elizabeth McMahon, Galactic Sandbox Writer-At-Large
and Agnett Bonwitt, Managing Editor

Out of Step

In times past the United States was a world leader who set the agenda for meetings like the G-20 which took place in Hamburg, Germany last week. What a difference an election cycle makes! Donald Trump mostly stuck with the script, which is to say didn’t completely embarrass both himself and the United States and may be evidence that his handlers are finally getting a grip on what keeps him mostly on track.  Unfortunately, we are so desperate for him to do his job, that any time he stays remotely on script the media praises it as ‘Presidential’ as if they think he has finally grown into the job and decided to care about the country/world and its citizens. But his hyperbolic praise, and stunningly simplistic responses to complex issues did nothing last week to ease the rest of the Western Leader’s concerns about the U.S. vacating its leadership position.

So it is no surprise that nineteen of the nations at the summit re-affirmed the Paris Accord, calling it “irreversible” and then seemed to leave the door open for the U.S. to rejoin at a later date (thank you so much for having even a little hope that U.S. citizens can fix this mess). The wording was careful and gave a nod to the departure of the U.S.

China’s powerful Long March 7 rocket, designed to lift space station modules into orbit, is rolled out in June 2016.

Despite this awkward part of the meeting, Trump could still have used this opportunity to rally the group to do something more than symbolic about the growing nuclear threat in North Korea, showing at least some minimal leadership, but he let that opportunity slide, instead falling back on bland, shallow platitudes that pass for policy in this sound-bite Presidency – again, another opportunity wasted.

Sadly for the U.S., vacuums don’t last for long, particularly the leadership kind, and if nothing changes, Russia and China seem prepared to step up to the plate, not only in the terrestrial arena, but the celestial one too (in fact, The Guardian featured a story last year titled, “China, the new space superpower”). These nations’ view of the world is very different from the one the West has been working on for the past half century, and the course of the Earth could be altered in a way that most of us reading this column could find uncomfortable.



Out of Hand

Last Friday, Vice President  Mike Pence paid a visit to Kennedy Space Center where he sang the praises of the newly-rebooted National Space Council, a Cold War relic that hasn’t been active since being mothballed in 1993 by then President Clinton. Under its new iteration, the NSpC will include members of Trump’s Cabinet, the president’s counterterrorism assistant, other executive branch officials, and NASA’s Administrator, who has yet to be named by Trump. The executive order creating the NSpC also calls for a “users’ advisory group” to “ensure that the interests of industries and other non-Federal entities involved in space activities, including in particular commercial entities, are adequately represented” in the council.

Boots on the Face of Mars?

“After being dormant since 1993, I’m proud to report that the National Space Council is up and running once again. And it will be my great honor, as vice president of the United States, to serve as its chair,” Pence gushed, adding that theNSpC ‘will be a central hub, guiding space policy within the administration, filling a void that’s existed in American policy for nearly a quarter-century.” Pence also vowed that the US will return to the Moon, and that “we will put American boots on the face of Mars.” (It’s worth noting that in 2005 as a member of the US House of Representatives Pence worked hard to deep-six NASA’s space exploration plans.)

Soon after his speech, in one of his first actions as NSpC head, Pence put himself in an embarrassing position as he took a lead from his boss by patting  NASA’s Orion spacecraft’s titanium forward bay cover,just below a sign that read: “Critical Space Flight Hardware ‘DO NOT TOUCH.’ Trying to make light of the obvious “faux paw,” the “I’m-with-stupid”-in chief defended himself from the inevitable lampooning by internet memers and the twitterverse by jokingly throwing Florida Senator Marco Rubio under the bus, saying that his KSC tour companion “made him do it.” For its part, NASA forgave the whole episode by tweeting that the hardware was going to be cleaned anyway.

Asininity and Beyond

Speaking of the resurrected National Space Council, during the ceremony at its Executive Order signing late last month, Apollo 11 moonwalker and MIT doctoral graduate Buzz Aldrin failed to contain his bewilderment over the blizzard of nonsense belched by the current White House denizen as he hopelessly abandoned anything resembling a logical train of thought when it came to space exploration. Starting with the usual hyperbole that “We’re going to lead again like we never led before,” Flash Gordon Jr. then claimed all of space for the U.S., calling it the “next great American frontier.” However, what really sent Aldrin’s eyes popping out of his skull was afterTrump referred to outer space as “providing the security that we need to protect the American people,” and puzzlingly added, “At some point in the future, we’re going to look back and say, ‘How did we do it without space?’”

As he was ready to sign the executive order, Trump continued his ramble saying, “We know what this is, space. That’s all it has to say: space,”  He then turned to Aldrin and asked, “There’s a lot of room out there, right?” “To infinity, and beyond,” Aldrin retorted to a wave of laughter. However, Trump didn’t get the “Toy Story” reference, and continued like a spacewalking astronaut who’s tether had been cut: “This is infinity here. It could be infinity, We don’t really don’t know. But it could be. It has to be something — but it could be infinity, right?” (Why, oh Flying Spaghetti Monster, have you forsaken us?)

Former Shuttle and Space Station astronaut Sandy Magnus (far right) is left out of Trump’s National Space Council comments.

The White House gathering was also notable for its not-too-subtle misogyny when BOTH Trump and Vice President Pence failed to acknowledge the lone female astronaut in the room. Besides Aldrin, three additional former and current astronauts were on hand for the signing, including the unheralded former shuttle and space station veteran Sandy Magnus, who is currently the executive director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Apparently , Trump and Co. view the cosmos as one humongous boys club too.

Burning Sensation

A new study by a pair of Astrobiologists at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland shows that the Sun’s ultraviolet rays hitting chlorine compounds in the Martian soil may be a huge deterrent in supporting any microbial life – at least such as we know it. Known as perchlorates, these aggregates are abundant on the Martian surface, and have been thought to be favorable to life on the Red Planet by, for instance, drastically lowering the freezing point of water. However, in this new report, the two scientists recreated radiation and perchlorate conditions that common spacecraft contaminant bacteria would encounter on the Red Planet’s top soil, and found that the microbes were killed off within minutes. According to Scientific American, experiments also found that adding additional substances found in Marital soil only increased the bacteria death-rate several fold.

ESA/Russia ExoMars rover.

So,the researchers conclusion was, if you’re looking for life on Mars, it’s best to start digging: “If you’re looking for life, you have to additionally keep the ionizing radiation in mind that can penetrate the top layers of soil, so I’d suggest digging at least a few meters into the ground to ensure the levels of radiation would be relatively low,” one of the scientists told Fortunately, the European/Russian ExoMars rover, which is scheduled for launch in 2020 on a mission to search for life on the Red Planet, will be capable of drilling up to 6.5 feet. One caveat in the study’s results is that the garden-variety microbe used in the experiments is not an “extremophile,” or an organism evolved to survive the harsh Martian conditions. “It’s not out of the question that hardier life forms would find a way to survive” at or near the Martian surface,” one of the authors added.

Third Time’s A Charm

Physicists using the word’s most sophisticated  pinball machine have discovered a new kind of heavy particle that could lead to a deeper understanding of the fundamental “strong” force that cements subatomic particles together. Using the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, scientists from the Dutch National Institute for Subatomic Physics have tongues wagging over the discovery of a “doubly charged, doubly charmed xi particle” called Xi-cc++ (pronounced “Ski-CC plus-plus”) that has twice the positive charge and is four times heavier than its the more famous proton sibling, and is comprised of a rare combination of three out of six possible quark “flavors” known to science (up, down, charm, strange, top and bottom). “We produce charm [heavy] quarks in pairs, but having two charm quarks in the same particle is very rare,” physicist Patrick Koppenburg told Gizmodo. “Finding a doubly heavy quark baryon is of great interest, as it will provide a unique tool to further probe quantum chromodynamics [QCD]—the theory that describes the strong [force], one of the four fundamental forces,” LHCb spokesperson Giovanni Passaleva said, according to Scientific American. “Such particles will thus help us improve the predictive power of our theories.”

When They Were Young

Combining the eagle-eye of the Hubble Space Telescope and the natural magnification power of gravitational lensing, astronomers have been able to fabricate a combined pic featuring an edge-on disk galaxy studded with brilliant patches of newly formed stars as they appeared 11 billion years ago, only 2.7 billion years after the Big Bang. “When we saw the reconstructed image we said, ‘Wow, it looks like fireworks are going off everywhere,’” said astronomer Jane Rigby of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. NASA scientists were able to perform this photographic feat by using the gravity of a giant galactic cluster between the ultra-distant target galaxy and Earth and then employing a special computer code to remove the stretched arc distortion caused by the gravitational lens phenomena, revealing the disk galaxy as it would normally appear. In the reconstructed image (seen above) shows two dozen clumps of newborn stars are visible, each spanning about 200 to 300 light-years across, contradicting the currently held theory suggesting that star-forming areas in the early universe were much larger — perhaps up to 3,00 light years or more in size.


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By the Light of the Silvery Moon

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July 2, 2017

By Elizabeth McMahon, Galactic Sandbox Writer-At-Large
and Agnett Bonwitt, Managing Editor

Valhalla in the Sky

Ok, I’m definitely getting too old and cynical. For proof, I offer my response to what you would think should be happy, or at least interesting tidbit about a new ‘nation’ that will orbit Earth that its creators have named ‘Asgardia’ after Norse mythology’s city in the sky ruled by Odin and Frigg of Valhalla fame, or so they say. (Asgard also just happens to be an outer plane in the Dungeon’s and Dragons game, and the fictional extraterrestrial race in the Stargate series, but that doesn’t sound quite as good.) Still in its conceptual stage, the space-based nation will, according to its “founding fathers,”  mine asteroids and defend Earth from dangerous meteorites, space debris, solar flares, and I guess anything else incoming that is a bad idea. Well that’s just great! (Of course, it has to first defend ITSELF from these existential threats). It’s nowhere near an actual country yet, but listen to the nice things its originators also have in mind for this new Earth-orbiting ‘nation-in-a-can’: “Asgardia will be a space nation that is trans-ethnic, trans-national, trans-religious, ethical, peaceful entity trying to settle humanity in space.” Well who wouldn’t be a part of that! Space geeks and adventurers sign up now! This could be even more fun, and a good deal cheaper than Elon Musk’s planned adventures to colonize Mars (see June 26, 2017 Galactic Sandbox.) Our species has such a firm grasp on ethics and works together so well, what could possibly go wrong? (? strains of, “It’s Only a Paper Moon “?)

Igor Ashurbeyli

Right now mighty Asgardia exists as a nonprofit, non-governmental organization based out of Vienna, Austria, and currently largely funded by founding member Igor Ashurbeyli, a Russian aerospace engineer and billionaire and led by Ram Jakhu, the director of McGill Unversity’s Institute of Air and Space Law. Well that sounds legit enough, however the next bits have me thinking more cynically. Hundreds of thousands of people (256,345 to be exact) have signed up to become citizens and vote on a constitution, which supposedly is going to be initially set up as a constitutional monarchy. (Wonder who they have in mind for the ‘monarch’ – some fun thoughts come to mind. Buzz Aldrin, Alan Bean, wanna be a space czar!?)

Photo submitted to be carried aboard Asgardia nanosat.

So, what are Asgardia officials planning first to literally get things off the ground? Launching a ‘nanosat’ the size of a loaf of bread with 512 GB of pre-loaded data that will proudly be the proto-nations “first presence” in space, carrying data uploaded by Asgardian citizens. Quoting Ashurbeyli such beamed material will be important things like “maybe the photo of your little cat or of your neighbor, of your mother, or a child – whatever comes to mind, this will be for as long as Asgardia exists. In other words, forever.” Really?! This little ‘nanosat nation’ is expected to crash through the atmosphere and burn up in 5 years, which is a bit shy of forever by my calculations. Oh, but before then they will re-upload your 300 KB of space (that’s less than one frame of a typical DVD video) on to their next little microsat. Great – how space Instagram of them. Just what we need, more space debris to hit the for-real, actually functioning International Space station with real international people on it.

One possible orbiting space city.

Ultimately, what this space-age social experiment IS, in my world-weary opinion, is a pretty nifty way to get a lot of people to give personal information to another Russian Oligarch. On the bright side, however, if we don’t destroy ourselves in the next hundred years, we will have Earth orbiting cities and probably colonize nearby planets too. And it WILL be great if we get there. But I just wonder why all these rich folks want to get off earth so badly? Do they know something we don’t?  If actions speak louder than words, then they are a good deal more worried about what is going on on this planet than they are saying. After all, nothing we are going to build will house the entire population of earth – nowhere near.


Gone March

The inaugural mission of China’s new Long March-5 Y2 heavy-lift rocket carrying what the government called its heaviest satellite ever, failed yesterday sometime after launch, reports the Xinhua news agency.  According to Reuters, the Y2 is the same model slated to blast China’s lunar probe later this year that is designed to return with samples back to Earth, and at this time, it’s unclear how that mission’s timetable will be affected by Sunday’s failed flight.

An Entangled Web to Weave

While the US continues to be crippled from a leadership beholden to anti-science, Russian election meddling, and one large dollop of megalomaniacal, narcissistic paranoia, the Chinese are busy revolutionizing the way the internet is protected from hackers and spooks, while at the same time leap-frogging the rest of the world in a 21st Century space race. According to a report in Science, researchers at Hefei University have conducted a groundbreaking experiment by beaming proton twins from a satellite to two different ground-based stations 1200 kilometers apart without breaking their quantum entanglement property in which subatomic particles are linked even while being great distances apart. (Apparently this feat smashed the previous distance record by nearly tenfold.)

So what does this stunning achievement have to do with web security?  Well, these Chinese brainiacs plan – with the help of a fleet of specialized satellites -to use an encryption technique based on quantum communication to design super-secure internet networks. “In physics we are trying, and we have demonstrated some encryption techniques that rely on the law of physics rather than the mathematical complexity and we call this quantum key distribution,” professor Ping Koy Lam from the ANU’s Department of Quantum Science told last year, before China launched its first “quantum” satellite in August. “For that to work you need to send laser beams that carry certain information, quantum information, and then you need the senders and the receivers to get together to find a protocol to secure the communication,” Lam continued, adding that “The reason it can’t be hacked is because the information carried in the quantum state of a particle cannot be measured or cloned without destroying the information itself.” So, while the 12-year-old in the White House (not Barron) continues to “make America great again,” China marches toward developing a quantum kryptonite lock for a future world wide web, leaving concerned and sane American citizens fruitlessly stuck in an alternative reality attempting to hack Donald Trump’s brain.

Asking for the Moon

Earth rise photo taken by Japan’s Kaguya lunar-orbiting spacecraft around 2007.

Japan is the latest nation to throw its hat into the lunar sweepstakes, announcing last week that its plans to land a human on the Moon by 2030. The mission, which was proposed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, will constitute that country’s first crewed space concern beyond the International Space Station. A spokesperson for JAXA has said that the effort will be an international one due to the exorbitant costs of sending a Japanese rocket on a cislunar trajectory, and hopes to hitch a ride aboard another nation’s (possibly China) lunar excursion. The agency expects to unveil its proposed human-based Moon jaunt in time for the Japan’s International Space Exploration Forum in March 2018.

It Takes Two to Tango

Filled with gas and dust that block the light from stars forming inside as well as stars and galaxies located behind it, the Perseus molecular cloud, can only be explored via radio waves.

Was a twin of our sun responsible for slinging the dinosaur-killing asteroid into our Earth? It has long been suspected as such, but the long-sought ‘Nemesis’ star has never been found. We know that many stars have companions (our nearest sun neighbor, Alpha Centauri, is a triplet system) and astronomers have questioned if they were ‘born that way,’ were somehow captured, or split up later and become single stars. Now according to a new analysis of the Perseus molecular cloud (located about 600 light years from Earth and about 50 light years long) by a UC Berkeley Physicist and a radio astronomer from Harvard, most of the sun-like stars in the universe start out as twins.

A primitive binary system is located in the IC 348 region (lower right-hand corner or pic) of the Perseus molecular cloud and was included in the study by the Berkeley/Harvard team

This new assertion – the result of a radio survey of a giant molecular cloud filled with new stars in the Perseus constellation – is currently the only mathematical model that explains the observations has all the sun-like stars born with a companion. Co-author Steven Stahler, from UC Berkeley explains, “We ran a series of statistical models to see if we could account for the relative populations of young single stars and binaries of all separations in the Perseus molecular cloud, and the only model that could reproduce the data was one in which all stars form initially as wide binaries. These systems then either shrink or break apart within a million years [which is a blink-of-an-eye in universe time].” Wide, in this case means two stars that are more than 500 astronomical units apart, so any binary partner to our sun would have been 17 times farther than its distance is from Neptune today! So it seems that Nemesis most likely escaped and mixed with all the other stars in our region of the Milky Way, never to be identified as the trouble-maker it likely was.

Kepler and Company

The European Space Agency (ESA) is joining NASA’s Kepler observatory in seeking habitable planets with the planned launch in 2026 of a deep space observatory of its own. Green-lit last Tuesday, the PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars (PLATO) will be blasted 932,000 miles into space and use 26 onboard telescopes to monitor thousands of stars as it scans for planets in the ‘Goldilocks zone’, not so close to its star that water evaporates, but not so far away that it freezes. The scientists are hoping to answer questions like “How common are Earth-like planets” and “Is our solar system unusual or even unique?” And of course, the most important question of all for most of us, the possible detection of extra-terrestrial life! But of course there is no solar system close enough for us to reach unless we go all Star Trek and develop warp-drive space travel.

So far Kepler has provided a good head start, discovering 3,400 confirmed exoplanets, 30 of which seem to be in the habitable zone. Hubble and several dozen ground-based telescopes have also contributed to the search. So we can expect these numbers to go up dramatically with the addition of new ‘eyes’ in space.

We Still Want to Believe

Tin Foil Hatter Alert! Long-suffering Roswell UFO buffs received a much-needed shot of adrenaline recently after an extraterrestrial and paranormal “expert” claimed to have received “ultra top-secret” report with proof that the alleged 1947 alien spaceship crash actually happened. According to The ExpressHeather Wade, host of the  Midnight in the Desert  radio program, told her jazzed-up listeners that the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) dossier obtained from an unnamed “trusted” source details how the UFO met terra firma on July 2 or 3, 1947 (hmm… exactly 70 years this week), and also describes how four decomposing alien bodies were discovered two miles from the New Mexico crash site.

According to Wade, the supposed government sources states that, “Aerial reconnaissance discovered that four small human-like beings had apparently ejected from the craft at some point before it exploded … All of the four alien crew members were dead and badly decomposed.” Wade has passed the documents on to Roswell believer and investigator Stanton Friedman, who also happens to be a nuclear physicist. Upon looking at the material, Friedman’s first reaction was, ‘I have never seen anything like this, this is new MJ [Majestic] 12 information.’ According to Wade’s website, Friedman will continue to scrutinize the records for authenticity, “but at the time we can find no evidence of forgery.”

Son of a Pizzagate

“CIA insider” Robert David Steele.

As if NASA doesn’t have enough on its plate to worry about, last week it was forced to deny the bats-in-the-belfry claim made by an Alex Jones/ InfoWars guest that for years children have been shanghaied and sent to Mars to be sex slaves. According to Robert David Steele, who was invited to speak about child trafficking on The Alex Jones Show (which airs on 118 radio stations nationwide), “there is a colony on Mars that is populated by children who were kidnapped and sent into space on a 20-year ride … once they get to Mars they have no alternative but to be slaves on the Mars colony.” And before

you could pick your jaw up from the floor and bestow Steele his Tin Foil Hat of the decade trophy, his story turned really bonkers, claiming the pirated children were not only being taken for space labor, but also murdered for their blood and bone marrow. “Pedophilia does not stop with sodomizing children,” explained Steele. “It goes straight into terrorizing them to adrenalize their blood and then murdering them. It also includes murdering them so that they can have their bone marrow harvested as well as body parts.” “This is the original growth hormone,” added Jones, who seemed nonplused by his guest’s bizarre theory, which dwarfs last year’s baseless Pizzagate tale (which Jones helped in hyping) that Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign was running a child sex ring under the basement of a D.C. pizza joint that in fact has no cellar.

When asked by The Daily Beast to comment on this galactic pile of horse pucky, NASA’s spokesperson for Mars exploration provided an awkward response as if he didn’t understand Steele’s fundamental charge (or the reporter’s question): “There are no humans on Mars. There are active rovers on Mars.There was a rumor going around last week that there weren’t. There are. But there are no humans.” Ultimately, the only thing worth noting regarding Steele’s fantasy is that the sort of person who would take a loopy leap of logic and take this smoldering piece of fiction seriously is none other than fake news crusader Donald Trump, who as recently as 2015 publicly complemented Alex Jones on his “amazing” reputation, and vowed not to let him down. At least we’re not expecting Elon Musk to start recruiting commandos to pick off Martian pedophiles and rescue the phantom kinder-chattel.

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