Loud and Clear

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Under the Rainbow

As Donald Trump spouted his “America First” trade rhetoric to gatherings of gleefully unimpressed representatives of Asia-Pacific nations earlier this month, one could sense a not-so-subtle diminution of America’s mojo as leader of the global pack as China challenges our perennial alpha dog status. And while Trump closes his eyes, clicks his heels three times and recites, “There’s no place like home,” most of the rest of the world is racing to cooperate in an increasingly tech-connected and environmentally-marred world.

This paradigm shift includes humanity’s endeavors to understand and explore the cosmos, as a recent Atlantic article about China’s spanking-new, state-of-the-art, alien-searching radio telescope illustrates. The 1,650-foot-wide “Tianyan” dish, the first such instrument built specifically for eavesdropping on extraterrestrial civilizations (as well as possibly snooping on other countries’ military satellites), showcases China’s intellectual gusto and political will to jump into the unknown head first, while our own leaders abandoned the original SETI program a quarter of a century ago, declaring “the end of Martian-hunting season at the taxpayer’s expense.”

China’s ginormous “Tianyan” radio telescope dish located in Guizhou, the country’s most remote province. Despite lack of official U.S. funding, the scientific world is experiencing a SETI renaissance, with global players such as Russian billionaire Yuri Milner pouring $100 million of his own cash into a new SETI program led by scientists at UC Berkeley who perform more sky scans in a single day than what took years to do just a decade ago. Andrew Siemion, the leader of Milner’s SETI team, who has coordinated efforts in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa (and now China), has called the Tianyan instrument the world’s most finely-tuned telescope in the part of the radio spectrum that is “classically considered to be the most probable place for an extraterrestrial transmitter.”

China’s cosmic bugging device also embodies that country’s transition from a focus on applied sciences such as building the world’s fastest supercomputer, to fundamental sciences that includes constructing an atom smasher that will “conjure thousands of ‘god particles’ out of the ether,'” making Cern’s Large Hadron Collider look like a technological has-been. And of course the “Celestial Kingdom” has it eyes on this century’s ultimate photo-op: landing astronauts on Mars.

So while our “Prosimian-in-chief” and his neo-Nazi buddies are busy channelling the status quo from a time when America wasn’t so great, others in the US chain of command are starting to panic a bit regarding our stature as a cosmic superpower. For instance, a couple of weeks ago Air Force Lt. Gen. Steve Kwast expressed concern that China is bearing down on our rear view mirror when it comes to leadership in space, at least militarily. “In my best military judgment, China is on a 10-year journey to operationalize space. We’re on a 50-year journey,” Kwast told CNBC. Kwast, who authored a recent study called “Fast Space” in which he stresses that public-private partnerships must be the nation’s focus, not an “an Air Force in space” is obviously also focused on national security matters.

China and Europe are looking to establish a lunar base without the cooperation of NASA.

Militaries will soon operate between the Earth and moon, said Kwast, adding that “China is working on building a ‘navy in space'” that would work even beyond Earth’s gravity. However, China is the not the prime threat that’s keeping him awake at night. North Korea, with its continued missile testing, is “a real problem,” Kwast warned, adding that “Right now, if North Korea were to launch a missile into space and detonate an electromagnetic pulse, it would take out our eyes in space.”

The problem facing Kwast, as well a host of other more grounded bureaucrats and policy experts, is that they are paddling upstream against the most scientifically-bereft administration in perhaps the past 80 years. And as anyone with a modicum of intelligence tries to deliver the message, “Donald, we’re not in Kansas anymore,” all they get back are the lumbering strains of “If I Only Had a Brain.”






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Out with the New, In with the Old

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January 23, 2017

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

Bane of the Earth’s Existence

It’s official.  Trump is attempting to trash all the research and science about the environment that you, as a taxpayer, already paid for.

We hate to creep you out so early in this new political era, but when Forbes Magazine – of all the sources one could not imagine – comes out with an article like this, you know we aren’t just bending your progressive ear.  As the next story clearly spells out, Trump is revving up for an environmental winter like no other.

Barack Obama’s record on fighting climate change can now be found at www.obama.org.

Trump’s new plan for abolishing drilling and mining regulations, and opening public lands and national parks to the pillages of oil extraction has scientists in a frantic rush to copy their data and discoveries before the new Administration purges it forever, according to Forbes.  Up until January 21, the actual web address where Trump published his new “plan” was where the Obama Administration published news about the worlds’ actions to combat global warming.

Since the election, scientists everywhere have been hastily copying data off government sites in anticipation of what just happened to the official site on global warming, in the hope of not losing it into the ether of deletion, according to the Forbes article by Dr. James Conca.

Dr. James Conca

Conca – a geochemist, an energy expert, an authority on dirty bombs, and a planetary geologist – makes a number of ironic points in this frightening but matter-of-fact editorial. First, that the idea of grabbing more oil and resources from our pristine national parks does not make any economic sense:  “This is weird: Energy in America is the cheapest it’s ever been in our history, and it’s unlikely to get much cheaper without hurting our own oil and gas companies. There is a price below which you can’t make money.”  Conca then reminds us that we hardly rely on Saudi Arabia for any oil, at this point; we import less oil than any time since the 1970s, and what’s imported is from Canada.

Clueless Rick Perry: Didn’t know he was being tapped to head an agency he couldn’t remember the name of in 2011.

Secondly, Conca writes that Trump’s threats to drastically cut the scientific agencies of NASA, the Energy Department (with political crash test dummy Rick Perry at the helm!), the United States Geological Survey, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in an effort to abolish the study of climate change is downright asinine (our word, not his):

“Trillions of dollars have been spent since WWII to create America’s scientific and engineering communities. It won the Cold War. It’s given us the most powerful military in history. It’s why other scientists want to come to America. It made us the greatest nation on Earth. But a strong and independent scientific community is necessary to remain the greatest nation on Earth,” writes Conca.  He also reminds us that studying the data from earth monitoring weather satellites is allowing us to save lives in the extreme, yet more common, events of Polar Vortex, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc. that cause power outages, and worse, across the country.

I don’t know about you but I, for one, trust what an earth scientist says far more than believing anything that comes out of the mouth of a Great Pretender like Trump who forged his so-called business degree, and who lies about anything, even when he doesn’t have to, without a wince.  That’s what other scientists call psycho-pathological.   – Kate Woods, Writer-At-Large

Dark Energy

The Trump Administration wasted no time last Friday installing its new White House website content that not surprisingly boasts the puppet-in-chief’s campaign promises that involve a radical U-turn in America’s energy policies, including the following: “eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule;” tapping shale, oil, and natural gas reserves “especially those on federal lands that the American people own (the proceeds of which is where he’s going to rebuild U.S. roads, bridges, etc);” and “reviving America’s coal industry.” Oh yes, Trump is also placing a “high priority” to “protecting clean air and clean water” and preserving the country’s “natural reserves and resources,” or what’s left of them after we’ve chemically jackhammered the “$50 trillion” in virgin fossil fuels from their bruised and battered landscapes.


This One IS Indelible

As he attempts to wipe out all the great leaps forward that Barack Obama made for this nation, Trump might be foiled in any attempt to delete this one.  Last Thursday, the day before the “coronation” of the would-be king who lost the popular election, the Mars rover Curiosity (that is, its JPL handlers) “tweeted” out a photo of Obama’s signature, affixed to a plaque made of anodized aluminum that is bolted to the rover’s deck.  The photo was taken with the rover’s Mars Hands Lens Imager as it celebrated it’s 44th “Martian” day on the Red Planet.  Curiosity landed on Mars in 2004 and is still roaming away far beyond its life expectancy.  Obama, in response to the photo, tweeted back, “This is out of this world.  Thanks, @nasa.”  Judging from all the other actions Trump has taken to undermine Obama’s legacy, we know if the current Moron-in-Chief had his way, he would no doubt waste millions on a space mission to put his Trumpian trademark in gold-colored crayon smudged over the former president’s signature.

Making Waves

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft sailed through the outer edges of Saturn’s rings last week, producing this stunning pix of the tiny Daphnis moon squidged between the 26-mile wide Keeler Gap. Known as  “wavemaker” satellite, the 5-mile diameter Daphnis produces a disturbance in the usual sharp edges of the ring layers as it surfs the ice and dust particles that make up Saturn’s signature feature (note left-hand side of the photograph). The snapshot was taken just 17,000 miles from the previously un-portraited world.

Photo Op

Amateur-processed pix taken of Jupiter on December 11, 2016.

For the first time the average Jane and Joe will be able to take part in NASA’s choice on what its Jupiter-orbiting Juno spacecraft will photograph during the probe’s February 2 close flyby of the Gas Giant.

NASA’s JunoCam website can be accessed here, and you can visit the flyby voting page here. Cast your votes now before polling closes at noon EST tomorrow!

According to the space agency, the voting page will highlight points of interest that will come within the “JunoCam’s” field of view, including a narrow swath from the planet’s north to south poles. Raw images of the people’s pix will be posted where “citizen scientists” can perform their unique photo creations.

And if you miss this tomorrow’s deadline, no need to worry – there will be a new round of ballots for each upcoming Juno flyby.

Bling Thing

Cosmic Id: Metal-enriched Psyche could be a real draw for Trump administration.

There’s been a lot of chatter this past week about the actual worth of Psyche, the metal asteroid that NASA has targeted for a 2030 spacecraft visit, and which scientists believe is the leftover core of a dwarf planet that was stripped away of its rock, dirt and atmosphere eons ago The 200-km-wide chunk of bling has enough iron, nickel, gold and other precious metals that, if ever high-graded successfully, are worth $73.7 trillion and would surpass the worth of – and collapse – Earth’s global economy. The iron content alone of the metal blob is estimated to be worth $10,000 quadrillion.  We can easily see our new Predator-in-Chief drooling over such a prize and suddenly acquiring an insatiable interest in asteroid science.  Don’t say we didn’t warn you!  

Want To Get Away?

Click here to view A Colorful “Landing” and Pluto.

We’re just now getting the tail end of all the images that New Horizons snapped of Pluto, and they are eye-opening to say the least.  NASA is so excited about the photos that they took 100 of them, and through the magic of visual technology, managed to make a film about what it would be like to go to the dwarf planet, 3 billion miles and nine and a half years (even for the super-fast New Horizons) away.   The opening scene is a distant view of Pluto and its moon Charon as the “craft” zooms in and appears to land in Pluto’s “shoreline” of Sputnik Planitia.  In reality, the closest New Horizons got to the surface was 7,800 miles above it.

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January 11, 2014

Editor’s Note: Kate is looking forward to return in a week or two as she recovers from the debilitating effects caused from high levels of magnesium sulfate in her drinking water. Please stay tuned, as Kate sets her sights on the nominees for Galactic Sandbox’s 1st Annual Tin Foil Hatter Award, as well as the nutty economic implications of the newly-passed Commercial Space Competitiveness Act that gives the green light to interplanetary asteroid mining..

Since the universe (and Kate’s stomach) continues to churn with activity, we’ve chosen a few space news goodies that you can savor by clicking on the hyperlinks below. – Agnett Bonwit

Screen shot 2016-01-10 at 7.57.52 PM

Astronomers witness rare galactic-sized pig-out in real time.

Triple Golden Globe laurels go to The Martian in Best Comedy category [really]

While NASA sees red, commercial space firms see Lunar oasis as next phase of space exploration

NASA’s super-sized space telescope passes half-way development mark

Gimpy Kepler scope continues to spot hundreds of new exo-planets

Space agency christens new asteroid detection program


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Happy New Year’s Revolution

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H A P P Y  N E W  Y E A R ‘ S  R E V O L U T I O N

January 4, 2016

Editor’s Note: The team at Galactic Sandbox would like to wish all a very happy new trip around the Sun! We’re still recovering from the holiday hoopla, and Kate should be back next week with her picks for Tin Foil Hatter of 2015!! — Agnett Bonwit

In the meantime, here are some links to recent captivating galactic tidbits:

Screen shot 2016-01-03 at 1.42.20 PMHave fun with one of the many “2015 top space events” lists.

Space-surviving “water bears” may be losing home as Antarctic ice sheets melt.

Mysterious “space balls” crash land in Vietnam.

SpaceX chief gives green light for recyclable rocket’s next mission.

British astronaut phones home to wrong number.

Details of 1960s Cold War space station revealed.

3D printers to be used to build proposed Moon / Mars “cities”

ESA puts final flourishes on ExoMars craft for planned March launch.




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Hot Under the Collar

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November 23, 2015

By Kate Woods, Galactic Sandbox Writer-At-Large

H o t  U n d e r  t h e   C o l l a r

imagesI knew this nation’s GOP lawgivers were prone to hysterics, but I never imagined they would come up with an historically mortifying witch-hunt akin to Senator Joe McCarthy’s whack-a-commie crusade that targeted  every “liberal” politician, artist and journalist in the 1950s.

Silly me.  You see, I try to forget that Congressman and human lookalike Lamar Smith (R-Texas) heads the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, which “oversees” NASA and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) much like one sharpens a carving knife before slicing a holiday turkey.

Unfortunately for NOAA, the Earth monitoring agency in June published an update to its Screen shot 2015-11-23 at 9.59.55 PMglobal surface temperature dataset that continues to show an acceleration in rising global temperatures.  Ooooops (sound of pin dropping).  Smith did not like that news.  Not one bit.

Specifically, what got Smith’s blood boiling was that in its latest dataset update,  NOAA plainly detailed, of course, that Earth has become hotter since 1988 – by more than one tenth of a degree with every decade. These new calculations, which used more accurate methods of measurement and analysis, now jive with NASA’s global warming numbers, as well as the results of studies done by independent Earth-monitoring organizations and scientists.

Reportedly, after NOAA’s report was released to the public, Smith went berserk and in July demanded written details of the agency’s methodology.  NOAA promptly complied, but Smith didn’t like the long, big words in all that information, nor the fact that he could not find any political influence in NOAA’s findings.  So the congressman accused NOAA of doctoring the dataset and scientific methodology!

Lamar Smith poring over crap

Grand Inquisitor – Congressman Lamar Smith subpoenas NOAA’s internal information over study that challenges GOP party line regarding climate change.

Never a quitter and striking one for the Gipper, Smith slapped subpoenas on NOAA for all public and private emails and internal communications of its employees, including scientists and “political staff,” whatever that means.  That’s when NOAA drew the line and refused to comply, saying Smith was now on a political “fishing expedition.”

Smith and his sycophants promptly demanded closed-door meetings to grill NOAA Chief of Staff Renee Stone, NOAA Communications Director Ciaran Clayton, and two leading NOAA scientists for some good old fascist, er that is, fashioned hot seat “debriefings.”  That’s military-politico speak for tortuous 11-hour long intimidation sessions.  NOAA told Smith he could shove that one where the Sun don’t shine as well.  Obviously, it was not a reference to the bright daylight streaming between Smith’s ears.

Apparently, Smith is making good on his promise to attack any federally funded earth-monitoring scientist who goes public with any “hogwash” regarding “climate change.” Ultimately, as he declared some seven weeks ago, he wants to defund any new scientific discoveries that could benefit the Earth.  Yes, I am translating into blunt English the Congressman’s threats to Earth-studying scientists.

Smith has now publicly declared that NOAA “fudged” its results.  In a statement he gave Screen shot 2015-11-23 at 10.03.25 PMNature magazine in October, Smith had the temerity to say, “It was inconvenient for this administration [NOAA] that climate data has clearly showed no warming for the past two decades. The American people have every right to be suspicious when NOAA alters data to get the politically correct results they want and then refuses to reveal how those decisions were made. NOAA needs to come clean about why they altered the data….”

Sounds like fightn’ words to me – so, what’s Lamar’s evidence?  Oh yeah, he has none. He just disagrees with NOAA’s global temperature data. Lamar Smith does not have a background in any science – or math or environmental studies.  What he does have is a PhD in protecting big oil interests and fanning a propaganda machine designed to portray NOAA or any scientific-based agency as a traitorous organization brimming with bleeding heart liberal Bolshevik Obama pawns!

Sadly, this is the latest in the ongoing war between anti-science politicians and people who have dedicated their lives to discovering the unvarnished truth about the health of this planet.  It has now become a battle of publicized statements in which neither the House Committee nor NOAA has yet to say “Uncle.”

Bolden on radio interview

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden challenges Congress over budget cuts.

B o l d e n  S t e p s
And now for some most excellent news.   Not only are NOAA officials fighting back, but also NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden – a four-time astronaut — has taken up the cause for his sister agency.

The reputable Ars Technica publication interviewed Bolden about it last week:

“I don’t think scientists will be intimidated by the subpoenas and everything else … That may be its intent, but I don’t think it will work. It’s peoples’ life’s work, and they’re not just going to walk away because somebody threatens them with a subpoena to appear before the Congress of the United States. They’ll probably welcome it, to be quite honest.”

Screen shot 2015-11-23 at 10.20.57 PM

Slight of hand – Ted Cruz (R-TX) makes case for less Earth monitoring.

Bolden also said he will continue calling for the funding of Earth science research at NASA to be restored, at least to 1988 levels – which was far greater, even during the Reagan Administration, than Congress allows now.  During the Baby Bush years (George W. Bush’s reign of error) the agency’s Earth science budget was ravaged by 37 percent.  In the spirit reminiscent of the Dark Ages, Senator Ted “Bat Crap Crazy” Cruz (R-Canada) this year led the moronic GOP charge against Earth sciences by getting his fellow inmates to slash $500 million from the paltry $1.95 billion requested by Obama this year.

Bolden added that when Congress continues “to ignore facts about the climate, that’s to our detriment. It’s not to theirs, it’s to the detriment of the nation.”

Screen shot 2015-11-23 at 10.24.22 PM

Disappearing mega-glacier could cause oceans to rise 18 inches.

M a j o r  M e l t d o w n
Meanwhile, another of Greenland’s great glaciers is melting faster than predicted, even by brainiac Earth scientists.  NASA and university researchers reported that the Zachariae Isstrom glacier calved from its stabilizing shelf and is rapidly melting into the North Atlantic Ocean, which will add another unexpected 18 inches to global sea level rise when it completely dissolves.

India rainfall graphic

NASA sats plot precipitation that contributed to recent flooding in India.

It’s not as if no one had any warnings.  The Maine-sized glacier started an “accelerated retreat” in 2012, losing 5 billion tons of ice a year thereafter, says NASA JPL.

The super-massive glacier is doing what’s called a “bottom melt,” which is just what it sounds like.  Bottom melting of the world’s glaciers has doubled since the 1990s.

More climate change news:  What’s left of NASA’s Earth tracking sats honed in on India last week, and they have collected new details of the rainfall that caused the nation’s recent deadly flooding.  Don’t let Lamar Smith know or he might demand the satellite’s emails and birth certificate.

W h a t ‘ s Y o u r s  I s  M i n e
Continuing the sour note, Congress took action in the name of cosmic corporate plundering, I mean space mining, this week!  The bill, which will allow “entrepreneurs” to own whatever they can haul away from asteroids or moons in outer space, overwhelmingly passed both houses and is expected to be signed into law by President Obama without delay.

Here’s the kicker:  The GOP lawgivers gutted from the bill all the normal regulations on space flight – if it’s for extra-terrestrial mining – for the next seven years.

Let the claim jumping begin!

artist conception planet forming disk

Artist’s conception of forming planet.

B a b y ‘ s  F i r s t  P l a n e t
Okay.  Now that I’ve taken a handful of sedatives I am ready to give you some pleasant stuff.  Astronomers at the University of Arizona got to watch a planet being formed, and for the first time ever documented it on film.

LkCa 15

“Newborn” LkCa 15 star.

Using the Large Binocular Telescope in southeast Arizona, team leader and graduate student Stephanie Sallum at the University of Arizona is surely celebrating this birth of a giant gas exo-planet hugging a young star named LkCa 15 (don’t ask me why the astronomy guys pick such ludicrous and clumsy appellations).  The LBT is a super eye-on-the-sky, with a 27-foot-wide mirror.

The star system is 450 light-years from Earth, and LkCa 15 is only a baby itself having been around a scant two million years.






R5 robot

R5 robot

R i d e  o f  t h e  V a l k y r i e

In January, NASA will give some fabulous belated Xmas gifts to MIT and Northwestern University.  Both institutions will have a prototype of the R5 robot, a humanoid contraption the agency intends to send on space missions, perhaps to an asteroid (if it’s not owned by the Koch brothers), and then Mars before it sends actual humans there in the 2030s.

NASA wants the brains at MIT and Northwestern to develop software for the bipedal robot, which is also called “Valkyrie.” NASA originally designed it to aide in disaster relief.  Scientists hope it will be able to set up habitats and produce fuel when it goes to out of orbit.

E x e c u t i v e  R e v i s i o n
Once again, UFO enthusiasts have been tin foiled, this time by the President.

Gentlemen’s Quarterly published an extensive interview last week with Obama wherein Obama_alienwriter Bill Simmons delved into the great conspiracy theories of the 20th century, including the JFK assassination and the otherworldly occurrences of Roswell, NM, in 1947.

Both responses were dissatisfying to true believers.

Regarding Roswell, Obama said,  “I gotta tell you, it’s a little disappointing. People always ask me about Roswell and the aliens and UFOs, and it turns out the stuff going on that’s top secret isn’t nearly as exciting as you expect. In this day and age, it’s not as top secret as you’d think.”

But UFOers like to point out an earlier interview Obama did on late night show “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” in which he was flippant but slightly more enigmatic.

When asked about UFOs, Obama told Kimmel, “The aliens won’t let it happen … they exercise strict control over us.”  Then later added, “I can’t reveal anything.”

Hmmmm … This makes me scratch my imaginary goatee!  For Dog’s sake, when will they learn?  It only means Obama, because he is a Democrat, is not allowed to know anything the NSA or the CIA or the FBI or any other X-File Group has on the matter.

R a i s i n g  O u r  S i g h t s
NASA-eyesight-studyAstronauts aboard the International Space Station continue to be used as guinea pigs, and the newest series of tests involve a study in how zero gravity affects eyesight.

We know it’s way not good what the weightlessness of low-Earth orbit does to the human body over time.  Aside from bone loss, muscle loss, and heaps of radiation bombardment, spacefarers have to worry about their eyes too.  It’s called “space vision.”

When body fluids flow upwards to the head (as say, when one lies down on an uncomfortable slanted board during a “closed-door interview” in Lamar Smith’s Congressional office) extra blood exerts more pressure on the eyeballs. Over weeks, the pressure first blurs focus, then curtails peripheral vision and even causes complete blindness in severe cases.  When astronauts are sent up, NASA has to equip them with special corrective lenses to help reduce the problem.

As always, the NASA research will have great benefits for us landlubbers back on Earth.  The space vision study is expected to help scientists better understand conditions such as glaucoma and migraines.  Apropos the latter, I personally will be grateful for their discoveries after watching the world go mad again this past week.

L a  S o l i d a r i t é

The crew aboard the ISS held a moment of silence last Tuesday for the victims of the massacres in Paris; the carnage carried out by a bunch of hopeless, brainwashed psychopaths who have nothing to live for.ISS moment of silence

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Baby Steps

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November 9, 2015

By Kate Woods, Galactic Sandbox Writer-At-Large

G r a v i t y  C h e c k

When it comes to the moronic mainstream news versus science, the national media is usually pulling up the rear as it desperately hobbles to catch up on reporting and conveying modern scientific theories. So, it’s somewhat of a red letter day when a discovery occurs that bumps up the scientific consciousness a notch or two  of the media’s talking heads. Such was the case recently when NASA announced that two of its space telescopes captured data of a black hole’s corona “impossibly” getting flung away from the incredibly dense celestial object, thus shattering the notion force-fed to every science student that “nothing can escape a black hole, not even light.” Not surprisingly, cosmologists for years have suspected the possibility of such an occurrence, however this doesn’t seem to have been communicated in a way that altered the generally accepted portrayal of black holes as light and matter-sucking rarities in the universe.

black hole spew

Artist’s rendering of a black hole.

Is it just me, or will this newest evidence force cosmologists to fess up and change their fundamental assumptions on the nature of these mysterious yet abundant interstellar objects (I am hoping everyone realizes by now that black holes are as common as pennies, in this Universe alone.)

Now this time, I don’t just blame the mainstream hacks and news-readers of the world for keeping the public at large “in the dark” for decades regarding black holes —  I also blame the eggheads who have failed to explain up-to-date cosmology in laymen’s terms, as they know it so far. Gee, thanks a heap, you nerds – can we get some help here!

Of course, it doesn’t help when cosmological giants like Stephen Hawking decided to revamp his 1980’s paperback best seller, “Black Holes,” some years later by taking the weird unsubstantiated stand that “all information dies forever at the event horizon.” For all you non-eggheads, the event horizon is the edge of a black hole, and that’s where everything – human, plant or mineral – gets “spaghettified” and sucked into so-called oblivion (however, the information contained in each object remains intact). Hawking’s cosmological u-turn was promptly dispelled by his contemporaries as a desperate act of yanking a proverbial spaghettified rabbit out of a hat (which it was).

Screen shot 2015-11-10 at 1.36.13 AM

NASA diagram shows how a black hole’s corona can create an X-ray flare. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Back to the actual news: Two NASA telescopes from its Explorer project have actually caught data of a black hole’s corona “impossibly” getting launched from the near-infinitely dense object. Specifically, instruments aboard NASA’s Swift telescope collected data of “something” blasting through the corona of  Markarian 335, a supermassive black hole some 324 million light-years away. And then the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR)  nabbed a massive pulse of X-Ray energy shooting out of the hole. NASA wonks are now scratching their heads trying to figure out what just happened at that moment, although they suggest that the supermassive black hole’s corona (source of energetic particles) first was being ejected, then it collapsed.

That proof has been caught for the first time is the big news. Remember gang, energy never dies. It doesn’t “go away forever” just because it might slip over the threshold of an event horizon.

C a l l  o f  t h e  M i l d

In other space news I am hearing a lot of blather about NASA hiring a new round of Screen shot 2015-10-17 at 4.17.09 AMastronauts, and will be accepting applications from December 15th through mid-February 2016. Even moronic Fox News had to carry this one, because they loathe making themselves look bad by reporting on any other outer space news that needs big words like “ozone depletion” or “radiated half-life.”

Oh, the hu-vanity.

With only 47 people serving in its astronaut corps, NASA knows it needs some new blood to blaze a trail beyond Earth orbit toward the time we are ready to land on Mars in the 2030’s, so naturally it’s kicking into hyper drive to drum up public excitement for the job.

And well, yeah, while it’s everyone’s fantasy to boldly go where few have gone before (and I’ll admit, I was even hoping in the early 1990s to get picked as the winner in what turned out to be a fraudulent sweepstake to ride aboard the now-defunct Russian Mir Space Station), many will abandon the dream weaver train once they read the qualifying gauntlet:

Candidates must have at least a bachelor’s degree in engineering, biological science, physical science or math; at least three years of related professional experience, or a minimum 1,000 hours of pilot-in-command time in jet aircraft; and then must pass NASA’s long-duration spaceflight physical. (There are no age restrictions, though the average age of candidates selected in the past is 34.)

Pheeeeew! Any brainiacs out there (the few left) who don’t easily barf at being bar-rolled and flip-flopped?

Yeah, I’m hearing crickets, too.

L a u n c h  L u a u

Switching our gaze Earthward, Hawaii’s recent first crack at a space launch failed miserably, but that scrappy state is undaunted. For years there has been a network of space enthusiasts trying to stir up local support for an aloha spaceport, which from a rocket scientist’s perspective is a no-brainer: a nearly equatorial location with steady, mild weather.


University of Hawaii’s Super Strypi is designed to launch mini sats into Low Earth or Sun synchronous orbits.

Sponsored by the University of Hawaii, the first orbital blastoff attempt from the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands on Kauai using the Super Strypi rocket carrying a satellite called “Hiakasat” kablooyed in midair after leaving the launchpad.

Well, after all…it was a test for the Department of Defense. As far as the University is concerned, the head of it insists the “bombs-away” attempt was a “tremendous success for the University.”

I am so, so hoping that DoD brass are gnashing their teeth right now.

E d i t o r i a l  F a l l o u t

This one has been floating around for a week, and America On Line (yeah, I thought that reactionary outfit was long out of business, too) kicked off the story by screeching in a headline something to the tune of “The White House is Preparing for Solar Armageddon and Leaving the Rest of You Slobs to Eat Radiation!!”

solar flare by NASA's Solar Observatory

Our Sun spewing deadly solar flares.

Although, if one bothers to look at the article’s fine print, the “White House” is not doing anything special except making sure their computers have surge protectors. Basically, the Earth may face some big solar flare blasts in upcoming months, causing some power outages.

Not to be outdone by AOL, other news outlets seemed to go bananas with what “could happen” after NASA posted new and stunning video from its Solar Dynamics Space Telescope. Check out the pix, but believe me, the sky isn’t falling… yet. Sheeeesh.


J – S p o t

Who says  a leopard can’t change it’s spots? New data from the Energizer Bunny of space-based observatories has revealed that Jupiter’s famed Great Red Spot is shrinking at an accelerated rate, and that there’s a new gigantic Jovian wave structure found in the planet’s northern hemisphere – a phenomena seen only once before during the Viking flyby in 1979.

We can thank the Hubble Space Telescope for this brand new info, and even though jupiter Red Spotscientists have known that the Red Spot (which can fit three Earths inside it) has been shrinking since discovered in 1664, Hubble did a ten-hour time photo lapse that shows the mega-storm shrinking now at a dizzying rate, and getting oranger, darker, and more circular.

In the great planet’s northern equatorial belt, a giant wave-like structure has appeared, jupiter wave structure on northern equatorial beltshowing massive multiple cyclones. Scientists thought it was a one-time “fluke” when Voyager 2 caught it decades ago, but now they think it is just “super rare.”

T a k i n g  t h e  H i g h  R o a d

Screen shot 2015-11-10 at 1.26.43 AMThis next blurb is rather cool. U.S. astronaut Kjell Lindgren played “Amazing Grace” on his bagpipes aboard the International Space Station, in homage to his friend, research scientist Victor Hurst who helped train astronauts for space travel. Galactic Sandbox salutes you too, Victor Hurst….

P a r t y  P o o p e r

Early Saturday evening on November 7, many folks in California thought the aliens we’re finally here, at last, when they witnessed a bright glowing green light with a massive tail light up the sky.

missile launch over CA coast

Test rocket sparks UFO fever in California.

My brother Kemp and I were going down the road to a yearly Day of the Dead party our neighbors were throwing, and Kemp saw it first. By the time we got to the shindig, everyone was babbling about it. I didn’t want to do it, but eventually I had to pop bubbles and place the proverbial turd in the punchbowl, because I knew what it most likely was: a test rocket blasted off the coast at Vandenberg Air Force Base, It always is. Sure enough, today I saw the story finally – with not much explanation – so it was no doubt a Department of Defense launch.

The Los Angelinos were particularly frenzied, as you can imagine: “There’s a UFO in Los Angeles. I’m so excited. I’m so ready,” tweeted Shane Dawson, well known for his brain cell-free YouTube videos. That’s from the New York Tribune.

Think again, Hollywood.







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It’s a Small World After All

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By Kate Woods, Galactic Sandbox Writer-At-Large

August 31, 2015

W A T C H  T H E  B I R D I E

Planet Lab minisatA big story this week is one the national mainstream broadcasters won’t dare to report because they can’t turn it into a putrid giggly cliché.  Former astronaut and scientist Will Marshall has created a company that is not only opening eyes to the environmental assaults and perils on this planet, but it’s also saving lives.

San Francisco-based Planet Labs creates “toaster-sized cubesats,” which Marshall coins “doves.” Once placed in low-Earth orbit, the bantam-sized birdies … (oh gag, I just did it) can spot details on the planet’s surface often missed by larger Earth-spying satellites.

The results are paying off.  “We can track deforestation, we can track the ice caps melting.  In general, it is very helpful for climate change,” said Marshall. “We can help people respond to natural disasters like earthquakes and floods.”

Earlier this year, the dove sats took pix of Nepal before and after that nation’s devastating earthquakes, revealing two remote villages that no one knew even existed.  The discovery enabled aid workers to scramble to the exact locations with food and medical supplies.

Recently a Japanese rocket delivered an additional 14 dove sats to the International Space Station (ISS) last week, and when ISS astronauts disperse them into orbit, the company’s flock will be 87-strong.  Eventually, the Dove mission will take a photo of every single place on Earth, every single day.

Here’s the kicker: CEO Marshall has publicly announced that all stored data and images gathered from his company’s mini-sats will be accessible to anyone in the world.  You can bet that conservative politicians who relentlessly vote to defund NASA hardly had such benevolent socialism in mind when they insisted “space commercialism” could replace the agency.  Now that’s funny.

G L A C I A L  P R O P O R T I O N S

Greenland glacier (Getty images)One of those big Earth observation satellites did manage to find evidence of what scientists believe to be the biggest glacier calving in recorded history.  Since humans keep belching out planet-boiling carbon dioxide and methane into our atmosphere, glacier melts and ice crack-offs are occurring with monotonous regularity these days.

As with the dove sats, before and after pix taken by Europe’s Sentinel-A sat revealed that two weeks ago a massive ice chunk the size of Manhattan Island broke off Greenland’s Jakobshavn Glacier (the same glacier that produced an infamous problem-child in 1912, a calved iceberg with the Titanic’s name on it).  I found only one article on this recent incident, from a news site called HNGN.  They ended the story with: “Some people believe this event is related to climate change.”  No, really?  I’m shocked.  Shocked!

D U N G  H O

Again, brace yourselves.  The national TV newsreaders are going to have accidents in their Space food (sans human waste)pants clucking over this one.  “Waste not, want not: NASA hopes to recycle poop into food.”  That’s the actual headline used by the usually sober-toned Weather Network site.  So imagine how the vacuous talking heads are going to giddily butcher this tidbit as more and more news outlets pick up on it throughout the week.  NASA is allocating $200,000 to start the experiments.  It seems a ghastly proposition, but keep in mind that ISS astronauts routinely recycle their own urine and sweat into potable water, yes, and drink it.  I know that if I were on the ISS participating in the human dung trial, I’d also be breaking into that Japanese whisky experiment…routinely.

H U B B L E  N E T S  B U T T E R F L Y  N E B U L A E

TwinJetNebulaMeanwhile, back in deep space, the Hubble Space Telescope took a gorgeous photo of the iridescent Twin Jet Nebula, a bipolar planetary nebula.  I realize that sounds like the psychiatric category for, say, your unstable snitching neighbor, but it simply means the object consists of two old dying stars doing a very slow dance. (They circle each other every 100 years.)  Scientists estimate one of them had an outburst – hence the butterfly winged jets — just 1,200 years ago.


A L I E N  D E T E N T E  R E D U X

In our “Lettuce Entertain You” post of August 16, we covered a story about Apollo 14 Screen shot 2015-08-16 at 10.54.36 AMastronaut Edgar Mitchell’s beliefs in Earthly extraterrestrial visitations.  We third-handed the original source: a now-disputed “interview” a reporter from The Mirror says he had with the moonwalker.  Huffington Post interviewed Mitchell after the Mirror story broke and grew, and he claims the British tabloid’s  quotes were fabricated and that he never granted an interview to the paper.  The disputed quotes relate to the belief that UFO’s buzzed New Mexico weapons bases and disabled launch capabilities to spare earthlings World War III.  Like the game of telephone, news reporting can sorely mangle an original statement.  So, like “fair and balanced” Fox News always quips, “You decide!” Here are the links to our retelling in “Extraterrestrial Détente,” the original Mirror story, and Huffington Post’s retelling of all involved tales.


T H E  U N S C I E N T I F I C  U N A M E R I C A N

I was cheered when I opened my Scientific American this month to read an overdue opinion put forth by the mag’s entire editorial board, entitled “Don’t Blind NASA to Earth’s Climate.”  In it, the editors call out Senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz (R-TX) for “egging on” his fellow congressional Republicans to cut NASA’s Earth Science budget by $260 million.  Climate change-denying politicians say they want that money to go to the robotic voyage to Europa, Jupiter’s frozen moon.  But NASA only needs $30 million for that mission.

SA graphic by Morgan Schweitzer

Look Anywhere But Earth – Graphic: Morgan Schweitzer, Scientific American.

Cruz – who bears an eerie likeness to Senator Joe McCarthy, the 1950’s witch hunting, career-ruining Communist chaser – claims Earth science is not part of the agency’s “core mission” (wrong) and that the field is not even a “hard science” (nauseatingly wrong).  It’s amazing how these guys are forever pulling crap right out of their….  As for NASA’s sister agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the lawgivers want to kill it outright.  They slashed NOAA’s budget by 5 percent, and rationed out only $8.4 million rather than the $30 million requested to study the catastrophic acidification of the world’s oceans.  They don’t want satellites analyzing the seas because that preposterous planet-killing problem is driven by climate change, which is a hoax, don’t ya know.  In 2012 Congress unceremoniously tried to “move” NOAA’s Earth sensing sats to NASA’s jurisdiction, and make them point the other way…toward Jupiter, one supposes.

Congressman Sam Farr (D-CA…my representative, by the way), infuriated by the brainless attitude of his associates, recently dropped his otherwise mild-mannered demeanor and fumed from the floor, “Don’t tell me there isn’t money available….  Are you going to save this planet or put all the money into the moon of Jupiter?”

Ah well, Sam.  Your star-crossed effort was, as always, heroic.

And this comes as no surprise:  Cruz is Chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness.  Why do they always give the gavel to a power-grubbing dolt who doesn’t even believe in science?

So the naysaying deniers who are hired to protect the health and welfare of the people they represent will do anything to stifle the truth. Don’t pay attention to that man behind the curtain!  Look at anything but the Earth.

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Elevated Thoughts

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E L E V A T E D  T H O U G H T S

By Kate Woods, Galactic Sandbox Writer-At-Large

Where does one begin with an absurd week like this?  OK.  Let’s start with some pleasant, genuine news.  Astronaut Scott Kelly snapped a fab photo of the Aurora Borealis from the International Space Station this week:aurora borealis

The crew also got a pic of massive red sprites, phenomena once thought to be the coinage of minds not tightly wrapped.  Note to self:  When NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory proves something truly weird is true, pay attention.red sprites


J u s t  E  a t  I t
Oh heck.  Let’s just cut to the cheap stuff.  Last week I raged against mainstream media’s yuk-fest in “reporting” on the ISS crew growing their own lettuce and “munching” it.  Well folks, the newsreaders have outdone themselves.  Chirpy news anchor Rich Abney of British Columbia station CKPG (yes, Canadian news watchers have their own crosses to bear…sigh), wanted to one-up his co-anchors on the giggly subject, so he quipped, “Gotta say, it seems like a better idea than eating food grown on Yer Anus!” [Editor’s note: Idiot Abney was referring to the hilariously named planet, Uranus…..HAR! A real corker!]canadian newsreaders

Public reaction to the disgusting debacle was so intense, someone came up with a Faceybook “meme” of Abney’s fellow newsreader’s reaction to the crass pun by photoshopping her face into Edvard Munch’s iconic masterpiece The Scream.
Will the inanity ever cease?

space lettuce media memeO n w a r d  a n d  U p w a r d

The Canadians did redeem themselves momentarily this week when they patented an inflatable space elevator.  If you grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s like I did, you are likely still wondering what ever happened to scientists’ promises of flying cars, personal jet packs, and other modern wonders they said would definitely be commonplace in the distant future of 1980, you know…
“♪Meet George Jetson! ♫”
Anyway, Thoth Technology of Pembroke, Ontario, says it has a design that will zip astronauts up close to low-Earth orbit – 12 miles high – thereby greatly reducing the cost currently incurred via the conventional method of sticking humans atop gigantic roman candles and blasting them off the lithosphere.  It would be made of “pressurized, stacked cells” – whatever the tarnation that means.inflatable-space-elevator-patented-670(1)
I won’t hold my breath, but Arthur C. Clarke — his spirit now pervading the Multiverse — might be smiling about this news as he hits the penthouse button.  He put forth the space elevator vision in his 1979 Sci-Fi novel, “The Fountains of Paradise.”


S p e a k i n g  o f  o v e r s i z e d  b o t t l e  r o c k e t s  . . .
Meanwhile, last Monday China tested the power system for its biggest-ever launcher, the Screen shot 2015-08-22 at 12.19.02 PMLong March 5, scheduled to shoot for the space station in 2016. According to Popular Science, Chinese officials are touting the newest Long March’s “environmentally friendly”  engines as powered by oxygen and hydrogen (what a concept!) rather than their current thrusters that are fed with a brew of incredibly polluting-sounding names like dinitrogen tetraoxide and unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine  (Yuk!).

S i g n s  a n d  W o n d e r s
According to Tech Times, the wiz kids at NASA have read the tea leaves provided by the space agency’s  “Ladee” satellite, and have discovered what scientists have suspected since the Apollo days: the presence of the rare gas neon in our Moon’s exosphere.  Hopefully, soon we might see neon signs on the Big Cheese, flashing like billboards lit in hell: “Eat a Moon Pie at Joe’s.”Screen shot 2015-08-22 at 9.35.55 AM

U n i d e n t i f i e d  W a t e r  V a p o r

Time out:  Warning, warning, Will Robinson.  A flying humanoid was spotted a few weeks ago buzzing L.A, according to the aptly named website publication, Latest UFO Sighting.  Indeed, humanoid flyingthe inanity has yet to cease.
Sorry.  We have to keep the tin-foil hatters happy.




N e w s  F l a s h:  O u t g o i n g

The world will not end in September. Hate to bust yer bubble, doomsayers, but NASA’s JPL just imploded the rabid Internet rumor that a humongous asteroid is supposed to hit Earth between Sept. 15 and 28. The Guardian reported that NASA doesn’t normally bother to even comment on such twaddle. But apparently this one was particularly moronic: the asteroid is” aimed” at Puerto Rico and will also obliterate the Eastern seaboard of the U.S.

Screen shot 2015-08-23 at 5.07.09 PM

End of the world has been cancelled for September, NASA says.

There’s “not a shred of evidence” to support the hoax, says JPL. The scientists had to rain on the “Mayan Doomsday” prediction (which actually did not predict the end) in 2012 and other screeching hysteria, such as Comet Elenin killing everyone that same year. NASA called that one “a trail of piffling particles.”

Now if you want to be concerned,  the following should make you worried as a cat at the dogpound:


T h e y ’ r e  D r i n k i n g  O u r  M i l k s h a k e
And now for something I have no doubt will be deemed a hoax by climate-change deniers.  Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab – you know, like, extremely educated engineers, physicists, Earth biologists and geologists – have confirmed that California’s Central Valley has sunk about six and a half feet since ag producers started relentlessly sucking up the Great Aquifer beneath the Golden State from 2003 to 2013.  The pace of land-drop is now at a break-neck speed of two inches a month. California’s record-breaking and driest drought in recorded history began four years ago. But you may not have heard that a few months ago, NASA brainiacs also proved that the water levels of Earth’s 13 of 37 greatest aquifers dropped like stones this year, including the aforementioned Central Valley Aquifer and the ancient Northern Sahara Desert Aquifer.  NASA proved the data with their twin GRACE satellites.  Our understanding is that it takes one million years for the globe’s water cycle to replenish just two inches in these aquifers.  One drawback to the sats is that they can’t determine how deep an aquifer is, only how much it has dropped.

Groundwater storage trends for Earth's 37 largest aquifers : UC Irvine/NASA/JPL-Caltech

Groundwater storage trends for Earth’s 37 largest aquifers : UC Irvine/NASA/JPL-Caltech

I n  a  G a l a x y  N o t  S o  F a r  A w a y  . . .
I can’t keep this one corked anymore.  Has anyone been following the national carnival called the Republican Presidential primary?  Yes, Donald Trump is driving the clown car.  But the fact is, every voter in the nation loathes our sticky-fingered Congressional lobbyist lovers so much that a barker like Trump is way ahead in the polls.  No surprise, except to his mealy-mouthed competitors. Screen shot 2015-08-23 at 5.21.37 PM They are mystified that their base goes for Trump’s fascism; despite the decades they spent dumbing-down their own supporters.  Surprise!
The Donald’s entire one-trick pony show is based on a xenophobic stand against Mexicans.  And when the charlatan calls for repealing the 14th Amendment (which guarantees people born here are automatically U.S. citizens), saying “they gotta go,” all the GOP candidates trip over their tongues, dog-piling atop one another to ape him.
This all may seem off-topic.  But consider the fact that every single human who has gone into space and looked back upon our fragile Earth is amazed that there are no drawn borderlines between “nations.”  There are no national distinctions, no passports, no “papers please” or barbed wired 15 feet-high walls (except the ancient conceptual art piece known as the Great Wall of China).  From space, everyone on Earth is suddenly and simply a human being.  Every astronaut’s soul returns radically changed in regards to nationalism and the tenuous environment.
What if we launched every Presidential candidate into space for a month?  We can hang barf bags around their necks,and make sure they take notes on what this globe actually is: our only lifeboat, at the moment, no thanks to conservative crackdowns on space budgets and a disdainful dismissal of humankind’s yearning to break out of our crib… at least to Mars … and perhaps someday beyond.
Remember: Vote early and often!

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Birdcage Liner

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By Kate Woods – Galactic Sandbox Writer-At-Large

I find it amazing that whenever outer space news sounds goofy, the mainstream media Screen shot 2015-08-09 at 1.50.18 PMjumps all over it for a cheap laugh. But try to find out what’s happening with the New Horizons spacecraft after the first ever Pluto flyby,  including new Pluto data and or information on the craft’s  continued trek to other spheres on the edge of the Kuiper Belt, and the silence is deafening. Look’s like 15 minutes of fame trumps decades of wonder.  It’s putrid. (Click here for the latest Pluto/New Horizons news!)

G a l a c t i c  H a p p y  H o u r
Last week’s reported space news was the most “wacky” I’ve seen in a while. Pouty glamor-puss news readers were tickled pink to report the story about how the Japanese whiskeyare going to send whiskey samples to the International Space Station (ISS) later this month to test how zero gravity affects the taste: they are counting on the booze to become more “mellow.” Not to be outdone, the European Space Agency (ESA) is sending “kamboucha” microbes” – the basis for an ancient European alcoholic elixir — to the ISS as well to see how those cultures fair.
Tee Hee!
B u s t y  M a r t i a n
But the most “highlarious” tidbit yet is the one about how a picture sent back from low Mars orbit reveals the figure of a mysterious cloaked woman – with really big breasts. The RT “news” website touted the headline: “’Space boobs:’ Alien woman with breasts’ watching Mars rover spotted by UFO lovers”.
Yuk yuk yuk yuk!
Oh, but for the days of the good old Face on Mars….Screen shot 2015-04-02 at 2.56.45 PM
O r b i t a l  D u c k  a n d  C o v e r
The more reputable BBC reports that space junk (orbital debris) has become routinely dangerous for not just our thousands of satellites but also for astronauts onboard ISS. Just last month the crew had to “shelter-in-place” once again for a piece of crap detached from a Russian satellite, speeding at 17,000 mph toward the station. It was too late to outmaneuver the debris, like they had to three times in 2014. They obviously came through it unscathed, but really, when are the engineers going to come up with a solution to clean up the neighborhood?
A s t e r o i d  H o o l i g a n s
And speaking of a “heads up”: NASA’s infrared space telescope NEOWISE has spotted a Screen shot 2015-08-09 at 2.03.12 PMrogue family of small asteroids that don’t flow with the traffic in the Asteroid Belt, but instead are taking a joy ride through the solar system’s equatorial plane. Scientists believe they are the resulting fragments of an impact some 700 million years ago, from the once larger asteroid Euphroysne. It’s not much skin off the mother asteroid’s backside since it’s still 156 miles wide. We’ll have to keep an eye on its problem children.
E T  P h o n e s  H o m e
Then there is the story about the English ham radio enthusiast who, after trying for a International_Space_Station_after_undocking_of_STS-132month, actually got an astronaut onboard SSI to respond to his call. Adrian Lane of Gloucestershire was astonished when he got through, and the crewmember told him the stars “look like diamonds.”
 W h e r e  t h e  B u f f a l o s  D r o n e
 And finally, NASA’s “Swamp Works” team at Kennedy is building flying drones to access drones on marshard-to-reach areas on Mars. They are called “Extreme Access Flyers,” run on water vapor or hydrogen jets, and can be refueled from a landed mothership. No word yet on when they will get to the Red Planet.


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