Hell or High Water

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September 4, 2017

Agnett Bonwitt, Managing Editor

Eclipsing Expectations

A handful of the Galactic Sandbox team and friends had the privilege to witness the total solar eclipse last month from a front-row perch in the Idaho Rockies. Below are a few photos of the experience, including an exclusive shot of the totality by filmmaker and photographer John Zibell who was with us (note, the planet Mercury can be seen at about 8 o’clock from the Sun/Moon), and partial eclipse pix taken by yours truly.

As we stood agog over the spectacularly silent celestial show, it wasn’t hard to understand how such an event has made an indelible impression on humanity for thousands of years, and how little we’ve scratched the surface of our wondrous universe. It was also hard not to think of how our dear friend Kate Woods would have loved to have been there — in a just cosmos, she should not only be in a place looking up to the stars, but looking out from them!  — Agnett Bonwitt

                                                    ECLIPSE REVIEW

Many thanks to Randall Munroe, xkcd.

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Flooded Gates

While the human and economic toll from Hurricane Harvey continues to (rightfully) remain as a top concern for rescue and relief efforts as well as the focus of media attention, the general public may forget that NASA’s mission control is headquartered in besieged Houston. According to Space News, Johnson Space Center was drenched with 42 inches of rain last week, and through Labor Day is being manned by a skeleton crew to monitor International Space Station operations. In addition, the space agency’s next-generation, $8.8 billion James Webb Space Telescope that is scheduled to launch late next year, has been at JSC for testing and while the building it’s being housed at was flooded, the telescope fortunately remains unscathed.

Quick Editorial Aside: Obviously, the recent flooding – not only in the Gulf Coast, but also the catastrophic deluge which has left over a thousand dead and one third of Bangladesh under water – if not directly caused by climate change, does offer a chilling preview of things to come if Trump and his cronies continue to willfully and greedily turn their backs from the ability of humankind to survive a greenhouse gas-choked Earth.

Days of Future Past

As many US citizens continue to reel from the political, environmental, and cultural devastation that has reached a possible point of no return with the Trump administration, ultimately we can’t say that we weren’t warned of such an Orwellian scenario. Making the internet rounds lately is an excerpt from a 1996 Carl Sagan book, “The Demon Haunted World,”  in which Sagan paints an eerily familiar picture of our present time:

“I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or my grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness. The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30-second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance.”

Sagan also provides a warning that applies all too fittingly to our orange-tinted sociopath-in-chief: “Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”

Celestial Sweepstakes

In July, Elon Musk’s Space X commercial space venture passed the $20 billion valuation mark.

Investors’ appetite for commercial space ventures continued to be ravenous in 2016, according to newly-compiled data from industry consulting group Bryce Space and Technology that reported a record-smashing $2.8 billion in more mainstream capital thrown at out-of-this-world projects last year – a $400 million increase since 2015. And while the SpaceXs and Blue Origins continue to be the darlings of the burgeoning sector, it is a new generation of small, relatively inexpensive satellites beaming terabytes of data to Earth that have venture capitalists drooling over the potential returns on everything from the satellites themselves, to software used to interpret their data, and from the new rockets designed to boost them into orbit. “Fundamentally, investors go after opportunity, and the way I would sum it up is, this is one of the last frontiers, to be a little cliché,” said Tom Barton, chief operating officer at Planet, whose 190 imaging birds grind out 7 terabytes of new Earth imagery each day. “It’s still old-school; it hasn’t really been touched by Moore’s Law,” Barton told CNBC.

In 2016, 114 investors poured more than $2.8 billion into space start-ups. Above satellite imagery produced by commercial space firm, Planet.

However, according to authors of the Bryce study, the industry has advanced to the point that investors are anxious to see a return on dollars, not just pie-in-the-sky dreams. “We’re not yet seeing the outcome of investment in a lot of funded companies,” said Bryce’s CEO Carissa Christensen. “We’re seeing their ability to raise money, we’re seeing their ability to design and deploy their systems, but we’re not seeing their ability to return profits,” she added. It’s also a make or break time for many start-ups which according to Planet’s Barton, could go bankrupt in the next few years. “As much as I say that we’re at the start of consolidation in the new space sector, I think we’re probably at the start of some of these companies going bankrupt,” Planet’s Barton says, adding, “I would guess that over the next two years we see five or 10 significant bankruptcies or acquisitions for pennies on the dollar for people that just aren’t going to make it on their own.”

Homecoming

US astronaut Peggy Whitson returned to Earth last weekend from the International Space Station, breaking the record of cumulative days in space for any American or any woman worldwide. According to Phys.org, Whitson’s homecoming aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule at a desolate region of Kazakhstan early Sunday morning local time marked 665 days in orbit, with 288 days for her just-completed mission. As well as time marked in space, Whitson broke past a few other milestones: world’s oldest spacewoman, at age 57; the most experienced female spacewalker with 10; and the first woman to command the ISS twice.

Rock Stars

The largest asteroid in more than a century to cruise safely pass Earth reached within 4.4 million miles our planet on Friday as professional and amateur astronomers stampeded optical and radio telescopes to get a detailed glimpse of the mountain-sized space rock that last visited our neck of the solar system in 1890. Nicknamed “Florence” after nursing pioneer Florence Nightengale, the 3 mile-wide boulder provided scientists with a celestial living room view of an object we usually have to send multi-million dollar spacecraft to chase down and study. And in fact a team of researchers operating the humongous radar-equipped dishes at NASA’s Goldstone tracking station in California and Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico took advantage of Florence’s lumbering speed and discovered that it has two moons, each estimated at 300 to 1000 feet across.

 

Asteroid 2012 TC4’s path past Earth.

In a related story, on October 12, researchers will have a rare opportunity to assess Earth’s “planetary defense” systems – or lack thereof – when a house-sized asteroid travels harmlessly by our planet at a distance of only an eighth of that between us and the Moon. “It’s damn close,” said Rolf Densing, who heads the European Space Operations Center in Darmstadt, Germany as he commented on the hair’s-breath 27,300 miles the wayfaring space rock dubbed 2012 TC4 will approach before continuing its path into the void of space. Observing TC4’s movements “is an excellent opportunity to test the international ability to detect and track near-Earth objects and assess our ability to respond together to a real asteroid threat,” said an ESA statement.

Keeping the Dream Alive

Sierra Nevada’s mini-me “Dream Chaser” space shuttle completed a “captive carry” test above the Mojave Desert in California at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center, as part of  a significant step toward returning American-made civilian winged spacecraft to orbit by 2020. While the Colorado-based firm lost out to Boeing and SpaceX to ferry astronaut crews to the international space station, NASA approved Sierra Nevada’s development of a dwarfed, robotically-piloted spaceplane that will deliver supplies to the orbiting station. “Today was a great accomplishment on Sierra’s planned march towards doing that approach and landing test,” said Mike Lee of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which is led from Kennedy Space Center, following the captive carry test. Their are at least two launches of the reusable Dream Chaser slated from Cape Canaveral atop United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket.

Relatedly, the Air Force’s fifth X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) mission is slated for launch this Thursday aboard a SpaceX Falcon rocket, and will carry an Advanced Structurally Embedded Thermal Spreader payload that will study the long-durational exposure of experimental electronics and oscillating heat pipe technologies in space, reports Space Daily. “It is our goal to continue advancing the X-37B OTV so it can more fully support the growing space community,” said Randy Walden, director of the Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office. The uncrewed X-37B space plane completed its fourth mission last May, landing after 718 days in orbit and extending the total number of days off the Earth to 2,085.

Mixed Signals

Scientists are scratching their heads over the origin of 15 recently-recorded radio bursts from a galaxy 3 billion light years away that have ignited a barrage of sensational headlines speculating that the mysterious signals could have been produced by an alien civilization. A UC Berkeley-based team employing the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia caught the ancient radio beacons on August 26 and reported their initial findings as an Astronomer’s Telegram that can be read here.  The California researchers are part of the Breakthrough Listen project,  a global astronomical initiative launched in 2015 by Internet investor and philanthropist Yuri Milner and famed cosmologist Stephen Hawking to “observe nearby stars and galaxies for signatures of extraterrestrial technology.”

Untested Waters

According to recent Hubble Telescope findings, out of the 7 Earth-sized Trappist-1 planets located 40 light years away, the inner two worlds could have lost more than 20 Earth-oceans-worth of water during the last eight billion years, while the outer planets, including e, f and g which are in the habitable zone should have lost much less moisture, suggesting that they could have retained enough H2O for habitable life.

Another report that sent news outlets in a tin foil hat tizzy involve findings by an astronomy team using the Hubble Space Telescope suggesting that the outer Earth-sized planets orbiting the recently-discovered Trappist-1 solar system might still harbor substantial amounts of water, making them prime candidates for habitable life. Swiss astronomer Vincent Bourrier, lead researcher of the squad that studied the effects that ultraviolet rays from the Trappist dwarf star have on breaking up water vapor on its now famous seven planetary offspring, noted that information garnered by our our current scientific instruments is insufficient to draw final conclusions on how wet these planets are. “While our results suggest that the outer planets are the best candidates to search for water with the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, they also highlight the need for theoretical studies and complementary observations at all wavelengths to determine the nature of the TRAPPIST-1 planets and their potential habitability,” Bourier said.

Clap Traps Tin Foil Hat Pusher Alert!

Over the past week or so, there has been an avalanche of news items covering the above puzzling radio bursts and Trappist-1 water stories that range from a mild ding to a full-blown, circus clown horn blast on our Tin Foil Hat meter, suggesting, and in some cases unabashedly asserting, that these inconclusive cosmic observations involve proof that alien civilizations exist. One of the more blatant offenders was the UK’s  Daily Star that laughingly proclaimed the following: 

As if this error-laced screamer weren’t bad enough, scattered throughout the actual “story” like IQ-reducing buckshot were unsubstantiated (and grammatically incorrect) claims such as  “Scientist find [sic] evidence aliens could have been living on Trappist for billions of yea [sic],” and “more than 40,000 Americans have taken out insurance against being abducted by aliens,” While all of this is neither surprising or new, it does show that  Carl Sagan’s prophesied “celebration of ignorance” continues to rage at a fevered pitch. Tin Foil Hats all around!

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The Fountainheads

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October 5, 2015

By Kate Woods, Galactic Sandbox Writer-At-Large

T H E  F O U N T A I N H E A D S

“Experts” are weighing in on the newly discovered salt water on Mars, and the opinions vary astronomically (to be droll) – from touting inevitable microscopic life to claims of cover-ups (yes, the conspiracy truthers are dusting off their tin foil hats). Regardless of what may be found at the end of the Martian rainbow, NASA officials are more determined than ever to send a crew of humans to the Red Planet by the next decade.

JPL Mars water

Hope springs eternal: NASA finds evidence of water flowing on Mars. Size of the water streaks (above)  fluctuates throughout the Martian year.

In the meantime, scientists are spitballing whether the perchlorates (hydrated salts) originate from the near non-existent humidity in the Martian atmosphere or from underground aquifers.  NASA has long known that water was trapped in the perma-ice at the poles, but has never confirmed, until last week, that the salty frost appears in dark lines seasonally. Dr. Bob Zubrin, a long-time advocate of human exploration on Mars, is convinced the brine water bubbles up from aquifers. This, he believes, is quite possible since salt water has a much lower freezing point than fresh H2O, in addition to the fact that while Mars averages a frigid -70°F, the equator can warm up to +70°F during the Martian summer.  Pre-eminent Astrobiologist Chris McKay of NASA Ames in Mountain View, CA adds that the water, to be liquid, is so salty nothing could live in it.  “The short answer for habitability is it means nothing,” he told the New York Times.

But wait!  There’s more.  Natural News (whatever you do, do not confuse it with the highly-regarded science publication Nature) says NASA has always known about the running water on Mars and has been trying to cover up the existence of microscopic life on the Red Planet since 1976 when the Viking Lander “discovered it.”

limbaugh_mars by Salon

In space no one can hear you scream .. Rush Limbaugh proposes far-out Mars theories. Photo: Salon.

But the Tin Foil Hatter of the Week goes to:  Ta Da!  That bloated windbag, cigar-chomping, radio crackpot provocateur (drum roll …trumpet blat … rim shot!) Rush Limbaugh, who claims the Mars water discovery is an Obama plot to “advance the liberal agenda,” since he knows they are going to entwine it with global warming on Earth.  Furthermore, and mark his words, NASA is now devoted to “Muslim outreach” and also doing unwarranted publicity for Matt Damon’s new movie, “The Martian,” which proves the Administration’s ongoing nefarious conspiracy with the liberal elite Hollywood cabal.

Talk about all wet. Oh, the humanity.

LunarXPrize

Eyes on the XPrize: 21st Century tycoons look to the Moon as a springboard for space age industrialization.

R o c k e t f e l l e r s
The space enterprise battle of the billionaires heats up with a new development in the race for Google’s Lunar XPRIZE, a $30 million pot for the company to first set up shop on the Moon, with another $30 million more in awards between NASA and Google to get there.

Moon Express, founded by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, just jockeyed into the lead when the start-up recently signed a launch deal with Los Angeles-based Rocket Lab to deliver three robotic lunar crafts to our pockmarked satellite, starting as early as 2017. (The XPRIZE competition requires entrants’ commercial craft to land, travel 500 meters across the lunar surface and send high-definition images and video back to Earth.)

Ultimately, the company plans to blaze a trail toward mining rare minerals from the Moon, including gold, cobalt, iron, palladium, platinum, tungsten and Helium-3, a gas that can be used in future fusion reactors to provide nuclear power without radioactive waste.  The Moon’s regolith (a fancy way of saying “dirt”) is chock full of Helium-3.

spaceflight sat broker

Spaceflight’s orbiting satellite pez dispenser, SHERPA .

Katrillionaire tech entrepreneur Naveen Jain, co-founder of Moon Express, says that launch advances have enabled his outfit to blast off via Rocket Lab for a mere $5 million, whereas, he added, a launch on fellow katrillionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket costs $50 million a pop.  Play nice, boys.!

Don’t worry about Musk – he’s laughing all the way to the bank after penning a huge deal last week in the booming satellite launch market.  Seattle-based Spaceflight is the customer, and will be doling out $65 million for a launch in 2017.

Musk’s Falcon 9 rocket will be launching Spaceflight’s 20 satellites from both the U.S. and foreign nations, a mix of commercial and governmental hardware, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

T r e a s u r e  I s l a n d s

asteroid mining

Miner 49er bot excavates asteroid.

But speaking of mining the Moon, I came across a buried news blurb this week about a bill in the Senate that could pass any day now.  It would allow private companies to actually own the space targets they want to mine, specifically the Moon and asteroids.

First, I realize it seems like the lousy punchline of a bad joke to say that Congress might pass anything soon.  And we all know that when they do pass some nitwit law, it never bodes well.  Such is the case for this new bright and greedy idea that blatantly violates U.N. space treaty laws. (It’s also disconcerting to see potentially like-minded notions popping up, for example, on Moon Express’ website that cheerfully describes our nearest celestial neighbor as the “Eighth Continent.” Sadly, it’s one small step for profit, one giant leap to profiteering.)

Those international laws, signed by the U.S., Russia and many other nations specifically state that no country can own a part of outer space, including planets or asteroids.  They belong to everyone.

Absconding with minerals from someone else’s mining claim (in this case, the properties in question belong to the entire human race, and that doesn’t even include the alien shareholders of other planets in the multiverse) is what we miners call “high-grading.”  And a highgrader is the lowest form of life to the seasoned tunnel king who respects another man’s mining claim.

Planetary Resources Arkyd-6 test vehicle

Planetary Sciences’ asteroid prospecting test vehicle, Arkyd-6, is slated for launch later this year.

When the Outer Space Treaty was made in the 1960s, the diplomats for some reason could not foresee a “company” trying to own mining rights – or a property deed – to any entities floating out there.  A company called Planetary Resources is already trying to stake property rights on asteroid and Moon plots they plan to strip for minerals.  The bill would also allow space-mining companies to sue other parties if the assumed competitors attempt to “cause harmful interference to space mining ventures.”  Here we go.

The bill has already passed the House and is expected to pass the Republican-heavy Senate this month.  The only hope for a free Universe is a veto from President Obama.

F l y  M e  P a s t  t h e  M o o n
Surely, commercial asteroid miners’ ears perked up when they heard about NASA’s decision this week to sink $15 million in five different plans to study nearby asteroids and the planet Venus.

Screen shot 2015-10-04 at 3.41.54 AM

Past economy-class NASA missions include the Kepler telescope launched in 2009 to seek Earth-like planets orbiting other star systems.

The agency has culled five out of 27 proposals in their 13th small-class Discovery planetary science competition.  Of the five selected, two will study Venus’ atmosphere and topography and three will inspect nearby asteroids.  Each of the proposal teams will receive $3 million in seed money to develop their plans over a year, until NASA whittles it down to “one or two” in 2016, says the agency.  A total of $500 million will be allotted to the winner, or winners, (excluding launch and post-launch costs) which for now consists of teams from NASA Goddard in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, CA.

Among the proposals not selected was an excellent bid to study the “jinxed moons” of Mars, the potato-shaped Phobos and Deimos asteroids.  Tin-foilers have been blaming the pair for failed missions — especially the many doomed Mars shots from Russia.  Another mission entrant wanted to venture into the Kuiper Belt, to the icy dirt chunks and asteroids beyond Pluto.

D a w n ’ s  T h i r d  L i g h t
NASA continues to generate regular updates about the many mysteries of Ceres, which is currently being eyeballed by the Dawn spacecraft as part of the Rosetta Mission.

Screen shot 2015-10-03 at 5.30.17 PM

False color topographical map of Ceres’ Occator crater complete with enigmatic lights.

Now the flustered space agency is describing those bright lights emanating from the Occator crater on the surface of the dwarf planet as “bursts of energetic electrons” … yeah, the same thing that comes from a flashlight or any other artificial light source.  But they’ll be damned if they call it what it exactly appears to be in simple terms.

Galactic Sandbox is not advocating the idea that aliens are Morse-coding us from Ceres with Hollywood opening-premiere lights.  But it would be refreshing if NASA included in its many varied conclusions of this phenomena that it could possibly be made by something other than ice refraction, salt dunes, atmospheric swamp gas, or the latest “run up the flagpole and let’s see who salutes it” pitch:  bursts of energetic electrons possibly caused by the reflection of the Sun.

Screen shot 2015-10-03 at 5.34.01 PM

Ceres’ 4-mile high conical “pyramid” mountain (right center).

Still, the Dawn probe continues to find interesting wonders, such as a 4-mile high pyramid-shaped mountain – also in the Occator crater.  Because of the pyramid’s “strange and spooky” location, brace yourself for an onslaught of shrill cover-up hypotheses coming from the tin foil truthers (or false flaggers).

AstroSat 2

India’s Hubble mini-me to lock it sights on our Milky Way Galaxy’s massive black hole.

P e e r   P r e s s u r e
India’s scrappy space agency ISRO has joined a handful of other nations as it gazes deeper into the cosmos.  Last week ISRO took great pride in launching its “mini-Hubble” space telescope, called AstroSat, from Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota (southern India).  It’s main focus will be on the super-massive black hole in the center of our Milky Way, but it will also eyeball pulsars, distant stars and white dwarfs.

Though the AstroSat is ten times smaller than the Hubble, it’s a big deal since it is the first space telescope ever made and launched by a developing nation.  The U.S., Russia, and Japan are the other (developed) nations that have space scopes out there.

Old Faithful: NASA has confirmed that Saturn’s 6th largest moon, Enceladus, has a sub-ice crust ocean responsible for water geysers erupting from the satellite’s south pole.

S e a  B r e e z e
Here’s something we’ve all known for a while, but NASA decided to “announce” it last week:  Saturn’s moon Enceladus has an ocean beneath its frozen crust!

Duh.

Yet we can give credit to NASA and perhaps more fittingly, the marvelous Cassini spacecraft, for making it official.  The planetary scientists knew there was water there, but thought it was a regional sea.  It turns out to be an entire ocean on Enceladus, responsible for geysers erupting on the moon’s south pole.

 

S u s p i c i o u s  M i n d

Elvis on Mars

The Martian King – Elvis lives!

And now for the big finale this week.  I hate to do this to you, but it’s finally happened:  Elvis has been spotted on Mars, and yes, by the Curiosity rover.  We knew it was just a matter of time before famed tin foil hatter, Scott C. Waring (our much respected peer and publisher of the online UFO Sightings Daily), spotted the long dead warbler, not just in a black sequined jumpsuit suit but again in the sparkly signature white polyester affair for which he is so well-known.

The brutal irony of it all is that Waring did not even realize it was Elvis!  He merely reported it as the TENTH “humanoid figure” he caught from Curiosity’s cameras (he must have a 24-7 live stream from a Curiosity-cam, constantly humming along in his basement office), indeed the tenth that he has reported to NASA.

And yet, NASA has ignored him, time and time again.  Can you imagine?

I’m all shook up

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Springboarding into the Future

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September 21, 2015

By Kate Woods, Galactic Sandbox Writer-At-Large

H o b b y h o r s i c a l

crowd source launchIt seems everyone these days from rocket hobbyists to billionaires wants to make a splash in the commercial space race and blast people off the planet.  The latest impresarios to catch Galactic Sandbox’s eye is a group of resourceful people in Denmark – all with regular day jobs – who are “crowd sourcing” to launch a willing human on their home-built rocket by 2025.

“We’re 50 geeks building and flying our own rockets.  One of us will fly into space,” avows Copenhagen Suborbitals’ Internet homepage.  The federation of orbit-bound enthusiasts boldly bills itself as the world’s first amateur space program.

Founded in 2008, Copenhagen Suborbitals raises money for its non-profit rocket ventures Copenhagen Suborbitalsthrough online donations.  Comprised of 50 “civilian” space devotees, the group differs from all other rocket clubs in that its sights are set a bit higher.  With every blast-off accomplished, the association gets closer to putting one of us regular folks into orbit.  Suborbitals is also the first, and as of yet, only layperson rocket group that has launched an actively guided rocket.

Launch Alert! Copenhagen Suborbitals is slated to catapult its fifth rocket on Sept. 29 – from the middle of the Baltic Sea … and in international waters wherein they can’t be pinched for breaking any nation’s ground rules.

G a l a c t i c  B a c k p e d a l

Galactic Virgin

Galactic Virgin chief impresario Richard Branson

Meanwhile, various news stories indicate that Virgin Galactic – the first private outfit to get into the humans-in-space–for-money race – is downplaying its zeal to launch people, that is, tourists, into orbit.  Billionaire CEO Richard Branson announced last week that his company is focusing, at this time, on the satellite business.  In fact, when he or any other sound-piece for Virgin Galactic is asked when they will try for another human launch, the answer is vague and flip:  “Who knows?” or “It’ll be ready when it’s ready.”

fatal GV test flight

Tragic Virgin Atlantic crash

Granted, putting a person safely in space is not an easy quest, as Branson knows all too well.  Only ten months ago Virgin’s first try ended in a fatal disaster when pilot Michael Alsbury, 39, perished in the Mojave Desert.

The tragedy was a blow to the gut for Virgin, and their tourist-in-space sign-ups dropped from 750 to 700.  But celebrity ticket-holders still include the likes of Angelina Jolie, Kate Winslet and Stephen Hawking – all whom have paid $250,000 for a seat going 62 miles up to the edge of space (or forever), riding a vessel called SpaceShipTwo.

B l u e  L i g h t  S p e c i a l

In Austin, Texas, yet another space-age Steve Jobs hopeful is hawking low-Earth orbit, but for a mere $150.  For the cost of a weather balloon, a cheap camera, a Styrofoam box and Spacehacka cheap device that controls other cheap devices, anyone, says Ariel Waldman of Spacehack.org, can put presumably whatever they want into suborbit … much like the Swedish lads did with their pink glazed donut last April (See Cosmic Debris “Launch Box” in the pull-down menu above).  Waldman’s non-profit organization provides access and support to many branches of what she calls “citizen science,” and the website is intriguing.  She also works for NASA, organizing their social networking projects.

G r e a t  B a l l s  o f  F i r e

Heads up!  The next time you thrill upon observing a “shooting star,” you best cast a wary eye in the night sky for any signs of the International Space Station.  To mark the halfway mark in astronaut Scott Kelly’s one year in space, NASA put out a whimsical poster Scott Kelly's body in spacedescribing the effects of space on Kelly’s body.  Naturally, the item that grabbed all the media hacks’ imaginations was about what happens to the astronauts’ fecal matter on the station.  It is sucked outside, where it heads for the Earth’s atmosphere in a blazing trajectory on its way to the ground, much like that of a shooting star.  Of course, a “real” shooting star is a meteorite– a rock, a pebble, a grain of sand or even a smidge of dust – that leaves a trail of burning super-heated air and gas and embers behind it as we watch it from the planet’s surface.

shooting star (Langkawi Ink)

Crapshoot?

In 2009, the ISS executed a particularly massive latrine dump, which prompted many citizens to report a “mysterious glow in the sky.”  Enchanting!

The instructive poster claims Kelly will produce 180 pounds of feces during his year in space, and that it will “burn up in the atmosphere and look like shooting stars.  Your feces will not look like shooting stars.”  Seriously.

 

C o s m o n a u t  H i t s  H i g h  S p o t

cosmonaut

Space travel king Gennady Padalka takes victory lap sitting down

And while Kelly and others remain in the confines of the ISS, three of their Russian crew mates landed back in their motherland last week aboard the Russian’s warhorse Soviet Soyuz vehicle.  One of the space travelers, Gennady Padalka, has broken all records for longest time spent in orbit … not consecutively, but with his last stint of 168 days on the station, Padalka has a total of 879 space days under his belt.  Padalka breaks cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev’s 2005 record by two months.

W e ‘ r e  N o t  i n  K a n s a s  A n y m o r e

solar tornado

Solar twister

That space station gets around.  Typical space nerd yak this month (besides disposal of SSI_Sun photo bombspace poop, I suppose) includes how the ISS photo-bombed the Sun, with terrestrial telescope photos to prove it.  A week after the transit, the Sun showed its wrath by giving off a monstrous solar tornado (which luckily (by chance?) was documented by the space station crew), and then a few days later both the Moon and the Earth countered by eclipsing the gas ball simultaneously.

The solar “tornado” was actually a leaping mass SDO-Double-Eclipseof plasma that swirled over the course of 40 hours.  I don’t think Dorothy and Toto could have ridden that bronco to Oz.

 

N A S A  M a y  G e t  F e e t  W e t  o n  E u r o p a

Europa cutaway

Europa cutaway

NASA may be changing the name and nature of its planned Europa Multiple Flyby Mission.  Recently, the agency’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, CA, began looking into what it would take to include a lander for the Jovian moon mission slated for 2025.  This news was announced at the annual conference of  AIAA’s (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics) last week – undoubtedly causing the stingy-fisted Republicans in the audience to chew up the glass rims of their goblets filled with boxed wine.

A lander on Jupiter’s icy moon, Europa, would reveal an ocean twice as deep as Earth’s Mariana Trench (which is 7 miles deep, or 11 kilometers), a sea that touches the moon’s rocky mantle and which co-evolved with the solar system for 4.5 million years.  Scientists believe there could be chemical reactions in Europa’s ocean that may have led to life as it did here on Earth.

S n o o z e  T u b e

Old NASA TV

Zzzzzz: Old NASA cable channel

Remember the static, absurdly boring old NASA TV Channel?  It usually showed either a world map with a plastic space shuttle model moving creakingly slow over it or an empty Houston control room with one lone space nerd eating a Hostess pink coconut snowball behind a console.  Watching it made one feel like they were turning into an ossified skeleton while waiting for their order in an old Howard Johnson’s restaurant.

Now, In an effort to boost its low entertainment IQ, NASA says it is partnering with Harmonic, a worldwide video delivery company, to offer a new channel to North America — this time in Ultra-High Definition (UHD) – by Nov. 1.  The station will be based at NASA Marshall in Alabama, and have live feeds from the ISS and other space missions.  It will also be available for Internet streaming.  Sounds like finally we, the audience, will be enjoying pink snowballs while watching panoramic views from the space station portals.

C a p t a i n  K i r k  o f  I n d u s t r y

jeff-bezos-blue-originExtra! Extra! Now back to the private sector’s space race: Blue Origin is the newest kid on the block to take on Virgin Galactic and SpaceX – not to mention citizen groups like Copenhagen Suborbitals – with their bid to get paying homo sapiens into space.  And yes, another billionaire, Blue Origin’s president Jeff Bezos (and CEO of Amazon.com), announced his space company will build and launch a reusable vehicle from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.  The company’s goal is to ferry astronauts and supplies into orbit as well as land back on Earth horizontally like the space shuttle did.

Bezos and his colleagues call their new launch vehicle the Very Big Brother (Blue Origin)slightly disturbing name “Very Big Brother,” and until now, have been operating suborbital launches from West Texas since 2000.  They hope to launch “Brother” by 2020.

 

 

R e s t o r a t i o n  H a r d w a r e

Stanford University science students got the surprise of their lives when a hiker in Arizona called to say she found the suborbital video footage of the group’s helium balloon launch they thought was lost forever two years ago.

Grand Canyon lost footage

Grand view of Grand Canyon

Launched in June of 2013, the experiment to test fluid lensing was armed with two GoPro cameras, a phone with a GPS unit inside, and luckily, the students’ contact info.  The balloon floated over the desert north of Tuba City, Arizona, and reached a suborbital 30 km in just 90 minutes before it went kablooey.  The students intended to retrieve the gizmo with a smartphone app, which was supposed to text the coordinates to them as the experiment floated back to Earth on a parachute … but they saw nothing on their phone screen.

It turns out the cameras captured stunning video of the Grand Canyon from the edge of space, but the footage languished in the desert for two years before hiker Pearl Tsosie (ironically, an AT&T employee) came across it.  Stanford student Bryan Chan has proudly posted the footage, and the tale, online.

P l a n e t  o f  t h e  A p e

Not to be left in the dust, North Korea’s chubby megalomaniacal Highest Imperial Ruler, Kim Jong Un, is blustering that he is now able to graduate from helium balloons to big loud rockets too!Screen shot 2015-09-20 at 8.06.10 PM

The psychopath’s Minister of Defense (who refused to use his name in the press release) claims his big daddy Jong will be firing off a fleet of  “weather satellites” any day now.  Really.  Any day now.

The military yes-man boasted the upcoming launch as one of his nation’s “many shining achievements” in aerospace technology.  Back in reality, the United Nations has forbidden North Korea from launching anything bigger than a bottle rocket.

 

P h o t o  F i n i s h

Pluto hexagons

Hexing problem: Mysterious shapes on Pluto (craters located at  bottom center and lower left)?

Pluto pix are in!  NASA has just released the latest photos taken by the New Horizons spacecraft which left Pluto’s orbit two months ago and is on its way further out to the inner Kuiper Belt of asteroids.

My brother, known as Professor Kemp of New Idria, said – after close examination of the new Pluto images – that he sees hexagons on the surface.  Clear and sharp hexagonal features.  Let us know what you think!

 

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Coming Soon!  World Space Week will be celebrated from Kalamazoo to the outer reaches of “SpARCS1049+56″ from October 4 through the 10th.World Space Week poster

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