Slippery Slope

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February 13, 2017

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

“Have You No Sense of Decency, Sir?”

(Joseph Welch, Chief Counsel for the U.S. Army to Senator Joseph McCarthy, June 9, 1954, the House Senate Hearings on UnAmerican Activities)

It’s official.  That HIGHlarious party animal we’ve all come to know and love, Texas Congressman Lamar Smith (R-Mad Max Apocalyptic Wasteland), has clinically lost his mind.  Medics have made a diagnosis: it seems Smith’s brain got pickled in fossil fuel power.  Cursory medical forecasts of the maroon’s mind are not good.  The larded muscle between his ears is atrophied stiff with oleaginous lobbyist money. (Since 1989, Smith has received $697,747 in “donations” from the oil and gas industry.)  Utterly putrid.

Smith – DC’s unofficial science-slayer – and, yes, head of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, held a hearing on the hill Feb. 7 called – hold onto yer hat – “Make the EPA Great Again.”  And if that doesn’t make your skin crawl, we suggest you get to the nearest emergency room ASAP.

Lamar Smith and Former NOAA Administrator (ex-astronaut and oceanographer) Kathryn Sullivan during a NOAA budget hearing. In case the scientific qualifications between the two isn’t obvious enough, here is what the late, great John Glenn had to say about Ms. Sullivan when she was selected to head NOAA: “Kathy is not just an ivory-tower scientist. She was part of NASA’s first class of female astronauts, selected in 1978, and went on to fly three shuttle missions. She is the first American woman to walk in space and served aboard the mission that deployed the Hubble Space Telescope That role in helping humanity look outward has not prevented her from looking homeward. The planet is suffering increasingly severe upheavals, at least partly a result of climate change — droughts, floods, typhoons, tornadoes. I believe my good friend Kathy is the right person for the right job at the right time.”

We know all too well about Smith’s unconstitutional crusade against federal scientists, especially those who study climate change.  During the Obama years, Smith pushed the envelope hard in his persecution of climatologists in federal agencies, particularly those at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  Enraged by NOAA’s 2015 Karl Report (which details how the oceans’ temperatures have risen at an alarming rate) oil companies – er, I mean Lamar – unsuccessfully subpoenaed the agency’s emails in a pathetically vicious attempt to “catch them” at faking global warming numbers.  NOAA’s Administrator Kathryn Sullivan (first American woman to walk in space, and one of the astronauts to deploy the Hubble Space Telescope)  told Lamar to stuff it when she handed him emails from the agency’s office support workers, but none from the agency’s scientists themselves.  (See Galactic Sandbox November 11, 2015, “Hot Under the Collar”).   He also unsuccessfully tried to introduce a bill to essentially “neutralize” the EPA’s Science Advisory Board when he found out that panel was doing research on fracking.

While Smith’s McCarthy-like fury against NOAA has been widely publicized, it seems NO scientist is immune from Smith’s hysterical witch-hunting.  The subpoena-happy harpy has issued many more on many other scientific groups – some that are simply non-profit researchers – like 350.org and the much esteemed Union of Concerned Scientists. And of course he rushed to the defense of Exxon Mobile when it had been revealed the company knew for years that fossil fuels contribute greatly to global warming, and that they absurdly tried to cover it up.  Lamar even slapped subpoenas on both the New York and Massachusetts Attorney Generals for attempting to investigate Exxon’s activities. (See Galactic Sandbox October 15, 2015, “Frankly, Lamar, We Do Give a Damn”) Ever the tireless crusader, Lamar is also still trying to slash the coffers of the National Science Foundation.

Lamar’s insane windmill-waving – which we always knew could not get too far as long as Obama was holding a veto pen – is now no longer amusing.  In fact, he is exactly the kind of shill der TrumpenFuhrer could normally only dream of.  

House Republicans partying like its 1876.

“You dare challenge global warming with scientific debate?”

Significantly, lost in the kerfuffle during the early days of 2017 when DC Republicans tried to pull a fast one in their failed attempt to eliminate the Congressional independent ethics watchdog, was the reinstatement of a little-noticed provision originally created in 1876 that dramatically beefed-up the powers of House committee staff to haul private citizens and government officials to Capitol Hill to be questioned under oath — in many cases without any lawmakers present. In other words, Smith’s staff can now play judge and jury, and depose witnesses during congressional recesses without supervision from a committee member. The GOP also introduced the “Holman Rule” which can reduce an individual  federal employee’s salary to $1.  I wouldn’t take any bets they will use it on themselves (as we would all PAY to see), but federal scientists?  It’s a full-blown modern Inquisition now.  Said Tom Burke, a scientist and former Obama EPA official who once served on the agency’s Science Advisory Board:  “What we have seen, unfortunately, is the emergence of a very elaborate assault on science to the detriment of public health decision making.” And last month, famed climate scientist and author Michael Mann (also the Director of Earth System Science Center at Penn State) accused Smith – rightly so – of leading a “McCarthy-like assault on science.”

And what of the “Make the EPA Great Again” hearing?  Of course, it was beyond putridity, and Smith used it as a one-man band to excoriate the EPA and the “idea” of climate change in general.  But he also used this “hearing” (which he stacked with oil/gas industry lobbyists the way Trump stacks every public appearance with clapping howling  “fans”) to go high-octane bonkers over a “story” (and we mean “fairy tale”) published last week in the British tabloid called The Daily Mail, which supposedly revealed a “whistle-blower” disputing the numbers in NOAA’s 2015 Karl Report. 

Congressman Don Beyer (D-VA) pushes back on Lamar Smith’s farcical hearing last week by donning “Keep the EPA Great” cap.

But poor power-mad Lamar made the mistake of inviting the head of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), former Congressman Rush Holt (D-New Jersey), to the hearing, and after a windy indictment of NOAA, demanded that the AAAS denounce and redact the NOAA study. But Holt, to dumb-screwed Lamar’s amazement, gave him a big fat NO for an answer.  Holt instead argued the merits of NOAA’s numbers right there at the “Make the EPA Great Again” hearing.  One can imagine the coal-black smoke coming out of Smith’s ears when that happened. 

Lamar was burning with rage:  “I encourage you to talk to Dr. Bates, because everything I have read that he’s said about the Karl report suggest to me that NOAA cheated and got caught.”

In the end Lamar’s self-righteous indignation did nothing but bring into sharper focus how delusionally disingenuous he is. Within days the story was discredited over and over again – even by the so-called retired NOAA “whistle-blower”! – and by independent researchers from the University of California Berkeley and other unimpeachable science sources.  All confirmed the NOAA rising climate numbers.

Meanwhile, outside the hearing, Holt told reporters, “This is an internal dispute about a detail of how you might measure land temperatures or water temperatures. It is not a departure from the general understanding of what’s happening to temperatures in our globe.”  Holt added, “If you want to be on the right side of any issue, you would do well to go with the evidence ― the best understanding at the time of what it’s going to be. Not some fringe idea.”  Touché, Mr. Holt!

And there’s more hope in the push-back. “To be honest, Lamar Smith’s approach subpoenaing us only brought more attention to what Exxon knew [about climate change],” 350’s Lindsay Meiman said. “It brought much more attention to this issue that we focus on. In some respect, I’d like to thank him for that.”  

We got your back, 350!  Join the March for Science, to be held in cities worldwide April 22. – Kate Woods, Writer-At-Large

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Galactic Overreact

JPL scientist Sidd Bikkannavar racing his solar-powered car. Note suspicious fire extinguisher on his right.

Here’s a late-breaking item from Gizmodo that provides another reason why Trump’s cowboys and indians immigration ban is an astronomically bad idea. Apparently JPL scientist Sidd Bikkannavar, who is a natural- born citizen and has a valid US passport, was detained by border agents during the weekend the birdbrain ban was put into effect, and was ordered to unlock his NASA-issued phone, potentially revealing classified information. Bikkannavar, who was returning from Patagonia where he was racing solar-powered cars, was able to describe his ordeal on social media after a few security issues were ironed out:

Sorry for the absence. On my way home to the US last weekend, I was detained by Homeland Security and held with others who were stranded under the Muslim ban. CBP officers seized my phone and wouldn’t release me until I gave my access PIN for them to copy the data. I initially refused, since it’s a JPL-issued phone (Jet Propulsion Lab property) and I must protect access. Just to be clear – I’m a US-born citizen and NASA engineer, traveling with a valid US passport. Once they took both my phone and the access PIN, they returned me to the holding area with the cots and other sleeping detainees until they finished copying my data.

I’m back home, and JPL has been running forensics on the phone to determine what CBP/Homeland Security might have taken, or whether they installed anything on the device. I’ve also been working with JPL legal counsel. I removed my Facebook page until I was sure this account wasn’t also compromised by the intrusion into my phone and connected apps. I hope no one was worried. JPL issued me a new phone and new phone number, which I’ll give out soon.

It’s a Small World
Attorneys for the plaintiffs in a landmark federal climate change lawsuit last week named Donald Trump as a defendant as plans ramp up to begin the trial this fall. Originally filed in 2015 against the Obama administration by a group of children, young adults, and environmentalists, the lawsuit claims US government officials failed to protect the plaintiffs from the perils of climate change, despite detailed scientific warnings and research to its dangers. According to Scientific American, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers said other Trumpian Cabinet members will be listed as defendants, replacing Obama-era leaders in the Energy, Transportation, Commerce, Defense, State, Agriculture and Interior departments who were tagged as offenders in the case.  “The policies of the U.S. government that ignore the threat of climate change are only going to get worse under the new presidency, based on Trump’s apparent lack of understanding of climate science and his plans to invest further in the fossil fuel industry,” Kiran Oommen, 20, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said in a statement last week. The government is expected to appeal the case to get it thrown out, however our litigious leader will have his tiny hands full putting out constitutional as well as personal fires if the first three weeks of his term is any barometer of things to come.

Stella Britannia

Space tourist contender Virgin Galactic could be one of several commercial space entities operating from Great Britain in the not-so-distant future.

The British government is looking toward the heavens for a renewed spark to England’s  sloth-like services-based economy, and has leaped forward in a push to build spaceports on its own soil with the announcement of a series of grants totaling 10 million pounds for a commercial consortia formed to launch satellites – and eventually humans – from the United Kingdom. UK ministers also are expected to introduce a Spaceflight Bill later this month to establish the needed regulatory and licensing framework for British-based launch activities that potentially will include traditional vertical rockets and tourist-toting spaceplanes, reports BBC News. “Spaceflight offers the UK the opportunity to build on our strengths in science, research and innovation,” said Science Minister Jo Johnson in announcing the new grants. Johnson added that the commercial spaceflight activities could be worth an estimated 25 billion pounds over the next 20 years.

Ice Breaker

Jovian satellite Europa has a subsurface ocean twice the size of all Earth seas.

A 21-member planetary science team delivered a report to NASA last week on the potential value of sending a lander to Jupiter’s icy moon, Europa. The plain-vanilla-named Science Definition Team (SDT) has identified three exciting goals for the proposed Europa mission, including a primary objective of scouring for evidence of life (the first such mandate since the Mars Viking era four decades ago), assessing the satellite’s habitability, and examining the feasibility of future robotic exploration of the satellite’s global saltwater ocean. According to NASA, the SDT brainiacs agree that while recent discoveries have shown that many bodies in the solar system now or in the past have subsurface oceans, the large Galilean moon is the only place (other than Saturn’s satellite Enceladus) where its briny deep has contact with a rocky seafloor, making it a prime candidate for possible life beyond Earth. The SDT team also coordinated with engineers to design a surface landing system to study the world’s mysterious icy crust. Since Europa has no atmosphere, delivering any payload to the hard surface will be a challenge without the benefit of proved technologies like a heat shield or parachutes

Raiders of the Lost Landmarks

The first out-of-this-world GlobalXplorer outback conducted from 435 miles above Earth will be an expedition in the remote deserts of Peru.

Many of you have seen the fascinating TV show called “What on Earth,” and now you too, can become the next Indiana Jones of space-based archaeology.  Sarah Parcak – who pioneered the use of satellite imagery to discover lost cities and buried ruins – is launching a new online tool called GlobalXplorer so that every Tom and Jane can find new wonders on our planet using Earth-spying satellites.  

“Archaeologists can’t do this on their own,” says Parcak, who estimates that only one percent of the world’s archaeological sites have been identified, let alone explored and studied. “If we don’t go and find these sites, looters will.” If you’ve seen the show (or have had a mining claim) you know that this pearl of advice is heinously true. 

 Parcak hopes GlobalXplorer will help catalyze a modern age of discovery and preservation – one that could give hope and perspective in “these challenging times.” Hmmm.  Do ya think this bold scientist is referring to the war on science fobbed on our souls daily by the Great Orange Cheeto could have something to do with her sentiments?

Pedal to the Metal

After nearly a century of failed attempts, a couple of scientists from Harvard have finally created “metallic hydrogen,” something that could revolutionize space travel.  The advent of metallic hydrogen was predicted 80 years ago by physicists Eugene Wigner and Hillard Bell Huntington, but trying to create the stuff in the lab proved harder than Donald Trump’s super-dense and insulated skull.  Harder, even, than diamonds. So Alex Silvera and his cohort Ranga Dias created “tiny anvils” made of lab-created ultra-pure diamond dust that could withstand atmospheric pressure 246,000 times what we know as normal.  Phew!  Pressures like that are only found in the cores of dense planets (like Jupiter -see left).  Not even Earth has a core as dense as that.  This new material can be used to make better magnetic-levitated trains and MRI machines in hospitals, but its most hopeful use could be used to propel us into the cosmos.

Meet George Jetson!

San Francisco-based Uber Technologies, a leader of the shared car ride service, just hired NASA scientist Mark Moore of NASA Langley Research Center in Virginia to help them develop a flying car.  It doesn’t mean we’ll see Jetson-like pods buzzing around the sky anytime soon – the concept from draft-board to helipad is decades off – but it’s a start being applauded by techies, especially those in the road car-clogged Silicon Valley.  Just last week, Space X boss and Tesla electric car king Elon Musk announced he’s ready to tunnel underground to get away from the maddening crowd.  Flying-car ports could be installed on high-rise rooftops, as they are now for helicopters, and the idea of landing in the middle of freeway cloverleafs is being spit-balled as well.  Right now, it takes some two hours to get from the San Francisco Marina to downtown San Jose.  Uber says their future flying car could do it in 15 minutes.  If it ever does happen we will indeed have Uber uber alles!

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Blinded By Science

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December 5, 2016

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

B l i n d e d  B y  S c i e n c e

screen-shot-2016-12-04-at-8-51-37-amJust when we didn’t think the political atmosphere engulfing outer space goals could get any worse – what with Trump and his new “science advisers” promising to sever NASA’s global warming studies division and throw it Dog knows where – Texas Sen. Lamar Smith (R-Perdition) has to open his big mouth again.  And yes, he’s balking once more about the agency’s Asteroid Redirect Mission, or ARM. (Smith is the gavel-banger of the House Committee on Space, Science and Technology.)

screen-shot-2016-12-04-at-8-55-55-amTo provide some background, ARM proposes sending a spacecraft to an asteroid, retrieving a boulder from it, and placing it into cislunar orbit where visiting “lunatic” scientists can study the rock from the vantage point of the Moon’s surface, or from manned spacecraft.  NASA says the mission would close five “strategic knowledge gaps” that are pertinent to understanding before sending humans further into the void of space aside from the Moon, say, to far-flung Mars and beyond… .as Congress now claims to be so hell-bent that the agency focus on.  Among those knowledge gaps is the pesky problem of how to prevent astronauts from getting cancer caused by solar radiation on long trips through space.  Even the Trump cabal can’t pretend that isn’t a buzz kill.

screen-shot-2016-12-04-at-8-58-37-amI submit this:  Congressional Republicans are so bereft of facts, so devoid of current knowledge, so unwilling, so unable to make a sound decision that they can not in any way understand future NASA science, and they are unable to make unbiased decisions.  These bastards make former President Cheney look like a prom dilettante when it comes to protecting their conflicted interests spread around the world.  I truly believe that the ARM proposal is too intellectually gnarly for any of our lawgivers in Washington  DC – you know, the oligarchical old white men with nothing left to lose but their so-called sanity – to comprehend.  Their knee-jerk reaction to such an intricate space mission is, “But where are the golf balls????”

Oh Mother of Dear Flying Spaghetti Monster….

As I have said, or at least intimated so many times in these last two years, we – as the survivors of the human race — are utterly screwed.  Why not go out in a blaze of glory?

Many thanks XKCD, Randall Munroe.

So right on cue, Smith made a point this week of proclaiming that some scientists from NASA who just published a defense of the ARM project are liars and morons.  (Seriously, he did this.  THIS, from a fossil-fuel rich idiot who knows NOTHING of science.)  Smith and one of his buddies on the committee wrote a letter to the ever-suffering current head of NASA, former astronaut Charlie Bolden, claiming that poor stunted Trump should never be encumbered by decisions made by that blackish guy in the White House, and that the incoming Administration has access to “honest assessments” of ARM’s value rather than “farcical studies scoped to produce a predetermined outcome.”

Projectile vomit now or forever hold your peace.  –  Kate Woods, Writer-At-Large

F e v e r  P i t c h

screen-shot-2016-12-04-at-9-21-54-amThe US House of Representative Committee on Science, Space, and Technology (chaired by Tin Foil Hat climate denier and crash test dummy Lamar Smith) is feeling the heat over its recent tweet that appears to promote a Brietbart News article which, not surprisingly, falsely makes the case that global temperatures are bottoming out rather than skyrocketing to unprecedented high levels. Gratefully, Senator Bernie Sanders didn’t miss a beat, and responded asking, “Where’d you get your PhD? Trump University?”

attack-nonameTitled “Global Temperatures Plunge, Icy Silence from Climate Alarmists,” the Breitbart fake news screed was penned by James Delingpole, whose most recent limbic barn burners include “Trump at NASA: Hasta la Vista Climate Fraud and Muslim Outreach…” and “Trump’s War on the Green Blob Will Make (Almost) All of Us Richer, Happier, and Freer.”  Delingpole disingenuously asserts that “Global land temperatures have plummeted by one degree Celsius since the middle of this year — the biggest and steepest fall on record,” and that “the news has been greeted with an eerie silence by the world’s alarmist community.”

To set the record straight, here are some actual facts as reported by Business Insider:screen-shot-2016-12-04-at-9-34-28-am

While it’s unclear who was responsible for the committee’s twitter broadcast, what’s certain is that not much else would be expected from a group that has at its helm the anti-climate science Smith, whose oil-soaked pockets belie which global warming narrative he’s ready to champion.

B l o w n  A w a y

soyuz-rocketOn Thursday, Dec. 1, an unmanned Russian “Progress” cargo ship launched to resupply the International Space Station blew up when its rocket developed “problems,” scattering 5,400 pounds of fuel, food, water and supplies (including a new spacesuit) over the Tuva Republic of Russia.

Roscosmos (the Russian version of NASA) lost contact with the kerosene-fueled (!) Soyuz booster moments before it even lifted off the pad, and figured its third stage went kablooey some 120 miles away from its start point.  Among the problems cited in the accident, said Roscosmos, was “ratty telemetry.”

E a r l y  B i r d  S p e c i a l

Iridium’s NEXT comsat network will consist of 81 birds, including 66 operational spacecraft, six on-orbit spares, and nine ground backup craft, all built by Orbital ATK.

SpaceX, which has been grounded since September when the company’s Falcon 9 rocket perished in a fireball along with its $200 million payload,  plans to get back in the saddle December 16th (FAA approval pending) with the launch of the first in a series of next-generation mobile voice and data spacecraft. The commercial space firm headed by Elon Musk has a deal to lift 10 Iridium NEXT satellites as part of what the space-based voice and data firm boasts as the “largest ‘tech upgrades’ in history of the largest low-Earth orbiting sat network. Presently, Iridium intends to launch 70 of its 81 new satellites with SpaceX, and assuming all goes smoothly, will remain a loyal customer for the final 11.

 

P l a y i n g  I t  B y  E a r

nasa-navcube-projectAnyone else out there old enough to remember the excruciating televised event when Mission Control had that nail-biting communications “black-out” period when the Apollo 13 command craft was making its fiery descent into the atmosphere, but bringing three brave astronauts back home safely?  Well, that might be a thing of the past with a new gizmo that enables super-duper hyper-sonic-breaking communications in deep space that NASA has… sort of stumbled upon.  It started some years ago with the agency’s Black Hole Imager project which used X-Rays to analyze the outer edges of black holes that reside at the center of most galaxies.  Those X-Rays, which are essentially just a different form of light than what we normally use or see with, may be the answer to more instantaneous communication in deep space and between craft that are traveling at or beyond super-sonic speeds, as they do when descending into planetary atmospheres. Let’s hope Congressional Republicans don’t squish out this cusp of such a breakthrough, simply because they are too moronic to understand it.

 

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All Fired Up

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October 10, 2016

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

B o t t o m  o f  t h e  H e a p

spiral_aug2016

Click image to see global temperature spiral.

While Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump keeps making the world cringe with his brags about assaulting women with impunity, Earth’s heat index continues to rise – and it is heating up faster than natural weather cycles thanks to the greenhouse gasses belched into our atmosphere by human activity.

The Guardian, a publication respected worldwide that has no penchant for liberal politics, just published an article about what Galactic Sandbox readers have known for years:  that screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-2-04-42-pmRepublicans are still steadfast in denial about man’s role in poisoning the air of this globe, thereby causing polar meltdowns and killing off species on a daily basis – perhaps someday they will kill off the human species, including themselves (well, there’s no ill wind that doesn’t blow something good).  The story, called “Pew survey: Republicans are rejecting reality on climate change,” is presented as news, not an opinion piece, because it qualifies the premise with a ton of FACTS.  Oh yes, facts – those pesky nuggets of reality that constantly get in the way of right-wing dogma.

screen-shot-2016-10-09-at-3-55-12-pm

Hurricane Matthew engulfs Florida.

Conservative denial is especially discerning since just yesterday the world gathered enough nations to ratify the Paris Climate Accord and set it in motion, nearly a year after the agreement of these 195 nations to collectively cut greenhouse gasses.  The world finally agrees to do something to save Earth, and yet Republicans like Florida Governor Rick Scott does not even allow the term “global warming” or even the understated words of “climate change” into any state government document.  This, after his state just got pounded by mega-hurricane Matthew, killing 10 there and nearly 1,000 in Haiti and the Caribbeans.  Tragically moronic!

screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-2-41-18-pm

Climatologist James Hansen.

Renowned climatologist and former NASA scientist James Hansen, who first bravely raised his hand in the 1980s to warn that the polar ice caps were melting and that humans were enabling the global warming disaster, now says it’s too late – even with the Paris Accord ratified – to turn back the knob on the planet’s oven.  Humanity “is running out of time on the climate issue,” said Hansen in a press conference last week.  And even if the 195 nations that agreed to the Climate Accord begin reducing carbon emissions tomorrow, he said, it won’t be enough.  He said the entire world needs to take bolder action immediately, such as placing a carbon emissions tax on fracking companies and suing other nations that don’t take basic steps to curb air and water pollution.

screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-2-46-38-pmAnd yet (back to my point), America is talking about Trump’s predilection for crude misogynistic “locker room banter.”  It doesn’t much matter since he doesn’t understand Earth systems at all – indeed, he ludicrously calls global warming a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese.  We need to hold the conservative right’s feet to this planetary fire, and stop allowing them to protect their oil buddies and to get away with ducking the real issues that affect every living thing on Earth.  And with that, Galactic Sandbox again chimes, “ ♪ Thank You, Republicans! ♫”  (Sung to the tune of “Heatwave.”)  – Kate Woods

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J X K

screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-2-03-17-pmThe investigation into the spectacular SpaceX Falcon-9 launch-pad explosion on September 1 has taken a “bizarre twist,” as Elon Musk’s camp thinks sabotage may be a possible cause of the rocket’s destruction. According to a Washington Post article late last month, SpaceX sleuths have come across on video images a “suspicious” shadow followed by a white spot on the roof of a nearby building leased by arch-rival United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Apparently, a SpaceX rep recently showed up at ULA’s doorstep at Cape Canaveral, and asked for access to the top of one of its facilities that has a clear site to the doomed rocket’s launchpad. The SpaceX official claimed his company was trying to run down all possible leads in what was a “cordial, not accusatory, encounter,” according to the Post report. Needless to say, a recent SpaceX statement clarified that the “Accident Investigation Team has an obligation to consider all possible causes of the anomaly, and we aren’t commenting on any specific potential cause until the investigation is complete.”

S t a r  P o l l

screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-8-00-30-am

Astronaut Kate Rubins in jump suit hand-painted by young cancer patients.

With all the new lows this election cycle, this one’s a definite high: If sole American astronaut Kate Rubins does not return to Earth from the International Space Station this month, she will become the first to vote for a U.S. president from orbit. According to the Dallas Morning News, Rubins and her two crewmates – a Russian and Japanese – were scheduled to be ferried home in late September, however Russia is experiencing technical issues with their space taxi. Before leaving for orbit in July, Houston resident Rubins picked up here absentee ballot, but instead of listing a Texas location, she reported “low-Earth orbit” as her home address. “It’s very incredible that we’re able to vote from up here,” she said, and I think it’s incredibly important for us to vote in all of the elections.”

W e a t h e r i n g  t h e  S t o r m

screen-shot-2016-10-09-at-3-28-43-pm

NASA officials examine hurricane damage to Kennedy Space Center facility.

NASA announced Sunday that Kennedy Space Center, which was brushed by uber destructive hurricane Matthew last week, was left relatively unscathed, having experience only minor damage to a handful of buildings, according to an initial survey of the site. Last Friday, space agency officials were sweating bullets as a potential nightmare scenario looked possible when the eye of the Category 4 super storm loomed only 20 miles from the famed launch facility. According to Gizmodo, he areas of greatest concern, including the humongous Vehicle Assembly Building, the Complex 39 launch pads,  and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s launch sites appear to be in good shape. However, the report of “some beach erosion” is concerning, especially if it occurred in a particular problem area between Launch Pads 39A and 39B, thus heightening fears that the space center will eventually succumb to the effects of climate change including rising sea levels and continued bouts with more powerful storms.

G r e a t  B a l l s   o ‘  F i r e

cannonballs-of-plasmaThe remarkable Hubble Space Telescope keeps on discovering incredible phenomena:  last week, it spotted a gargantuan ball of plasma ejected from the vicinity of a gas giant star called V Hydrae, which is 1,200 light-years away.  The mind-blowing details of the discovery show that these massive plasma balls – each twice the size of Mars – come shooting out once every 8.5 years, and have been doing so for the past 400 years!  The blobs are 17,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is almost as hot as the surface of our Sun, and travel at a speed that could get them from the Earth to the moon in only eight minutes (half a million miles per hour).  Scientists say, however, the plasma blobs can not be coming from V Hydrae as that star is dying, now a bloated red giant which has dropped half its mass.  Instead, they think the plasma balls are coming from a companion star, and believe they may explain the formation of planetary nebulae.

C o m e  F l y  W i t h  M e

screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-1-06-15-pm

Iran’s Rasad Earth-observation satellite (launched in 2011) atop of Safir SLV rocket.

Iran wants to cooperate with NASA to build up its near-nonexistent space program, said Mohsen Bahrami, the “head” of Iran’s wanna-be version of the U.S. Agency.  While Congressional Republicans will undoubtedly scream bloody murder that Iran wants to “steal” our military satellite technology, Bahrami emphasized his nation has a “peaceful and powerful civilian space program,” and longs to put its own satellites in space to monitor natural disaster and improve telecommunications.  Bahrami conceded that Iran wants expand military surveillance, but added that it has already begun negotiations to cooperate with the space agencies of China, Japan, and Russia.  And China has, indeed, already stolen Mars rover designs from the U.S.

So far, Iran has at least placed several “dummy” satellites into space, just to see if they could do it, and are now working on their own mini-sats with several Iranian universities, targeting a low-Earth orbit launch by early 2018.

P y r o m a n i a

fire-in-space-21The Space Station crew has been setting blazes aboard their enclosed home floating above us, but of course, these are controlled studies to see how fire behaves in space.  Using a series of different materials, the “Sapphire” experiments will allow materials engineers to make the ISS safer for all astronauts.  So far, the experiments show that the mini-fires burn “very slowly” in zero gravity.  This Thursday, Orbital’s Cygnus spacecraft will dock and unload with the ISS, and once it leaves, NASA plans on conducting a more extensive 20-minute “burn” inside that craft before it journeys back through the atmosphere and burns up.

C o s m i c  R e l i e f

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Full page ad in the Los Angeles Mirror-News in August 1960 implores those who want to “learn the answers to mankind’s problems before it’s too late” (who says we haven’t been warned?), to “hear Gabriel blow his horn” at the the Amalgamated Flying Saucers Clubs of America’s national convention held, appropriately, in the City of Angels that year.

Included in Oddee’s recent list of “10 Weirdest U.S. Presidential Candidates” is UFOlogist and Tin Foil Hat Hall of Famer Gabriel Green, who twice made a bid for commander-in-chief in 1960 and 1972 touting a full platform of economic and social policies based on data he “received” from extraterrestrials. (Green claimed  to have witnessed  hundreds of flying saucers, and insisted he had direct physical contact with aliens, including beings from Mars, Venus, Alpha Centauri, and the Pleiades). Competing against Richard Nixon and John F Kennedy in 1960 (although not officially listed on any ballot), Green campaigned throughout Southern California for a brief enthusiastic time, but ultimately tipped his hat to  Kennedy.  As the “Universal Party” presidential nominee in 1972 with running mate and fellow saucerian Daniel Fry, Green managed to tally 199 votes before conceding defeat.

In all seriousness, a brief scan of some of Green’s commitments to voters astonishingly don’t seem very different from things Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has been saying for the past 18 months: i.e. vote for Green “if you want solutions instead of stalemates; survival instead of annihilation; government by moral and universal law rather than by military expediency special interests; economic security and true freedom rather than economic slavery, etc.” Seems like Green, along with the aliens he claims to have conversed with, were way ahead of their time.

O v e r  t h e  R a i n b o w

screen-shot-2016-10-09-at-3-19-22-pmWith the help of a high-altitude balloon, a Go-Pro camera and a Gay Pride flag, the Universe has been declared LGBT friendly.  Late last month, the pro-gay rights organization Planting Peace sent the flag up from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, into low-Earth orbit – 21.1 miles above the planet – where it proudly reigned for three hours before eventually falling back to Earth (see video).  Planting Peace operates programs to deworm children in impoverished nations, provides safe houses to the LGBTQ community and plants thousands of trees worldwide to combat poverty and global warming, among other international good works.

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