Short Bursts

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Road Trip

Hi-tech empresario and human mimic Elon Musk had tongues wagging again late last week after tweeting that he plans to blast one of his Tesla cherry red Roadsters atop the first  launch of Space X’s Falcon Heavy rocket early next year.

“Falcon Heavy to launch next month from Apollo 11 pad at the Cape. Will have double thrust of next largest rocket. Guaranteed to be exciting, one way or another,” Musk tweeted on Friday, adding the kicker, “Payload will be my midnight cherry Tesla Roadster playing [David Bowie’s] Space Oddity. Destination is Mars orbit. Will be in deep space for a billion years or so if it doesn’t blow up on ascent.”

While Musk is known as a practical joker, his commercial space company has a history of sending eyebrow-raising choice of payloads aboard its maiden voyages. Although it is most likely the sacrificial coupe will end up in flaming midnight-cherry pieces rather than anywhere near the Red Planet.

Once fully-operational, SpaceX plans to use its powerful new booster for some lofty goals,  including flying two paying customers around the moon as early as next year.

Blast from the Past

NASA announced last week that it successfully fired up a set of backup thrusters aboard the interstellar-traveling Voyager 1 spacecraft last Wednesday – just 37 years since they were last used.  “With these thrusters that are still functional after 37 years … we will be able to extend the life of the Voyager 1 spacecraft by two to three years,” said Suzanne Dodd, project manager for Voyager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. Every so often the probe – now more than 13 billion miles from Earth – relies on tiny, millisecond-long pulses or “puffs” from its main attitude control thrusters to ensure the craft’s antenna is pointed towards our planet.

However, since 2014, NASA engineers noticed that the primary boosters had been degrading, so after putting a few heads together, the space agency decided to give the orientation job to the mothballed thruster set that had been dormant since 1980. “The Voyager flight team dug up decades-old data and examined the software that was coded in an outdated assembler language, to make sure we could safely test the thrusters,” said Jones, chief engineer at JPL. Following the successful thruster firings, NASA plans to switch to the backup boosters in January. In fact, Voyager 1’s backup thrusters performed so well, the JPL team is expected to perform a similar test on the craft’s twin, Voyager 2, which is expected to enter interstellar space within the next few years.

Thrice in a Blue Moon

Photo: Agnett Bonwitt.

Last night’s  full moon was the first of three consecutive “supermoons” that will include an “extra-special” celestial show on January 31, 2018 featuring a total lunar eclipse visible from western North America, the Pacific, and Eastern Asia. The next “supermoon” will occur New Years Day, followed by a “blue moon”  happening January 31, which is also the night of the lunar eclipse. These full moons, occurring when our satellite is at it closest orbital point to the Earth (called perigee),  appear up to 14 percent bigger and 30 percent brighter than when the moon is at its furthest point from our planet (apogee).


Many thanks to Randall Monroe, xkcd.

Worth a Thousand Words

NASA’s Juno spacecraft snapped the above spectacular pix on October 24th, the top image capturing a cloud system in Jupiter’s northern hemisphere when the probe was a mere 11,747 miles above the swirling gases, while the lower photo taken of the gas giant’s southern hemisphere when Juno was 20,577 miles from the planet. “Citizen scientists” Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran processed both photos using data from the JunoCam imager.

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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.


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!


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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X Marks the Spot

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September 14, 2015

By Kate Woods, Galactic Sandbox Writer-At-Large

M u s k y  S m e l l

There is a slew of news stories this week about Space X – and not all of them are roses and lollipops.  Let’s begin with the good stuff.

Space Dragon interior

Dragon capsule interior

Space X, the private sector company that NASA expects will come up with a new manned transport system to replace the space shuttle (Boeing is in the running as well), has just revealed photos of the interior of it’s “Dragon” space capsule.  This fire-breathing hybrid rocket holds seven astronauts and is expected to blast off to the space station – a job now overburdening the Soviet Soyuz craft – by 2016.  The décor, I would say, is a minimalist theme – and it looks quite cramped considering seven people in bulky suits would be rubbing elbows.  However, low-Earth orbit is achievable quickly, thank the stars.

But apparently, Space X won’t allow even the most stringent accommodations for the 26 residents of a south Texas beach hamlet called Boca Chica.  It was there that Space X CEO Elon Musk decided to build his rocket launch facility, and where he promised the inhabitants $15 million in “incentives” (no one seems to know what they are, exactly) and to put the town “on the map.”

Screen shot 2015-09-12 at 12.03.41 PM

Boca Chica Beach

So far, the only “perks” include Space X forcing residents to “register” with the county, and during launch window times (to occur once a month in 2016) requiring locals to wear identification badges throughout the 15-hour launch frames, restricting access everywhere and closing the town’s public beach.  If someone happens to be buying groceries during the launch window, they have to remain in the Winn Dixie for 15 hours. … perhaps reading The Enquirer and scarfing Twinkies to bide the time.

Cheryl Thompson

Boca Chica resident Cheryl Thompson plans peaceful protest during Space Xs first launch.

Space X plans to enforce these rules with video surveillance and drones buzzing above the local beach. “It’s like Nazi Germany,” said resident Cheryl Thompson.  Thompson, 55, settled in Boca Chica ten years ago in search of solitude and the quiet rustic beauty the beach village offered.  She plans to hold a sit-in on the beach during the first launch to show civil disobedience against Space X.

Space X has already bought one home in Boca Chica, presumably for “public meetings.”  And now, one Space X groupie has enquired about buying any other available house in the village for launch parties, where he wants to build a “tiki bar.”  Residents fear their homes will be next under Space X “eminent domain.”

K e e p i n g  U p  W i t h  t h e  J o n e s e s

Starliner crew digsThe same time Space X was flaunting the interior of its Dragon shuttle, Boeing entertained a grand opening of their new “Starliner” space taxi facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  NASA wonks were on hand to praise Starliner as “the next spaceship destined to launch our astronauts,” in lieu of the defunct space shuttle.  The Starliner should be good to go by mid-2017 to carry a crew of four to the ISS – if all goes well and IF Congress approves funding for it.  Unlike Space X, Boeing depends on NASA (whose allowance is dependent on the hangover of any given congressional politician on any bad day) to help with the bills.  One thing is for sure.  The Starliner digs look a lot roomier than the Dragon Crew capsule.  Pictured is just the upper half of Boeing’s space “cab.”

1 0 0 – W a t t  I d e a

ABS all electric sat by BoeingBoeing grew another feather on its space helmet when the first all-electric satellite reached its geostationary orbit this week – one month ahead of schedule.  The ABS telecommunications sat is part of the SatMex fleet that was bought by Eutelsat.  The fleet will provide services to the Americas, Europe, Africa and the Middle East – essentially the entire world except Russia, Australia, and the Polar Regions.

Electric sats are not in favor because they take six months to reach their orbits, as they are not equipped with the conventional jet thrusters sported by competing propellant-fueled birds.  But since ABS got to its destination earlier than expected, minds may change.  Their advantage is that they weigh much less, cutting launch costs and allowing room for a double-sat blast-off.  Space X’s Falcon rocket launched this one five months ago.

M o b y  D i c k  a n d  o t h e r  N A S A  T a l e s

Comet Hitchhiker

NASA’s Comet Hitchhiker

NASA is developing the idea of harpooning comets and grabbing free rides with the Comet Hitchhiker project.  Now that the Rosetta spacecraft successfully did just that earlier this year, hopefully we will see more of this concept manifested.

But with the good must be mentioned the lousy.  This week NASA’s specialized satellite, SMAP (Soil Moisture Active Passive), stopped communicating only two months after it hit orbit and started sending info about how soil water depletion, carbon, and energy cycles are linked to improve weather forecasts and crop-yield predictions, among other things.  Since the spacecraft would obviously galvanize earth scientists’ predictions and declared causes of accelerated global warming (it’s humans, believe me), Republican politicians are thrilled it went kaputnik. [Look at anything but the Earth — any planetary system will do, let’s say Jupiter’s moons … [See The Weekly Revolution, August 31, “It’s a Small World After All.”]) Unfortunately, NASA says they fear the SMAP has had it.

Screen shot 2015-09-13 at 8.31.00 PMEDITOR”S UPDATE – Way Out-of-Towner:  Perhaps more importantly, the staff at Galactic Sandbox is thrilled to announce Writer-At-Large Kate Woods got a Mars InSight spacecraft “boarding pass” for a greatly needed and deserved extended vacation.  (See The Weekly Revolution, September 7, “Not So Pleasant under Glass”). Bon Voyage, Kate!  – Agnett Bonwit

T o n g u e – T i e d

MassiveClusterofGalaxiesPhoto Flash:  The Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes have zoomed in on a new cluster of galaxies.  Guess what they named it?  It’s something that’s really easy to remember and say, and captures the essence of this find so eloquently: “SpARCS1049+56.”

I wish I were yanking your chain.  But I’m not, sadly.  WHO the HELL comes up with this idiocy??

At any rate, the new discovery suggests that massive galaxies lying at the core of galaxy clusters feed off the gas of nearby galaxies.  Normally, stars found at galaxy centers are ancient and fossilized, say the star experts.  But the centralized galaxy of “SpARCS1049+56” is a stellar nursery, churning out 860 baby stars a year.  The roll-off-your tongue enunciated “SpARCS1049+56” cluster has 27 galaxy members, is located 9.8 billion light years away and resides in the Ursa Major constellation.

C e r e s  M y s t e r y  B u r n s  B r i g h t e r

Screen shot 2015-09-12 at 8.54.01 AM

Ceres leaves the lights on for NASA

Speaking of Rosetta, the Dawn spacecraft has taken brand new pix of the original dwarf planet Ceres, residing in the Asteroid Belt.  (Dawn reports back to its mother craft Rosetta, perched on a comet at the moment.)  Once again, Dawn clapped eyes on those mysterious lights emanating from Occator Crater some 4 km deep from the surface of Ceres – this time in higher resolution.

In February, NASA explained that the “lights” UFO fanatics drooled about were merely ice refractions.  But now scientists, those working for NASA included, say the spectrum numbers for reflections off ice do not match up with the math.  In other words, the lights are not reflections from crater ice.

It caused the well regarded website Science Alert to write the subhead: “WTF is happening on Ceres?” As the truly obscene Fox News Corporation would say, “You decide!”


G l a m o u r  S h o t s

Screen shot 2015-09-12 at 10.16.33 AMNot to be outdone, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has beamed fresh close-ups of our solar system’s original ice queen, Pluto, taken during the probe’s planetary fly-by last July. Stay tuned for next week’s  Revolution for details! In the meantime, join NASA in salavating over the latest images:

R i d e r  o n  t h e  S t o r m

puppies 4

Beneficiaries of past Solar Maximum

And finally, this week a publication called Top Secret Writers gave us a feature on how space weather affects humans.  We all know how the full moon affects the frontal lobe, according to some cops who know that city violence goes on the rise during those times of the month.  According to The Huffington Post, a Norwegian study concluded that people born during the solar maximum, when the Sun is at its most belligerent, live shorter lives.  Yeah, it has to be hogwash.  Moreover, women born during solar maximums tend to be less fertile.  Ahhh so!  Now I know why I have no spawn and keep dressing up my Chi-wiener dogs!

Wave X

Wave X bathes Earth in Good Vibrations

And now some space weather “expert” is claiming that we should be afraid, very afraid, of Wave X.  Or have our arms and minds open in welcome.  Simon Atkins says that Wave X is an “electromagnetic frequency” that is speeding at us from the center of the galaxy, and due to bathe us in psychic energy sometime this month.  The specific mind living in the center of the Milky Way from where the psychic murmurings sprout is not explained.  Nor does Atkins outright claim Wave X is a planet-killing gamma ray burst (and frankly, I don’t believe he knows what one is.)
Wave X will make all of us who are spiritually in tune with the “wave” become more psychic!  Fabulous!  I’d love to eavesdrop on my brother Oliver’s mind while he is computing how many minutes of his life he spent opening and closing doors.  He does that sort of thing for fun, seriously.  He’s a genius.

Atkins describes himself as “a climate economist, disaster risk forecaster, doctor of ‘bioelectromagnetics’ and natural health, a corporate strategist in planetary and solar threats on business continuity  [Hey jobseekers! I hear that field is wide open!], a scientific truth advocate, and a spiritual pacifist.”  I think his self-portrayal says it all. You decide! – (I have.)

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