Abandon Ship

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March 13, 2017

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

Smog Test

Last week during a CNBC interview, EPA hired hit-man and seething pile of greenhouse gas-emitting excrement Scott Pruitt – surprise! – officially announced to the world he didn’t believe carbon dioxide is a a primary contributor to global warming:  “I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see,” Pruitt told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” Fortunately, someone at the EPA wisely took away Pruitt’s kinder-scissors so he couldn’t snip out the agency’s official statement on its website that contradicts Scott Smokestack’s climate change-denying mantra:

Since the Industrial Revolution began around 1750, human activities have contributed substantially to climate change by adding CO2 and other heat-trapping gases to the atmosphere. These greenhouse gas emissions have increased the greenhouse effect and caused Earth’s surface temperature to rise. The primary human activity affecting the amount and rate of climate change is greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.


Just the Facts Ma’am: The only ones disagreeing with the above challenging data are well-paid skeptics, who are now free to dismantle already decades-late greenhouse gas regulations and safeguards. From the EPA’s official website: This graph shows the increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations in the atmosphere over the last 2,000 years. Increases in concentrations of these gases since 1750 are due to human activities in the industrial era. Concentration units are parts per million (ppm) or parts per billion (ppb), indicating the number of molecules of the greenhouse gas per million or billion molecules of air.

Sadly, we live in a political environment where 2 + 2 = fish, so the analytical-free Pruitt (who in the past has received 292 campaign contributions from the oil and gas industries) reportedly is being given a carte blanche to stockpile the endangered EPA with junk science peddlers, including former Trump campaign organizers, staff members of fossil fuel-friendly Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, and David Kreutzer, a senior research fellow in energy economics and “climate change” at the conservative Heritage Foundation who has taken anthropogenic planetcide-denying to a whole new level by actually praising the benefits of increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Not all is lost though, as Pruitt’s remarks garnered enough ire that the EPA was flooded with phone calls Friday, and by Saturday morning the agency’s messaging system was maxed out, making it impossible to leave a message, according to the Washington Post.

Hopefully, the EPA won’t be completely decimated by the time the worldwide March for Science rolls around on the April 22nd. Just to be safe, bring along a gas mask and a pair of scissors.


Launch News: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is set to launch an EchoStar communications satellite tomorrow from pad 39A at Cape Canaveral, FL.

To the Stars (and Screw the Planet You Rode In On)

Orion capsule.

Our Congressional leaders finally passed the NASA Transition Authorization Act this week, the bill they couldn’t agree on last year, and it paints a rosy picture for NASA’s space exploration (i.e: get your butts to the Red Planet by 2033!) but with a glaring omission.  Surprise!  It completely left out the part called Earth Sciences…you know, that’s the study of how this globe will burn up in a fiery hell with the help of greenhouse gasses and the obliteration of all environmental regulations that der Trumpenfuhrer loathes so much.

NASA’s Space Launch Vehicle.

The bill originally was the Republican cry-baby response to the Obama Administration’s cancellation of their beloved Constellation program in 2010, a series of missions that would have taken humans back to the Moon in order to finish those old golf games and continue popping wheelies on the Lunar Roving Vehicle.  Obama’s science advisers wanted instead to get humans to Mars by the 2030s since there wasn’t enough money (thanks to the Republicans!) to go to both the Moon and Mars in the near future.  And typically of the conservative bloc, they are still sulking and vindictive over it.  And despite themselves, the GOP hardliners did leave some good points in that the bill at least won’t cancel the progress made on NASA’s new Space Launch System or the Orion spacecraft capsule. (Sheeeesh, we actually have to be grateful when politicians do something that isn’t completely devastating).

Anti-Science crusader Lamar Smith.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, the far right’s hero of anti-science, Rep. Lamar “I’m Hoggin’ All the Tin Foil Hats” Smith (R-Texas), made sure the bill would make NASA charge any other agency an arm and a leg should said agency (like NOAA) receive any help from NASA in their climate/Earth studies – an utterly asinine notion since NASA already works with myriad other agencies, indeed with international partners, on crucially important Earth science studies and missions, and “climate change loving” hard science outfits like NOAA are already getting cut to the bone in this new Trumpian regime.  The bill passed by voice vote and is headed to the Twitter Tantrumer’s desk for his final signature (or gold crayon “X” mark).

Over the Moon

Cislunar space station concept.

While our Cheeto-in-Chief was madly tweeting Breitbart-fueled conspiracy theories and how much he hates Arnold Schwarzenegger, real adults met privately in Tsukuba, Japan, to iron out details of a new cislunar space station.  The international partners of the new endeavor include America, Japan, Europe, Russia and Canada.  According to Anatoly Zak’s blog in the Planetary Society website, the Moon-orbiting station will include two habitation modules built by Europe and Japan, a U.S.-built power and propulsion module, a Russian airlock module and good ol’ Canada’s contribution will be, once again, the 8.5-meter robotic arm.  The life-support system will be “closed-loop,” meaning, everything will be recycled including oxygen and, yes, waste “water.”  The station will also sport a 360-degree “glass” deck on the station for breathtaking panoramic views of our natural satellite.

Near-Rectilinear Halo Orbit

But the most remarkable decision made at the Japan meeting was the finalization of the Moon station’s orbit:  a Near-Rectilinear Halo Orbit, or NRHO. This would mean a giant egg-shaped loop around the Moon that would be 43,000 miles away at its furthest and 900 miles at the closest point to the Moon.  This wild orbital path would take a week to go around the Moon, but enable the station to get maximum sunlight on its solar panels and save propellant for trajectory corrections.  However, as always, one problem solved in space begets another.  The crazy halo orbit would also make it harder for docked craft to get from the station to the surface, particularly since vehicles, such as NASA’s Orion, would have to use more propellant to get there.  

Lunar orbital station concept.

The Herculean project is moving swiftly.  Currently, plans call for the station’s construction throughout much of the 2020s, with its use as a deep space launching platform in the 2030s. NASA’s Space Launch System rocket should be making the first hardware delivery to lunar orbit by 2024….but let’s not forget the Russians! (How the hell can we?)  Roscosmos will deliver its air-lock module on its Angara-5 rocket.

On The Bright Side

Close-up pic of Ceres’ mysterious bright spot.

According to a new study in the Astronomical Journal, researchers have concluded that the enigmatic bright spot on the asteroid Ceres is only about 4 million years old, and was caused by cryo-volcanism in which water and dissolved gasses forced carbonate-rich materials to spew out to form the planetoid’s signature shiny dome. In fact, the reflective salt pile that’s nestled in Ceres’ Occator Crater is 30 million years younger than the pockmarked feature. Scientist from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research used data from instruments aboard NASA’s Dawn spacecraft including its framing camera and infrared mapping spectrometer.

Many thanks Randall Munroe, xkcd,

Chilling Out

NASA’s Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL) will use lasers and magnetism to produce temperatures closing in on Absolute Zero.

Sometime this summer, the International Space Station may literally be the home of the coldest spot in the universe if a revolutionary NASA experiment is successful in creating temperatures to an inconceivable one-billionth of a degree above absolute zero (a whiff warmer than -460 degrees Fahrenheit). Dubbed the Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL), the box-shaped device – slated for delivery to the ISS by SpaceX – will use a series of lasers and magnetic force to chill a puff of gas down to what is called a Bose-Einstein condensate or superfluid, in which matter moves like a fluid but acts like a solid and appears to have no friction. “If you had superfluid water and spun it around in a glass, it would spin forever,” Anita Sengupta, an aerospace engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and CAL’s project manager, said in a NASA-JPL press release. “There’s no viscosity to slow it down and dissipate the kinetic energy,” she added.  Scientists, who are hoping that CAL will help bring us closer to understanding the mysteries of gravity, dark matter, and dark energy, believe the zero-gravity environment will enable superfluids to hover for minutes at time, rather than for fractions of a second on Earth in which gravity pulls condensates down into warmer substances and they immediately evaporate.

Pie In The Sky

Last week, NASA published the closest and most detailed images of Saturn’s tiny satellite Pan taken by the still-ticking Cassini spacecraft last Tuesday. The raw, unprocessed pics of the dumpling-shaped moon were snapped when the probe was about 15,268 miles away.


A New Hope

Chandrayaan-1 craft

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter

NASA just found a pair of lost spacecraft orbiting the Moon, one built by India and dormant for the past eight years, and the other a NASA craft, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been providing us with essential Moon data since 2009. The derelict Chandrayaan-1 craft is most known for having found water particles on the lunar surface, also in 2009, but its last contact with handlers was in August of that year.  NASA’s JPL brains found the crafts using a new technique that involves a lot of math and ground based radar.  Instrumental in the quest was the famous 300-foot Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, which kicked off the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence in 1960.  No word yet on just what the next chapter for the Chandrayaan-1 orbiter is.  If nothing is done, the orbiting but mute machine will eventually crash onto the lunar surface.

Twisted Sister

The proposed joint US-Russia Venera-D mission would include a lander that most likely will employ a chip recently developed by NASA that is capable of surviving Venus-like conditions including 870 degree F. temperatures and 90 times Earth’s atmospheric pressures.  Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Here’s something the Trump Administration can really sink its teeth into: a joint venture to the planet Venus with those nice Russians! According to NASA, a team of its sponsored scientists will meet with the  Russian Academy of Sciences’ Space Research Institute (IKI) next week to continue work on a joint definition study that will identify shared science objectives for Venus exploration – specifically refining the science objectives of the IKI Venera-D mission to Earth’s closest planetary neighbor.

“While Venus is known as our ‘sister planet,’ we have much to learn, including whether it may have once had oceans and harbored life,” said Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “By understanding the processes at work at Venus and Mars, we will have a more complete picture about how terrestrial planets evolve over time and obtain insight into the Earth’s past, present and future.”

The Venera-D mission proposal includes a two-for-one combo of an orbiter that would circle Venus for up to three years, and a lander designed to survive the incredibly brutal temperatures and off-the-charts barometric pressures the craft would encounter on the Venusian surface (Venus is famous for its runaway greenhouse effect, making it the hottest planet in our solar system with surface temperatures hot enough to melt lead).


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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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On Thin Ice

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November 28, 2016

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

W i n t e r  B l u n d e r l a n d

crew-on-thin-iceHere’s something that turns my blood ice-cold with terror: Temperatures in the Arctic have soared 36 degrees above normal this fall, according to the Danish Meteorological Institute, and the global warming heatwave has thrown a massive monkey wrench into the region’s food chain (that is, wscreen-shot-2016-11-27-at-10-54-12-amhat’s left of the Earth’s once icy northern expanse).

Meanwhile, Trump’s smug new science adviser and “head of NASA transition team,” Robert Walker, is gleefully telling space agency climate scientists that they are about to lose their jobs.  Global warming is “too politicized,” he says.

Gee, really?  But not by people like you, ya think, Bob??

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-10-57-51-amOh, Walker added a bright fake cherry to that crap-on-a-stick:  Incredulously, he blurted that HALF of the climatologists in the world doubt whether humans have caused any of the current global warming.  (To echo our unpopular president-elect’s most cerebral debate thought — WRONG. It’s more like one percent, Bob.)  Trump’s designated dope-on-a-rope then added that NASA has wasted time and research on Earth science monitoring when the agency should have been doing nothing but deep space missions.  (I screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-11-04-59-amguess the august space “guru” has failed to reach geek nirvana, and is blissfully unaware of the gaggle of NASA missions buzzing around the solar system, including the Pluto-exploring New Horizons spacecraft that’s now on its way to the Kuiper Belt some 18 billion miles away, as well as a handful of Mars rovers and orbiters, Cassini, Juno, and Dawn spacecraft, just to name a few.)

But let’s see what a real climatologist has to say about Bob’s twaddle.

“NASA undertakes Earth observation for three reasons,” said Professor Martin Siegert, glaciologist and Co-Director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London.  “First, Earth observation requires the use of satellites and screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-11-10-25-amspace technology; second, the development of this technology can be refined for use in deeper space missions; and thirdly, Earth provides important analogues for other solar system bodies, and so their investigation is vital to our comprehension of processes elsewhere. Taking Earth Science away from NASA would thus be seriously detrimental to its function in deep space exploration.”

Sigh …

If only the President-Partially Elect were that thoughtful.  If only his appointed “science” advisers were!

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-10-57-35-amMeanwhile, as warm-water algae blooms take over the food chain at a time of year when there should be almost none, Trump and his groveling clumps are just going by the latest memo:  “Make it up as you go.  Hey, they can’t question a sort of soon-to-be president!  If you get stumped for numbers, lie and deny – and then tweet your useless twat.”

Like I have said, a lunar outpost sounds like home-sweet-home at this point.
♫ Thank You, Republicans! ♪   –  Kate Woods, Writer-At-Large


G o i n g  f o r  t h e  B r a s s  R i n g

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-10-38-48-amThe Saturn-inspecting Cassini spacecraft is entering its penultimate mission which entails flying high above and below Saturn’s poles in 20 “ring-grazing” orbits.  Launched in 1997, Cassini has been touring the Saturn system since arriving there in 2004, and has made several groundbreaking discoveries, including a global ocean within Saturn’s moon Enceladus and liquid methane seas on Titan.  In its screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-10-40-16-amsecond-to-last mission, Cassini will get a  gravitational assist from Titan and then slingshot back towards mother sphere Saturn where it will make 20 passes skimming past the outer edges of the rings. During these passes Cassini will sample ring particles and molecules of faint gases that are found close to the rings.
Cassini will fly its grand finale in April 2017, when it will plunge in and out of the space between the planet and its rings before nosediving into Saturn’s atmosphere on September 15, 2017.  Another “Deep Space” accomplishment for NASA!

M i s s i o n  I m p r o b a b l e

em-driveA rocket thrusting device that defies the laws of physics (as we know them….), and invented by NASA brains, has just passed its biggest hurdle from critics.  The “EM propulsion system” sailed through a peer review from like-minded scientists, and all of them – including the NASA aerodynamicists who seemingly by chance came up with the propulsion gizmo that could possibly take us to the stars– are at a loss to explain how the system works.

The EM drive consist of an asymmetrical cavity where microwaves bounce around with no where to go, and as Forbes writer Brian Koberlein describes it,

Since the microwaves are trapped inside the cavity, there is no propellant or emitted electromagnetic radiation to push the device in a particular direction, standard physics says there should be no thrust on the device. And yet, for reasons even the researchers can’t explain, the EM Drive does appear to experience thrust when activated.

Koberlien explains that the experimental methodology outlined in the peer-reviewed paper has the device tested in a near vacuum (as would be experienced in space), thus eliminating the possibility that the EM only works because it warms the surrounding air in Earth’s atmosphere, which results in a small amount of screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-10-47-39-amthrust.  Researchers found that the current version of the machine can pack a 1.2 +/- 0.1 millinewtons per kilowatt punch in a vacuum, which compared with the 60 millinewtons per kilowatt produced by fuel-fed ion drives, is rather weeny, however the EM system would run on electric power generated by solar panels, and future, more efficient drives would eventually match the power of ion rockets. How about that?  This means there is virtual hope for all science-minded beings to get off the planet faster than expected!  Way to go, NASA!  Let’s hope the Incoming Man-child-In-Chief doesn’t slash it.

E v e r y t h i n g  U n d e r  t h e  S u n


Sun, as taken from “NASA satellite.”

We wouldn’t normally report on a thing like this, however, since a number of news publications other than “The Inquisitor” reported on it, and since outer space news on Thanksgiving Weekend is apparently nonexistent, the staff of Galactic Sandbox figured it had to hand out yet another Tin Foil Hatter of the Week award.  This time it goes to The Daily Mirror of Great Britain for giving credence to an optical illusion.  Hip, Hip, Hooray!  The story was utterly devoid of any facts, of course, and moronically reported that a NASA craft that studies the Sun (no, it did not even name the craft/mission) “accidentally” got a shot of a mystery object traversing the Sun’s surface.  We wish we were making this up, but we ain’t.

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-10-16-14-amWhile we’re at it, another tidbit on top of the trash heap is a YouTube video that is most likely an optical illusion but is being interpreted by the click bait “UFO experts” as a fleet of alien spacecraft taking off from our Moon. Not surprisingly, extraterrestrial sleuthing hack Scot Warring of UFOSightingsDaily proclaimed that “these objects are a form of protection from future Apollo missions landing on the moon. It may be owned by a species that’s not so friendly about sharing.”


Editor’s Note: Galactic Sandbox expresses its many thanks to Hilde for helping keep the lights on!

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Grave New World

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November 21, 2016

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

H o t  H e a d s

screen-shot-2016-11-20-at-10-23-23-amNow that practically every scientist in the world knows that a newly-ensconced Trump Nation means no federal funding for global warming research (even cosmologists whose eyes are stuck on telescopes, their heads marinating in quantum physics, have finally awakened to the smell of burning landscapes), we are at last seeing a bit of push-back against the upcoming onslaught of anti-science threats coming from the landed hard right.

As always, it is too little, too late.


NASA Earth science missions in danger of being dropped.

Recently, NASA officials piped up against the reactionary purge.  At a press conference last week, NASA’s associate administrator for science Thomas Zurbuchen said, “Earth science helps save lives. It also helps grow companies and creates an awareness of environmental challenges that affect our lives today and tomorrow.”

Unfortunately, the tardy balking is akin to urinating in the wind at this point.  Trump “science adviser” and – surprise! – Washington lobbyist Robert Walker poured salt in the wound by holding his own presser, and said, “[Trump wants] to redirect NASA budgets towards deep space achievements rather than Earth-centric climate change spending.”


Solar System family portrait.

There’s no misreading these tea leaves.  It is clear that the Trump gang still does not understand (or for mercenary or other corrupt motives chooses not to understand) that Earth is a planet too, much like Mars and Jupiter.  In fact, someone, anyone, should let them know that Earth resides in the same solar system as those planets.


Filling the swamp: The “brains” behind Trump’s space policy is also the chair of the influential lobbying firm, Wexler & Walker.

But alas, it looks like in the last seconds of the fourth quarter, we have fumbled the ball to Team Trump (thank you Electoral College) that will attempt to stack the deck even higher against humanity’s survival.  In fact, by now, NASA head and former astronaut Charlie Bolden realizes that Trump is considering replacing him with an anti-science moron Oklahoman Congressman Jim Bridenstine (R-Bedlam).  And what’s more, Trump’s space guru Walker has threatened that the real estate grifter wants Earth science studies to be eliminated from NASA, and for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency to take over those “weather monitoring tasks.” This echos what his Orange Headness said during a rally in Florida during a more hopeful time a month ago when he declared that “I will free NASA from the restriction of serving primarily as a logistics agency for low-Earth orbit activity,”


According to a BuzzFeed report, North Pole ice levels are “freakishly low,” with scientists reporting frozen water amounts 28% below the Arctic Sea medium between 1981 and 2010 (see orange outline above), with temperatures as much as 36 degrees F. above normal.

Ultimately, political rhetoric or maneuvering is meaningless when one is confronted with Mother Nature.  Dr. Gavin Schmidt, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, gave the world a wake-up call when he “tweeted” out last week, “Planetary warming does not care about the election.”  That’s slapping it on the snout.  Schmidt explains – or at least tries to enlighten idiots such as Trump’s yes-men – that large parts of the Arctic super-heated in October, as much as 15.6 6°F (8.7°C) above the 1951–1980 mean temperature.  Scientists like Schmidt have been telling us for years that unless we act, our world will become a horrid hot house.  Even in his 2015 “Climate Central” study, Schmidt said there is “a vast and growing body of research,” indicating that “humanity is about to experience an historically unprecedented spike in temperatures.

What a wet blanket that guy is! Such negative stuff.  Sheeeeesh!  Let’s ignore these buzz-kills and simply “Make America Great Again.”  How’s that for putridity?

Sadly, this is the Brave New World. –  Kate Woods, Writer-At-Large


F u l l  S t e a m  A h e a d

worse-than-expectedAs we (Galactic Sandbox) predicted, Earth scientists are copping to the fact that they “low-balled” the acceleration rate of rising temperatures on Earth, and are now blowing their whistles that it is most likely too late for humans to “undo” the damage their out-gassing has done to the planet’s atmosphere.  According to Science Alert.com, climatologists from the U.S. and Germany have laboriously analyzed Earth’s temperatures for the last 784,000 years (using core drilling at the poles and from ocean depths), and have concluded that it may be too late to avoid a temperature rise of 13.25 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels by 2100.  (Previously, researchers estimated a rise of 8.6 degrees rise in Fahrenheit by 2100.)  As long as “Drill Baby, Drill” Republican climate-denying lawgivers are deciding which research gets funded or not, we will continue to get fed a picture that is purposely painted with roses and lollipops when it comes to how lovely fossil fuel energy is.

E l i m i n a t i o n   R o u n d

spacepoopIn keeping with the inanity of the world this week, we wanted our readers to know about this withering but world-shattering news flash:  NASA is throwing a contest to come up with a better feces disposal system for spacesuits.  We wish we were yanking your chain, but we aren’t. NASA is actually calling it the “Space Poop Challenge,” and there is $30,000 up for grabs for the winning inventor who comes up with a “fecal, urine and menstrual management system for spacesuits, that would work for up to six days.”  As it is now, astronauts have to wear diapers in their spacesuits whenever they are launching, landing or spacewalking.  The diapers are only good for a few hours, and once they are “soiled,” they have to remain on the derriere of the wearer until whatever task at hand is finished– and that can cause great discomfort, not to mention a bad case of diaper rash.  The submission deadline for the Space Poop Challenge is Dec. 20, and winners will be announced Jan. 31, 2017. You can see all the guidelines and rules on this website.

S l u s h  F u n


Pluto’s 1,000 kilometer-wide, nitrogen-covered Sputnik Planitia basin is located in the dwarf planet’s Heart-shaped northern region.

Pluto most likely has an icy ocean, scientists have declared in a new study published in Nature.  They believe it exists in a basin called Sputnik Planitia, which could be covered with a sheet of frozen nitrogen anywhere from two to six miles thick.  Sputnik Planitia is “a big, elliptical hole in the ground, so the extra weight must be hiding somewhere beneath the surface. And an ocean is a natural way to get that,” said Francis Nimmo, the study’s first author and a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz.  Nimmo and his coauthor, professor Richard Binzel of MIT, deduced the existence of the ocean on the dwarf planet by calculating the way Pluto’s biggest moon, Charon, lines up to its mother sphere, producing a “gravitational anomaly.”

F a s t  a n d  C u r i o u s


Sun’s interaction with Earth’s magnetosphere.

Brainiacs at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center say they are mystified at finding electrons just outside the Earth’s magnetosphere that are zipping along near the speed of light.  The perplexed physicists cannot account for this type of acceleration so far outside the magnetosphere, and insist such a scenario should not exist.  “This is a puzzling case because we’re seeing energetic electrons where we don’t think they should be, and no model fits them,” says one of the researchers, David Sibeck. “There is a gap in our knowledge, something basic is missing,” he added. The discovery came out of the agency’s 2-year THEMIS mission, which consists of five orbiting probes that study the Earth’s violent and colorful auroras. The original THEMIS mission goal was to find out what triggers geomagnetic storms that can wreck havoc on Earthlings’ communications, but now it has opened a can of deeper quantum questions.

R a c e  A g a i n s t  T i m e

stephen-hawking-space-travelSince the U.S. is plunging into full-throttle plutocracy, and now that the new Republican powers that be will soon be gleefully dumping any climate change efforts that this nation has undertaken, some scientists are musing the dire prediction that famed physicist Stephen Hawking imparted to the world a few years ago:  Specifically, Hawking gives the human species, at best, only 1,000 years more on this planet before we screw ourselves out of a seat at the dinner table and go extinct.  We here at Galactic Sandbox think that Hawking is being generous, whereas others think not.

extinctionHawking cites a plethora of dangers that could bite humankind on the backside, including global warming, nuclear holocaust, even genetically engineered viruses – how about Frankenfood? – that could help bring homo sapiens down.  As 50 percent of Earth’s wildlife species have gone extinct in the past 50 years, some scientists believe we are in the midst of a sixth great extinction.  Hawking says the only way humans can survive is to colonize other worlds, and if we don’t develop the space travel technology to do it, then we can forget it.

However, before you buy your one-way ticket to anywhere-but-here, John Sterman, director of the MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative, believes Hawkings premise may be too pessimistic.  Sterman opines that humanity has a choice, and while it might get dicey and “uncomfortable,” the species could do the right thing if it changes its greedy ways now.  screen-shot-2016-11-20-at-9-38-12-amWhile we applaud any constructive optimism, we fear that our planet is perilously close to having no time left (let alone a 1,000 years),  as illustrated by the eco think-tank Global Footprint Network, which estimates that humanity uses up the resources of 1.5 Earths every year at this point, which at a minimum sounds like we will gobble ourselves up in less than a millennia.

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Show Stoppers

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October 3, 2016

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

W e ‘ r e  W i t h  S t u p i d s

asteroid-hitting-earthGood news for Deep Impact fans! The U.S. Senate approved a NASA appropriations bill last week that basically welcomes with open arms a planet-killing, extinction-event-sized asteroid (or comet) plastering the Earth with an upper left cut. And yes,not surprisingly the bill was sponsored by replicant look-alike and perennial Tin Foil Hat favorite, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Hell).

A perfect fit.

The paltry $19.5 billion eked out by Cruz and his cronies for NASA’s 2017 fiscal budget had strong language advising the agency to dump its Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), and urged going back to the Moon. While our crusty old satellite certainly is key to solar system exploration and beyond, it seems as if many of the old white fossils in Congress just can’t imagine anything beyond the glory days when Apollo astronauts golfed and rock hunted in the good ol’ Sea of Tranquility — and, of course, they also furrow their brows at NASA’s plans for getting humans to Mars.


ARM nabbing asteroid.


What these behind-the-times legislators can’t seem to grasp is that ARM (not to be confused with the recent OSIRIS-Rex asteroid landing mission) would lasso a boulder from an asteroid and bring it back to the Moon’s orbit, thereby enabling scientists to study the overhead rock from the lunar surface and possibly set up a refueling station for a manned mission to Mars. The ARM mission would arm (pun intended) scientists with knowledge of how asteroids behave and the easiest method to block one that’s on a trajectory with Earth, thus ultimately saving those old white fossilized asses (and our own).


Nothing to see here. (Photo Reuters)

Of course, the bill that passed also slashed funding for Earth sciences, particularly if any program has the term “global warming” in it, since the Republican majority are climate deniers – despite that 99 percent of all professional scientists say man-made pollution is speeding up the heat index. Congress says it much prefers the money go to planetary science, as long as the planet being studied is not named “Earth.”

The lawgivers carp that the Asteroid Redirect Mission has ballooned in budget and extended its target date launch. Yeah, it went from $1.25 billion to $1.45 billion, and yes, it got pushed back a year to a 2018 launch. Why? Because moronic old white men in Congress keep scrapping it! Inflation alone has caused the cost to rise. Why doesn’t Congress wear its true colors and just put a big red bulls-eye on the back of their pants and tell the universe to “Kick Me!”?

nasa_budget_history-580x386You may be thinking, well maybe if the old white paleo-lawmakers were better informed, perhaps they would see the light. It’s been tried. The White House Office of Science and Technology (not to be confused with the Senate Committee of Science and Technology headed by Lamar “Kick Me Hard” Smith, [R-seceded Texas]) along with NASA heads held an event for Congress in mid-September explaining in really easy baby terms all the urgent reasons the ARM program should be funded, and what it will accomplish for all other missions – including going back to the good ol’ Moon and getting to Mars. Predictably, it fell on deaf, ossified ears.

screen-shot-2016-10-04-at-2-19-18-am-1But there is hope! The White House and NASA have been acutely aware of what they are up against, and long before the inevitable funding slash had already turned to the private sector to back up the ARM project, offering fetching subsidies and technological rewards for the independent space companies with the vision to join forces with our space agency to get the job done. In the meantime, Galactic Sandbox will continue chanting our favorite motto for Washington DC: Thank You, Republicans! ♫” (Sung to the tune of “Town Without Pity.”)  – Kate Woods

R o s e t t a  M i l e s t o n e


Rosetta’s final snapshot of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko before it merged with the infinite on September 30.

Europe’s Rosetta Comet Mission performed its finale on Friday in a spectacular “slow motion” swan dive collision with Comet  67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Twenty years in the making, the Rosetta spacecraft was launched in March of 2004 and took ten years to get to the oddly-shaped comet, which actually was the result of two bodies colliding and sticking together eons ago. After the decade long journey and 3.7 billion miles of outer space, Rosetta took high resolution photos of the dirty ice-ball and launched its Philae lander to the surface. That’s when a few troubles cropped up.


Rosetta in its prime.

Philae did not have a soft landing, and in fact, bounced three times on the comet’s steep, craggy surface before it came to a hard halt on its side, stuck in a deep crevice – in the absolute dark. (Apparently, the lander’s harpoon hooks, which were to grab the surface and keep the lander firmly planted on the low gravity body, failed to deploy.) Since it dropped anchor in a place without sunlight, Philae’s solar-powered batteries had only three days to power its scientific instruments, but what was discovered in that mad scramble for data was invaluable. For one thing, scientists now know that comets most likely are not the source of Earth’s water. (However, they did find an abundance of organic material.) The ESA brains also were able to determine with radio waves that the inside of Churyumov–Gerasimenko is very porous, like fresh powdery snow, except it is more like fluffy fine sand. When Rosetta and its cosmic dancing partner got closer to the Sun, the comet vented more gas and dust, and then less as it moved away. After two years of studying the comet, scientists had to bid their brainchild Rosetta farewell and crash it, but they say the information it sent back will keep them busy for another decade.

XKCD – Rosetta

R e d  T i d e

dragon-landing-on-marsSpace X boss Elon Musk made a much-anticipated presentation last week at the International Astronautical Congress held in Guadalajara, outlining how his company is working on a super version of its Falcon 9 reusable rocket to get people to Mars by 2025.  The “Interplanetary Transport System” will sport 42 Raptor engines (which use methane and liquid nitrogen propellant), a large reusable booster to get the ship into low-Earth orbit, and then more boosters and tanks for the voyage to the Red Planet.  The lift-off thrust would be three and half times greater than that of NASA’s Apollo-era Saturn rocket, and the Dragon-type ship could carry 450 tons, accommodating 100 or more humans.

interplanetary-transport-systemMusk said he envisions the spaceship “planet-hopping” or “moon-hopping” to refuel on its way to various destinations.  He told reporters later that his company is spending about five percent of Space X’s budget on their Mars program.  “We’re spending a few tens of millions of dollars right now on it,” said the Silicon Valley katrillionaire.

J e t  S e t t e r

europa_plumes1The Hubble Space Telescope – and not the Juno spacecraft – has spotted what scientists believe are giant plumes of water vapor ejecting from the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa. Observations made by two  independent teams suggest the plumes erupt sporadically reaching heights up to 125 miles, and rain material back onto the moon’s hard ice surface.  Scientists do not know yet how thick Europa’s ice sheet is, but they are excited about this new find since it could allow a mission that may not need to land or drill on the surface to get sample material.  It could also indicate that microbial life exists beneath the surface in the liquid oceans. The Cassini spacecraft also has spotted similar plumes erupting from the surface of Saturn’s satellite, Enceledus.

A n  I n t e r n a t i o n a l  A f f a i r


Dream Chaser.

Representatives of the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) also made a showing at the AIC meeting to make the happy announcement that they bought a dedicated mission on Sierra Nevada Corp.’s Dream Chaser shuttle for a 2021 launch.  The space ride is open to any member nation that wants to submit their proposals to fly experiments into zero gravity, however UNOOSA emphasizes that this opportunity is mostly for those developing nations without a space program.  Participating nations will be expected to pay a portion of the launch.  Sierra Nevada plans to have its Dream Chaser flying trips to and from the International Space Station by the end of the decade, but this first ever UN trip will be a free-flier voyage that will simply orbit around the Earth for two weeks.

P u t t i n g  U s  o n  t he  M a p

gaia-atlas-of-milky-wayThe GAIA Space Telescope is on track to catalogue and plot more than a billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy by 2017, said the scope’s handlers in a news conference last week. The European Space Agency launched the marvel in 2013, and though it has been in full operation for only a year, GAIA has already made the most complete 3-D map of the Milky Way and enabled astronomers to plot the positions and motions of two million stars in and around our spiral galaxy. GAIA’s predecessor was the Hipparcos satellite launched by ESA in 1989, but the new cosmic cartographer is 200 times more accurate and sports two telescopes that support a billion-pixel camera. GAIA operates from an orbit around the Sun that keeps it a million miles away from Earth’s orbital path.

gaiaRecently, during a demonstration of GAIA wherein a group of school kids were instructing a cabal of journalists how to navigate the telescope’s star database, the students stumbled upon a supernova coming through the screens. Astronomers were running over themselves to get to the database after the “presser.”

T h a t  S i n k i n g  F e e l i n g

kennedy-space-center-rising-seasNASA may have to abandon several key launchpads within the next decade, like the famous Apollo-era 39b, due to rising sea waters at the $10.9 billion infrastructure called The Kennedy Space Center, otherwise known as Cape Canaveral.

And we all know the reason for this: it’s because Congressional Republican lawgivers still refuse to believe the globe is heating up and that polar ice caps are melting. New reports say the water surrounding the Cape will rise between 15 inches and four feet between now and 2080. All we can say here at Galactic Sandbox is Thank You, Republicans! ♫” (sung to the tune of “Under the Sea”).

G a m m a z i l l a !

gamma-ray-binaryFor the first time ever, NASA has found what is called a gamma-ray binary system,” called LMD P3, in a galaxy outside of our own. Scientists working the Fermi Gamma-Ray Telescope spotted the massive outpouring of energy coming from the system in 2012, but astronomers mis-categorized it as an X-Ray binary, which would be the prelude to a supernova. A Gamma-Ray binary is a very rare system that contains either neutron stars or black holes orbiting around a massive star where nearly all of their energy is expelled in gamma-rays. Only five gamma-ray binaries have been found – all within the Milky Way — yet LMD P3 is the brightest one of all.

The extra-galactic system is located in a remnant of a supernova called DEM L241, which lurks within the Large Magellanic Cloud, a relatively small galaxy about 163,000 light-years away.

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