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 “The Voyager flight team dug up decades-old data and examined the software that was coded in an outdated assembler language, to make sure we could safely test the thrusters,” said Jones, chief engineer at JPL.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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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.”

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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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