January 22, 2004

Human Stories of Mars, by Stephen Baxter

In case you haven't heard, NASA has lost contact with Spirit -- which makes this Stephen Baxter article I recieved today all the more interesting. It's got just the right mix of historical factoids and pragmatic optimism to put the past, present and future of Martian exploration into perspective...


Posted by hossman at 11:35 PM | view/comment (1) | TrackBack (0)

January 16, 2004

Hoagland Finds Machinery on Mars

I don't know why this cracks me up so much, but it does. Richard C. Hoagland, popularizer of the "Face on Mars" thing, looks at the imagery being returned by the Spirit rover and sees something amazing: A gallery of cased objects and machinery at the Spirit landing site.

Dunno, Richard; they kinda look like rocks to me.

Interesting background info available here: A skeptical look at Richard C. Hoagland.

Thanks to my new idol, Winston Smith at Philosoraptor, for the link.

Posted by jbc at 07:29 PM | view/comment (3) | TrackBack (0)

September 01, 2003

Hickam on the Shuttle

Former NASA engineer Homer Hickam explains what's wrong with the shuttle, and calls for the program to be ended before it takes the entire US manned space program down with it: Not culture but perhaps a cult.

Posted by jbc at 10:58 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

August 27, 2003

Grokking Mars

This certainly isn't news to anyone, but we've just passed our closest approach to Mars for the next few hundred years; if any of you haven't found a local club or friend with a telescope and taken a look at that incredibly bright red dot in the sky, please do in the next week.

I just got back from a Texas Astronomical Society viewing party and it was quite an experience, not just for the sweet view. 2-300 people were milling around the field waiting in line to peer through the more impressive telescopes present. There were the expected geeks (myself included) and stargazing fans, but I really liked seeing those people who had been convinced to come out there just because the event was so rare they thought they should see it with their own eyes.

Through a telescope, the rotation of the the earth is fast enough to pretty quickly move a particular object out of the field of view. The owners of the scopes frequently had to remind people that we're whirling around through the void, so our view is far from static. It brought an air of poignant transience to the evening, brought to closure as cloud cover ended the event abruptly.

But those present got their fleeting view of our celestial neighbor as it moved past. It's both a little easier to laugh at the world and a little easier to take it more seriously knowing just where you are and I hope that's what the people taking a break from the evening news tonight gained. Like I said, go find someplace in your area and have a look. It's good for you.

Posted by ymatt at 11:01 PM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

July 16, 2003

Additional Detail on the Last Minute of Shuttle Columbia

The New York Times has this interesting, if depressing, story about the destruction of the space shuttle Columbia. I haven't been following this story very closely for a while, so maybe this is old news, but apparently there is evidence that the crew cabin remained intact for up to a minute after the last radio transmission was received: Crew of Columbia survived a minute after last signal.

Posted by jbc at 12:05 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

May 23, 2003

Space Aliens Invade Earth

Sars 'from the stars' (or War II of the Worlds)

In this sequel, instead of a terrestrial cold virus defeating the Martians, a Martian cold virus destroys the hapless humans.

There is also a much more "down to Earth" theory that the SARS virus originated from a civet cat but what kind of news is that?

Posted by the_web_walker at 03:47 PM | view/comment (7) | TrackBack (0)

May 17, 2003

Pioneer 10 Makeover

Edward Tufte is cool: Pioneer space plaque redesign.

Posted by jbc at 11:42 PM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

May 15, 2003

Columbia Investigation Continues

Some interesting things have been happening in the grinding-slow-but-exceedingly-fine investigation into the Columbia shuttle disaster. From Reuters, here's a story from the other day: 'Missed signals' seen at NASA in Columbia probe. The AP version of the same Senate testimony is here: Shuttle probe chief calls on Senate panel.

The back and forth reported between the retired admiral heading up the investigation and Sen. John McCain was interesting, with the investigator claiming the process whereby engineers' concerns were ignored by higher-ups was "nobody's fault," and McCain getting pissed at the idea that seven astronauts could be killed due to a string of human errors in which, magically, no humans were actually responsible.

Chiming in on the obvious deja vu qualities in all this, USA Today has the following editorial: Same problems haunt NASA 17 years after Challenger loss. And if you want to really get into the nitty gritty of what went wrong, and if you haven't seen it already, check out this interesting discussion from visual-display-of-information maven Edward Tufte. Nice detail on the contribution that some really yucky Powerpoint bullet slides made to the tragedy.

Posted by jbc at 11:36 PM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

March 05, 2003

Images from the Mars Global Surveyor

Here's another batch of thumbnails. This time, they're from a world beyond the reach of mechanized bloodshed: Mars, as imaged by Mars Global Surveyor's Mars Orbiter Camera. It's interesting to me, given the place Mars occupies in our collective symbology, that once you actually send a camera there and look, it seems like a really peaceful place. I dunno; maybe I'm just projecting my own desire for an escape from the headlines here on this planet, but there's something comforting about that.

Posted by jbc at 11:24 AM | view/comment (3) | TrackBack (0)

February 28, 2003

Last Minutes of Columbia

You've probably heard about it, or seen it, elsewhere, already, but in case you haven't, you can watch the 13-minute video they recovered from Columbia, ending about 8 minutes before the shuttle broke up.

Posted by jbc at 01:51 PM | view/comment (1) | TrackBack (0)

February 03, 2003

Timothy Ferris on Watching Columbia

One of my favorite science writers, Timothy Ferris, has a nice column running in the New York Times: At Dawn, the Columbia.

Posted by jbc at 09:58 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Photos from the Space Shuttle Columbia

With the help of my friend Hiro, who found what I was looking for in NASA's amazing sprawl of web content, I've put up a wiki page highlighting photographs taken by the crew of the space shuttle Columbia. It's a tribute, if you will, to the courage and vision they displayed in making their journey.

Posted by jbc at 07:16 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

February 02, 2003

Shuttle Disaster Confronts Nation with Realities of Space Travel

So, as someone posted in reply to my 1996 essay predicting another shuttle disaster, and my subsequent apology to "all the hard-working folks at NASA," posted in April of last year, "if only you'd been right on that one." If only. But with the benefit of hindsight, I don't think it's fair to lay ultimate responsibility for this disaster at NASA's door (though clearly that's what's going to happen, they being such convenient scapegoats). No, the ultimate responsibility for the death of those astronauts is in our hands, yours and mine, the people who allowed, no, demanded that the engineers, managers, and politicians running NASA dutifully recreate the exact same conditions that led to our previous two lethal space-program disasters. Sending people off our planet on a flaming bomb and returning them safely to Earth are things that, currently at least, are at the very limits of our abilities. Given a few dozen successes, though, we come to see it as routine, and the public's interest wanes, and the funding starts to dry up, and decision-makers more attuned to the public will than to the engineering realities of what they're engaged in begin to cut corners, until some brave adventurers pay for that hubris with their lives. Anyway, enough of that. Here are some links to provide context: the late Richard Feynman's appendix to the Challenger investigation report, where he wrote, "For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled." And, from a 19-year-old test pilot named John Gillespie Magee, Jr., Highflight.

Posted by jbc at 07:56 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

September 21, 2002

Buzz Gets Off

from the followups dept.

Displaying unusual common sense, authorities in California have decided not to prosecute former astronaut Buzz Aldrin for punching a skeptic who wanted him to swear on a Bible that he actually had been to the moon. Nifty.

Posted by jbc at 11:49 AM | view/comment (1) | TrackBack (0)

September 11, 2002

Buzz Aldrin Punches Skeptic

from the right-stuff dept.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, famous as the second human to set foot on the surface of the moon, punched a lunar-landing skeptic recently after getting fed up by the guy's repeatedly thrusting a Bible at him, telling him to swear on it that he'd actually made the Apollo 11 journey. Buzz Aldrin is cool.

Posted by jbc at 09:25 AM | view/comment (7) | TrackBack (0)

July 18, 2002

Sci-Fi Tax

from the to-boldy-go dept.

A proposed tax on science fiction books, science fiction comic books, space sciences books and any other space-related literature as well as sci-fi toys and whatnot to fund NASA. To infinity and beyond!

Posted by at 11:22 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

April 26, 2002

Alternative to Big Bang Theory Offered

from the science-messing-with-our-heads-again dept.

Challenging the widely held theory that the universe came into existence in a Big Bang, physicists Paul Steinhardt and Neil Turok have proposed that instead, the universe has undergone an endless series of expansions and contractions. I'm not sure why, but these sorts of cosmological debates always strike me as funny. Your mileage may (almost certainly will) vary.

Posted by jbc at 01:57 AM | view/comment (1) | TrackBack (0)

April 20, 2002

Video Proves Moon Landings a Fake!

from the NOW-how-much-would-you-pay? dept.

Courtesy Google's AdWords program comes this site purporting to sell a video showing the Apollo 11 astronauts faking their flight to the moon. Only $19.95, and it comes with a 30-day money back guarantee. Pretty cool, huh? While you're there, don't miss the Top 10 Reasons Why No Man Has Ever Set Foot on the Moon.

Posted by jbc at 03:45 AM | view/comment (58) | TrackBack (0)

April 14, 2002

Way Old Lies: Go at Throttle Up

from the glad-to-say-I-was-wrong dept.

From March of 1996 comes this story in which I (Perfect Tommy, I mean) talked about the Challenger space shuttle disaster, and predicted that another such calamity would occur in the near future due to NASA budget cuts. Five years later, it's clearly time for an apology to all the hard-working folks at NASA, who've managed to keep their astronauts very much alive since then. I was reminded of the story by a news item about Barbara Morgan, a teacher who was Christa McAuliffe's backup on the original Challenger mission, and who later quit teaching, joined NASA full-time, and now is slated to fly in an upcoming mission. Anyway, follow the link below, or scroll down, to see the original story.


Posted by jbc at 02:53 AM | view/comment (3) | TrackBack (0)