Archive for the 'space' Category

Hickam on the Shuttle

Monday, September 1st, 2003

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.

Grokking Mars

Wednesday, August 27th, 2003

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.

Additional Detail on the Last Minute of Shuttle Columbia

Wednesday, July 16th, 2003

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.

Space Aliens Invade Earth

Friday, May 23rd, 2003

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?

Pioneer 10 Makeover

Saturday, May 17th, 2003

Edward Tufte is cool: Pioneer space plaque redesign.

Columbia Investigation Continues

Thursday, May 15th, 2003

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.

Images from the Mars Global Surveyor

Wednesday, March 5th, 2003

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.

Last Minutes of Columbia

Friday, February 28th, 2003

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.

Timothy Ferris on Watching Columbia

Monday, February 3rd, 2003

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

Photos from the Space Shuttle Columbia

Monday, February 3rd, 2003

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.

Shuttle Disaster Confronts Nation with Realities of Space Travel

Sunday, February 2nd, 2003

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.

Buzz Gets Off

Saturday, September 21st, 2002

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.

Buzz Aldrin Punches Skeptic

Wednesday, September 11th, 2002

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.

Sci-Fi Tax

Thursday, July 18th, 2002

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!

Alternative to Big Bang Theory Offered

Friday, April 26th, 2002

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.

Video Proves Moon Landings a Fake!

Saturday, April 20th, 2002

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.

Way Old Lies: Go at Throttle Up

Sunday, April 14th, 2002

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.