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...the final fronteer. These are the continuing voyages of clue seeking fsck-wits...
20040105(Space):Earth: 4; Mars: lots more than 4
So Spirit made it down in the number of pieces it was supposed to -- unlike the British effort, which supposedly can't communicate because it landed in a crater (left unspoken is the observation that said crater was probably made by the probe when it lan^Winteracted with the surface). And Spirit is sending back pictures, having become only the fourth probe to successfully land on Mars and transmit data back (the other three -- for those of you keeping score at home -- are Viking I and II, and Pathfinder).

And what do we see? Rocks. Or rather, an exciting absence of rocks (which means our rover can actually rove). Yawn. This is much cooler and closer to home.

20031119(Space):Governmental Manned Space Program
The question: Should NASA be sending government employees into space?

My response:

I think the government should be involved because in one way or another they will end up paying for the mistakes -- specifically in the area of liability.

Consider the issue of insurance. Columbia had disintegrated on a different flight path or at a different point of entry, we could have had large pieces of debris raining down on Houston or Dallas -- and there isn't an insurance company in the world which will accept that kind of risk. The US government, on the other hand, is self-insuring, due to the large financial resources at their disposal.

Now if Johnny X-Prize jumps into his rocket and then "lands" in suburbia, wiping out a daycare center, who gets stuck with the bill? What happens if Johnny X-Prize leaves from Florida and "lands" in Toronto? Or Berlin? Or Damascus? Each of those foreign governments will hold the US responsible, and the US will be stuck with that responsibility -- because if the Chinese accidentally "land" in Los Angeles, you bet that they will hold Bejing responsible.

The scope of the problem is different. When a hobbist messes around with his experimental aircraft, he's only carting around enough energy to wipe out a house or two. When a hobbist messes around with an experimental spacecraft, we are now talking about enough energy to wipe out more than just a block or two, and the potential range of that "accident" is much larger.

20030915(Space):Fresh From The Home Office
Space.com is running a commentary which features the top 10 reasons for a space program.

What is interesting is that absolutely none of them address the more significant question: Why have a manned space program?

"Because it is there" or "Because we can" are not answers in this context.

20030914(Space):Another Nail In The Mars Coffin
While discussing my previous article with my wife, I realized that there are two conditions which must be in place for a massive project such as the moon landing.

Read More:hammer it in

20030913(Space):No Trail To Mars
Slashdot had a link to Spider Robinson's comments following Torcon, a Science Fiction convention held in Toronto. In it, he laments the current state of scifi and the allegedly real world in which it lives.

Edited 14 September: Changed the category from Commentary to Space

Read More:lamentations for the present

20030405(Space):Columbia Unravels
Analysis of radar data from Columbia's last mission has lead to the theory that a 'carrier panel', a metal maintenance access patch which permits maintenance workers access to the front part of the wing assembly, separated from the shuttle after lift off. The object was tracked on day two of the mission, and later tracked as falling back into the atmosphere. If such a part was missing, it could lead to the heat spikes recorded, and then eventually a general failure of the wing, similar to what happened on re-entry.

It is unknown if the foam-strike recorded on video during liftoff is related to this object.

20030226(Space):Pioneer 10 Fades Into Interstellar Noise
NASA has decided to give up listening for Pioneer 10. Originally designed for a 22 month mission, the probe has lasted 30 years and was the first man-made object to cross the orbit of pluto. Pioneer 10 last returned telemetry in April 2002, and was last heard by the Deep Space Network in January 2003. NASA says that the radioactive isotope power source has decayed to the point where it can no longer power the probe's transmitter with sufficient power to be detected by the DSN.

It's kind of interesting in a way because I've named my laptop pioneer10 -- the rest of my computers have names from the Jupiter system of moons (Jupiter, Io, Europa, Ganymede, Callisto) and since the laptop leaves the local system, I thought it neat to name it after a probe which passed by Jupiter. I doubt that my laptop will last as long as its namesake.

20030226(Space):Columbia: Last Data Analysis
MSNBC has an article describing Columbia's last moments. The working theory is that the orbiter underwent a slow flat spin which would have taken about 20 seconds to complete. At that point, the damage to the orbiter was severe enough that the tumble would have become more severe, leading to the breakup witnessed by TV cameras. During the spin, the rear of the orbiter would have had engine nozzles and drogue parachute units ripped off. This is from analysis of the last data stream, rejected in real time by Mission Control's computers due to the corruption, but pieced together. After the spin, Columbia sent back telemetry indicating that the main structure of the orbiter was intact, but in distress -- readings were returned from the front and back of the orbiter, fuel sensors (showing that the autopilot was trying to fight the spin), and flight control hydraulics (showing no pressure in the lines to the left wing components).

It is becoming clear that the shuttle experienced some kind of excessive drag on its left side, but it is still not clear why this happened. Aviation Now reports that wing roughness affects on laminar flow has been a concern for some time, but it is not clear that this is related to what has happened.

20030223(Space):Perspective on Columbia
While the media will carry on about the loss being the seven astronauts, it is necessary to analyze the loss in terms of the overall impact on the various programs going on. The cold, hard, fact is that those seven people are replaceable to the programs. Every single one of them had a backup crew member training just as hard as they were for STS-107. People will come and go; but the programs will survive them.

Read More

20010208(Space):Population Relief Valve
One thing which comes up again and again and again is the idea that space colonization is going to turn into a population relief valve for the people left behind -- that we can somehow ease our population growth problems by shipping people somewhere offworld. The fact that this will never happen seems to escape most of the commentators who keep pushing it as one of the best reasons to begin colonization.

Read More:let's make up some numbers


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