Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Vote of Confidence? 

SPACE.com [AP] -- NASA Engineers Work on Alternative Moon Rocket

When I posted earlier about the "DIRECT" proposal for an alternative next-generation manned spacecraft system to the Ares/Orion/Constellation which NASA has determined to use,  I obviously didn't appreciate the full extent of the irony in this situation.  Engineers working with NASA on the preposterous Ares/Orion mess during the day have been "going under cover" to work on the DIRECT alternative program on their own time.  There can't be a much more "direct" indication of just how bad Ares/Orion/Constellation is doing than the complete lack of confidence of the engineers working on it. 

There is a much more sinister implication to the story, though.  Michael Griffin's "new NASA" is still the management-heavy agency that gave us Challenger and Discovery, where politically powerful people of critically limited vision still rule the engineers and scientists---who have to make things that actually work---by intimidation:

"A spokesman for the competing effort, Ross Tierney, said concerned engineers at NASA and some contractors want a review of the Ares plans but can't speak out for fear of being demoted, transferred or fired."

NASA, for its part, dismisses the DIRECT effort as "a napkin drawing", preferring its own ideas:

Thrust Oscillation: Parasorber and Thrusters lead Ares I options - NASA SpaceFlight.com

This is the first artist's depiction I've seen of the "Active Pulse Thruster" concept.   This belongs on the Comedy Channel, not a manned spacecraft.  The "Parasorber" idea is apparently some monkey-business with the first stage recovery parachutes acting as counter-oscillating mass dampers, which seems unlikely to have enough "throw weight" to counter the expected oscillation.  Then there are foreshadowings of putting the crew in special shock-absorbing seats....for ascent!

"These oscillations are capable of rendering the astronauts incapacitated, or worse."

NASA asserts that the suborbital flight with a dummy capsule/service module on a 4-segment solid booster scheduled for next year demonstrates the maturity of the Ares/Orion concept.  The biggest problem they may have to look forward to is where to find a supply of people foolish enough to get into these things.


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Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Church of the Boiled Frogs 

Opportunities for communication have become rare---my one regular contact with the pastor of our Church  usually includes several other preachers from various churches in the same room, and a non-conforming comment from a layman is made obviously unwelcome.  I think at this point I'm traditionally supposed to nail something to a door somewhere, but I'm going to try this medium first.

It has been growing gradually over the years---someone comes in to perform a psychoanalysis of our Spiritual gifts, or we are encouraged to use special "breathing techniques" while reading the Psalms.  There have been special get-togethers that included prayer labyrinths.  Many sermons for several years have included long quotations from Roman Catholic scholars (there are a fairly large number of former Catholics in our congregation).  More recently, our pastor has concluded several powerful messages containing important truths about the Word, Salvation, Faith, and the Holy Spirit with brief quotes from the Koran, Buddha, and others.  When present in services---I'm under a lot of stress already, and I'm afraid of what I'm going to hear next---I especially grind my teeth in anticipation of the weekly "other great religions moment".  I suppose in future weeks, we can look forward to seeing the Word and the Truth conversationally placed alongside the Veda, the Dallas Cowboys playbook, perhaps a brief discussion about Krishna, just in case we got the pronunciation wrong....

As well as I can figure these things out, our Church is well along the road to "emerging".  Even if these citations were merely comparative cultural references, they will confuse the more impressionable children in the family (Galatians 1:6-8).  The recent extractions from Catholicism I've spoken to, for example, have residues of their former beliefs ranging from simply preferring our childcare, to sincere confusion about genuine Christian doctrine.  No one will benefit from this provocative mingling of the Word with the dross of other religions. 

Sooner or later, this road the Church is on is going to lead to a collision.  The God Who Actually Exists will have His Church back, or will find a replacement.

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The Church of the Boiled Frogs 

Opportunities for communication have become rare---my one regular contact with the pastor of our Church  usually includes several other preachers from various churches in the same room, and a non-conforming comment from a layman is made obviously unwelcome.  I think at this point I'm traditionally supposed to nail something to a door somewhere, but I'm going to try this medium first.

It has been growing gradually over the years---someone comes in to perform a psychoanalysis of our Spiritual gifts, or we are encouraged to use special "breathing techniques" while reading the Psalms.  There have been special get-togethers that included prayer labyrinths.  Many sermons for several years have included long quotations from Roman Catholic scholars (there are a fairly large number of former Catholics in our congregation).  More recently, our pastor has concluded several powerful messages containing important truths about the Word, Salvation, Faith, and the Holy Spirit with brief quotes from the Koran, Buddha, and others.  When present in services---I'm under a lot of stress already, and I'm afraid of what I'm going to hear next---I especially grind my teeth in anticipation of the weekly "other great religions moment".  I suppose in future weeks, we can look forward to seeing the Word and the Truth conversationally placed alongside the Veda, the Dallas Cowboys playbook, perhaps a brief discussion about Krishna, just in case we got the pronunciation wrong....

As well as I can figure these things out, our Church is well along the road to "emerging".  Even if these citations were merely comparative cultural references, they will confuse the more impressionable children in the family (Galatians 1:6-8).  The recent extractions from Catholicism I've spoken to have residues of their former beliefs ranging from simply preferring our childcare, to sincere confusion about genuine Christian doctrine.  No one will benefit from this provocative mingling of the Word with the dross of other religions. 

Sooner or later, this road the Church is on is going to lead to a collision.  The God Who Actually Exists will have His Church back, or will find a replacement.

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

---Snow, DeBakey Dead, and Other Stories 

 FOXNews.com - Tony Snow, Former White House Press Secretary and FOX News Anchor, Dies at 53

My first impression of Tony Snow was back when he stood in for Limbaugh, back when I still occasionally listened to Limbaugh.  Snow was generally calm, pleasant, and credible when a lot of people in Washington weren't.  He finally succumbed to cancer Saturday morning.

FOXNews.com - Cardiovascular Surgeon and Pioneer Dr. Michael DeBakey Dies at 99

Michael DeBakey also died Saturday morning.  He developed an astonishing array of medical procedures and devices, including the heart bypass.  Reports only say he died of "natural causes", although he narrowly escaped death from a damaged aorta two years ago, at age 97.

House adds extra shuttle flight to budget - Space- msnbc.com

The U.S. House has approved funding for an extra STS mission beyond the scheduled termination of the Shuttle program, over Executive objections. 

They are squabbling about the difference between 17B USD and ~20B USD.  What tiny fraction of the DOD budget is the whole sorry mess?  For example, how many B2's is that?  If NASA's entire budget was returned to the U.S. Treasury Monday morning, would the effect on the U.S. budget deficit (the real one, not the "zero-based new-math" version they use in their publications) even be detectable with normal instrumentation?

To put it into perspective---admittedly a rather bizarre one---think back to John Hinckley, who tried to assassinate Ronald Reagan and managed to cripple Press Secretary James Brady for life.  One of the things about Hinckley's alleged "personality" that sticks in my mind for some reason is that he was expelled by the U.S. Neo-Nazis for being too much of a loon. [No, I'm not making a direct comparison between NASA and Neo-Nazis, unlike some people I know.  I'm not necessarily arguing with the point, either, just using it as the basis for a ridiculous metaphor.  Some people just can't age gracefully.]

Now to put things into this metaphoric perspective, the U.S. Congress finds NASA's management of manned spaceflight so deficient   that they are reluctant to throw large sums of other peoples' money   at it!

FLToday: Hanley---More money likely won't close the "gap"

Speaking of money---another NASA official has had a attack of spontaneous candor---this time admitting that adding money to his budget wouldn't do anything!  Like Administrator Griffin, he can probably consult with the Agency legal staff to find ways to act dumb and duplicitous enough that people will forget what else he said in time to avoid making NASA management look bad during the next budget cycle. 

DIRECT_Summary_v2.0.1.pdf (application/pdf Object)

This is a widely discussed alternative idea to the Ares/Orion/Constellation program.  It would  convert the External Tank to a core booster with main engines from the Delta-IV (!?) and two SRB's to produce a single vehicle for the desired missions instead of the two vehicles envisioned---if that's the word for it---in the current NASA approach to ESAS .  NASA, not unexpectedly, finds the DIRECT approach deficient in many ways:

FLORIDA TODAY: NASA Unveils Analysis Of Alternate Moon Rocket

The Direct approach seems at first glance to offer a more robust alternative to the melon-on-a-stick single-SRB approach NASA wants to use.  But is it any more sensible to convert a giant fuel tank into a booster than to stack an oversized Apollo capsule on the end of an SRB?  How long would it take to man-rate the Delta-IV engines?  All of this cut-and-paste reassortment of 1970's hardware seems more likely to ingratiate the US Congress than to produce a viable, robust space program.  Now as I think about it, that isn't really unexpected, either.

Oil billionaire Pickens puts his money on wind power - CNN.com

Amid all the extremely heavy-handed envirocommando rhetoric and high gasoline prices of the past few months, another proposal to build lots of windmills wouldn't ordinarily seem remarkable.  This one, though, comes from T. Boone Pickens, together with a run of TV ads about America bleeding money to overseas interests.  This won't work, either, but coming from a traditional oilman, it's remarkable all the same.  It should probably serve as a warning about how bad things actually are about to get, if we couldn't guess for ourselves.

Phew! Spacewalkers remove explosive bolt- msnbc.com

While the American sat in the Soyuz listening to MP3's, two Russian cosmonauts performed the EVA mission that everyone tried to avoid before the second Soyuz-TMA in a row failed to re-enter properly.  They exited the Pirs airlock and crawled out along the Russian Strela arm (which appeared to be whipping back and forth during the operation like a fishing pole---at one point I thought I heard one of the cosmonauts say that it whacked the side of the capsule), sawed through the multilayer insulation on the Soyuz utility/propulsion module, and removed one of the redundant explosive separation bolts for later inspection.  Nobody got blown up or sliced open, and the bolt is in a small protective can for "eventual" return to Earth as part of the investigation into the Soyuz re-entry mishaps.

NVIDIA System Tools with ESA Support

I don't get it---I downloaded the new NVIDIA system tools for my NForce motherboard because they appeared to correct some deficiencies (how many times have I used "deficient" in its various forms in this posting?) in the old versions and the new System Monitor had a snappy new UI.  The new NTune and System monitor somehow try to use some of the same files on installation, and the second one to be installed aborted itself as a result.  I finally got past that somehow---I can't remember exactly how---and got them installed.  The new System Monitor reported the temperatures of my dual-core AMD at somewhere between -3 and a little over 7 million degrees Fahrenheit, which seems rather suspect for some reason. I would really like to have better accuracy for my critical system operating parameters than that.   I finally had to put back the old versions of both and give up on the upgrade. 

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Friday, June 06, 2008

---Warning! Incoming Movie Reviews! 

[There may be some light spoiling in here, depending on how sensitive and/or cranky one is, and whether anyone actually reads this anyway.]

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

It’s been a while since I read the Narnia books, so I’m not ready to make a point by point comparison with Lewis’s original work. I was actually expecting this one to be the Dawn Treader, which is the next movie/book in the series.

In summary, the Pevensie kids have been back for a year since the first movie. Since they have been responsible adults in Narnia, they are having a lot of trouble fitting in as children again in London. They are finally called back to Narnia, only to discover that 1300 years have passed there, and a terrible darkness of fear and oppression has enveloped their former kingdom since they left. The cast members really look a little more than a year older, but I guess we can’t be too detail-oriented.

When other reviewers say that this movie is a lot darker than the first one, they may be understating the case a little. There is a lot of bitter, desperate fighting, and both cute and cuddly and not so cute and not so cuddly people and things get hurt and even die (so much so, that I wondered if they might have lost track of who was supposed to be wounded or injured at some points in the story). This is high allegory, and it mirrors some very unpleasant realities from its subject matter.

It is still required watching, of course, even if only to see the repeating trebuchets and mouse bagpipes----oh, and more of the fabulous armor and creatures first seen in The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe (2005).   It just may be a little too much for younger children---it is rated PG.

I still think allegory has inherent limitations as a vehicle for theology, but anyone with a reasonable exposure to Christian doctrine will immediately recognize the points being made. The older kids---and Caspian--- conclude that Aslan has lost interest and isn’t coming to help, and make other plans. The youngest and most innocent of the kings and queens protests that Aslan has been with them all along. Edmund reminds them that ignoring little Lucy led to his Big Mistake the last time, to no avail. So the older kids proceed to make horrendous mistakes of their own, relying on their own personal wisdom, with gut-wrenching consequences and the loss of lives.

Lessons finally learned, everyone rallies for the Big Battle Before the End, and Aslan finally intervenes to Save the Day---amid surprise tactics, armies of wonderful and strange creatures---plants and animals, fighting in long dresses, desperate courage, despicable, craven cowardice and treachery, and the requisite massive destruction of property which CGI-enhanced cinema was created for.

The film hasn’t been the runaway hit that the first one was, probably at least in part because of a lot of high-profile competition at the box office.  Still, required watching….

Iron Man

Forget the Suit, guys, I want Stark’s computer!

This is one of the better comic adaptations I can remember. It is primarily a “gadget” oriented film, whereas Spiderman probably has the personality development/romance angle better covered. There is quite a lot of involvement with Paltrow’s long-suffering side-kick character, however, that works pretty well as romantic comedy.

The story starts out in Afghanistan, and considerable brutality ensues. The central bad-guy evil plot that underlies the whole thing is---well, sort of comic-bookish, sketchy, and obviously secondary to the main event---guys flying around in metal suits, blowing up stuff and beating each other to a pulp.

The Suit is, of course, incredible. The level of detail in the development and building of Stark’s Iron Man is the main entertainment in the movie. There is some hilarious physical comedy involved, too, which would most likely have resulted in a prolonged hospital stay for each instance if it really happened to a real human. Also in the suspension-of-disbelief file on this movie are the supersonic characteristics of the humanoid form, the improbable g-forces in some of the maneuvers, and what kind of idiot would test extremely powerful and unpredictable technology next to an irreplaceable Shelby Cobra---he could have at least thrown a tarp over it---and the whole thermonuclear reactor in the heart thing.

That Lee person makes his requisite cameo appearance, of course.  How will we ever get this guy back in his shell, if you keep building up his self-esteem?

Still, also required watching….

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Oh, well---2 out of 3…

Try to imagine that the people who crafted one of the most original and entertaining epics in modern cinema decided to wrap up the whole thing by having a mail-in contest for the employees of the studio and their families to come up with the plot for the big finale---and you will probably have exerted more imagination than they did coming up with what they actually used.

Everything else in the movie---stunning visuals, intricate puzzle traps, dazzling escapes, moving reunions of old friends and enemies---all have the effect of wonderfully entertaining stories told by a man on the way to the gallows. They all pretty much lose their entertainment value once the destination becomes clear.

This “last mile” isn’t a total loss, by any means. Everybody’s favorite professor of archaeology gets beat up, locked up, has to escape with the whip and his wits, gets blown up---let me emphasize that a little better, lest I be accused of understatement---GETS BLOWN UP, is re-reunited with the babe he was reunited with in the first installment, gets stuck with a delinquent on a Triumph, gets fired, and is confronted by a pretty original---if not entirely comprehensible---villainess, a Soviet-era nutcase with a saber and Stalinesque self-esteem issues.

The acting in this thing was really hit-or-miss throughout. Some of the deliveries, particularly by Ford and Allen, can only be described as “geriatric”. Was the star power so overwhelming that nobody dared to tell these people that they were killing the scene?

The action and cinematics are outstanding throughout, though, and the film winds up with the immense Biblical level of property destruction expected of the genre this series helped to define.

But the ridiculous destination of the story line hangs over everything like that noose at the top of the stairs. Even the final post-traumatic scene, which should have been a warm, fitting end to a beloved story, is reduced to some old folks standing around in costumes. I think we deserved better.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Judicial Perversion in Texas, Phoenix Takes Its Shot 

In case any of us have forgotten where the serious perverts are:

My Way News [AP]- Texas seizure of polygamist-sect kids thrown out

The appellate court in Austin determined today that sexual abuse of children is okay with them, as long as it can be cloaked in some sort of pretense---no mater how preposterous---of a religious belief. 

Phoenix polar mission closes on Mars:

Spaceflight Now [Harwood-CBS] | Destination Mars | Phoenix lander nears its martian destination

Phoenix Mars Mission - Home

The Phoenix polar lander is apparently a collection of hardware from an earlier canceled mission and leftovers from LockMart's ill-conceived and poorly implemented Mars Polar Lander.   Despite months of careful expectation control, JPL-NASA and LockMart personnel must be grinding their teeth as they wait to see if they forgot anything this time.   Phoenix is due to land Sunday. 

The news conference on NASA-TV included an actually reasonable answer to one of my questions about the mission---why are they sending a fixed lander to Mars, instead of a much more productive rover?   Evidently, the polar terrain is sort of repetitive.   The lander is hoped to excavate several trenches into the Martian terrain to verify orbital observations of persistent water ice, and to check the soil chemistry.  It would be interesting, if it happens, but then my expectations are under control.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

---Earthquake Aftermath in China 

My Way News [AP]- China quake death toll could rise to 50,000

Terrible images continue to pour out of the region of China devastated by a 7.9-magnitude earthquake.  It seems like only a pitiful few of the thousands feared buried under collapsed buildings are being found alive.   The possible failure of a critical dam and blocked roads continue to complicate rescue efforts. 

My Way News [AP] - Myanmar cyclone death toll soars above 43,000

Unlike the government of Myanmar, which appears determined to actively thwart efforts to provide aid to the millions of survivors at risk after low-lying areas of that country were hit by a cyclone, the government of China seems ready to accept aid, and has been unusually candid in allowing information about the scope of the earthquake disaster to be reported to the outside world. 

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Monday, May 12, 2008

---Some Other Questions, Con'd: Faith 

[There was something I had to learn about this subject before I could finish it.]

Romans 3

21But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3

23Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. 24So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.

Faith? It is one of the most common and unifying themes in the New Testament.  Hebrews 11 famously uses the word "faith" 27 times as the author chronicles its role in building the foundations on which our Salvation in constructed.  Our Salvation is said repeatedly to depend directly on it. But what is it? Why is it important? Why does it work?  [ Instead of downloading the "Salvation program"---read this-say this-confess that-pray this--- into prospective Christians with a tract or a New Testament markup, why can't we tell people what it means?]

Jesus says:

John 14

12I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 

But why are we, as the writer of Hebrews says (Hebrews 11:1-3), "...sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."  What is "the Law placed in our minds and written on our hearts" (Jeremiah 31)?  What makes us not only agree with what Jesus said, but want to be like Him---to do the things the way He did and even more?

Jesus says:

Matthew 13

45"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

The merchant in the story didn't need to "shop around some more".  He knew when he saw the priceless artifact that he had found the treasure of a lifetime, worth more than everything else he owned.  Faith is when we see what Jesus said and did, read about the example He set for us, and hear about the price He paid to bring us safely home to His Father's house, and we want to claim that Treasure more than everything else in the whole world (Philippians 3:8). 

We want to set aside---repent of---all the other things we have tried that have failed us so badly over and over ,  and accept God's Way, which has been proven repeatedly  to be for our benefit (Deuteronomy 10:12-13).   We don't need to "shop around for the wisdom of the world's other great belief systems", because know we have in Jesus the Whole Truth, and through access to the Holy Spirit of The God Who Actually Exists (Ἐγώ εἰμι ), we have the Power which puts it into effect in our lives.

But wait! There's more! 

Ephesians 4:15

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.

A child sees a famous or heroic older person and wants to act like them, and someday grow up to be like them.  We see how Jesus lived, and what He said, and we---Spiritual children---want to grow up---Spiritually---to be like Him! 

So here's what you have to know to receive Salvation:

John 3

16"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Hurry up and join the family (John 1:12)!

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008


[With apologies to Arthur C. Clarke, who isn't here anymore to defend his work---seriously]

According to Michael Griffin, the "future" begins in 2010.  It won't be pretty.

Back in the dark days after the Columbia tragedy, a lot of us were hanging around the alt.sci.space.* newsgroups.  In the midst of all the rather silly suggestions for "fixing" the Shuttle---things like pulling a giant sock over the External Tank, or painting it with something or other---was this peculiar suggestion that we just go back to building somewhat upgraded Apollo hardware.  It was a sort of nostalgia for the last time that a manned spaceflight program seemed to more or less work and accomplish a meaningful goal.  I thought the notion had faded away over the months with all the giant socks, and conspiracy theories, and other malarkey.  It wasn't the only case in which people later wondered if NASA had been taking notes....

Whether that is the case or not, we now have the whole Ares-Orion-Constellation thing going on.  In the long recent lineage of manned spaceflight vaporware---X33, X34, International Spaceplane, and probably a few I've forgotten about---NASA's marketing concepts seem to be going stale, to have begun to lack even the SSTO kind of imaginative spark.  I have begun to wonder if they're even trying anymore.

But enough about me.  It has been difficult to find anyone actually independent of the NASA community who has anything positive to say about this "program".  They certainly aren't coming from the GAO:

Challenges in Completing and Sustaining the International Space Station

Issues Surrounding the Transition from the Space Shuttle to the Next Generation of Human Space Flight Systems

Ares I and Orion Project Risks and Key Indicators to Measure Progress

The GAO is being very polite, but it amounts to saying that the "Shuttle Successor" is vaporware.  All the classic symptoms are in the report.  Problems listed include: 

---NASA has started to sign contracts for billions of USD without finalizing the requirements.  Some people may have been surprised.

---The major components of the Successor system are "interdependent".[without final requirements, a change in weight requires changes in performance, and pretty soon you start bringing the writers back to have another go at the next round of manned spaceflight "imagineering".  ]

---There are "knowledge gaps" in all of the major components---I would have just said they didn't know what they were doing, but I'm unprofessional that way.

---Most troubling of all, NASA has no facilities available which are adequate to test the spacecraft or its major components.  They are supposedly going to fly an Ares/Orion on a suborbital test flight next year, apparently to see if it flies apart or anything.

For some outside analysis of the GAO findings:

Report critical of new Ares 1 rocket | floridatoday.com | FLORIDA TODAY

Then there are the less-polite comments, from outside the government:
Naked Emperor? - Transterrestrial Musings [I haven't looked in on Simberg's weblog in over a year, for some reason.]  

From this and some other sources, we can find the criticisms of the Shuttle successor program which would make most sensible people need a prolonged nap, or maybe a mild sedative....

It is apparent that Michael Griffin originally sold the Ares/Orion/Constellation to Congress as a way to re-use existing Shuttle components in a new way to do human space exploration to the Moon, Mars, and some other places like the ISS, maybe.   The 2004 report on the Exploration Systems Architecture Study, or ESAS (http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/content/?cid=4164), in response to President Bush's exploration "Vision" requirement, refers to an SDLV (Shuttle Derived Launch Vehicle).  But that wouldn't have been enough feature creep or requirements meddling for the NASA management:

---Are they going to use the existing Shuttle 4-segment solid propellant boosters?  Um...no.  The Ares and Constellation will require a redesigned 5-segment booster with an extended carbon-composite skirt extension.   They have no real working plan to produce the new booster, and no adequate way to test it and its acoustic, vibration, and flight  properties. [the 5-segment design will suffer major design problems due to vibration on ascent.]

---Are they going to use the liquid-fueled Shuttle Main Engines?  Ah...no.  They have decided to resurrect the J-2 second-stage engine from Apollo so they can make the single-use second stage cheaper...if anyone actually believes that.

---Well, are   they going to use the Apollo J-2 engine in the Ares second stage? Well...no.  They are going to fiddle with it and come up with a virtually all-new design called the J-2X---which---they have no adequate means to produce, and---no really good way to test.

A number of these sources describe various problems NASA would have if it ever tried to make actual man-carrying spacecraft to do actually useful things out of the current successor concepts:

--- The current engineering numbers show that the proposed booster design will impose even more severe vibration on the spacecraft structure and crew than the old 4-segment boosters.  [one of the comments to the above Simberg rant quotes unnamed astronauts as likening the current SRB ascent vibration to "..a long running train wreck..".  Another comment quotes an unnamed structural engineer as likening the proposed Ares/Orion craft to "a piece of spaghetti (1st stage) pushing a balloon (second stage) with a lead weight on top (Orion)"]

NASA professes to be "unfazed" by the GAO's report on the new booster design's vibration problems:

NASA unfazed by auditor's findings | floridatoday.com | FLORIDA TODAY

Then we get to see what they propose to do about the vibration:
Ares I Thrust Oscillation mitigation options head into trade study - NASA SpaceFlight.com

These include sets of liquid-fuel reaction motors arrayed around the aft booster skirt and pointed upward, to actively counter vibration moments---and/or  various contraptions made of rails and springs to sort of passively damp out the vibrations from various places in the structure.    Why should they be worried? 

---As mentioned earlier, nobody knows how to make a one-piece heat shield using the Apollo-era technology anymore.  One proposed "solution" has been to adapt the tiles from the Shuttle's TPS, which have worked so well in the past.

---Not surprisingly, the weight of the Orion capsule continues to creep up.  Simultaneously, projections for the performance of the Ares booster are creeping down.  Proposed vibration solutions all add significant weight, also causing a downward trend in available payload.  One of the first casualties of the weight problem has been the landing bag system required to land the proposed capsule on land.  They would have to go back to ocean recovery.

How did manned spaceflight get into such a dead-end mess?  Simberg has another prolonged, and probably at least partly correct, rant on the subject:

The Fundamental Problem - Transterrestrial Musings

But NASA's "fundamental problem" is that its most important "payload" is some marketing.   Its Administrator frets publicly about the projected five-year gap in American manned missions between the retirement of Shuttles in 2010 and the supposed debut of Ares/Orion, and wheedles to Congress that NASA needs more money to extend the Shuttle's service or otherwise shorten the "gap" to four years. 

Both gap lengths are, or course, fiction, like "completion" of ISS, the Ares/Orion/Constellation, trips to the Moon and Mars, and the "Vision" in general.   The Shuttles will retire---either peacefully or through another catastrophe.  Soyuz will fly until the stress of its new role as sole provider causes its own catastrophe or the crumbling Russian Federal space program finally collapses like the government that created it.  China and maybe a few others will piddle around for a while until the futility causes them to lose interest, and then we'll be left with a few forlorn reconnaissance robots around or on some planets, while our attention is diverted by other problems.  Eventually, nobody will have time to care.

NASA long ago vigorously suppressed or fired anyone with the "vision" to dream of or implement a future for space exploration, and likely replaced them with a few lawyers and some marketing professionals, both of which are far more urgently needed in the standard government model for success.  

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---Even More Details of Soyuz Re-entry 

Ok, so this year's attempt to present anti-Christian graffiti as news in time for the Easter season has pretty much fizzled out, so we're stuck with meddling in space news instead.

More information on the latest Soyuz TMA re-entry incident, and analysis of the implications for NASA's manned spaceflight plans:

The space blame game - Cosmic Log - msnbc.com[Boyles]

The Real Soyuz Problem - Looking Past the Smoke and Flames - NASA SpaceFlight.com[Oberg]

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My Way News - Myanmar death toll could top 10,000, foreign minister says

The reported death toll in Myanmar (Burma) from a catastrophic cyclone continues to rise by the hour, with thousands more missing.  There are now fears that 10,000 people may have died in one township alone.  The government is despotic and paranoid, but it now appears that they will allow outside aid to relieve the suffering.  Prayer and support for the relief efforts are indicated.

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Sunday, May 04, 2008

---Some Other Questions 


Galatians 3

23Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. 24So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.

Faith? It is one of the most common and unifying themes in the New Testament. Our Salvation is said repeatedly to depend directly on it. But what is it? Why is it important? Why does it work?

----in progress---

---the Plan?

Matthew 5

17"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

I’ve heard comments, both recently and in past years, that God had to somehow “experiment” on Israel, or use the Old Covenant as some kind of “learning experience” before He could arrive at the solution to our Salvation in Jesus. I continue to insist that the whole story of the Law, the Prophets, the Histories, the Gospels, and the Letters of the Apostles represent one miraculously coherent Plan to bring us safely home to our Father’s house.

Through God’s Plan, we were given the leadership of Moses, the strength of Samson, the Godliness of David, the wisdom of Solomon, and the steadfastness and faith of Elijah and John, so that a few would see what was missing in their examples, and yearn for it, and finally recognize it in Jesus when He appeared.

Those of us who have come along later can also see what is missing in our lives and in the things our world gives us in place of justice, and wisdom, and strength, and for examples of how to lead our lives, and discard them all in favor of the whole Truth of Jesus Christ.

---Integrity? and/or a failure to communicate?

I tried---really tried----to have an argument with some proponents of science a few weeks ago. They were complaining that since they couldn’t take religious thought seriously, they should be allowed to take public oaths on their “personal integrity”. I got the same ad hominem reaction I always get when trying to argue with proponents of Catholicism, Islam, and various other belief systems I’ve been confronted with over the years. I’m too old and tired to deal with it anymore.

The comparison isn’t entirely fair, of course. Science is actually good for something, in the right context. It produces a consistent, candid, systematic outlook for evaluating the physical world around us, if used in conjunction with a little personal humility. Unfortunately, the illusion of power it tends to promote in less stable personalities leads to its use as a sort of “religion replacement therapy”.

The catechism of this scientific pseudo-religion allows its users to ask “how”? “when”? “where”? but never, ever “why”? Even when Einstein allowed himself to speculate about the subject of God, he went “all Spinozan”, and decided that God was indifferent and needn’t intrude on his thought experiments.

This terribly un-scientific outlook cripples its users by forcing them to rely on their own extremely finite integrity and understanding in confronting an infinite reality. I wish I still had the energy to argue with people who aren’t listening anyway. Utter futility is good training for personal humility.

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

---Where's the "Good" News? 

 Galatians 1

8But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! 9As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!

[In the Greek, "ἀνάθεμα ἔστω "---"Let him be accursed" or "anathema".  Close enough....]

Another couple of hard weeks of national and international events.  In Texas, we have found yet another cult which thrives on telling bestial lies to helpless children---against which the legal system needs special constitutional dispensation to act   How can we fight an evil that literally lives off the endemic failures of our laws and flourishes in the decay of our cultural ethics?

What is THE Gospel that is God's authoritative Good News, that hasn't been adulterated with idolatry and perversion and exploitation of the helpless, weak, or the ignorant? Because part of the Truth is partly something else, we have to seek out all of it, in its entirety, right now, before there are any more victims of the other stuff:

John 14

6Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

In Jesus, we have the whole Truth, together with the power to put it into effect in our lives, so that we can find our way when people try to deceive and delude us:

John 14

26But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice in history to make us free:

Galatians 5

1It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Whatever else people try to do to you, never be a slave in your spirit to anyone again!

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

---More Soyuz Details 

SPACE.com -- NASA Keeps Close Eye on Russian Spacecraft Investigation

The corrections to the Soyuz production after the ballistic re-entry of last October---extra insulation on a control cable that shorted out and checks on the explosive separation bolts on the propulsion and retro module that apparently didn't separate properly---failed to be made to the latest Soyuz because it was already in orbit.  The crew added insulation to the suspect control cable (duct tape, maybe?), but U.S. and Russian managers determined that the space walk to peel back insulation and check the wiring to the separation bolt pyrotechnics was riskier than just hoping everything would be okay. 

It wasn't, as we now know:
3 problems uncovered on Soyuz capsule | floridatoday.com | FLORIDA TODAY

Current reports indicate that the same two failures that caused the incident last year probably recurred Saturday, plus something in the display light circuits seems to have filled the cabin with smoke during re-entry. 

Both NASA and Russian managers continue to downplay the seriousness of the incident and the news reports of the Soyuz crew's imminent peril has been dismissed by Russian officials. 

As if to justify NASA's steadfast confidence in the Russian investigation, a Russian space agency official offered a more practical explanation for the malfunction:

floridatoday.com |NASA: one to three months for Soyuz answer

Basically, the presence of women on the spacecraft jinxed it....

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Details of Soyuz Re-entry 

FOXNews.com - Korean Astronaut Describes Terrifying Return to Earth - Science News | Science & Technology | Technology News

In case you thought visiting Korean Astronaut Yi So-yeon was displaying a lack of personal courage as she described the ordeal of Saturday's return to Earth, don't.  Further details on the re-entry problems suggest that the Soyuz crew module came closer to disaster than previously believed:

FOXNews.com - Report: Soyuz Crew Almost Burned Up During Re-Entry - Science News | Science & Technology | Technology News

Further details:

Spaceflight Now | Breaking News | Possible Soyuz separation problem under scrutiny

...and Oberg's analysis and comments, with some additional technical explanations, and implied criticism of the schedule pressures on Soyuz production from the impending Shuttle retirement:

Hard landing raises harder questions- msnbc.com [Oberg]

The capsule apparently failed to completely separate from its aft "service" module after firing its retro-rockets.  On contacting the detectable upper atmosphere, aerodynamic forces on the combined assembly appear to have swung it around into the wrong attitude, with the thin metal hatch of the crew module facing into the extreme heat of the re-entry plume.  The crew survived, probably because whatever was holding the thrust module onto the capsule burned away and allowed the capsule to orient itself by it's inherent aerodynamic properties, with the heat shield first, before the hatch burned through (by some accounts, this hatch-first re-entry happened once before in Soyuz history. ).  There are accounts of "significant damage" to the hatch.  The same inherent properties---if I understand correctly---would have caused the crew module to enter an "emergency" re-entry after it finally separated.  Because the roll control needed to enter with a controlled lift vector wasn't available to moderate the descent angle, the craft fell back to Earth in a "ballistic" re-entry, subjecting the crew to something like 9-10 g's deceleration.   This would have been especially hard on the two crew members who were returning from six months in microgravity.

The overall basic design of the Soyuz seems to have brought its crew home safely this time, and it probably still has a better statistical safety record than the Shuttle, but ongoing problems with quality assurance of the spacecraft will have to be addressed.  This is the second of these "ballistic" failures of the Soyuz capsules in a row, a significant setback for NASA plans to support the ISS entirely with the Russian spacecraft after the STS retires in 2010.   

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

---Turf Wars at the "Holy Sepulcher" 

FOXNews.com - Armenian, Greek Worshippers Scuffle at Jesus' Tomb - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News

If nothing else, this shows why it's not possible to be "a little bit Christian".  Israeli police had to break up a violent brawl between various "Orthodox" denominations over access rights to the supposed site of Jesus' tomb. 

The fact that these "priests" can place such importance on a mere place on the surface of the planet---when Christians are instructed to separate themselves from the things of the world (e.g. Romans 12:2)---shows how divorced they have become from legitimate faith.

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---Israel Turning 60, the "Surge", Darfur, Zimbabwe, and Other Stories 

My Way News [AP]- Israel at 60: A vibrant nation still in search of itself

With the Pope in America, Carter in Syria, and various other distractions, this seems to have been underreported. May 14, 2008 will be the 60th anniversary of the Israeli declaration of independence.

The resulting war (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1948_Arab-Israeli_War [this article is rated as under-cited by the Wiki people]) against all of the surrounding Arab states is known as "War of Independence" by the Israelis, and "The Catastrophe" by the Palestinians. The Israelis managed to arm themselves, in part, through the auspices of Czechoslovakia. This produced such bizarre scenarios as Israelis flying post-war Czech versions of the German Me-109 against Egyptian Spitfires. Unfortunately, the Czechs had to refit the 109's with Jumo bomber engines and propellers, so that the resulting "Avia S-99" was probably almost as dangerous to the Israeli pilots as to the Egyptians. They would get better equipment in later installments of the perennial conflict.

[A previous post about the last Israeli invasion into Lebanon received a "comment" which was filled with links to probable child pornography. While this would be a certifiable demonstration of the mental condition of whatever this opposition was, it obviously couldn't be posted. It was reported as spam, which hopefully caused someone to investigate the source. I'll be looking for more active countermeasures in the future. ]


Let's 'Surge' Some More - WSJ.com

A Wall Street Journal opinion piece from Michael Yon, freelance journalist in Iraq [referred by Matthew]. Of particular interest are his comments on the success of the "Petraeus Doctrine", which got American troops out of their enclaves and into the neighborhoods to work with and support Iraqi civilians against insurgent atrocities.

Of course, there are still way too many ways for the U.S. to "Vietnamize" the conflict. Whatever might have been done differently in past years, as terrible and unacceptable as war is, leaving a vacuum of power against the homicidal lunatics [Oh, the Iranian president said some stuff recently---more on that in a moment] waiting to feed on the carcasses of Iraq and Afghanistan is no longer an option.


"The Devil Came On Horseback"- National Geographic Channel [Next airing on Friday, April 25, 6pm CDT.]

This is a documentary about the systematic destruction of Darfur by the Sudanese government based on photos and video which had to be smuggled out of the country, which aired initially last year. The title comes from the translation of the Arabic name of the government-backed militias which are the principal agents of this "ethnic cleansing". Somehow, when the U.N. calculates the definition of "genocide", the people of Darfur simply don't "count".


FOXNews.com - Olympic Torch is Re-Lit at Beijing Ceremony Amid Tight Security FOXNews.com - Olympic Torch Protesters Scale Golden Gate Bridge S.F. Closing Torch Ceremony Canceled Rogge Says Olympics in 'Crisis'

If the Chinese government was hoping for international recognition for its achievements in domestic tranquility, the chaos resulting from attempts to do the whole "torch passing" thing for the upcoming Olympic games must have come as a rude shock. Gunning down Tibetans was one thing, but San Francisco was a little out of range. Calls for "Olympic spirit" and respect for the "sacred" Olympic venues don't seem to have made much of an impression on the outside world, either. The fact that the IOC and its big event have degenerated into a scandal-ridden farce probably won't help them sell the Chinese Olympics as a showcase of peace and freedom.


My Way News - Zimbabwe Veterans March in Show of Force FOXNews.com - Opposition Blocked From Court to Force Release of Zimbabwe Election Results

Mugabe has apparently determined to override the results of the presidential election in Zimbabwe by simply sitting on the results. Meanwhile, pro-Mugabe government and paramilitary groups are engaged in blatant intimidation of the opposition. There are few things Africa needs less than another civil war. The continent also has a serious surplus of megalomaniacal tyrants.


My Way News - Adult Women in Sect Back at Texas Ranch

The news agencies seem to be relaxing into gentle humor and cordiality amid revelations that Texas government has tolerated the presence of this cult of demon-possessed child molesters, presumably unwilling to interfere in religious expression. There even seems to be some question of whether the raid which removed women and children from the temple-like West Texas compound was justified, since the victim who called to alert law enforcement hasn't been located. Now lawyers are involved, and---as we all know by now---the first casualty of war or the law is....

ACLU weighs in on Texas polygamist custody case - CNN.com
I should have waited. I should have known that the ACLU would be along directly with a statement so utterly preposterous as to be utterly incompatible with human decency---proposing, in essence, that religious pretense---a "spirit marriage" or some hellishness of the sort---confers the "right" to sexually abuse children.
The Texas CPS spokeswoman responded that "This is not about religion -- this is about keeping children safe from abuse." That won't have much effect on the ACLU's deliberations---it is too burdened with ordinary non-legal sanity.

In the stupid stuff file....

Because "stupid" isn't in the Diplomatic glossary....

FOXNews.com - State Department: Carter Meeting With Terrorists 'Not in the Interest of Peace'

Jimmy Carter, the second worst U.S. President---after Clinton---and the second worst U.S. diplomat---after Pelosi----is apparently engaged in some more desperate legacy-building.

The first thing that occurred to me when I read this was, "why do they keep letting this dimwit back in?" Surprisingly, others had similar ideas, albeit---if I understand how this passport thing works---more related to keeping the rotten little twerp from leaving town in the first place:

Myrick (NC09) - Press Release - Rep. Myrick Calls For Former President Jimmy Carter's Passport To Be Revoked

Other members of Congress also looked for ways to express disapproval of the former embarrassment to the U.S. Presidency:

FOXNews.com - Lawmaker Calls for Stripping of Taxpayer Funds to Carter Center

Carter also faced a decidedly cool reception when he stopped by Israel on his way to get all kissy-face with the leader of a terrorist organization devoted to the murder of Israeli civilians:

Israeli Leaders Snub Carter

Hillary gets a breather....

Obama Has Chance at Debate to Mute — or Stoke — Controversy Over ‘Small Town’ Comments

Okay, so trying to out-stupid Hillary Clinton is a difficult job. Barak Obama came pretty close when---in a moment of unintentional open-mike candor---he said out loud that small town Americans are driven by "bitterness" to thump their Bibles and hoard their guns, or something like that. His favorite preacher couldn't have said it better. About now, faced with a choice between another Clinton presidency and a probable undercover racist, even die-hard Democrats must be starting to get a little nervous.

I tried, but....

FOXNews.com - Ahmadinejad Calls Sept. 11 Attacks 'Suspicious Event'

So, finding something appallingly stupid the Iranian president has said recently is like shooting the proverbial "fish in a barrel" (yes, I saw that episode of Myth Busters, too). It's just too much trouble to come up with a snappy comeback for something so un-newsworthy.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Second Half 

Now, I loathe “Johnny Gets a Touchdown”-class football metaphors as much as anybody, but it just happens to fit this chronic attitude problem with some Churches I’ve experienced. I would have even more trouble if I tried to frame the issue with references to Paul Harvey. So, in football terms, we’re often only playing the “first half”.

This isn’t a new phenomenon, of course. In John 8:3-11, when the Pharisees and religion lawyers brought an adulteress to Jesus to try to catch Him being all liberal, they quoted a curiously-parsed version of Leviticus 20:10 according to a more comfortable interpretation, probably from their oral traditions. We are not told what Jesus wrote on the ground in this story, but it wouldn’t be surprising if it was the unmodified, original Scripture---they only brought Him the woman.

It’s been a while since something posing as a Christian Church stoned or burned anyone, but we still have these sort of blinders on when we read our Bibles. This verse is popular in certain types of Churches:

Ephesians 5 

24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything…

Of course, the full Scripture, disregarding the arbitrary numbering scheme imposed on it long after it was first written, says:

Ephesians 5

24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

 25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…

There are probably those who still feel comfortable in maintaining these key members of their families as child-rearing housemaids. But do you remember what Love is about? Support, encouragement, building up…? There’s a war on, and if someone else is given a breakthrough, don’t jump in front of them, fall in and push forward.

Some of the worst examples of these “Scriptural filters” I can think of are also easily the most popular. There are these two special quotations from Paul which we are taught to partially memorize from an early age. They are especially favored as references when downloading the “Salvation program” into unbelievers (more on that in the next post):

Romans 3

23…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…

Romans 6

23For the wages of sin is death….

I suspect relatively few Church members can finish the Scriptures from memory. The part we don’t remember, of course, is the important part. As in other places, it isn’t what the situation looks like at the start or in the middle that counts, it’s how it ends:

Romans 3

23…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Romans 6

23For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Scriptures from NIV)
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Friday, February 15, 2008

---Sentimental favorites... 

Feb 14 again.  A classic favorite from one of history's most unique artists:

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

---Res Publica Tonight 

It's a formula that has become familiar, and sometimes almost acceptable in American households over the last few years: "Reality" programming, that blending of the best of the worst of soap opera and pro wrestling, which works so well because, apparently, you'll believe anything.
It was probably inevitable that such a successful formula would be applied to politics, as I'm personally convinced it has this year. So, let's recap the show so far:
A few weeks ago (?), our gentle, hyper-intelligent international beauty Hillary was victimized by evil men who wanted them to do their ironying, er, ironing.

FOXNews.com - Sexist Backlash May Push Hillary Into White House - Opinion

Then, despite polls showing her lagging her main rival by double digits, the Hillary won in N.H. Everyone was shocked at how wrong the polls were:

You Decide 08! » Good Night for Clinton But Not So Good For Pollsters, Pundits

Every possible explanation seems to have been considered for the failure of polls to predict the outcome, except the possibility that the poll-takers were expecting voters to be consulted.
In later weeks, the Hillary has been seen being:


Women return to Clinton in N.H. - Decision '08- msnbc.com


Hillary lightens mood on the campaign trail with stewardess spoof


My Way News - Clinton, Obama Step Back From Race Flap

...and nigh-messianic:

Today, as the Big "Vote" looms over the Nation like a darkening storm, everyone is hanging about waiting to see what will happen to the Hillary in this really unpredictable actually democratic primary voting thingy:

All Eyes on Clinton As Big Vote Nears

But the continued descent of the American Presidency into comedic irrelevance, on top of the disintegration of our laws, judiciary, and legislatures into whim and indulgence, has real consequences. Before this, it might have been possible, in the case of U.S. Presidents who weren't too busy with personal problems, for the prestige of the office to have an effect on severe crises such as yet another genocidal tribal war in Africa:

FOXNews.com - At Least 7 Butchered to Death in Ethnic Kenya Clashes - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News

There is literally nobody available from either side in the current election who can do this job. It's pretty much over even before the voting starts.

Nobody won.

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Out there.... 

Proverbs 3

5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;

6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths.

SPACE.com -- Pools of Invisible Matter Mapped in Space

For centuries, Men of Reason have walked about with their noses in the air, attesting to the superior products of Reason and Logic over the dark, sinister, clouded thinking of religious people and their faith-based exploitation of ignorant....and so on.  In some cases, they were right----but I've covered most of the ones I'm familiar with over the last couple of years.  But the farther we probe with our analytical, rational, minds, the less everything collectively makes sense anyway.  Now we're seeing things like this story, in which the Universe is strung together---so to speak---on a skeleton of something that we are told to believe in because it makes the equations come out.  It's getting to the point that it takes more "faith" to believe in Science than many of the world's Other Great Religions.

But it gets worse.  If you've ever driven a motor vehicle on ice---successfully that is--- you know that to keep a vehicle pointed down the road you have to provide a steering force to counters errors in its path.  The last time I actually left the house to attend one of those driver's education shows, I was appalled to hear the "instructor" tell the (somewhat captive) audience that if a rear-wheel drive vehicle skidded, you should steer into  the skid to recover, but if you were in a front-wheel-drive vehicle, you should steer against   the skid.  I hope none of those people in the class ever tried that---you can't correct an error by making it worse.  

Rational, scientific investigation of our Universe increasingly only shows that we will never comprehend our Universe rationally and scientifically. Worse, it provides no correction to the destructive course of human events.  We "know " more than any generation in the history of humanity, and we veer violently into greater and greater horrors anyway. 

In other Space News

SPACE.com -- NASA Remembers Three Space Tragedies

Six days----January 27 to February 1---are one of the most unfortunate coincidences in modern American history.  The three fatal disasters which have befallen the U.S. space program---Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia---occurred between those dates in their respective years.  NASA now economically honors those lost in these disasters in a common observance.  We should also remember that other lesson from these tragedies, that the American space agency was amply warned in each case of the flaws in these spacecraft that took the lives of their crews---that the disasters were all preventable.

NASA: Sensors don't have to be perfect | floridatoday.com | Serving Brevard County and Florida’s Space Coast

NASA has been back and forth, up and down on the flight rules for these backup fuel level sensors for years now.  The suspect connections for the cryogenic sensors have been modified and reinstalled on Atlantis, and the flight rules have been changed once again.  These are backup sensors, unlikely to actually be relied on in flight, and the usual excuses will be in place for the next flight. 

Crews dismiss booze claims

First the space agency itself, and now the U.S. astronaut corps have "dismissed" claims by an independent medical groups of pre-launch alcohol abuse by spaceflight crews.  As might have been expected, an independent assessment of the original claim has not been forthcoming.  

SPACE.com -- NASA's Next Rocket May Shake Too Much

One of the features of the original STS solid propellant boosters has always been the high-amplitude, low-frequency (I remember ~30 Hz) vibration which they transmit to every other part of the spacecraft while in operation.  Our rack mounted instruments, as well as a hand-held device in one case, had to be analyzed and/or tested to prove that they would not resonate at this low frequency and tear themselves into shrapnel during ascent.  This article is the first place I've seen a serious explanation of where these vibrations come from in the solid propellant stack.

Now this problem is bedeviling the design of the largely fictitious Ares/Orion spacecraft.  NASA is now struggling with a spacecraft/booster combination which evidently promises to have a serious resonant mode in the critical low-frequency range.  What is also troubling is that this information only became public through a Freedom of Information Act filing----NASA didn't plan to tell anyone until forced legally to do so.  Obviously, the engineering reports became records before anyone could beat them into dust with a board....

SPACE.com -- Report Cites Rocketship Builder in Explosion Inquiry

The accident at a test facility for Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites that killed three people during a propellant flow test for development of "Spaceship Two" has been attributed vaguely to some kind of mishandling of the nitrous oxide oxidizer for the craft's hybrid rocket motor.  There has been a lot of NASA-esque ethereal rhetoric about "exploring" and stuff, but no real details on what went wrong.  Space travel is unlikely ever to become genuinely popular while it is incompatible with the Truth. 

In Saturn's Shadow

This spectacular photograph from the Cassini Saturn orbiter has been voted a fan favorite.  It shows the rings backlit by the Sun.  On the upper left side of the rings, in the gap between the bright main rings and the wispy "G" ring is a dot---that's us. 


The MESSENGER Mercury orbiter has completed its first flyby of the innermost planet, and has been sending back a slow but steady stream of photographs of parts of Mercury that have never been seen before.  It seems odd that the delta-vee needed to get to the planet closest to the Sun is so much greater than the rest, and requires a much higher percentage of the spacecraft's weight in fuel.  The gravitational "hill" is apparently so steep that the flybys of Mercury are being used to slow the craft instead of speeding it up.  It is supposed to take until 2011 to actually brake MESSENGER into orbit.    Another question---Mercury's large dense core is probably at least partly molten and active, and the planet is subjected to the tidal forces of the Sun at close range---so why does it look more like our Moon than, say, Io?  There has been speculation about active lava flows on the surface from Mariner 10 photos, but nobody seems to expect "plumes".

phone_crater.png (PNG Image, 474x474 pixels)

Among the MESSENGER photos is this one.  First the giant "H" on Titan, and now this.  One begins to wonder if these aliens are functionally illiterate...

collectSPACE - news - "Untold Apollo: How tennis shoes and tug-of-war toppled the mighty Saturn V"

Here's a hilarious anecdote from the early days of the American space program.  Engineers messed around in an ill-advised and decidedly crude test of the resonant frequencies of a Saturn V test vehicle, and broke the escape tower off the attached Apollo test capsule.  Then NASA covered the incident up....

Lucky imaging - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Terrestrially-confined observers have developed (evidently some time ago) this method for canceling out atmospheric distortions in telescopic images.  As I understand, "Lucky" uses signal averaging together with special selection methods for images from a range of simple webcams to produce much sharper images than would otherwise be possible.  Better funded astronomers have combined the technique with their adaptive optics imaging.






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Monday, January 21, 2008

WinLive Test 

My first attempt to use MS Windows Live Writer was frustrating---it must have been an early beta, and it didn't work with my freee weblog hosts. They seem to have cleaned the application up a lot, and publishing appears to be almost automatic. It also appears to be possible to set it to automatically strip the huge amounts of incomprehensible and useless code inserted into the HTML text by Word and other word processors, if needed. There's no telling what kind of trouble I can cause/get into if weblog publishing becomes convenient.

I have no idea what I'm doing. Now is the time thyme for all awl good men to com to the aid ade of their they're countries.

SPACE.com -- NASA's Next Rocket May Shake Too Much

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