Wednesday, July 27, 2005

---Shuttle Grounded, "A Lamentable Mistake", Clinton Admits Failure, U.S. Fights "Zombies", Pluto's Moon, Life on Titan?, "Star Wars" R/C 

Shuttle Grounded Indefinitely After Discovery Debris Near Miss [FOXNews]
[Spaceflight Now]

The photos from the ascent of Discovery showed a large, “T”-shaped piece of debris streaming past the Orbiter just after SRB separation. In an ominous development for the future of STS, engineers studying further photographs have found out what it was---a large piece of foam shed from the External Tank near the exposed LO2 piping. NASA managers conceded that f the timing and aerodynamic conditions had been different, the debris could as easily have hit the spacecraft. As a result, the U.S. Shuttle fleet has been grounded indefinitely.
It has to be pointed out, though, that on any previous mission, the debris would never have been seen at all. The unprecedented imaging effort in the wake of the Columbia disaster did what it was supposed to do---showed the PAL-ramp shedding and several other pieces of debris, and demonstrated that the effort to make the Shuttle reasonably safe has failed. Discovery appears to be safe for this flight, but the implications for the future of U.S. manned spaceflight, ISS, and NASA are bleak at best.
Another incident recorded during the ascent was the impact of the External Tank nose with a bird, which caused no apparent damage to the tank. The bird, on the other hand....

"...A lamentable mistake."[FOXNews]
Jean Charles de Menezes was not only not involved in the London terror attacks in any way when British police threw him to the floor and shot him 5-8 times at point-blank range, but was Brazilian, an electrician, in Britain legally, and Catholic. Some reports say his visa may have expired, the apparent motive for his refusal to stop when ordered by police.

Bill Clinton Admits Failure, Regrets Rwandan Genocide
Bill Clinton’s all-to-frequent response to his mistakes has been the “nobody-told-me-I-didn’t-know” thing. It is commendable that he has finally accepted responsibility for something he did wrong, albeit far too late. But the genocide was the backlash from decades of racial hatred between two groups of blacks, and everybody including the U.S. news media was screaming about this horror on a daily basis---how could he not have known something was wrong? What was this man doing in a position of responsibility in the first (and second) place? Will American voters, empowered by generations of sacrifice and struggle, make the same mistake again?

U.S. Government to Require Better Internet Security From ISPs [CNET]
The threat of poor Internet security to the economic well-being of consumers is so severe that the U.S. Government is stepping in to require service providers to do something about it. “Zombies”, computers in the hands of uneducated consumers that have been compromised and exploited to perform harmful tasks such as dissemination of spam, phishing schemes, and malicious code, can no longer be tolerated. If consumers can’t be induced to secure their machines to stop the problem, the ISP’s are going to have to do it for them. Better enjoy your Internet access while you can.

Occultation Study of Pluto's Moon, Charon
I saw this extremely clever idea before at a local amateur astronomy club meeting; with careful coordination, a group of observers can deduce something about the shape and size of an object in our solar system by timing the ground track of its “occultation” of a star from multiple locations. In that case, it was some asteroid or other. Here, it’s been used to study Charon, the moon of Pluto as it passed in front of a distant star. [I’m confused about the center image of the included photos; it seems like the caption should read "During the occultation (center image), only Pluto is visible”.]

NASA Scientists Seek Evidence of Life on Titan [New Scientist]
NASA scientists are planning to look over the chemical profiles obtained during the descent of the Huygens probe to the surface of Titan to see if there is evidence of the presence of methanogenic microorgainisms in the gelid environment of Saturn’s moon. I had a sort of similar discussion with several people on one of the sci.space newsgroups as the probe was approaching Titan, mostly just to be an irritant. Of course, if there is some sort of chemistry that can function like a living process at those temperatures, we just dropped a probe into the midst of it, together with its inevitable contamination of Terrestrial microbes. Oh, well....

STARWARS (tm) Electric Parkflyers [RC Groups Discussion]
[found on BlogsNow]This is an ongoing discussion of attempts to make flying electric-powered radio-controlled small-scale (“park flyer”) models of the familiar Star Wars(tm) spacecraft. The attempts to make the “Millennium Falcon” stable in flight seem to have been only partly successful, but the photos are pretty amazing.

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