Sunday, July 31, 2005

---Shuttle Problems Not a Surprise, Tenth Planet?, Mars Express Finds Ice, World's Worst Writers, Some Other Amusing Stuff 

What Part of “It’s Not Ready to Fly....?
An interviewer with Fox TV News pointed out this afternoon that the shedding of foam debris by Discovery’s External Tank should not have been a surprise to NASA management, or anyone else.
Indeed, looking over the Final Report of the (Stafford-Covey) Return to Flight Task Group Executive Summary (PDF format), we find this:

“Nevertheless, despite diligent work, it has proven impossible to completely eliminate debris shedding from the External Tank. The hard fact of the matter is that the External Tank will always shed debris, perhaps even pieces large enough to do significant damage to the Orbiter.”
A lot of this document is taken up by a deferment of responsibility to the NASA administrator, a near apology for the mandated work of the RTFTG, even applause for the effort to rectify problems that contributed to the loss of Columbia in 2003. Nevertheless, we find extremely troublesome remarks in the Report, such as:
“Unfortunately,repairing damage to the thermal protection system again proved to be technically challenging almost to the point of impossibility.”
“However, because of the limited amount of time remaining before the Presidential mandate to retire the Space Shuttle fleet, NASA has chosen to implement only a limited number of improvements to harden the Orbiter to withstand debris strikes.”
“Despite a great deal of excellent work on the part of the Agency and its contractors, the
External Tank still sheds debris that could potentially cripple an Orbiter.”
Other events and findings from the mission continue to provide an emotional roller-coaster for NASA and the flight crew. They are working to decide whether two protruding gap fillers [Space.com ] for the heat shield tiles are going to have to be fixed on-orbit. As I remember, these fillers have been an ongoing problem for years. The response [ MSNBC.com ] of Shuttle Commander Collins to the news of continued debris problems was surprising.
The response [ SPACE.com ] [ MSNBC.com] of new NASA head Administrator Griffin, on the other hand, is mystifying.
NASA has been protesting for days that the news media’s use of the term “grounded” for the indefinite period needed to fix the Shuttle’s persistent problems is unfounded. As if in response to a taunt, Griffin announced that NASA will likely make a fast fix for the debris issue and return to flight before the end of the year.
To sum up the implications of these recent events in human spaceflight;
the U.S. Space Shuttle is a mistake, the illegitimate offspring of an inappropriate liaison of politics and technology (why do SRB’s have “field joints”?). It is still being used at the risk of its flight crews for no honest or constructive reasons whatever. It is plagued by fundamental, systemic design flaws which are well past the “point of impossibility” to correct.
Just stop.

The Tenth Planet, or Whatever....
[Space.com - MSNBC.com]
In a very busy week for astronomers,
Dr. Mike Brown announced the discovery of a very distant and relatively large object out in the Kuiper Belt, which some are calling the “Tenth Planet” because it is thought to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.5 times the size of Pluto, which many still consider to be the “Ninth Planet”. The new object is the farthest known body orbiting the Sun, and its orbit is inclined at something like 44° to the plane of the "regular" planets. We will all wait anxiously to learn the name of the new whatever-it-is, of course. Other scientists anticipate the discovery of even larger Kuiper objects, some as large as Mars or even Earth. They’ll have to come up with a better numbering system, or we will quickly lose count.
Confusing the issue even further, the "10th Planet" announcement came out just days after the announcement of a body that’s about 70% of the diameter of Pluto.[SPACE.com] [BBC NEWS] [New Scientist ].
This body has been found to have a small moonlet [New Scientist].
Got an idea about what the Universe is like?
Don't bother to write it down, or at least keep the waste basket handy.

Mars Express Finds Water Ice Near Mars' North Pole
The ESA orbiter has imaged a sheet of persistent water ice at the bottom of a crater near the Martian north pole.
The stereographic, high resolution color photos from the orbiter have been incredible so far. They should be finally getting the radar system online soon.

Worst Writer Contest
In the dubious tradition of “a dark and stormy night”, this year’s entries include an extremely unfortunate comparison of women and auto parts, and an especially rancid metaphor about India hanging “like a wet washcloth from the towel rack of Asia" .

On the lighter side:
[various stuff found on BlogsNow]
World's Ugliest Dog
I thought it was something they made up out of latex as a sick joke, but it apparently is an actual dog.
No kidding---this animal could peel paint at a distance.
Color Perception Illusion
An amazing demonstration of the effect of background on the human brain’s perception of color.

"The Best Paper Airplane in the World"
I haven’t tried this yet.
This design supposedly approaches simple balsa hand launch gliders in performance. The site includes details folding instructions and adaptations to various paper-airplane regulatory rules systems. Some variations can supposedly be tossed straight up and recover to a smooth glide much like an HLG.

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