Saturday, December 24, 2005

---Merry Christmas, and Other Stories 

It's Christmas Eve, 2005. May God bless us all as we remember the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!
And then there's the other stuff that's coincidentally going on around us:

Saddam Says He Was Beaten in U.S. Custody [FOXNews.com/AP ]
Okay, I know what you’re all thinking---but given the fragile and formative state of representative government of laws in Iraq, this is one case in which large numbers of volunteers wouldn’t be constructive.

NYT: Administration Domestic Surveillance Widespread [FOXNews.com/AP]
Neither unexpected, nor remotely unprecedented, particularly in such an extreme national crisis. Granted, Washinton’s apparent contempt for Congressional advice and consent may have been expressed in a more gentlemanly manner, and Lincoln didn’t actually imprison the Supreme Court, but the American democratic experiment is hardly immune to such detours.
The “investigation” will have to be taken away from the Grey “Lady” before it can possibly be taken seriously, since the Times has gained an international reputation for making stuff up.

Two in VietNam Die of Tamiflu-Resistant H5N1 [New Scientist ]
Two victims of the H5N1 strain of Avian Influenza have died after their infections failed to respond to Tamiflu/osteltavir treatment. There have been worries about resistance due to low doses in private or preventative use, but these cases had the full prescribed regimen of the antiviral drug. Wishful thinking about reduced virulence aside, if they have to move on to the third antiviral line of defense even before a full-scale outbreak occurs, it may be time to start worrying a little.

Beagle 2 found? [ESA]
[Houston Chronicle/AP]
Images from the NASA Mars Global Surveyor show details that scientists on the “Beagle” team think are the remains of the lost lander---a couple of symmetrically displaced blobs in a crater are about all that really shows up in the picture. If accurate, it would mean that “Beagle 2” got far enough to deploy its airbags before it took a bad bounce---a hard landing that might have resulted from the atmosphere being thinner than expected at the time of entry.

Stardust Nears Return to Earth [JPL]
[FL Today]
Mission management has to be really sweating this one, although they aren’t saying so. After the failure of parachutes on the Genesis sample return capsule and the humiliating images of the crushed hull half buried in the desert, the similarity of technology on the Stardust could lead to serious concerns.
Stardust is supposed to return cometary material collected on an aerogel paddle on Jan. 15. Proper parachute deployment is especially important, since the capsule is expected to endure the fastest atmospheric entry of any manmade object ever intentionally returned to Earth. After a thorough analysis, the management assures us that the parachute problem won’t recur.

Study Argues Meridiani Damp, Not Wet [Spaceflight Now ]
Contrary to the initial theories that sulfate-rich formations in Meridiani Planum were evidence of a shallow lake or sea, this group contends that the evidence is best explained by volcanism interacting with much smaller amounts of short-lived water vapor or liquid. They note that percolation of liquid water through the sediments should have enriched them in cationic iron, calcium, and magnesium, which aren’t there.
This argument will doubtless go on for a while---that’s science. It should work pretty well until the government starts pumping large sums of money into it.

New Horizons Moves to Final Assembly [Spaceflight Now ]
The NASA mission to explore Pluto-Charon, and possibly objects in the Kuiper belt beyond, is progressing to its January 17 launch date with assembly to the Atlas 5. The probe is scheduled to arrive at its fly-by encounter with the binary planet in 2015 or so.
I haven’t seen anything yet on how they plan to navigate to any of the other Kuiper objects, which don’t seem to be very rigorously located yet. These things probably have some pretty odd orbital geometries, too.

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