Sunday, January 27, 2008
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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....
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.
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".
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...
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....
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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