Sunday, July 13, 2008
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.
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.
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!
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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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