Friday, June 30, 2006

In Memoriam: Soyuz 11.

Flying into space is a risky and dangerous business that has taken the lives of astronauts and cosmonauts from around the world. Thirty-five years ago yesterday, cosmonauts Georgy Dobrovolsky, Vladislav Volkov and Viktor Patsayev died during re-entry of their Soyuz 11 spacecraft. Let us remember their sacrifice as humanity pushes forward to our future as a spacefaring civilization.


Monday, June 26, 2006

End It Don't Mend It: Let's Build A New Hubble.

The Hubble's main camera stopped working the other day but NASA is confident the problem can be fixed. (Here.) Let's hope so. Whether the camera works again calls to service the space telescope with a Shuttle mission will no doubt start up again. The Hubble was only supposed to last until 2005 and the cost of the repeated Shuttle repair missions has exceeded the original cost to build and launch the thing. (See our prior post here.) So let's just build and launch a new one.


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Thursday, June 22, 2006

No Guts! No Glory!

Let nobody accuse NASA Administrator Mike Griffin of shying away from making tough decisions. NASA safety engineers recommended against launching the next shuttle because of concerns over foam debris. Others within NASA recommended going forward. According to this story (here) on, the risk from a debris strike does not pose a threat to the crew so much as it does to the shuttle.
"...[A]ll sections of the Agency understand there is no risk to the crew of Discovery during ascent from foam loss, given that cannot cause a LOV (Loss of Vehicle) during the climb to orbit. The risk is only associated with re-entry, which would not occur if Discovery suffers a serious foam hit on ascent. The crew has the option of the safe haven on the International Space Station (ISS), before being rescued by Atlantis on STS-300"
In other words, if Discovery is damaged during launch the crew isn't flying it home and NASA will have to figure out how to repair it for a safe return or decide what to do with a space shuttle stuck in orbit. That would be a whole lot of very expensive hardware floating around the Earth unable to be brought home.

Despite the risk, Griffin did what a manager is supposed to do, took the recommendations of his staff, evaluated them himself, and made a decision. He decided the risk was worth taking. Here's what he had to say.
"'Some of the senior NASA individuals responsible for particular technical areas, particular disciplines, expressed that they would rather stand down until we had fixed the ice/frost ramp the way that -- something better,' noted Griffin at the post-FRR press conference. 'Whereas, many others said no, we should go ahead. So we did not have unanimity. Therefore, a decision had to be made.'

'Debris shed from the tank does not pose an ascent risk for the Shuttle. It poses a risk for entry, but since we have inspection methods, we are beginning to converge on some rudimentary repair methods which may be useful. Since we have Station for a safe haven, since we have the possibility of -- in fact, we evaluated quite carefully.

'We have an excellent capability for Launch on Need, and we have the Russian partners. So we have a number of mitigation strategies should the unlikely occur and we have a debris strike.

'I think that goes without saying, but I cannot possibly accept every recommendation which I am given by every member of my staff, especially since they don't all agree.'"
He makes it sound so easy. The easy decision would have been to scrub the launch. The hard decision was to proceed. Griffin has got guts.


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Sunday, June 11, 2006

Scrap The International Space Station? Let's Not.

Alan Boyle reports on the usual rationales for keeping the International Space Station. (Here.) In Boyle's article, Geman astronaut Thomas Reiter argues that the station has promise as a space science platform and that the time is now to use it.

Often left unsaid in debates over the value of the ISS is the station's status as humanity's only permanent outpost in space. The ISS has been continuously occupied since November 2, 2000. That's almost 6 years of humans living in Near Earth Orbit and claiming space as our home. That's got to count for something.

About four centuries ago British settlement of North America got off to a bad start in Roanoke. The colony was abandoned and the fate of the colonists remains a mystery to this day. Jamestown became the first successful British colony in North America and has been continuously occupied since 1607. The question for spacers is whether they would like to see the ISS become another Roanoke or another Jamestown.


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Friday, June 02, 2006

Woman In The Moon

Fritz Lang was a cinematic genius. His movies are as modern today as when they were first released.* Alt-spacers will likely relate to the following two quotes from a movie Lang made about a trip to the moon:
"Laughter, gentlemen, is the argument of idiots against every new idea." Professor Georg Manfeldt.
"Never does not exist for the human mind, only not yet." Unattributed.
The movie, Woman in the Moon, has modern sensibilities. It tells the story of a visionary scientist, ostracized by his peers for crackpot ideas about gold on the Moon. His lifelong obsession is to fly to the Moon to prove his point. Opposing the scientist is a cabal of criminal industrialists who believe him but wish to thwart his mission or co-opt it because of the threat he poses to their interests. Eventually, the scientist gets the funding he needs from a wealthy friend and he flies a rocket to the moon with the friend, a beautiful woman and her fiancee, and a thug sent along by the evil industrialists.

The launch sequence is a majestic premonition of future Apollo launches. Set to stirring music, the large moon rocket rolls on a track from a giant hanger to the launch bay. Once in position to launch, a countdown ensues. Lang included the countdown for dramatic effect. Little could he know that the countdown would be standard for real space launches. But the movie's technical accuracy is no accident. Pioneering German rocket scientist Hermann Oberth was a technical advisor on the movie.

The film has a beautiful and haunting look to it. The cinematography is phenomenal. The sets are dramatic. The story is very much a modern conspiracy thriller. The movie's events in space will remind viewers of subsequent space movies about missions to the Moon and Mars.

Woman in the Moon is prime material for a modern remake: perhaps as a story about a scientist who seeks to free the world from dependence on fossil fuels by mining platinum group metals on asteroids or the Moon for a hydrogen economy or Helium-3 for fusion. Opposing him are an evil consortium of energy companies, who will either stop him or co-opt him. Joining the scientist are a wealthy philanthropist, a beautiful woman, and a corporate hit man. Sound plausible?

See the original though. You'll be glad you did. The film has been restored to its original length and released on DVD. At nearly three hours, it's still worth sitting through. It's available from Netflix. Or you can buy it. Make sure you get the correct version if you do.


*Among Lang's movies that stand up over time is the classic M, which reveals the hysteria released in a community over the attacks of a child predator and tells a timeless story about justice. His silent movie, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse is another classic. Mabuse tells the story of a secretive criminal mastermind who heads an organization that seeks to destroy society through terrorism. Probably less well-known is the silent movie, Spiders, which was intended to be a series of movies about a rich adventurer who travels the world retrieving native artifacts and fights against a criminal gang, known as the Spiders. Hmmmmm, somewhat Indiana Jones-like, nicht wahr?

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Reposted once to correct typo.


Thursday, June 01, 2006

All The Launches Of The Cape

Florida Today has done spacers a public service by creating a chart that lists all the rocket launches ever from The Cape. (Here.) There's been a whole lot of rocketry goin' on back there.


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