Category Archives: NASA

Waleed Abdalati…Who he?

I’m the kind of space nerd who can make a podcast about where to build a Moon base, write to National Geographic when one of their reporters makes up the astronomical part of her story and complain to a show‘s organizers when a picture of the Orion Nebula is hanged upside down. I’ve been a member of the Planetary Society since 1991, and of the British Interplanetary Society since 1985.

Still, I had never heard until yesterday of NASA Chief Scientist, Waleed Abdalati.

Little wonder though, as I’m more of a deep-space buff who doesn’t get excited about Earth-observing satellites, for example those measuring ice stuff, Dr Abdalati’s specialty.

So who’s the guy who replied to a letter asking NASA to stay away from “unbridled advocacy” on climate change, by stating “NASA sponsors research into many areas of cutting-edge scientific inquiry” (a response “not all that relevant” to the original request, as noted by Judith Curry)? And more importantly, what are or have been his views on climate change?

In conclusion, seldom in the past or maybe never has Dr Abdalati (whose contribution to the founding of advocacy center CIRES isn’t immediately clear) been far from alarmist positions, even if he is not known as a major voice of doom and gloom. And that Slide 17 above might provide some hope (as long as the guy wakes up about GISS, that is).

If NASA has no official position on climate change, what is this?

If NASA has no official position on climate change, as claimed to Andy Revkin by as-usual clueless Gavin Schmidt, what is this? “NASA Policy Statement – Adapting to a Changing Climate” (May 2011)

There are two points about it:

(1) I won’t hold my breath waiting for some of the involved folks to wake up to the idea that if they write something as “NASA Head of this” or “NASA Head of that”, then ipso facto their statements will be taken as “Official NASA Position” on this or that.

In the private sector, anything one writes in the course of business is of course considered what his/her company thinks about that course of business. How can it be any different?

(2) NASA doesn’t live in a vacuum. It can’t play the Ivory Tower Scientist today, and the Federal Agency tomorrow. If the Government pursues one particular line of thought (eg for worry of dangerous climate change), then NASA of course is pursuing that same line of thought.

Therefore…NASA has a very big OFFICIAL POSITION on climate change indeed.

NASA’s Blue Marble 2012 Is A Fake

NASAGoddard has just celebrated on Twitter the fact that “Blue Marble 2012 with nearly 3.2 million views is now “one of the all time most viewed images” on @flickr http://bit.ly/xBOuD8“. That’s nice apart from the fact that it is a fake.

Even the Bad Astronomer was half-fooled initially, perhaps by the enthusiastic caption that still refers to a “hemisphere. However, as it should be clear given the relative size of the USA to the rest of the world, the “blue marble” does not show a hemisphere, and should be considered as “a picture taken with a huge huge fish-eye lens“.

A quick trip to Google Earth shows how a real Blue Marble would have looked like, minus the clouds:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This story has however a happier ending in the newst “Blue Marble”, the one showing Africa.

I can happily report it is the way it should’ve been . See Google Earth again:

Nice to see somebody at NASA still interested in the real world.

Saturn

As microblogged live on my (other) Twitter account, @mmorabito67 on May 25, 2011:

  1. At the BIS British Interplanetary Society in London for Alan Lawrie’s SaturnV presentation. live microblogging 6pm GMT
  2. Title is “Saturn V Manufacturing and testing” – room packed
  3. Special anniversary of Kennedy’s announcement of the Moon attempt in 1961
  4. Lawrie has 30 years of space technology experience
  5. Kennedy spoke at around 1.09pm EDT – Also 45th of first full rocket
  6. Mastermind was Von Braun – developed in record time, new materials invented
  7. Huntsville Al. was a small city when Von Braun went there in the 1950s -
  8. Picture of Von Braun team member meeting Korolev’s daughter -
  9. Saturn was a military concept for testing rockets at the start -
  10. Pictures of Marshall Spaceflight Center test facilities -
  11. RL10 h2 / o2 rocket test facility. Neosho rocket production facility in Missouri near Joplin -
  12. Details of rocket. First stage S-1C by Boeing and MSF.
  13. Welded tanks but bolted intertanks. Manufacturing details. Fairings around external engines blown after separation
  14. Pictures of retrorockets firing – heroicrelics.org
  15. S-1C firing test at MSF. Walt Disney visiting Huntsville
  16. Picture of Saturn V in test stand
  17. People measuring rocket’s vibrational modes by pushing it – same happened for Ares -
  18. Stage built vertically but engines inserted horizontally -
  19. First stage of Apollo 16 caught fire during tests. Engineers forced to look at the failed parts.
  20. S-II second stage by NAA in California. Not kerosene but hydrogen. One tank with one bulkhead within
  21. Testing at same Mississippi facility still used
  22. Story of mistaken loading to explosion due to incorrect procedures
  23. First stage o2 not insulated but second h2 had to be. Several attempts up to Apollo 13.
  24. Third stage S-IV B similar to second stage but one engine.
  25. Tanks hemispherical in 3rd ellipsoidal in 1st and 2nd
  26. 2nd stage external insulation strong metal inside. 3rd stage insulation inside by tiles that didn’t fall off.
  27. Picture of Skylab being built out of 3rd stage
  28. Explosion in Jan 1967 of S-IVB-503 3rd stage one week before Apollo 1.- problem with Helium tanks
  29. Problem with welding of He tanks.
  30. Pictures comparing sites in 1967 and 2006 -
  31. F-1 rocket engines – tested at Edwards
  32. J-2 tested near Hollywood
  33. Overview of Saturn V flights. Second flight not so well (Apollo 6) with 2 lost engines then Apollo 8
  34. Apollo 8 – a major structural failuree in California a day earlier but launched anyway
  35. Pictures of test firings of Apollo 11. Lightning striking Apollo 12. Apollo 17 3rd stage never test fired.
  36. How did they make it so perfect? Leadership, mindset. Von Braun and other German managers
  37. Many things worked by dodging bullets
  38. Personally I would not be surprised the programme was stopped before a major accident would kill it and spaceflight

The lecture followed the publication of “Saturn” by Alan Lawrie with Robert Godwin.

Lost Moon…Is Obama’s The Least Imaginative Administration Ever?

So it’s been confirmed: President Obama is keen on ending all American efforts to go back to the Moon. This doesn’t sound like a particularly inspired or forward-thinking move. I know that Buzz Aldrin as weighed in saying “this program will allow us to again be pushing the boundaries to achieve new and challenging things beyond Earth“; the Planetary Society has said “We’ll develop the technology to explore Deep Space, reaching new milestones in space and accomplishing new things here on Earth“; and the Bad Astronomer has commented “this may very well save NASA and our future manned exploration capabilities, if this is all done correctly“.

Still, the end result would be NASA canceling yet another major launch system initiative; no hope to go back to the Moon in the foreseeable future; vague promises of “future heavy-lift rocket systems…potentially taking us farther and faster into space” that sound quite empty as missing of any clear destination in time and space.

Phil Plait admitted as much in a tweet: “I think we sorta agree there, @unclebobmartin. There’s no real plan now. I’m hoping that by doing this, NASA can concentrate on big plans
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Now, if you add on top of that some other facts about the USA:

  • still shipping weapons to Taiwan, as always
  • sending troops to Afghanistan, as usual
  • have no plans to leave Iraq for good in the foreseeable future, as always
  • are still no way near a non-confrontational approach to Iran, as usual
  • have shown no idea of any sort to bring the Israelo-Palestinian conflict anywhere, as always
  • have tried to score low-level political points with a populist approach to banking management, as usual….

…isn’t that enough to label Obama’s as the least imaginative administration ever?

Unimpressed By Ares 1-X

What about the Ares 1-X launch? What we have seen is the 480M$ demonstration that a Space Shuttle’s Solid Rocket Booster can fly on its own. A step towards a Moon mission dream? Methinks not.

It’d be vastly cheaper to develop just a capsule to launch on top of the Ariane-5. Or better yet, order 200+ Soyuz flights from Russia.

What is missing is a really heavy launcher, not yet another reinventing of the manned rocket.

(Legally) Bombing The Moon

Still not much out of the LCROSS team, victims of “HYPErspace” to say the least. Let’s entertain ourselves in the intervening time with a Forbes.com article “Bombing the Moon“. And for those in a hurry:

The LCROSS mission is an important and expensive scientific experiment. Nonetheless, comments on Web sites such as Scientific American and Nature indicate that quite a few people thought the whole venture to be some sort of outer-space vandalism. Some even wondered whether NASA might have acted illegally or violated an international law or treaty by setting out to “bomb the Moon.”

The answer is no. But while many might be surprised–dismayed, even–to hear that there is such a thing as “space law,” there are treaties governing activities in outer space, including the Moon.

Phil Plait’s Moon Hoax London Speech – Report

I had the honour to attend tonight in London a speech by Phil Plait “The Bad Astronomer” on the “Moon Hoax Hoax” (i.e. the hoax perpetrated by those that believe the Apollo manned lunar landings were a fake).

The presentation was organized by the UK’s Skeptic Magazine as part of their Skeptics in the Pub‘s monhtly gathering, taking advantage of Plait’s schedule in-between his Colorado home and a visit to the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva.

In front of a large crowd downstairs at the Penderel’s Oak in Holborn, Plait chose to wear a hat after dazzling us with an impressive hairdo (or lack thereof).

So how to respond to people still clinging to the odd notion that NASA has been able to pull off a multi-decadal hoax involving tens of thousands of people, something much more difficult that actually landing on the Moon itself? The Bad Astronomer went through familiar questions and answers, here summarized:

(1) No stars in Moon photographs? Obviously not. Those are pictures of bright spacesuits and a bright terrain directly hit by the Sun’s rays.

(2) Shadows are not parallel, “demonstrating” multiple light sources? First of all, multiple light sources cause multiple shadows, and there is none of that in the Apollo pictures. Furthermore, shadows are not parallel on Earth either: it’s called perspective!!!

(3) Astronaut’s suits in the dark shadows on the Moon are not black? Of course not, they are illuminated by the surrounding, bright lunar surface.

(4) Waving flags on the Moon? Sure, with nothing much to dampen any vibration, that’s exactly what to expect.

(5) No crater from the LEM’s landing engine? Large thrust, over  a large surface, means low pressure, hence…

(6) No flames from departing LEM’s upper half in Apollo 17 video? Flames are only visible for certain types of rocket fuel. Even the Space Shuttle’s main engines produce a barely visible blue flame at take-off.

There are two main problems with “moon hoaxers”: one, as Plait pointed out, is that they choose to tell only that part of the truth that suits them. The second, if I may add, is that they invariably never ever reveal what evidence would convince them to change their mind.

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I have only one remark for the Bad Astronomer: sometimes he goes too hard for it. All Moon-hoaxers’ claims I have seen so far are already ridiculous enough. Is it really necessary to build jokes around stuff that is already laughable on its own?

Anyway…it’s been great to meet somebody that enrolled me some time ago as one of his minions. Here some pictures from the evening…

Women Miss Destination By 295 Miles

Third episode in what is surely the most tired running-joke in this blog 8-))

Notably, the crew has almost certainly spent some time getting crushed at several times the Earth’s sea-level gravity. As somebody has already commented “It can’t be much fun to spend a few minutes at 10G following six months in microgravity“. 

Stop NASA’s Life Fixation

There is so much still to explore in the Solar System, and an untold number of astonishing discoveries just out of sheer serendipity…and yet, the only thing that matters for NASA is the possibility of life???

Whatever the source of Enceladus’s fountains, it is obviously very well worth the effort to find something about it.

By the Beach in Florida, in 1957

Dec 6, 1957: Vanguard-TV3, three feet up, still 656,165 to go before reaching orbit…

Ponderously it lifted itself off the pad—one foot, two feet, three feet. For one blink of an eye it seemed to stand still. A tongue of orange flame shot out from beneath the rocket, darted downwind, then billowed up the right side of TV3 into a fireball 150 feet high. “There it goes! There is an explosion!” an observation pilot cried into his radio

News of the failure of TV3 was flashed out around the nation and the world. Impact: shock, scorn, derision. Almost instantly the U.S.’s tiny, grounded satellite got rechristened stallnik, flopnik, dudnik, puffnik, phutnik, oopsnik, goofnik, kaputnik and—closer to the Soviet original—sputternik. At the U.N., Soviet diplomats laughingly suggested that the U.S. ought to try for Soviet technical assistance to backward nations. An office worker in Washington burst into tears; a calypso singer on the BBC in London strummed a ditty about Oh, from America comes the significant thought/Their own little Sputnik won’t go off. Said a university professor in Pittsburgh: “It’s our worst humiliation since Custer’s last stand.” Said Dr. John P. Hagen, director of Project Vanguard, as he got ready to face a doleful press conference in Washington: “Nuts.

Woman Clocked Driving in Florida at 220mph

It’s an old joke but still a good one

 

Drawback In The Sad “Dwarf Planet” Saga

Size does matter for NASA, ESA and the likes. That’s the drawback.

This summer, 49 years after being established, NASA will launch its first major space probe dedicated to the study of main-belt asteroids Ceres and Vesta.

In the meanwhile, in 46 years of interplanetary travels there have been only a couple of Russian attempts at studying Phobos, the satellite of Mars that is likely to be a captured asteroid.

And none at all about Deimos, the other satellite of Mars, despite the fact that it is the easiest and cheapest place to reach in the Solar System from the Low Earth Orbit (such as the Space Station’s). It’s easier and cheaper than the surface of our own Moon.

Can’t anybody else see a pattern emerging? Yes there have been peculiar missions like the one to asteroid Eros, but those are by far the exception.

Let’s face it: Big Space Agencies don’t like to bother with small components of the Solar System. It is not “cool” enough to say “Well guys and gals we are going to see a space rock smaller than Rhode Island” (despite the surprises those space rocks may be hiding for us to discover).

There is a mission en-route to Pluto now. It was cancelled before lift-off at least once, and I am sure it would have never been approved had Pluto been demoted to “dwarf planet” in that silly astronomical congress a few months back.

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And all of that, just to make sure schoolchildren could keep a mnemonic of 8 planets?

There are more than 9 stars and more than 9 galaxies…

The more time passes, the more unbelievable the whole thing is. Now Eris has been discovered to be larger than Pluto.

So what?

Anyway, I think 99.99% of people will agree that there is no way to scientifically define a planet. Here’s a definition for the “Average Joe and Jane” then:

A Planet is a round-ish object that orbits around a star and does not orbit around another round-ish object” (c) Maurizio Morabito 2007.

Who can get simpler than that?

And what would be soooooooooooooo wrong with it?

Return to the Moon – a Guessing Game

It was refreshing to see Dwayne A. Day start his “Outpost on a desolate land” article with pragmatic words about calendar slippages in NASA’s return to the moon (on the British Interplanetary Society’s “Spaceflight” magazine, May 2007).

One has just to look at the history of the Space Shuttle and then the International Space Station, compared to the Apollo project, to understand that big space projects without fixed deadlines will cost a lot more than anticipated, and achieve (much later) a lot less.

Some say that’s the way Governments work.

Is there perhaps a case for launching a “Moon Landing” competition, with a prize for whomever will guess the date of the “seventh American landing” (and another for the “first Chinese landing”)?

My entries are the following:

a. Without another Space Race, NASA will finally land again on the Moon on July 11, 2069 (mostly, to avoid feeling ashamed of themselves)

b. With a Space Race with the Chinese, American astronauts will walk on the Moon around July 11, 2029

c. Chinese taikonauts, if things get serious, will reach the Moon around July 2027

Nothing to be enthusiastic about, but what’s the point of deluding ourselves into believing that things will be any faster?

Unless there is some major breakthrough in commercial space activities beyond LEO…

The Average Brit Flying to Work at 18,000mph

So what is my local car rental manager doing, parading in NASA coveralls in London’s Queen Mary University Theatre in late November 2006?

No, wait: it must be Gary Lineker, guest speaker of the British Interplanetary Society, with a 8’-by-5’ poster of Saturn and the secret aim of taking chips and sweets from the noisy local student contingent.

Or…is that a bird? Is that a plane? No, it’s Piers J. Sellers, Ph.D., former Global Warming researcher and now Space Shuttle crew member and quasi-UK Astronaut Extraordinaire (“quasi” as UK persons need opt for a different citizenship to work in Earth orbit).

Sellers, born in Sussex in 1955 but now an American citizen, is following up his July STS-121 mission with a UK trip that has generated good-natured interest in the press, and even some air time on BBC Radio4’s Today.

Luckily (for Sellers) and blissfully (for all of us), Sellers’ Shuttle trip companion astronaut Lisa M. Nowak hasn’t yet destroyed her career by wearing nappies for a 1,000-mile drive to pepper-spray a love rival in February 2007.

And so instead of a sex scandal, the talk is about the less risky enterprise called space travel, as told by a bloke so average in appearance and so relaxed about himself to make taciturn Neil Armstrong a veritable space alien.

Aliens won’t invade us, because [on streets like Mile End Road] they can’t find where to park”: Sellers is definitely no warplane pilot turned moonwalker spiritualist. He’s “simply” a space walker, slightly “disoriented” only by the first sight of the white-and-blue jewel called Earth.

His description of the piling up of task upon task may sound familiar to office workers the world over. Still, very few of those usually validate if their cubicles will destroy during atmospheric re-entry, as Sellers and the rest of the STS-121 crew did after the Columbia tragedy of February 2003 and the half-botched first “return-to-flight” mission of STS-114 in July 2005.

A NASA video hints at the peculiarities of working in space. First of all there is nobody within a 3-mile radius of a ready-to-start Space Shuttle: and for good reason, as the bunch of aviation and navy pilots, space commanders and Ph.D’s collectively called “astronauts” are literally sitting on top of a giant bomb hoping it will explode in a controlled manner, pushing them upwards and forwards rather than into smithereens..

There is lots of sound and bouncing at lift-off. Somebody touches a control button, but Sellers reassures “We were just pretending to work. The launch [really] blew me away.” Orbital life is a piece of cake in comparison, with a couple of days of procedures to proceed and checklists to check, before approaching the International Space Station at the snail-like pace of 1m/sec (a little more than 2 miles an hour).

The video recording moves on to Lisa Nowak working with a large boom, at the time not to threaten a love rival but to move cargo to the Station with fellow astronaut-ess Stephanie Wilson, and then finally on mission day five maneuvering Sellers and colleague Michael Fossum locked on top of a 100-foot pole.

Sellers recounts a few funny details. For example, even in the most comfortable spacesuit one better gets used to spending up to ten hours without luxuries such as toilet breaks and nose scratching. And so a big deal of one’s resting time is spent cleaning up bodily odours and outpours from the spacesuit (no mention of any solution to the nose itching problem).

Furthermore, gloves for orbital work are more apt for a The Thing impersonation from the Fantastic Four, and so one handles multi-million-dollar wrenches knowing some will drop on their own sidereal orbit. Last but not least, one gets occasionally stuck in a phone-boot-like airlock for more than one hour.

Back inside the spaceship, in-between risky zero-g adventures with M&M’s of all things, one can look forward to a “shower” of damp cloths, a dinner of bland food and a night chained to a bed (kinky orbital fun, anybody?). Ah, and the toilet has a noisy fan and too thin a door really.

After some four days of that, it’s time to pull the jet brakes on the Shuttle (“feeling like on a truck slowing down”, Sellers remembers) to start the “unforgiving landing sequence”, after gulping in a disgusting salty drink designed to help the body readjust to Earthly life.

Outside the vehicle, “cherry-red windows” show the same tongues of fire that consumed the unfortunate Columbia astronauts a mere three-and-a-half years earlier. Falling almost helplessly, the Space Shuttle is somehow guided without engines to a hard touchdown, at the end of which gravity is felt like having “brick on the shoulders”.

Still Sellers opines, “The real dangerous bit is the lift-off.” No need to remind anybody of the crew of six that died on the 1986 Challenger accident, during the ascent phase.

Has Sellers got any chance of going back to the Space Station? “Sure. There is plenty of work available,” he answers. “Perhaps there will be 15 missions with 7 astronauts each between now and 2010.” Such chances are presumably slightly larger now than Ms. Nowak has been removed from NASA’s roster.

Before a strange, nostalgically catchy set of photographs of Seller’s mission is shown to the tune of Coldplay’s “Speed of Sound”, the evening fades away in a torrent of questions about medical facilities (“We can’t do heart transplants in space as yet”); rubbish management (“Thrown overboard”); launch delays (“Frustrating”); the justification for space budgets (“The money is spent on Earth”); and Orion, the Space Shuttle replacement (“Safer and cheaper and brings us back to the Moon”).

There! Has anybody else caught the tiny sparkle in Sellers’ voice when mentioning future manned Lunar exploration? Who knows, by 2025 the UK government may have found the negligible additional resources to fund a trip to the Moon for a couple of lucky British passport holders.

For the time being, I better check if my local car rental manager has moved to Houston.

Moon: a Faraway Place for Female Astronauts

It took the whole of 19 years between the 1963 space flight of  Valentina Tereshkova and that of another woman (Svetlana Savitskaya in 1982).

That gap was due no doubt to compounding of a male chauvinist Soviet society on top of all the issues encountered during her Vostok 6 flight, clearly only few of them even remotely attributable to her own fault: wrong orbit, problems in handling the equipment, Space Adaptation Syndrome including vomiting, unbearable pain, low food consumption, radio silence, etc etc.

It could have easily been predicted that those issues would become the excuse to ground female astronauts for decades, and that’s exactly what has happened.

Move forward now to 2007 and to the abysmal tragedy of Lisa Nowak, the NASA astronaut with more experience in maneuvering the Space Shuttle’s robotic arm than her own emotions.

Perhaps there is less chauvinism now than in the mid-1960’s…but only time will tell if the Nowak Affair will not become the excuse to prevent women to fly to the Moon until much, much later this century.