Monday, March 31, 2014

Orbital Gets Pioneer

Orbital Science's team that developed the Cygnus spacecraft has been presented the Pioneer Award by the National Space Society.

Cygnus will be used to bring supplies to ISS, and, hopefully, other orbital outposts.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Big To Supermassive

NFL linemen can have average-sized or even small parents, but a new study suggests that the supermassive black holes at the center of many galaxies grew from "seed" black holes that were themselves huge.

Those findings still need to be confirmed and the process worked out, but if true, this would be one more piece of evidence showing how the universe works.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Curiosity Science

The Curiosity rover has been mostly on the move recently, making time towards reaching Mount Sharp, but NASA has announced the rover will be stopping soon to closely examine some interesting rocks scientists have spotted.  The rocks seem to be of a slightly different type than others in the area.

NASA still plans to reach Mount Sharp sometime in May.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Dragon Delayed Again

SpaceX's launch of its next Dragon supply flight to ISS has been delayed again, this time due to faulty U. S. Air Force radar.

The launch is now scheduled for Sunday.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

NASA And Civilization's Collapse

NASA chief Charles Bolden distanced his agency from an upcoming study of various ways civilizations can collapse.  NASA has been reported as a sponsor of the study, but Bolden says the researchers involved in the study simply used certain research tools developed by NASA.

Bolden says NASA doesn't endorse the study or its conclusions.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

U. S.-Russian Launch Goes Ahead

Despite the crisis in Ukraine, the launch of an American-Russian crew to ISS will go ahead as planned today.

Both nations have huge investments in the ISS partnership, but if the Ukrainian situation deteriorates into something approaching war, it's not clear the current space arrangement can be maintained.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Waves On Titan

The Cassini spacecraft at Saturn has imaged what could be sunlight glinting off small waves in a hydrocarbon lake in the north polar region of Titan.

If that interpretation holds up, it will be the first time a sea surface beyond Earth has been directly observed.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Solar Magnetic Storms

Planetary defense is usually seen as protecting Earth from asteroid or comet impacts.  Another threat, however, comes from solar magnetic storms.

Such events throw out huge pulses of energy from the Sun.  A direct hit on Earth by a massive solar magnetic storm could knock out satellites, communications networks, and energy infrastructure.  Recovering from such a disaster could take years, and could, therefore, result in the collapse of the civilization we know.  It's another threat planetary defense must counter.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Black Hole? Really??

OPINION:  It's fair to say American television news has been obsessed with the fate of the missing Malaysian airliner.  That story regularly leads news broadcasts, for example-- over the crisis in Ukraine, which has extremely dangerous political potential.

Hopefully, that obsession crested recently when a CNN anchor asked if the plane could have been swallowed by a black hole.  He asked it dismissively, as if to take that off the board, but he did ask it.

If this nation is to survive as a major power through the decades ahead, the American people-- and the American media-- must be able to recognize and ignore scientific nonsense.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

More Satellite Clues

The search is still on for MH 370.  Now, an Australian satellite has spotted something that could be airliner debris deep in the southern Indian Ocean.

Last week, a Chinese satellite imaged something similar well to the north of this sighting, but that turned out to be unrelated to MH 370.  Planes are being dispatched to check out the Australian discovery.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Active Volcanoes On Venus

Scientists using Europe's Venus Express Orbiter have observed flashes on the planet's surface that they interpret as evidence that Venus still has active volcanoes.

A Venus that retains an energetic interior would force a major revision of our view of the planet.   Erupting volcanoes would also add a final touch to the notion that the surface of Venus is hellish.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Gravitational Waves Found

Astronomers using a telescope based at the South Pole, in splendid isolation, have discovered gravitational waves in the first split second after the Big Bang, during the inflationary instant of the expansion of the universe.

The particular location and influence of those gravitational waves helped sculpt the universe we see today.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Collapsing Civilizations

NASA has funded a study that tries to identify common factors in why civilizations collapse.  The study cites a few-- among them population, agricultural failure, climate, energy, unequal wealth distribution, etc.  In short, many of the usual suspects.

Oddly, perhaps, since NASA funded it, the study did not try to factor in the effect the industrialization of space would have on the fate of the civilization that accomplished it.  Extending an economy into space would wipe out resource scarcity.  It would drive technological development.  It would vastly increase the wealth available to fund efforts to bring people out of poverty.  Moving into space would lift a civilization to a new level.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Dragon Delay

The launch of the next Dragon supply mission to ISS has been delayed at least two weeks, SpaceX says.

The company said the delay would allow it to make additional checks to allow the best chance for a successful flight.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Cislunar Infrastructure

Part of building a strong economy in the Earth-Moon system will be establishing fuel depots at key points in free space.  Such stations would allow rockets to fuel up in space.

That, in turn, would mean rockets need not carry a full load of fuel all the way out from Earth, thus increasing the size of the payload, or reducing the size of the rocket.  Establishing and maintaining a system of such depots might be expensive, but in the long run, it would pay off handsomely, especially if that fuel-- hydrogen and oxygen-- were manufactured on the Moon.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

No Airliner Yet

China's news agency reported yesterday that a Chinese satellite may have spotted the wreckage of the missing Malaysian airliner.  Subsequent investigation, however, showed that not to be the case.

The part of the world involved in the search is largely ocean, so finding the plane is proving difficult.  Satellites could be helpful-- they've picked up no explosions in the air, for example-- but that area isn't as thoroughly covered by satellites as other areas.  The role of satellites in this search may be to put upper limits on the possible.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


NASA Administrator Charles Bolden insists the Ukraine crisis, which has the United States and Russia on opposing sides of a major international issue given the Russian move into Crimea, will not affect the deal NASA has with Russia to deliver astronauts to ISS and bring them home.

That may or may not hold true, depending on how things develop.  Russia needs the hard currency it gets for the flights, and it wants to be seen as a major space power, but it seems ready to pay a high price for Crimea.  On the other hand, the situation has moved some members of Congress to call for increased support for the companies developing private manned spacecraft so that Americans can get back to flying American ships as soon as possible.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Big Mission For SpaceX

The next Dragon supply flight to ISS, scheduled for launch Saturday, will feature an attempt by SpaceX to recover the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket, hopefully in reusable condition.

That would be another step towards the company's goal of completely reusable launchers that can be turned around quickly by a small crew, thus drastically reducing the cost of space operations.

Monday, March 10, 2014


The new COSMOS, hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, debuted on FOX last night.  As would've been expected,  it was a well produced, visually interesting effort.  The first show featured, among other things, the story of Giordano Bruno, the sixteenth century Catholic priest who argued every star in the sky was a sun with its own family of planets.  That was contrary to Catholic doctrine at the time, and Bruno, refusing to back down, was imprisoned by the Church, tortured. and burned at the stake.

Some may wonder why FOX, the American network most closely associated with fundamentalist Christianity, would carry COSMOS, which will often be contrary to religious interpretations of the universe.  It's an interesting question.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Red Dragon

A new study finds that a modified version of SpaceX's Dragon capsule could carry out a sample return mission to Mars.  A sample of Mars gathered by an earlier rover, preferably from feet below the surface, would be transferred to the so-called Red Dragon for the trip back to Earth.

The study contemplates a 2022 launch of Red Dragon, and assumes a 2020 NASA rover mission that collects and caches a sample.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Cosmos Returns

The acclaimed science television series COSMOS returns in an updated version this month on Fox.

Famed astronomer Carl Sagan hosted the original, but Dr. Sagan is gone now.  Replacing him is a man who has taken up Sagan's mantle in other ways, as well-- astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Two Days In A Row

Today, for the second day in a row, a small asteroid is shooting past Earth at a distance well inside the Moon's orbit.  Both were only discovered this year, the second on March 4.

Neither poses any threat-- but they could have.  These close cosmic shaves should serve as more reminders that developing a planetary defense capability is a good idea.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

NASA Looks At Europa

In its 2015 budget request, NASA is asking for $15 million to begin studying sending a probe to Jupiter to investigate its ice-encased moon, Europa.  The mission would launch around 2025.

Even though Europa is bathed in radiation and far outside the Sun's habitable zone, it's seen as a prime candidate for harboring life deep in its ocean under its ice shell.  That's something to remember as we look for life further afield.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Stars Aren't Lonely

A new study suggests that nearly all stars have at least one planet.  Most have more than one.

That implies planetary formation is a normal part of star formation.  It also means that life beyond Earth will have plenty of chances to take hold.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Oscars For GRAVITY

The movie GRAVITY, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, picked up 7 Oscars last night, including the one for best director.

The movie was lauded for its realistic depiction of the microgravity environment in low Earth orbit.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Venus And Mars

The Inspiration Mars Foundation, led by Dennis Tito, is proposing a manned mission that would fly by both Venus and Mars before returning home-- a remarkable journey.  To take advantage of the necessary planetary alignment, the mission would launch in 2021.

To fly the mission, however, the Foundation needs NASA's help.  Specifically, it wants to use the heavy lift launcher NASA is developing, as well as NASA's Orion capsule.  Both the rocket and Orion, of course, are intended to support deep space manned missions.

Congress might have an interesting decision to make shortly.  Given its performance over recent years, however, Congress will likely punt on this one.