Archive for the 'Space' Category

(I) Commit a Rudeness

Dear Entire Country of Japan,

I know you had that whole earthquake thing, with the shaking and the breaking and the aftershocks and the tsunami and the entire towns washed away and the 13000 dead and all. And also that thing where a quarter of your power is missing and there’s radioactive iodine visiting places it really shouldn’t, and your electricity is turned off a few hours every day and will continue to be so for the forseeable future. And I do realize this was a natural disaster of a size unseen in over a century.

And sure, through it all you are keeping your international space projects on schedule, to the point of continuing meetings the moment the shaking stopped, and moving work from Tokyo to Komaki where there’s power all the time, and promising to repair your test facilities in time for the planned tests with our hardware.

Yes yes, I know all that, but it turns out that people in our country are using contraception. This is unacceptable, and as a result we are unable to continue working on our portion of your space projects.


Space Science is a Soft Science

So in honor of the return of Hayabusa, with (one hopes) a few little bits of Itokawa, how about a quiz.  Which one is cuter?

Emily Lakdawalla
Emily Lakdawalla
her crocheted Hayabusa?
her crocheted Hayabusa-kun?

— OR —

And why aren’t you reading the Planetary Society’s about blog entries about Hayabusa?

Seems to be the best place to learn about it.  I mean, here I am at the ISAS campus, and I’m still reading the blog to find out the latest.

Sadly, I’m leaving on Friday, which is when the sample capsule gets back to ISAS from Australia, where it landed.  So I get to miss most of the fun.

Some of my colleagues were locked out of their offices because there was an open house on Sunday so they went around closing all the office doors.  Which is rare enough that not everyone carries their keys around.  Apparently.

Anyway, congratulations to JAXA for Hayabusa making it back home after lots of terrible trouble.  I sure hope the capsule managed to capture some asteroid material.

If We Can’t Put a Man on the Moon…

Here’s something I posted as a comment on Phil Plait’s blog.  Seemed like it oughta be a post of its own;  now if I could just get Phil’s readership.

The concept here is a very common longing for the good ol’ days of NASA, when failure was not an option, and we could get to the moon instead of just going round and round in Low Earth Orbit.  I hear this a lot.


I have worked on both manned missions and unmanned science missions.  I was old enough to watch and understand as Neil Armstrong stepped off the LM pad, and I find that moment to be the high point of humanity.

So, can we do that again?  No.  Not now anyway.  And it’s not about vision, it’s not about taking chances, it’s not about boldness.

It’s about money.

The Apollo program, at its peak, took 4% of GDP.  Think about that.  1 out of every 25 dollars spent in the US was spent on getting people to the moon, at least for a couple years.  The current US GDP is 14 trillion dollars, so a similar level of effort would be $500 billion per year.  That’s more than 25 times NASA’s current budget.

Getting people (safely) into space and back is bloody expensive.  Take Apollo 13.  Yes, it was great dedication and knowledge and cleverness that got them back alive and safe.  But it was also the existence of high-fidelity simulators, a massive infrastructure, and a huge team of ground personnel that made it possible to bring the astronauts back.  That kind of backup costs a lot of money. And most of it is salaries, which means it costs the same in real terms now as it did in 1965.

I won’t argue that today’s NASA isn’t overly risk-averse, and yes, the effect of this risk aversion has been to add layers of review and bureaucracy rather than to really work at improving reliability.  But to actually return to the glory days of Apollo would require not just the mental commitment but the financial commitment of the Apollo days.

The shuttle was over-hyped, but was it actually badly designed?  Well, if it really were so far from optimal, there would be a better solution by now.  Many very large companies with vast resources have been building rockets for decades, with lots of non-NASA customers, and while there have been minor improvements, things really haven’t changed much.  Getting into space is just hard, and expensive.  Doing it with the reliability we expect if there are people on board is that much more costly.  It’s easy to long for the good ol’ days of Apollo, but until we are ready put our moneys where our mouths is, it ain’t gonna happen.

Bite me, Walt Whitman

This is no tiny little jewel box. This is The Jewel Box, a large star cluster visible with the naked eye, if the eye in question happens to be well south of the equator.

Photo taken by WFPC2 on the Hubble Space Telescope.  Click to enplait.

Photo taken by WFPC2 on the Hubble Space Telescope. Click to enplait.

Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars ~ mere globs of gas atoms. Nothing is “mere.” I too can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more? The vastness of the heavens stretches my imagination ~ stuck on this carousel my little eye can catch one-million-year-old light. A vast pattern ~ of which I am a part ~ perhaps my stuff was belched from some forgotten star, as one is belching there. Or see them with the greater eye of Palomar, rushing all apart from some common starting point when they were perhaps all together. What is the pattern, or the meaning, or the why? It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined! Why do the poets of the present not speak of it? What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were like a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent?

Richard Feynman, The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Vol. 1

I have nothing to add.

Thanks to commenter “Dave” over at Bad Astronomy, for reminding me of this quote.

Michael Collins is Cool

Q. Do you feel you’ve gotten enough recognition for your accomplishments?
A. Lordy, yes, Oodles and oodles.

Michael Collins is one of my favorite astronauts. Gotta love Buzz Aldrin, especially for decking Bart Sibrel, and Gene Cernan I wanna sit down and have dinner and a bottle of wine with. But Collins rocks. Check it out.

And the ape’s curiousity,
Money power wins.
And the yellow soft mountains
Move under him.

ACS Alive and Well

Yee-hah! After 15 years in the space biz, finally something worked!  About time.  Kudos to the amazing team of people who made it happen, ending with Megan McArthur controlling the arm, Drew Feustel fetching the tools and parts from the storage bins, and John Grunsfeld pulling out the old and clicking in the new.

The Advanced Camera for Surveys is what took most of the really cool pictures you’ve seen from the Hubble Space Telescope in the last few years.  Then it broke.  The A side power supply for the CCD Electronics Boxes (CEBs) lost its 15V supply in the middle of 2006.  They switched to the backup (B) power supply and kept on running.  But then at the end of January 2007, the B side power suppy fried itself totally, in what must have been a very exciting flash if someone had been there to see it.  It was drawing close to a kilowatt for at least 10 seconds, and we’re basically talking a computer power supply here.  The pressure sensors inside HST registered some gas at the time, so something toasted itself but good.

Too close to the next mission to replace the whole ACS (the first one took 5 years or more to build), but a certain scientist/engineer named Dr. Ed Cheng thought we might could fix it.

Some background:  ACS comprises three cameras actually: Wide Field Channel (WFC), a 16 megapixel CCD camera with very low noise, which took most of the cool pictures; High Resolution Channel (HRC), a 4 megapixel CCD with smaller pixels, which was less used; and the Solar Blind Channel (SBC), even more specialized, and less used still.  SBC was still working, but the WFC and HRC electronics boxes ran off the same power supply, thus they were both no longer working.

So.  The plan:  Remove the circuit boards from the WFC CEB and install new ones which take their power from an external plug.  Then put in an external power supply and plug it in.  Brilliantly simple!  The new circuit boards connect to the CCD detector and the rest of ACS the same way the old ones did, through the original motherboard, which stays in.  Simply brilliant!

Continue reading ‘ACS Alive and Well’

Go Atlantis!

Servicing Mission 4 to the Hubble Space Telescope launches on Monday (if all goes well).  Weather looks good, and so far nothing schedule-killing has happened.  Almost there…

The final walkdown of the Hubble stuff was today.  No personal cameras allowed, due to they want to minimize the amount of stuff that might get dropped, so no photos until I get the official ones.  Just words.  And words cannot convey.  We drove out to the pad under the hot Florida sun, took off jewelry (again, falling things bad), left cell phones and key fobs in the car (unwanted radio emissions probably won’t set off any of the pyro activators, but probably isn’t good enough), taped watches so they can’t fall off, tethered eyeglasses, and went up to level 135 (that’s measured in feet) where the gowning room lives.

Continue reading ‘Go Atlantis!’

Fly, Little Discovery, Fly Like the Wind!

Now ain’t that a purty sight!

It would be more heroic if it were something that could get to the moon, but it's still pretty.

It would be more heroic if it were something that could get to the moon, but it's still pretty.

Yes, I know that image is everywhere, but I don’t care! It’s a great shot, and it was created on government time so it’s not under copyright.  Too bad the launch is scrubbed until tomorrow.  I sure hope it goes up then, cause a month after tomorrow my astronauts go up to fix HST.  And if this is delayed past tomorrow, SM4 starts slipping too.   Which is okay for a couple days, but after that the trophy wife won’t get to go with me to watch.

Also, check out the EXIF data:

Exposure: 0.003 sec (1/320)
Aperture: f/2.8
Focal Length: 200 mm
ISO Speed: 500

Holy carp! Those are some bright fuckin’ lights!

UPDATE: Launch is delayed until No Earlier Than March 15. And SM4 doesn’t actually slip unless this guy slips past somewhere in the 3/17 to 3/20 range.

This is Piss! Piss Without Ink!

Am I sophomoric for thinking this is hy-larious?

No, because it’s really well done!

Launch delay

Nothing official yet, but Florida Today is reporting that SM4 has been delayed until next year.  Will the flight spare C&DH unit be ready to replace the failed one by then?  Stay tuned…