Posts belonging to Category Space

The Sky Is Falling

Well, no, it really isn’t falling.  But parts of it are closer than usual.  Scientists with the U.S. Air Force have found via the C/NOFS (Communication/Navigation Outage Forecasting System) satellite that the ionosphere is currently about 200km lower than would normally be expected.

So what’s the cause?  Global warming (anyone seen the Goracle lately?)?  Climate change?  (A convenient catch-all if there ever was one.)

Nope.  Just simple old solar activity (or lack thereof):

During the night it has been detected at about 420km, rising to 800km during the day. Scientists here at the American Geophysical Union meeting said more typical values would be 640km during night-time and about 960km during the day.

To some extent, this should not be too surprising. The ionosphere reacts to the Sun’s 11-year cycle of activity and our star is currently in a very quiet phase.

“We are in the depths of a very low solar minimum right now and as a result the ionosphere is lower and less dense than, we believe, at any other time in the history of the space age when measurements have been made,” said Dr Hunton.

Nothing earth-shattering.  I just wanted to be able to use the phrase “The sky is falling” in a post.  grin

Off to Bed You Go…

Back in May NASA put out a request for volunteers for a

90-day bed rest study.  In return for participation, the participants would be paid $5000/month (or about $17K for the whole study).  The purpose of the study is to allow scientists to examine some of the effects of prolonged exposure to microgravity on the human body.  The experiment is not for the faint of heart, though, as some of the side-effects include muscle atrophy and loss of bone density.  A rehab period will be required after the study to allow the participant to regain the ability to stand up and walk (!). 

However, the subjects are not quarantined or kept lying around doing nothing.  They have access to phones and the internet as well as support from the medical team.  One of the participants has started a blog about her experiences called Pillow Astronaut.  So far, she’s been blogging since the beginning of July as the process got under way.  Her actual period of bed rest* began on the 24th

*It turns out that the subjects aren’t just confined to bed, they are kept in a bed with a -6° incline, which keeps their heads lower than their bodies.  As you can imagine, that also leads to a variety of complications in everything from eating to bathing…

If she keeps up the blog, it should be interesting to watch how this thing progresses.  Provided she doesn’t succumb to madness from being confined to bed for 90 days. 

Via Slashdot.

Shoot Me Into Space

Upon your death, a piece of you can slip the surly bonds of Earth.  For an appropriate fee, of course.

Celestis offers a service that will send a small amount of your ashes into space.  They offer options to send the remains into Earth orbit, lunar orbit, to the lunar surface, or into deep space.  Prices range from $995 to $12,500.

Not Dead Yet

NASA may reconsider the decision to abandon the Hubble.

NASA (news – web sites)‘s chief agreed Thursday to review his decision to cancel the Hubble Space Telescope (news – web sites)‘s final servicing mission and let it deteriorate and go out of operation. The decision comes after the space agency was bombarded by pleas to save the craft.

Adm. Hal Gehman, chairman of the board that investigated the Columbia shuttle breakup last year, will “review the (Hubble) matter and offer his unique perspective,” NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe said in a letter to Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who released a copy of the letter.

Of course that statement could just mean, “we’re trying to stall in the hope that people will leave us alone.”

Link via Slashdot.


It appears that yesterday’s report of human remains found in Denton was not correct.  The Denton Record Chronicle is reporting this morning that the bone fragment is not human:

Denton County fire marshal officials said Wednesday that the material found Tuesday on the rooftop of the Denton County Courts Building was not human remains from the space shuttle disaster Saturday that killed seven astronauts.

The FBI contacted the fire marshal’s office Wednesday morning, reporting that the object is mostly likely from a pig, said Denton County Fire Marshal Jody Gonzalez.

It’s good that they were able to test it so quickly, but it still leaves me wondering just why the hell a charred bone from a pig was on the roof of the Denton County Courts Building.

Local Shuttle News

The vast majority of shuttle debris is concentrated in East Texas, but it appears that some of it landed in the Denton area.  The Denton Record Chronicle is reporting that a Denton County crew found what could be human remains on the roof of the Denton County Courts Building (may require registration):

Suspected human remains were found on top of the Denton County Courts Building on East McKinney Street Tuesday morning during a search of county property. County officials called in federal agents to collect the object later that afternoon.

Jody Gonzalez, Denton County fire marshal and emergency management coordinator, accompanied FBI agents to the roof of the building shortly before 5 p.m.

“An employee of the county facilities department found an unknown object about 10:30 a.m. this morning in the process of checking rooftops of county buildings,” Mr. Gonzalez said.

He said the object appeared to be a bone about the size of a half-dollar and “burned in appearance.” He said he did not touch the object, and so could not say whether it was of human origin.

“I’ve looked at plenty of charred bones in my time, but I didn’t touch or manipulate it,” he said.

About a block away, a man found a charred piece of metal that was possibly from the shuttle in the parking lot of the Apple Creek Apartment complex (I used to live there a few years ago).

A piece of debris suspected to be from the space shuttle Columbia was found in Denton and turned over to authorities Monday, and a team from the Environmental Protection Agency collected suspected shuttle pieces in Corinth.

Keith Black of Denton found a piece of debris Sunday night in the parking lot of Applecreek Apartments off East McKinney Street.

“I wasn’t even thinking of space shuttle parts; it was just a funny-looking piece on the ground, so I just kicked it over and then I brought it into the house,” he said Monday. “When I got it into the light, then I recognized that it probably was an aircraft part.”

The debris is a piece of scorched woven metal about 8 inches long and 6 inches wide. Mr. Black, who was in the Air Force between 1974 and 1979, said he thought it looked like a piece of aircraft fuel-line sheathing.

Also from the same article, it appears that possible debris has been found in other parts of the Denton County area:

In Corinth around 6:15 p.m. Monday, EPA collectors picked up the suspected space shuttle debris from the home of Mike and Terri Baker. The pieces were found Saturday scattered around their home and in the back of Mr. Baker’s pickup truck.


Mr. Fisher said he and his collection team, a crew of private technicians contracted by the EPA, have been busy since Saturday collecting suspected space shuttle debris in Ennis, Waxahachie, Nacogdoches, Irving, Garland and Plano. He said his next stop was in Little Elm.

Quickie #8

I find it interesting that some in the mideast took the occasion of the loss of Columbia to remark that this was somehow God’s punishment against America.  As an agnostic, I don’t believe in such things, but I think it may be helpful to compare and contrast the relative accomplishments of countries like Iraq and the United States (I will leave such an exercise to the reader as it has been done before on other sites).

Those who attempt to do great things sometimes fail in spectacular ways.  But they at least dared to do those things.  I don’t see any great accomplishments coming out of the peanut gallery in the mideast (other than perhaps advances in torture techniques).  I don’t recall where I read this, but someone pointed out that there are people in America who are engaged in the task of building functional spacecraft in their garages.  Our country is unique in how we provide a framework that facilitates the ability of private citizens to acquire the resources necessary to undertake such tasks and in how we guarantee the freedom of said citizen to persue that task.

If I were to believe in a God, I might be inclined to retort that said God had indeed blessed America if our national concern was centered on an incident in the exploration of space.

The Dream Must Live On

Drinking too much rum and watching strange movies only helps one escape reality for a short time.  In the bright light of morning, the reality returns and must be confronted.  In a way, it seems strange to be so affected by such events.  Perhaps it was the proximity this time that affected us.  It happened right over our heads.  Perhaps it was the suddenness of it.  Or maybe it seemed so unfair in a way: they were just a few minutes from being safely on the ground and then they were gone.

Over the past 40+ years of our space program we have lost 17 people.  In some ways, given the number of launches and the risks involved, it’s surprising that we haven’t lost a lot more.  Think about just how dangerous it is to be strapped to the top of millions of pounds of volatile explosive material and then to ignite it in a controlled explosion in order to be launched into the hostile environment of space.  Even so, as a nation we are often deeply affected by the deaths of individuals.  To some this may be perceived as a weakness, and it has been exploited against us at times.  However, I think that regardless of such a perception, it makes us stronger in a way.  It shows that we still value the individual and that we will take great pains to protect each person.

Each one of us is given one death.  Most people don’t get a choice in how that death will be spent.  These few, however, chose to put theirs down as a deposit on the dream of going into space, knowing that it could be called in at any time.

Going into orbit and performing experiments serves a useful purpose, and I have no desire to diminish the importance of the cause for which the crew of Columbia died.  However, if we are going to spend such precious capital, then I think we need to be more ambitious in our endeavors.  I hope that we will create a viable alternative to the shuttle using more updated technology so that access to space is less costly, less risky, and more frequent.  But beyond that we must look at technology that can take us to other parts of the solar system.  And we should maintain the goal of exploring even further out than that.  Only by keeping such ambitious goals can we continually strive to improve our capabilities.

NASA, if it can shed its institutional calcification, can serve to help lead that effort.  They have pushed the boundaries of our technology and capabilities in the past and could continue to do so.  However, I look forward to the entry of commercial entities into this market.  Part of my desire to see this has to do with getting our eggs into multiple baskets (i.e. manned outposts on the moon or Mars), but part of it is more selfish.  The space program isn’t going to take a 32-year old geek like me with a bum knee and dodgy eyesight.  But I still have a dream of someday seeing Earth from orbit or perhaps even from the moon.  I think that commercial space flight may be able to provide such a thing.  Who knows if it’ll ever happen.  But it’s only through these kinds of dreams that we make progress.

Our astronauts are the pathfinders who are paving the way for the rest of us.  Let’s honor their memory by choosing to follow that path.

Blue Mood

I’ve concluded that the news networks don’t know when to just shut the hell up or change the subject.  I think I can get the relevant information from the internet (and occasionally local news stations) faster and without the droning, know-nothing repetition.

I think I’ve seen and heard enough about the shuttle for now.  I’m drained and deeply saddened by it.  I can’t say why this hit me so hard, but it broke through my normal detachment and left me in a low, blue mood.

I think I need to go do something else for a while…

Sorry News

I heard the boom this morning, but I didn’t realize that the shuttle was coming in so I didn’t have any idea what might have caused it.  I thought that it might just have been a sonic boom from a military aircraft of some sort.  I haven’t heard them in many years, but with the military on higher alert status recently, I didn’t think it that much out of the ordinary.  I remember when I was growing up we used to get them from the aircraft going to Barksdale AFB (this was in the late 70’s and early 80’s and someone once told me that they were SR-71s, but I don’t know whether that was true or not).  It wasn’t until I met up with some friends to go to the boat show that they told me what had happened (I spent most of the morning in a news blackout because those goons at Charter can’t seem to keep the cable TV and internet working on Saturday mornings; this is the third time in six weeks that this has happened).

It’s a terrible thing and I hope that we find out what happened.  From what I’ve read in the past couple of minutes it is going to be a very difficult task due to the violence of the breakup (the shuttle was traveling at over 12,000 mph at over 200,000 ft altitude).

Off to check the news networks for updates…