End of the Cassini mission

October 15, 1997. Cassini made a beautiful and perfect launch. I had just met my wife-to-be. I had no kids of my own.

January 14, 2005: Cassini drops Huygens probe on Titan. One of my all-time favoritest moments:

September 15, 2017: Cassini’s fuel has finally run out. It will take an intentional dive into the atmosphere of Saturn. Taking pics and measurements along the way, it will very doubtfully reach anything resembling a surface. Instead it will burn up and disintegrate along the way, just barely scraping the highest of Saturn’s mostly Hydrogen, incredibly windy atmosphere. I just celebrated my 16th anniversary, my son is fourteen years old.

What a remarkable mission it’s been.

ULA to begin human spaceflight in 2017

Today I was personally assured by ULA that they will be launching humans into space again from Cape Canaveral in 2017.

That was in response to my criticism of Charles Bolden announcing NASA needed to focus more on a destination for tourist travel.  I thought that was a clear indication of his ineptitude given the fact that since 2011 we’ve had a destination with no ability whatsoever to get people there.

Launch and Landing of Spacex Falcon 9

My God this is exciting stuff!

However, that excitement was dampened by this news:

The only thing that would be more exciting to me is if we could actually send a man into space and fix very expensive satellites.

You know, like we could before Obama was president.

Orbital ATK CRS-6 Liftoff

This was a beautiful launch. 7,000 pounds of supplies heading to the International Space Station. Seems more than capable of sending three or four astronauts to the station as well. Really am tired of watching us send perfectly good money to Putin’s Russia so they can invade other countries with it.

Edgar Mitchell

Edgar Mitchell was the first man to set foot on the Moon after the near disastrous Apollo 13 mission.  Their trip to the Moon re-assured a rather nervous country that space travel could be fairly safe.  Within a few years after their return to the Moon, the Apollo mission was cancelled without fanfare and no man has stepped on the Moon since.  The Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo astronauts have always been my biggest idols.  Nothing to me defined guts more than leaving your planet in a tiny, tiny, metal can.

The Future of Human Spaceflight is Bright?

That’s the words Charles Bolden had to say this past week.

I kept trying to figure a way to get a piece of the article, detailed enough to get the point across, but not so much to violate the intent of copyrights.  I can’t do it.  It’s just too absurd.  So, here’s the whole thing with the link to space.com to make it theirs.

Even though NASA’s iconic space shuttle program is ending in a matter of weeks, the future of American human spaceflight remains bright, according to NASA chief Charlie Bolden.

Private spaceflight firms will pick up NASA’s slack before too long, ferrying humans to low-Earth orbit and back relatively cheaply and efficiently, Bolden told reporters here at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Thursday (July 7).

And handing off that taxi service to commercial companies, Bolden added, will free the space agency up to do what it was meant to do: explore further afield in our solar system. So the nation is not abandoning human spaceflight, despite a pervasive public perception to the contrary, he said.

“The future of human spaceflight is bright,” Bolden said. “You’ll hear me say that over and over and over again.”

You get that?  Although the US won’t be doing any more human space flights, the nation is not abandoning human space flight BECAUSE someone else will still be doing it.  Virgin Galactic is NOT a US company.  I think most people are pretty aware SIR Richard Branson is a Brit.  What if Iran buys out SpaceX?  Does he REALLY think SpaceX can compete with the Chinese?

Given the ball for a buzzer beating half court shot to save NASA, Charles Bolden, rather than shooting the ball, would rather tell us how great someone else could have shot it.

The space race is over.  If you want to go to space now, you have to make your reservation with Russia.

May 3, 2017 update. The United States still has not been able to put a man in space since Bolden’s rosy assessment nearly six years ago.  We are STILL paying the Russians to do it for us while everyone keeps bragging on the fact the private sector, after six years, is ALMOST about ready to try.

When Kennedy said we were going to the Moon, we got it done in LESS time than they have had to work with in the private sector.

Think about that.


Voyager II has left the solar system

Voyager I exited our solar system about a year ago.  Voyager II apparently exited the solar system very recently.  However, it wasn’t supposed to for another year.  This told some very smart people something.  The edge of our solar system apparently is not a circle, but an egg shaped object.  To make it understandable to people like me, they did what works best, they drew a picture:

The big red thing is apparently applying pressure to the heliopause causing it to blow away from it causing the egg shaped figure.

Now, they explain what the big red thing is, sorta:

The researchers think that the heliosphere’s asymmetry might be due to a weak interstellar magnetic field pressing inward on the southern hemisphere.

It just seems to me that something that would morph the figure of our entire solar system would be something a little more exciting than a weak interstellar magnetic field.  I bet this is where conspiracy theories come from.

Space Shuttles and foam ( and mega-lightning )

I have been threatening to do a piece on the Space Shuttles. This is sort of going to be it.  Some rudimentary background.  February 1, 2003, Shuttle Columbia breaks up over Texas re-entering the atmosphere.  After an extensive investigation, NASA came to the conclusion that a piece of foam fell off the main tank and hit the shuttle during launch.

“During the test, the 1 1/2-pound piece of foam cracked the reinforced carbon panel and knocked it out of alignment, creating a gap of less than one-tenth of an inch between the panel and an adjoining seal. The crack was at least 3 inches long. “

Now, that sounds convincing enough.  But I have asked the same question for two years, “How can a vehicle designed to withstand speeds of 20,000 mph while being hit by space debris and such be rendered inoperable by foam?”  Although NASA did a good job of explaining how the foam could damage the shuttle, it has never addressed the question that if foam can destroy the shuttle, couldn’t just about anything else?

Well, I’ve sort of found some answersIn 1997, due to environmental concerns and agreements, NASA switched from a freon based foam, to an environmentally friendly foam.  The first launch with the new foam showed that 308 tiles were damaged as opposed to 40 on the average flights before it.  NASA, in their post-Columbia report, felt it was how the foam was applied, not the foam itself.  Since the increase in damaged tiles was observed, NASA has experimented with several ways of applying the foam.  As the launch of Discovery showed, they still don’t have it right.  NASA has an exemption from the EPA to go back to using the original foam, maybe they should ponder it.  But, that still doesn’t answer my question of why the shuttle seems so fragile.

A theory I have had is maybe the shuttle isn’t as fragile as it seems.  If something else went wrong with Columbia, and it wasn’t the loss of a hand full of tiles due to foam, then it’s not quite as fragile as it sounds.  Enter the alternative theory that has been circulating since 2003 but totally discounted by NASA to date:

Research carried out after the discovery of positive lightning in the 1970s showed that positive lightning bolts are typically six to ten times more powerful than negative bolts, last around ten times longer, and can strike several miles distant from the clouds. During a positive lighting strike, huge quantities of ELF and VLF radio waves are generated.

As a result of their power, positive lightning strikes are considerably more dangerous. At the present time aircraft are not designed to withstand such strikes, since their existence was unknown at the time standards were set, and the dangers unappreciated until the destruction of a glider in 1999. It has since been suggested that it may have been positive lightning that caused the crash of Pan Am flight 214 in 1963. Positive lighting is now also thought to be responsible for many forest fires.

Positive lightning has also been shown to trigger the occurrence of upper atmospheric lightning. It tends to occur more frequently in winter storms and at the end of a thunderstorm.

NASA does not know much about what happens in the region Columbia was in when it disintegrated.  Little real research has been done in the region between “sky” and space.  One thing they have observed are the very powerful “blue streaks” in that region of sky.  Which, leads to this:

David Monaghan makes a very compelling argument that it was mega-lightning that took down Columbia.

If this is truly the case, then the shuttle is not quite as fragile as it sounds being downed by foam.  There’s no technology I am aware of that man has developed yet to deal with mega-powerful positive lightning.  If it were a lightning strike, it would mean NASA is dealing with a phenomena it knows little to nothing about, and therefore their answer would have to be something along the lines of “We don’t know how to deal with that”.  And that is not an answer I expect to ever hear from NASA.  But, what it would mean is my faith in shuttle technology would be a lot higher than it is right now.  I mean, come on, foam?  Sure, they can eventually figure out how to keep the foam on the tank, but that still doesn’t make me feel a lot better knowing that with all the space junk and natural space litter floating around up there that’s made of a lot harder stuff than foam that the shuttle is much of a vehicle I would ever want to take a ride in.  Attribute it to lightning.  I know the chances of getting hit by lightning.  At the very least, explore this option a lot more.  If this phenomena is actually prevalent on Earth, it’s going to be something to deal with in space as well.  Maybe not here, but who knows on Mars?