Patterico's Pontifications


Restoring NASA’s Vision and Budget

Filed under: Space — DRJ @ 12:14 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

It appears Congress doesn’t share President Obama’s vision for NASA:

“The commerce committee will begin considering the legislation, seen below, Thursday. It represents a significant departure from President Obama’s remake of NASA proposed in February.”

The Houston Chronicle blog attributes much of the legislation to input from Florida Senator Bill Nelson, a former astronaut “who many on the Hill look to for guidance on space issues.” The text of the Senate bill is at the link and it doesn’t mention reaching out to the Muslim world, which is consistent with yesterday’s statement by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. Gibbs said NASA administrator Charles Bolden was wrong to say that reaching out to the Muslim world was a top priority of the U.S. space agency. Nevertheless, Bolden’s admirable career suggests he isn’t the sort of man who would lie when he told Al-Jazeera television that President Obama said one of his top priorities should be to “find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math and engineering.”

It seems Bolden just got thrown under the bus.



Obama’s Plan for NASA (Updated)

Filed under: Obama,Space — DRJ @ 2:04 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

NASA’s hometown newspaper the Houston Chronicle followed up on recent reports that Obama’s leading candidate to head NASA is former shuttle astronaut, test pilot, and retired Marine Corps General Charles Bolden, Jr.:

“The former test pilot left NASA in 1994 after 14 years of service to return to the Marine Corps, where he rose to the rank of major general. He retired in 2003.

But Bolden has remained familiar with NASA’s workings and personnel. He serves on NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, one of nine experts who advises the administrator. He is also an adviser to the four high-ranking NASA officials who are overseeing the upcoming space shuttle reconditioning flight to the 18-year-old Hubble Space Telescope. Bolden piloted the shuttle Discovery in 1990 that flew the observatory into space.”

It could be considered a bipartisan appointment since President George W. Bush previously tried to appoint Bolden as NASA’s deputy administrator:

“In 2002, President George W. Bush nominated Bolden to serve as NASA’s deputy administrator. However, the nomination was withdrawn after the Pentagon objected to civilian agencies drafting high-ranking officers during wartime.”

Other names are rumored to still be on Obama’s short list but this appointment makes sense if, as Bloomberg reported last week, Obama carries through on a plan “to tear down long-standing barriers between the U.S.’s civilian and military space programs to speed up a mission to the moon amid the prospect of a new space race with China.”

It’s not clear whether NASA will survive as a civilian institution during an Obama Administration but I’m sure the Pentagon would be happy to take responsibility for government’s efforts in space. Maybe it would be cheaper and more efficient to consolidate space issues in the military, or maybe it’s a bad idea. What do you think?

UPDATE: PJ Media’s Rand Simberg says Bloomberg got it wrong:

“Despite what some of the (non-transition) sources quoted say, there is little relationship between a human moon landing and space warfare in near-earth orbit. Guidance systems for the latter are easily developed in the absence of orbital rendezvous and docking, which have different requirements. And despite myths promulgated by science fiction about being bombarded from the moon, it is really not a militarily useful high ground against the earth.

Yes, it will save costs if NASA can use existing, or modified existing, vehicles, but this wouldn’t involve any “tearing down of walls,” and it should be done regardless of what the Chinese are doing, simply to make the program more affordable and sustainable.

How did this confusing and misleading story happen? In an email from someone familiar with the transition team’s activities, it seems pretty simple:

This story is very strange. We asked questions about EELVs; about how the DOD and NASA cooperate; and what has been discussed with China. They were unrelated questions. It seems as though the reporter tied them together for his odd conclusion.

Thus, Bolden’s appointment may mean Obama’s goal is efficiency through multi-agency cooperation, not tearing down walls. I’m for that.

H/T dobygillas.



The First Men in Space Sub-Orbital Flight? (Updated x2)

Filed under: International,Space — DRJ @ 9:23 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

This 2001 Pravda article on the first men in space may end up as a footnote in history but it’s news to me:

“As 40 years have passed since Gagarin’s flight, new sensational details of this event were disclosed: Gagarin was not the first man to fly to space. Three Soviet pilots died in attempts to conquer space before Gagarin’s famous space flight, Mikhail Rudenko, senior engineer-experimenter with Experimental Design Office 456 (located in Khimki, in the Moscow region) said on Thursday.

According to Rudenko, spacecraft with pilots Ledovskikh, Shaborin and Mitkov at the controls were launched from the Kapustin Yar cosmodrome (in the Astrakhan region) in 1957, 1958 and 1959. “All three pilots died during the flights, and their names were never officially published,” Rudenko said. He explained that all these pilots took part in so-called sub- orbital flights, i.e., their goal was not to orbit around the earth, which Gagarin later did, but make a parabola-shaped flight. “The cosmonauts were to reach space heights in the highest point of such an orbit and then return to the Earth,” Rudenko said. According to his information, Ledovskikh, Shaborin and Mitkov were regular test pilots, who had not had any special training, Interfax reports.

“Obviously, after such a serious of tragic launches, the project managers decided to cardinally change the program and approach the training of cosmonauts much more seriously in order to create a cosmonaut detachment,” Rudenko said.”

I grew up in the main years of the space race and everyone was fascinated with news about the space program – either because of pride in American accomplishments or concern about the Soviet’s. Chief among those accomplishments was the ability to bring astronauts/cosmonauts home alive so it’s little wonder the Soviets didn’t make this public, but I think it makes NASA’s early accomplishments that much more impressive.

H/t Instapundit.

UPDATE 1: In other space news, watch out for an uncontrollable US spy satellite the size of a small bus and containing hazardous materials that will fall to Earth in February or early March. Here’s my favorite part, where they explain past falling satellites were directed to a controlled re-entry (which is not possible in this case):

“In 2002, officials believe debris from a 7,000-pound science satellite smacked into the Earth’s atmosphere and rained down over the Persian Gulf, a few thousand miles from where they first predicted it would plummet.”

Heh! The prediction missed by only a “few thousand miles” or as Maxwell Smart would say “Missed it by THAT much.”

UPDATE 2: Several comments raise serious doubts about this story.



Whoa, Don’t Get All Technical on Me Dere, Perfesser!

Filed under: General,Space — Patterico @ 7:11 am

There’s a gouge in the belly of the space shuttle, and the methods for repairing it include one straight out of a Road Runner cartoon:

The astronauts have three methods for repairing tile damage, if necessary: They could apply black paint, screw on a protective plate, or squirt in goo.

Is that Acme brand goo?


First [Female] Space Tourist

Filed under: General,Space — Patterico @ 11:41 pm

Would you pay $20 million to ride into space? I might, if I had $550 million, like this lady. Still, you’d think they could get you to the moon . . .

UPDATE: She isn’t the first space tourist — just the first female space tourist. Thanks to Sam for the correction; I have fixed the post title.


We Have Cool Stuff

Filed under: Gadgets,Space,War — Angry Clam @ 7:53 am

[Posted by The Angry Clam]

Aviation Week has a story currently about a secret two-stage to orbit military spaceplane that was supposedly operational.

Considering that Aviation Week isn’t the Weekly World News, and that these guys also guessed the existence of the sweet-as-hell F-117 before it was publicly announced, I don’t think that it is entirely implausible that they’ve got the broad outlines for the program correct. The descriptions of the Blackstar also align fairly closely with the numerous reports of the Aurora aircraft.

If Aviation Week’s correct that the program has been scrapped, the real question becomes “what even cooler toy did they get to replace this?”


A Space Elevator?

Filed under: Space — Patterico @ 7:05 am

Glenn Reynolds endorses the notion of a space elevator. Hmmm. Talk about a good terrorist target . . .

If they’re going to build a space elevator, I hope they don’t hire the company that built the elevators at the L.A. County Criminal Courts Building.


The Earthquake That Wasn’t

Filed under: Space — Patterico @ 8:26 pm

This morning my wife got online to look up an earthquake that occurred a little after 5 a.m. this morning. Turns out there wasn’t one; it was a sonic boom from the landing of the Space Shuttle flight.


The Wishing Ring, part 2

Filed under: Environment,Space — Dafydd @ 4:02 am

High Temperature Ceramic Engines

Despite innovations galore over the past hundred and twenty years or so (depending on what ancestors you’re willing to count), the internal combustion gasoline engine is basically the same today as it was in 1885/1886, when Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz independently invented it. Probably the most notable improvement was electronic fuel injection (1966); fuel injection can improve the power output of similar-sized engines by roughly 40%, and make it impossible to impress your wife by cleaning the carburetor. But even that is just a slightly more efficient way to squirt gasoline into a cylinder and mix it with oxygen to produce an inflammable mixture that burns reasonably well.

The real problem with the classic internal combustion engine is much more basic: to really get full efficiency out of burning fuel, you have to burn it at really hot temperatures, upwards of 5000° Fahrenheit. But at that temperature, steel cylinders, pistons, and the engine block itself will melt like a nervous Republican in a warm filibuster.

Say hello to ceramics.



Ten Thousand Armies of One

Filed under: Accepted Wisdom,Space,Terrorism,War — Dafydd @ 2:48 am

That slogan of the U.S. Army — “an Army of one!” — has always set me to pondering. What do they mean? On the one hand, they extol teamwork; but on the other hand, the brass seem to want recruits to feel like individuals, cardinal numbers instead of merely ordinal numbers. It seems confused, to say the least.

But what if it were literally true? What if one man (or woman) could be the hyperpowered equivalent of an entire army back in the days of the so-called “greatest generation?” What if the United States had ten thousand “armies of one?” To explore this intriguing idea, do the obvious….


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