Category Archives: Space Science

The Faux Issue About Ted Cruz And NASA

A good analysis from Hank Campbell, with a little history for those ignorant in the space-science community.

I love cute robots on Mars and pretty pictures from Hubble but keep in mind that politicians and their staffers see beyond that. They know we could have cute robots and pretty pictures while spending a whole lot less money – and we wouldn’t lose a single NASA employee. Though advocates claim we will “lose leadership” in some area or another if we don’t spend more money than some other country, that argument does not work with politicians, who see how badly money can be misused – when it is the pet projects of their political opponents, anyway.

I don’t care what Ted Cruz thinks about global warming, pollution is bad whether he thinks so or not, and Senator and now President Obama said he thought vaccines might be causing autism, but did anyone in science not vote for him in 2008 because of that? If you about care climate science, don’t worry about NASA, worry about the new chair of the environment committee, Senator Jim Inhofe, who denies climate science outright.

If you do care about space science, Cruz is a good choice. Just like Cruz’s opinion on climate change, that science media happens not to like Republicans is irrelevant to how well someone will do at NASA. He’s likely to be better for space science than the people we have had under Democrats, including the space advocate (and space-farer) Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, who insisted that extending the life of the glorified space-going UPS trucks known as the Shuttle Program was somehow necessary for science – a porkbarrel agenda that would have starved out actual space science programs – and did nothing at all about President Obama canceling Constellation in his home state. Nelson has to be careful criticizing the President ‘or the Republicans win’ but Cruz is not handcuffed by common party registration. If he has presidential ambitions, helping NASA will help him in Florida and some common sense about funding will be welcome to the public and a lot of NASA employees and scientists who can’t criticize the President. As I have discussed about the James Webb Space Telescope and its eternal cost overruns, every time a high-profile NASA project hemorrhages money, it’s the less-publicized but more scientifically valuable projects that bleed.

NASA needs someone who is not going to sign off on projects hoping they will become too big to fail. It’s better for the public and it’s better for science, because all those experiments that only need a few million dollars can then get it, rather than being told to wait for next year because an old program no one is excited about is delayed and over budget once again.

Unfortunately, he’s bought (or at least seems to have bought) into the SLS BS. But he’s a smart guy, so he may be educable.

A Gravity Lab

A concept for doing it on the cheap.

One problem I see in the near term is that NASA plans to use Dragons as lifeboats, so I’m not sure when one would become available on orbit.

[Update a while later]

Actually, I think that a cargo Dragon meets the requirements for this much better than a crew Dragon. It’s an on-orbit mission only, so there’s no need for couches, which just take up room. It can’t be used for a lifeboat, because it has no docking adaptor (at least currently), so NASA wouldn’t miss it. Even a Dragon V2 would need an ECLSS upgrade, so might as well just put it in the cargo version. It would have a lot less value to NASA than a V2, so it would be easier to get it from them. All they’d be giving up is the cargo return (which they could even get when the mission was over, months later, if they wanted).

Orion’s Mission

Paul Spudis deflates a lot of the hype about this week’s flight. The notion that this is a significant part of a Mars architecture is, and always has been, ludicrous.

[Update a while later]

Sorry, I’ve solved the problem of the missing link.

[Update a few minutes later]

More from Joel Achenbach:

You don’t need an advanced degree from MIT to grasp that this is a very stately, deliberate program, one free of the sin of haste and the vice of urgency.

Has there ever been a piece of human space hardware developed so slowly?

Or so expensively?

Serious question: Is it not a fact that Orion is the costliest capsule in human history?

Yes, it has lots of bells and whistles that the Apollo capsules lacked. This one has XM/Sirius radio built in, butt-warmers in the seats, four-way adjustable mirrors and Big-Gulp-sized cup-holders. It’s got a guest room, a fully stocked bar, a laundry room and 24-hour concierge service. It’s a really nice spaceship!

…Orion could, in theory, be used for such a mission, but it’s a single piece of what would be a complex array of technologies and hardware. Yes, a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, but only if you keep walking, and are seriously committed to the journey — no pretending or arm-waving allowed.

(I drive to the store and buy an onion. I drive home and cut it up and put it in a big pot on the stove and then go watch television. Someone asks me, “What are you doing?” and I answer, “I’m making gumbo.” And the someone says, “What about the garlic, the peppers, the celery, the fresh okra, the andouille sausage, the grilled chicken, the fish, the shrimp, those special blended peppers you always use, and the roux, not to mention the fresh French bread on the side?” I answer, “I can’t afford that right now.”)


Congratulations To ESA

My twitter feed’s been exploding with tweets about the comet landing. Unfortunately, the harpoons apparently didn’t automatically deploy, so they don’t yet have a sure grab to the surface, which could make sampling operations difficult. The surface seems to be softer than expected. But they’re still working the problem.

This is good news for asteroid miners, though.

[Update a few minutes later]

OK, hearing that they managed to anchor with the ice screws, so maybe harpoons are redundant now.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson

…and the science of smug condescension:

Here we see, in action, the signature scientific style of the Neil deGrasse Tyson era. Present a scientific theory in crudely oversimplified form, omitting any uncertainties or counter-arguments. Pass off complex claims as if they are obvious “basic physics.” Then dismiss any skepticism as the resentment of the primitive, ignorant, unscienced masses against their enlightened betters.

Or, you know, file law suits against critics.

It’s not a very good way to get valid scientific results—nor, for that matter, to promote the scientific method. But it’s what we get when we substitute, in place of respect for the actual methodology of science, an attitude of superior posing and smug condescension.

I’d like to say that I was disappointed with the Cosmos reboot, but honestly, I wasn’t that big a fan of the original. But I’d love to buy Tyson for what I think he’s worth, and sell him for what he does.

[Afternoon update]

Some more thoughts:

It seems to me that Neal deGrasse Tyson is a scientist. Heck, I don’t actually know, because I don’t read technical astronomy papers, but I assume he’s published something somewhere, actually done some science in his life. But that doesn’t appear to be his current day job. His current job, near as I can tell, is carnival barker. He’s a salesman, or an advertiser. That’s not science. Inspiring others to want to learn more may be laudable, but it’s not science. Making crap up isn’t science, either, but I’ll let the serial stalkers at the Federalist worry about that.

But here’s a misconception that I’ve discussed before:

Thing is, I’m no scientist. So while I would like to call myself a Science-ist – that is, one who believes in the nature of science and the good results it can produce – I certainly can’t pretend I am a scientist, which is one who does science. Stuff like collecting data, analyzing it, proposing hypotheses, testing hypotheses. You know, stuff that scientists do. Not just looking at cool pictures of galaxies and pretending that makes me smart. (Um, NSFW language at that link)

No. Science isn’t a profession, it’s a way of thinking about the world, and learning about it. Everyone does it, to some degree or another, every day. Check a door knob to see if it’s unlocked? You just did an experiment.

People who believe in “science” as some kind of special realm that “scientists” live in, and that “science” reveals “truth” (as many global warm mongers do, even though they don’t understand the science or, often, even basic math) are members of a religion, that is in fact properly called scienceism. I believe in science as the best means to learn about the natural world, and as the basis for engineering and creating technology, but I don’t worship scientists, and I don’t delude myself that scientific results are “truth.”

Anyway, finally, note this comment:

you make an ass out of neal tyson when it’s pointed out that he has not, in fact, published A SINGLE PIECE of academic work since having talked some committee into accepting the dissertation it took him 11 years (and an expulsion!) to co-author.

no, seriously. if you don’t believe me, you can put his name into the search bar at, where practicing physicists post our preprints:

“Search gave no matches

No matches were found for your search: all:(neal AND tyson)

Please try again.”

In the next comment, he notes that there is in fact one post-doc paper, but it appears that he’s just participating because the actual authors wanted a bigger name on it.

The Hubble Group

So the big news today is that they’ve named the supercluster we live in:

Scientists previously placed the Milky Way in the Virgo Supercluster, but under Tully and colleagues’ definition, this region becomes just an appendage of the much larger Laniakea, which is 160 million parsecs (520 million light years) across and contains the mass of 100 million billion Suns.

Which kicked off this Twitter exchange between me and Lee Billings.

Accordingly, I propose that we rename the Local Group the Hubble Group, in honor of its namer, and making it consistent with the other names. I will henceforth call it that. If anyone asks, I’ll explain.