Category Archives: Space

Space Anniversaries

Yesterday was the 48th anniversary of the loss of three astronauts on the launch pad, in preparation for the Apollo missions. A child of the space age, I remember it particularly well, because it occurred the day before my twelth birthday. A little over nineteen years later, on my actual birthday, Challenger was lost. I recollected it on the sixteenth anniversary of the event.

Today is the twenty-ninth anniversary of that tragedy, and while I commemorate it, I also celebrate the completion of my sixtieth trip around the sun, over eight thousand miles from home. I’m in Israel to attend a conference named after Ilan Ramon, an Israeli hero who died a dozen years ago on February 1st, when Columbia disintegrated in the skies over east Texas. That anniversary coming up with Sunday, by which time I’ll be home, if all goes according to plan, to celebrate with friends and family, but also grieve for the losses. Yet as I point out in my book, such losses are inevitable, and necessary, perhaps even at a faster rate than once per generation, if we wish to accomplish much greater things than we have in space over the past six decades since my birth.

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.

The “Hard Landing” On The Ship

Elon has been tweeting some video grabs.

[Update a while later]

Here’s the video.

Martin Rees

…has some thoughts on risk, and who will be exploring Mars:

…space travel will be done by adventurers, doing it for the sake of it, and they will thus become more like today’s mountaineers, who are actually doing things which others have already done, but making life harder for themselves – for example by climbing without ropes.

“I hope that some people now living will walk on Mars, but they will go in my view not in the spirit of Nasa astronauts – who are exposed to fairly low risks – but as part of a cut-price venture accepting great danger and perhaps even a one way ticket. If the Chinese wanted to have a prestige programme, as the Americans did with Apollo, they could get there in 20 years. But unless they do so, the first people to land on Mars will be mad, brave adventurers, and we will cheer them on.


Successful Flyback

…and failed landing. That’s what flight test is about. They’ll learn from it, as they always do from a failed attempt.

I would note, though, that this does complicate their operations, if they plan to land down range every time, and can’t return to launch site. I suspect they’ll determine that the problem was crappy weather conditions, and their FLIR or whatever they were using for guidance wasn’t doing very well. That means that there’s a new condition imposed on a decision to fly — weather at recovery site. Shuttle often scrubbed with good weather at the Cape, due to unacceptable conditions at abort sites, and that was just for contingency. If SpaceX wants to recover down range, they may occasionally have to make a decision as to whether to risk the loss of a stage, or delay and arouse customer ire. It will depend on whether or not there’s a tight window (e.g., a planetary mission), and who the customer is.

[Update a couple minutes later]

Oh, I hadn’t read to the end. It sounds like it wasn’t a weather problem — they “ran out of hydraulic fluid” (not sure what that means — it’s not a closed system?). But that seems like good news, both for their chances of recovering next time, and for being able to operate in less-than-perfect conditions. Sounds like they only thing that might prevent a launch, in terms of barge conditions, would be sea state (or high winds), not weather per se.

[Update a few minutes later]

Here‘s what looks like a reasonable explanation from Jon Goff. I haven’t read the post itself yet, but I’m sure it’s worthwhile to do so.

[Update a few minutes later]

OK, Elon just tweeted that it was hydraulics for the control fins, and they came within 10%. So that means an excellent chance of success the next time, with the addition of a little bit more juice.

[Update a few minutes later]