The Hubble Space Telescope was the first instrument to capture HR 8799b – an exosolar planet revolving around its parent star – back in 1998. Due to the difficulty of the technique involved to detect the planet in the Hubble data, the planet was first announced by two other teams of planet hunters. Astronomers knew of the planet’s existence from images taken with the Keck and Gemini North telescopes in 2007 and 2008. The new technique, using Hubble data, could unveil plenty of new exosolar planets. There are over 10 years’ of Hubble data archived, after all. 200 stars have been examined by Hubble using the same technique as the one that ‘found’ HR 8799b. I would be willing to bet that at least one additional exosolar planet is lurking in that archive, which is only one good reason to maintain that dataset.
NASA made a decision this week to delay the launch of the Mars Science Lab (MSL – wikipedia; MSL – mission page) until 2011, instead of next year (2009). Problems with the rover’s actuators, which will control every moving piece on the rover, were cited as the cause for delay.
The two year delay comes about as a result of the desire to launch when Mars and Earth are in the best position with respect to one another. Flights can technically be launched at any time, but additional fuel and time are needed outside of the prime windows. The delay is expected to add $400 million to the cost of the mission, which unfortunately is likely to mean other probe’s and rovers’ work and launches will be similarly delayed.
It’s for this reason that I wish science was a higher priority for the U.S. I think there should be secondary missions that can be worked on and launched if primary missions aren’t ready. Their schedules could be offset from the primary missions’ by approximately one year. If a primary and secondary missions are both ready, launch them both. But if one or the other isn’t ready, something should be prepared to take their place.
Longer term, it means human exploration and settlement of Mars could also be delayed. I want to see humans explore and settle Mars in my lifetime. ‘This delay frustrates that desire.
A date has been selected for the next Hubble repair mission, which was supposed to take place back in October. STS-125 is now scheduled for May 12, 2009. The mission was delayed due to the failure of a data handling unit days before its original scheduled lift-off. Missions planners have scheduled 5 spacewalks over 11 days to upgrade the Hubble.
The James Webb Telescope, scheduled for a 2013 launch, will have a revolutionary sun shield. It will be the size of a tennis court once it is unfolded in space and be membrane-based. The 21.3 foot diameter shield will have 5 layers of a material called Kapton, which is mylar-like, and aluminum and silicon coatings to reflect heat back into space. Engineers had to figure out how to fold the coated membranes, which make up the layers of the sun shield, to make sure they didn’t get tangled upon opening and so that the unfolding didn’t rub off any of the coatings.
Just prior to the scheduled launch of the last Hubble Space Telescope’s repair/upgrade mission, an onboard data router failed. The shuttle launch was delayed until next year. Scientists and engineers worked to use an onboard backup (thank you, redundancy!). That backup unit is up and running. A test photo was released by NASA and things look real good! Unfortunately, the already delayed upgrade mission was delayed a little more. NASA wants to send up a replacement part to the unit that failed last month. It won’t be ready for another six months. That could delay NASA’s plans to reconfigure the launch pad to accomodate the next generation of launch vehicles. Fortunately, Endeavour’s Nov. 14th launch to the International Space Station remains on schedule.
A Google Lunar X-Prize contestant is not only planning to send their craft to the Apollo 11 landing site, they’re planning to launch five additional missions for lunar polar exploration. To win the Grand X-Prize ($20 million), a private company must achieve a series of goals by Dec. 31, 2010. Astrobotic now wants to send it main craft to the moon in 2010, then two smaller rovers in 2011 and 2012. An additional lander would also land in 2012, then another rover in 2013. This is exactly the kind of plan I want to see: a medium-term, aggressive approach to lunar exploration.
NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander entered an inactive safe mode late Tuesday. Very cold overnight temperatures and a dust storm has reduced Phoenix’s ability to generate enough power to conduct full science. It’s not supposed to be a permanent condition. Phoenix’s primary mission phase ended in August. It has had its mission extended ever since. Eventually, Phoenix will not be able to power itself.
NASA’s shuttle replacement might come online one year sooner than originally planned. Plans are being drawn up to try to move the first test launch date up from 2015 to 2014. They will be finalized in December. This news came out prior to NASA’s announcement that the Hubble upgrade mission was going to be delayed again. As I wrote above, the launch pad needs to be reconfigured for the Orion vehicle launch aboard the Ares rocket.
Cassini is going to pass by Saturn’s mood Enceladus for the third time tomorrow. A number of very cool things have come from the previous two flybys.
NASA’s Phoenix lander detected snow falling from clouds 2 miles high. While none reached the ground, it confirms water still precipitates from the sky in at least one form.
Folks continue to modify their Toyota Priuses to get even more performance from battery technologies. At $7500 a pop, it’s not for everyone, but the engineering hurdles to make a car run exclusively off electricity if the driver wants has been jumped over time and time again. My next car will be a hybrid at a minimum. If I can convert it to be a plug-in, all the better.
A critical component of the Hubble has failed. The Control Unit/Science Data Formatter is no longer working, meaning data can’t be sent to the ground. A backup version is on-board, but scientists need to see if it can be brought online. Another backup is located at the Hubble operations center. Engineers will see if it can be made flight ready and if the system can be replaced in-flight. Astronauts scheduled for the original Hubble repair mission will likely have to do some additional training also. All this means the Hubble repair mission is likely to be delayed until January or February of next year. The next International Space Station construction mission would then be moved up to mid-November.
SpaceX has successfully become the first private entity to put a liquid-fueled booster in Earth orbit. It took four tries, but Falcon1 achieved the mark Sunday. More Falcon1 launches are scheduled, with one next year to launch a Malaysian satellite. SpaceX is also planning a mid-2009 launch of Falcon9, which could help deliver supplies to the International Space Station while NASA is without a vehicle between shuttle retirement and Orion coming online.
Has the next solar cycle begun? After a brief time of no sunspots, one has developed on the sun’s surface. If more sunspots develop in the relative near future, Solar Cycle 24 will have begun.
In a move toward improving the transparency of bills in Congress, PublicMarkup.org has put the original Bush Bailout plan and Senator Chris Dodd’s plan dealing with the same issue up for public view. The public can also comment on the legislation.
Oh, in case you’re wondering – despite having billions of dollars worth of bad assets and paying executives millions of dollars every year, the financial institutions looking for a $700 billion handout is still paying for lobbyists. In the millions this year alone. While families are losing their houses. That’s immoral.
The Republican County Clerk in El Paso is illegally trying to prevent students at Colorado College from voting this November. Why would that be? Could it be that young voters are breaking 65-32 for Obama over McCain? Every vote Bob Balink prevents for Obama and other Democrats is one step closer toward his party’s success. There are 10 days left to register to vote for this year’s election. How many voters will be unable to vote because of this Republican’s immoral efforts?
While the summer season has drawn to a close for the Arctic, thankfully ending the horrible rate of melt this year, the Antarctic’s winter is also ending. This winter wasn’t as good to the sea ice in the Southern Hemisphere as last winter was. The maximum extent was 15 million sq. km, over 1 million sq. km. less than the area last year. It appears Aug. 2008 wasn’t a good year for ice worldwide as the Southern Hemisphere actually lost over 500,000 sq. km. of ice in a two-week time period. August also saw the fastest rate of melt of ice in the Northern Hemisphere. After attaining a +2 million sq. km. anomaly last year, the Southern Hemisphere is lucky to be right at the 1970-2000 mean, and appears to be heading negative as the melt accelerates.
The shuttle mission to Hubble has been delayed by 4 days, from Oct. 10th to the 14th. Most of the delay was caused by Hurricane Ike’s landfall and damage to the Houston, TX area. Atlantis is scheduled to make the trip to Hubble. Endeavour is waiting on a nearby launch pad in the event that Atlantis experiences damage significant enough to prevent a return to Earth. Endeavour is scheduled to make another construction flight to the International Space Station later this year if the rescue mission is unneeded.
A potential lunar colony site has been mapped in 3-D using camera data that wasn’t meant for 3-D. I think Mars exploration and colonies should come first, but recognize the long-term importance of the Moon as well.
Gas shortages are occurring across the southern U.S. A couple of factors are causing this situation. Hurricanes Gustav and Ike shut down drilling and refining infrastructure as well as power delivery systems across the Gulf of Mexico, Louisiana and Texas. More disturbing is the following:
In its most recent Weekly Oil Data Review, Barclays Capital pointed out that the U.S. gasoline inventory has reached its lowest level since August 1967, when demand was a little more than half its current level of 9.3 million barrels a day. At 178.7 million barrels, inventories are 21.6 million barrels below their five-year average.
Replacing those inventories isn’t easy either. “Once the refineries get back up and running, they’ll drain the already low crude oil inventories.” Not discussed in the article is the impact of fuel corporations sitting on millions of acres of leased land without drilling. Not discussed in the article is the impact of not building additional refining capacity in the last 30 years, making the drilling issue completely irrelevant. It’s that lack of refining capacity (which are only operating at 67% of capacity right now) that has put a large region of the country in danger of running out of gasoline. If that situation gets worse, food won’t be able to be supplied. Then the anger over Bush’s Wall St. Bailout will seem minor in comparison.
Larry Bartels has written an interesting book, as this write-up shows. The differences between a future Democratic president and a Republican one are stark, just in potential economic prosperity:
Data for the whole period from 1948 to 2007, during which Republicans occupied the White House for 34 years and Democrats for 26, show average annual growth of real gross national product of 1.64 percent per capita under Republican presidents versus 2.78 percent under Democrats. That 1.14-point difference, if maintained for eight years, would yield 9.33 percent more income per person, which is a lot more than almost anyone can expect from a tax cut.
Over the entire 60-year period, income inequality trended substantially upward under Republican presidents but slightly downward under Democrats, thus accounting for the widening income gaps over all. And the bad news for America’s poor is that Republicans have won five of the seven elections going back to 1980.
The two Great Partisan Divides combine to suggest that, if history is a guide, an Obama victory in November would lead to faster economic growth with less inequality, while a McCain victory would lead to slower economic growth with more inequality. Which part of the Obama menu don’t you like?
My thoughts exactly.
It was reported yesterday that the Federal government was prepared to bail out Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Between the two of them, they secure over $5 trillion in home loans. The two giants straddle the public/private divide in a way that I don’t think any other company does. The private side of the equation has, as we all have been forced to learn again, failed quite spectacularly. Well, the U.S. has seized Freddie and Fannie.
Fannie and Freddie have become virtually the only source of funding for banks and other home lenders looking to make home loans. Their ability to do so is crucial to the recovery of the battered home market and the broader U.S. economy.
Thanks to conservatives’ obsession with deregulation, American taxpayers have been forced to bail out Bear Stearns, Freddie Mac, and Fannie Mae. Elections do have consequences. The billions of dollars that taxpayers will fork over could have gone instead toward programs or policies that would have made us all more prosperous. Stop falling for the false images Republicans like to put on display during campaign season. It’s how they govern that matters.
The last two space shuttle missions of 2008 are being delayed by two days due to delays associated with Tropical Storms Fay and Hanna. Atlantis will now launch no earlier than October 10. An International Space Station mission will launch no earlier than November 12.
NASA’s Cassini mission has discovered ring arcs orbiting two of Saturn’s smaller moons. The partial rings extend ahead of and behind the moons Anthe and Methone. Cassini has helped scientists discover some amazing things during its mission so far.
Lake Erie could lose 1.5 feet of water to climate change by the end of the century. That might not sound like much, but for every inch less of water, ships have to carry 8,000 fewer tons of cargo. That has real economic impacts over the course of just one year. Can our economy withstand this and the countless other results of climate change?