Category Archives: space


I’m not sure if I should feel really great about the future, or commit suicide.

…but the roaming charges are outrageous!

The VLA radio telescope is being upgraded drastically, so that it could “pick up a cell phone signal on Jupiter“. Can you hear me now?

Define “safer”., and NBC affiliate out of Orlando, Florida (a state well known for pistol-packing, I might add), has published a fear-mongering story today about the presence of a gun on the International Space Station. Or, rather, very near the ISS aboard a docked Soyuz spacecraft, inside a survival kit, between two seats. They dredge up Lisa Nowak to get people worried about how unstable astronauts can be, and take their information from former NASA engineer Jim Oberg. Of course, Oberg admits “an astronaut bent on orbital manslaughter could simply throw any number of switches to do the job”, but somehow he arrives at the conclusion that “crews would be safer if the gun was locked up or left on Earth”.

Locking the gun up makes nobody any safer. There aren’t any children aboard the space station, and it’s not like they’re going down the the firing range with it, or even cleaning it. It’s inside a survival kit, hoping never to be used. But if the Soyuz crash-lands someplace where a gun is needed, do you really want wounded astronauts hunting around for a key?

Leaving it on Earth makes nobody any safer. Again, there are many ways to commit homicide or suicide on the space station, and most are probably easier to access than the gun is.

So what is the point of the article, other than to get people thinking, “Oh no! An evil gun! It’s only a matter of time before somebody dies!”? Must be a slow news day if this is the best thing we have to worry about.

A billion-year-old crime

Galaxy 3C 326 North is stealing gas from 3C 326 South. At first, based on the scale of a galaxy and the current price of gas, this sounds like grand theft.

The scene of the crime is about a billion light-years away. So in reality, the theft took place a billion years ago, but the light revealing it has only just arrived.

Fortunately for the alleged thief, the statute of limitations is way expired.

To the moon, Alice!

Google is sponsoring the “Google Lunar X Prize“. Any team that can put a rover on the moon, and achieve specific mission goals, by the end of 2012 can net themselves a cool $20,000,000. That’s just 5 years. A pretty ambitious undertaking, but I think it’s doable. Hopefully somebody proves me right.

Why going to Mars is a good idea.

I read an article yesterday about the end of a 4 month long “Mars Mission Simulation”. Unfortunately, I also read some very negative comments about it from other readers. So I’d like to share with you why I think a Mars mission is a good thing.

To start with, I’ll respond to the “why don’t we focus on Earth” crowd. Aside from the obvious answers that: a) we do conduct scientific missions that are Earth-centric, and b) politics plays a major role in what Earth-centric science gets funded, space oriented missions provide a lot of Earth-centric value. This simulation alone was valuable in the following ways:

  1. Studying the response of permafrost on Earth to global warming
  2. Learning how to minimize environmental impact (essential on Mars, but important here)
  3. An improved understanding of how our bodies can adapt to different wake/sleep cycles (when the crew simulated the length of Martian days during the arctic 24-hour days)

Past space exploration has helped us on Earth with everything from Tang and a better ink pen to vast improvements in communication technology and a better understanding of what cosmic events may threaten our continued existence. Space is a cornucopia of science, both in getting there and in being there. Not to mention cable TV, cell phones, and weather forecasts, which rely on… satellites!

I could go further and talk about the limited life of our planet (do you really think we can live here forever, or do you just not care about future generations after you die?) and the possibility of harvesting valuable natural resources off-world, but I’ll leave that to the true space geeks.

Cold War II?

Russia accuses USA of sparking a new arms race by developing Anti-Ballistic Missile weapon (in violation of a treaty); retaliates by testing an intercontinental ballistic missile target.

Washington dismisses such fears, saying the shield is intended to counter “rogue states.”

I hate to wreck a good euphemism, but anything that shoots is not a “shield”. If a space-based weapon can cherry-pick missiles out of the air, I’d imagine it can also take down planes, and quite possibly ground-based targets as well. On one hand, I’m rather happy we’re developing such a weapon, because I’m a firm believer in self defense. On the other hand, the weaponization of space is a bit of a sticky issue, because nobody owns space, nobody should own space, and if we put weapons into orbit, other countries are bound to follow suit, and sooner or later somebody’s going to start using these shiny toys.

Those darned Gliesean communists…

I have just found (via some obscure “publicity challenged” site, via a Google Alert for Gliese 581) the strangest idea. That human beings are genetically predisposed towards capitalism, because it “ensures the continuity of the human race”. Now I am, within limits, all for capitalism. It’s a pretty good idea in my head. But genetically predisposed? I think that’s laying it on a bit thick, don’t you? Even for a blog calling itself “The Capitalist League”, this idea seems a bit too… fundie. Fundamentalist capitalists. That’s a scary thought. Fundamentalist capitalists being among the first people to make contact with or colonize a habitable world? Scarier yet.

(edit: yes, I do know that my site calling another site “obscure” is truly the pot calling the kettle black)

Earth 2 – Gliese 581c?

    It’s too soon to say for sure that this planet, poorly named Gliese 581 c, is an Earth-like world, but the scientific and geek communities are sure keen on the idea that this large-ish planet near a red dwarf star has the right temperature to support Earth-like life. The SETI folks are sure to pay a little extra attention to this area of the sky now, but I’m not taking any bets on whether or not there’s intelligent life out there. I’m just hoping for life at all. Heck, I’d be happy if it was colonizable. At a “mere” 20 light years away, it’s potentially explorable, although not so much so in our lifetime without some major advances in interplanetary travel.
    Thinking. Wondering. I read about this right after waking up, and all day I have been trying to imagine life on this foreign planet, so close to a dim red star, with a much larger gaseous planet between itself and the sun. I bet the view is extraordinary. I’m having trouble finding details (or perhaps just trouble understanding the terms used) about what its orbit is like, or how long its day is, but its year is a mere 13 Earth days, which would make for some really bizarre weather shifts if it has seasons anything like our planet does. And they say the weather in Michigan changes in 5 minutes….

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