Up, Up, and Away – and Down, Down, Down!


At 6:35 pm Eastern today, Space X will launch their first commercial Falcon Heavy Flight. Should be exciting!

Perhaps most exciting is their attempt to land three boosters simultaneously. I’m hoping for an exceptional show.



URL is https://www.spacex.com/webcast


This video should go live approx 20 minutes before launch. Enjoy the marvel, everybody!


ETA: Looks like flight is postponed until 8 pm. Let’s hope it’s still a go and we can see the landing!

Wednesday Evening Open Thread: Mars, Bitches!

What is it with Repub draft-dodging Preznidents and the Red Planet? Olivia Nuzzi, professional journalistic assassin, targets “President” Ted Baxter for NYMag:

Donald Trump nearly derailed a televised call to the International Space Station after he got distracted, first by a sudden fantasy of going to Mars before the end of his first term in the White House, and then by a trip to the bathroom to check his reflection in the mirror, according to Team of Vipers, a new book by Cliff Sims, who worked as a communications official for Trump on his presidential campaign and in the West Wing.

The April 24, 2017 video call to congratulate the astronaut Peggy Whitson, who that day broke the record to become the American who has spent the longest amount of time in space, was an unusually smooth public event for the president…

Sims detailed the logistics of setting up the call, something that required NASA engineers and diagrams of the Oval Office and a walk-through beforehand. But the most important aspect of the plan, Sims learned, would be the timing. An engineer explained something called “orbital mechanics” to him, how the Space Station would only be reachable during a specific period of about 20 minutes when it was in just the right place. “The President would have to be right on time, a rarity,” Sims wrote…

As Sims explained to the president what was about to happen, “he scanned over his prepared remarks, crossing out some of the text with a Sharpie.” Meanwhile, Sims wrote, “the giant flat-screen TV hanging on the wall was turned to Fox News, on mute.” Trump asked him where the cameras would be positioned and “which side of his head would be most prominently featured.” Sims wrote that he “made sure the press cameras would be positioned on the right side,” which was Trump’s preference.

Then, something happened. Trump “suddenly appeared distracted, distant,” wrote Sims. “I could sense the gears inside of his head starting to turn. I was losing him.” As the clock ticked down, Trump “suddenly turned toward the NASA administrator.” He asked: “What’s our plan for Mars?”

Lightfoot explained to the president — who, again, had recently signed a bill containing a plan for Mars — that NASA planned to send a rover to Mars in 2020 and, by the 2030s, would attempt a manned spaceflight.

“Trump bristled,” according to Sims. He asked, “But is there any way we could do it by the end of my first term?”…

Sunday Morning Open Thread: Take Us Away, ‘Oumuamua

It’s not the space rock, it’s the stories we tell each other about the space rock. As someone who’s been both an avid sf reader and a Cynic for pushing 60 years now, I found Professor Loeb’s whole argument charming:

I don’t care what people say,” asserts Avi Loeb, chairman of Harvard University’s astronomy department and author of one of the most controversial articles in the realm of science last year (and also one of the most popular in the general media). “It doesn’t matter to me,” he continues. “I say what I think, and if the broad public takes an interest in what I say, that’s a welcome result as far as I’m concerned, but an indirect result. Science isn’t like politics: It is not based on popularity polls.”

Prof. Abraham Loeb, 56, was born in Beit Hanan, a moshav in central Israel, and studied physics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem as part of the Israel Defense Forces’ Talpiot program for recruits who demonstrate outstanding academic ability. Freeman Dyson, the theoretical physicist, and the late astrophysicist John Bahcall admitted Loeb to the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, whose past faculty members included Albert Einstein and J. Robert Oppenheimer. In 2012, Time magazine named Loeb one of the 25 most influential people in the field of space. He has won prizes, written books and published 700 articles in the world’s leading scientific journals. Last October, Loeb and his postdoctoral student Shmuel Bialy, also an Israeli, published an article in the scientific outlet “The Astrophysical Journal Letters,” which seriously raised the possibility that an intelligent species of aliens had sent a spaceship to Earth.

The “spaceship” in question is called Oumuamua. For those who don’t keep up with space news, Oumuamua is the first object in history to pass through the solar system and be identified as definitely originating outside of it. The first interstellar guest came to us from the direction of Vega, the brightest star in the Lyra constellation, which is 26 light-years from us. In the 1997 film “Contact,” it’s the star from which the radio signal is sent to Jodie Foster.

Oumuamua was actually discovered by a Canadian astronomer, Robert Weryk, using the Pan-STARRS telescope at the Haleakala Observatory in Hawaii. “Oumuamua” is Hawaiian for “first distant messenger” – in a word, “scout.” It was discovered on October 19, 2017, suspiciously close to Earth (relatively speaking, of course: Oumuamua was 33 million kilometers away from us when it was sighted – 85 times farther than the moon is from Earth)…
Read more

Tuesday Morning Open Thread: Merry Xmas, Earthlings

From the Washington Post:

The astronauts had spun around the moon a few times already, their gaze pointed down on the gray, pockmarked lunar surface. But now as they completed another orbit of the moon on Christmas Eve 1968, Frank Borman, the commander of the Apollo 8 mission, rolled the spacecraft, and, soon, there it was.

Earth, this bright, beautiful sphere, alone in the inky vastness of space, a soloist at the edge of the stage suspended in the spotlight.

“Oh, my God,” exclaimed Bill Anders, the lunar module pilot. “Look at that picture over there! There’s the Earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty!”

Anders knew black and white film wouldn’t do it justice. But he also knew he didn’t have a lot of time if he was going to get the shot.

“Hand me a roll of color quick, will you,” he said.

“Oh, man, that’s great,” said Jim Lovell, the command module pilot and navigator.

“Hurry,” Anders pleaded. “Quick!”

Anders loaded the color film into his Hasselblad camera and started firing away while his anxious crewmates remained transfixed by the blue and white vision outside their windows…

Two days later, the film was processed, and NASA released photo number 68-H-1401 to the public with a news release that said: “This view of the rising earth greeted the Apollo 8 astronauts as they came from behind the moon after the lunar orbit insertion burn.”…

“As I looked down at the Earth, which is about the size of your fist at arm’s length, I’m thinking this is not a very big place. Why can’t we get along?” Anders said during a video played during a ceremony at Washington National Cathedral recently celebrating the 50th anniversary of the mission. “To me it was strange that we had worked and had come all the way to the moon to study the moon, and what we really discovered was the Earth.”

Saturday Morning Open Thread: Cold Moon

From the Washington Post:

The year’s final full moon rises Saturday evening. Its nickname, the “Cold Moon,” is apt for the first full moon of winter, and it will be bright in the night sky.

The 13th full moon of 2018, “the cold moon gets its name because December is the month when it really starts to get cold,” according to NASA…

This year’s Cold Moon will also be brighter than normal. This is because the full Cold Moon is coming during perigee. Perigee is when the moon is at or near its closest approach to Earth. When the moon is far off, it is in apogee. Perigee also causes higher-than-usual tides, which are ongoing and anticipated in the days ahead…

One positive note, for us sane not-Republicans: