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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

End of a new era, continuation of a couple older ones

Wow. I go away from my computer for nine short days and they end the whole friggin' space shuttle program on me.

On the same day that the Atlantis landed for the very last time, I saw this on Alki Beach:

That's Blue Heron, carved and captained by Michael (didahalqid) Evans, my wife's Lushootseed teacher ( For the cheechakos, Lushootseed is the Coast Salish dialect which was spoken in the Puget Sound region before it was the Puget Sound region. Here are a couple more pics of the Alki landing of the Native Tribal Canoe Journey 2011:

Then on the same day I saw this:

Yes, that's a gaff-rigged sloop short-lining under sail. Incidentally northbound in the southbound traffic lanes. Sailing, fishing and less than 20 meters; that's what they call a "trifecta". No idea what running lights he'd show at night; based on the rest of his understanding of the Rules of the Road, I'm guessing the answer is something like "they make lights for these?" But awfully cool nonetheless.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Dawn spacecraft enters orbit around asteroid Vesta

NASA -- NASA's Dawn spacecraft on Saturday became the first probe ever to enter orbit around an object in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Dawn will study the asteroid, named Vesta, for a year before departing for a second destination, a dwarf planet named Ceres, in July 2012. Observations will provide unprecedented data to help scientists understand the earliest chapter of our solar system. The data also will help pave the way for future human space missions.

"Today, we celebrate an incredible exploration milestone as a spacecraft enters orbit around an object in the main asteroid belt for the first time," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "Dawn's study of the asteroid Vesta marks a major scientific accomplishment and also points the way to the future destinations where people will travel in the coming years. President Obama has directed NASA to send astronauts to an asteroid by 2025, and Dawn is gathering crucial data that will inform that mission."

The spacecraft relayed information to confirm it entered Vesta's orbit, but the precise time this milestone occurred is unknown at this time. The time of Dawn's capture depended on Vesta's mass and gravity, which only has been estimated until now. The asteroid's mass determines the strength of its gravitational pull. If Vesta is more massive, its gravity is stronger, meaning it pulled Dawn into orbit sooner. If the asteroid is less massive, its gravity is weaker and it would have taken the spacecraft longer to achieve orbit. With Dawn now in orbit, the science team can take more accurate measurements of Vesta's gravity and gather more accurate timeline information.

Dawn, which launched in September 2007, is on track to become the first spacecraft to orbit two solar system destinations beyond Earth. The mission to Vesta and Ceres is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Dawn is a project of the directorate's Discovery Program, which is managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

The University of California, Los Angeles, is responsible for the overall Dawn mission science. Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., designed and built the spacecraft. The German Aerospace Center, the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, the Italian Space Agency and the Italian National Astrophysical Institute are part of the mission's team. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Survivor's Guilt

Seattle forecast for today: A 50 percent chance of showers. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 68. Calm wind becoming south southwest around 5 mph.

Occasionally it's good to live in a place where nobody bothers to install air conditioning in buildings.

For the folks living in places affected by the heat wave, try to stay cool, and remember that on all of the really nice spring, summer and fall days that you have Seattle still looks like this.

Friday, July 8, 2011

STS-135 Liftoff

Nicely done.

Interesting that the NASA photo folks chose not to crop the water tower out of the pic after the lightning strike yesterday. It's appreciated, I'd hoped to find a photo with it to post here; it turned out to be the first still NASA published.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Atlantis Final Countdown

STS-135 launch tomorrow at 8:26PDT, special coverage and live webcast at!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Music of the Spheres

Rhea, Enceladus and Dione, in orbit around Saturn. NASA photo from Cassini spacecraft.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Rocket's Red Glare

Have a happy and safe 4th!

One dead, several missing after boat capsizes off Baja California

#1: It is the company's responsibility to know how many passengers and crew are on board. It isn't rocket science.

#2: Stabilizers make the ride more comfortable for the passengers in moderate seas. They do not make the ride safer in genuinely heavy seas, and in fact may make the boat significantly less safe.

#3: EPIRBs are cool. And cheap. It's 2011. Passengers swimming and then walking to the nearest town and calling the Mexican Navy on a freaking payphone really should not have been the first indication that a passenger vessel had capsized.

(CNN) -- U.S. and Mexican authorities were scouring the seas Monday for at least five people -- and possibly as many as eight -- missing more than a day after a tourist boat carrying more than 40 people capsized off the east coast of Mexico's Baja California peninsula.

The lone confirmed fatality was American, said Baja California Gov. Jose Guadulpe Osuna Millan, who said five people were missing.

But Dora Winkler, a spokeswoman for the captain of the Port of San Felipe, said seven people were missing.

The U.S. Coast Guard, meanwhile, cited unnamed Mexican authorities saying eight people were still missing Monday afternoon.

There were also conflicting numbers on how many people were on the boat when it sank. Mexican authorities counted 43 passengers and crew, while the Coast Guard put the number at 44.

All 16 crew members of the Erik survived; another who had been on the list of crew members apparently failed to embark, the governor said, citing passengers' accounts.

The Coast Guard sent a helicopter Monday to assist the Mexican navy in the search, said Petty Officer 2nd Class Henry Dunphy, a spokesman for the Coast Guard in San Diego, citing the Mexican navy.

In a subsequent news release, the Coast Guard said its helicopter had covered more than 42 miles of water by Monday afternoon, flying at an altitude of 300 feet.

The Erik sank in the Sea of Cortez, near Isla San Luis, Mexico, east of Baja, at 2:30 a.m. Sunday, the Coast Guard said.

"They ran into some bad weather, capsized, the boat sank," Dunphy said. Several people swam to shore, walked to the nearest town and alerted the Mexican navy to what had happened, he added.

But the Mexican navy said it was alerted by the cook of the boat, who was rescued by fishermen along with two passengers. He told officials that 27 tourists had been aboard the Erik when it sank approximately 60 nautical miles south of San Felipe, the navy said in a news release.

All the rescued people were in good health and were taken to their hotels, with the exception of one person with diabetes who remained under observation, the navy said.

"We have been working with Mexican navy authorities and the U.S. Coast Guard in the search and rescue," Baja Sportfishing Inc. said in an e-mail. "Right now our main concern is making sure that everyone is accounted for."

The Erik was a 115-foot fishing boat with a 24-foot beam, according to the company's website. "Built in Holland, she was equipped with stabilizers to handle the turbulent North Sea," it said.

Later Monday, the website added, "Due to events occurring at this moment, all further trips are canceled."

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Soviet Space Shuttle

With much of the media focusing on the final voyage of the Atlantis, I'd like to take a moment to remember that the Soviet Union had their own space shuttle program. It was called Buran, and for all that it looked like a replica of the US space shuttles, it was actually a very different animal.

The Buran had no main engines; what looks like the shuttle fuel tank is actually a liquid chemical rocket, with more external liquid chemical rockets. The absence of main engines on the shuttle itself opened up much more cargo space, and the much larger engines could take Buran all the way to the moon, rather than just low Earth orbit. And, its flights could either be manned or fully automated.

The only orbiter ever actually built was destroyed when its hangar collapsed in 2002, due to lack of maintenance.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

NASA Reboot

So, watch the video. And then read Charlie Bolden's speech to the National Press Club yesterday, on the eve of the final space shuttle launch (PDF linked below, you can also see the speech on the NASA website).

What's new?

On the face of it, nothing we didn't know already. Maintain the ISS, turn over low-earth orbit ferry service to the private sector, manned missions to the moon and beyond earth's gravity to Mars and an unspecified asteroid. Quickly, and on a shoestring budget, using a soon-to-be-announced Space Launch System which I suspect is going to look a helluva lot like Constellation. Not mentioned, but the James Webb Space Telescope is still on track to replace Hubble.

Not exactly revelatory.

What is new, and especially evident in Bolden's speech, is an attitude and, dare I say it, a fire, in Bolden's demeanor and even in the video. We haven't seen this for a while, either from NASA as a whole or from Bolden himself. It's good to see. Bolden spoke of "challenges" but never once used the word "budget", which after his past several speeches was refreshing.

It's really good to see NASA picking up the ball and running with it.

Also, it looks like Huntsville will take the lead on the SLS, congrats to all the good folk at Marshall! It's time you guys got some good news.

Welcome back, NASA. We've missed you.

Here's Bolden's speech: