Posts Tagged ‘NASA’
“I believe alien life is quite common in the universe, although intelligent life is less so. Some say it has yet to appear on planet Earth”*…
If the range of habitable radii is sufficiently broad, most inhabited planets are likely to be closer in size to Mars than the Earth. Furthermore, since population density is widely observed to decline with increasing body mass, we conclude that most intelligent species are expected to exceed 300kg…
* Stephen Hawking
As we phone home, we might recall that it was on this date in 1960 that the first weather satellite, TIROS I, was launched from Cape Kennedy (or Canaveral, as then it was) and sent back the first television pictures from space. The first in a long series of launches in the TIROS program (Television Infrared Observation Satellite), it was NASA’s initial step, at a time when the effectiveness of satellite observations was still unproven, in determining if satellites could be useful in the study of the Earth. In the event, TIROS I and it successors proved extremely useful in weather forecasting.
“We have sacrificed space exploration for space exploitation, which is interesting but scarcely visionary”*…
What costs more than space exploration? Money that has ‘gone missing’ from the US State Department.
Three weeks ago, the office of the Inspector General of the US State Department sent a memo to the Under Secretary of State for Management and the Assistant Secretary for Administration noting that it had identified “contracts with a total value of more than $6 billion in which contract files were incomplete or could not be located at all.” As an example of how that $6 billion figure was reached, the memo notes that “a recent OIG audit of the closeout process for contracts supporting the U.S. Mission in Iraq revealed that contracting officials were unable to provide 33 of 115 contract files requested in accordance with the audit sampling plan. The value of the contracts in the 33 missing files totaled $2.1 billion. Forty-eight of the 82 contract files received did not contain all of the documentation required by [federal accounting regulations].” Now, when I read that and the other examples in this memo, it is unclear to me if this means that the projects meant to be covered by those 33 files were paid for and not done, if they were paid for and done but not cataloged, or something else. The media, though, has widely interpreted this $6 billion as money down the drain, rather than money wisely spent but poorly tracked. Importantly, this $6 billion was lost / mis-catalogued over the course of about 6 years; the missing funds therefore total about 2% of the agency’s spending over those years.
What else could we have done with that money? Well, if that money were to somehow show up under the doormat at the US Capitol building in an unmarked envelope with a note of apology, and if Congress were decided to spend it all on space exploration, it would go along way. In fact, the entire President’s Budget Request for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate—the part of NASA that covers all of its active and developing science missions—for fiscal year 2015 is less than $5.2 billion.
As a reference for people who think that space exploration costs too much, there’s a Tumblr that lists things that cost even more…
What costs more than space exploration? Unused gift cards.
According to financial consulting firm CEB TowerGroup, Americans let an estimated total of $1.8 billion in giftcards go to waste in 2012. Lots of Americans give and receive gift cards (also according to TowerGroup, the American gift card economy is larger than the GDP of 136 different nations), and some of those gift cards get lost, are thrown out, or expire. If this total sounds high, it’s worth noting that it’s actually much lower than the waste levels observed in previous years, thanks to the CARD Act: between 2005 and 2011, a total of $41 billion in giftcards was wasted, for a rough average of $5.85 billion per year.
In October 2012, SpaceX launched the first of twelve commercially-operated cargo resupply flights to the International Space Station. A Dragon capsule, built by SpaceX, launched onboard a Falcon 9 rocket, also built by SpaceX, and rendezvoused with the Station before being grappled by ISS’s robotic arm and berthed. In total, the Dragon capsule delivered about 900 pounds of useful supplies to the crew of the station (nearly 2,000 pounds, if you count all of the packaging); two and a half weeks later, Dragon returned to Earth carrying a different 800 or so pounds of returning payloads and equipment. It total, SpaceX’s contract for those twelve flights will cost NASA and the US tax payer $1.6 billion.
As we raise our eyes to the stars, we might recall that it was on this date in 1945 that five U.S. Navy Avenger torpedo-bombers– Flight 19– took off from the Ft. Lauderdale Naval Air Station in Florida on a routine three-hour training mission. Their course was plotted to take them due east for 120 miles, north for 73 miles, and then back over a final 120-mile leg that would return them to the naval base. They never returned.
Two hours after the flight began, the leader of the squadron, who had been flying in the area for more than six months, reported that his compass and back-up compass had both failed– as had those on all of the other planes in his flight, and that their position was unknown. After two more hours of confused messages from the fliers, a distorted radio transmission from the squadron leader was heard, apparently calling for his men to prepare to ditch their aircraft simultaneously due to lack of fuel.
By this time, several land radar stations finally determined that Flight 19 was somewhere north of the Bahamas and east of the Florida coast, and a search and rescue Mariner aircraft took off with a 13-man crew. Three minutes later, the Mariner aircraft radioed to its home base that its mission was underway. The Mariner was never heard from again.
The disappearance of the 14 men of Flight 19 and the 13 men of the Mariner led to one of the largest air and seas searches to that date, and hundreds of ships and aircraft combed thousands of square miles of the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and remote locations within the interior of Florida. No trace of the bodies or aircraft was ever found.
Although naval officials maintained that the remains of the six aircraft and 27 men were not found because stormy weather destroyed the evidence, the story of the “Lost Squadron” helped cement the legend of the Bermuda Triangle…
… just one of the collections to be found at NASA’s Soundcloud stream.
Here’s a collection of NASA sounds from historic spaceflights and current missions. You can hear the roar of a space shuttle launch or Neil Armstrong’s “One small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind” every time you get a phone call if you make our sounds your ringtone. Or, you can hear the memorable words “Houston, we’ve had a problem,” every time you make an error on your computer…
Or just listen with wonder…
As we tune our ears, we might send celestial birthday greetings to Fred Lawrence Whipple; he was born on this date in 1906. An active astronomer at the Harvard College Observatory for over 70 years, Whipple discovered a variety of asteroids and comets, came up with the “dirty snowball” cometary hypothesis, and designed the Whipple shield (which protects spacecraft from impact by small particles by vaporizing them).
You can hear a comet like the ones that Whipple studied here.
Jonathan M. Guberman made a set of alphabet blocks featuring iconic images of the things he and his wife were looking forward to sharing with their newborn son. Though Guberman started before his son was born, it took until his son was nearly a year old to finish these 36 1.5″ blocks. Here’s the full set of blocks on Flickr and the full list of references included on the blocks.
There are 36 blocks — the English alphabet and ten digits — showing 134 images of people, animals, monsters, robots, vehicles, organizations, devices, tools, and objects from some of our favourite movies, TV shows, books, comics, video games, poems, and sculptures, as well as a few from the real world for good measure (and a couple not-so-favourites for comic relief/alphabetical exigency; I’m looking at you, Zardoz). The only real rule I followed in choosing subjects was trying to maintain an even gender balance.
Read the full story, and examine the blocks, at the ever-enlightening Laughing Squid.
* J.J. Abrams
As we get in touch with our inner nerd, we might recall that it was on this date in 1958 that, as part of its participation in the International Geophysical Year, the U.S. launched its first satellite, the Explorer I— following the launch the prior year of the first two satellites, the Soviet Union’s Sputnik I and II, and beginning the space race.
Visit Here Is Today and, in a few brief clicks, put everything (and I do mean everything) into perspective…
As we realize that we’re late for the Mad Hatter’s tea party, we might recall that it was on this date in 1961, before a joint session of Congress, that President John F. Kennedy introduced the NASA Apollo Program, vowing to land an American astronaut safely on the moon before the end of the decade. The mission was accomplished on July 20, 1969, when Apollo 11’s Neil Armstrong left the Lunar Module and set foot on the surface of the Moon.
Like the ampersand, the “@” symbol is not strictly a mark of punctuation; rather, it is a logogram or grammalogue, a shorthand for the word “at.” Even so, it is as much a staple of modern communication as the semicolon or exclamation mark, punctuating email addresses and announcing Twitter usernames. Unlike the ampersand, though, whose journey to the top took two millennia of steady perseverance, the at symbol’s current fame is quite accidental. It can, in fact, be traced to the single stroke of a key made almost exactly four decades ago*…
The whole story is @ Shady Characters (“The Secret Life of Punctuation”).
* Before it became the domain address marker– and the overall symbol– for email, “@” was used to denote the unit price (or weight) of an item: 10 books @ $1.00 would total $10.00… the symbol is believed to have originated with medieval scribes who used the symbol to eliminate the two extra pen strokes that would have been necessary to write “at.”
As we check our spam filters, we might recall that it was on this date in 1958, in reaction to the Soviet’s Sputnik success the prior year, that Congress passed the legislation establishing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)… the Space Race was on. (ARPA [now DARPA]– the sponsor of the work that spawned the internet and birthed the “@” in the form in which we all now use it– was born the same year out of the same concern over Soviet scientific progress.)
“People who use big forks eat less compared with diners who use small forks…” All three courses of the explanation are at LiveScience.
As we super-size our cutlery, we might recall that it was on this date in 1969 that over 700 million television viewers worldwide watched Neil Armstrong step onto the surface of the moon. “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”