Leaking Air

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NASA researchers close in on why Mars lost its atmosphere.

“Not Recommended”

Former Space Shuttle program manager Wayne Hale discusses the problems involved in aborting short of orbit the flight of any crewed spacecraft. Suffice to say, the problem is a lot more complicated than a lot of armchair astronauts think. Most scenarios involve meat waffles or crispy critters. 

Hale frequently shares spaceflight war stories at his blog, along with the occasional nightmare scenario. Fascinating stuff.

Sunrise on Mars

 

Well, kinda, given that the Phoenix lander is near one of the poles:

SpaceX Makes It

NASA Watch has the on-board video. The first-stage separation still looked rough to me but they got away with it.

The Vision Thing

NASA Administration Mike Griffin teaches a little history:

The planned Apollo 20 mission was cancelled a few weeks after the Apollo 11 landing, and Apollo 18 and 19 were cancelled some months later. With those actions, the space program as we knew it in the 1960s was over, finished, and done. NASA is often blamed for its so-called lack of vision after the apotheosis of the Apollo years, but frankly, after those decisions, it didn’t matter what NASA did, or didn’t do. Our elected leaders had lost the vision and sense of purpose for our nation in space, and we retreated to low-Earth orbit.

We have become inured to what should be recognized as alarming trends, the subject of a recent hearing before the House of Representatives Science & Technology Committee. There are half as many bachelor’s degrees in physics awarded today in the United States than when Sputnik was launched in 1957. The number of engineers graduating with bachelor’s degrees declined by over 20% in the last two decades prior to a recent up-tick – but that up-tick is primarily due to an increase in the number of foreign students, who are increasingly returning to their home countries. In 2004, China graduated approximately 500,000 engineers while India graduated 200,000 and the United States graduated 70,000. In 2005, the United States produced more undergraduates in sports exercise than in electrical engineering. In 2006, only 15% of college graduates in the United States received a diploma in engineering or the natural sciences, compared to 38% in South Korea, 47% in France, and 67% in Singapore. The number of PhDs in engineering awarded by U.S. universities to U.S. citizens declined 34% in a single decade. Two-thirds of U.S. engineering PhDs are awarded to foreign nationals. In some surveys, U.S. public schools consistently rank near the bottom in mathematics and science as compared to their global counterparts. We are surpassed by, among others, Azerbaijan, Latvia and Macao.

Shuttle, Extended

Congressional sentiment in the wake of the Georgia/Russia incident is forcing NASA to reconsider the idea of shutting down the Space Shuttle program after 2010. But former Shuttle program boss Wayne Hale says logistics already make that a practical impossibility. NASA managers began shutting down the supply chain for parts four years ago and there’s no way to restart it:

You might think that simple things like bolts and screws, wire, filters, and gaskets could be bought off the shelf some where, but that thinking would merely prove how little you know about the shuttle.  The huge majority of supplies, consumable items, maintenance items, they are all specially made with unique and stringent processes and standards. 

Our shuttle history tells us that when we try to cut corners, trouble results.  Small, even apparently insignificant changes have caused big problems. 

It goes to show how short-sighted the Bush administration’s decision-making was, born out of pure cowardice following the Columbia accident.

In Space, No One Can Hear You Sweat

Mr. X at Chair Force Engineer thinks the fallout of Russia’s Georgian adventure will create more business opportunities for SpaceX. Maybe so, but I’d rather keep the Shuttle going too. On-orbit repair and capture-and-return are capabilities we’re going to miss when they’re gone.