Category: Astronomy


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Unknown orange/red glow over Pacific Ocean – August 24, 2014

Last night over the Pacific Ocean, somewhere South of the Russian peninsula Kamchatka I experienced the creepiest thing so far in my flying career.

After about 5 hours in flight we left Japan long time behind us and were cruising at a comfortable 34.000ft with about 4,5 hours to go towards Alaska.

We heard via the radio about earthquakes in Iceland, Chile and San Francisco, and since there were a few volcanos on our route that might or might not be going off during our flight, we double checked with dispatch if there was any new activity on our route after we departed from Hongkong.

Then, very far in the distance ahead of us, just over the horizon an intense lightflash shot up from the ground. It looked like a lightning bolt, but way more intense and directed vertically up in the air. I have never seen anything like this, and there were no flashes before or after this single explosion of light.

Since there were no thunderstorms on our route or weather-radar, we kept a close lookout for possible storms that might be hiding from our radar and might cause some problems later on.

I decided to try and take some pictures of the night sky and the strange green glow that was all over the Northern Hemisphere. I think it was sort of a Northern Lights but it was much more dispersed, never seen anything like this before either.

About 20 minutes later in flight I noticed a deep red/orange glow appearing ahead of us, and this was a bit strange since there was supposed to be nothing but endless ocean below us for hundreds of miles around us. A distant city or group of typical Asian squid-fishing-boats would not make sense in this area, apart from the fact that the lights we saw were much larger in size and glowed red/orange, instead of the normal yellow and white that cities or ships would produce.

The closer we got, the more intense the glow became, illuminating the clouds and sky below us in a scary orange glow. In a part of the world where there was supposed to be nothing but water.

The only cause of this red glow that we could think of, was the explosion of a huge volcano just underneath the surface of the ocean, about 30 minutes before we overflew that exact position.

Since the nearest possible airport was at least 2 hours flying away, and the idea of flying into a highly dangerous and invisible ash-plume in the middle of the night over the vast Pacific Ocean we felt not exactly happy. Fortunately we did not encounter anything like this, but together with the very creepy unexplainable deep red/orange glow from the ocean’s surface, we felt everything but comfortable. There was also no other traffic near our position or on the same routing to confirm anything of what we saw or confirm any type of ash clouds encountered.

We reported our observations to Air Traffic Control and an investigation into what happened in this remote region of the ocean is now started.

Two photos included, hardly edited except for watermark and resize. Note that photos are taken with extremely high ISO (sensor sensitivity) so quality might be a bit poor. Also an overview of our route + marking of the location is included.

Now I’m just hoping that if a new island has been formed there, at least it can be named after me as the official discoverer. 🙂

That would be pretty cool!

Flying Dutchman

 

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The 1492 light sighting was a sighting of unknown light during the first voyage of Christopher Columbus on October 11, 1492, by some crew members of Santa Maria, Pinta and possibly Niña shortly before the landing on Guanahani. The light was reported in Columbus’ journal, Ferdinand ColumbusVita del Ammiraglio (The Life of the Admiral), the proceedings of the Pleitos Colombinos (the long lawsuit involving the heirs of Columbus) and some other sources.

Columbus described the light as “a small wax candle that rose and lifted up, which to few seemed to be an indication of land”. He received the royal reward for the sighting. His son Ferdinand also characterized it as a candle, that went up and down.

Bartolomé de las Casas noted the event in his abstract of Columbus’s log: “A sailor named Rodrigo de Triana saw this land first, although the Admiral, at the tenth hour of the night, while he was on the sterncastle saw a light, although it was something so faint that he did not wish to affirm that it was land. But he called Pero Gutierrez, the steward of the king’s dais, and told him that there seemed to be a light, and for him to look: and thus he did and saw it”.

It was calculated that the twelve leagues, that the crew ran since 10 p.m., with the two leagues distance off the land, essentially correspond to the distance and location of Watling’s Island from Guanahani. As such, it was presumed that the light was on Watling’s Island, which was passed by Columbus. Judging by the speed of the ships, provided in naval journal, L. T. Gould supposed that the light “must have been some 35 miles or so eastward of the landfall, and well to windward of it”

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An early explanation was offered by Bartolomé de las Casas, who wrote: “I feel about this is that the Indians at night throughout these islands, as they are temperate without any cold, go out or used to go out from their straw houses that they call bohios at night to comply with their natural necessities and take in hand a firebrand, or small torch, or a chink of pine or of another very dry and resinous wood which burns like a torch, when it is dark night, and with which they guide themselves back again, and in the manner could be seen the light which Christopher Columbus and the others saw the light three or four times”.

This version was supported by Morison, despite the fact that it tended to undermine his preferred landfall at Watlings Island (San Salvador). Others have advanced the hypothesis that the light might have been an Indian fishing in a canoe at night, but the very high winds imply that would have been quite unlikely.

These problems have led to the conclusion by some that the light was not on Guanahani, the island of the first landfall, but on another, more easterly island bypassed in the night.

It has been proposed that the light was caused by bioluminescent protozoa on the rocks of Mouchoir Bank. However this theory is rendered improbable due to the “small wax candle” nature of the light, which suggests a point source. A single female Bermuda fireworm Odontosyllis enopla may have separate short periods of excessive and minor brilliance, perhaps accounting for a candle-like display.

But later research has shown that Odontosyllis bioluminescent activity is confined to a few days past the full moon, which would rule out that explanation, as the Moon was near first quarter that night.

Source:  Wiki

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Fly Me High…

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Poem of the Week

The Swing

The swing was picked up for the boys,
for the here-and-here-to-stay
and only she knew why it was
I dug so solemnly

I spread the feet two yards apart
and hammered down the pegs
filled up the holes and stamped the dirt
around its skinny legs

I hung the rope up in the air
and fixed the yellow seat
then stood back that I might admire
my handiwork complete

and saw within its frail trapeze
the child that would not come
of what we knew had two more days
before we sent it home

I know that there is nothing here
no venue and no host
but the honest fulcrum of the hour
that engineers our ghost

the bright sweep of its radar-arc
is all the human dream
handing us from dark to dark
like a rope over a stream

But for all the coldness of my creed
and for all those I denied
for all the others she had freed
like arrows from her side

for all the child was barely here
and for all that we were over
I could not square the ghosts we are
with those that we deliver

I gave the empty seat a push
and nothing made a sound
and swung between two skies to brush
her feet upon the ground

Don Paterson

Source:  Granta Magazine (Welcome to the magazine of new writing)

Solstice-eclipse overlap first in 456 years

Montreal Gazette – By Rebecca Lindell

This year’s winter solstice — an event that will occur next Tuesday — will coincide with a full lunar eclipse in a union that hasn’t been seen in 456 years. The celestial eccentricity holds special significance for spiritualities that tap into the energy of the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year and a time that is associated with the rebirth of the sun.

“It’s a ritual of transformation from darkness into light,” says Nicole Cooper, a high priestess at Toronto’s Wiccan Church of Canada. “It’s the idea that when things seem really bleak, (it) is often our biggest opportunity for personal transformation. “The idea that the sun and the moon are almost at their darkest at this point in time really only further goes to hammer that home.”

Cooper said Wiccans also see great significance in the unique coupling of the masculine energy of the sun and the feminine energy of the moon — transformative energies that she plans to incorporate into the church’s winter-solstice rituals. Since the last time an eclipse and the winter solstice happened simultaneously was just under five centuries years ago, Cooper said she wasn’t familiar with any superstitions or mythologies associated with it.

Instead, she said, they can only be interpreted personally. “Wiccans don’t think of things as being good or evil — they just are. Our experience of them makes them positive or negative for us.” The winter solstice also played an important role in Greco-Roman rituals.

“It’s seen as a time of rebirth or renewal because, astrologically, it’s a time where the light comes back,” said Shane Hawkins, a professor of Greek and Roman studies at Carleton University in Ottawa. For the ancient Romans, it was also a time of great feasting and debauchery.

“If (the eclipse) happened on the 21st, they might well have been drunk,” he said. A lunar eclipse taking place during the solstice is not an event Hawkins has seen in research, but he said it would have been viewed as something special. “Eclipses could be taken either way,” he said. “Certainly it would have been an omen, but it would have been up to the interpretation of specialists of whether it was good or bad.”

And that interpretation would likely be based on whatever was happening at the time. The last time the two celestial events happened at the same time was in AD 1554, according to NASA. An otherwise seemingly unexceptionable year in recorded history, the darkened moon happened during a bleak year for Tudor England.

Lady Jane Grey was beheaded for treason that year, while Princess Elizabeth was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Mary of Guise — the mother of Mary, Queen of Scots — became regent of Scotland. Scientifically, however, it’s just a coincidence of natural cycles.

“It’s quite rare, but there’s no profound significance. It’s luck of the draw; you got dealt four aces,” said Robert Dick, an astronomy instructor at Carleton. The eclipse will start just after midnight Eastern Time on Tuesday, with the main event starting at 1:30 a.m. ET and lasting until 5:30 a.m., when the moon reappears.

Peter and Ben

Director: Pinny Grylls

When a video becomes an online hit, racking up views in the hundreds of thousands, it usually ticks a number of boxes – short, snappy, attention-grabbing. If it contains comedy, sex or violence, that’s a bonus. What you don’t expect an online hit to involve is a reclusive, grey-bearded man in the Welsh mountains and his friendship with a nonconformist sheep. “It’s a gentle, lyrical film,” says Pinny Grylls, the director of Peter and Ben, which has attracted more than 300,000 views since it was uploaded two years ago. “I don’t know who these viewers are.”

Grylls, 32, cut her teeth making short documentaries for the Arts Council’s Creative Partnerships programme. Peter and Ben was a project she nurtured over several years and completed with funding from the UK Film Council. “Peter is an old friend of the family who became a recluse 30 years ago,” says Grylls. “I’ve always thought he was extraordinary.” Out of all the footage she shot of Peter, Grylls picked out the story of his relationship with Ben. “This sheep is more like his friend than a pet. The story is really simple, but universal in a quirky way: the son not wanting to join the flock, but eventually joining and the father not wanting him to.”

The film has won prizes and numerous accolades, not least from German director Werner Herzog, who awarded it first prize in a competition run by British film community Shooting People, remarking: “The soul of the sheep is inside the man and soul of the man is inside the sheep.” That, says Grylls, a huge Herzog fan, “was the greatest day of my life”.

She has mixed feelings, however, about the current state of short films. “There has been a lot of excitement about them recently, and it’s certainly growing, but short films haven’t become mainstream yet.” It all comes down to economics, she suggests. “You can’t really make a living out of them. It took an awful lot of effort to make Peter and Ben, but what money it made went straight back to the UK Film Council.”

Grylls now works primarily in television, although she sees the value of the internet as a platform. “You have a direct interface with your audience. They leave comments, which is amazing for a film-maker. I’ve had people email me from Korea, Afghanistan, saying how much they were touched by this film. You really get things back from people if you put work online.”

h/t UK Guardian: The best short films on the web

Tony Judt’s memory

EL PAÍS – ANTONIO MUÑOZ MOLINA

Tony Judt was a passionate skeptic who never just kept his mouth shut. He passionately believed in the freedom of the individual, and at the same time in the solidity of a democratic state capable of providing fundamental services and ensuring the rule of law. He denounced the sectarian blindness in that part of the European left that refused to break with communism; but just as bluntly refused to have anything to do with the new fundamentalism of the market and newfound enthusiasm for imperial war.

Some people pass with ease from the dogmatism of the left to that of the right. Tony Judt was always a defender of European social democracy. He was always aware of the particularity of his origin: British, the son of Jewish immigrant parents, each from a different corner of Europe; Jewish but devoid of religious convictions. In his youth, he embraced leftist Zionism and went to Israel to work in a kibbutz, but emerged vaccinated against beliefs in ideology and racial identity. At Cambridge he was an outsider.

His origin, tastes in food, the languages spoken at home, marked him as a Continental. He went to Paris to study at the revered École Normale Superieure, and the French intellectuals he saw close up — Sartre, Althusser, Foucault, Kristeva, Lacan, Beauvoir — left him less than awed.

He belonged to the great British historical school that sets store by rigor, clarity of exposition and narrative drive. But these values fell under a shadow, in the academic fashion for Theory, Discourse and unreadable jargon. As he never shut up, he won new enemies every day. He was expelled from magazines, boycotted at conferences. He distrusted the seductive power of ideas, and was fond of a quote from Camus: “every wrong idea ends in a bloodbath — always the blood of others.”

In the early 1980s he took an interest in Czechoslovakia, a part of Europe known to the West mainly as a backdrop to spy novels, and began studying Czech. On this foundation he built the greatest of his books, Postwar, about the history of the continent since 1945.

He never shut up even when illness took hold of his body, paralyzing it little by little, muscle by muscle, limb by limb. He said it was like living in a cell that shrank by centimeters every day. Doomed to nights of immobile insomnia, he found consolation in meticulous reconstruction of his memories. He had once spent vast amounts of time in archives. Now the only archive within his reach was his own memory.

He knew that he had not much time, and that before he lost his lucidity he would lose the power of speech, and be reduced to a silent monologue with his own phantoms. He husbanded his forces: vividly remembering an episode, an epoch, a place, throughout the night, and then in the morning dictating, with ever more difficulty, what he had imagined.

These could not be long texts. The intensity, the precision, the inevitable fatigue, imposed a limit of a few pages. He liked to concentrate on a single experience and relive it in every detail. Trapped in bed, with a permanent feeling of cold, a plastic tube in his nose, he returned to a small hotel in Switzerland where he his parents had taken him on vacations as a child. Again he climbed the stairs, moved through the corridor, imagined the sound of steps; through an open window saw a landscape of showy slopes; breathed the cold, clean air. Hence the title of the posthumous book that has just come out: The Memory Chalet.

Dictating this book in the last months of his life, Tony Judt achieved a virtual escape from the cell of his body. Again he traveled on a freighter, at the age of 15, on the North Sea, and walked the streets of London, and crossed the United States. At the end he was in a small railway station in Switzerland, quietly waiting for the train.

Tony Robert Judt FBA (2 January 1948 – 6 August 2010) was a British historian, essayist, and university professor. He specialized in European history and was the Erich Maria Remarque Professor in European Studies at New York University and Director of NYU’s Erich Maria Remarque Institute. He was a frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books.

In 1996 he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and in 2007 a corresponding Fellow of the British Academy. A Marxist Zionist as a young man, he dropped his faith in Zionism after youthful experience in Israel in the 1960s and came to see a Jewish state as an anachronism, and moved away from Marxism in the 1970s and 1980s. In later life, he described himself as “a universalist social democrat”.

Judt’s works include the highly acclaimed Postwar, a history of Europe after the Second World War. He was also well known for his views on Israel, which generated significant debate after he advocated a one-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. According to journalist David Herman, Judt’s directorship of the Remarque Institute, his book Postwar and his articles on Israel made him “one of the best-known public intellectuals in America”, having previously been “a fairly obscure British historian, specialising in modern French history”.

In an interview a few weeks before his death Judt said: “I see myself as first and above all a teacher of history; next a writer of European history; next a commentator on European affairs; next a public intellectual voice within the American Left; and only then an occasional, opportunistic participant in the pained American discussion of the Jewish matter…”

Judt was born in 1948 in London, England to secular Jewish parents. He was raised by his mother, whose parents had emigrated from Russia and Romania, and his father, who was born in Belgium and had emigrated as a boy to Ireland and then subsequently to England. Judt’s parents lived in North London, but due to the closure of the local hospitals in response to an outbreak of infant dysentry, Judt was born in a Salvation Army maternity unit in Bethnal Green, in the East End of London.

When he was a small boy, the family moved from Tottenham to a flat above his mother’s business in Putney, South London. When Judt was nine years of age, following the birth of his sister, the family moved to a house in Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey. The family’s main language was English, although Judt often spoke in French to his father and to his father’s family.

Judt won a place at Emanuel School in Wandsworth, and was one of very few Jewish boys accepted at that institution at that time. Following his education at Emanuel, he went on to study as a scholarship student at King’s College, Cambridge. Judt was the first member of his family to finish secondary school and to go to university. He obtained a BA degree in history in 1969 and, after spending a year at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, completed a PhD in 1972. As a high school and university student he was a left-wing Zionist, and worked summers on kibbutzim.

He moved away from Zionism after the Six-Day War of 1967, later stating that “I went with this idealistic fantasy of creating a socialist, communitarian country”, but that he came to realise that left-wing Zionists were “remarkably unconscious of the people who had been kicked out of the country…to make this fantasy possible”. He came to describe his Zionism as his particular “ideological overinvestment”. Judt wrote in February 2010 that: “Before even turning twenty I had become, been, and ceased to be a Zionist, a Marxist, and a communitarian settler: no mean achievement for a south London teenager”.

After completing his Cambridge doctorate, he was elected a junior fellow of King’s College in 1972, where he taught modern French history until 1978. Following a brief period teaching social history at the University of California, he returned to Great Britain in 1980 to teach politics at St. Anne’s College, Oxford. He moved to New York University in 1987.

Judt was married three times, his first two marriages ending in divorce. His third marriage was to Jennifer Homans, The New Republic’s dance critic, with whom he had two children. In June 2010, Judt and his son Daniel wrote a dialogue about Barack Obama, politics and corporate behaviour for the New York Times.

In a review of Judt’s Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century, Jonathan Freedland writes that Judt has put conscience ahead of friendship during his life, and has demanded the same courage in others.

In 2008, Judt was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. From October 2009, he was paralyzed from the neck down. He was nevertheless able to give a two-hour public lecture. In January 2010 Judt wrote a short article about his condition, the first of a series of memoirs published in the New York Review of Books. In March 2010, Judt was interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air, and in June he was interviewed by the BBC’s disability affairs correspondent Peter White for the Radio 4 programme No Triumph, No Tragedy.

Judt died of ALS at his home in Manhattan on 6 August 2010. This was two weeks after a major interview and retrospective of his work in Prospect magazine and the day before an article about his illness was published in the Irish Independent indicating that he “won’t surrender any time soon” and comparing his suffering to that of author Terry Pratchett, who was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2007.

Shortly before his death, according to The Guardian, he was said to have possessed the “liveliest mind in New York.” He continued his work as a public intellectual right up until his death, writing essays for the New York Review of Books and composing and completing a synthetic intellectual history under the title Thinking The Twentieth Century with fellow historian Timothy Snyder.

He also wrote a memoir entitled The Memory Chalet, which was published posthumously in November 2010. During his illness, Judt made use of the memory palace technique to remember paragraphs of text during the night, which he placed mentally in rooms of a Swiss chalet and then dictated to his assistant the next day.

Following his death TIME said he was “a historian of the very first order, a public intellectual of an old-fashioned kind and — in more ways than one — a very brave man”. He was also praised for carrying out what he himself described as the historian’s task “to tell what is almost always an uncomfortable story and explain why the discomfort is part of the truth we need to live well and live properly. A well-organised society is one in which we know the truth about ourselves collectively, not one in which we tell pleasant lies about ourselves”.

Mark LeVine, a professor of history at the University of California at Irvine, said that Judt’s “writings on European history and the need for a new social contract between rulers and ruled can inspire a new generation of scholars and activists in other cultures”. Timothy Garton Ash, in his obituary in the New York Review of Books, placed Judt in “the great tradition of the spectateur engagé, the politically engaged but independent and critical intellectual.”

Source:  Wiki

The day Niagara Falls ran dry: Newly-discovered photos show the moment the iconic waterfall came to a standstill

Daily Mail – By Graham Smith

It’s taken 41 years, but a previously unseen set of photos of the mighty Niagara Falls reduced to nothing more than a barren cliff-top have finally surfaced. The stark images reveal North America’s iconic – and most powerful – waterfall to be almost as dry as a desert.

In June 1969, U.S. engineers diverted the flow of the Niagara River away from the American side of the falls for several months. Their plan was to remove the large amount of loose rock from the base of the waterfall, an idea which they eventually abandoned due to expense in November of that year.

During the interim, they studied the riverbed and mechanically bolted and strengthened a number of faults to delay the gradual erosion of the American Falls. The team, made up of U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, blew up their temporary dam in November 1969 and six million cubic feet of water once again thundered over the falls’ sides every minute.

Now, after lying unseen for more than four decades, a set of images showing the eerie calm at the American Falls that year have been unearthed by a man from Connecticut. Russ Glasson recently stumbled across the pictures, which were taken by his in-laws, and had been left in an old shoebox in their garage for over four decades.

Mr Glasson said: ‘My in-laws took these pictures during the six months through June to November that the Army was working to improve the health of the American Falls.’ Two rockslides from the plate of the falls in 1931 and 1954 had caused a large amount of rock to be collected at the base.

In 1965, reporters at local newspaper Niagara Falls Gazette revealed that the America Falls would eventually cease to flow and stop altogether if the rocks were not removed. Four years later, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers were charged with de-watering the falls to clean the river bed and to remove any loose rock at the bottom of the falls.

To achieve this the army had to build a 600ft dam across the Niagara River, which meant that 60,000 gallons of water that flowed ever second was diverted over the larger Horseshoe Falls which flow entirely on the Canadian side of the border.

The dam itself consisted of 27,800 tons of rock, and on June 12, 1969, after flowing continuously for over 12,000 years, the American Falls stopped. Over the course of the next six months thousands of visitors flocked to the falls to witness the historic occasion.

Once the engineers had removed the collected rocks from the falls base and made geological testing to make safe the rest, the falls were re-watered on November 25 in front of 2,650 onlookers.

The month in photography

The Observer New Review’s monthly guide video to the 20 best photographic exhibitions and books, with images by William Eggleston, Gerda Taro, Bill Brandt,  W Eugene Smith, Richard Avedon and many more.

end – 😉

Get that Man a Teleprompter!

NRO – Rick Lowry

Surely, if President Obama had been scripted this afternoon he wouldn’t have let loose with such a self-revelatory rant at the end of his presser. To this point, the hallmark of Obama has been his bloodlessness and lack of emotion, in almost any circumstance. North Korea could nuke Seoul and he’d come out and coolly pronounce it a regrettable event that proves we need to ratify New START. We’ve learned today that what really gets under his skin and makes him boil is criticism, and especially criticism from progressives.

Only a man of the left could care so much about attacks from the left wing. Only a president who is extremely thin-skinned would let criticism bother him so much that he’d — relative to his usual affect — erupt in anger in public about it. Only someone who desperately hates the position he’s in now, having to try to accommodate political realities in a center-right country and kiss his former messiahship goodbye, would show such peevishness. We got a good look behind the curtain for a moment this afternoon, and it wasn’t pretty.

WaPo – By Greg Sargent

Okay, we now have our first poll measuring the impact on the Democratic base of Obama’s support for a temporary extension of all the Bush tax cuts. Suffice it to say this is a major, make-or-break issue with them that could have real political ramifications for the President and Congressional Democrats.

The poll, done by the respected non-partisan firm Survey USA, surveyed over 1,000 people who contributed time or money to Obama in 2008, and found intense, overwhelming opposition among them to Obama’s support for a temporary extension of the tax cuts for the rich. This supports the notion that there may indeed be a serious liberal revolt in reaction to it.

Indeed, majorities of people who contributed to Obama in 2008 say they are less likely to support Obama and Democrats because of his backing for the temporary extension.

I got an advance look at the poll, which was commissioned by MoveOn, and you can read the polling memo right here. The key findings:

The poll shows clearly that these contributors are deeply opposed (74%) to a deal with Republicans to extend the Bush-era tax breaks for those making over $250,000 a year. The depth of opposition to a deal is severe with former Obama contributors saying that they are less likely (57%) to support Democrats who support this deal in 2012.

A majority of the former Obama contributors surveyed also say that the President’s deal also makes them less likely (51%) to contribute to his reelection campaign in 2012.

So 57 percent of Obama contributors say they are less likely to support Congressional Dems for reelection if they back the temporary extension, meaning there could be a political cost for Dems for embracing it. And more than half, 51 percent, say they are less likely to shell out cash for Obama’s reelection in 2012, suggesting it could damage his ability to turn out the same coalition that elected him in 2008.

These findings goes directly to the heart of a question that commentators are starting to ask: Does the left’s anger matter? Will it have any impact? No doubt some will argue that it can only help Obama to anger the left…

Railing on Dems, Obama backs deal

Politico44 – By MATT NEGRIN

President Obama took straight aim at Democrats angry over tax cuts for the rich on Tuesday, telling them that if they spend all their time fighting for everything they want, they won’t get anything done.

“This is the public option debate all over again,” Obama told reporters at a last-minute press conference at the White House. He recalled the debate in which progressives fought for the “public option” in the health care bill even though the legislation granted health insurance for millions of Americans, and he ridiculed the idea that a failure to pass it “was a sign of weakness and compromise.”

“Now if that’s the standard by which we are measuring success or core principles, then let’s face it, we will never get anything done,” Obama said, his voice rising in the briefing room.

He then declared: “That can’t be the measure of how we think about our public service. That can’t be the measure of what it means to be a Democrat. This is a big, diverse country. Not everybody agrees with us. I know that shocks people. You know, the New York Times editorial page does not permeate across all of America. Neither does the Wall Street Journal editorial page.”

Obama assailed liberals for seeking the “satisfaction of having a purist position and no victories for the American people.” He argued that while “we will be able to feel good about ourselves and sanctimonious about how pure our intentions are and how tough we are,” Americans will be suffering if they don’t have health insurance or unemployment insurance.

“This country was founded on compromise,” he said, defending his deal with the GOP on giving tax cuts to the rich for two more years. He also told reporters to “take a tally” and measure his campaign promises with what he’s accomplished, arguing that there wasn’t a “single thing” he promised “during my campaign that I haven’t done or tried to do.”

“And so, to my Democratic friends, what I’d suggest is, let’s make sure that we understand this is a long game,” he said.

The Hill – By Sam Youngman

President Obama could be crippling his own reelection effort by making a deal with Republicans to extend all of the Bush-era tax cuts, Democratic strategists and liberal groups said Monday.

A two-year extension of tax rates ushered in by President George W. Bush nearly a decade ago, would ensure a resumption of today’s fiery debate in 2012, when Obama is expected to reapply for his job, strategists in both parties said.

It also is angering the left wing of the Democratic Party, which already has a long list of complaints about Obama.

“President Obama has shown a complete refusal to fight Republicans throughout his presidency even when the public is on his side — and millions of his former supporters are now growing disappointed and infuriated by this refusal to fight,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

The PCCC on Monday afternoon circulated quotes from 2008 Obama campaign staffers who expressed disillusionment with the president for agreeing to extend tax cuts for the wealthy amid signs that the White House and Republicans were edging closer to a deal.

“Obama is demobilizing the troops and demoralizing the public right before he seeks reelection,” Green said.

The compromises by the White House have also disappointed liberals in the House and Senate, who have pushed Obama to take a tougher line with the GOP. Some liberals had said it would be better for Obama to allow all of the tax cuts to expire rather than cave to GOP demands and allow tax cuts for the wealthy to be extended.

Democratic strategists are disappointed that the president appears to be fighting the tax debate on terms dictated by Republicans, who have been able to frame a tax increase on any taxpayers as detrimental to a struggling economy. Friday’s unemployment report, showing a surprising jump in the jobless rate — to 9.8 percent — didn’t make matters easier for the White House.

“This is only a tough fight [now] because Americans have lost faith that President Obama is fighting for their economic futures,” said Jamal Simmons, a Democratic strategist and former official with the Clinton administration.

But Simmons and other Democrats believe a shift in the economy could help the president and Democrats argue for an end to the tax cuts in two years.

“I think most people feel like the economy is still really bad, and the idea of raising taxes on anyone right now does strike the average person as ‘This might not be a good idea,’ ” said Lara Brown, a political science professor at Villanova University. “But when people are making money, tax increases are just not as scary.”

Aware of the second round of fights facing him, Obama said in his late Monday statement that he will spend part of the next two years engaged in a conversation to try to convince people that the country cannot afford another extension of the high-end cuts.

By agreeing to a two-year extension of the cuts, Obama appears to be gambling that he — and the economy — will be in a better position to define the debate in 2012, when it could be more fruitful for Obama to sell a tax hike for the rich as part of an effort to lower the national debt.

“If by 2012 the president can convince voters of his commitment to helping them reclaim the American Dream, they’ll support denying tax cuts for the wealthy that put us $700 billion in more debt to China,” said Simmons.

Privately, both White House and Republican aides say they would love to have a fight over the high-end tax cuts as a central 2012 campaign issue.

“It’s ultimately a question of whether Democrats believe their own rhetoric,” said one Senate GOP aide. “They seem to think that Americans are OK with raising taxes on small businesses. Republicans disagree and would love to debate that notion anytime.

“It’s an area where the GOP can hit the Democrats hard any day,” the GOP aide said.

But one Democratic strategist said that defending tax cuts for the wealthy will put 2012 candidates in a tough position with conservative, blue-collar primary voters.

“As a campaign issue it can play both ways — the GOP is more likely to be seen as the party of big money, big oil, big special interests, et cetera,” the strategist said. “So they would be in the position of again defending bonus tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires — not where you want to be message-wise in early primary states.”

The Obama Tax Cuts: What They Mean For You

CBS Money Watch – By Carla Fried

We finally know what will happen to the expiring Bush tax cuts — they won’t expire for another two years. In a compromise announced by President Obama last night, the Bush tax rates become the Obama tax rates for 2011 and 2012. And for everyone, not just families making less than $250,000. The compromise? The Republicans will agree to extend unemployment benefits for another 13 months and won’t demand that the $60 billion cost be offset by a cut in federal spending.

Not only did the wealthy get a two-year pass on their income tax rate, but they are also going to benefit from two other features of the compromise:

A one-year cut in the payroll tax: To make up for the loss of the expiring Making Work Pay tax credit — the middle-class tax cut that no one really noticed — the White House extracted a one-year reduction in the Social Security payroll tax paid by employees from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent. What’s interesting is that Make Work Pay had an income limit: it was completely phased out for individuals making $95,000 or more, and joint filers with income above $190,000. The proposed 2011 payroll tax reduction apparently applies to everyone, at a reported cost of $120 billion in foregone tax revenue. That means an extra $2,172 in the 2011 paychecks for all Americans making at least $108,600, the current maximum amount of income subject to the FICA tax. The goal of this tax break is to give a jolt to the anemic economic recovery on the assumption that everyone — the middle class and the truly wealthy — will go out and spend that money.

A big break in the estate tax. When we last left off with the estate tax in 2009, it was being levied on estates above $3.5 million ($7 million for married couples) at a top rate of 45 percent. The estate tax has been on hiatus in 2010 and was scheduled to come roaring back next year at its 2001 level: a 55 percent tax on estates above $1 million. No one really expected that to happen, but the deal announced by President Obama sure seems like a huge capitulation to the Republicans. In fact, the President went out of his way in the press conference announcing the deal to clarify that he wasn’t too pleased with this outcome. The new estate tax rate will only be levied on estates over $5 million ($10 million for couples), and the 45 percent rate of 2009 dips to 35 percent for 2011 and 2012.

Assuming the framework of the deal announced Monday night makes its way through Congress, here’s what you can look forward to in 2011 and 2012 and some tips on how you should respond:

Income tax rates: Nothing changes from today. The top two tax brackets, which President Obama had vowed to raise, will instead remain at 33 percent and 35 percent. Even the millionaires and billionaires will see their tax rate hold steady, not just the middle class.

Strategy: As you would normally, if you have the option of deferring income (and thus, taxes) into next year, go for it. But pull as many deductions as possible into this year so you can benefit from those now. If you’ve converted a Roth retirement account this year, or plan to by year-end, it certainly makes sense to take advantage of the one-time tax deal being offered for 2010 conversions that allows you to spread the tax bill over the next two years.

Capital gains and dividend taxes: No change here, either. President Obama had wanted the current 15 percent rate to float up to 20 percent for wealthy Americans in the top two tax brackets. But the compromise keeps the rate at 15 percent for everyone.

Strategy: This increases the allure of dividend stocks even more for income-starved investors.

A “patch” for the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT): A patch that will raise the AMT exemption to account for inflation has been agreed to. According to the New York Times, the threshold for the AMT will be adjusted so that as many as 21 million households would not be subject to it.

Strategy: Relax.

And what happens after 2012? Well, that’s going to make for some interesting debates during the 2012 Presidential election cycle. In announcing the compromise, President Obama pushed the notion that leaving rates where they are for the next two years was a necessary interim step to help spur more economic growth, but that long-term we had to make “hard choices.” If I were a federal employee, I’d be wondering why I was singled out as a sacrificial revenue lamb for 2011 and 2012. Last week the President announced a pay freeze for most federal employees. Yet today the word is that the rest of Americans, especially the uber-wealthy, won’t be asked to make any such sacrifice in 2011 and 2012. But long-term, if we don’t eventually bring in more revenues and start reining in the federal deficit, we are all going to be paying an enormous price.

end 😉

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is back in business (Video) — Ex-NASA chief Griffin calls Augustine panel “irresponsible” — Griffin’s Augustine Email — Executive SUMMARY REPORT of the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee — Executive SUMMARY OF KEY FINDINGS — NASA’s future gets bleaker: Obama faced with manned-space dilemma — NASA needs stability and resources — NASA | Sentinels of the Heliosphere (Video)


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Blast … star bursts into life in the Carina Nebula

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is back in business, ready to uncover new worlds, peer ever deeper into space, and even map the invisible backbone of the universe. The first snapshots from the refurbished Hubbleshowcase the 19-year-old telescope’s new vision. Topping the list of exciting new views are colorful multi-wavelength pictures of far-flung galaxies, a densely packed star cluster, an eerie “pillar of creation,” and a “butterfly” nebula.

With its new imaging camera, Hubble can view galaxies, star clusters, and other objects across a wide swath of the electromagnetic spectrum, from ultraviolet to near-infrared light. A new spectrograph slices across billions of light-years to map the filamentary structure of the universe and trace the distribution of elements that are fundamental to life. The telescope’s new instruments also are more sensitive to light and can observe in ways that are significantly more efficient and require less observing time than previous generations of Hubble instruments. NASA astronauts installed the new instruments during the space shuttle servicing mission in May 2009… HubbleSite



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Whirl of fortune … snap of a distant galaxy


Ex-NASA chief Griffin calls Augustine panel “irresponsible”

By Robert Block on Sep 10, 2009

CAPE CANAVERAL – Former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin apparently has sent a scathing memo to friends and supporters in Washington, lashing out at the work of the presidential committee reviewing NASA’s human space flight plans and calling some of its recommendations  “irresponsible.”

In the 11-point email sent out Wednesday and made available to the Orlando Sentinel today, Griffin — the intellectual architect and champion of NASA’s Constellation Program of Ares rockets and Orion capsules — accused the committee of doing shoddy work and failing to make clear why Constellation isn’t viable and why the Ares I is a failed rocket.

The committee released an executive summary of its report on Tuesday in which it said NASA lacked the money to undertake a viable human space exploration program. The report was also critical of the Constellation program, offering the White House other options and urging that NASA rely on commercial space companies to design ships to ferry astronauts to the international space station rather than have NASA build a new rocket for the task.

Griffin was unavailable to comment on the email. But in it he stops just short at points of calling the committee liars or accusing it of calling NASA liars.

The committee said in its public hearings last month that meeting Constellation’s objective of launching astronauts on Ares I and Orion to the international space station in 2015 and returning astronauts to the moon in 2020 would cost $50 billion more than the current budget of $81.5 billion.

But Griffin attacked the committee’s numbers, calling them “low-fidelity estimates developed over a matter of weeks” offered as a correction to NASA’s budget work developed over years.

“If the Commission believes that NASA is not properly estimating costs, or is misrepresenting the data it has amassed, it should document its specific concerns. Otherwise, the provenance of NASA’s cost estimates should be accepted, as no evidence has been supplied to justify overturning them,” he wrote.

Interestingly, Griffin — who as administrator started NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services to coordinate the commercial delivery of crew and cargo to the International Space Station — saved his most barbed remarks for the committee’s support for the commercial space sector.

“What commercial sector?” Griffin asked. “At present, the only clearly available ‘commercial’ option is [France’s] Ariane 5.  Launching a redesigned Orion crew vehicle is a valid choice in the context of an international program if – and only if – the U.S. is willing to give up independent access to low Earth orbit, a decision imbued with enormous future consequences. “

He adds: “With an appropriately enlightened [U.S. government] policy there may one day be a domestic commercial space transportation sector, but it does not presently exist and will not exist in the near future; i.e., substantially prior to the likely completion dates for Ares-1/Orion, if they were properly funded.… To hold the support and utilization of the [space station] hostage to the emergence of a commercial space sector is not ‘risky’ [as the commission acknowledges], it is irresponsible. “

Orion and Ares are supposed to have their first launch to the space station in 2015, but the committee, headed by former Lockheed Marin CEO Norm Augustine, said that the real date was more likely to be 2017 because of technological challenges and funding shortfalls.

Griffin wrote that he was confused by several of the report’s conclusions, especially about Ares I and Constellation.

“’Technical problems’ with Ares-1 are cited several times, without any acknowledgement that (a) knowledgeable observers in NASA would disagree strongly as to the severity of such problems, and (b) Constellation’s ‘technical problems’ are on display because actual work is being accomplished,” he wrote.

He also wondered, if the committee found that underfunding of NASA was the main issue dogging the agency and there is not “any evidence of substandard execution” of the Constellation  program, why the panel failed to recommend giving the program more money to do the job.

“Finally, the Commission did not do that which would have been most valuable – rendering a clear-eyed, independent assessment of the progress and status of Constellation with respect to its ability to meet goals which have been established in two successive NASA Authorization Acts, followed by an assessment of what would be required to get and keep that program on track,” he wrote.

“Instead, the Commission sought to formulate new options for new programs, treating these options as if their level of maturity was comparable to that of the baseline upon which NASA has been working now for more than four years.”

The White House, which is waiting for the panel to deliver its full report later this month, has said that it won’t make a final decision on NASA’s human spaceflight plans until it has fully digested the committee’s findings. Until then, it is not commenting.

But the committee’s work is already generating some heat. The summary’s tepid criticism of Constellation has been picked up on by at least one lawmaker: U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, wife of astronaut Mark Kelly and the chairwoman of the House subcommittee charged with oversight of NASA.

In a press statement released on Wednesday, Giffords raised concerns similar to Griffin’s.

“Continued underfunding of NASA risks the good work being done by the Constellation Program, which includes vehicles capable of launching astronauts to low-Earth orbit and to the Moon. This is unfortunate, particularly because the Augustine panel found no significant technical problems with the Constellation Program,” she said.

Clearly the battle lines in the looming fight over the future of human space flight at NASA are being drawn.


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What a gas … Cat’s Eye stares across space


Griffin’s Augustine Email

From: “Michael D. Griffin”

To: XXXXXXXXXX

1)       It is clarifying to see a formal recognition by the Commission that, based upon budgetary considerations, “the human spaceflight program appears to be on an unsustainable trajectory”.  Given that the Constellation program was designed in accordance with the budget profile specified in 2005, yet has since suffered some $30 billion of reductions to the amount allocated to human lunar return (including almost $12 billion in just the last five fiscal years) this is an unsurprising conclusion, but one which provides the necessary grounding for all subsequent discussions.

2)      Since NASA’s budget as outlined in 2005 was hardly one of rampant growth (only a slight increase above inflation was projected even then), and since the Commission did not report any evidence of substandard execution of the Program of Record – Constellation – one wonders why the Commission failed to recommend as its favored option that of simply restoring the funding necessary to do the job that has, since 2005, been codified in two strongly bi-partisan Congressional Authorization Acts.

Of all the options considered, this is the most straightforward, yet it was not recommended.  The so-called “less constrained” options merely provide partial restoration of budget authority that was removed within just the last few years.  The most obvious conclusion to be drawn from the Commission’ report is this:  put it back.

3)      The continual reference to the supposedly planned cancellation and deorbiting of ISS in 2016 is a strawman, irrelevant to consideration of serious programmatic options.  While it is certainly true that Bush Administration budgets did not show any funding for ISS past 2015, it was always quite clear that the decision to cancel or fund the ISS in 2016 and beyond was never within the purview of the Bush Administration to make.

In the face of strong International Partner commitment to ISS and two decades of steadfast Congressional commitment to the development, assembly, and utilization of ISS, it has never been and is not now realistic to consider cancellation and deorbiting of ISS in 2015, or indeed on any particular date which can be known today.  The fact that some $3+ billion per year will be required to sustain ISS operations past 2015 is, and has always been, a glaring omission in future budget projections.

Sustained funding of the ISS as long as it continues to return value – certainly to 2020 and quite likely beyond – should have been established by the Commission as a non-negotiable point of departure for all other discussions.  Failure to do so, when the implications of prematurely canceling ISS are well known to all, is disingenuous.  The existence of future exploration programs cannot be traded against sustenance of the ISS on an “either-or” basis, as if the latter option was a realistic option.

If the nation is to lay claim to a viable human spaceflight program, the requirement to sustain ISS while also developing new systems to go beyond low Earth orbit is the minimally necessary standard.  If the nation can no longer meet this standard, then it should be so stated, in which case any further discussion of U.S. human exploration beyond LEO is moot for the next two decades.

4)    Numerous options are presented which are not linked by common goals or a strategy to reach such goals.  Instead, differing options are presented to reach differing goals, rendering it impossible to develop meaningful cost/schedule/performance/risk comparisons across them.  These options possess vastly differing levels of maturity, yet are offered as if all were on an equally mature footing in regard to their level of technical, cost, schedule, and risk assessment. This is not the case.

5)      “Independent” cost estimates for Constellation systems are cited. There is no acknowledgement that these are low-fidelity estimates developed over a matter of weeks, yet are offered as corrections to NASA’s cost estimates, which have years of effort behind them. No mention is made of NASA’s commitment to probabilistic budget estimation techniques for Constellation, at significantly higher cost-confidence levels than has been the case in the past.  If the Commission believes that NASA is not properly estimating costs, or is misrepresenting the data it has amassed, it should document its specific concerns. Otherwise, the provenance of NASA’s cost estimates should be accepted, as no evidence has been supplied to justify overturning them.

6)      The preference for “commercial” options for cargo and, worse, crew delivery to low Earth orbit appears throughout the Summary, together with the statement that “it is an appropriate time to consider turning this transport service over to the commercial sector.”  What commercial sector?  At present, the only clearly available “commercial” option is Ariane 5.  Launching a redesigned Orion crew vehicle is a valid choice in the context of an international program if – and only if – the U.S. is willing to give up independent access to low Earth orbit, a decision imbued with enormous future consequences.

With an appropriately enlightened USG policy there may one day be a domestic commercial space transportation sector, but it does not presently exist and will not exist in the near future; i.e., substantially prior to the likely completion dates for Ares-1/Orion, if they were properly funded.  The existence of a prudently funded USG option for cargo/crew delivery to ISS is precisely the strategy which allows the USG to take reasonable risks to sponsor the development of a viable commercial space sector.

The Commission acknowledges the “risk” associated with its recommendation, but is not clear about the nature of that risk.  If no USG option to deliver cargo and crew to LEO is to be developed following the retirement of the Space Shuttle, the U.S. risks the failure to sustain and utilize a unique facility with a sunk cost of $55 billion on the U.S. side, and nearly $20 billion of international partner investment in addition.

The Russian Soyuz and Progress systems, even if we are willing to pay whatever is required to use them in the interim, simply do not provide sufficient capability to utilize ISS as was intended, and in any case represent a single point failure in regard to such utilization.  To hold the support and utilization of the ISS hostage to the emergence of a commercial space sector is not “risky”, it is irresponsible.

7)      The Commission is disingenuous when it claims that safety “is not discussed in extensive detail because any concepts falling short in human safety have simply been eliminated from consideration.”  Similarly, the Commission was “unconvinced that enough is known about any of the potential high-reliability launcher-plus-capsule systems to distinguish their levels of safety in a meaningful way.”  For the Commission to dismiss out of hand the extensive analytical work that has been done to assure that Constellation systems represent the safest reasonable approach in comparison to all other presently known systems is simply unacceptable.

Work of high quality in the assessment of safety and reliability has been done, and useful discriminators between and among systems do exist, whether the Commission believes so or not.  To this point, the Commission’s report is confusing as regards the distinction between “reliability” and “safety”, where the issue is discussed at all.  The former is the only criterion of interest for unmanned systems; for manned systems, there is an important difference due to the existence of an abort system and the conditions under which that abort system can and must operate.  Nowhere is this crucial distinction discussed.

8)   “Technical problems” with Ares-1 are cited several times, without any acknowledgement that (a) knowledgeable observers in NASA would disagree strongly as to the severity of such problems, and (b) Constellation’s “technical problems” are on display because actual work is being accomplished, whereas other options have no problems because no work is being done.

9)   The recommendation in favor of the dual-launch “Ares-5 Lite” approach as the baseline for lunar missions is difficult to understand.  It violates the CAIB recommendation (and many similar recommendations) to separate crew and cargo in whatever post-Shuttle human space transportation system is to be developed.  Further, the dual-Ares-5 Lite mission architecture substantially increases the minimum cost for a single lunar mission as compared to the Ares-1/Ares-5 approach, a recommendation which is difficult to understand in an already difficult budgetary environment.

Finally, the Ares-5 Lite is nearly as expensive to develop as the Ares-5, but offers significantly less payload to the moon when used — as will be required — in a one-way, single-launch, cargo-only mode.  (The LEO payload difference of 140 mt for Ares-5 Lite and 160 mt for Ares-5 masks a much greater difference in their lunar payload capability.)

All parties agree that a heavy-lift launcher is needed for any human space program beyond LEO.  Because of the economies of scale inherent to the design of launch vehicles, such a vehicle should be designed to lift as large a payload as possible within the constraints of the facilities and infrastructure available to build and transport it.  This provides the greatest marginal improvement in capability at the lowest marginal cost.

10)   The use of “fuel depots” as recommended in the Summary appears to be a solution in search of a problem.  It is difficult to understand how such an approach can offer an economically favorable alternative.  The Ares-5 offers the lowest cost-per-pound for payload to orbit of any presently known heavy-lift launch vehicle design.  The mass-specific cost of payload to orbit nearly always improves with increasing launch vehicle scale.

The recommendation in favor of an architectural approach based upon the use of many smaller vehicles to resupply a fuel depot ignores this fact, as well as the fact that a fuel depot requires a presently non-existent technology – the ability to provide closed-cycle refrigeration to maintain cryogenic fuels in the necessary thermodynamic state in space.  This technology is a holy grail of deep-space exploration, because it is necessary for both chemical- and nuclear-powered upper stages.  To establish an architecture based upon a non-existent technology at the very beginning of beyond-LEO operations is unwise.

11)   Finally, the Commission did not do that which would have been most valuable – rendering a clear-eyed, independent assessment of the progress and status of Constellation with respect to its ability to meet goals which have been established in two successive NASA Authorization Acts, followed by an assessment of what would be required to get and keep that program on track.  Instead, the Commission sought to formulate new options for new programs, treating these options as if their level of maturity was comparable to that of the baseline upon which NASA has been working now for more than four years.

This approach completely ignores the established body of law which has guided NASA’s work for the last four years and which, until and unless that body of law is changed, must serve as the common reference standard for any proposed alternatives to Constellation as the program of record for the nation’s existing human spaceflight program.

Griffin’s Augustine Email


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Warped … arcs and streaks of distorted galaxies


Executive SUMMARY REPORT

of the

Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee

The U.S. human spaceflight program appears to be on an unsustainable trajectory. It is perpetuating the perilous practice of pursuing goals that do not match allocated resources. Space operations are among the most complex and unforgiving pursuits ever undertaken by humans. It really is rocket science. Space operations become all the more difficult when means do not match aspirations. Such is the case today.

The nation is facing important decisions on the future of human spaceflight. Will we leave the close proximity of low-Earth orbit, where astronauts have circled since 1972, and explore the solar system, charting a path for the eventual expansion of human civilization into space? If so, how will we ensure that our exploration delivers the greatest benefit to the nation? Can we explore with reasonable assurances of human safety? And, can the nation marshal the resources to embark on the mission?

Whatever space program is ultimately selected, it must be matched with the resources needed for its execution. How can we marshal the necessary resources? There are actually more options available today than in 1961 when President Kennedy challenged NASA and the nation to “land a man on the Moon by the end of the decade.”

First, space exploration has become a global enterprise. Many nations have aspirations in space, and the combined annual budgets of their space programs are comparable to NASA’s. If the United States is willing to lead a global program of exploration, sharing both the burden and benefit of space exploration in a meaningful way, significant benefits could follow. Actively engaging international partners in a manner adapted to today’s multi-polar world could strengthen geopolitical relationships, leverage global resources, and enhance the exploration enterprise.

Second, there is now a burgeoning commercial space industry. If we craft the space architecture to provide opportunities to this industry, there is the potential—not without risk—that the costs to the government would be reduced. Finally, we are also more experienced than in 1961, and able to build on that experience as we design an exploration program. If, after designing cleverly, building alliances with partners, and engaging commercial providers, the nation cannot afford to fund the effort to pursue the goals it would like to embrace, it should accept the disappointment of setting lesser goals.

Can we explore with reasonable assurances of human safety? Human space travel has many benefits, but it is an inherently dangerous endeavor. Human safety can never be absolutely assured, but throughout this report, it is treated as a sine qua non. It is not discussed in extensive detail because any concepts falling short in human safety have simply been eliminated from consideration.

How will we explore to deliver the greatest benefit to the nation? Planning for a human spaceflight program should begin with a choice about its goals—rather than a choice of possible destinations. Destinations should derive from goals, and alternative architectures may be weighed against those goals. There is now a strong consensus in the United States that the next step in human spaceflight is to travel beyond low-Earth orbit.

This should carry important benefits to society, including: driving technological innovation; developing commercial industries and important national capabilities; and contributing to our expertise in further exploration. Human exploration can contribute appropriately to the expansion of scientific knowledge, particularly in areas such as field geology, and it is in the interest of both science and human spaceflight that a credible and well-rationalized strategy of coordination between them be developed.

Crucially, human spaceflight objectives should broadly align with key national objectives.  These more tangible benefits exist within a larger context. Exploration provides an opportunity to demonstrate space leadership while deeply engaging international partners; to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers; and to shape human perceptions of our place in the universe. The Committee concluded that the ultimate goal of human exploration is to chart a path for human expansion into the solar system. This is an ambitious goal, but one worthy of U.S.  leadership in concert with a broad range of international partners…

Key Questions to Guide the Plan for Human Spaceflight

The Committee identified the following questions that, if answered, would form the basis of a plan for U.S. human spaceflight:

1.  What should be the future of the Space Shuttle?

2.  What should be the future of the International Space Station (ISS)?

3.  On what should the next heavy-lift launch vehicle be based?

4.  How should crews be carried to low-Earth orbit?

5.  What is the most practicable strategy for exploration beyond low-Earth orbit?

The Committee considers the framing and answering of these questions individually, and in a consistent way, to be at least as important as their combinations in the integrated options for a human spaceflight program.

See Complete PDF Report: Executive SUMMARY REPORT of the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee


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Hum-winger … streams of pink and red gas look like fragile insect wings


Executive SUMMARY OF KEY FINDINGS

The Committee summarizes its key findings below. Additional findings are included in the body of the report.

The right mission and the right size: NASA’s budget should match its mission and goals.  Further, NASA should be given the ability to shape its organization and infrastructure accordingly, while maintaining facilities deemed to be of national importance.

International partnerships: The U.S. can lead a bold new international effort in the human exploration of space. If international partners are actively engaged, including on the “critical path” to success, there could be substantial benefits to foreign relations, and more resources overall could become available.

Short-term Space Shuttle planning: The current Shuttle manifest should be flown in a safe and prudent manner. The current manifest will likely extend to the second quarter of FY 2011. It is important to budget for this likelihood.

The human-spaceflight gap: Under current conditions, the gap in U.S. ability to launch astronauts into space will stretch to at least seven years. The Committee did not identify any credible approach employing new capabilities that could shorten the gap to less than six years. The only way to significantly close the gap is to extend the life of the Shuttle Program.

Extending the International Space Station: The return on investment to both the United States and our international partners would be significantly enhanced by an extension of ISS life. Not to extend its operation would significantly impair U.S. ability to develop and lead future international spaceflight partnerships.

Heavy-lift: A heavy-lift launch capability to low-Earth orbit, combined with the ability to inject heavy payloads away from the Earth, is beneficial to exploration, and it also will be useful to the national security space and scientific communities. The Committee reviewed: the Ares family of launchers; more directly Shuttle-derived vehicles; and launchers derived from the EELV family.  Each approach has advantages and disadvantages, trading capability, lifecycle costs, operational complexity and the “way of doing business” within the program and NASA.

Commercial crew launch to low-Earth orbit: Commercial services to deliver crew to low-Earth orbit are within reach. While this presents some risk, it could provide an earlier capability at lower initial and lifecycle costs than government could achieve. A new competition with adequate incentives should be open to all U.S. aerospace companies. This would allow NASA to focus on more challenging roles, including human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit, based on the continued development of the current or modified Orion spacecraft.

Technology development for exploration and commercial space: Investment in a well-designed: and adequately funded space technology program is critical to enable progress in exploration.  Exploration strategies can proceed more readily and economically if the requisite technology has been developed in advance. This investment will also benefit robotic exploration, the U.S. commercial space industry and other U.S. government users.

Pathways to Mars: Mars is the ultimate destination for human exploration; but it is not the best first destination. Both visiting the Moon First and following the Flexible Path are viable exploration strategies. The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive; before traveling to Mars, we might be well served to both extend our presence in free space and gain experience working on the lunar surface.

Options for the Human Spaceflight Program: The Committee developed five alternatives for the Human Spaceflight Program. It found:

  • Human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit is not viable under the FY 2010 budget guideline.
  • Meaningful human exploration is possible under a less constrained budget, ramping to approximately $3 billion per year above the FY 2010 guidance in total resources.
  • Funding at the increased level would allow either an exploration program to explore Moon First or one that follows a Flexible Path of exploration. Either could produce results in a reasonable timeframe.

See Complete PDF Report: Executive SUMMARY REPORT of the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee


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Starry skies … the massive globular cluster Omega Centauri


WASHINGTON – When President Barack Obama named a panel to review NASA‘s manned-space program, his aides said privately they were hoping the group would recommend scrapping NASA’s troubled Ares I rocket program and finding another, cheaper way to get humans back to the moon.

But the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee came to a troubling conclusion this week: NASA’s current budget offers no hope of sending humans past the international space station for 20 years or more.

And that confronts the administration with an enormous dilemma: how, in an era of trillion-dollar deficits, to find money to reinvigorate human space exploration and avoid pulling the plug on a program that just celebrated the 40th anniversary of its first lunar landing.

“The public was promised a Cadillac, or at least a Buick,” said one administration science official not authorized to speak for the White House. “There is some concern that we could end up with an Edsel.”

Shaping the future of America’s space program began Friday, when members of the committee presented their preliminary findings to NASA chief Charlie Bolden and White House officials. Initial reports indicated the group agreed to retire the space shuttle in 2011, extend the space station until 2020 and use more commercial rockets. They also liked the idea of exploring deep space — rather than landing on the moon.

On Wednesday, the panel said that Constellation, NASA’s current back-to-the-moon program, is running $50 billion over the current budget through 2020. But the alternatives presented Friday are almost as expensive, requiring $20-to-$30 billion more than the current budget through 2020.

The outcome was not entirely unexpected.

Even before Obama took office, officials had serious doubts about Constellation, particularly its Ares I rocket, which is expected to shake violently as it climbs through the atmosphere.

They especially questioned a rocket designed in part to bring crew to the space station that wouldn’t be ready until 2015 — the same year the complex was supposed to be abandoned.

“I might not have a technical background, but I can read budget and schedule charts and I can tell you that there are things that don’t make sense,” Alan Ladwig, now a presidentially appointed policy adviser at NASA, told Florida space boosters last December.

But Obama officials were reluctant to kill the Constellation program by decree. They preferred that an independent panel come to what they saw as the only logical conclusion: that Ares I was, as one put it, “infeasible.”

But they didn’t expect that NASA’s budget would leave no room for another rocket capable of flying beyond the space station.

Even the panel members themselves were surprised.

Norm Augustine, the retired Lockheed Martin CEO who leads the 10-member panel, said he was shocked at its inability to find an option that would fit within NASA’s current manned-space budget that the committee put at roughly $100 billion through 2020.

“I certainly didn’t think it would miss by as much as it did,” Augustine said. “One of the things that have troubled NASA the most in recent years is having objectives that they don’t the resources to match.”

That leaves the White House with a tough decision: back billions more for human space exploration, or support an emasculated program that critics will call pointless.

It is up to Obama, says Marcia Smith, formerly a space expert at the Congressional Research Service and now a consultant, to decide whether human space exploration is a worthy priority or an unaffordable luxury.

“Giving NASA a couple more billion dollars a year for the next 20 years isn’t really going to affect the deficit that much, considering how huge the deficit is,” Smith said. “So it’s a matter of presidential policy and what Obama wants to do.”

Committee members are trying to find ways to reduce the costs of some of their options to make them more palatable. But the most likely option would be a new rocket designed and operated by a commercial company and purchased by the agency – a dramatic break from current practices where NASA designs and “owns” its rockets.

And Congress might not go along because that would harm the contractors now working on the program.

What’s more, any of the committee’s options would devastate Florida’s Space Coast, which faces an estimated 7,000 job losses at Kennedy Space Center when NASA retires the space shuttle. That in turn could trigger the loss of 21,000 more jobs outside KSC.

If the shuttle is retired in 2011, as now seems likely, it will be years before a new manned-space rocket brings even some of those jobs back.

“We need to see what the final outcome is,” said Lynda Weatherman, CEO of the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast. “Right now our strategy is to try to find work that supports a lunar mission. If it’s not lunar, then it will be something else. There will be work from whatever they come out with. We just have to be smart enough to take advantage.”

But, she added, “It’s going to be a tough period.”

For NASA allies on Capitol Hill, news that the agency does not have enough money to do what it wants is not so shocking. For years, members of congressional science committees have complained about underfunding.

But in a time of enormous budget deficits, a major boost is seen as unlikely.

“NASA is getting $18 billion a year. That’s more than all the other [space] agencies in the world combined. It’s very difficult to make the argument for more money,” said Vincent Sabathier, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.

Sabathier said NASA’s best hope lies in giving a greater role to its international partners to develop key components of an exploration system, such as using a French rocket to launch a U.S. capsule.

“If you cannot find more money, you must work more closely with the international partners,” he said. “Obama can use space as a foreign policy tool, to rebuild its leadership in space.”


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Far, far away … group of five galaxies


The Hill – By Walter Alarkon 09/10/09 06:05 AM ET

A report suggesting that NASA’s space travel goals are too ambitious for its budget is imperiling efforts by Florida and Texas lawmakers to win more money for the agency’s budget.

The Human Space Flight Committee, which was created by President Barack Obama, said this week that NASA’s flight program is on an “unsustainable trajectory” due to its “pursuing goals that do not match allocated resources.”

Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), who sponsored the House appropriations bill calling for fewer 2010 NASA funds than the Obama administration requested, said the report confirms his concerns that “the emperor has no clothes.”

Mollohan echoed the committee in criticizing the approach to spaceflight for having a “disconnect between its means and ends,” suggesting that NASA must either find more funding or rein in its ambitions.

The panel, in the executive summary of a full report to come later, noted that NASA’s next-generation space travel vehicles won’t be ready until 2017, two years later than scheduled, and that the space agency should turn to private companies for missions that don’t venture beyond Earth’s low orbit.

If NASA wants to achieve its goals of sending humans to the moon and Mars, it needs $3 billion more annually, the panel said.
That would be a significant boost to NASA’s budget, expected to be less than $19 billion next year.

The report by the committee, led by former Lockheed Martin executive Norman Augustine, led to renewed calls to overhaul NASA’s approach.

Mollohan’s Commerce, Justice and Science 2010 spending bill set NASA’s budget at $18.2 billion — $650.6 million less than what NASA had requested.

Mollohan had said he would consider the higher funding level after the report’s release. He has called on NASA to more clearly spell out its plans for manned space missions.

The Senate, in its spending bill for NASA, set the agency’s funding at the higher, requested level of $18.7 billion. The House and Senate have yet to reconcile their bills’ differences in conference.

Mollohan said he looks forward to working with the Obama administration and his colleagues in Congress “as we determine the best way to align resources with NASA’s human spaceflight mission.”

A bipartisan group of about a dozen lawmakers from Texas and Florida, home to major spaceflight bases, have pressed for more NASA funding, arguing that it would have national security and economic benefits. They used the report’s findings to call on the administration to provide even more funding for the agency.

“It’s time to step up to the plate and give them what they need — $2 billion or $3 billion [a year],” said Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas), whose district includes the Johnson Space Center.

Augustine, whose former company is a leading aerospace contractor, will testify before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee with jurisdiction over NASA next week, according to the panel’s chairman, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).

Nelson, whose state is home to the Kennedy Space Center, said that whether the space program will get funding to meet its goals will depend on the White House.

“There’s only one person who can lead the space program, and that’s the president,” Nelson said.


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NASA needs stability and resources

HOUSTON CHRONICLE

Aug. 29, 2009

As space shuttle astronauts, each of us has sat high atop a magnificent U.S.-built space ship loaded with 1.6 million pounds of liquid hydrogen and oxygen, waiting for the shuttle’s solid rocket motors and engines to ignite and propel us from zero to 17,500 miles per hour into orbit around the Earth. We understand the importance and significance of having a safe and well-funded space program, as we personally accepted the risk worth taking with every mission. With each flight, we entrusted our lives to experienced, innovative men and women on the ground, dedicated to our safety and passionately committed to our nation’s space program.

As America prepares to embark upon a new era of human space exploration, President Obama has commissioned a review of the nation’s human space flight plans. Known as the Augustine Committee, this panel has the important charter of evaluating the current NASA plan and offering options for the future. Its report is expected this week. We urge this panel, along with the president, Congress and the American people to consider that: Exploration must be recognized as a national imperative that sustains U.S. leadership in space; a significant increase in human space-flight safety should be accomplished under government leadership; we must leave low Earth orbit and explore destinations beyond; and sustaining robust funding and staying the course are imperative to implementing a safe, reliable and meaningful space exploration program worthy of our nation.

• •  Exploration is a national imperative. Over the past 50 years, our country has profoundly benefited from the space program in more ways than most people are even aware. In a recent report, the value of the world space economy is estimated at $250 billion. Many industries — telecommunications, agriculture, medicine, Earth observation, public health and safety, to name a few — have advanced and grown due to development of space technologies. Our aerospace industry is the envy of the world, employing 650,000 Americans in high-wage, high-skill jobs. It is one of the few industries that actually enjoys a trade surplus with our foreign competition. Every time NASA accomplishes a great achievement, the interest of our young people in pursuing a career in science and engineering spikes upward. When they graduate from college, not all will end up working in the space program, but many of them will join leading technology companies all over America.

We believe that America’s space exploration program has positively impacted the world perhaps more than any single national endeavor during the last half century. Our space leadership is a projection of this country’s technical capability leveraged to foster peaceful cooperation among nations in a politically uncertain world. Each of us has been part of this great space legacy — and continues to be committed to ensuring the safety, vitality, sustainability and excitement of the future space program. U.S. investment in space and technology generates tens of thousands of jobs, stimulates small businesses and entrepreneurship, drives innovation and inspires the next generation of engineers, scientists and explorers so critical to America’s future.

• •  Crew safety. Our top concern as the country moves forward in human space flight is to ensure the safest possible system is utilized and regulated through government leadership. This requires a proven track record, building on important lessons learned to ensure crew safety and mission success. NASA’s Constellation program is exactly that type of effort — infused with generational lessons learned, well planned and scrutinized by multiple stakeholders to provide a safe and reliable system for our nation.

New entrants to the aerospace community have been provided a pathway and government funding to pursue opportunities to support International Space Station operations — starting with cargo and possibly progressing to crew operations, if those companies successfully demonstrate vehicle performance and meet NASA’s crew safety requirements. This is a sensible, milestone-driven approach that ensures appropriate measures are being taken to protect our assets while allowing NASA to focus on its current program.

• •  Breaking the bonds of low Earth orbit after a four-decade hiatus. We recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of one of humankind’s greatest achievements — the landing of people on the surface of the moon. We are proud of our association with the space shuttle and space station, and are excited about NASA’s space exploration plans. Using the knowledge and heritage from previous human space flight programs, we must prepare for the next giant leap in space exploration. It is now time to move on and push the boundaries of human discovery beyond low Earth orbit to the moon, asteroids, Mars and beyond.

• •  Sustained robust funding is imperative. During Apollo, America allocated almost five percent of the federal budget to achieve President John F. Kennedy’s vision to land people on the moon and return them safely to Earth. Today, that number has dropped to only about half of one percent, while at the same time the range of space, science and aeronautics missions conducted by NASA is much more diverse than it was forty years ago. We are convinced that an increased investment today of only one tenth of one percent of the federal budget annually would support a healthy, safe exploration program as well as a robust science and aeronautic program ensuring U.S. leadership and opportunities for international collaboration.

Underfunding and start-stop investment practices during the past decade have undermined the cause of exploration, wasted resources and delayed the development of new systems. This has led to an overall strain on political support and public enthusiasm. We can do better as a nation and we must.

In conclusion, we stand united in our advocacy of a strong U.S. space exploration program that is fully funded, values and maintains safety, and pushes our horizons beyond low Earth orbit. To date, our space program has earned the support of the American public and our elected officials. What we need now is a stable policy and the resources necessary to create a future space program that truly reflects the pride and capabilities of our great nation.

NASA astronauts Jeff Ashby, Michael Bloomfield, Bob Crippen, Roger Crouch, Jan Davis, Brian Duffy, Jim Halsell, Steve Hawley, Rick Hieb, Scott “Doc” Horowitz, Bruce McCandless II, Don McMonagle, Pam Melroy, Charlie Precourt, Ken Reightler and Kent Rominger contributed to this article.


Related Links:

NASA: Thousands of New Images Show Mars in High Resolution

AFP: Indian satellite confirmed US moon landing: scientist

Space: NASA’s New Moonship Passes Review Amid Rocket Uncertainty & NASA Needs More Money to Hunt Killer Space Rocks, Report Says

Examiner: Can Ares 1 be saved?

SPACEREF: Ares Needs a Death Panel – Government Must Buy All Rides to Space Commercially


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SUMMARY OF KEY FINDINGS

The Committee summarizes its key findings below. Additional findings are included in the body of the report.

The right mission and the right size: NASA’s budget should match its mission and goals.  Further, NASA should be given the ability to shape its organization and infrastructure accordingly, while maintaining facilities deemed to be of national importance.

International partnerships: The U.S. can lead a bold new international effort in the human exploration of space. If international partners are actively engaged, including on the “critical path” to success, there could be substantial benefits to foreign relations, and more resources overall could become available.

Short-term Space Shuttle planning: The current Shuttle manifest should be flown in a safe and prudent manner. The current manifest will likely extend to the second quarter of FY 2011. It is important to budget for this likelihood.

The human-spaceflight gap: Under current conditions, the gap in U.S. ability to launch astronauts into space will stretch to at least seven years. The Committee did not identify any credible approach employing new capabilities that could shorten the gap to less than six years. The only way to significantly close the gap is to extend the life of the Shuttle Program.

Extending the International Space Station: The return on investment to both the United States and our international partners would be significantly enhanced by an extension of ISS life. Not to extend its operation would significantly impair U.S. ability to develop and lead future international spaceflight partnerships.

Heavy-lift: A heavy-lift launch capability to low-Earth orbit, combined with the ability to inject heavy payloads away from the Earth, is beneficial to exploration, and it also will be useful to the national security space and scientific communities. The Committee reviewed: the Ares family of launchers; more directly Shuttle-derived vehicles; and launchers derived from the EELV family.  Each approach has advantages and disadvantages, trading capability, lifecycle costs, operational complexity and the “way of doing business” within the program and NASA.

Commercial crew launch to low-Earth orbit: Commercial services to deliver crew to low-Earth orbit are within reach. While this presents some risk, it could provide an earlier capability at lower initial and lifecycle costs than government could achieve. A new competition with adequate incentives should be open to all U.S. aerospace companies. This would allow NASA to focus on more challenging roles, including human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit, based on the continued development of the current or modified Orion spacecraft.

Technology development for exploration and commercial space: Investment in a well-designed: and adequately funded space technology program is critical to enable progress in exploration.  Exploration strategies can proceed more readily and economically if the requisite technology has been developed in advance. This investment will also benefit robotic exploration, the U.S. commercial space industry and other U.S. government users.

Pathways to Mars: Mars is the ultimate destination for human exploration; but it is not the best first destination. Both visiting the Moon First and following the Flexible Path are viable exploration strategies. The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive; before traveling to Mars, we might be well served to both extend our presence in free space and gain experience working on the lunar surface.

Options for the Human Spaceflight Program: The Committee developed five alternatives for the Human Spaceflight Program. It found:

· Human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit is not viable under the FY 2010 budget guideline.

· Meaningful human exploration is possible under a less constrained budget, ramping to approximately $3 billion per year above the FY 2010 guidance in total resources.

· Funding at the increased level would allow either an exploration program to explore Moon First or one that follows a Flexible Path of exploration. Either could produce results in a reasonable timeframe.