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Of course Bob McDonald wanted to be an astronaut – The Western Star

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If you are a CBC Radio listener you will surely recognize the name and the voice of Quirks & Quarks host Bob McDonald.

The host of the show since 1992, McDonald is also the go to science guy for CBC News Network and The National.

He’s won awards and has an asteroid named after him. And now he has a new book.

McDonald’s An Earthling’s Guide to Outer Space will be front and centre when the Victoria resident takes part in the Vancouver Writers Festival’s (VWF) day of free programming on Oct. 26.

We got the busy broadcaster to answer a few questions before he takes to the VWF stage.

Q: You subtitle is “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Black Holes, Dwarf Planets, Aliens and More.” What’s the more part?

A: There are 31 chapters in the book, each devoted to a different topic, ranging from becoming an astronaut, to junk in space and how telescopes work, so there is much more to explore than the title suggests.

Q: Who is this book for?

A: This book is aimed at 8-12 year olds, although all ages should find it an interesting source of trivia to throw around at parties.

Q: You have experiments we can try at home in the book. They are all very safe. Now, as a young boy did you do any home experiments? Any, maybe, not work out so great?

A: The first experiment I did at home when I was young, involved filling two jars with water, sealing one with a lid, leaving the other open and letting them sit on a shelf for a week. I was amazed that the open one lost water all by itself and discovered the principle of evaporation. I also experimented with balsa wood airplanes, but no explosions ever rocked the house.

Q: To some of us, just contemplating the vastness of space is exhausting. What can you say to get me excited about the topic? What is a good entry point into this topic?

A : You live on a ball that is spinning and tumbling through an unimaginably huge space at speeds faster than a rocket. There are stars beneath your feet right now, and the chair you are sitting in is speeding around the sun at 100,000 km/hr. That’s 30 kilometres every second. Seven other planets, hundreds of moons, millions of comets and asteroids are all travelling around our star with you as the sun journeys around the Milky Way Galaxy, which is only one of hundreds of billions of other galaxies in the expanding universe.  Are you exhausted yet?

Q: What was your personal entry point to wanting to learn all you could about space?

A: When I was eight years old, my mother gave me a book simply called Planets. It was a Golden Book of knowledge with realistic drawing of all the planets in the solar system. This was when the space age had just started. That book transported me to other worlds that are just as real as the Earth, but very, very different. As the space race to the moon unfolded, I figured that one day soon I would be visiting those planets. That hasn’t happened yet, but I still have the book.

Q: Did you pretend to be an astronaut as a kid?

A: Of course. What kid in the 1960s didn’t want to become an astronaut?

Q: Speaking of astronauts do you think the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 got people interested in space again?

A: The 50th anniversary of the moon landing not only got people interested in space, it reminded us of how remarkable those early missions were, how daring, and what a monumental effort it was to reach the moon in less than a decade. It also showed how we haven’t left the Earth since then, but that is now changing.

Q: Do you like going to see fictional movies about space? Or is it an exercise in frustration for you?

A: Fictional movies are a lot of fun. I love the escapism, the imagination, but they often turn into comedies for me as I pick out all the scientific mistakes, or when they break the laws of physics for the sake of the plot.

Q: Have you seen Ad Astra? If so what were those beams that Tommy Lee Jones’ character was threatening earth with?

A: I have no idea how beams in space work, whether they are death rays, tractor beams or phasers, they always have far more power than actual beams on Earth. Also, beams in space would be invisible because there is nothing for them to reflect off. You can only see beams in space when they are aimed right at you, which means you are about to die.

Q: Are there things in space we should be really worried about?

A: We should worry about small and medium sized asteroids, the ones that are the size of a house or a football field that could hit the Earth. They are much smaller than the one that wiped out the dinosaurs, but they could still take out a city if they hit the right spot. The larger asteroids have been spotted with telescopes, but the small ones don’t show up until they are very close and we can’t do anything about them.

Q: What science (excluding the internet) do you have now that you would have loved to have when starting with Quirks & Quarks in 1992?

A: So much has happened in science within my career. We have been to every planet in the solar system with robots, discovered thousands of planets going around other stars, found out that 95 per cent of the universe is made of dark matter and dark energy, and we have no clue what they are. Then there are all the new discoveries in genetics, geology and climate science … pick a topic. We are living in remarkable times.

Q: What do people tend to ask you?

A: Believe it or not, people still ask if the moon landings were faked.  Not only have I met several of the people who have been to the moon, why would 400,000 people, including Canadians, be employed to build technology that could reach the moon and then not go there? And why would the moon missions be faked nine times?

I’m stunned that people still think it was all done in a studio.

Q: What do you hope people take away from this new book?

A: I hope people will gain a perspective on our place in the universe, and through the demos, see that studying space doesn’t need to be complicated, you can do it right in your own kitchen.

Q: Star Wars or Star Trek?

A: Star Trek. They are not super heroes, just people caught in extraordinary situations using clever thinking and the technology available to them to explore new worlds. It is a more scientific approach to space exploration rather than going to war.

Q: Does your voice give you away in the grocery store lineup?

A: People recognize me from my voice and my face. I’m always honoured when it happens, but sometimes a little dismayed when they don’t know my name and say, “You’re that guy …” I need a more memorable name like Suzuki or something.

dgee@postmedia.com

twitter.com/dana_gee

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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NASA: Boeing Spaceflights Are Way Pricier Than SpaceX – Futurism

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Pricey Ticket

According to a recent report by NASA’s inspector general, the projected seat price for sending an astronaut to the International Space Station is 60 percent higher on board Boeing’s Starliner than on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft — about $90 million and $55 million, respectively.

Surprisingly, Boeing’s price is actually more than what Russia’s space corporation Roscosmos currently charges to send American astronauts to the space station on board a Soyuz spacecraft, as Ars Technica points out. Since 2017, NASA had to pay Russia an average of $79.7 mission per seat.

Boeing has been pressing NASA for additional funding for a number of years, trying to secure far more money for crewed missions than what NASA and Boeing had previously agreed upon, Ars Technica reports.

Upgrade to Business Class

NASA’s report also revealed that Boeing not only is charging more per ticket than SpaceX, but the development turned out to be far more expensive as well. According to the report, Boeing asked NASA for an additional $287.2 million in 2016, while “SpaceX was not provided the same opportunity as Boeing to propose a solution.”

And yet NASA kept Boeing on as a “second crew transportation provider” to keep its options open.

The report also mentions the difficulties each contractor is facing in developing a sustainable and safe method of sending American astronauts to the space station. SpaceX’s efforts in developing its Crew Dragon spacecraft hit a major roadblock when the company’s testing capsule exploded in a ball of smoke back in April.

READ MORE: NASA report finds Boeing seat prices are 60% higher than SpaceX [Ars Technica]

More on Boeing and SpaceX: Here’s Why Elon Musk is Feuding With the Head of NASA

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Astronauts start spacewalk series to fix cosmic ray detector

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Astronauts launched an extraordinarily complicated series of spacewalks Friday to fix a cosmic ray detector at the International Space Station.

Armed with dozens of dissecting tools, Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano removed two protective covers to gain access to the inside of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. He handed them to his U.S. spacewalking partner, American Andrew Morgan, for tossing overboard.

“OK, 3-2-1, release,” Morgan said as he let go of the 4-foot-long (127-centimetre) shield high above the Pacific.

Later, over the South Atlantic, Morgan ditched the second, smaller cover. “Another great pitch,” Mission Control radioed.

These latest pieces of space junk pose no danger to the orbiting lab, according to NASA. The larger shield should remain in orbit a year or so before re-entering the atmosphere and burning up. The smaller one should re-enter in a few weeks.

NASA considers these spacewalks the most difficult since the Hubble Space Telescope repairs a few decades ago. Unlike Hubble, the spectrometer was never meant to undergo space surgery. After 8 1/2 years in orbit, its cooling system is almost dead.

Parmitano and Morgan will go out at least four times this month and next to revitalize the instrument. Their second spacewalk is next Friday.

Delivered to orbit by Endeavour in 2011 on the next-to-last space shuttle flight, the $2 billion spectrometer is hunting for elusive antimatter and dark matter.

It’s already studied more than 148 billion charged cosmic rays. That’s more than what was collected in over a century by high-altitude balloons and small satellites, said lead scientist Samuel Ting, a Nobel laureate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He monitored Friday’s 6 1/2-hour spacewalk from Mission Control in Houston.

The huge spectrometer — 16 feet by 13 feet by 10 feet (5 metres by 4 metres by 3 metres), with a mass of 7 1/2 tons (6,800 kilograms) — was designed to operate for three years. By installing four new and improved coolant pumps, the astronauts can keep it working throughout the life of the space station, or another five to 10 years. The replacement pumps arrived at the space station nearly two weeks ago, along with an assortment of new tools.

Parmitano, the lead spacewalker, and Morgan trained extensively for the plumbing job before rocketing into orbit in July. They hustled through Friday’s cover removals and even got a jump on future chores.

Next week’s spacewalk will involve slicing through stainless steel tubes and splicing in connections for the new pumps, which like the old will use liquid carbon dioxide as the coolant.

In some respects, this work, 250 miles (400 kilometres) up, is even trickier than the Hubble spacewalks, said NASA project manager Ken Bollweg. As before, the stakes are high.

“Any time you do heart surgery you’re taking some risks,” Bollweg said in an interview earlier this week.

Morgan is an emergency physician in the Army — a bonus for this kind of intricate work. He’s making his first spaceflight.

For second-time station resident Parmitano, it marked his return to spacewalking following a close call in 2013. He almost drowned when his helmet flooded with water from the cooling system of his spacesuit. Unable to talk because of the rising water, he managed to keep his cool as he made his way back to the safe confines of the space station.

Marcia Dunn, The Associated Press

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NASA overpaid Boeing by hundreds of millions of dollars: Auditor – Hindustan Times

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NASA “overpaid” Boeing by hundreds of millions of dollars on a fixed contract to develop a spaceship to carry astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), an audit report has said, compensation it called “unnecessary.”

The US has relied on Russia to transport its crews to the ISS since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011, but has hired Boeing and SpaceX under multi-billion dollar contracts, with the two companies already two years behind schedule.

“We found that NASA agreed to pay an additional $287.2 million above Boeing’s fixed prices to mitigate a perceived 18-month gap in ISS flights anticipated in 2019,” the inspector general’s report issued Thursday said.

“We question $187 million of these price increases as unnecessary costs,” it added.

The auditors determined the amount of additional spending was not required because the risk of such a gap occurring was minimal, and SpaceX was not provided an opportunity to propose a solution “even though the company previously offered shorter production lead times than Boeing.”

What’s more, NASA failed to consider in their analysis that they could overcome any perceived gap by purchasing more seats either directly from Russia or from Boeing.

In fact, five days after NASA committed to paying the $287.2 million, Boeing proposed to sell NASA five seats on the Russian spacecraft Soyuz during the same mission period, a sale completed for an additional $373.5 million, the report found.

But the report’s authors added: “We acknowledge the benefit of hindsight and appreciate the pressures faced by NASA managers at the time to keep the program on schedule to the extent possible.”

The Commercial Crew Program has been beset by delays as the two companies face technical and safety challenges.

As of May 2019, Boeing and SpaceX’s contracts were valued at $4.3 billion and $2.5 billion, with each company awarded six round-trip missions to the ISS.

Assuming four astronauts per flight, the inspector general estimated average cost per seat at $90 million for Boeing and $55 million for SpaceX.

NASA contested the findings, saying in a written response that “We do not agree that the dollar amounts cited were questionable, unnecessary, or unreasonable.”

The report was also a blow for Boeing, which is in the midst of one of the most serious crises in its history following the grounding of its 737 MAX airplanes after two recent crashes killed 346 people.

The aerospace giant has come under fire by critics who allege it rushed the plane’s production to match its Airbus competitor, compromising safety.

Responding to the report, Boeing defended its extra billing to NASA saying it offered “additional flexibility and schedule resiliency.”

It also contested that its average cost per seat was $90 million, saying the actual value was “significantly less” but declined to give a price.

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