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Hitting the Books: How NASA survived the Reagan era 'Dark Ages' – Engadget

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This week, Americans celebrated the successful delivery of NASA’s Perseverance rover to its destination on the Martian surface, marking the dawn of a new era of interplanetary exploration. However, when it comes to searching the solar system around us, the US has not always led from the front. During the Reagan administration, for example, the agency saw its budget pared down in favor of building up arms ahead of an anticipated Cold War faceoff with the Soviet Union, as we see in this excerpt from David W Brown’s latest work, The Mission.

Harper Collins

Excerpted from the book THE MISSION: or: How a Disciple of Carl Sagan, an Ex-Motocross Racer, a Texas Tea Party Congressman, the World’s Worst Typewriter Saleswoman, California Mountain People, and an Anonymous NASA Functionary Went to War with Mars, Survived an Insurgency at Saturn, Traded Blows with Washington, and Stole a Ride on an Alabama Moon Rocket to Send a Space Robot to Jupiter in Search of the Second Garden of Eden at the Bottom of an Alien Ocean Inside of an Ice World Called Europa (A True Story) © 2021 by David W. Brown. From Custom House, a line of books from William Morrow/HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted by permission.

For planetary scientists, the Jimmy Carter–Ronald Reagan years were in retrospect like the Dark Ages, and they, the monks tending in enclaves to the embers of civilization. For a solid decade starting in late 1978, NASA launched no planetary science missions, and pretty much the only space science data trickling back to Earth came from the Voyager 1 and 2 flybys of the farthest planets of the solar system, where you’d get three weeks of data and then three to five years of silence—hardly enough to sustain an entire field of scientific inquiry. The Voyager findings at Jupiter fueled a desire by the careworn planetary science community to return there, but that required Reagan to fund the spacecraft Galileo—something his administration worked diligently to avoid doing upon assuming power in 1981. The new president believed he had a mandate to slash nondefense spending, and he was following through, and if you weren’t building bombs, battleships, or Black Hawk helicopters, your budget was up for grabs—and grab they did. While NASA’s top line fared well overall, that money was directed largely to the space shuttle program, which had become something of a flying Statue of Liberty in the public imagination. Anyway, the shuttle had military applications, including the deployment of spy satellites and, on paper at least, stealing satellites from foreign governments. The supply-side marauders would still get their squeeze from the agency, however, and that meant science. Before the toner was dry on new presidential letterhead, the White House told NASA that of Galileo, the Hubble Space Telescope, and the joint NASA–European Space Agency International Solar Polar Mission to study the sun, it could keep two (for now). And just like that, Solar Polar was gone. The Europeans had invested in it more than one hundred million dollars, and America thanked them for the trouble by withdrawing without warning, leaving the Europeans seething. The slaughter continued with the spacecraft VOIR, the Venus Orbiting Imaging Radar: vaporized. This cancelation, too, went over poorly. If the Solar Polar abandonment was an uninvited concupiscence thrust upon America’s allies abroad, the Venus cancelation was at least a rude gesture suggesting the same to planetary scientists at home.

But that Galileo mission—how it vexed and annoyed the White House. How the administration wanted this half-billion-dollar monstrosity slain! This expedition to Jupiter . . . we—we’d just been there with Voyager! Why were we even talking about this? So the Office of Management and Budget zeroed out Galileo in its tentative plan for the agency. As for those twin spacecraft Voyager: What, exactly, was there to learn about planets past Saturn, anyway? Uranus! Neptune! Did it matter? I mean, come on! Just issue the shutdown command, and we could also switch off this devil-begotten Deep Space Network as well, those gigantic, twenty-story radio dishes required to talk to them. That’s two hundred twenty-two million dollars saved overnight. Between Galileo and Voyager, we could cut costs by a half billion.

To somehow save what was becoming even to outsiders a sinking ship, the public started pitching in. In one instance, Stan Kent, a California engineer, created what he called the Viking Fund—a private, pass-the-hat effort to cover costs for Deep Space Network downlink time for Viking 1, the last surviving spacecraft on the surface of Mars. Donate now to feed a starving robot—send checks to 3033 Moore Park Ave. #27, San Jose, CA 95128. The Viking program had once been the zenith of NASA space science, the most ambitious agency endeavor since the Apollo program, and, when conceived, a prospective precursor to Apollo’s obvious heir: human missions to planet Mars.

Between 1965 and 1976, NASA had sustained a steady sequence of sophisticated Mars probes. Mariner 4, a flyby in 1965, was humanity’s first successful encounter with the Red Planet. Mariners 6 and 7 followed four years later, imaging up close the entire Martian disc, and those images, stitched together, revealed a real rotating planet—just like Earth. Mariner 9 in 1971 was the first spacecraft to enter orbit around another planet, mapping Mars in high resolution and capturing dust storms and weather patterns. Like elapsing lines in the book of Genesis, each spacecraft in succession made Mars a world as real as our own. By the time the Viking landers left launch pads at Cape Canaveral in 1975, no hope remained for extant alien civilizations, but flora and fauna of some form were still on the table. And the question remained—the ultimate question—the same that had fueled fiction and stirred scientists for centuries: What did that Martian wildlife look like?

The American space program has always marched inexorably toward Mars. Before the Eagle landed—before even the first naut—cosmo, taiko, or astro—before Sputnikbefore even the formation of NASA itself—there was Das Marsprojekt, a work of speculative fiction by Wernher von Braun, the German rocket scientist relocated to the United States immediately after World War II. No mere thought experiment or flight of fancy—no ray guns, no saucermen—the plot was a thin veneer over How to Do It, and the author was the person most likely to make it happen. Von Braun wrote Das Marsprojekt in 1948 after finishing work reconstructing for his new American hosts the V-2 rocket, a ballistic missile he helped develop during the war. The book was later stripped of its fictional elements and repurposed as a nine-page article in the April 30, 1954, issue of Collier’s Weekly, then one of the most popular and prestigious magazines in the United States. The first serious study of how to get to Mars, von Braun’s plan involved a space station and a flotilla of reusable rockets and shuttles, and necessitated a crew of seventy strong for a Martian stay exceeding one Earth year. Upon arrival, astronauts (well, “spacemen”—astronauts had not yet been invented) would enter orbit and scout suitable set-down sites for the human beachhead. (He didn’t discuss robotic exploration because digital, programmable robots had not yet been invented, either.)

For von Braun, Mars was always the plan, the moon merely a waypoint, and fourteen years later, when Armstrong leapt from that bottom rung of the lunar lander ladder, it was von Braun’s Saturn V rocket that got him there. He (i.e., von Braun) was by then director of NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, de facto “father of the American space program,” and a minor celebrity. He had made multiple appearances years earlier on a 1950s television show called Disneyland—hosted by Walt himself—selling to forty million Americans the notion of robust, reliable rockets, moon shots, and Mars colonies. When the shows aired, Yuri Gagarin was still an obscure pilot in the Soviet air force, and Alan Shepard a test pilot in Maryland. To the extent that Americans were even aware of U.S. space ambitions, it was von Braun soft selling Mars missions with Walt Disney. He had been working toward this for a very long time.

It was thus unsurprising that two weeks after American silicon soles pressed prints into fresh moondust, von Braun stepped into Spiro Agnew’s office and slapped onto the vice president’s desk the next natural frontier for American exploration: the Red Planet. The fifty-page presentation—the definitive plan to make mankind multiplanetary—represented the culmination of von Braun’s life’s work. His prescription involved many of the elements he had proposed decades earlier: the rockets, the shuttles, the station—even a nuclear-powered spaceship.

Unfortunately for von Braun, prevailing forces in Congress and the White House came quickly to see the Apollo program as the goal, rather than, as he had hoped, an early milestone of something much larger. You didn’t build Hoover Dam and then… build more Hoover Dams downriver, said the politicians. We set a goal, and by God we did it. Why even have a NASA? wondered the White House aloud. By Apollo 15 in 1971, opinion polls pegged public support of space spending at about twenty-three percent, with sixty-six percent saying that spending was too high. There would be no national political price for closing Cape Canaveral completely. Really, what were we doing up there?

Nevertheless, von Braun’s sequence of space missions culminating in Mars exploration had so defined NASA that it was almost hardwired into the system. Nixon, having zero interest in the space program but even zeroer interest in being the one who ended it, entertained only the space shuttle element as viable because it 1. had those spy satellite applications and 2. Could be a major construction project in Palmdale, California, keeping his home state in his column during the next presidential campaign. So the California-made, satellite-stealing space shuttle it was! NASA lived to flight another day.

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Memorial event in Prince Rupert harbour to draw attention to tugboat safety – Vancouver Sun

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Since 2016, there have been 350 accidents involving tugboats or barges in B.C., including 24 sinkings and two fatalities, according to data collected by the TSB.

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More than 20 boats, including ferries, fishing vessels and tugboats, are expected to take part in a memorial event in the Prince Rupert harbour this month in honour of a tugboat captain who died at sea.

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Troy Pearson lost his life on Feb. 11 when the tugboat he was captaining sank in the Gardner Canal en route from Kitimat to Kemano. Also killed was 25-year-old Charley Cragg, a Tsawwassen man who had recently moved to Terrace and was working his first shift on the boat. A third man, 19-year-old Zac Dolan, was rescued after he made it to shore.

The event is being planned for July 31 by Pearson’s widow, Judy Carlick-Pearson, who originally intended to scatter Pearson’s ashes in the harbour a few weeks after his birthday.

“Next thing you know, we had people from the coast guard saying they wanted to be here, as well as guys from the ferries, fishing boats, commercial tugs and the marine union,” she said.

Carlick-Pearson is hoping the event, which will involve the boats forming a wide circle in the harbour while eight bells sound to signal the end of the watch, will bring attention to the continuing investigation into the sinking of the tugboat Ingenika.

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Troy Pearson and wife Judy Carlick-Pearson.
Troy Pearson and wife Judy Carlick-Pearson. Photo by Submitted photo /PNG
Charley Cragg.
Charley Cragg. Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG

On Feb. 10 — a day on which 11 cold temperature records were broken as B.C. was hit by an Arctic outflow — Pearson, Cragg and Dolan boarded the tugboat despite a forecast of 50-knot winds. The boat, which belonged to Wainwright Marine Services, was towing a barge carrying construction supplies for a multi-year Rio Tinto tunnel project at Kemano designed to guarantee a stable supply of hydroelectric power to the company’s Kitimat aluminum smelter.

RCMP Cpl. Madonna Saunderson said that just after midnight on Feb. 11, an emergency beacon was received from a tugboat in the Gardner Canal. The RCMP vessel Inkster was dispatched from Hartley Bay and found a man dead in the water. The coast guard found a second dead man. A third person was rescued after reaching shore.

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Reached Friday, Saunderson said the RCMP’s investigation into the tugboat sinking comtinues. The Transportation Safety Board said its investigation is still underway as well, with nothing new to say at this time. Postmedia received a similar reply from both WorkSafeBC and the B.C. Coroners Service.

Many in B.C.’s marine community are hoping the four investigations could lead to improved safety regulations in the tow industry. Since 2016, there have been 350 accidents involving tugboats or barges in B.C., including 24 sinkings and two fatalities, according to data collected by the TSB.

The board has been calling on Transport Canada to make safety management systems (SMS) mandatory on all vessels, including small tugboats like the Ingenika, for almost a decade.

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SMS is an internationally recognized framework that allows companies to identify and address safety risks. It can incorporate elements such as safe operating standards, a planned maintenance program, a crew training regime and how to respond to specific emergency situations. Transport Canada already requires SMS for larger vessels.

Other stakeholders, including some B.C. tugboat companies, want to see the tug-to-tow weight ratio regulated.

There are currently no regulations governing the tug-to-tow ratio, which allows small tugs to pull large barges that may be beyond their capabilities, said Jason Woods, president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Local 400.

“You can tow a barge full of logging equipment on a bungee cord if you want to,” he has said.

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Transport Canada has indicated it is working on a number of “new regulatory projects” that will apply to all Canadian vessels, including making SMS mandatory, with a first draft expected in the fall.

Meanwhile, Carlick-Pearson, as well as some coastal First Nations communities, are calling on authorities to raise the Ingenika from the bottom of the Gardner Canal both to prevent environmental damage and determine why the tug sank.

“Without the boat, we won’t really know what happened that night,” she said. “It could be a smoking gun.”

Carlick-Pearson has also started raising funds to start a marine training school in Prince Rupert in honour of her husband. She hopes to teach kids and families about safety on the water, as well as offer the courses needed for a career in the marine industry. Pearson had to travel to Ladner to do his training, she said.

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“It would be better to have something here, closer to home, particularly for Indigenous people who might not want to leave their community for training.”

For more information about the Pearson Marine School of Safety or the memorial event, contact judycarlick@gmail.com.

  1. A family photo of Charley Cragg. The 25-year-old man died when the tugboat he was working on sank near Kitimat in February.

    ‘He’s gone forever:’ Mother of B.C. man killed in tugboat sinking wants answers

  2. Jason Woods, president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Local 400. The union is calling for better federal regulations to make B.C.'s tugboat industry safer.

    Tugboat tragedy raises questions about safety on B.C. coast

  3. Safety concerns have prompted many connected to B.C.'s tugboat industry to call for regulatory changes.

    Federal regulations governing tugboats not ‘up to the task’

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Russia Just Launched a New Science Module to the Space Station – Universe Today

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The International Space Station (ISS) is about to get a little bigger.

On July 21, the Russian Space Agency launched the station’s newest module into orbit aboard a Proton-M rocket. The module, dubbed Nauka (which means science), is the station’s first new module since 2016, aside from some new docking ports and airlocks. The Nauka module includes several important additions that will enhance the station’s capabilities.

One of Nauka’s primary systems is its guidance and navigation abilities, which will provide additional attitude control capabilities to the ISS. At 13 meters long, the module’s interior contains new research facilities and storage space. The module also provides additional sleeping quarters for station crew. This is an important addition, since the United States recently re-established its human spaceflight capabilities with two new spacecraft: SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, and the upcoming Boeing Starliner, slated for another test flight later this year. The addition of both new vehicles alongside the Russian Soyuz vehicle means that bigger crews can visit the station at once, and Nauka will provide these larger crews with a home.

Nauka is also carrying one other new piece of technology: a robotic arm built by the European Space Agency. A counterpart to the Canadarm 2 already on station, the European arm is 11 meters long and is designed to ‘walk’ around the Russian segment of the ISS (which the Canadarm can’t reach), carrying out repairs and upgrades as necessary.

Artist’s Rendering of Nauka attached to the Station. Credit: NASA.

Nauka’s development was a troubled process, and it has gone through years of problems and delays. It was first built as a backup to the Zarya module – the first component of the ISS ever launched in 1998. Nauka was set to join its twin in orbit in 2007, but failed to launch then, and was delayed again several times for various reasons, including fuel leaks, expired warranties, and most recently, pandemic delays.

In recent months, political tensions have raised questions as to the extent of Russia’s commitment to its partnership role in ISS. Nauka’s launch, at last, provides some concrete evidence that Russia is indeed committed to maintaining its presence on the station, at least in the short term, which is good news for everyone involved.

Unfortunately, Nauka’s launch didn’t go entirely smoothly. Although it reached orbit and its antenna and solar panels deployed as expected, a computer glitch caused its first orbit-raising maneuver to fail. After some troubleshooting, a second attempt at the maneuver appears to have been successfully carried out by backup thrusters on July 22.

If all goes well from here on out, it should take about a week for Nauka to reach the station. The latest update from the Russian Space Agency indicated that the next orbit raising attempt is scheduled for Tuesday July 27.

Plans are still in place to remove the Pirs docking port from the station this week (which will burn up in the atmosphere) to make room for Nauka, suggesting that confidence is high that the module will arrive as planned.

Learn more: Jeff Foust, “Russia launches Nauka module to International Space StationSpaceNews.

Featured Image: Nauka’s launch on July 21. Roscosmos/NASATV.

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Elon Musk's SpaceX lands NASA launch contract for mission to Jupiter's moon Europa – Euronews

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Elon Musk’s private rocket company SpaceX was awarded a $178 million (€151 million) launch services contract for NASA’s first mission focusing on Jupiter’s icy moon Europa and whether it may host conditions suitable for life, the space agency said on Friday.

The Europa Clipper mission is due for blastoff in October 2024 on a Falcon Heavy rocket owned by Musk’s company, Space Exploration Technologies Corp, from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, NASA said in a statement posted online.

The contract marked NASA’s latest vote of confidence in the Hawthorne, California-based company, which has carried several cargo payloads and astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA in recent years.

In April, SpaceX was awarded a $2.9 billion (€2.46 billion) contract to build the lunar lander spacecraft for the planned Artemis program that would carry NASA astronauts back to the moon for the first time since 1972.

But that contract was suspended after two rival space companies, Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and defense contractor Dynetics Inc, protested against the SpaceX selection.

Evidence of life?

The company’s partly reusable 23-story Falcon Heavy, currently the most powerful operational space launch vehicle in the world, flew its first commercial payload into orbit in 2019.

NASA did not say what other companies may have bid on the Europa Clipper launch contract.

The probe is to conduct a detailed survey of the ice-covered Jovian satellite, which is a bit smaller than Earth’s moon and is a leading candidate in the search for life elsewhere in the solar system.

A bend in Europa’s magnetic field observed by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft in 1997 appeared to have been caused by a geyser gushing through the moon’s frozen crust from a vast subsurface ocean, researchers concluded in 2018. Those findings supported other evidence of Europa plumes.

Among the Clipper mission’s objectives are to produce high-resolution images of Europa’s surface, determine its composition, look for signs of geologic activity, measure the thickness of its icy shell and determine the depth and salinity of its ocean, NASA said.

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