COLBERT is on the way to the ISS aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery

August 29, 2009 04:18 by scibuff

Update 3 STS-128 launch ascent flight control team video replay:

Update 2

Viewed from the Banana River Viewing Site at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, space shuttle Discovery arcs through a cloud-brushed sky, lighted by the trail of fire after launch on the STS-128 mission - Photo Credit: NASA/Ben Cooper

Viewed from the Banana River Viewing Site at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, space shuttle Discovery arcs through a cloud-brushed sky, lighted by the trail of fire after launch on the STS-128 mission - Photo Credit: NASA/Ben Cooper

Update 1: NASA Kennedy YouTube channel now has the launch video in SD.

Discovery's External Tank with the Moon in the background - Image Source: NASA TV

Discovery's External Tank with the Moon in the background - Image Source: NASA TV

03:59:06 UTC @ T-00:31 – Auto-sequence start. Discovery’s on-board computers have primary control of all vehicle’s critical functions.

03:59:22 UTC @ T-00:15 – The Sound Suppression Water System has been activated to protect Discovery and the launch pad from acoustical energy and rocket exhaust reflected from the flame trench and Mobile Launcher Platform during launch.

Sound Suppression Water System has been activated - Source: NASA TV

Sound Suppression Water System has been activated - Source: NASA TV

03:59:28 UTC @ T-00:09 – The hydrogen burn-off system begins to eliminate free hydrogen exhausted into the main engine nozzles during the start sequence to prevent small, but potentially dangerous, explosions when the main engines ignite.

The hydrogen burn-off system activated - Source: NASA TV

The hydrogen burn-off system activated - Source: NASA TV

03:59:30 UTC @ T-00:06.6 (and 06.48, 06.36) – The three Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME) start.

Space Shuttle Main Engines start - Source: NASA TV

Space Shuttle Main Engines start - Source: NASA TV

Solid Rocket Boosters ignition - Source: NASA TV

Solid Rocket Boosters ignition - Source: NASA TV

03:59:37 UTC @ T-00:00 – Lift-off. Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) ignition and lift-off of the Space Shuttle Discovery on the STS-128 17A mission to the International Space Station (ISS). This is Discovery’s 37th flight overall and the 30th mission to the ISS. The seven crew members of STS-128, commanded by NASA veteran Frederick W. Sturckow (STS-88, STS-105, STS-117), will stay in space 12 days 18 hours and 9 minutes and are scheduled land at the Kennedy Space Center at 23:09 UTC on September 10. Mission Specialists John “Danny” Olivas, Christer Fuglesang and Nicole Stott will combined for total of 19.5 hours during 3 planned spacewalks (EVA) on flight days 5, 7 and 9.

Space Shuttle Discovery liftoff - Source: NASA TV

Space Shuttle Discovery liftoff - Source: NASA TV

~04:00:22 UTC @ ~T+00:45 – The shuttle passed Mach 1 while the engines were throttling down before Max-Q (the point of the greatest dynamic pressure)

04:01:40 UTC @ T+02:03 – Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) separation. Discovery is at the altitude of 45 km, 40 km down range from the KSC, traveling at 5800 km/h (Mach 4).

04:02:07 UTC @ T+02:30 – 2 engine Moron. Discovery can now reach the Transoceanic Abort Landing (TAL) site in Moron in the case of a single engine failure.

04:03:30 UTC @ T+03:53 – Negative Return – Discovery has used too much fuel and is traveling too fast, too high and is too far to return to the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) for a potential Return To Launch Site (RTLS) abort.

04:04:32 UTC @ T+04:55 – Press to ATO select Istres – Discovery could now reach a safe 195 by 157 km orbit with two Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME) throttled at Typical Mission Power Level (104.5%) in case of a single SSME failure. Should one of the engines fail the crew could execute the Abort To Orbit (ATO) maneuver (in case of TAL abort, the landing facility in Istres, France would be used).

04:05:03 UTC @ T+05:26 – Single Engine OPS-3 – Discovery could now reach the designated TAL site with a single engine at Full Power Level (FPL), i.e 109% throttle, should two of the SSME’s fail.

04:05:48 UTC @ T+06:11 – Press to MECO (Main Engine Cut-off) and Single Engine Istres 104 – Discovery can now reach planned orbit in case of a single SSME failure and the Istres TAL site on a single engine at 104.5% throttle.

~04:06:34 UTC @ T+06:57 – Nominal shut down plan. Go for the plus X, no go for the pitch – The shuttle has reach the planned elliptical orbit (before circularization) and no correction by the Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) is necessary (OMS-1 not required). After the External Tank (ET) separation (SEP) the orbiter’s Reaction Control System (RCS) will execute a negative Z (in the direction up through the roof) translation maneuver to move the orbiter away from the ET. The “no go for the pitch” refers to the ET Photo maneuver, which is a pitch around of the orbiter that allows the crew to take pictures of the tank out of the overhead windows. Because of the time of the launch, at ET SEP the orbiter will be in the darkness of the Earth’s shadow so ET photography would not yield useful data.

04:06:46 UTC @ T+07:09 – Single engine press 104 – Discovery can now reach planned orbit on a single engine at 104.5% throttle in case of two main engine failure.

04:08:01 UTC @ T+08:24 –  The Main Engine Cut-off (MECO), zero thrust (at T+08:35). Discovery has reach the planned orbit and is schedule to dock with the International Space Station on Flight Day 4.

04:08:01 UTC @ T+08:35 – External Tank (ET) separation.

External Tank separation - Source: NASA TV

External Tank separation - Source: NASA TV

~04:09:22 UTC @ T+09:45 – Nominal MECO, OMS-1 not required.

Seated are NASA astronauts Rick Sturckow (right), commander; and Kevin Ford, pilot. From the left (standing) are astronauts Jose Hernandez, John “Danny” Olivas, Nicole Stott, European Space Agency’s Christer Fuglesang and Patrick Forrester - Photo Source: NASA

Seated are NASA astronauts Rick Sturckow (right), commander; and Kevin Ford, pilot. From the left (standing) are astronauts Jose Hernandez, John “Danny” Olivas, Nicole Stott, European Space Agency’s Christer Fuglesang and Patrick Forrester - Photo Source: NASA

STS-128 is the first spaceflight for the shuttle pilot Kevin Ford, the flight engineer for launch and landing Jose Hernandez and the flight engineer for Expedition 20 and 21  Nicole Stott who will take the place of Astronaut Time Kopra aboard the station until her return home in November aboard STS-129.

The STS-128 mission will deliver to the station the Multi-Purpose Experiment Support Structure Carrier and the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (Leonardo), whose main purpose is to assist with establishing a six-man crew capacity by providing extra supplies and equipment to the station, and the Lightweight Multi-Purpose Experiment Support Structure Carrier (LMC) with Ammonia Tank Assembly (ATA).

The Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill, so named for comedian Stephen Colbert, will be transferred to the station on flight day 5 and set up after Discovery undocks from the station. Stephen Colbert himself, recorded a message for NASA (watch the video below)…

Every mission carries out Detailed Test Objectives (DTO’s). STS-128 has 5 planned DTO’s. One of them, the Boundary Transition Layer, will be the second phase of an experiment commenced on STS-119 in March this year.

Boundary Layer Transition is a process occurring during the shuttle re-entry as the smooth air flow along the shuttle’s heat shield becomes turbulent. The experiment will measure the heat difference between the air flow using sensors (thermometers) installed in particular tiles on the shield. A protuberance tile with a quarter inch (0.9cm) “speed bump” has been installed on Discovery’s heat shield. The tile will intentionally disrupt the smooth air flow and allow data gathering at Mach 18 during the re-entry.

Space Shuttle During Re-Entry - Source: NASA

Space Shuttle During Re-Entry - Source: NASA

24/7 coverage of the STS-128 mission will be available on NASA TV. You can also follow the Space Shuttle Discovery and the ISS in real time through NASA’s real time tracking. Information about out about visible ISS passes at your location is available from heavens-above.

The ground track of ISS with its current position - The dashed part of the orbit path shows where the satellite is in the earths shadow, and the full part is where it is sunlit - Source: Heavens-Above.com

The ground track of ISS with its current position - The dashed part of the orbit path shows where the satellite is in the earth's shadow, and the full part is where it is sunlit - Source: Heavens-Above.com

The next mission to the ISS will be STS-129 planned to launch on November 12 at 21:11 UTC. The Space Shuttle Atlantis will deliver two large External Logistics Carriers holding various instruments for the station.

Discovery next flight is scheduled for March 18, 2010. The STS-131 mission (assembly flight 19A) will deliver the the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module. The mission will also attach a spare ammonia tank assembly outside the station and return a European experiment that has been outside the Columbus module.

Space shuttle Discovery is poised for liftoff on the STS-128 mission. Photo credit: NASA/Troy Cryder

Space shuttle Discovery is poised for liftoff on the STS-128 mission. Photo credit: NASA/Troy Cryder

COLBERT needs to wait

August 25, 2009 05:51 by scibuff

At 05:25 UTC NASA’s launch director Pete Nickolenko coordinating with the Mission Management Team (MMT) called off today’s launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavor on the STS-128 mission due inclement weather at the Kennedy Space Center.  The teams will execute a 24 hour scrub turnaround procedure and attempt another launch tomorrow. The launch window tomorrow will open at 05:05:21 UTC and close at 05:15:21 UTC; the target time launch time is at 05:10:21 UTC . The most recent weather forecast predicts 70% chance of acceptable weather conditions.

Tough luck COLBRET, you’ll need to wait (at least) one more day.

Space shuttle Discovery is ready for liftoff on the STS-128 mission - Photo Source: NASA TV

Space shuttle Discovery is ready for liftoff on the STS-128 mission - Photo Source: NASA TV

Oklahoma: spreading the doom

June 29, 2009 11:46 by scibuff

Sally Kern, Oklahoma state legislator from Oklahoma City and a member of the Republican party has brought forth a so-called “Proclamation for Morality”:

WHEREAS, the people of Oklahoma have a strong tradition of reliance upon the Creator of the Universe; and

WHEREAS, we believe our economic woes are consequences of our greater national moral crisis; and

WHEREAS, this nation has become a world leader in promoting abortion, pornography, same sex marriage, sex trafficking, divorce, illegitimate births, child abuse, and many other forms of debauchery; and

WHEREAS, alarmed that the Government of the United States of America is forsaking the rich Christian heritage upon which this nation was built; and

WHEREAS, grieved that the Office of the president of these United States has refused to uphold the long held tradition of past presidents in giving recognition to our National Day of Prayer; and

WHEREAS, deeply disturbed that the Office of the president of these United States disregards the biblical admonitions to live clean and pure lives by proclaiming an entire month to an immoral behavior;

NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that we the undersigned elected officials of the people of Oklahoma, religious leaders and citizens of the State of Oklahoma, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world, solemnly declare that the HOPE of the great State of Oklahoma and of these United States, rests upon the Principles of Religion and Morality as put forth in the HOLY BIBLE

So remember:

Do Not Anger The Gods

Aliens found on Mars

May 6, 2009 22:03 by scibuff

Well, at least that’s what UFO spotters looking at this NASA Mars Rover picture saw:

What according to some appears to be a skull with eye sockets and a nose - Source: BARCROFT/NASA

What according to some appears to be a skull with eye sockets and a nose - Source: BARCROFT/NASA

I, personally, am more inclined towards a bowling ball, which would definitely indicate the presence of intelligent life on Mars, unlike here, on Earth.

Part of the Cydonia region, taken by the Viking 1 orbiter and released by NASA/JPL on July 25, 1976 (north is to the upper right). The famous 'Face on Mars' can be seen at the top. - Source: NASA/JPP

The "famous" Face on Mars - part of the Cydonia region, taken by the Viking 1 orbiter and released by NASA/JPL on July 25, 1976. - Source: NASA/JPL

A photo of what appears to be a "female" figure taken on the red planet by the Spirit rover. - Source: NASA

A photo of what appears to be a "female" figure taken on the red planet by the Spirit rover. - Source: NASA

Battlestar Galactica Finale Goofs

March 23, 2009 11:47 by scibuff

There are a few minor spoilers below but nothing that would reveal the big picture or make much sense without actually seeing the show’s conclusion.

Undoubtedly, the last Friday brought the finale of one of the best sci-fi shows on TV. Battlestar Galactica (BSG) had a great run of four full seasons. Since the finale aired on Syfy channel last Friday many bloggers posted their comments and criticism about the final revelations. I will refrain from commenting on the actually story and rather focus on some easily noticeable mistakes the show creators made. On a side note, I recommend to click on the images below to see them in higher quality.

In modern astronomy, constellations present a method of dividing the sky into (88) areas with precise boundaries. Nevertheless, it is more common to regard constellations as groups of stars resembling recognizable patterns – asterisms. Throughout centuries stars seem to maintain the same position and apparent distances with respect to each other. Nonetheless, long-term observation reveal that the constellations change shape as stars exhibit independent motion, albeit very slow. The constellations in the presence appear roughly the same as the ancient Egyptians would have observe them. Nonetheless, if we went much further back into the past, we would have hard time recognizing asterisms with which we are so familiar today.

At the beginning of the finale (at around 9:00) after Adama spits the contents of his drinks onto his suit, there is a cut back to the fleet. At that moment, anyone slightly familiar with the night sky will immediately recognize the stars of Orion. All prominent stars, apart from Rigel (? Ori) obscured by Galactica, are visible. Easily identifiable are stars from the main quadrangle: Betelgeuse (? Ori), Bellatrix (? Ori), Saiph (? Ori), the stars of the Orion’s belt: Alnitak(? Ori), Alnilam(? Ori), Mintaka(? Ori), and the Orion Nebula (M42).

The Constellation of Orion as seen on BSG - Source: Sci-Fi HD

The Constellation of Orion as seen on BSG - Source: Sci-Fi HD

The proper motion of the Orion stars over the period of 300,000 years. The animation stars in 150,000 BCE and progresses in 50,000 years increments to 150,000 ACE

The proper motion of the Orion stars over the period of 300,000 years. The animation stars in 150,000 BCE and progresses in 50,000 years increments to 150,000 ACE

Unlike most other constellations the stars in the Orion exhibit a small relative motion (as observed from the Earth). The asterism formed more than a million years ago and will remain observable for another million or two into the future. At the time the screen shot above was taken the fleet was nowhere close to Earth but there might be a possible explanation of Orion’s appearance here. With the exception of ? Ori (Bellatrix) at the distance of 240 light years (ly), the rest of the main Orion stars are distanced between 600 and 1300ly away from the Earth. Hence, there might have been a place within a few tens of light years of Earth where a pattern resembling Orion could have been seen in the past. Furthermore, there is evidence that the show creators were aware of stellar drift, as officers mentioned several times the necessity to periodically recompute the jump coordinates. I’m willing to give the show “scientist” the benefit of the doubt, despite Occam’s Razor.

Earth rises above the Moon surface as seen on BSG - Source: Sci-Fi HD

Earth rises above the Moon surface as seen on BSG - Source: Sci-Fi HD

A few seconds before the Earth comes into the camera view, Galactica “flies” over the moon. When the Earth rises, it is apparent that an observer on the planet would see the new moon lunar phase. Hence, Galactica must have come from the far side of the moon and flown directly above the north pole. However, the surface morphology observed on screen does not correspond to features shown in maps of Moon’s far side.

Furthermore, the Earth in the image has virtually cloudless atmosphere and looks as if cut directly out of the Universal Movies intro. Even worse, Earth’s terminator reaches too close to the equator. Even if the fleet arrived at the time of summer solstice, the shadow cannot reach past the Antarctic Circle, which reaches just a few kilometres north of the coast of Antarctica at the longitudes around the southern tip of Africa. In any case, judging by Earth’s tilt and the surface illumination, the time should be close to the autumnal equinox (How do I know this?).

The next image reveals the most easily recognizable mistake. As we learn in the last moments of the show, the fleet arrived at Earth 150,000 years in the past. It was mentioned earlier how stellar drift shapes the face of constellations over time. The stars which give Orion the easily recognizable shape have relatively small proper motion relative to the Sun. Nevertheless, the situation is quite different in the case of the brightest stars in Ursa Major (forming the famous Big Dipper).

The Constellation of Ursa Major as seen on BSG - Source: Sci-Fi HD

The Constellation of Ursa Major as seen on BSG - Source: Sci-Fi HD

The image above was captured a few seconds after the fleet arrived above Africa, roughly at 59:50. It clearly shows the Big Dipper and a more trained eye can easily spot other stars forming the Ursa Major constellation. The problem is that 150,000 years ago, this constellation looked very different and hardly anyone would be able to identify it in the night sky. The actual position of stars forming the Big Dipper is displayed below.

The Big Dipper as seens from Earth in 150,000 BCE

The Big Dipper as seens from Earth in 150,000 BCE

Of course, stars in any given constellation are unlikely to be physically related. Surprisingly enough most stars visible in this region of the sky seem to be connected. Their measured common motion suggests that they all belong to a open star cluster approximately 75 ly away. The cluster is more properly known as the Ursa Major Moving Group.

The proper motion of the Big Dipper stars over the period of 300,000 years. The animation stars in 150,000 BCE and progresses in 50,000 years increments to 150,000 ACE.

The proper motion of the Big Dipper stars over the period of 300,000 years. The animation stars in 150,000 BCE and progresses in 50,000 years increments to 150,000 ACE.

The last goof I noticed could have easily been prevented by asking a somewhat knowledgeable person a simple question. Instead, the writer went for a phrase which would deliver the biggest awe. It kind of reminds me of the mistake George Lucas made by confusing the parsec (pc) for a unit of time (“Kessel run in 12 parsecs”)

Adama: “How’s that possible? Human beings naturally evolved on a planet one million light years away. The odds against that are …”

Baltar: “Astronomical, yeah.”

The Milky Way has the diameter of approximately 100,000 ly. Thus, if it were true that the planet on which the fleet landed was a million light years away, the original 12 colonies could not have been in our galaxy. It gets even worse. As far as we know (and we know quite a lot about the neighborhood of Milky Way) there is no good candidate for a place where New Caprica could have been. There are two dwarf galaxies close to the 1 million light years (Mly) marker. Leo I is a dwarf galaxy at around 0.8 Mly and the Phoenix Dwarf galaxy at around 1.3 Mly. Nevertheless, it is fair to assume that the BSG universe is limited to Milky Way as there are (weirdly enough) references to constellations seen from the Earth, and we have not heard a word of intergalactic travel capabilities.

Finally on a slightly different note. I’m not sure whether to be disappointed or glad about how the series ended. On one hand, I found the “God always has a plan” notion really annoying ever since the Pythia’s prophecy began to play a significant role in the show’s development. The idea of a omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent being “playing the dice” sending agents into people’s head to deliver message for him, or bringing people back from death goes against rational thinking of any sort. On the other hand, Moore’s portrayal how ridiculous irrational and superstitious beliefs are and how they ruin lives, regardless of whether or not that was his ultimate intention, is a good lesson that the viewers should take from the show.

* How did I conclude that the fleet arrives around the time of autumnal equinox? First of all, it is apparent from the illumination of Earth’s surface that the sun is positioned directly behind (the Moon is in the new moon phase). Hence, taking into consideration the axial tilt and the direction of Earth’s motion around the sun (see the image below), the conclusion follows.
Earth's position around the Sun through the year

Earth's position around the Sun through the year

Jesus is everywhere

March 9, 2009 17:05 by scibuff

Earlier today I wrote a bit about pareidolia in my crocodile in the sky article.  The following video shows can quickly can things get out of hand, esp. when sensation-hungry media get involved, LOL.

It seems to me that our good old Jesus has forgotten what happened to him the first he tried to get into people’s heads. I guess he just can’t help himself. But now seriously, is appearing on toasts, on trees, in clouds, etc. all he’s got? I’d personally expect at least a walk on water (I mean, even Tiget Woods can pull that off), although another resurrection would certainly earn him a few extra points for style.