2005 Editorial Index
Jan 05 A Message From the Ants
Feb 05 The Sixth Floor
Mar 05 America's Space Prize
Apr 05 Passing the Torch
May 05 The New Administration
Jun 05 Buse Sengul
July 05 A Mission Failure?
Aug 05 2 Years, 5 Months, 26 Days
Sep 05 Thank the EPA
Oct 05 Tolerance
Nov 05 Moving On
Dec 05 The Next Great Era
"A Message From the Ants" January 2005
by Michelle Evans
My favorite television series since the original Star Trek has to be Babylon 5. I’m sure that many of our members have seen this show and love it as much as I do. It presented an interesting view of a possible future laced with all the elements that make life interesting: intrigue, mysteries, conflict, sacrifice, love, exploration.
These are the things that make us want to go on living. If the universe gave up all of its answers and there was nothing left to quest toward, what would be the purpose of our lives?
Anyone who says that they are satisfied with the way things are and has no interest whatsoever in what is over the next horizon, is someone who should be removed from propagating in the human gene pool.
While watching Babylon 5 unfold over its five year arc, we were given many lessons in how we must continue to strive and never be satisfied with the way things are. It is our right and our duty to scrutinize the universe around us and make waves as necessary.
Some of the most fantastic hours of drama unfolded over the course of 110 episodes of Babylon 5. However, my favorite exchange of dialog occurred very early in the first year.
An explorer had been warned to not go to a certain area of space. Nothing would deter her. She dismissed the warnings as the rants of beings who didn’t want her to hog in on their territory. So off she went.
Well, she arrives in orbit around a planet out on the rim. Of course something happens that nearly kills her, just as she was warned. Out of nowhere a mysterious giant spaceship appears and nearly knocks her out of the sky. It doesn’t fire on her or anything like that, it basically runs her over on its way to wherever it was going, not pausing to notice her in the slightest.
G’Kar is an ambassador to the Narn homeworld on the space station Babylon 5. He is the one who gave her the direst of warnings to stay away from that area of space. When she leaves anyway, G’Kar dispatches a Narn ship just in case, to check up on her. Sure enough she is in need of help and G’Kar’s people save her to explore another day.
After the incident is completed and she is safely back aboard the station, she confronts G’Kar and asks him what it is that she saw out on the rim of known space.
G’Kar ponders for a moment. They are standing near a vendor’s cart selling some fruits from Earth. An ant is crawling across one of the pieces, small against the vastness of the fruit. He asks her what the insect is and she tells him it is called an ant.
He stares at the tiny ant a moment longer and then explains:
“There are things in the universe billions of years older than either of our races. They are vast — timeless. And if they are aware of us at all, it is as little more than ants. We’ve learned that we can either stay out from under foot, or be stepped on. They are a mystery and I am both terrified and reassured that there are still wonders in the universe and that we have not yet explained everything. We have as much chance of communicating with them as an ant has with us. We know, we’ve tried.”
To me, this short exchange says it all about why we explore. When we tread on new territory, be it in a new city or country, or to place a boot print in the dust of an unknown world, we are terrified of the dark, afraid of what we might find. But that does not stop us. We place a candle in the dark (as Carl Sagan often put it) to scare away the demons that haunt us. We open new vistas that were unknown and terrifying a generation before.
“There be dragons here,” stated the old maps of the world. “Do not tread here or you will be trampled or devoured. Pass too far from the Known into the Unknown and you risk falling off the edge and into the abyss.”
At one time, the human race heeded these warnings. We call this the Dark Ages, where the human race basically did nothing. We are now at the crossroads of a new renaissance. Do we heed the warnings or do we place a tentative toe into the dark?
As an ant in this vast and wonderful universe, I ask: Got a light?
"The Sixth Floor" February 2005
by Michelle Evans
I hope that our members don’t think that we are spending too much time covering events happening on Mars. In the last year there have been a lot of things happening there, so I have felt it appropriate to pass along both the information concerning OCSS activities centering on Mars, as well as news about the Red Planet, such as the Mars stories presented in this issue.
For my editorial this month I wanted to pass along a final story about Mars from one of the project engineers who shared a unique revelation early in the MER missions.
Steve Collins: “Attitude Control”
I am an attitude control system engineer. I’m responsible for the gyros and thrusters and the software that keeps the spacecraft or the rover pointed in the right direction. As such, I live in a world of numbers. Sometimes it’s hard to go from those numbers to the picture of what the spacecraft is doing.
A few weeks after the landings, we were kind of in a groove, we were living on Mars time so we were coming in at weird hours and not sleeping very well. It was the middle of the night and I was in the control room, just coming off shift. One of the other engineers came by and tapped me on the shoulders. He said, “Come up to the sixth floor and check out the pictures.” Then he went away. He made it sound like it was kind of a secret, you know.
So I went to the conference center. This is where the scientists gather and argue about who’s going to do what the next day. It has a big U-shaped table and microphones at all of the chairs. One of the things there is a big high-resolution TV that goes onto a screen about 15 feet wide. I go in and the place is dark. It only gets used a few hours a day when the science team is making all these critical decisions about the rover plans.
So I go in and it’s dark and it’s quiet. There’s a picture up on this big high-resolution screen and you really can’t make it out because it’s in 3-D. It’s in the fancy kind of 3-D, not the red-blue glasses kind, but the kind that takes special electronic glasses. When you put them on, you can see the picture in its natural color and it’s in 3-D.
I stepped to the middle of the room, in the middle of this big U-shaped table, and there’s a pair of glasses there on the table, and I put them on. I’m standing on the surface of Mars!
What I’m looking at is a color, high-resolution panorama of the Spirit landing site. In one corner I can see Sleepy Hollow, which is a sand trap that we wanted to be careful and not drive into. The thing slowly pans around, and as it does, you can see where the air bags have been drawn back up and left scrape marks in the soil. When we pan around a bit farther, there’s a line of mountains in the distance, and you can see the whole expanse of the Columbia Hills.
It has changed from being a set of numbers on these telemetry screens to being a place. I thought, what if we could drive the rover all the way up to the Columbia Hills? Could we possibly do that?
I sat there in the dark, by myself, for maybe 20 minutes, and let this panorama scroll by. I thought, look at what we’ve done. It’s a place! That’s the view that an astronaut is going to see when they step out onto the surface of Mars for the first time.
I went back downstairs to the control room and told my friends, “When you have a chance, go up to the sixth floor and check out the pictures.”
"America's Space Prize" March 2005
by Michelle Evans
With the success of the X Prize, it has been proposed to create other prizes to continue the inspiration of the private sector and the general public toward creating a spacefaring civilization. The X Prize itself will continue under the banner of the X Prize Cup. NASA has proposed taxpayer-funded prizes to bolster technology development. Robert Bigelow of Bigelow Aerospace has put up the money for the $50 million America’s Space Prize.
Several years ago, when the International Space Station was under development, some engineers proposed a unique solution to the problem of building one of the large modules, the Habitation Module. Their idea was to build an inflatable structure called TransHab. It would be smaller, lighter, and stronger than an aluminum structure. On top of that, it could be easily replicated so more of these modules could be strung together, greatly increasing the size of the station (or any station, for that matter) in a relatively short period of time.
For reasons never fully explained or justified, TransHab went the way of so many other good government-funded programs — it was cancelled. On board the ISS, even after fully completed, our astronauts and cosmonauts will have to find living space in the nooks and crannies of the experiment modules instead of in a dedicated habitat, as was originally envisioned. The original Habitation module was cancelled as was the replacement, TransHab.
However, the idea of TransHab is basically sound. It still needs work, but the proposition is a good one that could vastly expand habitable volume in space using existing boosters. Of course, a new breed of booster that reduces the cost-to-orbit to a fraction of what it is now would make TransHab an even better idea, possibly one that could generate cash.
With this in mind, Robert Bigelow bought the patents for TransHab, along with the expertise of the original design engineers, some of whom still work for NASA.
His idea is to use these inflatable structures to create the first true space hotel before January 10, 2010. His company, just north of Las Vegas, is finalizing the design of these unique space structures, but he still needs a cheap, reliable ride to space for his hotel and its guests.
Thus was born the idea of America’s Space Prize. All someone has to do is create a booster capable of reaching a 250-mile-high Earth orbit, dock with his modules in space, and be able to replicate the feat in under 60 days. If they can do that, then they win the $50 million prize.
To go into orbit is calculated to be about six times the difficulty as flying a suborbital trajectory as was done by Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne team last year. People are lined up to try for the prize, though. Rutan may be one contender, as could be one of his suppliers, Space Dev of San Diego.
This is a logical extension of Bigelow’s career. He made his fortune in real estate and truly made it big with his Budget Suites hotels. His plan has always been to go into space, and he is now making that dream come true for himself and for others with the money to pay.
Remember that Dennis Tito and Mark Shuttleworth paid upwards of $20 million each to orbit aboard the ISS for a week. Ten years after their rides, Bigelow will sell tickets for under $8 million for a similar stay in space, but at a place literally designed from the ground up as a luxury hotel for space tourists. Still out of the ballpark for most of us, but if this trend continues, we will be well on the way to making all our dreams come true.
A recent magazine article (“The Five-Billion Star Hotel,” Popular Science, March 2005), featured an interview with Robert Bigelow and a tour of his factory. A quote from that article sums up why he is doing what he is doing.
“Where’s the inspiration in America?” Bigelow asks. “If you asked 50 people or 500 people, ‘What is America’s inspiration today?’ what would they say? To win the war in Iraq? That doesn’t create a dream in some kid’s mind. An inspiration has to be something you carry with you 24/7.”
"Passing the Torch" April 2005
by Michelle Evans
The last decade or so at NASA has been tumultuous, to say the least. We were on track in 1995 to have a Mars sample return mission flying this year. After Dan Goldin finished with NASA, they were in such disarray that no one knew where all the money had gone, let alone our plans to expand back outward beyond low Earth orbit.
President Bush decided that enough was enough and brought an end to the Goldin era, bringing in what amounted to a bean counter, the former head of the Office of Management and Budget, Sean O’Keefe. At first, many of us thought this would be a death knell for space exploration. At the time, Bush had made no public comments about space at all. We didn’t know what to expect, except maybe the fall of a hatchet.
To our surprise, under Sean O’Keefe, things actually started to perk up. NASA scheduling stopped its slippage into oblivion, the money stopped hemorrhaging, and wonder of wonders, we started to get a bit optimistic again about the future.
Barely a year into his new job, O’Keefe was faced with a horrible situation, the loss of a second shuttle, Columbia, in the skies over Texas. Seven astronauts met their doom because the idiot managers at NASA ignored the engineers and said it was okay for foam to fall off the External Tank and hit the shuttle orbiter, because it had done so many times before without incident. An engineer would never allow something like that to happen, but the old-hand managers thought nothing of it.
O’Keefe did a commendable job of putting the pieces back together (although he has definitely left a wake of controversy concerning his decision to kill the Hubble Space Telescope). His shining star was lit on January 14, 2004, when he was with President Bush in Washington, D.C., to help unveil the new Moon/Mars initiative. However, a year later, Sean felt it was time to step aside. I would tend to agree. He stabilized the sinking ship, and now a new captain must take the helm and steer the course our country has set.
Some have thought that Bush was actually trying to finish the scuttling of NASA when he announced his vision. Did anyone really think he would back up his plan with further commitment and action, let alone money? Yes, the funding is still thin, but it is headed in the right direction.
Leadership is what it’s all about. Without the right person leading the organization, the vision will never bear fruit. With the wrong person brought in, the naysayers might prove to be correct that it was all smoke and mirrors. However, that has not been the case. To further solidify his support for his vision, Bush announced his nomination of Michael Griffin to replace Sean O’Keefe.
Why is Griffin the right man at the right time? Because he has stood on both sides of the fence (government and private industry). He is the first NASA Administrator that has done so. This is exactly who we need at this juncture. At the time of his nomination, Griffin was head of the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University. Over 15 years ago he stood beside a different President Bush to aid in implementing his space vision. At that time, that plan fell flat because not enough thought had gone into the program beyond just setting the agenda. In this case, the outline has been fleshed out a lot more, and a true timetable is set, with clear goals in mind.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md) of the Senate Appropriations Committee said this about Griffin soon after his nomination: “He has the right combination of experience in industry, academia, and government service. He has a proven record of leadership and a passion for science and exploration.”
Mikulski is not alone in her praise. So far, I have heard hardly a dissenting voice in the wilderness. In fact, Griffin has gotten accolades from nearly everyone. This is a very unusual circumstance for a person coming into this high-profile of a job. We hope that this all bodes well for the future and that when Griffin’s tenure comes to an end sometime down the road, we will be a lot closer to the goals we have set for space exploration, instead of making things farther away, as his twice-removed predecessor had done.
"The New Administration" May 2005
by Michelle Evans
By the time you read this, our new NASA Administrator will have been on the job for a couple of weeks. His Senate confirmation hearing went by so quickly and smoothly, it was hardly noticed. They wanted him on the job before the shuttle returns to flight (hopefully during this month) and he was given rare, unanimous support when the vote was called.
To give you a sense of where Michael Griffin is coming from, I thought it would be appropriate to turn over the remainder of my column this month to his words. Below are excerpts from his statement that opened the confirmation hearing. His approval came on the evening of April 13 and Dr. Griffin was on the job at NASA on Monday morning, April 18.
* * * * *
We’re here today at a time which is a watershed moment for the space program. The timing was brought to us in the saddest possible way by the loss of Columbia, in February of '03, and our efforts since then to regroup from that loss and to move on. The timing is forced upon us, but it does produce a watershed moment and that watershed has been crossed.
In the wake of the failure investigation from Columbia, it has become clear that the United States needs to look in new directions and to look beyond where we have been with our program in the last several decades. In the words of the Columbia accident investigation board, the United States is not going to abandon human space flight. For the foreseeable future, it will be expensive, difficult, and dangerous. The goals we seek should be worthy of the cost and the risk. I think it is now understood that a human spaceflight program focused only upon the completion of the space station, and the servicing of that station with the shuttle, does not qualify as a goal which is worth the expense, the risk, and the difficulty of human spaceflight.
President Bush has seen beyond that and has proposed a new program. It is the right strategic direction for the United States civil space program, and I support it wholeheartedly.
I have no doubt that the members of this committee have had access to some of my written record on this point, and know that this topic is the one closest to my heart, with regard to the direction of the program. There are many who say that the proposals that President Bush has made cannot be afforded. I did a little homework, and I would point out something which may not be generally realized.
We look back at the Apollo years as a time when [supposedly] NASA received all the money it wanted. I don’t believe that that was actually the case, having looked at the record, but the mythology of the time, is that NASA was in a funding-unlimited period for the Apollo program.
If you compare the funding received by the space agency in that first 16 years, it is within a couple of percent of the funding which has been made available to the agency in the last 16 years of its existence.
If we continue to receive the president's budget allocations, we can do the program that the president has proposed. We know that we can do it because we’ve done it. The Apollo years are often looked at as a period when the agency had a single mission focus. That, too, is mythology, and that, too, is incorrect.
During the Apollo years, in addition to executing that program, which will forever remain as one of mankind’s greatest achievements, we also executed a host of planetary missions in the Mariner, Ranger, Surveyor, Voyager, and Viking series. We executed Earth science missions, Earth resources satellite programs, and astronomy missions such as the Orbiting Astronomical Observatory.
We executed a robust, bold aeronautics program which featured 199 flights of the X-15 with only one fatality. We did fundamental work in the development of airline transport propulsion and air safety management. We did the aerodynamics work that led to the ability to design and build the Space Shuttle. So NASA has proved in its past that we can do more than one thing with the funding that you and your colleagues have provided to us I look forward to the opportunity to prove to you that we can do that again.
"Buse Sengul" June 2005
by Michelle Evans
What kind of country scares a 15-year old girl? Unfortunately, the answer is: the United States of America.
If our government is spending its time in the business of creating havoc with young foreign visitors, then how can we expand our civilization to the Moon, Mars, and beyond?
This month I want to vent some of my anger over an incident that occurred recently to a very dear friend of mine. It may be a little off the space track that I usually talk about here, but I feel it is necessary to at least put the basic story out for everyone to hear.
Last summer, I made my second trip to Space Camp Turkey to participate in the E-Pal Week festivities. As you should all be well aware by now, the idea is to bring together students from around the world to meet and work together for a week of fun and science in the setting of preparing for a flight into space aboard the Space Shuttle.
One of the added bonuses of last year’s program was that all of the participants were also paired with a local Turkish family so we could be better familiarized with what it is truly like to live in Turkey. I had no idea I was even going to be a part of that program until my name happened to be called. I got partnered with a wonderful Turkish family, the Sengüls and their daughter Buse (see “A Personal Journey,” O.C.Space, page 4, October 2004).
Buse and I have kept up an email correspondence since leaving Izmir last July. One of the things we talked about was the excitement she felt over coming to America during a school exchange program in Spring 2005. She had never been to the U.S. and was looking forward to coming to this marvelous country about which she had heard so much.
In addition, she was also looking forward to seeing her sister, Seyda, who has been in America for the last three years on a student visa.
Buse flew to New York City to start her three-week-long grand adventure. The trip apparently went fine at first, but then everything started to go horribly wrong when she and her sister tried to see each other.
The school told the sisters they were not allowed to see each other except during small amounts of time, under very strictly controlled and supervised conditions. This was very upsetting to both girls. One of their dreams had been for Seyda to take Buse on a New York shopping spree. The school said, “No way!”
The situation quickly deteriorated into one where Buse felt like she was being held captive by the school, unable to do anything without “Big Brother” watching. What kind of country was this to not allow two sisters to see each other to go buy a pair of shoes?
Then the Department of Homeland Security got involved. I talked personally with a special agent concerning the matter and was told very emphatically, that Buse and Seyda had a right to see each other, no matter what the circumstances. He went so far as to tell me that even if Buse was inclined to defect and stay here with her sister, she had a right to do so. Based on this information from a supposedly informed source, Seyda tried even harder to see Buse. Seemingly impossible, the situation actually got even worse. The police were called on several occasions and there was much screaming and crying as two sisters did what they could to see each other.
All was to no avail. Buse eventually was sent home without ever enjoying her trip with her sister. Her opinion of the United States has understandably changed markedly. No longer a place of excitement and joy, America is now a land of horrors and lockdowns.
To top off the situation, I had another conversation with the DHS special agent. His story had completely changed. He now tells me that the program of which Buse was a part of is run by the State Department, and contact with other people in the U.S. is strictly controlled. Yet based on the information he originally supplied, Seyda made efforts that were supposedly within her rights to see Buse. Now, because of her efforts, Seyda has drawn attention to herself, and there is even a possibility she may be deported because she contacted police to see her sister.
What madness we have wrought!
"A Mission Failure?" July 2005
by Michelle Evans
What constitutes the failure of a mission? Is it the inability, when all is said and done, to achieve the mission objectives, or simply a failure to even try in the first place?
By the second criteria, NASA has a string of mission failures that stretch back 40 years and more. The list seems endless when you try to put one together that has all of the missions that were proposed but ended up stillborn because of the lack of funds or just the lack of guts to try something new and different.
Over 20 years ago, astronomer Carl Sagan advocated that the United States mount a mission to scout Halley’s Comet. No other celestial visitor has ever been so identified with the rise and fall of the human race. For the first time in our history we actually had the ability to go there and pay a visit ourselves. Of course, like so many other NASA programs, the Halley’s Comet mission stayed on the drawing boards of audacious engineers.
One concept that failed to take off, and was the primary mission type advocated by Sagan, was to use a solar sail spacecraft to rendezvous with Halley’s. Not only would we get a great view of the comet, we would be able to test a technology that could eventually take us to the stars, using the wind from the Sun to propel us across the solar system.
The idea consisted of a huge windmill-type affair that shook the foundations of traditional spacecraft design and engineering. Would it have worked? Who knows. The government wouldn’t put up the required funds, so it was never even attempted.
Another lost opportunity and another failed mission due to a lack of imagination.
So here we sit, over twenty years later. NASA has yet to attempt any sort of solar sail demonstration flight, even though it could prove to revolutionize the way we move around our neighborhood in space. Instead of tons and tons of rocket fuel and oxidizer to get a payload from here to there, we could be using the best fuel of all, photons of sunlight that doesn’t cost one penny of anyone’s budget, and doesn’t require the tankage and structure to cart it around. Why not use the fuel already there? Why bring it with you when it’s ready for you to pick up along the route? Not to mention that you don’t run out. With today’s propellant costs, this sounds like a no-brainer.
Maybe NASA will never do something like this. In that case, you must go to the private sector. Oh, wait, someone already thought of that! The Planetary Society financed, planned, built, and finally launched the world’s first solar sail spacecraft, Cosmos-1. This occurred at 12:46 PDT on June 21st. Amazingly, it happened just hours after the one year anniversary of another great private space achievement, the first flight into space by SpaceShipOne on June 21, 2004.
The problem, of course, is that the Cosmos-1 mission has apparently failed. At the time of this writing, no one knows for sure, but the cards all appear as if the launch failed not long after liftoff from the Barents Sea, a problem with the Soviet-built booster, not with the solar sail spacecraft itself.
This doesn’t mitigate the fact that the objectives of the mission were not fulfilled. The Planetary Society raised and spent $4 million to put Cosmos-1 in orbit and test solar sail technology. It never got there and those magnificent mylar sails that would have been seen around the world as the mission progressed, never unfurled. Instead, they probably broke into a million pieces somewhere in Siberia. A local resident who comes across some of the detritus might think it was the crash of a craft from another world. In a sense, it is.
In my mind, Cosmos-1 was not a failure. The Planetary Society team did what no one else has yet achieved, they built a craft that should have been pushed by sunlight. The fact it didn’t get the chance to try is a horrible thing, but at least they tried. This is much more than our multi-billion-dollar-a-year national space agency can say.
We are only 57 years away from the next approach of Halley’s Comet. Maybe in 2062, we can go there and see it up close and in person, tacking into close approach using our own personal solar sail yacht. Now wouldn’t that be something?
"2 Years, 5 Months, 26 Days" August 2005
by Michelle Evans
Nearly two-and-a-half years ago, my wife and I were out in the cool pre-dawn morning of February 1, 2003. We hoped to catch a glimpse of the Space Shuttle Columbia streaking back into Earth’s atmosphere at the end of a successful 16-day science mission.
We weren’t sure if we would even be able to see reentry, since the ground track would take Columbia far north of our vantage point in southern Orange County. The time passed when we should have been able to see the shuttle, and we had not seen anything, so we decided to head home to watch the landing on television.
As we drove away, we tuned into radio coverage of the mission. An almost offhand comment was made by the announcer that no one had heard from Columbia for several minutes and yet landing was supposed to be just moments away. I knew immediately upon that report that Columbia and her seven-member crew would never return home.
It has taken a long, long time to get to the point where America was finally ready to return to space. The orbiter Discovery was again tasked to fill the same role it performed after the Challenger accident nearly 20 years ago. It has taken us nearly as long to return to space this time as it did then (about two months less). The refit of the shuttle fleet was much more extensive than originally envisioned. Then, in the end, sensor glitches threatened to scrub the flight for additional months. However, as I write this, it has been just over an hour since Discovery lifted into the beautiful blue Florida sky and blasted toward space, carrying Eileen Collins, James Kelly, Wendy Lawrence, Andrew Thomas, Stephen Robinson, Charles Camarda, and Soichi Noguchi.
Exhilarating. Inspirational. Powerful. Gut-wrenching. Magnificent. Fantastic. A Space Shuttle launch is all of these, and the list of superlatives can go on.
Even though we all know how flawed the shuttle system is, there is still nothing like watching a launch of human beings into space.
We are now witness to the final phase of the shuttle program. A date of 2010 has been set for its retirement. This should overlap with the introduction of a new system to take people to-and-from space, and eventually to the Moon, Mars, and Beyond.
This morning was the first step toward that goal. We have things that need to be finished in space, most notably the International Space Station. Once finished, it can become the research facility it was intended when first announced by President Reagan in January 1984. After that we can begin anew the task of truly expanding humanity into space. Stations and shuttles to-and-from orbit will be needed, but more important, we need the vision and inspiration of a destination in space for us all to strive toward. The Moon and Mars are goals worthy of such an endeavor. Low Earth Orbit was never a goal, just a place to hang out while we found the guts to move forward again.
It is time for the Space Shuttle to finish its job and make way for new manned vehicles, safer and more reliable than we have today. We applaud the efforts of NASA to ready Discovery for its mission and for the brave crew that took her into orbit at 10:39 EDT on July 26, 2005.
We also will closely watch as the mission progresses and, especially at the end of the flight, as Discovery reenters the atmosphere through a tube of ionized fire, hopefully to land safely back at the Kennedy Space Center early in the morning of Sunday, August 7. As we are all well aware now, the dangers of space missions do not end with the launch phase, but extend throughout the mission, not ending until we hear the welcome call, “Wheels stopped.”
On that morning, as Discovery returns to Earth, thousands of people will again gaze into the dark sky to catch a glimpse of people returning from space. The shuttle will streak high overhead, leaving a bright line in its wake, but hopefully nothing more. Inside the spacecraft, the crew will prepare for landing, with their eyes focused on the task at hand, but their hearts will always remember Columbia and their fellow astronauts who did not make it all the way home.
"Thank the EPA" September 2005
by Michelle Evans
Now that the Space Shuttle fleet has been into space and then immediately grounded, I wanted to take a moment to ask all of our members to write a thank you note to the agency responsible for the predicament that our space program has dug itself into.
Nope, I’m not asking you to write to Michael Griffin, Administrator of NASA. I want you to write to the EPA. That’s right, the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
Okay, so what does the EPA have to do with our human spaceflight endeavors? Simple: without their input and regulations, not only would the Space Shuttle fleet still be flying in relative safety, but we would have at least seven additional people running around on this planet. In this case, I am referring to the seven crewmembers of the Columbia STS-107 crew who lost their lives over 30 months ago because of misguided government regulations.
There were many people responsible for the stupidity that caused these astronauts to lose their lives, but right at the top of the list is, and always will be, the EPA. Without them these astronauts would still be alive and the shuttle flying to-and-from the International Space Station.
What it comes down to is that many years ago, NASA engineers designed an External Tank (ET) that had to be covered in a foam insulation so ice would be prevented from forming and causing harm to the orbiter if it came off during flight. That was fine because they designed that foam to stay in place. And it did — for the first couple of decades of shuttle operations. Then one day the EPA stepped in and said that the way the foam was created violated their regulations. I don’t recall the specifics except that it had to do with the CFCs being used in the process, CFCs that were regarded as the culprit in the still controversial theory about global warming.
NASA was forced to reformulate the foam and the installation process on the ET. Since that time, the ETs have been shedding foam on a regular basis. Since they were obeying orders from their fellow government agency, NASA didn’t raise a fuss. Instead they just said that it was nice lightweight foam that wouldn’t cause any harm to the orbiter, so we, and the NASA astronauts who put their hides on the line every mission, were in no danger.
Guess what, the foam does fall off now and it does cause harm. Heck, just about anything traveling at the speeds of a shuttle racing toward orbit can cause horrible and catastrophic damage, as was finally proven on February 1, 2003.
The NASA engineers weren’t stupid, they were just overruled by a bureaucrat who probably isn’t even aware that America is trying to reach into space with human beings. His (or her) only care is keeping their job by offering new and unneeded laws that put us in harm’s way, even though they will profess that their only purpose is truly to protect us.
Tell that to the families of the Columbia 7. Tell that to the entire nation that witnessed this devastating event and now watches as our program lies dormant again, waiting for someone to come up with a viable solution that won’t defy other government regulations.
The shuttle system was a compromise from the day of its funding approval in the early 1970s. The engineers knew what it would take to build and fly it safely. They did so within the bounds allowed by the money allocated by congress (which, by the way, happened to only be half the amount they knew it would take to do it right — and safely). However, at least when it finally did fly, the ET was the last thing that anyone expected problems from. They were completely right until the CFC question reared its ugly regulatory head.
So please take a moment to write that thank you note. I can’t provide the exact name of that faceless bureaucrat since he’s probably long since disappeared (most likely because he inhaled too much asbestos at his government-issued desk in an 80-year old Washington, D.C. building), but here’s the address to drop the agency a note: Environmental Protection Agency • Ariel Rios Building • 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. • Washington DC • 20460 • (202) 272-0167.
"Tolerance" October 2005
by Michelle Evans
I had an object lesson in tolerance recently. And it was not a good lesson. To me, it reiterated one of the primary reasons I often feel the pull to get off this planet.
Most everyone in OCSS understands the need we have to move beyond the next hill, to see what’s over the horizon, or on the next planet beyond. To accomplish this goal, we must often see past simple political barriers and understand the bigger picture that without a true foothold in space, humankind may be doomed.
This is not just true if an asteroid or comet might have our planet’s name on it, wiping out life as we know it in one cataclysmic instant, but also if people themselves choose to destroy the one home we currently inhabit.
This prospect of self-annihilation was theoretically dimmed after the end of the Cold War (of which I am a proud veteran). The possibility of nuclear holocaust was lifted once the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics decided to start working together. Then this threat almost completely disappeared from our minds once the USSR opened its borders and dissolved into its independent member states.
One of the pieces of fallout from this victory in the Cold War was hopefully going to be a lessening of military spending and an increase in space appropriations. It didn’t quite work out as we had planned.
Instead, what happened was that because their were no rival Super Powers to keep the small fry in check, we have seen the proliferation of bush wars and terrorism. The latter is definitely the one that affects us the most, as was brought home just over four years ago in New York City and Washington, D.C.
What is the root cause of this terrorism? My belief is that it is a lack of tolerance of the beliefs and ideals of others. Instead of tolerating someone else’s beliefs, there are those who want to force their will upon you. And I’m not just talking about Muslim fundamentalists. There are plenty of these intolerant people right here in our own backyard, and even in OCSS.
Many would cite our own President as a good example of intolerance, and in some cases I would have to agree. However, as you should all know by now, I support our current President because he has done what no one at the head of the Executive Branch has done in over 40 years, and that is give us all a real space program, one with clearly defined goals and one that will supply humanity with a true bridge off this planet to become the spacefaring civilization we must become to survive the long term.
I feel that all the other petty squabbles we have on this planet pale into insignificance when faced with the possibility that our space endeavors would be stifled or curtailed.
I understand that not everyone agrees with me, even many of you within OCSS. For myself, I may disagree (and I get to write editorials about that!), but I maintain that everyone gets to have their own opinion.
I say this with one caveat: I support anyone’s right to have an opinion about anything as long as they are tolerant of the opinions of others, that they actually know their subject, and are willing to listen to opposing viewpoints, as well as to possibly even change their minds when presented new and compelling evidence that might be in opposition to their own beliefs.
Too many people don’t follow this simple guideline. They believe their way is right and nothing can or will ever change their minds. Some people say that they are willing to listen, but underneath it all, they still don’t really do so. They will politely nod, then block out further incoming information that is contradictory to their own.
Then there are the people who actively and vehemently will not listen under any circumstances. If you hold a different opinion than they, you are nothing but the devil incarnate. This may sound like Al Qaeda’s stance on the world situation, but I have actually even seen this happen within the membership of OCSS. It is a pitiful situation when a friend turns on you simply because she doesn’t agree with you and doesn’t want to hear opposing viewpoints. Sad, but unfortunately true. Please don’t let it happen to you. Our future is too important.
"Moving On" November 2005
by Michelle Evans
It is always difficult when a good friend that you always counted on to be there, moves away. It’s something that happens to all of us many times throughout life, but repetition doesn’t make it any easier when it happens.
The Orange County Space Society has had an exceptional person handling the duties of Secretary for eight terms (1998-2005) and it is a great loss for our society, and for me personally, that Jeff Howe and his wife Andrea have decided to leave Orange County for a different climate in Everett, Washington.
As most of you know, Jeff has always been there whenever we needed him. He went far beyond his duties at Secretary and made many of the events OCSS accomplishes, possible. It takes many people to do what we do, and Jeff was always in the thick of it.
Luckily, Jeff and Andrea will not be leaving OCSS, just the local area. They will become part of the extended OCSS family that reaches across the country and even around the world. What we do in OCSS would never be possible without the support of our entire membership, and the fact that we have such support from so many people who never have the chance to participate in person shows the type of respect our organization has earned.
Thank you to each every member, no matter where you are or what you do for the cause of supporting human space exploration.
However, it must be acknowledged that some people do accomplish more than others. This is primarily because of their closeness to events and their flexible schedules. Jeff has certainly been one of those people.
I have to confess that I’m not sure exactly what will happen in OCSS in the near term because of the loss of his physical support. I have been able to count on Jeff to initiate contacts and make arrangements for many of our events. Now these duties will fall back onto myself. And as you all know, my schedule is already pretty full, too!
So, I want to take this opportunity to thank Jeff for all the hard work and dedication he had toward OCSS since he joined so many years ago, but also to say that this is the time when we need others to step forward, too.
OCSS does not run itself, and we need people to help make it happen. It has been easy to sometimes sit back and let others do the leg work, but that will not always be the case. Jeff’s leaving has only brought the point forward in time when this was bound to happen.
As you see each month, most of the accomplishments of OCSS are done by the same group of people. We need more of our members to dedicate themselves to making it all work. Getting into space is hard work, but our passion should be rekindled with all the positive things that are happening toward that goal today. We have a renewed push to get humans back to the Moon and on to Mars. The private sector is finally making inroads to create real space tourism in the next few years. I believe that those of us in OCSS have had some hand in making this possible. It has been our dogged support of these programs that showed they could be accomplished. If we sat back and did nothing, no one would care and make it real.
We all have a hand in creating our future. How important is being in space someday to you personally? Jeff and Andrea did their part and will continue to do what they can from their new location. What will those of you reading this do to dedicate your time and effort toward this reality?
I want to also thank Ramona Montayne for stepping in to fill Jeff’s shoes once he left as the new Secretary of OCSS.
"The Next Great Era" December 2005
by Michelle Evans
Note: NASA administrator Michael Griffin has released the following statement concerning international cooperation and the future of America’s space program. In light of our focus of last month’s issue, “Return to Exploration,” I thought it important enough to turn over my column to Dr. Griffin this month.
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One day in the not too distant future people around the world will be able to look up at the night sky and see the glimmering lights of a research station on the Moon. at this research station, pioneering astronauts from many nations will be learning how to extract useful resources such as oxygen from lunar soil. Also, we look forward to teams operating for the first time on the back side of the Moon, deploying small antennae to form the largest radio telescope ever built, free of radio noise from Earth.
Lunar explorers also will be engaged in geological exploration, finally establishing the origins of our Earth-Moon system. And elsewhere, other astronauts will be readying a 500-ton spaceship for mankind’s first voyage to Mars.
This is the sort of international cooperation we had in mind when nearly two years ago President Bush stated the United states will “invite other nations to share the challenges and opportunities of this new era of discovery.”
The president’s offer recognized that America’s space efforts have long benefited from international cooperation. Today, 29 of NASA’s 53 ongoing planetary astronomy and Earth-observing satellite and spacecraft missions include international participation. Of course the International Space Station, now entering its sixth year of human occupancy, continues to demonstrate that nations can work together to conduct large, complex tasks in space.
Now that NASA is working to develop a specific exploration systems architecture to enable lunar, martian, and near-Earth asteroid exploration, the opportunities for productive international partnerships at these exciting venues are coming into greater focus.
Not only will governments of other countries be involved in the effort, but private enterprise throughout the world will as well. In the near future, opportunities for constructive collaboration between NASA and international and commercial partners could include:
• Delivering supplies to the ISS.
• Lunar robotic missions that will support eventual landings and surface operations.
• Cooperation on lunar surface systems and infrastructure such as habitats, power and science facilities, rovers, fuel depots, communications and navigation systems, in situ resource utilization equipment, and backup life-support systems.
• Activities to set the stage for future martian exploration.
Also, we will continue to promote opportunities in our space exploration work for international commercial providers. at NASA’s recent Industry Day briefing, potential contractors for the Crew Exploration Vehicle and ISS transfer and cargo resupply services learned how U.S. industry teams bidding on these procurements may choose to tap the capabilities of international aerospace firms on their teams, consistent with existing U.S. law and policy.
We also hope U.S. industry will have opportunities to contribute to exploration systems developed by our international partners. where commercial providers are concerned, the market will be the best mechanism to decide the outcome. Government programs should not be used to pick winners, but to reward them.
NASA has developed plans with the understanding that 21st century space exploration activities cannot be borne by one nation alone. Once we make key investments in space infrastructure, international cooperation and the ingenuity of the private sector will be essential in realizing the full potential of mankind’s quest to pioneer the space frontier. This proposed approach, we believe, is one that promises to spur commerce, advance scientific knowledge, and expand humanity’s exploration horizons in dramatic ways in the coming decades.