Month: March 2015 (page 1 of 36)

Why the U.S. Gave Up on the Moon

Moon nearside



Excerpt from spacenews.com


Recently, several space advocacy groups joined forces to form the Alliance for Space Development. Their published objectives include a mention of obvious near-term goals such as supporting the commercial crew program, transitioning from use of the International Space Station to future private space stations and finding ways to reduce the cost of access to space.  What is notably missing from these objectives and those of many other space agencies, companies and advocacy groups is any mention of building a permanent settlement on the moon. It’s as if the lunar surface has become our crazy uncle that we all acknowledge exists but we’d prefer not to mention (or visit).  What made the next logical step in mankind’s progression beyond the bounds of Earth such a taboo subject?  If, as the Alliance for Space Development suggests, our nation wishes to move toward a path of permanent space settlements, the most logical step is our own planet’s satellite.

Lunar base conception
A 2006 NASA conception of a lunar base. Credit: NASA


A base on the lunar surface is a better place to study space settlement than a space station or Mars for many reasons. Unlike a space station, the base does not have to contend with aerodynamic drag, attitude control issues or contamination and impingement from its own thrusters. Unlike a space station, which exists in a total vacuum and resource void, a lunar base has access to at least some surface resources in the forms of minerals, albeit fewer than might be available on Mars.  Many people naturally want to go directly to Mars as our next step. Even SpaceX has publicly stated this as its ultimate goal, with SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell noting that “we’re not moon people.” However, Mars makes sense only if we think the technology is ready to safely support humans on another surface for long periods of time. Furthermore, budget restrictions make an ambitious goal like going immediately to Mars an unlikely prospect. Why are we afraid to take the seemingly necessary baby steps of developing the technology for a long-term base on a surface that can be reached in mere days instead of months?  The tendency to want to skip a lunar settlement is not a new phenomenon. Even before the first landing on the moon, U.S. and NASA political leadership was contemplating the future of manned space, and few of the visions involved a lunar base. The early space program was driven by Cold War competition with Moscow, and the kinds of ideas that circulated at the time involved milestones that seemed novel such as reusable spaceplanes, nuclear-powered rockets, space stations and missions to Mars. 

When the United States was on the verge of a series of landings on the moon, building a permanent base just didn’t seem like much of a new giant leap. NASA's ConstellationNASA’s Constellation program, featuring the Orion manned capsule set atop the Ares 1 launch vehicle, was meant to send astronauts back to the moon. Credit: NASA  The idea of a lunar landing mission was not reintroduced seriously until the George W. Bush administration and the introduction of the Constellation program. This program came at a complex time for NASA: The space shuttle was recovering from the Columbia disaster, the space station was in the midst of construction and the United States found itself with large budget deficits. However, despite its budgetary and schedule problems, which are common in any serious aerospace development project from space programs to jumbo-jet development, it provided NASA with a vision and a goal that were reasonable and sensible as next steps toward a long-term future of exploration beyond Earth. 

Constellation was nevertheless canceled, and we have since returned to a most uncommon sense.  The decision to avoid any sort of lunar activity in current space policy may have been biased by the Obama administration’s desire to move as far away as possible from the policies of the previous administration. 

Regardless of the cause, discussion of returning to the moon is no longer on the table.  Without the moon, the only feasible mission that NASA could come up with that is within reach given the current technology and budget is the Asteroid Redirect Mission.  
Even planetary scientists have spoken out against the mission, finding that it will provide little scientific value. It will also provide limited engineering and technology value, if we assume that our long-term goal is to permanently settle space. The experience gained from this sort of flight has little applicability to planetary resource utilization, long-term life support or other technologies needed for settlement.  

If we are to have a program of manned space exploration, we must decide what the long-term goals of such a program should be, and we should align our actions with those goals. When resources such as funding are limited, space agencies and political leaders should not squander these limited resources on missions that make no sense. Instead, the limited funding should be used to continue toward our long-term goals, accepting a slower pace or slight scale-back in mission scope.  Establishing a permanent human settlement in space is a noble goal, one that will eventually redefine humanity. Like explorers before us, it is also not a goal that will be achieved in a short period of time. We would be wise to keep our eyes on that goal and the road needed to get us there. And the next likely stop on that road is a permanent home just above our heads, on the surface of the brightest light in the night sky.  

Paul Brower is an aerospace systems engineer on the operations team for the O3b Networks satellite fleet. He previously worked in mission control at NASA for 10 years.
Recently, several space advocacy groups joined forces to form the Alliance for Space Development. Their published objectives include a mention of obvious near-term goals such as supporting the commercial crew program, transitioning from use of the International Space Station to future private space stations and finding ways to reduce the cost of access to space.
What is notably missing from these objectives and those of many other space agencies, companies and advocacy groups is any mention of building a permanent settlement on the moon. It’s as if the lunar surface has become our crazy uncle that we all acknowledge exists but we’d prefer not to mention (or visit).
What made the next logical step in mankind’s progression beyond the bounds of Earth such a taboo subject?
If, as the Alliance for Space Development suggests, our nation wishes to move toward a path of permanent space settlements, the most logical step is our own planet’s satellite.
Lunar base conception
A 2006 NASA conception of a lunar base. Credit: NASA
A base on the lunar surface is a better place to study space settlement than a space station or Mars for many reasons. Unlike a space station, the base does not have to contend with aerodynamic drag, attitude control issues or contamination and impingement from its own thrusters. Unlike a space station, which exists in a total vacuum and resource void, a lunar base has access to at least some surface resources in the forms of minerals, albeit fewer than might be available on Mars.
Many people naturally want to go directly to Mars as our next step. Even SpaceX has publicly stated this as its ultimate goal, with SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell noting that “we’re not moon people.” However, Mars makes sense only if we think the technology is ready to safely support humans on another surface for long periods of time. Furthermore, budget restrictions make an ambitious goal like going immediately to Mars an unlikely prospect. Why are we afraid to take the seemingly necessary baby steps of developing the technology for a long-term base on a surface that can be reached in mere days instead of months?
The tendency to want to skip a lunar settlement is not a new phenomenon. Even before the first landing on the moon, U.S. and NASA political leadership was contemplating the future of manned space, and few of the visions involved a lunar base. The early space program was driven by Cold War competition with Moscow, and the kinds of ideas that circulated at the time involved milestones that seemed novel such as reusable spaceplanes, nuclear-powered rockets, space stations and missions to Mars. When the United States was on the verge of a series of landings on the moon, building a permanent base just didn’t seem like much of a new giant leap.
NASA's Constellation
NASA’s Constellation program, featuring the Orion manned capsule set atop the Ares 1 launch vehicle, was meant to send astronauts back to the moon. Credit: NASA
The idea of a lunar landing mission was not reintroduced seriously until the George W. Bush administration and the introduction of the Constellation program. This program came at a complex time for NASA: The space shuttle was recovering from the Columbia disaster, the space station was in the midst of construction and the United States found itself with large budget deficits. However, despite its budgetary and schedule problems, which are common in any serious aerospace development project from space programs to jumbo-jet development, it provided NASA with a vision and a goal that were reasonable and sensible as next steps toward a long-term future of exploration beyond Earth.
Constellation was nevertheless canceled, and we have since returned to a most uncommon sense.
The decision to avoid any sort of lunar activity in current space policy may have been biased by the Obama administration’s desire to move as far away as possible from the policies of the previous administration. Regardless of the cause, discussion of returning to the moon is no longer on the table.
Without the moon, the only feasible mission that NASA could come up with that is within reach given the current technology and budget is the Asteroid Redirect Mission.
Even planetary scientists have spoken out against the mission, finding that it will provide little scientific value. It will also provide limited engineering and technology value, if we assume that our long-term goal is to permanently settle space. The experience gained from this sort of flight has little applicability to planetary resource utilization, long-term life support or other technologies needed for settlement.
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If we are to have a program of manned space exploration, we must decide what the long-term goals of such a program should be, and we should align our actions with those goals. When resources such as funding are limited, space agencies and political leaders should not squander these limited resources on missions that make no sense. Instead, the limited funding should be used to continue toward our long-term goals, accepting a slower pace or slight scale-back in mission scope.
Establishing a permanent human settlement in space is a noble goal, one that will eventually redefine humanity. Like explorers before us, it is also not a goal that will be achieved in a short period of time. We would be wise to keep our eyes on that goal and the road needed to get us there. And the next likely stop on that road is a permanent home just above our heads, on the surface of the brightest light in the night sky.

Paul Brower is an aerospace systems engineer on the operations team for the O3b Networks satellite fleet. He previously worked in mission control at NASA for 10 years.
- See more at: http://spacenews.com/op-ed-why-the-u-s-gave-up-on-the-moon/#sthash.czfTscvg.dpuf

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How To Fall Asleep By Not Trying

How To Fall Asleep By Not Trying

Excerpt from huffingtonpost.comBy Melissa Dahl  Late at night, when you've been trying and failing for hours to fall asleep, perhaps the thing to do is to try not trying. According to a 2003 study recently highlighted by University of Hertforts...

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MRSA superbug killed by 1,100-year-old home remedy, researchers say


MRSA attacks a human cell. The bacteria shown is the strain MRSA 252, a leading cause of hospital-associated infections. (Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIAID, NIH)


Excerpt from washingtonpost.com
By Justin Wm. Moyer 

Even in the age of AIDS, avian flu and Ebola, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, better known as MRSA, is terrifying.

The superbug, which is resistant to conventional antibiotics because of their overuse, shrugs at even the deadliest weapons modern medicine offers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated MRSA contributed to the deaths of more than 5,000 people in the United States in 2013. It even attacked the NFL, and some say it could eventually kill more people than cancer. And presidential commissions have advised that technological progress is the only way to fight MRSA.

But researchers in the United Kingdom now report that the superbug proved vulnerable to an ancient remedy. The ingredients? Just a bit of garlic, some onion or leek, copper, wine and oxgall — a florid name for cow’s bile.

This medicine sounds yucky, but it’s definitely better than the bug it may be able to kill.

“We were absolutely blown away by just how effective the combination of ingredients was,” Freya Harrison of the University of Nottingham, who worked on the research, told the BBC.

The oxgall remedy, billed as an eye salve, was found in a manuscript written in Old English from the 10th century called “Bald’s Leechbook” — a sort of pre-Magna Carta physician’s desk reference. Garlic and copper are commonly thought to have antibiotic or antimicrobial properties, but seeing such ingredients in a home remedy at Whole Foods is a far cry from researchers killing a superbug with it.

According to Christina Lee, an associate professor in Viking studies at Nottingham, the MRSA research was the product of conversations among academics of many stripes interested in infectious disease and how people fought it before antibiotics.

“We were talking about the specter of antibiotic resistance,” she told The Washington Post in a phone interview. The medical researchers involved in the discussions said to the medievalists: “In your period, you guys must have had something.”

Not every recipe in Bald’s Leechbook is a gem. Other advice, via a translation from the Eastern Algo-Saxonist: “Against a woman’s chatter; taste at night fasting a root of radish, that day the chatter cannot harm thee.” And: “In case a man be a lunatic; take skin of a mereswine or porpoise, work it into a whip, swinge the man therewith, soon he will be well. Amen.”

Though the Leechbook may include misses, it may help doctors find a solution to a problem that only seems to be getting worse.

If the oxgall remedy proves effective against MRSA outside of the lab — which researchers caution it may not — it would be a godsend. Case studies of MRSA’s impact from the CDC’s charmingly named Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report seem medieval.

In July 1997, a 7-year-old black girl from urban Minnesota was admitted to a tertiary-care hospital with a temperature of 103 F.” Result: Death from pulmonary hemorrhage after five weeks of hospitalization.

In January 1998, a 16-month-old American Indian girl from rural North Dakota was taken to a local hospital in shock and with a temperature of 105.2 F.” Result: After respiratory failure and cardiac arrest, death within two hours of hospital admission.

In January 1999, a 13-year-old white girl from rural Minnesota was brought to a local hospital with fever, hemoptysis” — that’s coughing up blood — “and respiratory distress.” The result: Death from multiple organ failure after seven days in the hospital.

“We believe modern research into disease can benefit from past responses and knowledge, which is largely contained in non-scientific writings,” Lee told the Telegraph. “But the potential of these texts to contribute to addressing the challenges cannot be understood without the combined expertise of both the arts and science.”

Lee stressed that it was the combination of ingredients that proved effective against MRSA — which shows that people living in medieval times were not as barbaric as popularly thought. Even 1,000 years ago, when people got sick, other people tried to figure out how to help.

“We associate ‘medieval’ with dark, barbaric,” Lee said. “… It’s not. I’ve always believed in the pragmatic medieval ages.”
The research will be presented at the Annual Conference of the Society for General Microbiology in Birmingham. In an abstract for the conference, the team cautioned oxgall was no cure-all.

“Antibacterial activity of a substance in laboratory trials does not necessarily mean the historical remedy it was taken from actually worked in toto,” they wrote.

Lee said researchers hope to turn to other remedies in Bald’s Leechbook — including purported cures for headaches and ulcers — to see what other wisdom the ancients have to offer.

“At a time when you don’t have microscope, medicine would have included things we find rather odd,” she said. “In 200 years, people will judge us.”

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Discovered: A ‘Treasure Chest’ of Ancient Galaxies


full sky planck
The full visible sky as seen by the Planck space observatory. The band running through the middle corresponds to dust in our Milky Way galaxy. The black dots indicate the location of the proto-cluster candidates identified by Planck and subsequently observed by the Herschel space telescope. (Photo : ESA and the Planck Collaboration)


Excerpt from natureworldnews.com

Treasure seekers have found the haul of a lifetime, but it wasn't in some ancient temple or mysterious island. Instead, it was in the sky. Researcher using two of the European Space Agency's (ESA) impressive space telescopes have successfully identified what they are calling a "treasure chest" of ancient galaxy clusters, which could help explain how the Universe came to be the way it is today.

That's at least according to a study recently published (PDF) in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics, which details how cosmologists used the ESA's Planck space observatory to identify the distant precursor galaxy clusters, and then poured over data from the Herschel telescope for a closer look.

"Finding so many intensely star-forming, dust galaxies in such concentrated groups was a huge surprise," Hervé Dole, lead author of the report from the Institut d'Astrophysique Spatiale in France, said in a statement. "We think this is a missing piece of cosmological structure formation."

So what does he mean by that? Let's turn back to the treasure chest metaphor for this one.  While Planck was the space observatory to dig up the chest, it was the Herschel data that allowed experts to look closely at each and every gold coin (galaxy cluster) inside. Now they are able to learn more about each coin's make, mint, and ultimately, its origins.

And that's a big step in better understanding the early Universe. Expects believe that it took a great deal of time after star and galaxies first sprung to life for them to assemble into large clusters. 

A summary of the 14 billion years out Universe has been in existence, as seen by the Plank space telescop. Light coming from some of the oldest parts of the Universe are just reaching the observatory now, allowing for experts to see the incredible uniformity of the early structure, compared to the chaotic beautify of star, galaxy, and cluster formation that crowd space today.
(Photo : ESA – C. Carreau) A summary of the 14 billion years out Universe has been in existence, as seen by the Plank space telescope. Light coming from some of the oldest parts of the Universe are just reaching the observatory now, allowing for experts to see the incredible uniformity of the early matter, compared to the chaotic beautify of star, galaxy, and cluster formation that crowds space today.
Once the clusters formed, their gravitational influence triggered the creation of new stars and galaxies. Dark matter - which is theorized to account for a great deal of each cluster's mass and influence - helped usher along the process of creating stars. But how these large clusters were ultimately assembled and grew is still a mystery.
That's why looking at some of the oldest 'coins' ever made - estimated to date back to up-to 11 billion light-years ago - could be exceptionally helpful.

"We still have a lot to learn about this new population," Dole said in an ESA release. "Hints of these kinds of objects had been found earlier in data from Herschel and other telescopes, but the all-sky capability of Planck revealed many more candidates for us to study."

"Even when we combined the powerful capabilities of Planck and Herschel, we were only scratching the surface of the phenomena taking place at this critical era in the history of our universe, when stars, galaxies and clusters seem to be forming simultaneously," 
added George Helou, director of the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "That's one of the reasons this finding is exciting. It shows us that there is so much more to be learned.

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