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:: Saturday, February 22, 2003 ::

Why not start off your day with some tasty Monkeybacon.
:: David 9:22 AM [+] ::
Chicken? Catch A Tori
It'll be a light day for blogging (lucky you) since Nicole and I are going with Lain Hughes to a Tori Amos concert in Birmingham. A guilty pleasure, but a much-needed adventure. It's weird living in a place where I never need to go out of town. But, trust me, I'm not complaining.
:: David 9:18 AM [+] ::
Happiness Is A Smoking Gun
OK, among the things that bugs me most in the reaction to the Columbia investigation is the just deep-seated need by some in the news media to create this image of a "smoking gun" e-mail (I have to say that after a decade as a member of the press, it has been quite illuminating to now be involved in an agency that is on the receiving end of so much media attention, and I've really learned a lot. Number One thing I've learned: We were darned GOOD at what we did in Indianola.)

How many times in the past three weeks now have we seen stories about some new "internal NASA e-mail" that's been played like it's some supersecret document that NASA doesn't want the public to know about that shows that the agency knew that Columbia was going to be destroyed and was too callous or cheap or whatever to care. And then you actually read all the way through, and it's just not so. Heck, some of these supersecret documents NASA doesn't want you to know about were actually released to the public BY the NASA administration.

The ridiculous thing about the ongoing cycle is that there is a complete lack of learning going on. An e-mail is released in the press and made to be this huge smoking gun, NASA explains it, releases even more information beyond that, everybody's happy, and moves on. And then the next e-mail comes along, sometimes saying the exact same thing, and the cycle repeats.

To summarize: Yes, there were concerns about the possibility of damage to the orbiter. Yes, members of NASA looked at the what could happen if that were the case. Yes, there were some "worst-case" scenarios batted around the agency. Yes, people knew things could go wrong. But no, nobody had any idea the orbiter would be lost on re-entry. If you actually read the "worst-case" scenarios that were batted around, none of them dreamed what the actual "worst-case" would be. And I guaranty you, if they had, the agency would have DONE something. Even if they knew of nothing that would have worked, they would have tried. Even if they still ended up losing the craft and crew, they would have tried. Look back over the 40-something year history of NASA, and you know it's true. Heck, watch Apollo 13, and you'll know it's true. That wasn't just a movie, that was NASA.

Here's the key fact that most people forget: Things do go wrong. It happens, and it's generally not the end of the world. If you're driving your car, and you have a low-oil-level indicator, you're not going to fear for your life and immediately bail out, and you're not going to just assume that you're about to lose the vehicle. You're going to drive it home, or to the shop, or whatever, and do something about it. It's no different with the Shuttle. Just because you have a gauge saying something is wrong doesn't mean you automatically assume the Shuttle's about to disintegrate. It's a tough vehicle. It takes a lot of abuse. It's designed for things to go wrong, and is replete with reduntant systems so that things can go wrong. John Young once flew Columbia home with some of his back-up power systems on fire. But that's why it has back-up systems, and reduntant back-up systems. Heck, the tiles are the same way. The shuttle has lost tiles and pieces of tiles numerous times before. But it's designed so that it can lose tiles. And keep going.

So despite all the smoking guns, the truth is as simple as this: Something unexpected happened. And, you know, that happens sometimes. Maybe it was something they knew about that had undreamed-of consequences. Maybe it was something else they had no way of predicting. We don't know yet. But we're going to find out, fix it, and move on.

It's what we do.
:: David 9:15 AM [+] ::

:: Friday, February 21, 2003 ::
This Week at NASAexplores
Stories on the NASAexplores site this week are:

Off-Planet Plants
When you live on a spacecraft made of metal and plastic, a simple plant can be a treasured reminder of Earth. Experiments being performed in orbit now may lead to entire gardens on future spaceships--or even on other worlds.


The Plane Facts
Predicting problems on an airplane before they happen could help prevent many aviation accidents. Researchers hope that someday predicting those problems will be as easy as just asking the airplane.

Plus, you can now check out the still-in-development Rev. 2 version of the site, which will go live next month here. If you do, pardon our mess, and let me know what you think about it.
:: David 4:11 PM [+] ::

Hatbag History Brief
Yesterday was the 41 anniversary of John Glenn becoming the first American to orbit the Earth on Feb. 20, 1962.
:: David 11:49 AM [+] ::
Daily Garfunkel Update
The Art and Paul Reunion is only a few days away.
:: David 10:23 AM [+] ::
"(O'Keefe) recalled the breakup of the craft, and the fact that none of the pieces that rained down on East Texas and Louisiana hurt anyone.

'No one was touched. Nothing short of divine intervention made that possible,' O'Keefe said."
:: David 10:09 AM [+] ::

Staying Still, But Stepping Towards Mars
With the Space Shuttle fleet grounded indefinitely, the partner nations involved in the International Space Station are trying to decide the near-term future of ISS. While all are currently committed to keeping the Station manned continously, fulfilling one of its primary functions, the question remains how best to go about it.

The three men scheduled to serve as the next crew, Expedition 7, have been specially trained for the installation of new Station parts which will be brought by the Shuttle, and which are thus currently also grounded. It is vital the Expedition 7 crew be there when those parts arrive, so it makes sense not to send them to the station until the Shuttles are flying again. So, what to do in the meantime?

One option being seriously considered is to send up a caretaker crew of two people, one American and one Russian, to relieve the current Expedition 6 crew, and man the Station, essentially serving as house-sitters in space. Another possibility would be just leaving Expedition 6 up there. The Exp. 6 crewmembers have said that they would be willing to stay on Station for up to a year. One argument for the caretaker crew is that two people would require fewer resources than the current three-man crew, but that could be resolved by one of the Exp. 6 members returning home, leaving the other two on Station.

So, here's the catch. It's been discovered that radiation exposure on ISS is worse than anticipated, which is part of why crew durations are limited to a maximum of a little over six months. There are also other health concerns involved in long-term spaceflight. While a year on Station would be far from a certain death sentence, it would definitely carry additional risks, particularly for Cosmonaut Nikolai Budarin, who has already served a 7-month stint on Mir (I don't know what the record is, but 19 months would almost certainly have to make him a contender for the all-time space duration record).

These problems are one of the biggest reasons we're not going to Mars right now--we're not going to send people there until we're sure we can bring them back, and right now, no human being has spent as long continously in space as it would take with current technology to go to Mars and come back. That's one of the goals of ISS--to find answers to these concerns. If the Exp. 6 crew were to stay on Station for a year, it would let us learn a lot more about long-term microgravity exposure, but with the potential of long-term health risks for the crew.

Here's the flip side, though: Realistically, these risks are probably no greater than the risks millions accept everyday by smoking. Now, I, for one, would far rather live a year on the Space Station than smoke, and would probably be willing to take the chance, particularly if it meant opening new doors for spaceflight. Plus, as we were all so recently reminded, there are no safety guarantees in spaceflight anyway. I say, if they want to stay, let them stay. But it will be interesting to see what happens.
:: David 9:44 AM [+] ::

Shinzon in the Hizzouse
For the Trek fans out there, a street date of May 20 has been announced for the ST:Nemesis DVD, so you'll finally be able to relive the glory of this wonderful film. Since Insurrection was released on DVD, Paramount finally caught onto the concept of putting extra features on the discs, so Nemesis will be the first new Trek movie to come out initially in Special Edition mode.
:: David 9:14 AM [+] ::
Known issue
Some of you are seeing the shout-out screen as black text on a black background, which makes it tough to read. I do know it's doing that, I just don't know why. You can still read the shout-outs, of course, by just dragging your mouse over the text, but I will be getting with my tech-guru and seeing if she knows why it's happening. It seems to be platform-related--I see it correctly on two different browsers on my PC at work, but incorrectly in three browsers on two Macs at home. And since most of my audience would be looking at this on computers instead of Wintel boxes, I need to get it resolved. That said, if anybody on a PC is getting the black background on shout-out, or anybody on a Mac isn't, please let me know.
:: David 6:58 AM [+] ::
:: Thursday, February 20, 2003 ::
Buy Now And Save! I Command It!
Visit the Hatbag.net store before Feb. 28, buy $40 worth of Hatbag stuff, use the coupon code PREZDAY and save $5. And if you know of any Hatbag-related merchandise you would like to see added to the store, let me know, and we'll see what we can do.
:: David 6:35 PM [+] ::
NE Represent!
And to those readers from the NASAexplores team, I would just like to say, "Santies-fantics Limpopo!"
I just felt that was important.
:: David 5:23 PM [+] ::
Cede No Quarter
The State of Florida is holding an online election to choose its state quarter design (and non-Florida-residents ARE allowed to vote). The design currently in first place features the Space Shuttle and a Spanish galleon, with the motto, "Gateway to the Future," and leads the second place design by about 25,000 votes. If you would like to help support the Space Shuttle design for the Florida quarter, click here.
If you would like to support one of the other designs, click here.
:: David 5:14 PM [+] ::
Long Live the King
ETV will be airing a special on the annual B.B. King Homecoming concert in Indianola on Feb. 25 and 27 (no doubt intentionally skipping the 26 in honor of our anniversary). Check local listings for times. No date has been announced for the concert this year, but I'm guessing it will be May 30. Well worth going to... you don't get many chances to see someone like B.B. for $5... heck, you don't get many chances to see someone like B.B. at all.
:: David 4:33 PM [+] ::
The Right Stuff
To date, roughly 24 percent of the nominations made to the Educator Astronaut program were submitted between Feb. 1 (the day Columbia was lost) and Feb. 4.
:: David 4:31 PM [+] ::
You down with OSP?
NASA has announced the Level One Requirements for the Orbital Space Plane, which will become the agency's first new manned launch vehicle in almost 30 years when it is completed around the end of the decade. While some are critical of the agency's ability to complete a new spacecraft, I really think this is going to happen, if Congress will let us. I'm a little bit biased, but it really is an exciting time to be involved in NASA, and, assuming we continue to move on in light of recent events the way we have been, the agency is really poised to build some momentum.
:: David 4:23 PM [+] ::
Anyone who watched the Feb. 19 episode of Enterprise no doubt found it startingly similar to this.
:: David 4:14 PM [+] ::
Samurai Mace?
According to AICN, Cartoon Network and Lucasfilm have announced a new Star Wars animated series, "SW: Clone Wars," to be set between Eps. 2 & 3. 20 short episodes will air in '03 and '04. The creation team will be led by Genndy Tartakovsky, creator of Samurai Jack and Dexter's Laboratory. We need SW arcana expert Webb Younce to compare it to previous SW cartoon series Ewoks and Droids (the original Star Wars prequel).
:: David 3:54 PM [+] ::
:: Wednesday, February 19, 2003 ::
Ha! I have a blog now! How cool is that! (well, technically, probably not very, but hey...)
Thanks to DeeDee for introducing me to the magic of blogs!
(Though mine's working and her's isn't...pphhhbbbblllltttttt)
OK, that's all I have for right now!
:: David 2:18 PM [+] ::

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