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Member since: Wed Oct 13, 2004, 05:42 PM
Number of posts: 5,195

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NASA funds deep sleep research for Mars missions

Remember those cryo-sleep chambers in 2001, the Alien franchise and Avatar? Those may soon become a reality as a way to reduce the costs of sending astronauts to Mars and beyond.

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, here’s a quick rundown. Traveling far into space is a tricky endeavor. With existing technology, traveling to a planet like Mars takes about 180 days, for example. Keeping a crew of people alive (and entertained) in space for that long isn’t hard, but it does require a lot of food, water, energy, and other supplies. This makes manned long-distance space travel extremely expensive, since hauling more supplies requires huge amounts of storage space, and thousands of additional dollars just to get it all that stuff into orbit.

In theory, suspended animation would help solve this problem. If astronauts could be placed in a deep sleep during the journey, they would require far fewer resources along the way. Instead, they could just be put to sleep at the beginning and woken back up when they arrive at their destination.

Now, with a manned mission to Mars likely in its sights, NASA has begun to explore the viability of such an idea, and has recently funded a study by Atlanta-based aerospace engineering firm SpaceWorks Enterprises to help work out the kinks in the process.

The bulk of the study revolves around placing humans in torpor — a state in which metabolic and physiological activity is drastically slowed down. To do this, the company has developed a three-stage system. Step one involves sedating the person and using a neuromuscular blockade to prevent movement, whereas step two is to physically lower the person’s body temperature by about 10 degrees farenheit, thereby reducing cellular activity and metabolic rate by around 50 to 70 percent. This is achieved with the help of cooling pads and a nasally-inhaled coolant that lowers the subject’s temperature from the inside out. Then, once in torpor, the subject is hooked into an intravenous drip that supplies their body with all the nutrients needed to keep them alive.

Using these methods, SpaceWorks has reportedly managed to keep a person in stasis for a week — an impressive feat, but even so, there’s still much work to be done before the technology is ready for primetime. In addition to extending the length of the stasis period, the company has a handful of other hurdles to overcome. The potential onset of pneumonia, muscle atrophy, and bone loss have yet to be addressed; and the long term-effects of stasis on human organs is still largely unknown. SpaceWorks still has a long road ahead of it, but with a few more years of research, it’s not unreasonable to think that suspended animation, cryostasis, torpor –whatever you want to call it– might finally bring a manned mission to Mars within reach.

There are some exciting possibilities here for outer-solar system and interstellar missions (ala Avatar)

Citizen's United debate: Move to Amend's David Cobb vs CU lawyer James Bopp

Move to Amend leader David Cobb debates James Bopp, one of the lawyers who argued for Citizens' United in the infamous 2010 Supreme Court case.

I think you'll agree: David mopped the floor with the CU guy. Bopp just resorted to Ad Hominem and Poisoning the Well arguments, which clearly didn't work with the Indiana University audience.

Move to Amend did not, repeat did not support the Udall Amendment (SJR 19), recently defeated in the Senate. MTA's objection was that SJR 19 did not address the precedent at the heart of Citizens' United and the more recent McCutcheon decision, which is the concept that corporations are persons under the law, entitled to the same constitutional rights as natural persons.

Move to Amend supports the We the People Amendment, introduced in the US House as HJR 29 in February 2013.

'Bad Astronomer' Phil Plait isn't a fan of the SLS either!

I've made my reservations plain in earlier posts; it seems that astronomer/science blogger Phil Plait has similar reservations:

What I want to point out—again—is how the Space Launch System is gumming up the works. SLS is supposed to be a heavy-lift rocket designed by NASA to replace the shuttles. I say “supposed to be” because I have been saying for quite some time that it is very likely to get bloated, over budget, and behind schedule. That’s a common circumstance for really big NASA projects (like the Space Station, the shuttle, Hubble, JWST, and others). NASA’s bureaucracy gets in the way, and as the dollar signs increase, Congress-critters start getting their own states and districts involved, muddying the situation further.


As it stands right now, the first uncrewed test launch date for SLS is set for late 2017, with a crewed flight four years later; a long time from now. These things historically have rarely gotten off on time, too. SpaceX is far closer to having a working crewed vehicle, but if this budget goes through as written, it could mean we won’t have American rockets putting Americans in space again for several more years.


This is getting so ridiculous that I’m starting to lean more and more toward an outright cancellation of SLS. It’s just too big and tempting a target for Congress members to avoid. President Obama canceled its predecessor, Constellation, because of cost overruns and scheduling slips. I still think it was the right thing to do; we’d have thrown billions at a rocket that we still wouldn’t have. SLS is seriously starting to feel like it’s slipping into that same groove. I’m not the only person to think so, either.

An excerpt from the Aviation Week article linked to by Phil:
Simply put, the SLS program should be canceled now to free up approximately $10 billion programmed for this decade. This money could then be redirected to continue the planned flight tests of the Orion spacecraft with the much lower-cost Falcon Heavy booster while making a robust investment in a first-generation space station in the vicinity of the Moon. An investment in such a cislunar station would provide—by the early 2020s—a multifunctional platform to act as a fuel depot, a workstation for robotic operations on the Moon and a habitat to protect against the more intense radiation environment outside of the Earth's magnetic field. This station could even be used as a habitat during longer-duration human missions to an asteroid and eventually to Mars.

From the Space.com article, also linked:
Earlier, SpaceX stated it could develop a rocket that would launch 150 metric tons of payload,or 20 metric tons more than the most powerful version of SLS at a fixed price development cost of $2.5 billion (an amount that comes to roughly 1.25 years of SLS's funding). Also worthy of consideration is spacecraft launch company United Launch Alliance's (ULA) proposed — but not currently pursued — economical, large launcher that would loft 140 metric tons at $5.5 billion total development cost.

Wouldn't it make more sense for NASA to buy a huge rocket from SpaceX or ULA and get much more capability for less money? If SLS were cancelled now, couldn't a small part of the resulting savings help speed up development of the large SpaceX or ULA launch vehicles — or both? In fact, this was exactly what NASA proposed to Congress before SLS was legally forced on them.

Edited to add: I've addressed some of my objections to the current Space Launch System before. Quoting from Elon Musk:

.....prices are expected to rise significantly in the next few years, according to defense department officials. Why? Musk says a lot of the answer is in the government’s traditional “cost-plus” contracting system, which ensures that manufacturers make a profit even if they exceed their advertised prices. “If you were sitting at an executive meeting at Boeing and Lockheed and you came up with some brilliant idea to reduce the cost of Atlas or Delta, you’d be fired,” he says. “Because you’ve got to go report to your shareholders why you made less money. So their incentive is to maximize the cost of a vehicle, right up to the threshold of cancellation.”

The spiritual Practice of Agnosticism

I know this will raise some hackles here (and, by the way, this pretty well describes my 'beliefs,' if one can call it that!) The Spiritual Practice of Agnosticism:

As an agnostic, I’m very aware that we agnostics are often seen as fence-sitters—the tepid ones choosing neither hot nor cold. Why can’t we just buck up and admit that we’re atheists? Or why can’t we admit that we have a soft spot for one god or another? Why can’t we just cry wolf or shut up?

Contrary to the cliche, agnosticism isn’t about not deciding. It’s about honestly facing what we know about knowing itself. It is, as the Victorian biologist, T.H. Huxley, who coined the term, said, “not a creed but a method.” (Athiesm is a creed because it is a belief, like theism.)


Gnostic in Greek means “knowledge.” In the Western world we know the term best from the early Christian movement called Gnosticism, which claimed esoteric knowledge of the workings of the universe. Such knowledge, Huxley pointed out, can be neither proven nor disproven. The Gnostics claimed to have “solved the problem of existence.” Huxley, however, wasn’t so sure of their untestable opinions. (Neither, it might be mentioned, was the Church so sure of their solution.)


This is not fence-sitting or vacillation. It is, rather, a commitment to the active search for what we can know. In this way it is much like the spiritual practice of via negativa, a method of removing those things that are not “god” in order to discover god.

I know this is putting a 'cat among the pigeons' for this board, a big, mean, battle-scarred alley cat; but, it's a viewpoint that isn't expressed often enough.

By the way, I do recommend this person's blog on Patheos: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/uucollective/author/davidbreeden/

WTF? "Plastic Rocks" are appearing on Hawaiian shores!

From AAAS Science: Rocks Made of Plastic Found on Hawaiian Beach. We've found tons of plastic floating in our oceans - which really complicated the search for MH 370 wreckage; floating plastic junk kept turning up in aerial photos and being identified as wreckage. Bits of plastic are now incorporated in Antarctic ice. Now, we're seeing:

Geologist Patricia Corcoran of the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada, and Charles Moore, captain of the oceanographic research vessel Alguita, stumbled upon the new rocks on a beach on the Big Island of Hawaii. These stones, which they’ve dubbed “plastiglomerates,” most likely formed from melting plastic in fires lit by humans who were camping or fishing, the team reports this month in GSA Today. Although anywhere there is a heat source, such as forest fires or lava flows, and “abundant plastic debris,” Corcoran says, “there is the potential for the formation of plastiglomerate.” When the plastic melts, it cements rock fragments, sand, and shell debris together, or the plastic can flow into larger rocks and fill in cracks and bubbles to form a kind of junkyard Frankenstein.


Corcoran says some of the plastic is still recognizable as toothbrushes, forks, ropes, and just “anything you can think of.” Once the plastic has fused to denser materials, like rock and coral, it sinks to the sea floor, and the chances it will become buried and preserved in the geologic record increase.


The discovery adds to the debate about whether humanity’s heavy hand in natural processes warrants the formal declaration of a new epoch of Earth history, the Anthropocene, says paleontologist Jan Zalasiewicz of the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, who was not involved in the study. Plastics in general are so pervasive that they’ve been documented in a number of surprising places, including ingested in wildlife and on the sea floor. The mass of plastic produced since 1950 is close to 6 billion metric tons, enough to bundle the entire planet in plastic wrap. Combine plastic’s abundance with its persistence in the environment, and there’s a good chance it’ll get into the fossil record, Zalasiewicz says. “Plastics, including plastiglomerates, would be one of the key markers by which people could recognize the beginning of the Anthropocene.”

How long the plastic will endure remains a matter of debate, however. Jerolmack says he doubts the material will stick around in the fossil record. After all, plastic melts, and rocks often pass through hellish depths and temperatures through tectonic processes and burial. Geologist Philip Gibbard of the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom says he imagines that plastics might “revert back to a source of oil from whence they came, given the right conditions of burial.” But Zalasiewicz and Corcoran say that isn’t true for all the plastic. Some of the material can be preserved as a thin carbon film, much like the way fossil leaves are preserved. Zalasiewicz says that in some rare cases, in that etch of carbon “you may well be left the shape for a flattened plastic bottle.”

I'm not as negative about the human race as some others on DU; but, we really, really need to clean up our act.

Thomas Jefferson and the Tyranny of Religion

With all the static from the 'Christian' Right about the need to 'get godly,' and the attempts to rewrite American history, it may be instructive to actually review Jefferson on religion.

From his letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush:

"... To the corruptions of Christianity I am, indeed, opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense in which he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; and believing he never claimed any other.... And in confiding it to you, I know it will not be exposed to the malignant perversions of those who make every word from me a text for new misrepresentations and calumnies. I am moreover averse to the communication of my religious tenets to the public; because it would countenance the presumption of those who have endeavored to draw them before that tribunal, and to seduce public opinion to erect itself into that inquisition over the rights of conscience, which the laws have so justly proscribed...."

In his 1787 Notes on the State of Virginia:

"Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burned, tortured, fined and imprisoned. What has been the effect of this coercion? To make one half the world fools and the other half hypocrites; to support roguery and error all over the earth. ... Our sister states of Pennsylvania and New York, however, have long subsisted without any establishment at all. The experiment was new and doubtful when they made it. It has answered beyond conception. They flourish infinitely. Religion is well supported; of various kinds, indeed, but all good enough; all sufficient to preserve peace and order: or if a sect arises, whose tenets would subvert morals, good sense has fair play, and reasons and laughs it out of doors, without suffering the state to be troubled with it. They do not hang more malefactors than we do. They are not more disturbed with religious dissensions. On the contrary, their harmony is unparalleled, and can be ascribed to nothing but their unbounded tolerance, because there is no other circumstance in which they differ from every nation on earth. They have made the happy discovery, that the way to silence religious disputes, is to take no notice of them. Let us too give this experiment fair play, and get rid, while we may, of those tyrannical laws."

"Open carry" extremists target women and survivors of gun attacks

This was posted on Mother Jones before the UCSB massacres: Spitting, Stalking, Rape Threats, How Gun Extremists Target Women. There have been stories posted here about open carry advocates in Texas and elsewhere carrying their guns into public places to intimidate people; that bullying behavior has been extended:

AS JENNIFER LONGDON STEERED her wheelchair through the Indianapolis airport on April 25, she thought the roughest part of her trip was over. Earlier that day she'd participated in an emotional press conference with the new group Everytown for Gun Safety, against the backdrop of the National Rifle Association's annual meeting. A mom, gun owner, and Second Amendment supporter, Longdon was paralyzed in 2004 after being shot in her car by unknown assailants, and has since been a vocal advocate for comprehensive background checks and other gun reforms.

As Longdon sat waiting for her flight, a screen in the concourse showed footage of the press conference. A tall, thin man standing nearby stared at Longdon, then back at the screen. Then he walked up to Longdon and spat in her face. No one else blinked.


What happened to Longdon in Indianapolis is part of a disturbing pattern. Ever since the Sandy Hook massacre, a small but vocal faction of the gun rights movement has been targeting women who speak up on the issue—whether to propose tighter regulations, educate about the dangers to children, or simply to sell guns with innovative security features. The vicious and often sexually degrading attacks have evolved far beyond online trolling, culminating in severe bullying, harassment, invasion of privacy, and physical aggression. Though vitriol flows from both sides in the gun debate, these menacing tactics have begun to alarm even some entrenched pro-gun conservatives.

A major target for these people is the grassroots organization: Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, formed after Sandy Hook. Catch this brave 'Second Amendment advocate's' Mothers' Day message:

There's even more misogyny, like using a female mannequin as a "mad minute" target:

Hate talk radio host Alex Jones has gotten into the act:

Last October, hundreds of armed people gathered for a rally at the Alamo in San Antonio, where Open Carry Texas had invited Alex Jones, the fringe radio host known for whipping up fans with squalls of anti-government paranoia. At the podium, an assault rifle strapped across his back, Jones got into such a lather about Hitler and Mao and the Obama administration preparing to "enslave" Americans that he blew out his voice in less than five minutes. "These scumbags are all the same!" he shouted. He described a worldwide conspiracy to take away everyone's guns, whose perpetrators included "the few dozen Democratic Party operatives they're gonna have marching here in a little while, the so-called moms."

Read on to find out how he tried to intimidate a parent who lost his daughter in the 2012 Aurora theater shooting.

Thanks, Octafish! I've long been critical of the way the Space Shuttle's design was........

.....compromised from the beginning. I'm also very critical of the way that some technologies from the Shuttle era are being recycled for asteroid and Mars missions intended for the 2020s and 2030s, mostly the same segmented solid rockets used on the Shuttle.

I did a quick Google search on "Prescription for Disaster Challenger." One of the more interesting sources I found was a pdf file of a report from the University of Texas Austin for a course in Studies in Ethics, Safety, and Liability for Engineers:


The authors asked some very important ethics and safety questions:

There are many questions involving safety and/or ethics that are raised when we examine the history of the development of the Solid Rocket Boosters. The ethics questions are complex. If high standards of ethical conduct are to be maintained, then each person must differentiate between right and wrong and must follow the course which is determined to be the right or ethical course. Frequently, the determination of right or wrong is not simple, and good arguments can be made on both sides of the question. Some of the issues raised by examining the history of the SRBs are listed below.

1. Are solid rocket boosters inherently too dangerous to use on manned spacecraft? If so, why are they a part of the design of the Space Shuttle System?
2. Was safety traded for political acceptability in the design of the Space Shuttle?
3. Did the pressure to succeed cause too many things to be promised to too many people during the design of the Space Shuttle?
4. Did the need to maintain the keep costs low force decision makers to compromise safety in the decision to use SRBs with manned vehicles?
5. In awarding the SRB contract to Morton Thiokol, NASA did not violate any laws--but did it violate ethical standards?

50 years ago, Alan Shepherd was the first American in space

Photos from Space.com: http://www.space.com/11554-photos-nasa-mercury-alan-shepard-freedom-7-spaceflight.html

I've seen actual Mercury capsules at the Marshall Spaceflight Center in Huntsville, AL and at the Johnson Space Center. Once you've seen one of them, you'll realize why the requirements for the Mercury astronauts included a maximum height!

The only "progress" we are allowed

Most Americans want real clean energy (solar, wind, renewables); some Americans are dreaming of the stars. This is what we get!

From the Conservatives Are Destroying Our Future webpage.
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