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That Awkward Moment When Congress Thinks They Know What’s Best For NASA But Don’t

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Sad news this morning as further budget cuts are heading NASA’s way from a Congress that somehow thinks they know what’s best for the US space program. Before you government advocates get all up in arms (just kidding, I know there’s no such thing as a government advocate), recognize that we do understand that the US budget is limited and that in this day and age the cuts have to come from somewhere so Republicans don’t lose their shit. However, taking money from what this nerd considers one of the most important government programs doesn’t strike me as the best idea.

In a long and mildly confusing article at Ars Technica, details of the House and Senate opinions on where NASA’s cuts should be made are explained in detail, but I’ll try to simplify it a little. Currently there are four companies producing vehicles for the Commercial Crew program, whose goal is to provide cost effective access to low Earth orbit as well as the ISS. Each of the companies, Boeing, Space X, Sierra Nevada, and Blue Origin, are each being subsidized by NASA’s dwindling budget.

To solve this glut of spending, the Senate has suggested a “leader-follower paradigm” in which NASA selects a winner to receive a larger subsidy, and a secondary company to receive a smaller cash injection as back up, leaving the other companies in the space dust. This sounds like a great idea as a simple way to cut costs. Sure competition breeds innovation, but this kind of competition is much too costly and is hindering progress. Cutting two large costs will help NASA make the most of their budget, and allow them to focus on one or two producers instead of four. The frontrunner for the leader position has reportedly been Boeing, but that is not yet official.

1

Shuttle Enterprise To Fly Over New York City

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Yesterday the Shuttle Discovery flew its final mission, a piggyback ride on a 747 from Florida to Washington DC, where it will take its place as a permanent part of the Smithsonian’s Dulles Airport collection. In doing so, it has displaced the Shuttle Enterprise, formerly housed there and now on the move to somewhere else.

Unlike the Discovery, Enterprise has never actually been in outer space. It was the first shuttle ever constructed but it was only ever used to test the vehicle’s atmospheric flight ability. I guess that makes it a little less valuable than the Discovery, so it makes sense that the Smithsonian would replace it with a ship that’s actually been out in the void.

But the Enterprise is still the first ever space shuttle and that means it’s wanted, somewhere. That somewhere is in Manhattan where it’s scheduled to be displayed on the deck of the Intrepid, an aircraft carrier turned int a floating museum.

2

Shuttle Discovery Flew Its Final Mission This Morning

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NASA has retired its shuttle fleet which means American no longer has a way to put a man in outer space. So what do you do with the shuttles? Put them in a museum and remember the good old days when the United States was still interested in space exploration.

The shuttle Discovery flew its final mission this morning when it was piggybacked on top of a 747 and flown from Kennedy Space Center in Brevard, Florida to its new home in Washington DC. Here’s how it looked on its final flight…

4

Solar Energy Satellite May Be First Step In Solving The Energy Crisis

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It’s become abundantly clear that the Earth’s limited supply of oil isn’t going to last forever. Heck, it may not even last us another 50 years. With so much of today’s world powered by gas or built by machines that require gas and oil to function, we’re going to be in for a crude awakening when that last barrel is bled from our planet.

Enter NASA, the horribly under-funded organization that the government would rather forget about. Guess what, government? These guys may have a solution to our energy crisis, so maybe you should cut your war funding, lose the top-tier tax breaks, and give these guys some dough…

I digress. NASA engineer John Mankins has invented a device that will collect solar energy from outer space, then transmit that energy back to Earth to be distributed. According to Phys.org, the large satellite will be shaped like a flower, mimicking the natural process that a flower’s petals use to collect solar energy, and will be covered in small, curved mirrors to help capture as much light as possible to be converted to usable energy. The project is being undertaken by Artemis Innovation Management Solutions and has been given initial funding by NASA.

2

Billions Of Super-Earths Discovered Within Our Milky Way

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Our planet isn’t going to be around forever. With solar flares blasting us, the constant threat of an extinction level event like an asteroid, and of course there’s always the issue that humans are not only bleeding the planet dry and poisoning it, but are also pointing big nasty nuclear weapons at each other. One way or another, Earth will end whether we want it to or not.

Scientists have long been on the hunt for habitable planets within reach to maybe evacuate to in the distant future when that technology arrive. They may have just found a bunch more, and pretty close by. The Milky Way is littered with about 160 billion red dwarfs, stars older and smaller than our sun, that have their own networks of planets orbiting them. According to MSNBC, in the past six years, 102 of them have been surveyed which revealed nine Super-Earths, planets roughly resembling to composition of our planet though larger in size, two of which fall within their star’s habitable zone.

Extrapolate that out and you wind up with the possibility of billions of habitable planets within our very own galaxy. Of course, the Milky Way itself is about 100,000 light years across so we’re a little ways away from reaching any of these planets, even for simple drone exploration, but knowing they’re out there means some interesting things for future generations of humans and whatever may already exist on these celestial bodies.

11

NASA Has What It Takes To Blow Up Our Sun

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Some day billions of years from now, hopefully long after humanity has left the bounds of Earth and moved out to colonize the depths of outer space, our sun will exhaust its supply of fuel and shrink down into a white dwarf star. White dwarfs are sort of what’s left over, they’re about the size of planet Earth and sometimes… they go boom. Until now, no one really knew why.

In particular white dwarfs usually blow up in something called a Type Ia supernova. I’ll attempt to explain what that is as simply as possible. Scientist types, feel free to correct me in our comments if I get this wrong. In a Type Ia supernova is what happens when a white dwarf is in a binary system, in other words it has a companion star, and the white dwarf explodes. How?

NASA, using X-ray and ultraviolet observations from their Swift satellite, has discovered that what happens is the white dwarf begins siphoning off material from the companion star. When it steals enough it starts to get so hot that a runaway fusion reaction races through the dwarf in a matter of seconds, using up the white dwarf’s carbon and oxygen causing the release of more energy than the worn out little white dwarf can handle. That’s when it blows up.