The First NSRC ended a few days ago after two and a half days packed with presentations, ranging from vehicles to researchers, from small companies to NASA. I learned a lot about the benefits, possibilities and options of suborbital research. On a personal level I have new respect for what is seemingly a step backwards from orbital flights and I want to be involved in any way I can. There are several vendors which over the next few years will compete for the attention of the research and education market (REM) for faster recycle time, purity of micro-gravity and payload options. The newly forming direction of NASA,marks in some ways a return to concepts and ways of NASA precursor, NACA, as stated by Simon (Pete) Worden, NASA Ames Center Director during the keynote of NSRC. Even NASA shares the suborbital vision of much cheaper research which is in many cases unique and in other cases relevant to deep space travel. The first day of NSRC mostly entailed presentations by the companies who will produce and launch suborbital vehicles useful for scientific experiments as well as suborbital tourism.
I am attending my first space-industry conference this week. As another first, it is the first conference I am attending as a member of the press. How fitting, then, that all these firsts will be at the first Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference? In a time when a lot of vagueness shrouds the future of American space exploration, a new conference breathing wind in commercial as well as government agencies and collaboration between them is very encouraging.
I recently saw the book Malware: Fighting Malicious Code on one of my team members desk at work. The book is not really about self sentient code like the one Skynet or V.I.K.I. from iRobot and not even remotely close to HAL 9000. It describes code in malware aimed at doing all kinds of things to ones' computer that its user didn't intend for such as deleting files or networking with other computers to infect them.
What occurred to me is how as humans it is much easier to either relate to something or antagonize from it through anthropomorphism, the attribution of human characteristics to non-human creatures and beings, phenomena, material states and objects or abstract concepts (Wikipedia).
While the space related discussion is only starting to heat up over the latest proposed NASA direction and budget for 2011, scientific work doesn't cease, and so last Thursday I went to see a piece of it with my own eyes. I took my just-turned-nine twin boys on a little adventure - we drove seven hours to Hanksville UT. The purpose of this somewhat long trip over the continental divide was to visit the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) and meet its 89th crew - Brian, Carla, Darrel, Kiri, Luis and Mike. I've been in contact with Brian for the last several months ever since I stumbled on his blog, and this was an opportunity to meet him in person as well as get an insiders look at what it means to simulate suggested life on an early mission to Mars.
"Don't worry, it will be alright" is a loose translation of a too-common Hebrew saying in Israel. It can be a response to any concern, from minor to detrimental.
It is tragic that the lives of the seven astronauts of STS-107 on board of Columbia would be lost on reentry because of the same mentality with the first Israeli astronaut on board. Rick D. Husband, William C. McCool, Michael P. Anderson, Kalpana Chawla, David M. Brown, Laurel Clark and Ilan Ramon, mission specialist and honored Israeli combat pilot.
Unlike NASA's two other life-taking catastrophes, when the disaster, start to finish, took place in a matter of seconds, this time was more like a Shakespearean play, when a fatal mistake is made in the first act but claims its toll in the third. During launch on January 16 2003, a piece of foam from the external tank broke off and hit the shuttle left wing, damaging its heat shield panels. Like Hamlet who doesn't kill Claudius and eventually is a part of an inevitable fatal ending, so were the astronauts, unaware of the impairment of their spacecraft. The mission continued , the mission continued and the planned experiments were conducted.
For Israelis (and born-Israelis like myself) this mission was a source of great feeling of accomplishment. Israel, an innovator on Earth and in space had an astronaut, a testament to the Israeli spirit and the close relationship with the United States of America. More than anything, pride to have presence in the collaborative frontier of space, separated from the daily struggles of economical and existential nature in Israel.
Could the damaged have been repaired if NASA management gave the green light to conduct an EVA and inspect the damage? Would such an EVA prompt a rescue mission by Atlantis, which was preparing for a March 1 launch? Sadly, we'll never know. Ignoring NASA engineer concerns by NASA management may have been the fatal mistake in this tragedy.
On reentry, the damage to the wing allowed heat to sip through to the shuttle and break it apart. It would take years to resume flights, with improved foam and new shuttle inspection regulations.