Peter Capaldi is awesome, part eleventy: visiting Syrian refugees

Lots of celebrities get to have photo ops and such with refugees.  Aid groups often encourage it, because it can get some more attention to their project, by attracting the notice of the celebrity’s fans.  And the celebrities usually get a chance to look heroic out of the deal.  Peter Capaldi has now had his turn doing so, and in keeping with everything we’ve learned about the man so far, did so with amazing grace.  Watch this video, and hear him speak with awe about the incredible dignity and courage of the refugees, as they hold to their humanity even as they flee the country where they’ve spent their entire lives, the land they love, but the land they can no longer stay in for the sake of their children.

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Columbia, Houston, UHF Comm Check…..

Just like “Go at throttle up”, those words will always send a shiver through me.  That was the CAPCOM at Mission Control, asking Columbia to respond, as they had lost signal and needed to verify UHF comms were still open.  It’s normal for the signal to come and go while they’re blazing through reentry, but, this signal never came back.

13 years ago today, the Columbia was lost on reentry, destroyed by aerodynamic forces as a hole in one wing leading edge allowed hot gasses in to weaken the structures inside.  If there is a blessing from it, it is that the crew were certainly dead in seconds, if not milliseconds, because of the extreme forces to which they were subjected.  Unlike the Challenger crew, they may not even have realized anything was seriously wrong before it was all over.

As after Challenger, the Shuttle program went onto a hiatus while procedures were put into place to prevent the accident from recurring.  They were of mixed success, but NASA never lost another one.  But it had a profound affect on Space Station operations.  Coming soon after a general pare-down of ISS to support President Bush’s new “Vision for Space Exploration”, which would see humans back on the Moon by 2020, it gave incentive to pare down even more.  Shuttle was banned from performing any further ISS crew transfer missions; that became the sole province of the Soyuz.  This was a blow to both American and Russians programs, for the Russians had intended to rely mostly on Shuttle for their own crew transfers as well, allowing them to fill up Soyuz taxi flights (which only needed two crew) with paying customers in the third seat.  On the plus side for them, NASA paid better than the tourists had, but on the downside, the available options for space tourists plummeted that day.

Shuttle went on to fly until 2011.  And there were no more accidents.  For that, everyone breathed a sigh of relief.  Now the attention moves on to the commercial spaceflight providers.  Will they uphold the same standards of safety reliability?  When (not if) will commerical spaceflight have their first deaths?  I hope not for a good long while.  We should all have learned valuable lessons from Challenger and Columbia, lessons not in who to blame, but lessons in hubris, and in deferring to authority when you know there is something amiss.

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Eutelsat 9B launch aboard Proton-M

Last Friday, a Proton rocket placed the Eutelsat 9B spacecraft into geosynchronous transfer orbit.  In addition to providing broadband television support to customers in Europe, Eutelsat 9B also carries a unique new payload: EDRS-A.  EDRS is the European Data Relay System, a system analogous to the American TDRS constellation, but with a revolutionary new laser-based system for transferring data along the chain.  Two more spacecraft are scheduled this year for EDRS, including one which will be dedicated to data relay functions rather than piggy-backing on a commercial commsat.  The first customers for the EDRS will the two Sentinel satellites, but the consortium operating EDRS hopes to get many more government and commercial customers.

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N.D.T. has the ultimate word for B.O.B.

The world is not, in fact, flat.  It is round.  ;-)  And Neil DeGrasse Tyson can PREACH to that!

An epic mic drop.  ;-)

Although, I would be rather pleased if B.O.B. were to later reveal his hypothesis that the world is flat, and rides through space atop four gigantic elephants, who stand astride the mighty A’Tuin….

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Mark your calendar for November!

There’s a brand-new trip into the Potterverse coming our way.  ;-)

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We Are Star Stuff: an intriguing new periodic table

There are of course a great many periodic tables, organizing different information in different ways, but this one is a bit more sedate than most.  It leaves the elements exactly where we are used to seeing them.  It just replaces one bit of information with another — instead of color-coding elements by their class (halogens, rare earths, noble gasses, etc.), it color-codes them by their origin, and at once lays bare where all the things around us really come from. My one quibble is that this really doesn’t cover all the origins.  For instance, for simplicity it doesn’t indicate which elements can be formed by radioactive decay.  The helium we use to fill our party balloons is mostly formed by this process; it’s a daughter product from the natural decay of uranium.  And while the vast majority of helium was created in the Big Bang, it is also created in stars such as our own sun, which is busily converting hydrogen into helium as we speak.

But the chart is still reasonably accurate, and is an intriguing reminder of one special, almost magical thing: we are the stuff of the universe.  And the bulk of our structure, carbon, is literally starstuff.  The ash of dead stars, which had produced carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and more inside their cores through the process of nuclear fusion, until they were unable to sustain the reaction any longer and exploded, casting off layers of materials that would one day become rocks, planets, life forms, and eventually us.

It also makes me think of this lovely moment from Babylon 5, “A Distant Star”:

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LISA gets dressed for a date with destiny

This is a pretty cool time-lapse video.  From ESA, this video is a time-lapse of the process of taking the LISA Pathfinder probe, encapsulating it, mating it to the Vega rocket, and finally launching.  It’s a glimpse at just a small portion of the work needed to get this spacecraft into orbit, but it’s a look we don’t often get to see except in a handful of stills.  It’s beautiful!

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