Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Scaled Support Fund Established

Scaled Composites announced the formation of a family support fund for the scaled employees who were involved in last weeks accident. Three employees were still in the hospital as of last Saturday, two in critcal condition and one in serious. The employees are Keith Fritsinger (critical), Gene Gisin (critical), and Jason Kramb (serious).

The family fund details are as follows:

Scaled Family Support Fund
c/o Scaled Composites,
1624 Flight Line,
Mojave, CA. 93501

Acct # 04157-66832
Wire xfer ABA Routing # 1220-0066-1 (Bank of America)

Please make checks payable to the account number or to the name of the fund.

This information came from the Scaled Composites website.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Explosion at Scaled Composite's Mojave Test Stand

Image Courtesy KNBC.com

At 2:45pm Thursday (July 26th, 2007), an explosion occured at the Scaled Composites test stand, located in the northeast corner of the Mojave airport. Three people died -- Eric Blackwell, Charles May, and Todd Ivens, and three people were critically injured. All six people are Scaled Composites employees. The group was doing a cold flow test of the nitrous oxide plumbing of the spaceship two hybrid engine. It is not clear what caused the explosion. Scaled Composites released the following statement on their website:

Scaled Composites, LLC is deeply saddened to report the loss of three of our colleagues. Eric Blackwell, 38, Glen May, 45, and Todd Ivens, 33, were killed by an explosion that occurred during a routine cold-flow test of the oxidizer system we’re developing for SpaceShipTwo. Three other Scaled employees were seriously injured and are hospitalized.

We are doing our best to take care of the families of the deceased as well as the injured and their families, and we hope you will join us in keeping them in your thoughts and prayers.

As you may imagine, the Scaled family is devastated by this event. As we grieve together, we are also beginning to gather up all of the information to determine what caused this accident. We are committed to learn all we can from this tragedy and move ahead.

The condition of the three surviving employees is not known at this time, although it is believed that they are in a hospital in Bakersfield. At this time I don't have any information as to where flowers or what have you might be sent. We will have to wait on those details.

It is also important to keep in mind that just as the development of general aviation has been fraught with danger, so too has and will likely be the path of general spaceflight. The pioneers of flight, such as Otto Lillienthal, and today's rocketeers understand and accept this risk. It is important that the public understands it too.

Flying with a Buzz On

Rumors circulating yesterday have been confirmed by Dana Shale, the NASA deputy administrator during a press conference this morning. Alchohol abuse prior to launch has been identified.

Apparently there's been at least one case of a Soyuz launch and a Shuttle launch where an astronaut in each case has been a bit toasted prior to the launch. The astronaut corps is again demonstrating that astronauts are in fact just human. The 8 hour minimum rule that many pilots adhere to or the 12 hour rule the astronauts are supposed to follow for T-38 flights, was apparently ignored or not enforced.

Troubling news is that apparently up until now, the astronauts have had no access to alchohol abuse counseling and the like. I wouldn't be surprised if NASA administrators avoided having it in the job perqs because it might give the appearance that some astronauts needed it. No BAC tests either, which is a shame.

I can imagine that for many of the astronauts on a shuttle launch, who are basically "spam in a can", being lightly toasted might not be such a bad idea. Please note, in the accompanying photo, I do not mean to imply that Stoli is the deputy administrator's preferred poison.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Nuclear Industry Making a Comeback -- As is Godzilla

OK, this isn't really a freeluna story, but it grabbed my attention with some amusement. I read the story on Yahoo, but tracked it down to CBS is about the rare American Crocodile making its way back from extinction via the Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station. This is a bit of a fluff piece since it was already mentioned by CSI Miami about two seasons ago, but the story goes on to say how nuclear power and nature can beneficially cohabitate, which in this instance seems to be the case.

As most know, CBS is owned by Westinghouse and the Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station runs two Westinghouse nuclear reactors. This cound indicate that the nuclear industry (or at least Westinghouse) has detected a sea-change in the public opinion of nuclear power and is trying to jump-start a pro-nuclear movement via their news outlet. This wouldn't surprise me much, but I am a bit disturbed that the impartiality of the news has been compromised. Other news outlets, such as NPR, have also picked up on the story. I wonder if anyone else will wonder where this story originated.

P.S. Generally I beleive we will soon be moving towards using nuclear energy as our primary energy source in the next few decades. Given the pre-existing infrastructure, it seems unavoidable.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Sending Earthmen to the Moons of Barsoom

NASA Ames is holding a conference to discuss the sending of robotic and potentially manned missions to the moons of Mars. The conference which is being called "PhobosDeimos2007" will be held at the NASA Ames Research Center's conference facility from November 5th through 8th of 2007. Tickets for professionals are $150 if ordered early and $195 at the door. Students are only $75 and the working press is free. Sadly, I fall into neither one of the last two categories. One of the special events at the conference is a presentation about the proposed/upcoming ESA/Russian mission to phobos called Phobos-Grunt, a sample-return mission from Phobos.

Unlike a sample-return mission to Mars proper, the mission to Phobos should be relatively "easy" (i. e. "not impossible"). With a surface gravity between 860 and 190 microgravities (less than 1% of earth normal) and an escape velocity of 39 km/hr, landing and leaving the microplanet should be no problem even with satellite calibre thrusters. Of course, with the ESA running the program, expect to see mostly pictures and movies of smiling managers congratulating each other and perhaps one or two grainy pictures of the Phobos itself (Sorry, this last comment reflects my disappointment with the Huygen's probe media coverage :P ).

Here are some ideas explorers of Thuria and Cluros might want to consider:

(1) The surface of Phobos (and presumably Deimos) is covered with a 1 meter layer of fine dust. The potential challenge here would be that firing landing rockets near the surface is likely to dig a deep pit or obscure the landing area or cover everything with dust in the immediate area, such as the probe's solar panels. A different approach might be to drop the last 50 meters or so onto the surface. If the probe's velocity was reduced to a stand still 50 meters above Phobos and then the probe was allowed to fall, it would hit the surface about 6 minutes later at an "impact" velocity of something around 1 foot per second. Springs/shock absorbers in the landing gear could easily absorb that impact. Which brings up another point. One might be able to design a probe with "springtail" or pogo-stick landing gear to provide propellantless flight to various parts of Phobos. During landing, the springs in the landing gear would compress and store energy for later lift off.

(2) Since martian meteors have been found on Earth with relative ease and since Phobos and Deimos are much closer to Mars than Earth is, it might be worthwhile to search for Mars meteors on Phobos and Deimos. This would be a cheesy way of performing a Mars sample-return mission. At least it wouldn't hurt to take a look around.

(3)Hopefully, whatever goes to Phobos and Deimos is carrying a fairly significant geologic lab. And while we're at it, looking for water and other hydrocarbons is pretty important too. Ground penetrating radar might be good for general hydrocarbon dowsing. Water and hydrocarbons, of course, provide the potential return fuel for future missions to the red planet, as I mentioned in my previous post "Riding Dog Bones and Doughnuts to Mars and Beyond".

That's it from me for now. Feel free to add your own thoughts to the blog.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Safety or Comedy: It's All in the Timing

In an article on spacedaily.com, Dupont and NASA have come to an agreement to jointly develop kevlar reinforced tank foam for the Ares-1 crew launch vehicle. This strikes me as a good idea, but perhaps a little too late since all the envisioned future NASA vehicles have the crew capsule at the front of the vehicle and any foamed tanks behind that. Foam separation in these future vehicles shouldn't post a hazard to the crews -- in fact, dumping the foam just after launch might allow a few extra pounds or tons to be orbitted.

On the other hand, reinforced foam on the shuttle might've saved lives. This seems like a case of bad timing.