Sunday, May 22, 2005


First the Space Shuttle blew up right over Palestine, Texas. Then NASA mucked around for more than a year and the last Shuttles sit idle. Then the oxygen generator at the Space Station quit. It was made by the Russians. Well, like a bad landlord/tenant story, it spirals downwards. No, cockroaches aren't running amok, yet. And no, a girlfriend didn't move in without notifying the landlord. It is just a little dispute over paying the rent and who has the car keys.

Earth to America: Russia has the car keys right now.
NASA may have to partially abandon the International Space Station if the Bush administration can't figure a way around a law that prevents the United States from paying Russia for future flights to the orbiting outpost.

"If we don't have (an) agreement with the Russians, then we won't be able to have people in space for long periods of time," said U.S. Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Science Committee.

Boehlert said he and other congressional leaders want a new agreement for more Russian Soyuz flights, but not if it means backing down on concerns that Russia may be passing along weapons secrets to Iran.

The Iran Nonproliferation Act bans U.S. payments to Russia for services related to the $100 billion international station unless the president confirms Russia is working to prevent its scientists and engineers from passing weapons technology to Iran.

Exempted from the 2000 ban were 11 flights of the Russian-built Soyuz spacecraft to and from the station.

The three-person Russian capsules have been the only way for the U.S. to rotate astronauts aboard the $60 billion station since the shuttle Columbia disaster in February 2003. And, for the life of the station program, the Soyuz has been the only escape system for the crew.
Ahem. Time to laugh. Hahahaha. Indeed. We could tell the Russians off, can't we? Then they won't give us hitchikers any more lifts but so what? We won't pay the rent, anyway and will go home, back to earth, in a huff. "Don't let the door hit your ass," yell the Russians as we beg for one last ride.

Wot? Eh? This is our space program. Right, we are goin to move over to Mars. We can't go to the Space Station but by jimminy we will go to Mars. Like a teen thrown out of the house, we stamp around and yell about going to LA with a few dimes in our pocket.

This is what disturbs me the most. America's rulers acting like we are on top of the world and everyone is begging for us to do things with them and we can dictate terms. So we play hard ball. Only we threw away our baseball bat in Iraq. So we get bashed over and over again. If we abandon the Space Station you can bet, others will happily move in and use it. This is why the threat is stupid. If we mean this threat, it is only to make the Russians laugh to death. So much for the Great Space Race!

Tell me, who won?


Astronomers theorize that when a massive star goes nova, the helium gas explodes outwards but the remaining mass of the star, being heavy metals, collapses inwards until it is very small and very dense and becomes a possible black hole. One can detect when this level of fatal collapse occurs because of the very brief momentary flash it creates. These flashes can out shine galaxies.

Now humans get closer to creating such an entity:
Ed Moses talks of the "grand challenge" that has consumed him for the past five years, comparing it to trying to hit the strike zone with a baseball from 350 miles away or tossing a dime into a parking meter from 40 miles. "That's the precision we have to have," says Moses, the director of a high-energy physics adventure to produce the world's most powerful laser — one that scientists hope will create in a laboratory the energy found at the center of the sun.

In a building the size of a football stadium, engineers have assembled the framework for a network of 192 laser beams, each traveling 1,000 feet to converge simultaneously on a target the size of a pencil eraser.

The trip will take one-thousandth of a second during which the light's energy is amplified many billions of times to create a brief laser pulse 1,000 times the electric generating power of the United States.

The goal is to create unimaginable heat — 180 million degrees Farenheit — and intense pressure from all directions on a BB-size hydrogen fuel pellet, compressing it to one-thirtieth of its size.

The result, the scientists hope, will be a fusing of atoms so that more energy is released than is generated by the laser beams, something scientists call fusion ignition. It is what happens when a hydrogen bomb explode
This is all rather depressing since one can bet, the chief use of this possible technology will be to build some monstrous thing that can destroy potential rivals.

Years ago I wrote a short tale: Mother Nature sat on a rock at the edge of space and time. The traveler from a far away village chanced upon her. She frightened him so he only peered at Her from far away. He then ran home and told everyone, 'I saw Mother Nature. She sits on a rock at the edge of the Universe. She is covered with this veil."

Wanting to know more, another traveler set out to see Her. He was less in awe and ventured close enough to get a good look. He ran home. "I saw Mother Nature. She is covered with a veil. On it are woven all the plants and animals in the world."

This interested several people who took off with appropriate instruments to examine Mother Nature. They spent a year and a day examining Her. Happy, they ran back and said this, "Mother Nature has an amazing veil. It is wonderously woven. The threads are amazingly complex. It is huge. Here are the measurements and the analysis of the chemistry and molecular matrix of this veil."

"Well enough," said one sceptic. "We know a great deal about Mother Nature's veil but we know nothing about Herself." This was true. So one person stood up and announced, "I will unveil Mother Nature". Setting off, the traveler went to Her. Grabbing the enveloping mass, yanked it....The Greek word for "unveil" is the "Apocalypse".

My father wanted to put this in Physics Today but they rejected it because it was too grim. It is grim. Alas.