Wednesday, December 06, 2006

NASA plans to build permanent moon base by 2024

The space agency Nasa yesterday unveiled plans to build a permanent base on the moon within 20 years that will allow humans to live there. The base will be used as a launching site for missions to Mars, as well as for analysis of the Earth from space.

"We're going for a base on the moon," said Scott Horowitz, Nasa associate administrator for exploration, at a press briefing in which he detailed plans for the first permanent human presence on an extraterrestrial body, 50 years after Apollo astronauts walked on the moon.

Nasa's announcement is the latest step in the space agency's plans to fulfil President George Bush's challenge to explore space. In 2004 he called for a return to the moon, followed by Mars expeditions. Last year Nasa gave details of the spacecraft it plans to use in the missions. The Orion exploration vehicle, shaped like the Apollo space capsules last used in 1972 but three times larger, will replace the space shuttle, while the two new Ares I rockets will blast the astronauts and equipment separately into space.

The exact design of the base has not yet been mapped out but Nasa outlined scientific goals for the moon missions. The missions will, among other things, measure cosmic rays, hunt for exotic subatomic particles in space and look for asteroids on a collision course with Earth. A moon base could also be used as a platform for monitoring the Earth's oceans and ice caps.

Nasa officials said that the return to the moon would begin with robotic reconnaissance trips that would look for potential landing sites and areas with good natural resources.

By 2020 four-person crews will make week-long trips while power supplies, rovers and living quarters are built on the lunar surface. Once the base is completed in the mid-2020s astronauts will stay for up to six months at a time to prepare for longer journeys to Mars. By the end of the decade pressurised roving vehicles could take people on long exploratory trips across the lunar surface.

The moon's polar regions are Nasa's preferred landing sites because the temperature is moderate and there are longer periods of sunlight - critical for the solar-powered technologies planned by the space agency. Nasa said that nuclear power could eventually be used instead. The poles are also thought to be rich in resources such as hydrogen and ice, which could be used to support life. "It's exciting, we don't know as much about the polar regions," said Shana Dale, Nasa's deputy administrator.

Source: The Guardian

NASA images suggest liquid water present on Mars

Striking images taken by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft suggest the presence of liquid water on the Martian surface, a tantalizing find for scientists wondering if the Red Planet might harbor life.

The orbiting U.S. spacecraft enabled scientists to detect changes in the walls of two craters in the southern hemisphere of Mars apparently caused by the downhill flow of water in the past few years, a team of scientists announced on Wednesday.

Scientists long have wondered whether life ever existed on Mars. Liquid water is an important part of the equation. On Earth, all forms of life require water to survive. Scientists previously established the existence of war on Mars in the form of ice at the poles and water vapor, and pointed to geological features that appear to have been carved by water ages ago.

Kenneth Edgett of Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego, a scientist involved in the research, said there had been a quest for "smoking gun" evidence for liquid water currently on Mars.

"Basically, this is the 'squirting gun' for water on Mars," Edgett told reporters.

The scientists, whose research appears in the journal Science, compared images of the Martian surface taken seven years apart and also found 20 newly formed craters left by impacts from space debris.

They said water seemed to have flowed down two gullies in the past few years, even though liquid water cannot remain long on the planet's frigid, nearly airless surface because it would rapidly freeze or evaporate.

Source: Reuters

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Trouble With The Hobbit

Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh wrote to

Last week, Mark Ordesky called Ken and told him that New Line would no longer be requiring our services on the Hobbit and the LOTR 'prequel'. This was a courtesy call to let us know that the studio was now actively looking to hire another filmmaker for both projects.

Ordesky said that New Line has a limited time option on the film rights they have obtained from Saul Zaentz (this has never been conveyed to us before), and because we won't discuss making the movies until the lawsuit is resolved, the studio is going to have to hire another director.

Given that New Line are committed to this course of action, we felt at the very least, we owed you, the fans, a straightforward account of events as they have unfolded for us.

We have always had the greatest support from The Ringers and we are very sorry our involvement with The Hobbit has been ended in this way. Our journey into Tolkien's world started with a phone call from Ken Kamins to Harvey Weinstein in Nov 1995 and ended with a phone call from Mark Ordesky to Ken in Nov 2006. It has been a great 11 years.

This outcome is not what we anticipated or wanted, but neither do we see any positive value in bitterness and rancor. We now have no choice but to let the idea of a film of The Hobbit go and move forward with other projects.

NASA's Mars Global Surveyor probably lost

NASA's best effort to find a missing Mars space probe have failed, scientists said Tuesday as they began to lose hope for the 10-year-old planet-mapping workhorse.

After more than two weeks of silence from the Mars Global Surveyor, NASA will make other tries to locate it, but scientists were pessimistic.

"We may have lost a dear old friend and teacher," Michael Meyer, the lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program said in a news conference.

The $154 million surveyor, which was supposed to last only two years but continued sending data for almost a decade, is the oldest of six different active space probes on or circling the red planet.

Among its accomplishments are more than 240,000 pictures of Mars, offering the best big-picture view of the planet. Meyer credited the probe with proving that Mars once had water.

"Every good thing comes to an end at some point," said Arizona State University scientist Phil Christensen. "It certainly in my mind greatly exceeded our wildest expectations of what to hope for. It revolutionized what we were thinking about Mars."

On Monday night, NASA had hoped to catch a glimpse of the surveyor from the camera on the new Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. But the orbiter failed to spot it.

Now NASA will try an even less likely search effort. Engineers will send a signal to the silent spacecraft, asking it to turn on a beacon on one of the two Mars rovers below. If the rover beacon turns on, NASA could figure out where the lost Mars Surveyor is, said project manager Tom Thorpe.

"While we have not exhausted everything we can do ... we believe the prospect for recovery of MGS is not looking very good at all," said Fuk Li, Mars program manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., which controls the probe. "We're still holding out some hope."

NASA will keep trying small-scale communications efforts. Experts believe the surveyor, which lost contact Nov. 2, probably developed a problem with a device that moves solar panels causing it to lose communication.

The entire Mars Global Surveyor program cost $247 million, including launch expenses and a decade of in-flight operations. NASA had just approved a two-year mission extension for $6 million a year.

Launched on Nov. 7, 1996, the probe gave scientists the best topographic map of any planet in the solar system, said Cornell University astronomer Steve Squyres, who didn't have an instrument on board the probe but was part of NASA's scientific review team.

The probe gave Earth its first detailed views of massive dust storms and gullies. It also revealed a new mystery about Mars: It once had a magnetic field.

The low-cost probe rose "from the ashes" of a dramatic Mars failure, Squyres said. In 1993, the $813 million Mars Observer disappeared just before getting to the planet. Most of that probe's instruments were built again and included on the Mars Global Surveyor.

Christensen called the global surveyor "a workhorse" because of its numerous and diverse scientific instruments.

"It really has opened up new vistas of Mars that we hadn't the foggiest notion of," said Arizona State University geologist Ron Greeley.

By: Seth Borenstein/AP

Reuters: NASA's Mars Global Surveyor believed lost in space Mars Global Surveyor Remains Silent, Feared Lost
Nature: Goodbye Mars Global Surveyor - NASA scientists may give up hope on old craft, but welcome new one
New York Times: The Mars Global Surveyor Appears to Have Succumbed
ABC News: Mars Probe Silent After 10-Year Mission
New Scientist: Mars probe probably lost forever
Washington Post: NASA Losing Hope of Finding Mars Probe
BBC: Nasa fears worst for spacecraft
Slashdot: Mars Probe Probably Lost Forever

Thursday, November 16, 2006

RIP Milton Friedman

Milton Friedman, the Nobel-prize winning economist who helped shape and define free-market economic theory, died Thursday at the age of 94 in San Francisco. The cause was heart failure, according to Reuters.

Friedman, who won the Nobel prize in 1976, helped interpret and popularize modern free-market economics that came to dominate much of U.S. public policy in the second half of the 20th century.

Free-market economic theories, which included tight fiscal discipline and deregulation of markets, grew influential in the United States after Ronald Reagan became president in the United States.

Friedman was regarded as the leader of the Chicago School of monetary economics and the leading proponent of free-market theory.

The Chicago School regarded the quantity of money as an instrument of government policy, capable of influencing inflation and business cycles, according to his biography at the Hoover Institution where Friedman served as a research fellow.

Friedman's ideas, which were embraced by President Reagan and U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, were considered controversial because of the deep cuts in government spending and the restricted role the government was to play in buffering citizens from economic forces.

The changes brought about by Friedman's economic work represented a departure from the Keyensian economic philosophy, which included generous provisions for the unemployed and wage and price controls.

Overseas, Friedman's work helped shape policies used in Chile and Argentina in the 1970s. His influence raised eyebrows among critics because of the repressive political situations in both countries in that period.

Friedman received his B.A. from Rutgers University in 1932, an M.A. from the University of Chicago the next year. In 1946 he received his Ph.D. from Columbia University.

Friedman was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1912 to immigrant parents from a province of what was then the Austria-Hungary Empire.

Source: CNN

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Donald Rumsfeld resigns as secretary of defence

Or to be more truthful, after losing both houses of Congress in tuesday's midterm election and realizing the prospect of Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid had become a reality, President Bush decided it was time for Rumsfeld to go. I'd never imagine to see the day Rumsfeld walks out of the oval office with a boot mark on his behind. Bush always seemed to have such a high level of trust and confidence in him, never wavering, never scorning, never doubtful of his abilities. I suppose this can be considered a genuine outreach to the Democrats for a more bipartisan atmosphere. The Donald will be replaced by former director of the CIA Robert Gates, if confirmed by the Senate.

Update to the previous post:
The Montana senate race has been called for Tester (D) which racks the Democratic Senate seat gains to 5. The law says that a recount is possible if the margin is within one quarter of a percent. Montana had 404 084 votes total so 1/4 percent would be 1 010 votes. Tester won the initial count with 2848 votes, so that race is over.

Webb will face a likely recount in Virginia as mentioned before, but the likelyhood of the outcome changing isn't very high. So the Democrats will, if nothing extraordinary happens, take control of the Senate as well with 51-49 seats (technically 50 dems and one independent, Joe Liebermann of Connecticut who lost the primary to Ned Lamont and ran as an independent, but he has announced to realign with the Democrats).

The current House projection is 229 seats for the Democrats and 196 for the Republicans (out of a total of 435), which makes for an impressive 29 seat gain for the dems. 10 races are still undecided and the Republicans will probably win most of these remaining undecided races.

As for the governorships, the Democrats won 28 and the Republicans 21, with one race still being undecided (but likely to go to the Republicans). This would mean a 6 governorship gain for the dems and the loss of the same amount to the GOP.

I'll update this and the previous post at some later time and add some links.

US Midterm Election Results 2006

The votes are (mostly) in and the democrats have taken the House of Representatives by what currently looks like a gain of 28 seats, when a gain of 15 would have been enough for a majority. This would give the Democrats 227 seats in the House (218 is needed for a majority). 14 House races are still undecided.

The fate of the Senate is still in the air, but it looks like it could be a 50-50 split. Currently it stands at 49-49 with the Democrats having picked up 4 senate seats. They would need to pick up 6 for the majority. Two senate races, Webb (D) vs. Allen (R, incumbent) in Virginia and Tester (D) vs. Burns (R) in Montana, are too close to call and the votes are still being counted.

A recount in Virginia, where Webb currently leads Allen by about 8000 votes (out of 1.17 vs. 1.16 million votes respectively when 99% of the precints are reporting in), is likely. The same may be the case for Montana, since Tester's lead there is only about 1500 votes with 96% of precints reporting. If the Democrats manage to win both of these very close races they will take control of the Senate as well. The GOP will technically retain their majority in an evenly split Senate (50-50), since the Vice President casts the deciding vote in the case of a tie. Although, if I recall correctly, they made some kind of a deal awhile back (when the Senate was split 50-50 the last time) not to use this deciding vote.

Looking at the overall picture, a gain of about 28 seats in the House can be considered a rather major victory for the Democrats. Nancy Pelosi is set to become the new Speaker of the House and she is the first female to hold that position, which is 3rd in the hierarchy of the Federal Government, after the President and the Vice President (i.e. she would lead the nation if the President and Vice President both die).

These (still partly projected) gains would be near or even slightly above the upper ends of the projections' spread, with projections usually varying from 10 to about 25 seats gains in the House and zero to about 6 seats gain in the Senate for the dems. Certainly would make it much more difficult for the GOP and President Bush to move forward with their agenda for the remaining two years of his term. Of course it can be said that those agendas have already been quite stalled for the last year or so.

Of the many races one is of local interest to me personally. Florida's 22nd congressional district, my "home district", saw the democratic challenger Klein beat the republican encumbent Shaw in a rather republican-safe area (affluent coastal areas, especially after the GOP-led redistricting).

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Everybody dies

In the new game of global thermonuclear war called Defcon. It's a huge blast. Literally. If back in the 80's, at the height of the cold war, you liked the classic movie Wargames, enjoyed playing Nuclear War on Commodore Amiga or you're just otherwise into TOTAL WAR NUKLEAR HOLOKAUST, then this is the game for you.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Stanislav Petrov, The Man Who Saved The World

Thirteen years ago, on September 26th 1983, Stanislav Petrov may have saved the world and a large chunk of human civilization from apocalyptic nuclear war with his cool-headed actions as a Soviet nuclear missile officer. Not too shabby for a day's work.

Remember the forgotten hero who saved the world
By Iain Thomson

It might seem odd to celebrate a 23rd anniversary but every year since I heard of this man I go out and raise a glass to his memory. In truth you can get most journalists to raise a glass to anything but in this case I’m thanking him for my life.

On 26th September 1983 the hero of the day, Colonel Stanislav Yefgrafovich Petrov, clocked on for work as normal. Petrov was in charge of the Soviet Union’s satellite warning systems and this was the height of the cold war. Everyone was on edge because NATO was carrying out its annual tactical exercises and two weeks before the Soviets had shot down a Korean airliner that had wandered into the wrong airspace.

Meanwhile in the wider picture Ronald Reagan was publicly calling the Soviet Union an ‘Evil Empire’, the warm up man at a UK Conservative party rally had opened with the call to “Bomb Russia” and we had Andropov, a former leader of the KGB, as the current ruler of the Kremlin. Things were, to put it mildly, on a hair trigger.

All in all it was a scary time to be alive. If I hadn’t had the first Sláine series in the comic 2000AD and Duran Duran’s Rio to distract me I’d never have made it through the year without digging a fallout shelter – something plenty of people did.

Anyway, at 40 minutes past midnight on the 26th Petrov looked up and saw a missile launch from a United States silo had been detected by one of his satellites. Now you might expect panic at this point but missile command tends to attract the serious, sober type, probably the type of people who smoke a pipe and sew leather patches on their jackets, and Petrov kept his head.

He knew the satellite had been reported as suspect and decided to hold off on informing the high command. Then a second missile launch was picked up, and shortly after another, and another and another. Petrov knew that if he waited until he could confirm the launches with ground radar it would be too late for his country, he and his family would die and the Yankees would win the Cold War.

Thankfully for us he thought before acting. He reasoned that it was illogical for a surprise attack to launch missiles one after the other – instead you’d launch everything you had and hope to wipe out the enemy before they reacted. He left the launch button alone and thankfully the missiles proved to be ghosts.

Myself and millions other slept peacefully in our beds that night, blissfully unaware of how close we came to fiery death or a worse existence than we could imagine if we had lived. Had the missiles flown Britain would, according to government war plan projections, currently be at a medieval level of technology in most places, having lost 90 per cent of its population.

Petrov was reprimanded and now lives in the scientific community of Fryazino in Russia. He was honoured this year in a ceremony at the United Nations and has been honoured with two World Citizen Awards. So take some time out today and say your private thanks to the man who saved the world.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Centre-right victory in Sweden's elections

As anyone following the news already knows, the centre-right coalition achieved a victory in Sweden's parliamentary elections ousting the leftist Social Democrats, led by prime minister Goran Persson, who have been in power for over a decade. Fredrik Reinfeldt, the chairman of the Moderate Coalition Party, started negotiations to form a new government in which he will serve as the new prime minister. This is obviously good news for everyone not too affectionate with the social democrats, such as myself, although it is widely expected that there won't be too much of a change in most aspects of Sweden's policies.

Helsingin Sanomat: Finns lukewarm on idea of centre-right cooperation on the Swedish model
Helsingin Sanomat: Finnish political leaders react to result of Swedish election