Remembering Allan McDonald: He Refused To Approve Challenger Launch, Exposed Cover-Up

Found on NPR on Saturday, 27 March 2021
Browse Astronomy

His job was to sign and submit an official form. Sign the form, he believed, and he'd risk the lives of the seven astronauts set to board the spacecraft the next morning. Refuse to sign, and he'd risk his job, his career and the good life he'd built for his wife and four children.

"There are two ways in which [McDonald's] actions were heroic," recalls Mark Maier, who directs a leadership program at Chapman University and produced a documentary about the Challenger launch decision.

"One was on the night before the launch, refusing to sign off on the launch authorization and continuing to argue against it," Maier says. "And then afterwards in the aftermath, exposing the cover-up that NASA was engaged in."

It is better to listen to the engineers who know what could happen, than to blindly follow your schedule.

A borked bit of code sent the Hubble Space Telescope into safe mode, revealing a bunch of other glitches

Found on The Register on Friday, 26 March 2021
Browse Astronomy

While engineers have recovered the spacecraft – after all, this is why "safe modes" exist – the problem has shown up other issues. Most seriously, the aperture door at the top of the spacecraft did not automatically close.

The 30th anniversary of the telescope's launch rolled around last year and engineers hope to keep the old thing going a while yet, even if the Shuttles that originally serviced it are long gone.

Imagine today's hardware to be as well desgined and stable as Hubble.

Linux Is Now on Mars, Thanks to NASA's Perseverance Rover

Found on PC Mag on Thursday, 25 February 2021
Browse Astronomy

The helicopter-like drone on board the Perseverance rover uses a Linux-powered software framework the space agency open-sourced a few years ago. “This the first time we’ll be flying Linux on Mars. We’re actually running on a Linux operating system,” Canham said.

To boldly go where no man has gone before!

Earth to Voyager 2: After a Year in the Darkness, We Can Talk to You Again

Found on New York Times on Thursday, 18 February 2021
Browse Astronomy

In the nearly 44 years since NASA launched Voyager 2, the spacecraft has gone beyond the frontiers of human exploration by visiting Uranus, Neptune and, eventually, interstellar space.

A device on board called the command loss timer, something like a dead man’s switch, is used to help the spacecraft determine whether it’s lost contact with Earth and should protect itself by going into a form of electronic slumber. The October test reset the timer, and successfully told the spacecraft to continue operating.

It's amazing how well Voyager 2 is doing after all this time, and it's sad that today's tech probably won't last half as long.

Satellite boom attracts technology giants

Found on BBC News on Saturday, 30 January 2021
Browse Astronomy

Sir Richard Branson's rocket company Virgin Orbit has joined a growing list of private companies that can launch satellites into orbit.

Launch prices are also falling because technology giants are driving demand, says Mark Boggett, chief executive of British venture capital firm Seraphim Capital.

"In the old days, we launched one satellite that had lots of sensors on it. But today, we've launched hundreds of satellites that have the same one sensor, and that's a much cheaper, repeatable way to do it with more consistent data," says Robin Sampson, head of operations at NanoAvionics UK.

So much more junk in space.

Gut-wrenching footage documents Arecibo telescope’s collapse

Found on Nature on Sunday, 13 December 2020
Browse Astronomy

The iconic radio telescope at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico has collapsed, leaving astronomers and the Puerto Rican scientific community to mourn its demise.

Drone footage of the collapse, released by the NSF two days later, shows cables snapping at the top of one of the three towers from which the instrument platform was suspended. The platform plummets downward and crashes into the side of the dish. The tops of all three towers also snap off.

Sad to see that such a great piece of technology couldn't be saved.

Famed Arecibo telescope, on the brink of collapse, will be dismantled

Found on Science Mag on Thursday, 26 November 2020
Browse Astronomy

The 57-year-old observatory, a survivor of numerous hurricanes and earthquakes, is now in such a fragile state that attempting repairs would put staff and workers in danger. “This decision was not an easy one to make,” Sean Jones, NSF’s assistant director for mathematical and physical sciences, said at a news briefing today.

Sad to see. Too bad previous administrations have not put enough funds in to keep it well maintained.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX will ‘make its own laws on Mars’

Found on Independent on Wednesday, 04 November 2020
Browse Astronomy

SpaceX will not recognise international law on Mars, according to the Terms of Service of its Starlink internet project.

Elon Musk’s space company will instead reportedly adhere to a set of “self-governing principles" that will be defined at the time of Martian settlement.

Oh it will respect international law. Very quickly. Unless SpaceX completely cuts its ties with earth to avoid any pressure.

Electric shocks to the tongue can quiet chronic ringing ears

Found on ScienceMag on Tuesday, 13 October 2020
Browse Astronomy

Tinnitus—a constant ringing or buzzing in the ears that affects about 15% of people—is difficult to understand and even harder to treat. Now, scientists have shown shocking the tongue—combined with a carefully designed sound program—can reduce symptoms of the disorder, not just while patients are being treated, but up to 1 year later.

Finally there is a valid reason why you would lick a battery.

Google announces crackdown on in-app billing, aimed at Netflix and Spotify

Found on Ars Technica on Thursday, 01 October 2020
Browse Astronomy

With a lot of focus lately on how smartphone app developers are treated on Apple's and Google's app stores, Google has decided right now is a great time to announce more stringent app store billing rules.

Google draws a clear distinction between Android and iOS by pointing out that on Android, developers have a "choice of stores" and that most Android devices ship with multiple app stores. Google mentions twice that "each store is able to decide its own business model and consumer features" with the implication being that if developers want to be on Google Play, which has 2 billion active users, they're going to have to start following the rules or look elsewhere.

At least there developers have an alternative. Still, 30% is still too much.