Tuesday, April 4, 2017

MORE up in the sky

Just to be different, in this space-centric post we'll start far away and work our way back home.

Black-hole jets
To begin in the distance, consider this truly amazing nursery for stars: "Stars Born Inside Violent Black Hole Jets Spotted for the 1st Time." The takeaway quotes:

"Astronomers have thought for a while that conditions within these outflows could be right for star formation, but no one has seen it actually happening, as it’s a very difficult observation ..."


"If star formation is really occurring in most galactic outflows, as some theories predict, then this would provide a completely new scenario for our understanding of galaxy evolution ..."

Pluto back-lit view
And closer (if not exactly close) to Earth?  More about the wondrous world that is Pluto. The gist? That the New Horizons probe, once it zoomed past Pluto and had the opportunity to look back, saw that remote world's night side -- including sunlight shining through the atmosphere. The information so revealed is awesome. For details, see, "Goodnight, Pluto."

Lastly, much of what we are discovering about distant objects depends, ultimately, upon the cost of access to space. In that vein, it's beyond awesome that SpaceX has now successfully re-flown and re-recovered one of its Falcon 9 launchers. For more on that, see "SpaceX makes aerospace history with successful launch and landing of a used rocket."

As high as any SLS engine has gotten ...
Because without a doubt we need more private-industry-led space exploration. Ever wonder why the development of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) is taking soooo long? Why after more than five years, the Space Launch System has yet to have a launch? Maybe because hardly any of the money NASA has been given for this endeavor goes to, well, designing or building rockets. See "New report: NASA spends 72 cents of every SLS dollar on overhead costs."

As a onetime NASA contractor, I spent several years contributing to Mission to Planet Earth. (More specifically, I led contractor teams designing and building much of the distributed computing system, both hardware and software, that processes the torrents of data transmitted by MtPE's Earth-observing satellites.) In my experience, the "oversight" process back then (I left in 1997) was onerous/ponderous, impeded progress, and rarely made a useful contribution. But 72 percent overhead? That has to be a record -- and not the good kind.

How wonderful it is that upstarts like SpaceX are showing a new, faster, more economical way into space.

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