Sunday, September 28, 2008

Successful Launch of Falcon 1

The fourth launch attempt of SpaceX Falcon 1 was successful. Launching at 4:15 PM, the vehicle reached orbit about 9 minutes later. Falcon 1 has made history as the first privately developed liquid fueled launch vehicle to achieve earth orbit!

UPDATE 5:14 PM now has an article by Alan Boyle giving details of the launch.


Video of the launch:

Falcon 1 Launch Scheduled for This Afternoon

According to SpaceX, their Falcon 1 is scheduled to launch between 4 PM and 9 PM Pacific Time on Sunday, September 28, 2008:
The Flight 4 Webcast will provide live coverage of launch activities. The webcast will be accessible via a link on the SpaceX home page at The launch window runs from 4 PM to 9 PM (Pacific time) each day. The Falcon 1 launch facilities are situated on Omelek Island, part of the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site (RTS) at United States Army Kwajalein Atoll (USAKA).

The Falcon 1 Flight 4 vehicle carries a payload mass simulator of approximately 165 kg (364 lbs), designed and built by SpaceX specifically for this mission. Flight 3, which took place on August 2nd, executed a picture perfect first stage flight, ultimately reaching an altitude of 217 km, but encountered a problem just after stage separation that prevented the second stage from reaching orbit. The origin of the problem arose due to the longer thrust decay transient of our new Merlin 1C regeneratively cooled engine. Unlike the ablative engine used previously by SpaceX in Flights 1 and 2, the regenerative engine had unburned fuel in the cooling channels and manifold that combined with a small amount of residual oxygen to produce a small thrust that was just enough to overcome the stage separation pusher impulse.

SpaceX was aware of and had allowed for a thrust transient, but did not expect it to last that long. As it turned out, a very small increase in the time between commanding main engine shutdown and stage separation would have been enough to save the mission. The fix was also very simple, requiring one line of code to be changed.

We made the fix and immediately began work on Flight 4. Less than two months later, Falcon 1 Flight 4 is now on the pad at Kwajalein, ready for flight.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Chinese Perform Their First Space Walk

According to Wikipedia, "as of February 15, 2008, there have been a total of 104 spacewalks devoted to assembly and maintenance of the International Space Station. A total time of 653 hours, 43 minutes has been spent in EVA activities. 75 of these EVAs have been from the station, totaling 458 hours, 25 minutes. 28 assembly EVAs have been performed from a shuttle, 53 from the Quest Joint Airlock, and 22 from the Pirs docking compartment."

The Russians and Americans made their first space walks in 1965. The first Russian space walk by Alexey Leonov lasted about twelve minutes, on March 18, 1965. The first American space walk, by Edward White lasted about 22 minutes, on June 3, 1965. This Chinese space walk by Zhai Zhigang lasted slightly less than fifteen minutes, on September 27, 2008.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Space X Update

Space X did a static fire of their Falcon 1 on Saturday, September 20 as scheduled. The launch window for the fourth launch attempt of a Falcon 1 is now set for some time between September 28 and October 1, according to the Space X website:

Flight Four Launch Update

Dark Flow

As if the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy weren't vexing enough, another baffling cosmic puzzle has been discovered.

Patches of matter in the universe seem to be moving at very high speeds and in a uniform direction that can't be explained by any of the known gravitational forces in the observable universe. Astronomers are calling the phenomenon "dark flow."

The stuff that's pulling this matter must be outside the observable universe, researchers conclude.

Read the whole article, Mysterious 'dark flow' discovered in space:
Stuff pulling on matter believed to be outside the observable universe

Friday, September 19, 2008

Flight Four of Falcon 1 Has Been Scheduled

According to a press release I just received from Elon Musk of SpaceX, the next launch attempt of the Falcon 1 will probably occur between September 23 and 25:
As mentioned in my update last month, we do expect to conduct a launch countdown in late September – as scheduled.

Having said that, it is still possible that we encounter an issue that needs to be investigated, which would delay launch until the next available window in late October. If preparations go smoothly, we will conduct a static fire on Saturday and launch sometime between Tuesday and Thursday (California time).

The SpaceX team worked hard to make this launch window, but we also took the time to review data from Flight 3 in detail. In addition to us reviewing the data, we had several outside experts check the data and conclusions. No flight critical problems were found apart from the thrust transient issue.

Flight 5 production is well underway with an expected January completion date, Flight 6 parts are on order and Flight 7 production will begin early next year. We are now in steady state production of Falcon 1 at a rate of one vehicle every four months, which we will probably step up to one vehicle every two to three months in 2010.

International Talk Like a Pirate Day

Every September 19th is International Talk Like A Pirate Day. Visit the official website and learn how to do it.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Quote for the Day

It is error only, and not truth, that shrinks from inquiry.

— Thomas Paine

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Mystery Object

Scientists using the Hubble have found something odd, unlike anything they've ever seen before. They simply don't know what it is. Sky and Telescope reports:
Don't get the idea that we've found every kind of astronomical object there is in the universe. In a paper to appear in the Astrophysical Journal, astronomers working on the Supernova Cosmology Project report finding a new kind of something that they cannot make any sense of.

Read the whole article (with a photo) from the link above.

Borg cube going to warp?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Image of Possible Planet Around a Sun-like Star

MSNBC reports:

Astronomers have taken what may the first picture of a planet orbiting a star similar to the sun.

This distant world is giant (about eight times the mass of Jupiter) and lies far out from its star (about 330 times the Earth-Sun distance). But for all the planet's strangeness, its star is quite like our own sun.

Previously, the only photographed extrasolar planets have belonged to tiny, dim stars known as brown dwarfs. And while hundreds of exoplanets have been detected by noting their gravitational tug on their parent stars, it is rare to find one large enough to image directly.

For the picture and more details, read the full article by Clara Moskowitz.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Musical Road

Not far from Quartz Hill Community Church and Quartz Hill School of Theology, Honda created a musical road for one of their commercials; I've heard that the only other places in the world that have a road like this are in Japan and Switzerland:

Reason and Faith

Jerry Pournelle, the science fiction author, wrote today on his blog:
This was in a recent Wall Street Journal article on social conservatism:

St. Thomas Aquinas taught that "we do not offend God except by doing something contrary to our own good." If Thomas is right, then rather than claim that a debased practice offends God, politicians can—and, I would add, should—explain to the public what aspect of some immoral behavior is contrary to our own good, especially the common good—and why a just and decent society shouldn't accept it.

This is of a piece with the doctrine that Reason and Faith are not in conflict, and if they appear to be, we have misunderstood something. (It used to be that we had more confidence in our interpretation of revelation than in the findings of science. Actually, that was good reason; science, until the development of scientific method, was not reliable. Those were the days when Astrology and Alchemy were considered good science, and illusionists posed as scientists. Today we have enough experience with the results of applying real scientific method -- that is, framing falsifiable hypotheses and testing them by experiment, and yes, I know that's a reductionism that ignores a number of important implications -- we have enough experience with the results of scientific method to have confidence that scientific truth is important, and if science conflicts with revelation then we have probably misinterpreted revelation.

Read the whole thing here.

Quote for the Day

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in that grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Quote for the Day

Autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful. A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying, since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats.

George Orwell

Friday, September 05, 2008

Quote for the Day

The Unexpected always comes at the most awkward times.

Larry Niven

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Quote for the Day

Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off. Build your wings on the way down.

Ray Bradbury

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Quote for the Day

Lack of originality, everywhere, all over the world, from time immemorial, has always been considered the foremost quality and the recommendation of the active, efficient and practical man...

Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


An interesting opinion page piece by Crispin Sartwell in today's LA Times, A Righteous Refusal is Everyone's Right:

I am a pro-choice atheist. But I support a regulation, recently promulgated by the Bush administration, that would cut federal funding to nearly 600,000 hospitals, clinics, health plans, doctors' offices and other entities if they do not allow their employees to opt out of providing certain types of care -- including abortion services -- on grounds of conscience and personal belief.

Ask yourself: What are some of the bad things that have happened because people refused, on conscientious grounds, to do what the institutions in which they were embedded demanded? Now ask yourself: What are some of the bad things that have happened because people overcame serious qualms and did what they were ordered to do?

The idea that we must respect individual conscience as a moral arbiter is a fundamental insight of the Protestant Reformation and of the American individualism of such figures as Emerson and Thoreau. It is at the core of our traditions and our freedoms. This idea means nothing if we respect it when we agree with its results and not when we don't.

He does a good job, I think, of pointing out the importance of respecting individual conscience. I'd recommend reading the entire article.