September 18, 2015
Published in The Patriot Ledger September 19, 2015
It’s opening soon – “The Martian” starring Matt Damon. In the film, Damon plays the title character, but he’s not an alien. He’s a human astronaut stranded on Mars when the rest of his NASA crew evacuate the planet to return home, thinking Damon dead. He’s “The Martian” because he then has to find ways to survive alone on Mars. (more…)
July 21, 2015
Published in The Patriot Ledger July 25, 2015
I called it “poor little Pluto” in an earlier column, but Pluto was very big in the news last week when NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew by it after traveling more than 9 years and more than 3 billion miles through space. It was a tremendous success for the New Horizons team led by Principal Investigator Alan Stern and Mission Operations Manager Alice Bowman, known to the team as MOM. (more…)
June 4, 2015
Published in The Patriot Ledger June 4, 2015
It was a win for competition, a loss for monopoly. Last week, the U.S. Air Force announced it would allow SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Rocket to compete for the launching of military satellites, ending a decade-long monopoly of United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin. (more…)
October 12, 2013
Published in The Patriot Ledger October 12, 2013
NASA, our National Aeronautics and Space Administration, was founded on October 1, 1958, as part of our country’s response to the Soviet Union’s launching of Sputnik, the Earth’s first artificial satellite. But instead of celebrating its 55th birthday on October 1, 2013, NASA shut down. Most federal agencies are suffering from the current government shutdown, but none more than NASA. Of the space agency’s more than 18,000 employees, 97% have been furloughed, with less than 600 rated “essential” and allowed to come to work. (more…)
July 9, 2013
Published in The Patriot Ledger November 19, 2012:
With the fiscal cliff looming, many expect deep budget cuts in “non-defense discretionary programs,” a broad Washington term that includes, among other things, all our science programs. All science needs defending, but NASA may be especially vulnerable, since few realize that much of NASA’s science has direct impact back here on Earth. (more…)
July 9, 2013
My blog "Space Shorts" features occasional articles of op-ed length (about 600 words) on space exploration published in The Patriot Ledger, a newspaper published in Quincy, MA. It started with a letter to the editor published October 6, 2012. Editor Amy MacKinnon liked the letter and from then on published my occasional articles. My goal in writing these articles for a general audience was to promote public interest in science in general and space exploration in particular. The letter that started it:
This is in response to a letter last week that, in view of all the other financial needs of the country, questioned the wisdom of spending money to send the rover Curiosity to Mars, a multi-year project estimated to cost about $2.5 billion. There are many justifications to include space exploration in our national budget.
First there are of course jobs, the key word nowadays. There are many thousands of jobs involved with NASA projects, including many jobs in industry and academe across the country as well as government jobs.
Second, it is well established that highly technical projects like Curiosity often provide spin-offs that advance other technologies, including communications, manufacturing, and medicine.
At least equally important, space projects are exciting to the imagination, and increase interest among the young in considering careers in the STEM fields - science, technology, engineering and mathematics. In our globally-competitive environment, that's an important and worthy goal on which NASA focuses.
The long-term scientific goals of the Mars projects are to improve our understanding of the origin of the planets and of life.
Perhaps the strongest justification for such projects is that they provide sustenance to the basic human instinct that drives all of science and much of human progress - curiosity.