Sunday, July 10, 2005

Sunday entry

  • It appears like Rove is up for at least perjury, and possibly the big enchilada: violating the espionage act.

    Not surprising, actually.

  • The Observer notes how far our manned space program has fallen:

    Of the five of these spaceships that have been built, two have been destroyed in service, killing 14 astronauts.

    It is now considered safer to ride on one of Russia's creaking old Soyuz rockets - designed in the Soviet era and once derided as orbiting rust-buckets - than fly on a craft that was originally hailed by Nasa as the most sophisticated flying machine ever built.

    In fact, this week's flight of Discovery, scheduled to lift off from the Kennedy Space Centre on Wednesday, is really only a test mission to try out ways of repairing the shuttle in orbit in case another catastrophe starts to unfold and threatens what remains of Nasa's ageing fleet of spaceships...

    Nasa has developed a variety of patching methods to cover holes in the shuttle's outer skin: mainly forms of putty or bandages.

    Uncannily, this kit bears a striking resemblance to the contents of a bicycle tyre repair bag and reveals the administration's desperate levels to keep its space fleet in operation. Nor is it clear that its extra-terrestrial grouting kit will work in space. 'Some things you cannot test on the ground,' admits Steve Poulos, a Nasa manager at Houston.

    So what will happen if a hole is found, a space repair proves useless and Collins and her six crewmen are marooned in space? The answer, says Nasa, is its 'Safe Haven' plan. The crew will bail out of Discovery, climb into the International Space Station (their mission destination) and wait - amid rapidly dwindling oxygen and water supplies - for a rescue shuttle to arrive from Earth.

    Given that it will take at least 32 days to get one aloft and that the space station will only be able to support Discovery's crew for 45 days, this safe haven has a narrow window for success. 'It is a high-risk option and we don't want to have to risk it if we don't have to,' says Wayne Hale, deputy manager of the shuttle programme.

    We can hit a comet, though.

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