Tag Archives: NASA

International cooperation in space serving humanity

Sentinel-1A_Liftoffw

Photo credit: SENTINEL-1 LIFTS OFF

This morning I watched the launch of the Sentinel 1A satellite. The launch was perfect and the coverage on Spaceflight Now excellent with plenty of explanation along the way.

The satellite was launched aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket from the European Space Agency (ESA) launch pad Kourou near the town of Sinnamary, French Guiana, on South America’s northern Atlantic coastline. Sentinel 1A was built by Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy. The satellite is now being managed from a mission control centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

International cooperation important

Viewing this event I couldn’t help noticing the programme is a result of cooperation between several countries. First of all, countries in the European Commission and ESA, but also Russia which provided the launcher and whose companies were involved in the launch. That cooperation is obvious from the fact that English, French, German, Italian and Russian languages were being used.

I think there are two important points about this cooperation in our modern world:

  1. International cooperation is vital to the success of these scientifically important projects. They are just too big and complex to be handled by single nations.
  2. Scientific success is not an end in itself – is the basis for humanitarian success. international cooperation is vital for solving environmental, economic and security problems all countries face today.

So, alongside this good news of the Sentinel 1A success I am concerned about the bad news that NASA is to take part in the politically initiated sanctions against Russia. Yesterday, NASA released this statement:

Given Russia’s ongoing violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, NASA is suspending the majority of its ongoing engagements with the Russian Federation. NASA and Roscosmos will, however, continue to work together to maintain safe and continuous operation of the International Space Station. NASA is laser focused on a plan to return human spaceflight launches to American soil, and end our reliance on Russia to get into space. This has been a top priority of the Obama Administration’s for the past five years, and had our plan been fully funded, we would have returned American human spaceflight launches – and the jobs they support – back to the United States next year. With the reduced level of funding approved by Congress, we’re now looking at launching from U.S. soil in 2017. The choice here is between fully funding the plan to bring space launches back to America or continuing to send millions of dollars to the Russians. It’s that simple. The Obama Administration chooses to invest in America – and we are hopeful that Congress will do the same.

Any long-term operation of these sanctions, despite the exclusion of the International Space Station work, will inevitable have a negative effect on international scientific cooperation. And will inevitably retard humanity’s work on alleviating our environmental, economic and security problems.

Frankly I think these sanction are cynical measures resulting from inevitable geopolitical frictions and should only have a relatively short lifetime.

Let us hope so.

Copernicus and Sentinel 1A

Sentinel 1A is the first of 17 satellites to be launched over the next decade in the Copernicus programme – described as “the largest Earth-observation program in history.”

“When all of the Sentinel satellites have been launched, they will form a network tasked with gathering an unprecedented amount of data regarding the planet. . . Using a wide variety of instrumentation, the Copernicus program will be able to provide scientists, government agencies and other parties with the necessary data to precisely determine the exact current state of the planet. Moreover, the data will also be useful in creating simulations and predictions of future climate and weather trends.”

Have a look at this infographic for a summary of the Copernicus programme and the satellites involved.

airbus_infographic

Click on image to enlarge

An overview of the Copernicus programme describes it this way:

“Copernicus provides a unified system through which vast amounts of data, acquired from space and from a multitude of in situ sensors, are fed into a range of thematic information services designed to benefit the environment, the way we live, humanitarian needs and support effective policy-making for a more sustainable future.

These services fall into six main categories: land management, the marine environment, atmosphere, emergency response, security and climate change.

In essence, Copernicus will help shape the future of our planet for the benefit of all. ESA is contributing by providing a proven framework for the development of operational systems on behalf of the user community, paving the way for investment in future generation systems. ESA is exploiting its 30 years of expertise in space programme development and management to contribute to the success of Copernicus.”

See also: European Earth observing craft prepared for launch.

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Celebrate your curiosity – one year on

This week we mark the first anniversary of the landing of the Mars Science Laboratory, Curiosity, in the Gale Crater on Mars.

mslself_704

Self-portrait – Curiosity on Mars

TV and video coverage of this landing had a huge international audience on the night. It was certainly one of the top scientific events of the year.

The video below gives a short review of Curiosity and its landing.

Curiosity Rover: One Year on Mars

Celebrations

Curiosity team members at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., will share remembrances about the dramatic landing night and the mission overall in an event that will air on NASA Television and the agency’s website from 10:45 a.m. to noon EDT on Tuesday, Aug. 6 (2:45 to 4 a.m. Wednesday Aug. 7  NZST).

Immediately following that program NASA TV will carry a live public event from NASA Headquarters in Washington. That event will feature NASA officials and crew members aboard the International Space Station as they observe the rover anniversary and discuss how its activities and other robotic projects are helping prepare for a human mission to Mars and an asteroid. Social media followers may submit questions on Twitter and Google+ in advance and during the event using the hashtag #askNASA.

For NASA TV streaming video, schedule and downlink information, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/ntv

The events will also be carried on Ustream at: http://www.ustream.tv/nasajpl

And here’s a few links with further information on Curiosity, its discoveries and celebration of the anniversary back here on earth.

Mars Science Laboratory: Celebrate Your Curiosity: Anniversary Week Activities
Mars science laboratory
Curiosity’s Views of Gale Crater

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Our world from the International Space Station

Baikal

Photo by Chris Hadfield / NASA: Lake Baikal, Siberia. Immensely old and deep, it holds one-fifth of all the Earth’s fresh water. 26 Feb 2013, 7:31 PM (Click photo to enlarge)

Anyone following Chris Hadfield (@Cmdr_Hadfield) on Twitter will have seen some of his gorgeous photos taken from the International Space Station (ISS). Somebody should collect them together so we can browse them.

Well, someone has done that with photos taken by Hadfield and other members of the ISS crew. Have a look at the web site Our World From The ISS or click the screen image below.

ISS-photos

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Climate change is not simple

I have said this before – but it bears repeating Climate change is complex. And I feel the need to repeat it now because of a current myth being pushed very strongly by climate change deniers/contrarians/sceptics. The claim that “there has been no global warming for 16 years.”

If you doubt climate change is complex have a look at this global temperature record from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Fig.A2

Line plot of global mean land-ocean temperature index, 1880 to present, with the base period 1951-1980. The dotted black line is the annual mean and the solid red line is the five-year mean. The green bars show uncertainty estimates. [This is an update of Fig. 1A in Hansen et al. (2006).]

Isn’t cherry picky wonderful?

There’s a lot of noise in that graph but it does sort of support the conclusion that global temperatures have increased in the last 100 years. Mind you, if you want to create a contrary impression you can easily take a short time period – say around 1950, 1960 – 1980, 1985 – 1995 – or even the last 16 years. Cherry picking is a great thing – if your aim is to support a predetermined conclusion, and avoid (or even hide) evidence to the contrary.

So we get this sort of thing being promoted by climate change deniers (thanks to Andy for this one). Didn’t someone say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing? And isn’t cherry picking a great way of restricting knowledge?

Graph-billboard

So, just to repeat myself – here’s an extract from my post Climate change is complex. It indicates some of the scientific knowledge that climate change deniers/contrarians/sceptics ignore when they cherry pick to make this silly claims.

Natural influences just can’t explain global temperature

The figure below shows the results of simulations of global temperature from 1900 to 2005. Figure a included all the natural and anthropogenic influences.  The black line is the actual measured global temperature anomaly (obtained by subtracting the average temperature for 1901 to 1950).  The individual simulations are shown as thin yellow curves. The red line is the multi-model ensemble mean (see Figure 9.5 – AR4 WGI Chapter 9: Understanding and Attributing Climate Change).

Figure b is a similar plot using simulations which consider only the natural influences on climate. The individual simulations are shown as thin blue curves. The thick blue line is the multi-model ensemble mean.

So, climate scientist have considered both natural and anthropogenic influences. And they are unable to reproduce the global temperature changes since 1970 unless anthropogenic influences are included.

That is why the IPCC has concluded that there is a high probability (>90%) that human influences are contributing to the current observed global temperature increase.

Notice also that the experts talk about probabilities. It’s a complex field and things are rarely cut and dried. We are more certain about some influences than others. And the IPCC doesn’t hide this fact – far from it. It doesn’t make sweeping claims in the way that some of their opponents do.

Knowing what we don’t know

We can see this in another figure from the report (Figure 2.20 – AR4 WGI Chapter 2: Changes in Atmospheric Constituents and in Radiative Forcing). It shows the estimated influences of several human caused effect and solar radiation since 1750. Notice the error bars. They are much bigger in some cases than others. Notice the assessment of scientific understanding for these influences. We have a high understanding for some of them and a low understanding for others.

So, climate scientists aren’t hiding anything. They are not ignoring natural effects. They are up-front about probabilities. They acknowledge that we need more information is some areas. They are behaving like professionals.

Considering there are areas where scientific understanding is low there is clearly room for debate, discussion and more research. But deniers and contrarians who take an extreme reductionist stance, misrepresent the IPCC reports and attack honest scientists doing the research are not in a position to contribute to this.

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Global climate – and your grandchildren

I am spending some time dealing with family business so am reposting some of my past book reviews over the next few day.

Another excellent book about climate change – by a climate science who has been centrally involved from the beginning. His book provides a lot of the science, but also the history of the science..


Book Review: Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity by James Hansen

Price: US$16.50*
Hardcover:
320 pages
Publisher:
Bloomsbury USA (December 8, 2009)
Language:
English
ISBN-10:
1608192008
ISBN-13:
978-1608192007

Climate change contrarians and deniers love to hate James Hansen. He’s up there alongside Al Gore, Michael Mann and Phil Jones. And of course their hatred is no more justified in Hansen’s case than it is for the others.

Others criticise Hansen for his “activism.” His willingness to warn politicians and the population in general of the dangers we face if we continue with a “business as usual” approach to fossil fuel and CO2 emissions. They suggest this could discredit his science. Scientists must always be objective and should limit their pronouncements to the scientific facts alone.

This is not an old problem for scientists – remember their activism after the first use of nuclear weapons and the beginning of the nuclear arms race. Scientists often confront ethical issues arising out of their work.

Continue reading

Christmas present from NASA

Photography can produce some great abstract art. Even if it’s of the very large or very small.

Here’s some really beautiful abstract art based on photograph of earth taken from orbit.

Great-Salt-Desert

The Dasht-e Kavir, or Great Salt Desert, is the larger of Iran’s two major deserts, which occupy most of the country’s central plateau.

From the introduction:

In 1960, the United States put its first Earth-observing environmental satellite into orbit around the planet. Over the decades, these satellites have provided invaluable information, and the vantage point of space has provided new perspectives on Earth. This book celebrates Earth’s aesthetic beauty in the patterns, shapes, colors, and textures of the land, oceans, ice, and atmosphere. The book features 75 stunning images of Earth from the Terra, Landsat 5, Landsat 7, EO-1, and Aqua satellites. Sensors on these satellites can measure light outside of the visible range, so the images show more than what is visible to the naked eye. The images are intended for viewing enjoyment rather than scientific interpretation. The beauty of Earth is clear, and the artistry ranges from the surreal to the sublime.

Earth as art—enjoy the gallery.

NASA Science Mission Directorate

Earth Science Division

Download your gift:

As a PDF

As the Accompanying iPad App

via NASA – “Earth As Art”.

Thanks to ebook friendly

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A Kiwi makes it to Mars!

Forget optical illusions like the human face on Mars. That was observed from orbit and you had to hold your mouth right – not to mention the light direction.
But Curiosity is much closer to the ground. It has amazing equipment and excellent cameras.

And they have now seen a Kiwi!

Here’s the high-resolution photographic evidence (click to enlarge and look down at the left side, 1/3 the way up).

This was reported locally (of course) by Stuff at Kiwi Sighting On Mars | Nasa Rover Curiosity. The report says:

There aren’t many places intrepid Kiwi travellers haven’t set foot on in this world and now they’re moving on to others.

A New Zealander following the travels of Nasa’s Mars rover Curiosity has unearthed possible evidence of a Kiwi hiding on the red planet.

Ned Walker, a New Zealander living in Australia, said he was surprised at the find, but it was unmistakable.

“I have a huge interest in the Mars Curiosity Rover and I like to look at the raw images Nasa uploads onto its site each day from the rover’s cameras.

‘‘I was amazed to find in today’s raw images what can only be described a Kiwi.”

Walker thought the “monumental find”, would be of interest to all New Zealanders.”

Nasa’s online publication of the Kiwi picture.

US air traffic on a typical day and on September 11, 2001

Here’s a short video which drives home how busy air traffic is these days – especially in the United States. It presents several representations of air traffic in the US on a normal day – and on September 11 2011 – a very abnormal day.

US Air Traffic on a Typical Day Shows Need for NextGen Air Traffic Control 2012 NASA 6min.

A sundial on Curiosity?

When I saw the first reports of this on Twitter I thought it was a joke. A sundial on Curiosity? Just in case the computer packs up they can still tell the time? I thought some wag was pulling our collective legs with a photo of one of the rover’s antennae.

But, turns out this is something like a sundial. Its a Marsdial – actually a calibration target enabling photographs to be corrected for colour. BIll Nye, from the Planetary Society, describes its role in Curiosity’s Marsdial is on Mars!

“As I’m sure you’re aware, geologists love rocks, and they especially love the rocks on Mars. The first thing they all want to know about a rock is what’s it made of. For that, it’s good to just take a look at the color of the rock surface. When everything is being done on the alien landscape of another world, it’s easy enough to electronically get the color wrong, or not quite right. To that end, artists, photographers, and a few scientists have noticed that by looking at the color of a shadow on a neutral white or gray background, you can infer the color contributed to the scene by the sky.

On Earth, shadows take on a sky blue tinge (what I like to call “cerulescence”). On Mars, it’s a salmon color (what I like to call “arangidescence”). And so, the MarsDials bear a small metal post that casts a shadow onto some white and gray rings of known value or grayness.”

The NASA animation above is made up from four Mastcam images of the calibration target — the Marsdial. They were taken on Curiosity’s sol 3 (August 9, 2012) over a period of about 8 minutes. In that time, the shadow moved slightly, marking time on Mars with a sundial. (You may need to click on the photo to see the animation).

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Scientific shift work

Some of the people on teams managing the rovers on Mars call themselves “Rover drivers” or “Mars drivers.” Of course, things are not that simple. It is not possible to drive a vehicle on Mars in real-time from Earth. Instead, computer code must be uploaded to enable the vehicle to carry out planned manoeuvres, analyses, etc., autonomously.  And the computer code can only be written after the results of the previous commands are known.

In practice, this involves large teams of engineers, software experts and scientists. Each team has their own work – and the teams need to interact to plan the rover’s work, iron out priorities, and deal with problems. This work has to occur at strange times, and with deadlines, to fit in with the activity and day/night programme on Mars. Energy limitations means that the rover usually does not operate during the Martial day.

So all this work, the meetings of each team and their joint meetings, and decisions about planned activity must take place before the rover “wakes up.” And because the results from the previous day’s activities feed into this detailed decision cannot be made and code written until after that data has been downloaded and analysed.

The graphic above was shown in one of the recent Mars Science Laboratory – Curiosity – media briefings. It indicates the time line for the Laboratory to be active (“awake”), the downloading of data via the Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance orbiters, assessment of data, planning of future activity (particularly that for the next day), interaction of engineering, scientific and software teams, integration of plans, validation and approval and then the sending of the new commands to Curiosity as it “wakes up” for the new day.

I note they have even left a brief time gap “margin” to handle unforeseen problems.

It must be fascinating to work in large teams like this on scientific projects. And I am sure there are also political and emotional problems that need management as well as the engineering, scientific and software problems. Apparently with groups managing Mars rovers the shift-work, and the drift in shift times because of mismatch in the length of the Earth day and the Mars sol, causes “jet lag.” So the emotional and human issues resulting from this also need management.

Andrew Kessler gives an idea of the procedures involved in managing Mars rovers and landers in his book Martian Summer: Robot Arms, Cowboy Spacemen, and My 90 Days with the Phoenix Mars Mission. This is based on his own experiences as a journalist embedded in the teams managing the recent Phoenix lander. It’s a bit of an eye-opener – at least for someone who hasn’t worked in such large scientific teams before.

See Working on Mars for my review of that book.

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