Author Archives: roamingfirehydrant

About roamingfirehydrant

I get paid to break things.

A brother in arms

ICYMI, Bruce MacKinnon, the editorial cartoonist for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, created one of the most moving tributes I’ve seen since the Challenger accident.

http://thechronicleherald.ca/editorial-cartoon/2014-10-23-editorial-cartoon

The unknown soldier aids the unarmed guard.

Cpl. Nathan Cirillo of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders was just 24. Rest in peace, sir.

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Roamy roundup

There’s a lot going on.

First, the X-37B landed at Vandenberg AFB after a 674-day mission.

Next, the photos are starting to trickle in from Comet Siding Spring’s close encounter with Mars. This is my favorite one from Earth. Comet is in the lower left.
Siding spring
Looks like the Opportunity rover and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured some good images.

Nichelle Nichols, Uhura from Star Trek, talks about the Orion manned spacecraft in this video.

China is launching another probe to the Moon on Thursday.

Also on Thursday is a partial solar eclipse, visible for most of the U.S. (Warning: autoplay video)

And I’m still trying to wrap my brain around the notion that the MESSENGER spacecraft has found water ice near Mercury’s north pole.

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When you don’t feel like being a team player

It’s fall break week here. Mr. RFH burned a great deal of leave when he was sick earlier in the year, so we are staying home. This means that I have had more than the usual amount of time in the lab because other people are taking the holiday, and thankfully, there are fewer meetings.

One of the people in my management chain, whenever she sees me alone in the lab, goes and gets one of the other engineers for me to train. I understand this. I know I am the lone expert operator on too many pieces of equipment, but I’m not a very good mentor or patient with slow learners. I am annoyed with being told to train someone older than me because that seems backwards. I should be training someone to eventually take my place, not someone literally counting down to retirement. I am annoyed with people who don’t know that a lab environment means safety shoes, not cute little strappy sandals, and that fake claws fingernails are not compatible with clean room gloves. Yes, you have to wear clean room gloves in the clean room. No, I will not make an exception for you. I’m mean that way. I am annoyed with people who have watched me operate the equipment over and over, carefully written down each step, and still manage to screw things up.

So this week I’ve been left to my own devices, and it’s been:
my day
So do I get the attagirl for getting lots of real work done, or do I get the sad trombone for not doing my job as a mentor?

How do you handle that kind of situation in the military, or do you just never develop pockets of expertise lorded over by one cranky engineer?

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iSAT

The local chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics hosted a luncheon today with John Dankanich, the iSAT program manager as speaker. iSAT stands for Iodine Satellite, and it is a Cubesat program to test iodine instead of xenon in a Hall thruster engine. Right now, there aren’t a lot of options for small satellite propulsion. Solid motors are one use only, liquid engines take a lot of weight and space, and hypergols will try to kill you. By letting the iodine sublimate, i.e. go directly from solid to gas, all you need is a little heat to turn on your engine.

This isn’t the kind of engine that will lift a payload from Earth to orbit, but it will allow orbit change, even inclination change. Dankanich spoke about the military uses, being able to put communication relays or observation satellites into the right orbit quickly, perhaps even a constellation. You could have a constellation of small, cheap satellites around the moon or Mars or Venus. As for myself, I was interested in the end-of-life uses for small satellites, to deorbit a spacecraft before it becomes space debris.

Another point in favor of iodine was the much lower pressure than the current xenon Hall thruster engines. It opens up the possibility of rapid-prototyping your tank and even a conformal design to fit in the available space. Iodine presents some challenges in terms of what materials it’s compatible with, but we ought to be able to handle that.

Busek thruster proposed for iSAT.  Photo courtesy of NASA/iSAT's Facebook page.

Busek thruster proposed for iSAT. Photo courtesy of NASA/iSAT’s Facebook page.

It was an interesting talk, and it sounds like they have hit the ground running with a lot of hardware ready to go or easily modified for this mission. I wish them a lot of success in the future.

If you’d like to follow iSAT’s progress, they are on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/NASAisat .

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The Hazards of Going on Autopilot – The New Yorker

A 1994 N.T.S.B. review of thirty-seven major accidents between 1978 and 1990 that involved airline crews found that in thirty-one cases faulty or inadequate monitoring were partly to blame. Nothing had failed; the crew had just neglected to properly monitor the controls.The period studied coincided with an era of increased cockpit automation, which was designed to save lives by eliminating the dangers related to human error. The supporting logic was the same in aviation as it was in other fields: humans are highly fallible; systems, much less so. Automation would prevent mistakes caused by inattention, fatigue, and other human shortcomings, and free people to think about big-picture issues and, therefore, make better strategic decisions. Yet, as automation has increased, human error has not gone away: it remains the leading cause of aviation accidents.

via The Hazards of Going on Autopilot – The New Yorker.

I don’t look to The New Yorker for aerospace articles, but I thought this one was interesting enough to share. I welcome comments from the pilots here on whether automation hurts or helps.

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RIP, Steven Nagel

I’ve been swamped at work (so many projects that I currently have 13 different charge codes) and at home (sending Rocketboy off to college), so it took me getting the “your mailbox is over its size limit” to wade through my news and announcement emails. I was saddened to see the news that astronaut Steven Nagel had passed away after a long battle with cancer.
nagel
Nagel had the distinction of flying twice in the same year – 1985 – first as a mission specialist on STS-51G, then as a pilot on STS-61A. I do not know of any other astronaut that has done this. He was commander of STS-37 in 1991 and STS-55 in 1993. He flew on Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, and Atlantis, missing only Endeavour for the set.
I met him after STS-37, which launched the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory. STS-61A and STS-55 were the German Spacelab missions. STS-51G was before I started working for NASA, but it was an international crew with a French astronaut and a Saudi prince.
Nagel had a long and successful career. After leaving NASA, he taught aerospace engineering at the University of Missouri at Columbia. He is survived by his wife and fellow astronaut Linda Godwin and their two daughters.

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

— John Gillespie Magee, Jr

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SLS reaches milestone

The Space Launch System, the latest NASA rocket, reached what’s called KDP-C, or Key Decision Point-C. This means that the powers that be gave it the green light, which is a step farther than Ares or Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle or any of the rocket programs of the last 20 years have made. Components such as the core stage and the five-segment rocket booster have passed their critical design reviews, and Michoud has been producing barrel segments for the core stage.
sls barrels
So what’s next? ATK is getting ready for the first qualification motor test of the five-segment rocket booster. Sixteen R-25 engines are at Stennis, with one being readied for testing this fall. Orion’s first flight, Exploration Flight Test-1 is set to fly in December.

Onward and upward.

NASA press release here.

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