Author Archives: roamingfirehydrant

About roamingfirehydrant

I get paid to break things.

Rover Challenge (You can still call it Moonbuggy Race if you want)

What used to be the Great Moonbuggy Race is now the NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge. It’s still two days of high school and college teams racing across an obstacle course, and more than 80 teams of students from around the world are here to take part. Watch the action on UStream or NASA TV. Coverage begins at 8:15AM Eastern time/7:15AM Central time.
Is it still “catching air” if you’re supposed to be on the Moon?

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Book review: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

hadfield book
This is one of those books that ordinarily I would ask Mr. RFH for and wait patiently until my birthday or Christmas rolled around. However, two things happened – first, the NASA shop advertised that they were ordering autographed copies, and second, I kept seeing mentions of this book on Facebook and Twitter until I didn’t feel like being patient any more. Besides, I apparently like writing about Chris Hadfield.

“An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything” is well-worth the read. There’s a lot of inside-NASA bits that even I didn’t know, mainly because I deal with the outer shell of the spacecraft, not the humans living inside. Hadfield writes very well about the wonder of space, everything between the seriousness of something always trying to kill you and the humor in being able to pee upside down. You have to be impressed with a 9-year-old kid who decides he wants to be an astronaut 15 years before there were *any* Canadian astronauts and not only maps out how to get there but enjoys the journey along the way. I think that’s the part that impressed me the most, that Hadfield has accomplished so much, yet he isn’t sitting on his duff, saying “Now what?” There’s always something over the horizon to go see.

I knew the difference between Shuttle flights and ISS expeditions, in that the Shuttle flight is only two weeks, so it’s full-force, all-out effort sprinting, while a six-month expedition is a marathon, and you have to pace yourself or you’ll never make it. What I didn’t think about was how you can get past a personality difference if you only have to live with that person for a short time versus really needing a laidback, easygoing personality for a long time in space. I’m still trying to figure out who was the astronaut with the extremely abrasive personality, who felt in order to promote himself, he had to put down everyone around him. Hadfield ponders about what kind of impression he’s left behind. He also wrote about specialists on the Shuttle versus the breadth of knowledge and experience needed for ISS, everything from piloting the Soyuz to spacewalking to tending numerous experiments to repairing the toilet. I like the part about the satisfaction of a job well-done, even if you are the only one who knows. Also, “be a zero” (you’ll have to read the book to understand.)

If you do decide to get this book, please do XBrad a favor and use his Amazon link up there for buying it. Thank you.


Filed under space

Roamy’s rant

Somewhere there was a pot of money set aside to promote “Collaborative Earth System Science Research” between NASA/Goddard and University of Maryland – College Park. Okay, no big deal, you could argue it’s in NASA’s charter to promote science education, and funding various studies at nearby universities is not uncommon. I’ve collaborated with at least eight universities and helped with at least one Ph.D. and two master’s degrees. (Which is pretty funny considering I just have a lowly bachelor’s.) This one was a little incestuous in that the professor they were steering money to was a former Goddard employee.

The fecal matter hitting the fan happened when a doomsayer who blogs at The Guardian picked up a paper that used the Human And Nature DYnamical (HANDY) climate model to predict the end of civilization. Yay.

Keith Kloor at Discover has a magnificent two-part takedown of both the blog entry and the paper. He talked to Joseph Tainter, a professor of anthropology at Utah State University, who seems annoyed that they repeatedly cite his work without understanding it. Best quote:

The paper has many flaws. The first is that “collapse” is not defined, and the examples given conflate different processes and outcomes. Thus the authors are not even clear what topic they are addressing.

Collapses have occurred among both hierarchical and non-hierarchical societies, and the authors even discuss the latter (although without understanding the implications for their thesis). Thus, although the authors purport to offer a universal model of collapse (involving elite consumption), their own discussion undercuts that argument.

Contrary to the authors’ unsubstantiated assertion, there is no evidence that elite consumption caused ancient societies to collapse. The authors simply have no empirical basis for this assumption, and that point alone undercuts most of the paper. (emphasis by Kloor)

In my view, this is right up there with all the global warming b.s. that Goddard folks are peddling in order to make $$$ on the speakers’ circuit. However, the fallout from this was a little different. Working for NASA, I should be used to the black eyes. From the engineering failures of Challenger and Columbia to the fiascos of Muslim outreach and “we’re not going lead a human lunar mission”, I really should be able to roll with the punches. This is GSA, not NASA.
gsa hot tub
But because I am a public servant, I get lumped in with them anyway.
I get up in the morning and go to work. I’m not this guy.

But I’m still seen as the same level of moocher, another pig sucking on the government teat. That really pisses me off, mainly because there *are* people I know that are taking up space and oxygen that are just about as useful as Surfer Dude, and I can’t do anything about that. All I can do is do my job well and help research like this (one example of many) happen:

We are flying 100 proteins to the space station on SpaceX-3, currently scheduled for March (ed note: April) 2014. Twenty-two of these are membrane proteins, 12 are protein complexes, and the rest are aqueous proteins important for the biology we will learn from their structures. The associated disease was the last thing we considered, as we were looking at the bigger picture of the biology. That being said, for the upcoming proteins flying you can almost name a disease: cystic fibrosis, diabetes; several types of cancer, including colon and prostate; many antibacterial proteins; antifungals; etc.

NASA needs to stick with aeronautics and space, just like it says in their name, and leave the doomsaying to those who don’t look up.


Filed under Personal, space

A little comic relief

I thought this was worth sharing.
computer orders

I can just hear the shared printer in my building saying, “Don’t want to print! Invisible paper jam, error 15! Go away!”


Filed under Humor, stupid

“Just a flesh wound” – Miles O’Brien | Journalist

I wish I had a better story to tell you about why I am typing this with one hand (and some help from Dragon Dictate).

A shark attack would be interesting. An assassination attempt would be intriguing. Skydiving mishaps always make for good copy. An out-of-control quad copter that turns on its master would be entertaining (and would come complete with a grim, potentially viral, video).

No, the reason I am now one-handed is a little more prosaic than those scenarios.

via Miles O'Brien | Journalist.

You remember Miles O’Brien from the days when CNN was a respected news source. He still covers the space beat through PBS, Spaceflightnow, Discovery Science, and other outlets.

I know we’re praying and sending good thoughts for XBrad’s family, but if you could spare one for Miles, I know he’d appreciate it during this challenging time.

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Filed under space

VA destroyed veteran medical records to delete exam requests | The Daily Caller

“The committee was called System Redesign and the purpose of the meeting was to figure out ways to correct the department’s efficiency. And one of the issues at the time was the backlog,” Oliver Mitchell, a Marine veteran and former patient services assistant in the VA Greater Los Angeles Medical Center, told TheDC.

“We just didn’t have the resources to conduct all of those exams. Basically we would get about 3,000 requests a month for [medical] exams, but in a 30-day period we only had the resources to do about 800. That rolls over to the next month and creates a backlog,” Mitchell said. ”It’s a numbers thing. The waiting list counts against the hospitals efficiency. The longer the veteran waits for an exam that counts against the hospital as far as productivity is concerned.”

By 2008, some patients were “waiting six to nine months for an exam” and VA “didn’t know how to address the issue,” Mitchell said.

via VA destroyed veteran medical records to delete exam requests | The Daily Caller.

In my last conversation with Swamp Heathen 1, he mentioned that he tried to get copies of his medical records, especially the ones for a specific injury. The Army hospital told him that they turned his records over to the VA; the VA told him that they had none of his records. While I don’t think that having his old Army records would have saved him, it was one more stress that he did not need, and it does no good to “make the problem go away” in this manner.

I also plan on using this in my next Obamacare argument. When rationing doesn’t work, is the delete key next?


Filed under veterans

Where are they now?

Nice wrapup of where some of our spacecraft are, along with Chinese and European Space Agency missions.


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U.S. Army finds ‘holy grail’: way to put pizza in combat rations |

After years of being stymied by technological limitations, the U.S. Army has developed a weapon that’s sure to be so popular that soldiers will demand its deployment: MRE pizza.

via U.S. Army finds ‘holy grail’: way to put pizza in combat rations |

U.S. Army finds 'holy grail': way to put pizza in combat rations |

Hold the anchovies, please.


Filed under army

Snow in Alabama

Y’all can laugh at us, but we’re just not prepared for snow and ice. When it snows in the South, you might as well hunker down, watch an old movie, and make some soup while you’re waiting for it to melt. Still, it’s pretty. This was Tuesday.
IMG 004 crop
It melted, then we got a fresh coat last night.
IMG 011 crop
Saw this one on Twitter.
snow rocket
And if my friend Bill is reading this, you and your lovely wife are very thoughtful and had excellent timing in giving us the balaclavas! Thanks!


Filed under Personal, space

Harden my heart?

There was the Space Shuttle, and it flew, and it was beautiful. But on a cold January day in 1986, it fell from the sky and killed seven astronauts. We got it flying again, but then we started looking at heavy-lift unmanned launch vehicles.

First there was Shuttle-C, C for cargo. Same boosters and engines as the Shuttle, but with an expendable module. There was even talk of recycling the External Tanks into Space Station parts. It seemed doable, and we wanted to make it work. But we saved weight with the aluminum-lithium External Tank to launch more cargo on the regular Shuttle, and Shuttle-C was cancelled.


Then there was Advanced Launch System, or ALS. We heard a lot about it, but it never seemed to get far off the drawing board. It was cancelled. We sighed and moved on to the National Launch System. This was going to have a simpler version of the Space Shuttle Main Engine, which actually did lead to the Rocketdyne RS-68 engine. We struggled and argued with one particular manager who was perfectly fine with the status quo despite a glaring problem with weight and balance – we’d just solve that “later”. Later never came. We changed Presidents and then administrators, and NLS soon followed ALS into File #13.

Then there was the Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle. Over budget and nowhere near off the drawing board, cancelled. The Magnum Launch System. I don’t think it got out of the Advanced Concepts office before it, too, was canned.

Then there was Single Stage to Orbit, or X-33. The neat-o keen composite tank blew up during testing, and that was that.

Ares. I never had a warm fuzzy feeling about Ares. Why would I? Look at the wreckage of blown budgets, drawings that never made it to the machine shop, study after bleepin’ study through the years. But we put our heads down and tried to color inside the lines and do our parts, and we hoped that it would all work out. I think that was what concerned me the most – the managers had many a glib speech (loved the one by the manager who then retired two weeks later), but we never really saw it coming together.

And now SLS. Derided as the Senator Launch System for the politicians who keep it funded.

But then I see this.


That’s the adapter that will go between the Orion capsule and a Delta IV rocket, having just finished structural load testing.

I want to believe it will fly, and there will be more to follow. On the negative side, I see budget battles and n00b engineers and moving launch dates. On the positive side, I touched flight hardware. I did a science on this. We need a replacement for the Shuttle so we can have heavy lift capability and stop hitching rides with the Russians. (Oh, and didn’t all those stories about the Sochi Olympics make you feel good about sending our astronauts over there.)

I want to believe. I really do.

Dammit, don’t break my heart again.


Filed under Personal, space


I didn’t know that kind of plane had VTOL capability.

Next time, use the tiedowns.

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NASA argues with itself

Press release today from Goddard Institute for Space Studies says:

The temperature analysis produced at GISS is compiled from weather data from more than 1,000 meteorological stations around the world, satellite observations of sea-surface temperature, and Antarctic research station measurements, taking into account station history and urban heat island effects. Software is used to calculate the difference between surface temperature in a given month and the average temperature for the same place from 1951 to 1980. This three-decade period functions as a baseline for the analysis. It has been 38 years since the recording of a year of cooler than average temperatures.

(emphasis mine)

He’s not mentioned in the press release, but GISS is the home of Dr. James Hansen, the guy who earned a quarter of a million bucks or more in just one year for speaking about “climate change”.

Here’s the GISS temperature anomaly chart for 2013.
2013 anomaly

Wow, lots of red, very little blue. Hmmm. My opinion is that GISS distorts and uses fudge factors to keep the alarm going, even as everything in DC gets shut down for snow. Now here is some data I can believe in:

Well, that looks a little different, doesn’t it? If you go to Dr. Spencer’s website, he has actual numbers. I bet you could file FOIA requests on GISS for a year and never get the raw data, much less what their “software” is doing to it. Dr. Spencer also says things like:

What is astounding from a science perspective is that [Science Czar John] Holdren blamed warming on waste heat, the result of humans and their energy use, rather than a slowly increasing greenhouse effect… Assuming today’s global energy use is about 150 petawatthours per year, and dividing that by the number of hours in a year and the surface area of the Earth, this yields an average energy flux of 0.03 Watt per sq. meter. This is about 100 times smaller than the estimated heating from increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It is almost 10,000 times smaller than the rate of solar energy input into the Earth.

(Spencer also says things like, “You have to laugh at least once a day. Because a day without sunshine is like…night.” Gotta love a scientist with a sense of humor.)

Going back to the first article, GISS says that 2013 was the hottest year on record for Australia. Joanne Nova looks at the discreptancy between what the ground stations and the satellites say. That group of researchers looked at the weather station data and tried to come up with the same answer as the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM). The only way they could do it was to use the hottest 339 weather stations in Australia and ignore the other 382.

For most Australians on Jan 7th the heatwave averaged somewhere around 35C, not 40.3C.
To have any legitimacy with a new record, the BOM needs to publish its methods that explain how temperatures can be calculated every day over a hundred years from weather stations that in many cases didn’t exist. How else would we know it was a reasonable effort? We all know that tweaked black-box statistics could be used to achieve meaningless records that drive news headlines. Of course, the BOM wouldn’t stoop that low, would they?

(emphasis in original)

I wouldn’t hold my breath for that.


Filed under Around the web, space

Starting Fire With Water – NASA Science

When firefighters want to extinguish a blaze, they often douse it with water. Astronauts on board the ISS, however, are experimenting with a form of water that does the opposite. Instead of stopping fire, this water helps start it.

“We call it ‘supercritical water,” says Mike Hicks of the Glenn Research Center in Ohio. “And it has some interesting properties.”

Water becomes supercritical when it compressed to a pressure of 217 atmospheres and heated above 373 degrees C. Above that so-called critical point, ordinary H2O transforms into something that is neither solid, liquid, nor gas. It’s more of a “liquid-like gas.”

“When supercritical water is mixed with organic material, a chemical reaction takes place—oxidation.” Says Hicks. “It’s a form of burning without flames.”

via Starting Fire With Water – NASA Science.

Mind. Blown.


Filed under space

ISS mission extended

I tend to ignore emails from way-upper management. Most deal with personnel changes that don’t affect me or are some meaningless policy statement. This one from late yesterday, however, from Charlie Bolden made my day.

Today, Dr. John P. Holdren and I are announcing that the Obama Administration has approved an extension of the International Space Station until at least 2024. The Station has been a vital part of our mission during its 15 years in orbit, helping us learn to live and work in space and make science, medical and technology breakthroughs to improve life on Earth. It is essential to achieving the goals of sending humans to deep space destinations such as an asteroid and Mars, developing and establishing a robust U.S. cargo and crew transportation capability to low Earth orbit, and returning benefits to humanity through research and technology development.

When the Clinton administration saved Space Station Freedom by turning it into an international space station, I feared that one day we would turn over the keys to the Russians and abandon it. That hopefully has been put off by another ten years. This also means a good bit of job security for me as one of my major tasks is supporting ISS life extension.

This was then followed by the great news of a successful Antares launch this morning, carrying a Cygnus resupply ship with 2,780 lbs. of cargo to the ISS. You might recall Antares had its first launch in April of last year, with a demonstration mission to ISS in September that carried only 1,500 lbs of cargo. Cygnus Orb-1 should dock with ISS on Sunday.

Pic and launch video for your enjoyment.


Filed under space

A bit more on Swamp Heathen 1

If you don’t mind indulging me.  His daughters had printed out my post and displayed it at the funeral service.  Also on display was this shadowbox Don had put together years ago (as well as one with his NASA pins for various missions).


I had not recognized the award between Don’s Silver Star and Bronze Star. When I told XBrad it looked like a Legion of Merit, he said that was usually for generals and colonels as a farewell gesture, that it was unusual for an enlisted man to get one. See for yourself, and believe me, no Stolen Valor here. The part I messed up was thinking he was E-8 and not E-7, and that was entirely my presumption that anyone who made sergeant at 19 would have been promoted more than twice in 18 years.


Filed under army, Personal, space

RIP, Swamp Heathen 1

There are so many stories from the last 23 years that I hardly know where to begin. Don joined the Army when he was 17. He lost a brother in Vietnam and ended up serving two tours there himself. He was in Signal Corps, Airborne, Special Forces, recruiting, and Hawk missile maintenance. He earned two Silver Stars, two Purple Hearts, and turned down a third Purple Heart because that would have sent him home. (Yes, he despised John Kerry.) He was a Master Parachute Rigger, was part of a jump demo team that went all over Europe (not the Golden Knights), and made a special parachute system for a Kermit the Frog doll. After he retired from the Army, he worked for a couple of contractors before being hired by NASA. A co-worker didn’t think he should be drawing Army retirement while working for NASA, and Don let him know right quick that he could go down to the recruiting office and get in on the action, with the comment that even as an E-7, his family qualified for food stamps and reduced price school lunches.
Continue reading


Filed under army, Personal, SIR!, space, veterans

Also on sick call

XBradTC reader and my good friend Swamp Heathen #1 landed in the intensive care unit today with pneumonia and low blood pressure. Definitely not faking it to get out of PT. Your good thoughts and prayers would be much appreciated.


Filed under army, Personal, space

Crushing cans

The Shell Buckling Knockdown Factor tests have been used to update the models and equations for designing structures and tanks, most of which had not been changed since the 1960′s. This is mainly being done for the Space Launch System, but it’s applicable to any new rocket. I wrote about the first test in 2011 here and here. Yesterday’s test article had a different pattern of stiffeners.

Video from last time. The sound of failing welds is pretty cool.

Yesterday, according to the test director on Facebook, “The test article made it to 127% of maximum load, we had predicted 115%. The buckling behavior was very similar to what was predicted and included progressive buckling of 4 of the eight weld lands.”


Pocket buckling

The crushing required force in excess of 800,000 lbs. :)


Filed under space

Photographer Captures Meteor Streaking Through the Aurora Borealis

Photographer Shannon Bileski of Signature Exposures captured this beautiful photograph last Friday at Patricia Beach in Canada. It shows a bright meteor streaking through a sky filled with the green glow of the aurora borealis.

via Photographer Captures Meteor Streaking Through the Aurora Borealis.

I think if I were in her shoes, I would go buy a lottery ticket. Wow, what timing!


Filed under space

See how NASA proved its Webb telescope parts space-worthy in an Alabama deep freezer (video) |

See how NASA proved its Webb telescope parts space-worthy in an Alabama deep freezer (video) |

Time flies when you’re having fun. I knew I had written about this facility before but didn’t remember it being three years ago. Mirror assemblies, backplane, sunshield – the James Webb Space Telescope is coming together.


Filed under space


because I haven’t gotten a hug in a while.
row row


Filed under marines

HMS Acasta: 7 Stupid things asked of Historical Reenactors

As reenactors we work with the public at historic sites and events all over. We invest small fortunes and zillions of hours of research to make sure that we are dressed and outfitted properly in order to teach history to the masses. Sometimes the public will ask really thoughtful, intelligent questions…

…and then, there\’s everyone else.

via HMS Acasta: 7 Stupid things asked of Historical Reenactors.

I thought this was worth sharing, especially the comments. I was in the SCA during my college days, and I’ve been to enough National Park Ranger talks that I’ve heard some lulus. I heard the one about Gettysburg and “how did they fight around all these monuments?”


Filed under history

Beer in space

This seemed appropriate for a Friday post. Eleven-year-old Michal Bodzianowski won a competition with his experiment “What Are the Effects of Creation of Beer in Microgravity and Is It Possible?” His experiment and 10 others will be flown into space in December as part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, sponsored by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education.

Michal’s experiment, when launched, will be in a silicon tube about 6-inches long. Clasps on the tube will segregate hops, malted barley, yeast and water. When the tube arrives at the space station, astronauts will remove the clamps then shake the ingredients to determine whether beer can be made in space.

“We’re just trying to get the yeast to react with the ingredients of beer,” said Michal. “If it doesn’t react at all, this tells you it won’t work.”

This reminds me of a Bloom County cartoon where Steve Dallas was propelled away from the Space Shuttle after opening a can of beer. “It’s never Miller Time in space.”

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RIP, Scott Carpenter

Scott Carpenter, one of the original Mercury Seven astronauts, passed away earlier today at the age of 88.
He flew the Aurora 7 capsule in the second American manned mission to orbit the Earth. During his five-hour, three-orbit mission, Carpenter was the first American to eat solid food in space. Carpenter nearly spent as much time in the water waiting to be picked up as he did in space, as he overshot the planned landing area by 250 miles. He was picked up by helicopter and taken to the USS Intrepid. The overshoot was blamed on a pitch horizon scanner malfunction.

After Carpenter’s Mercury mission, the University of Colorado at Boulder awarded him a degree in aeronautical engineering. You know that recurring nightmare where you miss the final exam? He did that his senior year. He had missed the requirements for graduation in 1949 by one credit in heat transfer, and the university declared that “[h]is subsequent training as an Astronaut has more than made up for the deficiency in the subject of heat transfer.”

Carpenter suffered a serious arm injury in a motorcycle accident in 1964. This did not stop him from earning the title of aquanaut in the SEALAB II experiment, but it did disqualify him from further spaceflight.

I should note that as a Naval aviator, Carpenter flew reconnaissance and anti-sub patrol missions in the Pacific during the Korean War. He retired from the Navy with the rank of Commander.

scott carpenter

Fair winds and following seas, sir.


Filed under navy, space

Penny For Your Martian Thoughts: This Is How A Coin Looks After 14 Months On The Red Planet

A high-power camera on the Mars Curiosity rover snapped a picture of a 1909 American penny featuring Abraham Lincoln. The coin is used as a calibration target for the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) that is at the end of Curiosity’s robotic arm. In just over an Earth year on the Red Planet, you can see the bright copper is muted by lots of Mars dust…“The image shows that, during the penny’s 14 months (so far) on Mars, it has accumulated Martian dust and clumps of dust, despite its vertical mounting position,” the Planetary Science Institute stated.

via Penny For Your Martian Thoughts: This Is How A Coin Looks After 14 Months On The Red Planet.

I wrote about this in February 2012. There’s something to be said for electrostatic forces. You would think with vertical mounting and the jostling as the rover travels that there wouldn’t be this much dust on the penny.

We’re going to have to be smarter when humans go to Mars, especially with moving parts that can get worn down or with environmental seals. That much dust would cause some problems.


Filed under space