Saturday, May 7, 2011

Uncharted Territory

I watched the Atlas V SBIRS launch today. I love live video streaming at Spaceflight Now. I love rocket launches. More people should watch them. They have lots of neat pictures of it here on the launch pad and viewed from the beach and press site.

They pronounce SBIRS "esbers." It's Something Bsomething InfraRed Something. Basically a spy satellite that they're allowed to talk about. It can stare at one spot on the ground and see if something warmer than background is moving around. Or as the Air Force puts it.
"SBIRS GEO-1 will deliver unprecedented, global, persistent, taskable infrared surveillance capabilities to the warfighter, nation and our allies for years to come."
There is a lot of technology to observe things. SBIRS is in geosynchronous orbit looking down at the earth. The Solar Dynamics Observatory looks right into the sun. The Hubble space telescope looks out into space to star nurseries and beyond. There's even a satellite that accurately measures the depth of the ocean with radar.

Earlier this week I clicked a link in Twitter and took a survey.


How much do YOU know about  exploration? Complete our quick  for a chance to win free prizes! 

Well there was something wrong with one of the questions.

 Barbara Tomlinson 

@ There's a typo in your survey. It's not unchartered, it's uncharted. Of course it's unchartered. It's not the City of Space.

They replied politely.


@ Thanks for the heads up! We'll make the change immediately!

I've been thinking about it though, and my snarky correction doesn't really address the real problem with that expression. What exactly haven't we charted yet?

I went back to the survey just now to get a screen shot of the question. I still just don't like this question, even if it doesn't say "Discovering unchartered territory" anymore.

First of all, how is it a good survey if you ask somebody to pick what is MOST important then make "All of the above" the most appealing answer?

Second of all, the third answer offends me because it's ageist. It's about like saying Doctor Who is a children's show.

And third, I'm pretty sure you don't want to be exploring territory in space without charting it first. I suppose if they just mean discover it in more detail with telescopes, then ok, but if they mean for us to actually go there in person with people in space ships then we need to drop the expression from the days of The Beagle and go with something out of a Gene Roddenberry script.

Why don't they list studying the effects of low gravity as choice for most important benefit? Or all the other experiments they're doing on the space station? I think there's a lot of benefit of even simple experiments like comparing the effects of static electricity on a stream of water on earth versus a ball of water on the space station. On earth a stream of water is attracted to a rubber hose rubbed with nylon. On the space station water forms into balls and spirals around the hose until they hit it. Maybe they're counting that as "inspiring young minds" but that's what I mean about ageism. Wouldn't it be better to inspire the old people so they will vote for representatives who support space exploration? Inspiring the youngsters while you only have a $150 million budget for microgravity science experiments is pretty cruel. I think the lesson the school children are getting is that there is so little money for science in America they make middle school students design experiments for no pay.

I guess it's not space exploration when you send something into space to look back at earth. A lot of things that do that, like SBIRS that was launched today, are for fortifying national security, so their question almost acts like it counts that as space exploration. But what about Aquarius, the ocean salinity satellite? I was heartbroken when Glory crashed into the ocean when the faring didn't deploy properly on launch. I hope Aquarius makes it. This project was almost cancelled but Argentina stepped up and funded the vehicle for it. It's going to be a very important tool for gathering data about climate change. Is the Space Coalition not interested in Earth Observation? Science. Plain old Science. It's important and a benefit, I don't care how old you are.

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