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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Jupiter DIRECT... Just thought I'd give props to the webmaster of NASAWatch.com for summing up how I myself feel about a rocket that’s been discussed on space-related message boards for the past few years: the Jupiter DIRECT, or just 'DIRECT', launch vehicle. I’m not gonna go into any technical detail about DIRECT (since I would essentially be promoting this fantasy rocket if I did), but the way some of its supporters—or ‘fanboys’ according to the NASAWatch webmaster, Keith Cowing—fawn over this vehicle on online message boards (particularly that of NASASpaceflight.com) would make you think that DIRECT was God’s gift to human spaceflight.


If there’s (currently) one good thing that came from President Obama’s plan to scrap the Constellation moon program, it’s that NASA will have to rely on commercial launch vehicles to send astronauts into space...taking a ‘shuttle-derived launch vehicle’ (SDLV) like DIRECT out of the equation. The only SDLVs that I would've supported were the ones NASA was developing before Obama changed its plans: the Ares I and V rockets. I would totally be annoyed if NASA gave serious thought to building a contraption that was conjured up by some chump on the Web. The way that several space fanboys talk about DIRECT is analogous to the way lots of movie fanboys (I’d include myself in this group, admittedly) talk about upcoming summer blockbusters: Getting into serious discussions about what they want to see and hope will be in the film...to the point where they start accepting rumors or ideas that are posted online as fact...and then realizing at the end that the powers-that-be in Hollywood created a final product that is totally far from what the fanboys visualized.

Case in point with that final (long-ass) sentence in the previous paragraph: The next Batman film. Type in ‘Batman 3’ on Google, and you’ll see rumors about Johnny Depp playing The Riddler, or Philip Seymour-Hoffman portraying The Penguin. Admittedly again, I’ve been guilty of writing fan fiction about the next Batman flick a few years back, but according to the NASAWatch article linked to at the top of this Blog, at least I would never write letters to Warner Bros. and/or plan to picket outside this studio to make the executives go with my ideas.

(If you’re too lazy to check out that NASAWatch article, it's about how the creator of DIRECT proposed to conduct a protest rally outside the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and sent letters to White House officials and other folks in Washington D.C. to influence space policy)

To end this entry... When it comes down to it, space advocates can keep harping on about a launch vehicle that they want to see become a reality, but NASA—like filmmakers working on the next Hollywood tentpole flick—will come up with its own rocket when the time (and money) comes. Fanboys on spaceflight and film message boards should realize that 97% percent of the time, an idea that they’re concocting online will remain just that: an Internet concoction.

That is all.

An artist concept of a 'Jupiter DIRECT' launch vehicle.

PS: That final 3% would be fanboys providing input on such movies as 2002’s Spider-Man (Peter Parker having biological webshooters instead of mechanical ones), 2006’s Snakes on a Plane (Samuel L. Jackson saying "motherf**kin" a couple of times in the film after it wasn’t originally in the script) and Transformers 2 (a ‘Pretender’ robot—played by Isabel Lucas—being included in this movie).

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

HUBBLE 3D theatrical movie poster.

HUBBLE 3D... Last Saturday, I drove down to the California Science Center in downtown Los Angeles to watch the new IMAX film...which contains footage that was shot by astronauts during the Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission (flight STS-125) last year. It was a great documentary! It’s always awesome to see and hear a majestic space shuttle launch on a 7-story-high IMAX screen, and I enjoyed the visual FX that was used to bring several Hubble images of the cosmos to 3rd dimensional life. The scene depicting a primordial solar system being born in the Orion Nebula was the best one.

A screenshot of astronauts training for the Hubble servicing mission (shuttle flight STS-125) in HUBBLE 3D.

This is the 5th space documentary that I’ve seen on IMAX. Other flicks include Blue Planet, Destiny in Space, Space Station 3D and Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon 3D (the last two of which I saw during my trip to NASA's Kennedy Space Center last year). A non-space documentary I saw on IMAX was 1998’s Everest...which was narrated by Liam Neeson. Speaking of narrators, the only gripe I have about Hubble 3D was Leonardo DiCaprio doing the voiceover. Stick to acting, Mr. DiCaprio. He seemed as out of place talking about space exploration as Tom Cruise did in Space Station 3D (Mr. Katie Holmes did the narration for this film). Where’s Morgan Freeman (or Neeson again, for that matter) when you need him?

Other than that, I’d totally watch Hubble 3D again...and I’ll even buy it on DVD when it gets released. Two thumbs up.

A screenshot of astronauts working on the Hubble Space Telescope during STS-125, in HUBBLE 3D.

All images courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures / IMAX Filmed Entertainment / NASA

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

VMS Eve and VSS Enterprise lift off on their first captive carry flight in California on March 22, 2010.

PHOTOS OF THE DAY... Yesterday, Scaled Composites’ White Knight II (a.k.a. VMS Eve) and SpaceShipTwo (a.k.a. VSS Enterprise) took off on their very first "captive carry" flight from an airfield in California’s Mojave Desert. This 2-hour, 54-minute flight started what is scheduled to be a year-long series of airborne tests for the private spaceliner. If things go well, SpaceShipTwo will begin suborbital flights into space in 2011...and the vehicle should begin ferrying paying customers 68 miles above Earth later that year, or early 2012.

If I was one of those 300+ lucky SOBs who already shelled out $200,000 to ride onboard the Enterprise, I’d totally be more ecstatic. But I didn't, so I won't. But these vehicles sure are cool.

A close-up of VSS Enterprise attached underneath its mothership.

The VMS Eve and VSS Enterprise in the wild blue yonder.

The VMS Eve and VSS Enterprise soar above California's Mojave Desert.

The VMS Eve and VSS Enterprise about to land at Mojave Air and Spaceport in California.

All images courtesy of Virgin Galactic / Scaled Composites

Sunday, March 14, 2010

All 9 'Merlin' engines ignite on the FALCON 9 rocket during a hotfire test at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, on March 13, 2010.

PHOTOS OF THE DAY... Since a flawless first launch of this rocket would somehow validate President Obama’s (crappy) decision to cancel the Ares rockets and the rest of NASA’s Constellation moon program last month, just thought I’d post up pics of the successful "hotfire" test of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch vehicle yesterday. The hotfire test involved the ignition of all 9 Merlin engines that comprise the first stage of the rocket. The engines fired for only 3.5 seconds, put presumably this was enough time for SpaceX to verify whether or not its newest vehicle (SpaceX's other one being the Falcon 1 rocket) will be ready for a maiden flight that is currently scheduled for April 12. We shall see.

FYI, an on-time launch of Falcon 9 on April 12 would be pretty symbolic...since Columbia ushered in the space shuttle era with the liftoff of STS-1 on April 12, 1981...and Falcon 9 will be ushering in a new age of commercial spaceflight to—low earth orbit. But not to deep space. That’s NASA’s job assuming it gets proper funding from Obama and Congress starting next year. Most likely not.

All images courtesy of SpaceX / Chris Thompson

All 9 Merlin engines ignite on the FALCON 9 rocket during a hotfire test at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, on March 13, 2010.

All 9 Merlin engines ignite on the FALCON 9 rocket during a hotfire test at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, on March 13, 2010.

All 9 Merlin engines ignite on the FALCON 9 rocket during a hotfire test at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, on March 13, 2010.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

HUBBLE 3D... I’m lookin’ forward to this new space documentary, which gets released in IMAX theaters next week (on March 19). The trailer below was first shown in front of Avatar at IMAX (or should I say, "fake" IMAX) screenings last December. Kinda weird seeing NASA documentaries being advertised at regular AMC theaters and whatnot...but I'm glad America's space program is getting this kind of exposure.