Benjamin Disraeli (1804 – 1881)
Uh oh–we may all have some mishaps at work, but imagine the poor astronaut who lost her tool bag, only to see it fly out in outerspace:
First, a grease gun inside her tool bag leaked, coating everything inside with a film of lubricant. While she was trying to clean it up in the absence of gravity, the whole bag floated away.
No chance of getting replacement tools at Home Depot–
Things didn’t go quite according to plan for astronaut Heide Stefanyshyn-Piper during her spacewalk outside the International Space Station on Tuesday.
First, a grease gun inside her tool bag leaked, coating everything inside with a film of lubricant. While she was trying to clean it up in the absence of gravity, the whole bag floated away.
Stefanyshyn-Piper and Steve Bowen were outside the space station on the scheduled six-hour spacewalk, the first of the space shuttle Endeavour’s stay at the station.
After completing a few preliminary tasks, Stefanyshyn-Piper was beginning the job of cleaning and lubricating the gears of the station’s malfunctioning starboard Solar Alpha Rotary Joint, or SARJ, when she discovered the grease gun leak and then lost the bag.
side of the station to rotate and track the sun. It started malfunctioning soon after it was installed, and astronauts soon determined the gear assembly is full of metal shavings, a sure sign that metal is grinding on metal.
Cleaning and lubricating the starboard SARJ is a time-consuming job, and will take several spacewalks to complete. When finished, the joint should be partially functional again. More extensive repairs are planned for the future.
Stefanyshyn-Piper was able to share tools with Bowen, and NASA mission controllers expressed confidence that the lost tool bag would not be too much of a problem for the duration of the spacewalk.
Mission controllers were also tracking the lost bag, which they say is floating well clear of the station and drifting further away.
Stefanyshyn-Piper is a member of the crew of the Endeavour shuttle that docked at the ISS Sunday to help install more living areas and upgrade amenities at the station.
***Here’s an update: The bag and tools were worth $100,000:
HOUSTON — Astronauts vowed to double-check, even triple-check, to make sure a bag of tools is properly tied down during a spacewalk Thursday so it doesn’t float away like one did earlier this week.
“We’re definitely not going to do it again. You’re not going to see us lose another bag,” lead spacewalker Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper said in an interview from the International Space Station with The Associated Press.
During the two-week mission’s first spacewalk Tuesday, the tool tote floated out of a larger bag as Stefanyshyn-Piper cleaned grease from a leaking grease gun.
Tethered to the lost briefcase-sized bag were a pair of grease guns used to lubricate a jammed joint that controls the space station’s rotating solar wing.
The bag was one of the largest items ever lost by a spacewalking astronaut, and NASA guessed it cost about $100,000.
In today’s news there happens to be two interesting stories about 2 new types of vehicles: a car that has a joystick instead of a steering wheel and a car that drives itself. While I suppose engineers must love these sorts of things, as a driver and passenger, I’m terrified at the thought of being out on the road with a car that doesn’t have a joystick and/or a vehicle that drives itself.
Here’s more info about the joystick Mercedes:
…and the car that drives itself:
Good morning, gentle blog reader,
In D.C. news, Bush has decided to leave half of the $700 million earmarked bailout funds for Obama to spend–but I still don’t believe that the federal government should spend 1 penny, much less $700 billion, on bailouts.
WASHINGTON – Barack Obama campaigned on bringing “change” to Washington, and he’s about to get a lot of it – $350 billion.
The Bush administration has told lawmakers it won’t spend half of the $700 billion rescue plan that Congress passed to stem the financial meltdown.
That gives the incoming Obama administration a $350 billion piggy bank that can be used to try to fix the economy.
The unexpected cash windfall could be tapped by the Democrats to help the big automakers after prospects for passage of a $25 billion rescue plan by Congress dimmed yesterday.
The Bush administration used its first batch of rescue funds to boost lending institutions with bad mortgages on the books.
It has since lent cash to troubled banks, and recently expanded the definition of qualified institutions to include credit-card giant American Express.
When Obama takes office on Jan. 20, his team will get the chance to apply its own definitions of what sorts of companies are qualified to get cash a infusion from the kitty under a statute that critics slammed for being overly broad.
“I think if President Obama looks at it and wants to change the terms . . . he will have a receptive ear in Congress,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), calling the Bush administration’s decision to pass the $350 billion pot to Obama a “pleasant surprise.”
Under the terms of the rescue, the second $350 billion in lending would have to go through Congress, which gets a chance to reject the spending.
But with Treasury officials saying they won’t have any new requests for cash this week and Congress set to adjourn soon, this effectively puts off new federal lending until Obama takes office Jan. 20.
Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson told The Wall Street Journal that he’s thinking about how the remaining funds could be put to best use, but that he doesn’t plan to tap them now.
The position marks a shift in tone from the onset of the financial crisis, when Paulson argued he needed the $700 billion available immediately to soothe the tempestuous markets.
“I want to preserve the firepower, the flexibility we have now and those that come after us will have,” Paulson told the Journal.
Meanwhile, prospects dimmed for a push to provide $25 billion for struggling US automakers, which are hemorrhaging cash.
Democrats pushed for the rescue as part of a broader economic stimulus package.
The White House said yesterday that it is not opposed to helping automakers, but it doesn’t want the funds coming out of the existing rescue package.
The administration “does not want US automakers to fail,” said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.
But she said the money should come from an existing fund to make cars more fuel efficient.
Mayor Bloomberg, in Washington to push for more infrastructure cash, didn’t object to using the money for Detroit, saying, “I think it’s all fundable.”
But he added, “All of us believe long term you want to let market forces determine what companies are successful.”
Filed under: news of the day | Tagged: Quote of the day, Shana Alexander, The sad truth is that excellence makes people nervous. | Leave a Comment »
Good morning, fellow Americans,
Now that we have a black president, it’s great to “racial terrorist” groups like the Ku Klux Klan facing liability for the unnecessary pain and suffering they cause. (I don’t know about you, but I’m appalled that the KKK even exists in 2008!):
(CNN) — A jury awarded $2.5 million in damages on Friday to a Kentucky teenager who was severely beaten by members of a Ku Klux Klan group because the Klansmen mistakenly thought he was an illegal Latino immigrant, the Southern Poverty Law Center said.
The jury found that the Imperial Klans of America and its founder wrongfully targeted 16-year-old Jordan Gruver, an American citizen of Panamanian and Native-American descent.
The verdict included $1.5 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages against “Imperial Wizard” Ron Edwards.
The law center said before the verdict that a large damage award could break the Klan group, allowing the teen and the law center to seize the group’s assets, including its headquarters, a 15-acre compound in Dawson Springs, Kentucky.
“We look forward to collecting every dime that we can for our client and to putting the Imperial Klans of America out of business,” said law center founder and chief trial attorney Morris Dees, who tried the case.
Gruver, backed by the law center, filed the personal injury lawsuit last year seeking up to $6 million in damages from the Imperial Klans of America and two of its leaders — Edwards and “Grand Titan” Jarred R. Hensley.
An all-white jury of seven men and seven women deliberated for five hours after three days of testimony. The suit alleged that Edwards, Hensley, and the Imperial Klans of America as a whole incited its members to use violence against minorities.
“The people of Meade County, Kentucky, have spoken loudly and clearly. And what they’ve said is that ethnic violence has no place in our society, that those who promote hate and violence will be held accountable and made to pay a steep price,” Dees said.
According to testimony, three members of the Klan group confronted Gruver in July 2006 during a recruiting mission at the Meade County Fair in Brandenberg, Kentucky. They taunted him with ethnic slurs — inaccurate ones — spat on him and doused him with alcohol .Two of the men, including Hensley, knocked Gruver to the ground and repeatedly struck and kicked him.
Ku Klux Klan
- Founded as violent white supremacist movement by Confederate officers after the Civil War, lasted until the 1870s
- Klan began again in 1915, still active today
- Most recent surge of activity came during civil rights movement of 1960s
- Membership exceeded 4 million in 1920s; now a few thousand members in splinter groups
Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica
“All I could see was a bunch of feet,” Gruver, now 19, told the jury. “As they were kicking me, I prayed to myself. I said, ‘God, just please let me go. Please let me make it home.’ “
When the blows stopped, Gruver had a broken jaw, broken left forearm, two cracked ribs and cuts and bruises.
He testified that he has suffered permanent nerve damage and psychological trauma. He doesn’t leave his house and rarely sleeps more than two hours at a time because he has nightmares, CNN affiliate WLKY reported.
Among the evidence the jury saw was a pair of red-laced, steel-toed boots. A police witness testified that Hensley wore the boots the night he and another Klansman attacked Gruver.
Edwards acknowledged from the witness stand that the boots were the “weapon of choice” for skinheads and that the red laces carried special significance — that “someone should shed blood for their race.”
Also revealed during testimony: An alleged Klan plot to kill Dees, the law center’s attorney.
Former Klansman Kale Kelly, once a member of Edwards’ inner circle, testified he was told to kill Dees because of the center’s lawsuit in Idaho against the Aryan Nations, a neo-Nazi supremacist organization.
The plot was thwarted by the FBI in 1999, according to testimony.
Kelly, who since has left the group, cried on the witness stand during his testimony.
Other former Klansmen also testified that they were encouraged to use violence. One said he was conditioned to kill. Watch the former Klansmen testify »
Gruver’s assailants already have gone through the criminal courts, striking plea bargains and serving time in the Kentucky state prison system, according to court documents. The case was not treated as a hate crime.
Dees alleged that on the night in question — July 29 and 30, 2006 — Edwards “sent his agents out on a mission.” During that mission, which included recruiting and distributing Klan literature at the fair, Gruver was beaten because the men mistakenly believed he was an illegal immigrant.
Edwards, who represented himself, told the jury he had nothing to do with the attack. “I stay within the law. I don’t break the law,” he said.
At an earlier court deposition, Edwards demonstrated his contempt for the law center and its lawsuit by tattooing a profane reference to it on his freshly shaved head.
On its Web site, the Imperial Klans of America refers to itself as a Christian organization exercising its rights of free speech and assembly under the U.S. Constitution.
The site carries this proviso: “If you are not of the White race, this Web site is not for the likes of YOU!” It then goes on to name the races and ethnicities it “hates,” adding, “This is our God-given right.”
The Web site disavows violence or any kind of criminal activity.
Edwards lives in a trailer on the Klan group’s heavily guarded, gated compound in rural Dawson Springs. The compound is the site of the Klan’s annual white power rally and music festival, know as “Nordic Fest,” according to the suit.
It was at the compound, the suit alleges, that the Klan group incited its members to use violence against minorities.
The Klan seems to thrive during times of political and financial turmoil, according to organizations that monitor its activities.
The first incarnation of the Ku Klux Klan was founded by a group of Confederate generals at the end of the Civil War to promote a white supremacist agenda. The Klan was driven underground, but re-formed after World War I. Klan activity increased during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and has surged again since 2006 as a result of opposition to gay marriage and immigration.
There is no single, centralized Ku Klux Klan. The Southern Poverty Law Center says the Imperial Klans of America is the second largest KKK group after the Brotherhood of Klans Knights, based in Marion, Ohio.
Booth Gunter, the law center’s spokesman, said there are 34 named Klan organizations across the country, with 155 separate chapters.
The Anti-Defamation League estimates there are more than 40 different Klan groups, with as many as 5,000 members in more than 100 chapters, or “klaverns,” across the country.
It is not the first time the Southern Poverty Law Center has taken a supremacist group to court and won.
In 2000, for example, the law center won a $6.3 million jury verdict that forced Aryan Nations leader Richard Butler to give up the group’s Idaho compound. In 1987, a $7 million verdict in Mobile, Alabama, targeted the United Klans of America
Hello, gentle blog reader,
Well, Bill Clinton’s ”complicated” global financial dealings threaten to hurt Hillary’s chances of becoming the US’ next Secretary of State:
If you ask me, Hillary should have ditched Bill years ago–he’s been nothing but a philanderer and hindrance to her career, first in her presidential run and now in her bid to be Secretary of State. Let’s hope she unloads Bill ASAP so that she can get on with her stellar political future! What do you think–is Bill an asset or a liability for HIllary?
WASHINGTON (CNN) – Former President Bill Clinton’s international business dealings, global foundation and penchant for going off script could present a significant obstacle to Hillary Clinton becoming secretary of state, observers say.
On the one hand, his established relationships with world leaders could instantly make the New York senator a welcome face in embassies around the world.
On the other, his complicated global business interests could present future conflicts of interest that result in unneeded headaches for the incoming commander-in-chief.
“These are issues that I’m sure are being discussed, and they will have to be worked out, and it’s legitimate to ask these questions,” said James Carville, a former aide to the Clintons and CNN contributor. Watch: Does Clinton want the job? »
Two officials with President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team confirm to CNN that it is investigating Bill Clinton’s finances and post-presidential dealings. As part of the early vetting process, the team is looking for any negative information that could throw the prospect of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state into jeopardy.
A particular issue could be the donor list of Bill Clinton’s global foundation, which might show connections to international figures who push policies that might conflict with those of the new Obama administration.
Obama last week asked Clinton if she would consider being his secretary of state, multiple sources told CNN. Clinton’s response is expected this week.
Since exiting the Oval Office eight years ago, Clinton has reportedly raised more than $500 million for the foundation, a significant portion of which financed the construction of his presidential library. The foundation has also doled out millions for AIDS relief in Africa and other charitable causes around the world.
Amid repeated criticism from Sen. Clinton’s primary opponents, Bill Clinton would not reveal the extent of the foundation’s donor list earlier this year. But The New York Times has reported the list includes some foreign governments, including members of the Saudi royal family, the king of Morocco, a fund connected to the United Arab Emirates, and the governments of Kuwait and Qatar.
The former president has also reportedly solicited funds from international business figures connected to human rights abuses that his wife has outwardly criticized, including the governments of Kazakhstan and China.
During the New York senator’s White House bid, critics repeatedly said that foreign governments and business executives could try to exert influence through donations to the foundation, prompting a pledge from the former president to publicly disclose all future donors.
Observers say the same criticism is likely to be raised should Hillary Clinton become secretary of state, especially if countries she is dealing with on the diplomatic stage have at the same time donated heavily to her husband.
The matter could be complicated even further if it remains unclear exactly which foreign governments are supporting Clinton’s foundation and to what extent. On Monday, Politico reported that Obama’s team is seeking more information about the former president’s finances and is growing frustrated over the Clinton camp’s response.
The Obama officials disputed the Politico report, but confirmed the transition team is seeking unspecified records from the former president to get a better handle on issues related to his foundation work and presidential library to try to deal with potential conflicts of interest.
Also at issue is the former president’s role in general should his wife become secretary of state. Since leaving office, Bill Clinton has become a globetrotter of sorts, amassing millions in speaking fees as he gives talks before corporations around the world.
The Obama administration would probably seek to curtail that practice amid worries that the former president’s words could contradict those of his wife at times and make unclear to some just who is speaking for the United States government. But it’s unlikely that Clinton, who has always enjoyed the spotlight, would be willing to retreat from the public eye.
“She really has to sit down with her husband and work through where does this leave him,” said David Gergen, a senior political analyst for CNN who worked in Clinton’s White House. “After all, he’s very deeply involved in the Clinton Global Initiative, doing good around the world. Could he continue to do that? Would he have to shut it down? Could he take money from people? There are lots of secondary questions.”
Even more problematic could be the former president’s history of going decidedly off message during speeches and his willingness to blatantly speak his mind seemingly without regard for the political fallout.
During her presidential bid last year, Sen. Clinton at times publicly criticized her husband for things he said on the campaign trail, and in one particularly embarrassing moment for the campaign, she told him to “knock it off.”
But ultimately, the duty of keeping the former president in check may fall to the New York senator should she assume the top diplomatic post.
If he doesn’t stay on script, she’s going to have to discipline him, just like she did in the campaign,” said Gloria Borger, a CNN senior political analyst.
“It won’t be up to Obama, it will be up to her.”
Hello again, gentle blog reader,
It’s been a busy time for me–sorry to not being posting as often as I ought to. Here’s something that I found interesting:
Some time earlier this month, Nasa’s Phoenix Lander slipped into a cold-induced coma in the Arctic wastes of the Red Planet. With the onset of winter, the Sun dropped low in the sky, and the temperature fell to -1,300C at night. Despite being wrapped up as warmly as Nasa’s scientists could manage, the lander’s electronics – particularly its batteries – were vulnerable to the cold. Without the power from its solar panels, there is little hope that Phoenix will rise again from its long hibernation.
The end of Phoenix’s mission illustrates the difficulty we scientists face in probing the secrets of the Red Planet – and in particular in answering the biggest question of all: “Is there, or was there, life on Mars?” The world’s media have been maintaining that we are about to find out the answer since the end of the 19th century, when Percival Lowell claimed he could see canals there. QED – there had to be intelligent Martians, and they would be 15ft tall and live in oases.
In the case of Phoenix, the intention was never to search for life, but it would have been nice to know whether the ice cap of Mars was a good place to send appropriately equipped landers for follow-up missions. Unfortunately, Nasa’s latest project didn’t complete one of the experiments in which the life-seekers were particularly interested: pyrolysing (heating up) soil samples to separate out any organic matter. It did carry a suitable instrument – a high-tech oven-cum-mass-spectrometer called the TEGA – but it proved too difficult to get frozen clods of soil inside, and only one of the eight tests produced the sort of data the investigators were hoping for.
Technologically speaking, of course, the latest mission was a success as soon as it touched down: it proved that Nasa still knows how to land on its feet. The lander was called “Phoenix” because it was Nasa’s second attempt to explore the poles after the failure of the Mars Polar Lander in 1999, when the computer shut down the descent engine while the robot was still some way above the surface.
In the interim, there had been two successful landings, of the Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity, but they had used gas-filled bags to break their fall and bounce to rest. The success of Phoenix’s downward-pointing cameras, and hazard-avoidance navigation systems, mean that the space agency can be much more choosy in future when selecting its targets.
Phoenix also accomplished much once on the surface. It lasted longer than its creators had anticipated, sending back pictures of a different kind of terrain and – after looking skywards – recognising that it was snowing. The robotic arm dug deep trenches through an ice layer, managing to melt some. The MECA experiment measured the pH (the acidic/alkalinity) of Mars’s soil, and showed it to be slightly alkaline rather than very acidic, as some had predicted. It also identified a number of the ions responsible.
But none of these findings really contributes to that vital argument as to whether life can exist on Mars. On Earth, we know that there are microorganisms, called extremophiles, which can do their thing at almost any pH, in very salty or fresh water, at temperatures over 1,200C near the vents of volcanoes, or in the freezing cold of Antarctica. They even exist in atomic reactors. It would have been so much better to have seen some results that suggested there were a few bodies around on Mars – even dead ones.
This was the problem encountered in 1976 by Nasa’s first life-detection laboratories, aboard the Viking landers. The Vikings had ways of releasing nutrients that might have been gobbled up by ravenous mini-Martians and turned into recognisable metabolic waste products. These experiments seemed to work – but, because no accompanying organic matter could be found, the scientists decided that a chemical, rather than a biological, effect was being observed. As one famous planetologist, Carl Sagan, observed: “If you want to prove something extraordinary, you have to have extraordinary proof.” But as Martin Rees, the future president of the Royal Society, said at the time: “The absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence”, so the search continued.
In 2003, my own Beagle 2 team also thought we might be able to answer the vexed question of life on Mars. Our lander carried the experiment used on Earth to demonstrate that all sedimentary rocks (ie those deposited in water) contain carbonate minerals and organic matter from micro-organisms. These are the chemical data, as opposed to fossil records, which can be disputed, that suggest life on Earth started nearly four billion years ago.
Results obtained from meteorites blasted off Mars long ago, and serendipitously delivered to Earth, seemed to show that there had been life on the Red Planet as recently as 700,000 years ago, at a time when hominids, the precursors of modern humans, were walking around on our own planet. There is circumstantial evidence that the organic materials found are genuinely Martian, rather than being the result of contamination on Earth – but circumstantial evidence isn’t proof positive. To eliminate the spectre of contamination, Beagle 2 was going to perform the same experiments on Mars. Unfortunately, the mission was a failure, even though the money wasn’t wasted: the Wellcome Trust is exploring using the skills acquired in the early detection of TB.
But now that Phoenix seems to have frozen stiff, where do we go from here? Nasa’s landers from 2004 are still happily chugging around near the Equator. But its next landing mission, which involves lowering a car-sized rover on a “sky crane”, needs more than $2 billion to complete. It is scheduled for launch in 2009, but with a new administration with new priorities, it could be delayed, or worse.
The European Space Agency has been threatening to go back to Mars with a lander ever since Beagle 2 declined to call home. At first it was in 2009, then it shifted to 2011, then 2013. The plan now is to launch in 2016 and arrive in 2017, maybe. At the same time, European science ministers will be asked this week to double the budget from €600 million to 1.2 billion, or to fund a cut-down version at 1 billion. In the current economic climate, this is far from a foregone conclusion.
In other words, a Mars sample return that might provide a definitive answer to the question of extraterrestrial life is – as always – at least 15 years away. As for putting humans on Mars, that’s pretty much a joke.
Of course, I’m sure there are plenty of people worrying about mortgages to pay and families to feed who are entirely unconcerned about whether there is life on Mars. But if we could show that life exists, or had existed on just one other planet, we could extrapolate to a universe teeming with life. Studying another form of life would help us understand how life started, just as Darwin recognised how it developed via evolution by seeing how different life forms changed in the different places he visited. This would be the ultimate solution to another of our existential conundrums: “Where do I come from?”
And me? Ideally, I’d like a Beagle 3 or Beagle 4 – the technology isn’t obsolete, and seems a snip now at £40 million. But if not, I’ll do what the Brits always do when our team doesn’t qualify: watch anyway, and cheer for the underdogs of the space exploration scene – Japan, China and India – who don’t seem to be frozen by fear of failure.
Colin Pillinger is Professor of Planetary Sciences at the Open University, and led the team behind the British lander Beagle 2