Mi NASA es su NASA
By R. D. Flavin


     The Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aeroespacial (“National Institute of Aerospace Technology”) was founded in 1942 to better understand aeronautics (“sailing the air”) and concerned itself with developing better aircraft and rockets. Later, after 1957 and Russia's launch of the Sputnik satellite, Spain, as well as many other countries, joined the “space race.” Since then, Spain has worked with the European Space Agency, dozens of various countries independent space programs, and, of course, NASA. While other countries have greatly contributed to our knowledge of outer space, NASA, America's space agency, despite annual financial cutbacks, still achieves tremendous accomplishments. Mi NASA es su NASA? Yes, and deservedly so, “My NASA is your NASA.” Now, let's be amazed at those accomplishments...

The remnants of a comet encircling KIC 8462852 which display curious changes in brightness.

     However, before we start with the stunning science and undaunted undertakings, a recent stray hypothesis needs to be leashed – some 1,480 light years away, in the constellation Cygnus, the star KIC 8462852 regularly displays odd variations in brightness, which several astronomers have explained with scenarios ranging from orbiting objects (remnants of comets around the star (see pic above), its proximity to a nearby red dwarf star, that somehow the star has recently 'captured' an asteroid field, and most fantastic of all, the ring of crumbled comets represent a 'fictional' Dyson swarm which somehow feeds light and energy to a proposed alien civilization which inhabits KIC 8462852. Yup, that would make ring of crumbled comets an alien-built mega-structure. Aliens?

     Of course, most astronomers don't buy into the alien mega-structure scenario and await any possible results if the SETI Research Center at the University of California, is granted time to use the National Radio Astronomy Observatory Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (27 separate radio attennas) in New Mexico to search for possible alien radio signals. I wonder if aliens use AM, FM, or shortwave?

     Beginning July 14, 2015, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft started taking pictures of Pluto (once referred to as a 'planet', then down-graded to a trans-Neptune body, and is now commonly called a dwarf planet), as well as collecting other forms of data, much of which will take nearly a year to return to Earth. What NASA discovered about Pluto has astrophysicists behaving like vegetarians at a salad bar. Beneath its thin atmosphere, Pluto has a considerable amount of water-ice-bedrock with tantalizing evidence of 'recent' activity with nitrogen, carbon monoxide and methane ices. Well, if Pluto is this interesting, I can only imagine what we'll learn from studying Mickey and Goofy.

Colored photograph of Pluto highlighting various surface features – © NASA 2015.

     Much closer to Mom Terra, the fourth rock from the Sun, the Red Planet, Mars, has opened its mysteries quite a bit since the days of Giovanni Schiaparelli, Percival Lowell, Henri Joseph Perrotin, Louis Thollon, and others who believed they saw canali or canals on Mars. Surprisingly, this fantastic claim is again gaining supporters. Toward the end of September, The journal Nature Geophysics published a lenthy letter online, hopefully in advance of a a full paper or ariticle about rivers and glaciers of water currently on Mars (Spectral Evidences for Hydrated Salts in Recurring Linaeae on Mars” by Lujendra Ojha, Mary Beth Wilhelm, Scott L. Murchie, Alfred S. McEwen, James J. Wray, Jennifer Hanley, Marion Masse and Matt Chojnackai; Nature Geoscience (2015) doi:10.1038/ngeo2546. Received 22 April 2015, accepted 21 August 2015, published online 28 September 2015, and corrected online 14 October 2015). Okay, maybe not canals, but rivers and glaciers are most extrordinarily cool!

     Working with images generated by 2005's NASA Mars Recononnaissance Orbiter, as well as the 2011 NASA Mars Science Labratory – the Curiosity Rover, proof has been generated which shows slope 'lineae' ('dark' streaks which resemble glaciers) containing hydrated salts and the mineral pyroxene. Now, on Earth streams and rivers may flow from a melting glacier, the Martain lineae are the product of a seasonal 'briny' water rich in magnesium perchlorate, magnesium chlorate and sodium perchlorate. Unlike Terrian water which freezes at 32 degrees and evaporates at 52 degrees Fahrenheit, the martain 'water' remains a liquid until -94 degrees Fahrenheit and doesn't boil until around 25 degrees Fahrenheit. Thus, with the relatively 'warm' summer temperatues (still wicked cold by Earth standards), liquid 'briny' water forms during the summer period and flows in a steady, but progressive rate. Now, this in no way is evidense for 'life' on Mars, only that the Red Planet is still alive and far from dead.

Paths carved out by the slow moving 'briny' water of Mars.

     Toward a manned mission to Mars, NASA has recently successfully tested it's tremendously powerful new RS-25 Space Launch System which consists of four RS-25 engines and two solid rocket boosters of five segments each which will power the 70-metric-ton rocket. The RS-25 generates 512,000 pounds of thrust, and has been fondly referred to as the 'Ferrari of rocket engines'. Now, if we could just get a thicker hull, more comfortable beds, and maybe 'light-sabers', we might be on to something.

     In other space-related news, Britain and several other countries are considering blasting asteroids from the heavens just like the 1998 film, Armageddon. Of course, the more notoriously greedy countries are working out ways to 'mine' asteroids for metals and such. And, China and Russia have both announced plans to build cities on the Moon one day... Yeah, good luck with that...

     The phrase, “My NASA is your NASA,” is meant to showcase the accomplishments of NASA, but please remember, many other space agencies from different countries are also involved. Okay, the occasional rift we're having with Russia over the International Space station is nothing which can't be fixed with a bottle of vodka and a couple of strippers. As more and more private companies are getting involved in the space program (with varying degrees of success), one should be optimistic in the future of space exploration. It's been suggested that many dangerous experiments like artificial intelligence, nano-technology, and certain viral research be conducted in space in case anything goes wrong. Yes, there have been many a movie made about the worst of each scenario, though I choose to believe in a joint spirit of global cooperation AND finding out some more amazing things about the universe we live in.

Taking a left at the second star and seeing where it leads,

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