Toeing the Future
By R. D. Flavin


Nothing changes on New Year's Day...
From “New Year's Day” by U2; WAR, released 1-1-1983, Island Records.

     Yeah, auld lang syne and all of that... Maybe some auld acquaintance should be forgotten. Looking in the rear-view mirror and seeing 2015 as one continuous and ongoing natural disaster, mass-shooting, terrorist's threats and successes, as well as the usual grandstanding of politicians and celebrities (as well as wannabes), one could make the case 2015 was nearly like any other recent year. However, extending my optimism, I hope Homo sapiens sapiens are toeing the future and eager for the many tomorrows to come. That is, if Trump shuts his pie-hole and we have at least one less embarrassment to worry about.

     As a presidential election year, America should be busy considering who will follow our dearly beloved and respected Pres. Barak Obama, however with ISIS, the African savagery of the Nigerian Boko Haram (the “I've been a pirate, a kidnapper, and was once affiliated with an al-Qaeda” group), the continued military arrogance of Russia's Pres. Putin, and the growing military risky behavior of China and Iran, it's going to be quite complicated day in and day out.

     Forcing the pseudo-axiom, “No news is bad news,” most of the media would insist America is still in an economic depression, yet I have to wonder who is paying for all the access to Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple and Google TV, and who is buying all these pricey and stupid so-called “hoverboards,” and, of course, one has to demand an answer as to how it's possible to be in the middle of an economic depression when an estimated one million personal mini-drones were sold for Christmas. Many low-income folk appear to own $500 to $600 smart phones, and the Middle and Upper-Middle Classes seem to be wasting their money as usual. Right; we're not supposed to believe everything we read and hear (especially from FOX NEWS and any Ruport Murdock affiliated newspapers, magazines, or television programs.

     So, continuing with the domestic issue of the American economy, it would seem the pecuniary status quo has resumed, that is, the poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer, yet there appears to be a restoration of sorts with the Middle and Upper-Middle Classes. Now, naysayers and punky pundits will continue to blame Pres. Obama for all real and imaginary economic woes, all the while having the curious Conservative amnesia that the Cheney/Bush administration screwed the pooch of out economy in the first place.

     The global concerns of climate change and pollution seem to be present for the well-informed or denied and forgotten by the misinformed or those with hidden agendas involving off-shore banking accounts. However, even with the clouds of arrogance and ignorance, a ray of hope has pushed through when least expected. That the current Congress would demand NASA to develop a deep-space habitation module by 2018 is, at least for me, a “I didn't see that coming” moment. After bickering and laziness, Congress finally did something positive. And, for science too! I know someone is not supposed to look a gift horse in the mouth, but something (the dreadful track-record of the 114th Congress) tells me to wear a Trojan when dealing with the Fools on the Hill.

     Our National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has had many recent successes, though their budget gets scaled back on a yearly basis. Sure, China's moon rover (called Yùtù, meaning "Jade Rabbit"), which was launched 12-1-2013, landed on a different part of the moon than previous U.S. missions, and the data sent back (actually sometime ago, but only recently analyzed), has concentrated on the Moon's upper mantle which is younger than the core-samples from the Apollo missions (some 4 billion years old) and shows the various rocks are complex and show a wide diversity. While the theory Luna was ripped from an early Earth by a collision, the evidence of vulcanism brings once more into play the question of our “Moon” being separate and part of a binary planet system with Terra, our Earth. Oh, and because of pouty Pres. Putin, the International Space Station has been in the news a lot with this and that going wrong through the lack of cooperation. All-in-all, it is what it is, and let's get back to NASA, shall we?

     Mother Very Easily Made A Jam Sandwich Using No Peanuts, Mayonnaise, or Glue, which is/was the mnemonic for our
planetary system order, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, the Asteroid Belt, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Mickey and Goofy. I was sad to see Pluto downgraded to a trans-Neptune body (I briefly held out hope everyone would acknowledge Luna as a separate planet as part of a binary-planet system with Earth, but that was not meant to be...), but this past year NASA's 2006 launch of the New Horizon spacecraft (loaded with a variety of scientific instruments) finally reached Pluto and, the tiny rock and ex-planet in 2015 literally changed the playing field of what is and what isn't a “planet.”

A view of Pluto by the New Horizon spacecraft from July 14, 2015.

"We did not expect to find hints of a nitrogen-based glacial cycle on Pluto operating in the frigid conditions of the outer solar system,” said Alan Howard, a member of the mission’s Geology, Geophysics and Imaging team from the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. “Driven by dim sunlight, this would be directly comparable to the hydrological cycle that feeds ice caps on Earth, where water is evaporated from the oceans, falls as snow, and returns to the seas through glacial flow.”

“Pluto is surprisingly Earth-like in this regard,” added Stern (Alan Stern, from the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, CO, working in conjunction with NASA; RDF), “and no one predicted it.”

     Since then a focus has been on trans-Neptune bodies beyond Pluto and the extension of our Sun's gravitational pull is both surprising, exciting, and ...probably render most people being informed of this unconscious within a minute or two.

     As, ...cough, exciting as the discoveries about Pluto have been, back on NASA's ongoing investigation of Mars, most recently with its Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (launched in 2005), the multipurpose spacecraft has, while not exactly validating the antiquated “canal” theories of Giovanni Machiavelli's, Charles E. Burton, and infamously exclaimed by Percival Lowell, have recently been demonstrated and recorded as being ...kind of true.

“Our quest on Mars has been to ‘follow the water,’ in our search for life in the universe, and now we have convincing science that validates what we’eve long suspected,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “This is a significant development, as it appears to confirm that water -- albeit briny -- is flowing today on the surface of Mars.”

These downhill flows, known as recurring slope lineae (RSL), often have been described as possibly related to liquid water. The new findings of hydrated salts on the slopes point to what that relationship may be to these dark features. The hydrated salts would lower the freezing point of a liquid brine, just as salt on roads here on Earth causes ice and snow to melt more rapidly. Scientists say it’s likely a shallow subsurface flow, with enough water wicking to the surface to explain the darkening.

The Garni crater on Mars showing briny liquid water flowing (albeit slowly) on Mars.

"We found the hydrated salts only when the seasonal features were widest, which suggests that either the dark streaks themselves or a process that forms them is the source of the hydration. In either case, the detection of hydrated salts on these slopes means that water plays a vital role in the formation of these streaks," said Lujendra Ojha of the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) in Atlanta, lead author of a report on these findings published Sept. 28 by Nature Geoscience.

     Okay, so NASA had a good 2015...  And, the rest of the world is in its usual turmoil with conflicts and bigotry. We are taught to be thankful for what we receive. I'm thankful science is pushing ahead despite commoners, who clip coupons for two-for-the-price of-one burgers. Prepare for the race, toe the line and get ready for three-for-the-price-of-one... The future remains bright and I hope I live to experience it.

PS. With NASA's constant cut-backs, they've “privatized” some of their regular work and last month, so-far-so-good genius, Elon Musk, and his SpaceX program launched a reusable Falcon 9 rocket into outer space and landed it exactly where it started at the same Cape Canaveral launch pad. One commentator remarked: “It’s like launching a pencil over the Empire State Building, putting it in reverse, and having it come back down and land on a shoebox on the ground in a wind storm.” Wicked pisser cool, as they say in my current neck of the woods.

With head firmly affixed in the clouds,

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