Those Eclipse Glasses You Ordered for August 21? One Group Says They Could Be Fake.

Eclipse mania is sweeping the nation – and with good reason. The first solar eclipse to hit the lower 48 states since 1979, with a large swath of totality, has generated plenty of excitement, and it has spawned a cottage industry.

It’s easy to order a t-shirt commemorating the day or book an eclipse travel package. And then there are the eclipse glasses; thanks to modern technology we’re supposed to be able to don these glasses and look directly at the eclipse. But the American Astronomical Society says, “Not so fast.” The eclipse glasses you ordered off the internet could be fake.

Glasses that are safe for directly viewing the sun must meet the International Organization for Standardization’s standard, and will indicate they are ISO 12312-2 compliant.But recently the American Astronomical Society issued a warning indicating such a label is no longer adequate to verify glasses’ safety, citing “alarming reports of potentially unsafe eclipse viewers flooding the market.”

Reportedly some manufacturers are fraudulently placing the ISO logo on the packaging and even manufacturing fake test results to prove the effectiveness of their product. Amazon is trying to weed out fake eclipse glasses manufacturers, but even they can’t guarantee that all of them are off the site, especially when the glasses ship from third-party sellers.

The AAS recommends a dozen manufacturers that the organization has vetted for the safety of their products. The list is available through the AAS website; the group notes that the glasses should only let the sun’s light and other bright likes like halogen bulbs through.

In the event that you can’t find the proper glasses, the AAS recommends the tried and true pinhole camera trick.

Make a pinhole camera with a few common items. NASA recommends cutting a square hole in the middle of a piece of white card stock, then taping a piece of aluminum foil over the hole. Poke a small hole in the foil with a pin or paperclip. Put a second piece of white card stock on the ground and hold the piece with the foil above it, allowing the sun to project through the hole onto the card on the ground. The farther away you hold the “camera,” the larger the image will be.

Be safe. Protect your eyesight, and don’t let a one-time event cause permanent damage.

NASA Seeks Alien Busting Bureaucrat, 6-Figure Salary, Federal Benefits

Really? Oh, it’s real.

NASA is seeking a “Planetary Protection Officer,” pay scale & grade SL 00 (that’s an SES position), salary $124,406 to $187,000 per year.

“SES” means Senior Executive Service, the civilian equivalent to a general officer in the military. It’s not a red Swingline in the basement position.

Advises the Chief, [Safety and Mission Assurance] and other officials regarding the merit and implications of programmatic decisions involving risks to planetary protection objectives.

If it were any clearer, the position might be for Starfleet or the First Order, not NASA. Fire up the turbo lasers, load photon torpedoes, how many Star Destroyers do we have available to repel the invasion?

But, really? No.

It’s a much more mundane, but apparently insanely valuable to some government people in the space business, position.

The Planetary Protection office argues that since no Earth organism has ever been exposed to Martian organisms, they have no resistance to Martian pathogens. They claim that if an object returned to Earth from Mars, it could potentially destroy the entire terrestrial biosphere.

There you go. If there’s life on Mars, we could end up like the Aztecs when Hernan Cortés visited. He didn’t slaughter them, but smallpox, measles and mumps did. Dr. Robert Zubrin told the Daily Caller News Foundation that the position was just “another useless overpaid bureaucrat.”

“The program says that it needs to protect Mars and Earth from ‘contaminating’ each other, but the fact of the matter is that there is not one shred of evidence to support the notion that life of any kind, let alone pathogens of macrofauna or macroflora, or free-living microbes with superior adaptation to the terrestrial environment than native species, exists on the Martian surface,” Zubrin said. “There can’t be, because the Martian surface is bathed in sterilizing UV light, has no liquid water, and contains peroxides that are fatal to microorganisms.”

In other words, there’s nothing on Mars that could infect Earth.

Zubrin argues that if Martian microorganisms exist, Earth has almost certainly already been exposed to them. He states that fear of back contamination is greatly hampering NASA’s attempts to land missions on the moon and Mars.

But there’s a policy between the ESA and NASA that forces the agencies to consider the highly, extremely, impossibly unlikely event of a Martian microbe destroying all life on earth, and take measures to stop it. And that effort requires someone to lead the paper chase and billions of dollars to ensure that no Marvin-the-Martian Cortés hitches a ride back to Earth.

“In light of the above, the planetary protectors also need to explain why building a Maginot Line around NASA’s tiny 500 gram sample is a worthwhile activity while Mother Nature, laughing at their quarantine orders, continues to deliver thousands of kilograms of uninspected and unsterilized materials, both ways,” Zubrin said.

In other words: s**t happens, even in space. And certainly, some of the Martian s**t has hit Earth’s fan by now. So why are we spending money on a mall cop for the planet?

Because it’s government.

White House “Leaks” Some News About NASA

Leaks may have spelled the end for Michael Flynn as national security adviser, and leaks certainly have been a source of frustration for the Trump White House.  Today, however, it was a different kind of leak that made news from the Oval Office as the president talked to American astronaut Peggy Whitson about her record-breaking mission at the International Space Station.

After she spent 535 days in space–longer than any other American in the history of manned space flight–the president talked to Whitson about NASA’s future, including the human exploration of Mars that he recently announced as a priority of his administration.  Part of their chat included the nuts and bolts of living in space for extended periods, which astronauts have been learning about during their time aboard the ISS:

“What are we learning by being in space?” the president asked.

Whitson told Trump that NASA is researching how microgravity is affecting the human body, operations of space shuttles during long-duration missions, and the technological advancements for such a mission.

“For instance, on a multi-year Mars mission, we’re gonna need to be able to close the life-support system,” Whitson said from aboard the International Space Station. She then explained how NASA is currently using solar power and breaking apart the molecules in water to create more.

“But water is such a precious resource up here that we also are cleaning up our urine and making it drinkable,” Whitson said. “And it’s really not as bad as it sounds.”

“Well, that’s good. I’m glad to hear that,” President Trump replied, before adding with a sly smile:  “Better you than me.”

I think that’s a leak that the White House can finally get behind.

Russian Influence Dominates U.S. Space Effort

You can’t blame this one on Donald Trump, his campaign, or his White House.

While hours of airtime, inches of column space and untold numbers of online posts have focused on the role of Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election, what has gone largely overlooked is the ongoing influence of the Russian government and industry on American access to space.

Since 2011, when NASA closed the chapter on the Space Shuttle, the United States has been without a domestic means of launching astronauts into space. The capability gap has been filled by the Russians, who have sold seats aboard their launch vehicles to NASA so American access to the International Space Station could continue without severe interruption.

Competing efforts to bring human space travel capabilities back to the U.S. have hit delays, but offer hope that the nation’s reliance on Russian launches won’t be open-ended.

Aerospace giant Boeing Corporation is testing its Starliner capsule, a crew vehicle that from the outside looks like an updated sibling of the command/service module used in the Apollo program that put Americans on the moon. Upstart SpaceX, led by innovator and big dreamer Elon Musk, is testing Dragon 2, a manned capsule that will be lifted into space by a Falcon Heavy rocket, also a SpaceX product. Musk and his team hope to fly two passengers around the moon sometime in late 2018. Additionally, NASA’s own Space Launch System with the Lockheed Martin-built Orion spacecraft, is facing delays. Even with the delays, however, the space agency is studying the feasibility of putting humans on the very first test flight of the system.

Despite its promise, the Boeing entry into the effort to regain domestic manned-mission capabilities has a series flaw: the engines of the Atlas V launch rocket are made in Russia.

This isn’t a new problem.

Last year, the U.S. Air Force was directed to spend $540 million on Russian rocket engines for satellite launches. The RD-180 engines were bought for United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket. ULA is the primary Air Force contractor for satellite launches and since Boeing owns a stake in the company, so that’s why the Atlas V is the heavy lifter for the Starliner capsule that NASA is interested in.

NASA already relies on the Atlas V for some launches, but if the agency awards a manned space flight contract to Boeing instead of proceeding ahead with its own SLS, or betting on rising innovation over at SpaceX, it will mean that a firm with close ties to the Russian government will have an integral role in U.S. manned spaceflight. While some could argue that such an outcome at least reduces U.S. dependence on Russian space efforts, it doesn’t mean the nation is actually free to pursue its own space program without the consent of another power.

With the Air Force relying on Russian rocket engines to launch satellites that are vital to national security, NASA currently outsourcing manned spaceflight for American astronauts to Russia and relying on Russian rocket engines for domestic cargo launches, and Boeing relying on the same Russian engines to power its effort to get Americans back into space on American rockets, significant portions of the U.S. space effort are vulnerable to Russian politics.

A recent independent safety panel found flaws with Boeing’s reliance on the controversial Russian engines. According to an industry news source:

Starliner will initially launch with Atlas V, powered by her RD-180 main engine. As such, the certification issue is being worked on by Boeing, which is part of ULA.

“One of the top Boeing risks is the RD-180 engine certification. The engine has a long history, but it has been difficult to get detailed design information for certification,” added the ASAP [Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel] minutes.

The safety panel went on to blame the engine’s foreign provenance for the lack of design documentation.

Meanwhile at NASA, the agency is pondering whether or not it should spent $373 million to buy more seats aboard Russian launches. The deal would keep Russia in charge of delivering U.S. astronauts to space potentially until 2019. The Wall Street Journal reported in early March:

In an unusual twist, the latest seats eyed by NASA would be purchased from Boeing, which acquired them as part of a settlement with Russian space authorities in an unrelated legal dispute. But that fact isn’t likely to do much to insulate NASA from Capitol Hill criticism about problems ending reliance on Moscow.

Boeing stands to receive an average of nearly $75 million per trip, or about $8 million more per seat than those purchased directly from Russian entities.

So while Boeing is building a launch system that relies on Russian engines, it stands to turn a decent profit by selling to NASA seats it acquired on Russian launches.

If Russia’s attempt to influence the 2016 election is an outrage, the country’s current vice grip over manned U.S. spaceflight should certainly merit scrutiny from lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Alas, when powerful interests write campaign checks such investigations become less attractive.

Bipartisan Legislation to Revitalize NASA is Headed to the President’s Desk

For too many years, NASA has languished with too small a budget and little or no discernible mission. The end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011, followed by more budget cuts during the Obama administration, coupled with the emergence of private space travel corporations – and who can forget Obama’s Muslim outreach mission – have led some people to question the necessity of a national space program.

Now, fans of NASA, like yours truly, have reason to rejoice, as a bipartisan bill to reinvigorate NASA has passed both houses of Congress and is on its way to President Trump’s desk. A press release from the office of Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) goes into more detail about the passage of S. 442, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Transition Authorization Act of 2017.

The legislation provides stability for NASA to sustain and build upon existing national space investments designed to advance space exploration and science with an overall authorization level of $19.508 billion for fiscal year 2017. With the House’s passage of the bill today, the legislation now heads to the White House to await President Donald Trump’s signature.

“The importance of NASA and space exploration to Houston and the state of Texas cannot be underestimated,” said Sen. Cruz. “With the passage of this bipartisan legislation, the future of the U.S. space program is now more secure and stable, and we have provided much-needed certainty to the missions of the International Space Station and Johnson Space Center. We are also making a serious commitment to the manned exploration of space, laying the groundwork for the mission to Mars, and enabling commercial space ventures to flourish, all of which will foster extraordinary economic growth and job creation throughout Texas.”

The bill includes a nice budget authorization for NASA and calls for the development of the “Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket and the Orion crew vehicle for deep space exploration.” The legislation also reaffirms the commitment to the International Space Station but also makes allowances to encourage commercial space programs.

Also included in the bill are commitments to spaceflight to Mars, as well as exploration of deep space and calls for further medical monitoring for astronauts, particularly those on long-duration flights like Scott Kelly, who recently completed a 340-day mission at the ISS.

This is an exciting development for fans of manned spaceflight, and here’s hoping the president will sign it into law.

The Space Poop Challenge: NASA Crowdfunds a Solution to One of the Grossest Problems in the Final Frontier

Last night I was able to show my 11-year-old niece the International Space Station as it flew over Georgia. As a lifelong space nut whose love for manned spaceflight stemmed from my grandfather’s friendship with Apollo 15 astronaut James Irwin, it was fun to share the experience with a new generation.

One thing that didn’t occur to me as we watched the ISS fly over was that they could be struggling with handling their poop. It’s a conundrum as long as the history of long-duration spaceflight itself.

It was May 1969. As the Apollo crew headed back to Earth after a successful moon orbit, the three astronauts discovered it had joined them aboard the command module.

Commander Thomas P. Stafford, his microgravity reflexes honed on two prior spaceflights, jumped to action. “Give me a napkin quick,” Stafford said, according to the flight transcript. “There’s a turd floating through the air.” After bickering about who did not properly use the adhesive toilet bag — an abortive attempt to deduce the poop’s creator based upon its consistency — the astronauts wrangled the IFO into the waste compartment.

The problem continues nearly five decades later, and NASA is turning to the public to help solve it. NASA and crowdfunding platform HeroX issued the Space Poop Challenge to find a remedy to the great turd debate.

During the 60-day challenge, 19,000 thinkers and inventors submitted 5,000 possible solutions. Some pooled their resources, working as teams. Others, like first-place designer Col. Thatcher R. Cardon, a physician and officer in the U.S. Air Force, thought up his design solo. Cardon’s design, and the two other winning technologies, were announced Wednesday.

The prize-winning designs have clear medical origins, but – dang it – they’re so giggleworthy.

Cardon’s two-part design hinged on a machine he called the perineal access port. This access port would cover an area of the astronaut called the perineum, the crotch zone below the tailbone and frontward, occasionally described as the “fig leaf area.” The port was two flaps and a tiny valve — essentially, a small airlock to expel waste from the suit without losing precious oxygen supply.


One introducer was “a device that rides in the butt-crack, for lack of a better term,” Cardon said. (Medically speaking, he added, that term for the butt groove is the “gluteal cleft.”) The “hygiene wand” was fabric bunched below the perineum that would reveal fresh layers when tugged. But introducers could take any of several forms, such as gender-specific urinary catheters to suck up urine.

For his efforts, Cardon scored $15,000. The second place design, created by a group in Texas calling themselves the Space Poop Unification of Doctors, or SPUDs, involved an air flow system that pushed waste away from the astronaut and into a storage compartment within the suit.

A NASA spokesperson said that they will look at different elements of winning designs for future spacesuits; she also remarked that they may turn to the public to help solve more issues that face the space program. And – all poop jokes aside – that’s a good thing.

PS: You’ll have the phrase “butt groove” in your head all day long. You’re welcome.