Dawn Launch Coverage

[Launch Coverage] | [Commentary]

2:10 AM PST

Too early! But despite the small hours of the morning here I am very excited for the big launch of the Dawn spacecraft planned for this morning. NASA TV playing in Windows Media Player, the oven heating for some waffles, and a groggy yet excited brain…here we go!

2:18 AM PST

Launch is still planned for 7:20 AM PST (4:20 AM EST.)

Dawn Launch Coverage as of 2:24 AM PST

Image Credit: NASA TV screen capture – Dawn Launch Coverage as of 2:24 AM PST

2:38 AM PST

The launch vehicle is a Delta II Heavy 2925H (modified Delta II) that will lift 1,217.7 kilograms (2,684.6 pounds) of spacecraft plus fuel. Right now technicians are adding liquid oxygen in preparation for launch. Launch will be from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, USA.

Dawn will visit the two largest objects in the Asteroid Belt: asteroid Vesta and dwarf planet Ceres. This is not just a flyby mission; Dawn will actually approach and then go into orbit around each body, meaning that after it finishes with its exploration of Vesta, it will need to restart its ion propulsion engine to leave orbit and travel on to Ceres. Dawn should reach Vesta in September 2011 and Ceres in February 2015.

Other coverage:

2:54 AM PST

Hubble images of Ceres and Vesta

Image Caption: “Hubble Images of Asteroids Help Astronomers Prepare for Spacecraft Visit
Credits for Vesta: NASA, ESA, and L. McFadden (University of Maryland)
Credits for Ceres: : NASA, ESA, and J. Parker (Southwest Research Institute)

Notice that Ceres is large enough to be roughly spherical in shape. Vesta is just slightly too small to be a sphere. The Hubble images are some of the best images taken of these bodies to date. The journey from discovery of a light in the sky followed by improving telescope images culminating in close up images by spacecraft is the reason why I find planetary science so fascinating. Just take a moment to appreciate what we do not know about Ceres and Vesta, and what we do know, captured in these blurry images. In just a few years, pending a successful launch, we will finally gain a much clearer perspective of these mysterious planetary bodies when their surfaces are revealed in great detail by Dawn.

3:09 AM PST

Dawn Launch Coverage as of 3:07 AM PST

Image Credit: NASA TV screen capture – Dawn Launch Coverage as of 3:07 AM PST – venting oxygen vapor

3:22 AM PST

The operations teams heard during launch coverage sound like well-oiled machines, checking off items on their checklists with great confidence and professionalism. This indicates both the complexity of the logistics involved with any launch and the experience and abilities of highly skilled humans. A highlight of NASA TV coverage is when, at particular intervals in the activity leading up to launch, various teams report in that their subsystems are “Go!” This same sequence of “Go!” pronouncements just prior to launch was a highlight for those of us on the HiRISE team who attended the launch of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Sometimes we try to do the same thing at work, to liven up the place, to various degrees of success.

3:32 AM PST

A built-in hold of 20 minutes is coming up soon, followed by the restart of countdown, a 10 minute hold, and then, potentially on schedule, launch!

3:35 AM PST

T minus 15 minutes and holding for twenty minutes…

 Dawn Launch Coverage as of 3:35 AM PST

Image Credit: NASA TV screen capture – Dawn Launch Coverage as of 3:35 AM PST – Logos through vapor

3:45 AM PST

The Dawn Mission website has a wealth of images, graphics, and video, including this graphic of the spacecraft:

Dawn Spacecraft

Image Credit: Orbital Sciences Corporation – “Dawn Spacecraft

3:55 AM PST

The countdown clock has restarted with 15 minutes and one last built-in hold expected prior to launch. Weather is reported to be good. And dawn is breaking behind Dawn!

Dawn Launch Coverage as of 3:53 AM PST - Dawn breaks behind Dawn

Image Credit: NASA TV screen capture – Dawn Launch Coverage as of 3:53 AM PST – Dawn breaks behind Dawn

4:02 AM PST

Dawn Launch Coverage as of 3:59 AM PST - Mission Control

Image Credit: NASA TV screen capture – Dawn Launch Coverage as of 3:59 AM PST – Engineering

4:05 AM PST

Next built-in hold of ten minutes has begun, at T minus 4 minutes.

Dawn Launch Coverage as of 4:05 AM PST - Dawn nears launch

Image Credit: NASA TV screen capture – Dawn Launch Coverage as of 4:05 AM PST – Dawn nears launch

4:14 AM PST

The hold has been extended, possibly because of a small aircraft or boat nearby.

4:16 AM PST

According to NASA TV, a ship has been spotted in the area. The Coast Guard has contacted the ship, to make sure it moves out of the way of falling solid rocket boosters. The ship should be out of the area in a few minutes.

4:20 AM PST

New launch time: 7:34 AM EST (4:34 AM PST.)

4:27 AM PST

Dawn Launch Coverage as of 4:24 AM PST

Image Credit: NASA TV screen capture – Dawn Launch Coverage as of 4:24 AM PST

4:30 AM PST

T minus 4 minutes to launch!

4:31 AM PST

“Go!” for launch…everything seems to be ready…

4:34:00.372 AM PST

Launch!

Dawn Launch Coverage as of 4:34 AM PST - Launch!

Image Credit: NASA TV screen capture – Dawn Launch Coverage as of 4:34 AM PST – Launch!

Dawn Launch Coverage as of 4:34 AM PST - Launch

Image Credit: NASA TV screen capture – Dawn Launch Coverage as of 4:34 AM PST – Launch

Dawn Launch Coverage as of 4:34 AM PST - Column rising

Image Credit: NASA TV screen capture – Dawn Launch Coverage as of 4:34 AM PST – Column rising

Dawn Launch Coverage as of 4:34 AM PST

Image Credit: NASA TV screen capture – Dawn Launch Coverage as of 4:34 AM PST

Dawn Launch Coverage as of 4:34 AM PST

Image Credit: NASA TV screen capture – Dawn Launch Coverage as of 4:34 AM PST

Dawn Launch Coverage as of 4:35 AM PST

Image Credit: NASA TV screen capture – Dawn Launch Coverage as of 4:35 AM PST

Dawn Launch Coverage as of 4:35 AM PST - Solid motors jettison

Image Credit: NASA TV screen capture – Dawn Launch Coverage as of 4:35 AM PST – Solid motors jettison

4:38 AM PST

All seems to be well, with events happening as expected. Dawn is racing away up through the atmosphere and away from the Earth.

4:44 AM PST

Dawn has reached Earth orbit. It will coast there for 40 minutes before the second and third stage engines sends Dawn on its way to its first stop: Vesta.

5:10 AM PST

The second stage should reignite around 5:14 AM, followed by the third stage. Separation should occur 62 minutes after launch and then the solar arrays will begin deployment. Confirmation that everything is fine and Dawn is successfully on its way may not come until one hour and 34 minutes after launch, or later. Necessary Dawn autonomous actions mean that the spacecraft will be out of contact with the Earth for much of that time.

5:25 AM PST

Telemetry has been reacquired and all is well. Second stage restart has just occurred. Operations is following along with an animation of events created from telemetry.

5:33 AM PST

The second stage fired, shut down, and separated from the upper stages successfully.

Dawn Launch Coverage as of 5:26 AM PST

Image Credit: NASA TV screen capture – Dawn Launch Coverage as of 5:26 AM PST – Second stage firing animation

Dawn Launch Coverage as of 5:29 AM PST

Image Credit: NASA TV screen capture – Dawn Launch Coverage as of 5:29 AM PST – Second stage separation animation

5:37 AM PST

The third stage fired and separated successfully, and Dawn is on its way!

A spacecraft health check should occur in a few hours, followed by a press conference at 1:00 PM EST (10:00 AM PST.)

Dawn Prepares for Launch

Despite a 24-hour delay, preparations continue for the launch later this week of the Dawn spacecraft to explore two members of the Asteroid Belt. Dawn is now scheduled to be launched between 7:25 and 7:54 AM EDT on Thursday, September 27, 2007 after weather today interrupted the planned completion of launch vehicle fueling. The spacecraft will be launched from Space Launch Complex 17B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, USA using the Delta 2925H launch vehicle.

The launch period between September 26 and October 15, 2007 will allow Dawn to reach both Asteroid Vesta and recently reclassified dwarf planet Ceres as planned. Dawn has been repeatedly postponed due to a slew of other mission launches this summer and fall. These delays follow the cancellation and surprise reinstatement of the mission after earlier cost concerns were capped and technical issues were addressed.

The Dawn mission is unique because a single spacecraft will enter orbit around two separate bodies. Dawn will use an advanced ion propulsion system to enter orbit around Vesta in 2011 and then Ceres in 2014. Vesta and Ceres are the two largest objects in the Asteroid Belt and are expected to give planetary scientists a glimpse at the early history of the solar system. Scientists believe Vesta and Ceres have had very different histories despite similar beginnings.

NASA TV will broadcast the launch live.

More Information

Reorientation and Shear Heating on Enceladus

In 2005 Saturn’s moon Enceladus was discovered to be an active world with water ice particle geysers at its south pole. The driver of this activity on a moon so small remains a mystery. One possible explanation has been suggested by Dr. Francis Nimmo, a planetary scientist from the University of California Santa Cruz. Nimmo visited the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory to present his model on Thursday, September 18, 2007 for the department’s weekly Planetary Sciences Colloquium. The talk was based on his recent publication [reprint PDF] “Shear heating as the origin of the plumes and heat flux on Enceladus” in Nature.

While the old view of the outer solar system as a cold and dead region devoid of most geological activity has eroded with surprising discoveries since the 1980’s, one bias persisted until 2005: only large moons in the outer solar system could potentially be active. Below a particular diameter, moons were not believed to be able to produce sufficient internal heating to drive surface activity. With a diameter of only 252 kilometers (157 miles), Enceladus was expected to have frozen solid long ago. The discover of geysers and a thin oxygen atmosphere at Enceladus proved that this was not the case.

Enceladus’ geysers do not appear to be a global phenomena, however. They are localized to the moon’s south pole, apparently along fractures referred to as “Tiger Stripes.” Taking into consideration the moon’s size, possible internal structures, orbital eccentricity, and other characteristics Nimmo has been working to develop a model that can explain the localized nature of this activity.

An important feature of his model is reorientation theory, where a mass such as a diapir rising to the surface from the mantle can reorient a body, driving the mass’ surface expression toward the poles or equator over time. The presence of such a mass would indicate some driving force such as convection. Applied to Enceladus, this could explain why the tiger stripes have reorientated to their present location at the south pole.

While this may explain the tectonic activity at the south pole, the presence of active water ice plumes requires further explanation. If the tiger stripes are strike-slip faults like the San Andreas Fault on the Earth, then rapid enough motion back and forth along the faults could lead to uplift and shear heating. This friction leads to sublimation of water ice, the primary component of the crust of Enceladus, with some of that vapor being released with heat along the tiger stripes in the form of the spectacular plumes photographed by the Cassini spacecraft.

After developing this model, which Nimmo believes is a better explanation than other theories that have been put forward, such as a near-surface ocean or clathrate decomposition, Nimmo and his colleagues explored possible predictions. While a near-surface ocean does not provide the water vapor to geysers in his model, the model still suggests the presence of an ocean underneath a solid ice crust of at least 5 kilometers (3 miles). The model suggests that this ocean may be transitory, with significant freezing out or remelting depending on the tidal dynamics that change as Enceladus’ orbit around Saturn changes over time.

Furthermore, the orientation of the tiger stripes should change over time, and their fault motions should result in hotter or colder relative temperatures depending on how fast they are moving. In the paper, the team of researchers specify two portions of stripes they predict will have the highest relative tempatures. Some researchers believe fossil tiger stripes may be present elsewhere on Enceladus. Further observations of Enceladus may allow them to test this prediction and confirm or deny the presence of fossil tiger stripes.

Nimmo acknowledged that at present this model of Enceladus is simplistic with several questions still outstanding. Why, for example, does heating appear only at the south pole and not also at the north pole, as predicted by some models of subsurface tidal heating? What prevents the ocean, if it exists, from freezing out completely? Enceladus remains a mystery and will continue to be an important study target for planetary scientists still marveling at a frigid but incredibly active outer solar system.

More Information

Review: Star Trek: Odyssey – “Illiad”

Image Credit: Star Trek: Odyssey promotional wallpaper, with Bobby Rice as Lt. Commander Ro Nevin and Michelle Laurent as Romulan Sub Commander T’Lorra.

[Commentary] | [Spoilers]

Before there was Star Trek: New Voyages there was Star Trek: Hidden Frontier, an ambitious online fan series that ran from 2000 through a final episode in the summer of 2007. Notable for its use of green-screen technology to place actors in interesting Star Trek settings, a diverse cast, and gay and lesbian subplots, STHF was successful enough to warrant a spin-off. The new series, Star Trek: Odyssey, like STHF, is set after the canon events of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and Star Trek: Voyager.

A new threat from outside the Milky Way has emerged within Romulan space and an uneasy alliance of Alpha Quadrant powers attempt to repel the invaders. The enemy is an alien race from the Andromeda Galaxy with the technological capability to build wormholes. Returning from STHF is Lt. Commander Ro Nevin (again played by actor Bobby Rice), a happily married and gay Bajoran Starfleet officer. After a successful attempt to destroy the wormhole, Ro and the surviving crew of the U.S.S. Odyssey are stuck on the wrong side and running from their enemies in the Andromeda Galaxy. Ro becomes captain of the starship and embarks on a journey back to the Milky Way and his husband reminiscent of the Greek hero Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey.

The gay-friendly storyline is perhaps the most promising aspect of STO, and in the pilot episode “Illiad”. Will Ro stay faithful to his husband or will he be tempted by others during the journey home? How will the sexuality of other crew members play out?

Bobby Rice took over the role of Ro from another actor during the run of STHF and effectively captured the character coming to terms with his sexuality. The series ended with his marriage to a fellow officer. On his own again and in command, the new story arc for Ro is also promising.

The episode begins with a confident new score and opening sequence, as well as a strong first scene that introduces Romulan Sub Commander T’Lorra, played very well by Michelle Laurent. Highlights include the interaction between Ro and his husband, Lieutenant Commander Corey Aster, reprised by guest star (and episode director) JT Tepnapa, including a hilarious but too-short scene of the couple trying to find a few minutes alone for sex before they embark on their mission, as well as brief appearances by other STHF characters. Matthew Montgomery is promising in a brief glimpse as Dr. Owen Vaughan.

However, the pilot episode is a surprising disappointment, especially after the vast improvements in acting and production values gained by the end of STHF. Bobby Rice seems to have lost some of his previous confidence in the character of Ro, with only glimpses of the natural and mischievous spark he previously brought to the role. I suspect this is mostly due to the exposition and speech-making the character is forced to make during the episode.

Most disappointing is the new alien race. Even accepting the human-like similarity between races in the Milky Way, I had hoped, and actually expected, the aliens from an entirely different galaxy to be radically different. Per usual in Star Trek depictions of aliens, however, they are human-like, with face paint and archaic speaking patterns offered as the only differentiation from humans. There are hints that the alien culture will be developed in future episodes (Are they bisexual? Newly ruthless?) and the alien vehicle and hardware designs are quite wonderful. Unfortunately, an opportunity for the fan filmmakers to truly strike out on their own with a unique Star Trek vision appears to have been wasted.

Some of the acting is top-notch, while some is surprisingly bad and ineffective. The plot meanders from long moments of exposition and technobabble to rather good but brief moments of character introductions (well, except for the Andromeda Galaxy aliens) and character development. There is no question that I will continue to tune in to STO, with hope that this series will not devolve immediately into the rehashing and lack of confidence and innovation of STV, which had a similar plot.

Review: Bionic Woman

Promotional wallpaper for Bionic Woman on NBC

Image Caption: Promotional wallpaper for NBC’s upcoming Fall 2007 television series Bionic Woman

[Commentary] | [Spoilers]

Jaime Sommers is now a bartender with an angry kid sister and a professor boyfriend outside her socio-educational demographic. After a horrific car accident, her boyfriend has her rebuilt, because it turns out he is also working for a top secret bionics program. Sommers becomes the new Bionic Woman and at this point the viewer could care less.

NBC’s Bionic Woman is both a disaster and an insult in a long history of anti-technology storytelling. English actress Michelle Ryan as Jaime Sommers is wasted in a plot that attempts to convey angst, history, and mythology via relentless exposition and hurt looks. The characters speak exposition-ese without the audience getting any opportunity to truly know them or care for them. The accident comes after rapid-fire angst and tears, unexpected, yes, horrific, true, but without any emotional investment.

Superhero origin stories are difficult to tell on film. Audiences who eagerly anticipate heroic actions and special effects must wait while the protagonist is introduced, experiences an accident, evolves into a transhuman entity, and begin to learn about his or her new powers. Origin stories told well allow the audience to feel for the protagonist almost immediately, with nuanced scenes that whisper “See? I’m just like you!” until the character is no longer like you at all.

The worst, like Bionic Woman, paint angst with broad strokes, just annoying filler leading up to the inevitable accident and transhuman capabilities. Even worse, in this telling Jamie Sommers, rapidly cured and enhanced, hates her apparent health and new capabilities. She is so angry and hurt that her boyfriend would successfully attempt to save her life that she throws him across the room, screams, cries, and walks sullen in the pouring rain. When she is reunited with her sister, she immediately lies about her whereabouts as both characters attempt to out angst each other in the limited time they are given.

More pain is ahead. The original bionic woman 1.0 – Katee Sackhoff, so good as Starbuck on Battlestar Galactica and badly acting here – is a violent wreck, presumably because someone also successfully attempted to save her life. Throw in mysterious figures, other actors from Battlestar Galactica, and hints at a larger – and dark! – mythology, and the result is a great depression for the characters AND the viewers.

Show creators apparently hate technology, especially when used to successfully save lives. At what price, they want to explore, do we do so? A character who suffers terrible trauma must continue to suffer long after they have transcended their human weaknesses and been relieved of their pain. The price, we learn, is generally too high, and it would have been better if the character had just died. Because they did not die, they now must spend the seasons performing altruistic acts, to give back to simple unenhanced humans who are owed some unexplained debt. The moment the transhuman start enjoying her powers, she will be taught a terrible lesson.

This bionic woman is a creation of nanotechnology and cybernetics, packaged in a beautiful and indistinguishable-from-human body. A simple bartender enriched by her involvement with a man of education and science must now pay the ultimate price for becoming transhuman. We do not learn in one episode, of course, exactly what price she will pay during her upcoming ordeals, but we can be sure it will be gratuitously gory and tearful.

Modern medicine is marvelous and technologies in labs and on the horizon suggest great things ahead. We know from experience that most people in pain, experiencing great suffering, or nearing death, will, no matter what their prior belief system, embrace relief. Relief is so obviously joyful that relief as horror as depicted in fiction simply rings false, yet writers go back to that same dark well over and over again.

Could there be conflict in a depiction of a transhuman that was joyful and thankful for her transcendence? Absolutely. We have already seen one such character on television, albeit with her own moments of angst and depression and confusion. Her name was Buffy, The Vampire Slayer and she was always at her best when she gave into the morally valid pleasures of her power.

And Buffy Summers, of course, was partly inspired by another woman of incredible power who could, sometimes at least, enjoy her powers. She was the original Jaime Sommers in the original 1970’s Bionic Woman. If her joy was not always apparent, she was a superior role model compared to the current ungrateful incarnation. Until writers embrace the potential joys of transhuman existence, they will continue to “re-image” old material while popular storytelling continues to stagnate.

SENS3 and the Anchor Pub and Crap Documentaries

I waddled into the Anchor Pub and there was Aubrey with a beer. He asked what I was drinking and I said “One of those” and pointed at his beer and soon had one because he brought me one and I was very tired and very merry and surrounded by excellent comrades.

I had my first conversation with Michael Rae. We talked about Christopher Sykes‘ recently-widely-net-viewed documentary “Do you want to live forever?“, which focuses on Aubrey. Michael had said in a Methuselah Foundation forum post that he intensely dislikes it. I wanted to know why.

I thought its excellent production values and on-balance pro-Aubreyness overcame its cartoonishness, contrived melodrama, shallowness, and emphasis on sex and sentiment. Combining heads with Michael I’m not sure whether or not its existence is a net favor.

I think what Joe Layboy takes away from the film is “there’s this weirdo genius dude who thinks he can make us live forever and what’s next on the telly?” Vastly preferable would be to make Joe Layboy incredibly mad that we’re all going to die and only 1 in 1,234,567 people are doing anything about it.

Our best minds haven’t yet succeeded in inciting riots. The first great documentarian of our movement might figure out how. Perhaps Christopher Sykes has lubricated the path a little, but pro-cures bloggers and writers have squeezed out a lot more lubricant collectively. They just haven’t made documentaries with non-crap production values yet.

Next post: more hanging out at the Anchor Pub, the day before the conference.

SENS3 – still processing

I’ve been back from SENS3 for five days, and my brain remains scrambled. In reporting it I can only ramble – as evidenced by last Friday’s H+ Club weekly meetup in Tucson, where I exploited the SENS3 online meeting program to linearize my desultory observations before a nicely crowded Tubac Room.

As my brain floats back together, I’ll retro-blog the conference, starting with my first day in Cambridge, where I met up with world-champions against biological suffering while ramping up expression of socially helpful enzymes. Then we’ll move to the technical meat of the conference, the talks themselves, and interlace that with WKD-fueled world-saving intrigue between and after the talks.