Brian's Blog

…one man's contribution to the Weeeeerly Wild World

Sexy, Silly Science, with a hint of the covert?

Back in November (2014) we were witness to some “sexy science” and questionable attire – personally I thought the choice of shirt was amusing and when the “I’m offended” news came rolling in I then thought that was nothing to do with science and only a sign of the times (where people are all too easily offended). I was going to write about this at the time, but I let the opportunity pass.

I was also going to write about silly science and poke at the BBCs Sky at Night program, and how in illustrating the latest version of the Drake equation, they elected to use a room with many flat screen displays and a “blackboard app” (okay it was MS Paint) on a large touch-screen to show the equation, instead of a simple blackboard, which would have been sufficient (but obviously that would fail to get across to the viewer just how up-to-date the equation now is).

It’s particularly amusing coming from the Sky at Night team because they often resort to simple props to make their illustrations. The fear must be that the show can appear “cheap”, but for me I find the excessive and pointless use of technology/gadgets to be awkward to watch (or dare I say it – I feel offended by it).


Anyway, back to the comet-chasing.

I vaguely remember the launching of that probe to the comet, but the arrival and landing certainly caught my attention – suddenly space exploration was back and I was able to watch it ‘live’ via the internet. I found it impressive how we could discover a comet, plot it’s trajectory so accurately, plan a mission to send a probe to it, get a probe there, orbit it around it so precisely, land instruments on the surface, and send the findings back. That the lander’s landing wasn’t as smooth or as successful as we had hoped seems to be no big deal in the grand scheme of things.

One thing that did ‘grate’ with me was how, now we have had masses of data sent back “we can do science”. Is science something we do? Using the term in this way just seems wrong to me. We don’t do science, we look look at the data in this case and understand what it means. A similar phase was used in a more recent episode of the Sky at Night, where it was explained that “chemistry was happening”, as if chemistry was something that could “happen”, rather than it just being nature doing her thing… I can’t decide if the chemist himself is either freaky or amusing with his highly expressive face (the Sky at Night seems to like those these days – they make science sexy exciting) and his accent:

I’m sure there was another space mission that was prominent in the news last year that I was also going to write about, but that alludes me.

Now it’s January (2015) and space travel is back in the news. First with the firing and attempted landing of a rocket on a barge out at sea (that seems like a clever thing to try), and the supplies delivery to the International Space Station, following of the previous failed launch. “Sex” is back in the mix too because whilst watching the videos of the delivery of the supplies module to the ISS I couldn’t help snigger (or snicker if you prefer American English) every time the commentary guy said “SpaceX” – say it out loud a few times and you’ll get what I mean. It made me wonder “who thinks of these things!?” That and the supply craft is called “Dragon” and viewers have to wait for it to “hard mate” with the ISS. Okay, I’m childish I know. Another thing that caught my attention was the project’s logo:


Notice the letter A in the logo… it’s more like a Y, rotated slightly to the left (or fallen over), forming the word Spy. Again, who thought of that, or is that design choice intentional, to imply, or acknowledge something to the initiated? In watching the launch and arrival of “Dragon” at the ISS I don’t recall any further details of the mission beyond delivering supplies and science equipment to the ISS, but is there perhaps a further stage of SpaceX’s missions is to deploy spy satellites, perhaps?

The image below is of Dragon attached to the Canadarm at the ISS.


The end of the craft that is joined to the Canadarm is a pressurised “capsule” that will return stuff to earth. According to the SpaceX website the “trunk” is the part with the solar panels attached – it provides unpressurised cargo space and will apparently be jettisoned prior to the pressurised section returning safely to Earth for retrieval. That seems somewhat vague, and wasteful if that’s simply the case. In watching the video of the arrival of Dragon I learned that 2.6 tonnes of “supplies” were delivered to ISS in the trunk section and according to the SpaceX website the “Total launch payload mass” of Dragon is 13,228 lbs (or 6.6 tonnes). This leaves 4 tones unaccounted for. Apparently modern communications satellites can weigh up to six tons, so I guess that spy satellites are in a similar ballpark. The “trunk” section does seem to resemble a satellite, but what am I to know.



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