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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

WALK THE LINE... Reese Witherspoon is up for Best Actress and Joaquin Phoenix is up for Best Actor.

78th ANNUAL ACADEMY AWARD NOMINATIONS... I was gonna write a long-ass Blog about the Oscars mostly to talk about Revenge of the Sith and its many technical nominations (heheh)...but since it got robbed of even the Best Visual FX Award (making this the only Star Wars film to not be nominated for visual effects), there's no need. Sith got nominated for Best Make-up, but the chances of it winning that are nil (considering The Chronicles of Narnia and Cinderella Man have also been thrown into the mix). We all know the cowboy "romance" film Brokeback Mountain is gonna win Best Picture, so let's cut the BS speculation crap on that one. But will Commodus- err, Joaquin Phoenix take home an Oscar for Walk the Line? We'll see. At least ILM got a nomination for War of the Worlds and John Williams got nominated for his score on Munich, but... Bah! No kudos to Rob Coleman and Company for kung-fu fighting Yoda this time around. But Sith did win the People's Choice Award for Favorite Motion Picture and Favorite Movie Drama, as well as the Teen Choice Award for, um, Choice Movie: Action/Adventure. But those awards are meaningless compared to the gold statuette designed by MGM art director Cedric Gibbons (I'm too lazy to elaborate). 'Kay, I'm out. I have better things to do with my time. Like pay off a bill that's due tomorrow.

BEST VISUAL FX... General Grievous and Company are out...
BEST VISUAL FX... General Grievous and Company are out...

...the Tripod is in.
...the Tripod is in.

EDIT: Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker) gets a Raspberry nomination for Worst Supporting Actor of 2005 (for the record, isn't he the LEAD actor in Sith? He obviously has more screentime than Ewan McGregor)... Razzies.com should be nominated for Worst Webpage of 2005. GOD, that site is slow. And don't tell me it's because a lot of people are actually visiting it.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

The crew of mission STS-51L.

20 YEARS AGO TODAY... Last week, NASA enjoyed two successes with its unmanned space program when the Stardust capsule returned to Earth bearing dust samples from a comet, and a few days later, the New Horizons spacecraft was launched towards the outer edge of our solar system. Today and yesterday, however, marked the anniversaries of two of the lowest points in our nation's manned space program. Rest in peace to the Challenger crew...as well as the Columbia and Apollo 1 astronauts. This Wednesday marks the 3-year anniversary since the second space shuttle disaster took place. When the shuttle Discovery launches again, hopefully this May, let's hope that that mission officially resumes manned spaceflight for the U.S. We gotta head back to the Moon and then Mars sooner or later...

The crew of mission STS-107.

The crew of Apollo 1.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Kobe Bryant scores 81 points against the Toronto Raptors on January 22, 2006.

81 POINTS... Just when you thought he was only gonna be known for three championship rings, being Shaq's arch-nemesis, and having the reputation of being Eagle, Colorado's most well-known white-trash arse-banger, Kobe Bryant had to beat the Toronto Raptors tonight and set the second all-time NBA scoring record...right behind the 100 points scored by Wilt Chamberlain against the New York Knicks in March of 1962. You go, Kobe! Now if only the Lakers reached the playoffs, and you were at least nominated as this season's MVP, then you'd be set. This came on the same night the NBA had its highest scoring game in 11 years...when the Seattle Supersonics beat the Phoenix Suns, 152-149, in two overtimes. The last 300-point game in the NBA came when Dallas beat Houston 156-147 in two overtimes on April 11, 1995. But 'nuff 'bout that. It's all about Eagle, Colorado's most well-known white trash arse-banger dropping 81 on the Canadians. Haha.

Seen here in a game in 1998, Michael Jordan says he might have fouled out before letting Kobe Bryant get to 81 points.
ABOVE: Seen here in a game in 1998,
Michael Jordan says he might have fouled
out before letting Kobe Bryant get to 81
points.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Atlas V rocket carrying New Horizons lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on January 19, 2006.
Photo by Ben Cooper of LaunchPhotography.com

PLUTO-BOUND!! Following a 52-minute delay because of low cloud cover, the Atlas V rocket finally lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 11:00 AM (Pacific Standard Time)...sending the New Horizons spacecraft on its way to Pluto. New Horizons will pass by the moon within 9 hours (8 hours, 35 minutes to be exact), pass Mars' orbit in less than 3 months from now (on Thursday, April 6), and fly by Jupiter on February 28, 2007. Today's successful launch oughta make NASA feel vindicated (yet again)...considering the past few weeks' controversy over the anti-nuke demonstrators protesting against the launch of New Horizons. I guess you'll have to wait till 2009 to create more noise, eh Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power (2009 is when the plutonium-powered Mars Science Laboratory rover is set to launch)? Hopefully, much like the launches of New Horizons, Cassini and Galileo, your protests will once again be a waste of time when MSL takes off. And don't forget the Boeing labor union, whose majority of workers are still currently on strike (I think), that wanted the launch to be delayed because it deemed the six non-striking workers who attached the third stage rocket motor to New Horizons (last month) to be "unqualified." Anyways, onward to Pluto! And the Kuiper Belt. New Horizons will pass by the ninth planet in the solar system on July 14, 2015.

An illustration depicting New Horizons arriving at the Pluto-Charon system.

UPDATE (January 20: 11:30 AM, PST): 24 hours after launch, New Horizons is already about 1 million miles away from Earth. Below is a checklist of all the activities that will be done over the next 3 weeks to get the spacecraft up and running for the remainder of its decade-long flight:

Day 1: First contact, command to flight mode, configure thermal control, turn Inertial Measurement Units (IMUs) on, "burp" and prime the propulsion lines.
Day 2: Thermal management and guidance system checkouts.
Days 3-8: Navigation system and sensor checks, guidance system checks, tracking to refine the spacecraft's trajectory.
Day 9: First trajectory correction.
Day 11: Second trajectory correction (if needed).
Days 12-19: Additional guidance and navigation system checks, spacecraft trajectory refinement.
Day 20: LORRI (LOng Range Reconnaissance Imager) and PEPSSI (Pluto Energetic Particle Spectrometer Science Investigation) instruments, communications and power checks.
Day 21: Third trajectory correction (if needed).

This chart shows the 3 billion mile-long flight path that New Horizons will take through the cosmos on its way to Pluto...and after that, the icy debris region known as the Kuiper Belt.  Once the mission ends, New Horizons will eventually depart the solar system and enter interstellar space, where it will wander the galaxy for millions of years.
ABOVE: The 3 billion mile-long flight path that New Horizons will take through the cosmos on
its way to Pluto...and after that, the icy debris region known as the Kuiper Belt. Once the
mission ends, New Horizons will eventually depart the solar system and enter interstellar
space, where it will wander the galaxy for millions of years.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The New Horizons mission insignia that will be seen on the Atlas V rocket during liftoff tomorrow.

EDIT (January 17): The countdown below is revised to reflect the 10:16 AM (Pacific Standard Time) liftoff time for tomorrow, January 18. However, because of morning showers and more gusty winds that are expected to be in the forecast for Wednesday, there is a huge chance that New Horizons will end up being launched on Thursday, January 19 (when the weather should improve considerably...with acceptable launch conditions improving from 70% expected for tomorrow to 90% for Thursday).

EDIT #2 (January 18): As expected, New Horizons will not be launched today. The liftoff was scrubbed once more when bad weather caused a power outage in the Baltimore-Washington area, where the Mission Control Center for New Horizons is located (at the John Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory). Mission Control was running on backup power, but that is not enough to support critical launch and early flight operations. A decision will be made later today to see if a launch can be attempted tomorrow. If it is, there is an 80% chance of acceptable launch conditions for January 19. The launch window for this day opens at 10:08 AM, PST.

EDIT #3 (January 18): After the main power had been restored at the John Hopkins University in Maryland, NASA officials gave the go-ahead to proceed with another launch attempt for tomorrow, January 19. Tomorrow SHOULD be the day...considering the forecast calls for sunny weather and wind speeds that should be well within the acceptable limits for launching New Horizons. We shall see...


EDIT #4 (January 19): LIFTOFF!

LIFTOFF!
Photo by NASA Kennedy Space Center

17 HOURS, 24 MINUTES AND 59, 58, 57, 56, 55 SECONDS REMAINING... By tomorrow afternoon (if you're living on the East Coast of the United States) or late morning (if you're on the West Coast), the fastest spacecraft ever flown should be off its launch pad in Florida and begin its 9-year journey towards the last(?) planet(?) in our solar system. Yes, those question marks were intentional. Last week, New Horizons underwent the final NASA Flight Planning Board, and passed its Flight Readiness Review...followed by Sunday's Launch Readiness Review...which basically means the Pluto-bound explorer is now officially ready to roar off the ground on 2.5 million pounds of rocket thrust, and start an approximately 50-minute long journey out of Earth orbit. Below is a timeline showing how long each of the Atlas V's engines will burn before running out of fuel and sending New Horizons on its way into deep space. The Atlas V carrying New Horizons actually has three stages (as opposed to two used by past Atlas rockets): The RD-180 first stage rocket motor, the Centaur second stage rocket motor and the Boeing third stage kick motor. The Boeing motor was specifically installed for this flight:

5-24 seconds after liftoff: The RD-180 engine will be ramped down from 100% throttle to 67% to keep maximum dynamic pressure ("Max-Q") to 900 psf (pounds per square foot).

45 seconds after liftoff: The RD-180 will be throttled up to 86% to increase control and performance until ramped down again to 75% throttle to better limit vehicle loads for solid rocket booster (SRB) burnout.

1 minute, 33-45 seconds after liftoff: SRB burnout and separation at an altitude of 23 miles and 0.8 miles-per-second velocity. The RD-180 is then throttled back up to 100%, but adjusted down at specific times to maintain the proper G-force loads.

3 minutes, 23 seconds after liftoff: Fairing jettison at an altitude of 72 miles.

4 minutes, 27 seconds after liftoff: RD-180 shutdown and separation of the Atlas V first stage, followed immediately by Centaur second stage ignition.

At Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the New Horizons spacecraft is put on display for a media junket back in November of last year.
ABOVE: At Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the New Horizons spacecraft is put on
display for a media junket back in November of last year. (Photo by Ben
Cooper of
LaunchPhotography.com)


10 minutes, 8 seconds after liftoff: Centaur cutoff after placement of the vehicle in a 90 X 115 nautical-mile parking orbit for a coast over the Atlantic Ocean.

32 minutes after liftoff: Centaur re-ignition over southern Africa to begin the Earth escape maneuver.

41 minutes, 45 seconds after liftoff: Centaur cutoff and separation at a velocity of 7.7 miles-per-second and an altitude of 435 miles and climbing.

42 minutes, 37 seconds after liftoff: The New Horizons spacecraft and Boeing upper-stage motor will be spun up to about 80 RPM for stabilization. This will be followed by ignition of the 15,000-lb.-thrust Boeing motor for 88 seconds. Depending upon the launch day, the burn will take place near or over Australia. The spacecraft rotation will be slowed by "yo-yo-weights" after the burn.

47 minutes, 32 seconds after liftoff: The spacecraft, flying at 10.07 miles-per-second, will be separated from the Boeing stage. New Horizon's rotation rate will be slowed to 5 RPM for cruise.

Timeline courtesy of AviationNow.com

The Atlas V rocket carrying New Horizons now sits atop its launch pad, following a rollout from the rocket's vehicle assembly building that took place at 7:30 AM (Pacific Standard Time) yesterday, January 16.
Photo by NASA Kennedy Space Center

ABOVE AND BELOW: The Atlas V rocket carrying New Horizons now sits atop its
launch pad, following a rollout from the rocket's vehicle assembly building that took
place at 7:30 AM (Pacific Standard Time) yesterday, January 16.
Click here to view the live
webcam feed from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida
( RealOne Player is
required for viewing)
.

The Atlas V rocket carrying New Horizons departs from its vehicle assembly building and heads for Launch Complex 41.
Photo by Ben Cooper of LaunchPhotography.com

The Atlas V rocket carrying New Horizons sits atop its launch pad at Complex 41.
Photo by NASA Kennedy Space Center

Sunday, January 15, 2006

A scientist approaches the Stardust return capsule after it parachuted to the ground around 2:10 AM (Pacific Standard Time) this morning.  The touchdown occurred at the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah.
ABOVE: A scientist approaches the Stardust return capsule after it parachuted to the ground around 2:10 AM (Pacific Standard Time) this morning. The touchdown occurred at the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah.

STARDUST Returns... Congratulations to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena for successfully bringing a space capsule carrying the remains of a malevolent alien species back to Earth. Haha, just kidding! No seriously though— Kudos to the JPL folks for bringing back the first ever material taken from a comet. Launched in 1999, the Stardust spacecraft collected samples from Comet Wild 2 (pronounced "vilt-two"... Those wacky Swiss) in 2004 and spent the rest of that time heading back to Earth. While the Stardust 'mothership' is in a safe permanent orbit around the Sun, the return capsule will be brought back to the Johnson Space Center in Texas this Tuesday so scientists can pry it open and check out the dead alien— err, dust samples collected from the comet. Nice.

A NASA aircraft took this image of the Stardust capsule re-entering Earth's atmosphere above Utah...at a 'sluggish' speed of 29,000 MPH.
ABOVE: A NASA aircraft took this image of the Stardust capsule
re-entering Earth's atmosphere above Utah...at a 'sluggish' speed of
29,000 MPH. Courtesy of NASA'S Jet Propulsion Laboratory


EDIT: Don't forget that the Season 5 premiere of FOX's 24 airs tonight at 8 PM.

EDIT #2: Whoa, those two episodes were intense! C'mon Jack Bauer, avenge President Palmer's death!! And you gotta regulate on those terrorists at Ontario Airport!! Can't wait for the season premiere's conclusion tomorrow... Of course, my Monday nights will officially be off-limits till May now that everyone's favorite Counter-Terrorist Unit agent is back.


24.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Tristan & Isolde... What kind of friggin' title is that?? Oh wait, this story is based on an actual Arthurian legend. Whatever, the title still blows. 'Kay, move along... Move along...

Tristan & Isolde.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

The payload fairing containing the New Horizons spacecraft approaches Launch Complex 41's Vertical Integration Facility...where the fairing awaits installation with the Atlas V launch vehicle.
Click here for more photos of New Horizons' launch preparations.

NEW HORIZONS Update: Only 10 days till launch... It has been relatively quiet at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida over the past two weeks because of the holidays, but things are scheduled to pick up on Monday when final preparations are made to launch the world's first ever robotic mission to Pluto. This week, inspection was completed on the Atlas V’s first stage fuel tank after there were concerns over its structural integrity during the rocket’s flight into space. No defects were found. Also, the White House gave NASA final launch approval...since New Horizons is carrying a nuclear generator on board, and all launches that involve the use of nuclear power requires the White House's Office of Science, Technology and Policy to green-light the liftoff. Below is a list of activities that remain before New Horizons lifts off on January 17:

Yesterday, January 6
Completion of launch vehicle ordnance installation. By ordnance I think they mean the explosives used to separate the five solid rocket boosters (SRBs... Three of the boosters can se seen in the pic above) from the Atlas V launch vehicle, the self-destruct mechanism used in case there is a launch mishap and the bolts used to separate the various stages (for the Atlas V carrying New Horizons, there are three stages: The first stage core with the RD-180 engine, the Centaur second stage motor and the Boeing third stage kick motor directly attached to New Horizons).

Monday, January 9
Closeout activity for the Boeing third stage motor.

Tuesday, January 10
The safe and arm devices (SAD) will be installed onto the five solid rocket boosters. The devices are used to ignite the fuel inside the boosters as the countdown hits zero for liftoff on January 17.

January 11 – 13
Closeouts and final documentation of the New Horizons spacecraft will take place. This includes the installation of the nuclear generator (also known as, once again, the radioisotope thermoelectric generator...or RTG) to the space probe. And once again, in case you’re wondering, the nuclear generator consists of non-weapons-grade plutonium.

New Horizons sits within the Atlas V's nose fairing after its nuclear generator (the gray circular object towards the center of the spacecraft) is installed.
New Horizons sits within the Atlas V's nose fairing after its nuclear generator (the
gray circular object towards the center of the spacecraft)
is installed.


Thursday, January 12
The final power-on integrated test between New Horizons and the Atlas V will be conducted.

Saturday, January 14
The fairing doors (including the door through which the RTG is installed onto New Horizons) will be installed for flight. If you don’t know what a fairing is, it’s the huge white nose cone of the rocket that you see in the photo at the very top of this journal entry.

Monday, January 16
Rollout of the Atlas V from the Vertical Integration Facility (the building where the rocket was assembled) to the launch pad at Complex 41 is scheduled to occur at 7:30 AM, Pacific Standard Time (PST). In the afternoon, the storable RP-1 fuel will be loaded aboard the Atlas first stage tank.

TUESDAY, JANUARY 17
The launch pad at Complex 41 will be cleared of personnel in preparation for cryogenic fueling operations, which are scheduled to begin 2 hours before liftoff (8:24 AM, PST). Liftoff is still scheduled for 10:24 AM, PST. Click on my December 19, 2005 entry for more details.

Schedule courtesy of NASA.gov

A chart showing the flight path the Atlas V rocket will take over the planet.  New Horizons will begin its escape boost out of Earth orbit above Australia.
ABOVE: A chart showing the flight path the Atlas V rocket will take over the planet.
New Horizons will begin its escape boost out of Earth orbit above Australia.
Courtesy
of
SpaceflightNow.Com

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Vince Young was on a mission.

TEXAS: 41, USC: 38... Ughhh... On the plus side, at least it was a close game. But how could've this happened? Well, overlooking the fact Reggie Bush turned the tide of the game by pitching that lateral in the second quarter, the refs making a bad call by allowing Texas' 9-7 score to stand when it shouldn't have (Vince Young's knee was down!), the Trojan defense breaking down with only 19 seconds left to allow Young to score the game-winning touchdown, and me not being able to watch the entire game on TV because I was attending the screening of a comedy sketch show's pilot episode in Hollywood (funny show, by the way... It's called The Loading Zone). Just being facetious with that last one. But do you think Reggie Bush will still be one of the top picks in this year's NFL Draft? Well, duhhh... Of course he will. Though it's ironic that 2005's Heisman Trophy winner was partly responsible for his team's loss by making a bad play that changed momentum early on in the game. Meh, can't win them all. One thing's for sure: Young no longer needs to feel bad about not being able to take the Heisman back to the Alamo. Bah!

Sunday, January 01, 2006

HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE!! Hope all of you are having a safe and fun holiday. I’ve posted a list below of key dates and events that should be of interest this year...that is, if you’re a sports fan or a movie buff. Or a space geek for that matter, haha. I’d add more dates in, but who really cares about when the second round of the Finnish presidential election is gonna be (January 29)? Or what day the planet Mercury will be in transit in front of the Sun (November 8)? I certainly don’t, hahaha. Anyways, carry on...

USC vs. Texas in the Rose Bowl.

January 2006
-Rose Bowl: USC vs. Texas (Jan 4)
-Season 5 premiere of 24 (Jan 15, 16)
-63rd Annual Golden Globe Awards (Jan 16)
-Launch of NASA's Pluto-bound New Horizons spacecraft (Jan 17)
-Season 5 premiere of American Idol (Jan 17, 18)

The New Horizons spacecraft.

February 2006
-Super Bowl XL (Feb 5)
-Grammy Awards (Feb 8)
-Opening Ceremony – XX Olympic Winter Games of Torino (Feb 10)
-NBA All-Star Game (Feb 19)
-Closing Ceremony – Olympic Winter Games (Feb 26)

The XX Olympic Winter Games of Torino.

March 2006
-78th Academy Awards (Mar 5)
-V For Vendetta (Mar 17)
-FOX show Prison Break returns after a 4-month hiatus (Mar 20)

The 2006 NFL Draft.

April 2006
-Daytime Emmy Awards (Apr 28)
-NFL Draft (Apr 29, 30)

The Da Vinci Code poster.

May 2006
-NASA's Return to Flight mission #2 (STS-121)... Space Shuttle Discovery (May 3 - tentative)
-Mission: Impossible 3 (May 5)
-The Da Vinci Code (May 19)
-X-Men 3 (May 26)

Space Shuttle Discovery lifting off.

June 2006
-Start of World Cup 2006 (June 9)
-Superman Returns (June 30)
-Sin City 2 (TBA)

Superman Returns poster.

July 2006
-NBA free agency begins: Peja Stojakovic, Ben Wallace, Jason Terry, Alonzo Mourning and Bonzi Wells are among the available players
-Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (July 7)
-End of World Cup 2006 (July 9)
-Miami Vice (Jul 28)

Pirates of the Caribbean 2 poster.

August 2006
-World Trade Center (Aug 11)
-PGA Championship (Aug 14-20)
-The 26th General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union in Prague, Czech Republic (Aug 14-15... This could be big. Pluto could be downgraded from a planet to a ‘Kuiper Belt Object’ after the conference. Don’t ask, haha)

Hubble Space Telescope image of Pluto.

September 2006
Sweden holds elections for the Riksdag (Sep 17... Hey, I had to add something for this month)

October 2006
-General elections in Brazil (Oct 2... Ditto with September)

Daniel Craig as the next Bond.

November 2006
-U.S. Mid-term Elections (Nov 7)
-Casino Royale – James Bond 21 (Nov 17)

The Muslim feast of Eid ul-Adha.

December 2006
-Muslim feast of Eid ul-Adha (Dec 31... I had to add something for this month as well, hahaha)