28 May 2011


NASA. In a surprise announcement, the U.S. space agency NASA revealed that our presence in space won't end with the last space shuttle launch in June. Rather, after decades of treading water in near-Earth orbit, the agency will once again focus on manned exploration of deep space using four-person crews aboard MPCVs (Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicles - click on image to enlarge) on missions lasting up to 21 days. Since it can dock with the International Space Station, it will be capable of multiple missions without having to splash down and re-launch for each mission. The MPCV is a stepping stone toward reclaiming the grand vision first voiced by President John Kennedy in 1961 -- the manned exploration of the moon, the solar system, and hopefully beyond.

It's about time. NASA continues to be woefully underfunded compared to the massive hemorrhaging of federal funds used to support Wall Street, oil wars, and tax breaks for the wealthy in this country. Our priorities require a thorough reorganization, from the ground up.

UNIVERSE MAP. Here's one of those gee-whiz curiosities -- the most complete 3D map of the universe to date. In the 2D version seen below, distance is color-coded, with purple dots indicating nearby galaxies, and red dots indicating more distant galaxies. The text at the link explains how this imagery can be used to better understand the motion of our own Milky Way galaxy (whose presence partially blocks our view of the universe, explaining the apparent dark band across the middle of the image).

WORLD PROGRESS. Finally, check out this link to an impressive computer-generated visualization of how the world's nations have shifted in human lifespan and income during the past 200 years. The narration and graphics are fascinating, and at first blush, one gets the impression that prospects for the human race are pretty good. But the data are over-simplified, and do not take into account the rapidly increasing gap between the wealthy few and the poorer many (whether individuals or nations). Still, it is a fun exercise to watch.

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