Category Archives: science news

Life imitates art?

Life is imitating art at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which could be a very good thing for Planet Earth if the need ever arises to do this again … for real.

I mean, they’ve made movies about this stuff!

NASA crashed a DART rocket into a 500-foot-diameter asteroid millions of miles from Earth last night. As NASA administrator Bill Nelson noted, for a small spacecraft to hit such a small target so far away, well, that’s “pretty good shootin’.”

NASA crashed a spacecraft into an asteroid – photos show the last moments of the successful DART mission (

Indeed, NASA wanted to hit the rock to test its ability to fend off a potentially cataclysmic collision if they ever detect a large asteroid heading straight for Earth. The mission was successful. It might have been the first time in space agency history when folks cheered the instant they lost telemetry from a spacecraft.

The spacecraft hit the asteroid traveling at a speed of 14,000 mph.

Now comes the question: Will NASA be able to develop a large enough space vehicle to knock an asteroid off a collision course with Earth in time to avoid Doomsday? 

Get busy, NASA.

Feels like the first time

It’s kind of like the way we used to react to news about space launches and, frankly, it feels good to this old goat.

NASA today postponed the launch of the Artemis I rocket planned for a moon mission. We have to wait now until Friday around noon before the space agency can send the world’s largest rocket into space and toward the moon.

Yes, I am filled with anticipation that is beginning to feel as I did when my dear Mom and I waited for hours on end for the Mercury astronauts and then the Gemini astronauts to launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

The Artemis I mission signals NASA’s return to a new space race. NASA wants to return to the moon before China sets foot on the surface. NASA administrator Bill Nelson has said he fears China could claim the entire lunar surface as Chinese territory. No can do, China.

Artemis I is meant as a test run for future manned landings on the moon, using it as a base from which NASA plans to launch manned flights to Mars. All of that news makes this one-time spaceflight junkie more anxious than I have felt in a long while.

I have supreme confidence that NASA will get Artemis I off the launch pad in due course. If not Friday, then the space agency will have to resolve the myriad issues that caused the postponement.

Americans last departed the moon 50 years ago. Every one of those Apollo launches caused my gut to tighten when the rocket engines ignited and the Saturn V missile roared off the pad.

To be sure, I am filled with anticipation of watching astronauts launching once again toward deep space travel.

I also am filled with a bit if wistfulness over Mom’s absence from this latest thrilling space adventure.

Why not respond in kind?

My perch in the cheap seats as I watch the Ukraine War play out way over there gives me a chance to wonder about something: If we are so fearful of Russian cyberattacks, why don’t we threaten to unleash our own cyber weapons against them?

The U.S.-Russia cold war might be taking a new form to replace the one that formerly featured nuclear weapons pointed at each other back in the days of the Evil Empire, when Russia was called The Soviet Union.

I don’t want my retirement account to be sucked dry by some cyber spook hunkered in some Moscow bunker. However, we live in the world’s most technically sophisticated nation. We have uber-geeks prepared to do all kinds of harm if given the lawful order from on high to do so.

It seems we are capable of crafting a cyber policy that we could make public — without revealing, of course, the tactical aspects of what we intend to do. Tell the Russians what kind of damage we can do to their cyber system and then — as we did during the other Cold War — dare them to launch an attack on us.

It would be a form of Mutually Assured Destruction 2.0.

It therefore would be equally MAD for the Russians to perform any funny stuff if we are ready to respond in kind.

‘One American legend …’

I am going to divulge a little secret, which isn’t really a secret, even though I have heard no mention of this date in the media, which is not to say that it has been ignored completely. I just haven’t heard anything said about it

On this day 60 years ago, a young Marine Corps pilot took off aboard an Atlas rocket and became the first American to orbit Earth. John Glenn was a 40-year-old member of the first team of astronauts chosen by the space agency to lead this country into space. Alan Shepard and Virgil “Gus” Grissom flew the first two sub-orbital flights. This one was different. It fell to Glenn to become the first American to take three 90-minute spins around the globe and, thus, become part of American lore.

My mother and I were addicted to the space program in those days. I was not quite 13 years old. We had awakened several previous mornings waiting for Glenn to blast off aboard Friendship 7, the tiny Mercury space capsule into which he squeezed his body.

Mission Control gave him the go-ahead — finally! — on Feb. 20, 1962. Off he flew. Three orbits. That’s all, man. Then he came home and rode into instant fame and glory. The young pilot from Ohio, who flew combat missions during the Korean War, was hailed as a hero with ticker-tape parades and audiences with the president and royalty around a planet he had seen from a couple hundred miles in space.

Ah, but his public service didn’t end there. He resigned from NASA. Glenn entered politics and became a U.S. senator from Ohio. Glenn ran for president in1984, but unlike his Friendship 7 ship, his effort never left the ground.

Then came another thrill for Sen. Glenn and for those of us who followed the space program. NASA had gone through the Mercury, Gemini, Skylab and Apollo space programs. It had a fleet of space shuttles, those reusable ships that flew into orbit many times. One of them was named Discovery. In 1998, Sen. Glenn got the call to suit up once more. He trained along with his shuttle crewmates for a lengthy mission. NASA wanted to test the effects of zero gravity on old folks; Glenn qualified, as he was 77 years of age, making him the oldest individual to fly into space.

Ahh, but the Discovery launch a moment I never will forget. The controllers counted down the time, the booster rockets ignited, and the ship lifted off the Florida launch pad. The public address announcer told the world that Discovery had launched, carrying “six astronaut heroes and one American legend.”

And so … I recall the day 60 years ago that a young man — and please pardon the reference — with the right stuff flew into the sky and carved into stone his prominent place in our nation’s glorious history.

Docs are invaluable

These social media messages can be so instructive. This one caught me eye and I want to share it.

The nimrods who bitch about the doctors, scientists, researchers and drug company executives are all too willing to throw themselves at their feet when they get sick.

The COVID-19 virus continues to ravage us. It is infecting us at an alarming rate … still! Yet we hear from the red-state rubes that they don’t trust the vaccines being offered; they mistrust the advice of learned medical and scientific professionals, such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the world’s pre-eminent infectious disease expert; they rely on livestock medication that the docs say is bad for you.

Then they get sick. They are hospitalized. Then they depend on the very same docs who warned them to get vaccinated, to mask up, to practice social distancing; they want those folks to make ’em better.

Hypocrisy? You bet!

Are they astronauts? No!

By John Kanelis /

Sir Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos have flown to the edge of space.

I have heard a bit of chatter in recent days over whether these two zillionaire business moguls are astronauts now that they have “slipped the surly bonds of Earth,” if only for a few minutes.

I’ll go with “no.” They are not astronauts. They are rich guys who hired space professionals to do the heavy lifting. They were merely passengers aboard their respective ships.

The others? I’ll give Wally Funk — the 82-year-old female test pilot — a pass on the astronaut claim. She flew on Bezos’s mission alongside Bezos and two others. She had trained to fly as an astronaut in the early 1960s; then NASA killed the woman in space program, denying Funk the chance to actually fly into space.

I once got into a snit (one of many) with a critic of this blog, the late Andrew Ryan, over my dismissal of U.S. Sens. Jake Garn and Bill Nelson, who flew aboard two shuttle missions. I declined to consider them astronauts, even though they trained alongside the space pros with whom they flew. I’ll concede that Andy Ryan was right and I was wrong about Garn, a Utah Republican and Nelson, a Florida Democrat.

Oh, and what about the third U.S. senator to fly on a shuttle mission? You’ve heard of this guy: John Glenn, an Ohio Democrat. He flew as a Mercury astronaut in February 1962, the first American to orbit Earth. Thirty-six years later, he took part in a Discovery shuttle mission.

Two very cool things about Glenn’s shuttle flight need mentioning. One is that NASA’s other astronauts did not need to translate the language they spoke while training with Glenn; the great man was fluent in astronaut-speak. The second aspect of the launch was when the shuttle’s engines ignited and the ship lifted off, the public address announcer declared the launch of Discovery carrying “six astronaut heroes and one American legend.”

Bezos and Branson may be legends in their own minds. Neither of them is an astronaut.

Biden’s not to ‘blame’

John Kanelis /

I am among the last people on Earth to criticize the media, given that I am among those who are still pursuing the craft (more or less) and that I believe the media are doing a good job of reporting the news.

That all said, I want to chide the media for suggesting/implying/inferring that President Biden is somehow to “blame” for the administration falling short of its goal of achieving “herd immunity” against the COVID pandemic by the Fourth of July.

Let us ponder this briefly …

Joe Biden promised to make the vaccines available to anyone who wants it. He delivered the goods there. The shortfall in getting 70 % percent of the nation inoculated is because of those who have bought into the right-wing claptrap about the vaccines.

President Biden has done what he can do. He has sought to persuade Americans that the vaccines are effective and will not cause undue harm to anyone who receives any of them.

Biden inherited a mess when he took office. The previous administration botched many aspects of its handling of the pandemic from the get-go. Yes, it enacted Operation Warp Speed in its effort to get vaccines developed and for that I am grateful. But the previous POTUS managed to contradict and undermine the medical experts he brought on board at every turn.

We continue to make progress against the pandemic, although it has slowed dramatically with the delta variant surge that has kicked the Biden administration in the teeth.

As for putting “blame” on President Biden for falling short of its herd immunity goal, well, the media should look instead at those who are outshouting the rest of us with their baseless condemnation of the vaccines.

We just didn’t know about this

By John Kanelis /

Mary Wallace Funk is my newest hero.

She goes these days by the name of Wally Funk. She became a household name this morning when she rocketed for a few moments into space aboard Jeff Bezos’s rocket that took off from the Trans-Pecos region Texas.

Why is she my hero? Because as a boy I was keenly interested in the space program created during the Eisenhower administration, developed later during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. However, there appears to have been huge gap in my knowledge of the early years.

I did not know a thing about the women who took part in those early developmental years. Wally Funk was one of them. She trained right along with the Mercury Seven astronauts selected to be the space pioneers. Then the National Aeronautics and Space Administration canceled the women’s program. So help me I do not recall ever hearing about this program as I was being taught in public school way back then in Portland, Ore.

Wally Funk becomes oldest person to fly to space 60 years after she was denied the opportunity (

Wally Funk never got to fly into space.

Until this morning a little after 8. She and Bezos and his brother Mark and Oliver Daemen, a teenager from The Netherlands rocketed off the desert floor near Van Horn. They zoomed to the edge of space. They were weightless for a few moments. Then they returned.

She trained right along with the Bezos brothers and Daemen. Jeff Bezos joked that just as Wally Funk outperformed her male colleagues in the late 1950s and early 1960s, she did the same while training for the rocket ride aboard the Blue Origin ship named New Shepard.

What’s important to note here is that Funk now is the oldest person to fly to space. She broke a 23-year-old record held by a fellow who flew as part of the Mercury program in 1962 and then took part in 1998 as a crew member aboard the shuttle Discovery. You’ve heard of this guy: the late John Glenn. As an aside, I still get chills when I watch the shuttle blast off with Sen. Glenn aboard and the NASA communicator announces the launch of the ship carrying “six astronaut heroes and one American legend.”

Well, Wally Funk likely won’t ascend to legendary status.

However, as of this morning this intrepid pioneer is my newest hero.

Well done, Wally Funk.

UFOs? Absolutely

By John Kanelis /

A few of the leading media talking heads have been yapping lately about unidentified flying objects.

Which brings me to this question: Do I believe in UFOs?

You bet I do!

Now, before you think I have flown off the rails, I need to stipulate one important caveat: I do not believe that UFOs are alien beings that have flown to Earth to invade us, to observe us, or to just make us ask dumb questions.

I also want to stipulate that I have seen hundreds of UFOs over my more than seven decades on Earth. I don’t what they are. Hence, they were “unidentified.” However, this speculation from some media types about whether the UFOs might be from some world out there carries as much weight as the discussions about a second gunman in Dealey Plaza the day President Kennedy was murdered … which is to say that I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted all by himself.

This UFO chatter serves only to give some folks something about which to talk. That’s it.

I am not inclined to get into any discussion about whether we’ve been visited by space creatures. It’s just not in my wheelhouse.

However, we need to come up with another name for those things we see that we cannot identify. The term “UFO” takes on an entirely different meaning that it does not deserve.

‘Impending doom’?


Dr. Rochelle Walensky is frightened at what she calls “impending doom” over the future of our nation’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

I think that if the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention worries about the virus, well, I think we all should worry, too. So, with that I’ll declare that I share Dr. Walensky’s concern.

President Biden is asking governors to reinstitute mask mandates. He is urging Americans to keep wearing masks. To keep practicing social distancing. To not congregate among strangers.

Yes, the nation has seen a decline in positive tests, in hospitalizations and in deaths from the pandemic. However, it appears that too many of us ae letting down our guard against the virus. It’s still killing Americans!

The Hill reports: “I’m going to lose the script, and I’m going to reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom. We have so much to look forward to so much promise and potential of where we are, and so much reason for hope. But right now I’m scared,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said during a White House briefing Monday. 

Spare me the criticism that she’s a doomsayer. That she’s crying “wolf!” where none exists. That she, in the words of the immediate ex-president, is an “idiot,” which is the label he hung on Dr. Anthony Fauci.

CDC director warns of ‘impending doom’ on potential new COVID-19 surge | TheHill

European Union nations are locking down again. Do we really want to join them? Do we dare allow this virus to seize control of our lives?

I am becoming increasingly concerned, too, that too many states might have let their guard down prematurely. Yes, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, that’s you, too!

I have no solutions to this, other than to echo Dr. Walensky’s concern. If she is worried about where we might be moving, then so am I.