Saturday, November 01, 2014

Spacecraft crash kills pilot....Virgin Galactic SpaceShip Two

The Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo rocket explodes in the air during a test flight - 31 October 2014
The moment the craft exploded was captured in an image shortly after it separated from the carrier aircraft
 A passenger spaceship being developed by Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic company crashed during a test flight on Friday near the Mojave Air and Space Port in California, killing one pilot and seriously injuring the other, officials said.
The crash of the suborbital vehicle, undergoing its first powered test flight since January over the Mojave Desert, 95 miles (150 km) north of Los Angeles, came days after another private space company, Orbital Sciences Corp, lost a rocket in an explosion moments after liftoff in Virginia.
The back-to-back accidents dealt a considerable blow to the fledgling commercial space launch industry, which has been taking on more work traditionally done by the U.S. government while expanding for-profit space markets, including tourism.
Television footage of the Virgin Galactic crash site showed wreckage of the spacecraft lying in two large pieces on the ground, and the company said the spacecraft was destroyed. Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said a debris field was spread over more than a mile.
One spaceship pilot was killed in the crash and his body was found in the wreckage, while the second pilot, who ejected and parachuted to the ground, survived with serious injuries, Youngblood said. The survivor was found more than a mile from the wreckage of the fuselage, he said.
Both crew members were test pilots for Scaled Composites, the Northrop Gruman Corp subsidiary that designed and built the spacecraft for Virgin and lost three other employees in a July 2007 ground test accident during development of the ship's propulsion system.
Friday's crash occurred shortly after the craft, dubbed SpaceShipTwo, separated from the jet airplane that carried it aloft for its high-altitude launch, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Scaled Composites President Kevin Mickey told a news conference the ill-fated flight was the first using a new rocket fuel formula the company switched to in May. He said that formula "had been proven and tested on the ground" before Friday's test launch.
Stuart Witt, chief executive of the space port, recounted observing what appeared to be the plume from the initial firing of the spacecraft's rocket as it was released from the mothership, an indication that engine ignition had been achieved. But he said officials were not ready to "speculate on the cause" of what went wrong afterward.
The National Transportation Safety Board said it was sending one of its "go-teams" to investigate the accident. Branson said via Twitter that he was on his way to Mojave following the crash. George Whitesides, chief executive of Virgin Galactic, said he expected Branson to arrive by Saturday morning.
"Space is hard, and today was a tough day. We are going to be supporting the investigation as we figure out what happened today, and we’re going to get through it," he told a news conference at the space port.
He added: "We believe we owe it to the folks who were flying these vehicles as well as the folks who have been working so hard on them, to understand this and to move forward, which is what we’ll do."

More than 800 people have paid or put down deposits (about $200,000 per person) to eventually fly aboard the spaceship, which is hauled to an altitude of about 45,000 feet (13.7 kms) and released by Virgin's White Knight Two carrier jet airplane. According to plans, the spaceship then fires its rocket motor to catapult it to about 62 miles (100 km) above Earth, giving passengers a view of the planet set against the blackness of space and a few minutes of weightlessness.
The vehicle is based on a prototype, SpaceShipOne, which 10 years ago won the $10 million Ansari X Prize for becoming the first privately developed manned spacecraft to fly in space.
"During the test, the vehicle suffered a serious anomaly resulting in the loss of SpaceShipTwo," Virgin said in a statement just after the crash, adding: "We will work closely with relevant authorities to determine the cause of this accident and provide updates ASAP."
Witt said the first sign of a malfunction came 90 seconds to two minutes after the carrier jet released the spacecraft, which occurred at 10:10 a.m. local time.
"There's usually a certain cadence, and you see things occurring, and the thing makes a contrail and the like. Because of the very light cirrus clouds, I was eyes on, but I didn't see any anomaly. In fact it was when I wasn't hearing anything that I became concerned. And I looked over at my colleague, and then there was a radio call, something about a chute."
The crash was the second accident this week involving a commercial U.S. space company. On Tuesday, an Antares rocket built and launched by Orbital Sciences exploded 15 seconds after liftoff from Wallops Island, Virginia, destroying a cargo ship bound for the International Space Station.
Friday's crash marked a major setback for Virgin Galactic, a U.S. offshoot of billionaire Branson's London-based Virgin Group. The company was aiming to make the world's first commercial suborbital space flights with SpaceShipTwo, a six-passenger, two-pilot spacecraft.
The launch was to have been the first in a series of test flights leading up to Virgin Galactic's maiden flight beyond Earth's atmosphere.
Virgin ultimately was planning to add four more suborbital spacecraft to its fleet, along with a second White Knight carrier jet. Plans call for the fleet to fly out of a new commercial space port in Las Cruces, New Mexico, once the company completes all test flights and is certified for passenger service to begin.
Virgin Galactic's Whitesides told a Toronto space conference earlier this month that a second spacecraft was already under construction and about 60 percent complete. Other companies developing passenger suborbital spacecraft include privately owned XCOR Aerospace, which is building a two-person space plane called Lynx, and Blue Origin, a startup space company owned by Inc founder Jeff Bezos. Virgin Galactic also plans to use its White Knight Two carrier jets to launch small satellites and payloads into orbit.

Even as details emerge of what went wrong, this is clearly a massive setback to a company hoping to pioneer a new industry of space tourism. Confidence is everything and this will not encourage the long list of celebrity and millionaire customers waiting for their first flight. An innovative design for a spacecraft combined with a new type of rocket motor to make the development challenge exceptionally hard. Despite an endless series of delays to its spacecraft, Virgin Galactic has over the years managed to maintain some very optimistic public relations and positive media coverage.
When Sir Richard Branson first announced the venture, his enthusiasm and determination were undoubted. But his most recent promises of launching the first passenger trip by the end of this year had already started to look unrealistic some months ago. Today's accident will delay plans even further. Conquering space is not easy, and making it a routine procedure is even harder.

SpaceShipTwo under rocket power in 2013
SpaceShipTwo under rocket power in 2013

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo (C), which is carried by a twin-hulled aircraft named Eve, is unveiled in Mojave, California in this 7 December 2009
SpaceShipTwo, carried by a twin-hulled aircraft named Eve

Richard Branson (right) with Arnold Schwarzenegger
Branson unveiled the spacecraft in 2009

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Ask Maxy

Dear Maxy ,
I am petrified  because  of this  Ebola  madness , I live in Texas  for God's  sake .
As it is , I don't  like flying  . Now  I hardly  want  to go out  my house . I'm supposed  to fly to  Washington D.C.  to visit  my family  for  Christmas  and it's time to buy  my ticket .  How  can I know  if  I will be on a flight  that's safe ? What should I do ?
Scared  Flightless
Dear Scared  Flightless,
You should  be  concerned  about  what your  next  steps should be, especially  during  the  holidays . Pay special attention  to the 'Center for  Disease Control  and Prevention'  website  that will be giving  updates  on travel  recommendations  and Ebola  in general . The  going wisdom  on prevention  of  contracting  this  deadly  disease  is to keep yourself, particularly your hands, antiseptically clean and stay away  from infected  people  . For  details  , visit  .

Dear Maxy ,
I live  in a  large  condo building . Most  of the occupants  are lovely, but one woman  is extremely bossy  and always involved in projects . For  some reason  she expects  me to do all her  legwork  and  of  course, takes full credit .
I work from home . She  doesn't  like  taking  no  for an answer, so she was constantly  texts, calls  and  hounds  me until I give in . How  can I politely tell her  I'm too busy  and would  prefer  that she  leave me along ?
Sick of  being  bossed
Dear Sick ,
You need to acquire a little back bone and stand up for yourself. She will never  give  up  if she knows  you will eventually  give in . She thinks you are a pushover.
Prove her  wrong . Be polite but keep saying  no . Don't answer  her texts  or  calls . Write "Sorry , I can't help you," on a piece of paper  and read it to her  as many times as  necessary . Persevere and eventually it will penetrate a  hide even as tough as hers.

Dear Maxy ,
I appreciate  the information  on ovarian cancer  and that September  was ovarian cancer  month . I am writing to  find out  whether you are aware of any support  walks , bike rides , etc., to advance people's awareness of ovarian cancer ? My aunt  was recently diagnosed  and I have been disappointed  in the lack of information . I recently  moved to Sarasota  and found  out that the only chapter  in Florida  for ovarian cancer  is in Tallahassee . If  you have any thoughts , please  let me  know .
---- S.
Dear S. ,
There  are  various  walks  and rides  for  ovarian cancer  scheduled throughout  the  year, although I cannot promise  that there are any are in Sarasota . For  information, support  and scheduling, please  look into  the  Ovarian Cancer  Research Fund( ),  the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance ( ), the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition ( ), and the American Cancer Society ( ).

Forgotten Corvette collection emerges from the dust after 25 years

2009 Callaway GT1 Championship Edition featured in Corvette Magazine

Peter Max

Peter Max's abandoned, old collection of Corvettes is being brought back to life.

Only that never happened. Instead, Max left his collection in a New York City storage lot, which is where they've lived for a quarter of a century, gathering inches of dust, moved only when switching from one storage location to another. However, that is all about to change, as the cars are now under new ownership – one that will lovingly restore the 'Vettes and get them back on the road.
The story of how Max acquired the cars began in 1989, when music network VH1 held a contest to award a lucky viewer with a Corvette from every year of the model's existence, from 1953 to 1989. Hemmings reports that VH1 purchased the cars for $610,000, and made its money back by creating a 900 number and charging contestants $2.00 per phone call to enter.

Placing just one call, Dennis Amodeo, a carpenter from Long Island, won the prize. Shortly after receiving his army of Corvettes, Amodeo received a call from Max who had seen the collection at an auto show in 1990. Max stated that he wished to purchase the cars, and at a meet in New York City, the two hashed out a deal that reportedly included $250,000 in cash, $250,000 worth of Max's artwork and an agreement that if Max ever sold the cars, Amodeo would receive a portion of the proceeds, up to $1 million.

While the exterior of the 1963 Vette is coated in grime, the interior has been fairly well preserved by neglect.
While the exterior of the 1963 Vette is coated in grime, the interior has been fairly well preserved

Why Max never executed his plan for the Corvette collection remains a bit of a mystery; in 2010, he talked about adding 14 more years of vehicles to bring the tally up to an even 50. Once again, that never happened. Perhaps it was the sheer amount of work that was required after the artist had let the cars sit for so long; some of the cars, like the 1974 and 1984, would cost more to restore than the vehicle's worth, and time was reportedly unkind to most of the 'Vettes in the group – two-thirds of which sport the less-sought-after automatic transmission with 14 of the cars convertibles; none feature the prized big-block V-8.

Still, after Max approached a guy named Peter Heller to locate a new storage garage for his collection, according to the New York Times, Heller decided instead to offer the artist a deal to purchase the 36 Corvettes. Max agreed for an untold sum (it's unknown whether Amodeo will receive a portion of the proceeds, as stated in Max's original deal). Some of the cars, Heller discovered, could be show-ready with relatively basic restoration, and he plans to have even most decrepit vehicles brought back to life.

When complete, the collection will return to the market, hoping to deliver a tidy return on Heller's investment and keep the wheels turning on the once forgotten Corvettes of Peter Max.
David Borroughs of Bloomington Gold was asked by the NY Times about the value of the collection.   And without an on-site inspection, he suggested that the 36 car collection had an estimated value of  close to a million dollars with the 10 oldest Corvettes alone accounting for half.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Hawaiian village Pahoa evacuates as Kilauea lava threatens

This Oct. 25, 2014 photo provided by the U.S. Geological Survey shows a small shed being consumed by lava in a pasture between the Pahoa cemetery and Apa?a Street near the town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii. Dozens of residents in this rural area of Hawaii were placed on alert as flowing lava continued to advance.

Residents of a Hawaiian village threatened by lava have begun evacuating as the flow threatens the first house in its path. Two roads to Pahoa have been closed and a cemetery has already been overtaken by the flow from the Kilauea volcano.
"We are still praying," said Imelda Raras as the lava approaches her house. "I hope our home will be spared."
Kilauea on the Big Island has been erupting since 1983, but lava has recently burst forth from a new vent. The town's residents will be allowed to watch the destruction of their homes "as a means of closure", officials said. And they will be allowed to take photos and video for insurance purposes.
"You can only imagine the frustration as well as... despair they're going through," said Hawaii County Civil Defense Director Darryl Oliveira.
Mrs Raras said she and her husband are ready to go to a friend's home if they are ordered to leave.

The lava flow from the Kilauea Volcano is seen crossing Apa'a Street/Cemetery Road in this U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) image taken near the village of Pahoa, Hawaii 25 October 2014
The lava flow from the Kilauea volcano cuts off a street in Pahoa
On Tuesday morning, officials said the lava had crossed into the property of the threatened home on the edge of Pahoa. Many residents of the town of 800 have already left or made plans to do so, Mr Oliveira said. The couple living in the house closest to the flow have evacuated but have been returning to gather belongings, he said.

Can you stop lava?

At temperatures of about 1,000C (1,832F), lava destroys whatever it touches. Its path is notoriously hard to predict. The ability to impede or redirect lava largely depends on location, resources and luck.
Decades ago in Hawaii, the US attempted to bomb a lava flow, only to see the bomb craters refill. In Iceland, crews made use of billions of gallons of cold water around a nearby harbour to cool the lava in place. And barriers along Mount Etna in Italy redirected a flow away from a tourist area. But these attempts have been helped by a natural slowing or halting of lava eruptions.
"You have to be in a wealthy country with a lot at stake to even consider" lava diversion, Dr Shannon Nawotniak told the BBC, particularly given the volume of volcanic eruptions and the potential costs.
"You might buy yourself some time until the volcano stops itself."

Residents have already begun evacuating
  The flow came to a standstill in September before flowing faster towards Pahoa

The lava flow from the Kilauea Volcano is seen in a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) image taken near the village of Pahoa, Hawaii, at 10:00HST (20:00GMT) October 26, 2014.
Kilauea volcano has continuously erupted since 1983, but a new lava vent has recently threatened communities on Hawaii's Big Island
"They are out of the property and awaiting the events to unfold."
The flow, now 55yds wide, advanced about 275yds between Sunday morning and Monday morning.
It has been moving at an average of five to 10yds an hour, but has done so fitfully, sometimes slowing down to two yards or speeding up to 20, depending on topography, said Janet Babb, a spokeswoman for the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.
Decomposed vegetation in the lava's path has also produced methane explosions at the front of the flow, Ms Babb said.
"It's not a massive explosion," she said. "But it can dislodge rocks."
After the new vent opened in July, lava threatened a separate community before coming to a standstill in September.

This Oct. 25, 2014 photo provided by the U.S. Geological Survey shows a Hawaii Volcano Observatory geologist standing on a partly cooled section of lava flow near the town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Decomposing vegetation has created methane explosions at the front of the flow

The lava flow from the Kilauea Volcano is seen nearing residential areas in a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) image taken near the village of Pahoa, Hawaii 27 October 2014

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Ford Era is Over...John Tory is Mayor of Toronto

 John Tory has been elected mayor of Toronto. The Ford era is over. Tory beat Doug Ford, the brother of current mayor Rob Ford, in a tight race Monday night, severing the city from the past four years of scandal, embarrassment and complete mismanagement.  Tory promised “sensible, competent, accountable” leadership after  the upheaval under Rob Ford. His win over Doug Ford and Olivia Chow was, as The Canadian Press reports — much narrower than predicted by recent opinion polls —and is a repudiation of the siblings whose behaviour outraged the city. It heralds a return to normalcy in local government.

Tory, who launched his campaign in a distant third place, took the lead for good three months ago. But the steady polling trend line belies the mayhem of a campaign in which the celebrity incumbent left the city for two months to receive treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, was diagnosed with a rare cancer, and was replaced on the ballot by his brother a mere 45 days before the vote.
Tory rose on the strength of his centrist good-government message, pleasantly staid personality and a single signature policy proposal, the “SmartTrack” surface rail line he claimed would “solve” the city’s traffic congestion problem “quickly.” With the help of endorsement upon endorsement from members of the provincial Liberal caucus, the former Progressive Conservative leader beat Chow, a former New Democrat MP, in the critical battle for middle-of-the-road voters.

Tory said his top priority is addressing the city’s traffic and transportation woes. He will soon embark on complicated discussions with the provincial and federal governments over SmartTrack, which he pitched as a 53-kilometre, 22-stop, $8-billion project built in no more than seven years.
The mayor has just one vote on the 45-member council. Tory will have to deal with a very vocal and very famous antagonist: Rob Ford was elected to his former Etobicoke North council seat despite his inability to campaign.
 ( I wonder why Torontonians would put Rob in a position of trust again....not to mention he is a sick man ). Ford, though, will again become a largely powerless outsider, that is, if his health permits him to work at all. Doug Ford’s defeat effectively concludes the chaotic and oft-surreal period in which Toronto became a fixture on late-night comedy shows — and Rob became the world’s most famous municipal politician.

Doug Ford, a conservative councillor and a businessman, ran a heavily negative and frequently dishonest campaign focused on Tory, whom he called an establishment “elite” figure uninterested in “the common folk.” Adopting much of his brother’s successful populist rhetoric, Ford presented himself as a champion of low taxes, subways, and suburbanites neglected by city hall. Before the end of voting on Monday, campaign spokesman Amin Massoudi said he is proud of what Ford’s skeletal team managed to accomplish.
“We’ve done everything we can with the time that we had,” he said. “We think we’ve run a successful campaign against some pretty serious odds.”
Chow began the campaign as the clear favourite. After months of attempting to establish her bona fides as a budget-minded centrist, she altered her message after Labour Day — newly identifying herself as a “progressive,” proposing a tax hike on the rich to pay for an expansion of student meal programs, and touting social policies intended to help marginalized people and neighbourhoods.
She, too, attacked Tory relentlessly, joining with Ford in an uncoordinated late-campaign assault on the untested technical and financial components of the SmartTrack plan. Tory brushed off his two main opponents as needlessly negative “members of the can’t-do-it committee,” and their criticism never appeared to resonate.

The campaign formally ran for 10 months, informally even longer. Tory and Chow participated in more than 50 debates each, on topics as varied as accessibility, the arts and Latino political participation. But transit was the overwhelming focus throughout. Chow was first to issue a major proposal, promising to immediately improve rush-hour bus service by 10 per cent. She was forced to make her proposal less specific when TTC officials said a quick fix wasn’t possible during peak periods.  Chow claimed throughout the spring that she was “the one person” who could beat Rob Ford. Her argument fizzled in late July, when Tory overtook her in the polls for the first time. He never trailed again.

Rob Ford took his name off the ballot because of illness. He had run a largely positive campaign focused on his policy achievements, taking personal credit for the “booming” city while asking voters to overlook his crack cocaine scandal and other “personal” failings. Doug Ford’s abbreviated campaign, launched long after Tory established himself as the man to beat, took on a sharply different tone.

Tory accompanied his wife, Barbara Hackett, to cast her ballot just steps from their downtown condo on Bloor St. W. He pronounced himself “actually very serene.” He could not sit still, though, as Ford and Chow continued canvassing in the afternoon, and he added a 20-minute glad-handing stop at Sherbourne subway station to his previously empty afternoon itinerary.
He insisted he was still calm.
“It’s an occasion to celebrate democracy, and celebrate the great city we’re in, and I hope we’re celebrating a victory, too — but I take nothing for granted,” he said.