The controversy continues about naming the Webb Space Telescope; the woke won’t give up in the face of the facts

December 20, 2022 • 10:00 am

This article in a recent New York Times tells a sad tale of the vindictiveness of scientific ideologues and their determination to gain control over science by flaunting their own victim status, as well as by blatantly ignoring the truth. It involves the naming of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) over the objections of people who asserted, wrongly, that Webb was a homophobe who fired gay people from NASA and the government (he was administrator of the organization from 1961-1968, and before that the Undersecretary of State from 1949 to 1952).

Click to read the article; if it’s paywalled, judicious inquiry will yield a copy. This is a piece worth reading, and shows that the NYT is not completely woke, for the piece gives an evenhanded story that winds up putting the woke in a pretty bad light.

For a long time, ideologues have criticized the name of the telescope, demanding it be changed (NASA refused to change it). The kvetchers argued that Webb, as both Undersecretary of State and NASA administrator, helped fire gay scientists under orders from people higher in the government. This all stemmed from an executive order issued by President Eisenhower in 1953 barring gay Americans from working for the federal government—an order that wasn’t formally rescinded until Bill Clinton barred job discrimination based on sexual orientation in 1998.

During this period, between 5,000 and 10,000 gay employees were booted out of government jobs. The allegations about Webb arose when NASA decided to name the space telescope after him, claiming that he was complicit in this firing.  But extensive delving into the historical record by several people and agencies shows that these allegations were false. From the NYT (all quotes indented):

Hakeem Oluseyi, who is now the president of the National Society of Black Physicists, was sympathetic to these critics. Then he delved into archives and talked to historians and wrote a carefully sourced essay in Medium in 2021 that laid out his surprising findings.

“I can say conclusively,” Dr. Oluseyi wrote, “that there is zero evidence that Webb is guilty of the allegations against him.”

That, he figured, would be that. He was wrong.

The struggle over the naming of the world’s most powerful space telescope has grown yet more contentious and bitter. In November, NASA sought to douse this fire. Its chief historian, Brian Odom, issued an 89-page report that echoed Dr. Oluseyi’s research and concluded the accusations against Mr. Webb were misplaced.

NASA acknowledged that the federal government at that time “shamefully promoted” discrimination against gay employees. But Mr. Odom concluded: “No available evidence directly links Webb to any actions or follow-up related to the firing of individuals for their sexual orientation.”

. . . As Dr. Oluseyi discovered and NASA’s report confirmed, it was not Mr. Webb but a different State Department official who oversaw the purge and spoke disparagingly of gay Americans.

Indeed, Webb helped to slow down the firing of gay governmental employees:

Secretary of State Dean Acheson denounced the “filthy business” of smearing diplomats. And President Harry Truman, records show, advised Mr. Webb to slow-walk the Republican investigation, while complying with its legal dictates. Mr. Webb did not turn over personnel files to Senate investigators, according to the NASA report.

Webb also has anti-racist bona fides:

Mr. Webb, who died in 1992, cut a complicated figure. He worked with Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson to integrate NASA, bringing in Black engineers and scientists. In 1964, after George Wallace, the white segregationist governor of Alabama, tried to block such recruitment, Mr. Webb threatened to pull top scientists and executives out of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.

Finally, historians who work on gay history haven’t deemed Webb worthy of indictment:

Historians who specialize in this era in gay history said such expectations ignore the historical context. Mr. Webb did not lead efforts to oust gays; there was not yet a gay rights movement in 1949; and to apply the term homophobe is to use a word out of time and reflects nothing Mr. Webb is known to have written or said.

“The activists who say that James Webb should have stood up and spoken against the purges are anachronistic,” said Dr. Johnson, whose Twitter handle is @gayhistoryprof. “No one in government could stand up at that time and say ‘This is wrong.’ And that includes gay people.”

You’d think that would end the kvetching, right? WRONG!  People who argued that Webb was a homophobe didn’t change their tune in light of the multiple studies showing they were wrong. Instead, led by the notoriously woke physicist and activist Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, a professor at the University of New Hampshire and an activist who doesn’t miss a chance to parade her intersectional victim status (see below), they simply recalibrated their claims, saying that Webb should have stood up to the government. She and her colleagues had written several pieces objecting to the naming of the JWST on the grounds that Webb was a homophobe.

In a blog written with three fellow scientists, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, a cosmologist at the University of New Hampshire with a low six-figure Twitter following, said that it was highly likely that Mr. Webb “knew exactly what was happening with security at his own agency during the height of the Cold War,” adding, “We are deeply concerned by the implication that managers are not responsible for homophobia.”

We’ve met Prescod-Weinstein on this site before—as author of a dreadful article on “white empiricism” that tried to conflate physics with social justice.

And she influenced others. Like all the critics of the JWST, Prescod-Weinstein didn’t do the research that NASA and Hakeem Oluseyi had done; they went after the man and his telescope based on rumors and distortions. Note below that Scientific American, now a woke, inflammatory rag of a magazine, participated in the tarring of Webb (see its two articles “The James Webb Space Telescope needs to be renamed“, of which Prescod-Weinstein was a coauthor, and “New revelations raise pressure on NASA to rename the James Webb Space Telescope“).

. . . . as the telescope neared completion, criticism flared. In 2015, Matthew Francis, a science journalist, wrote an article for Forbes titled “The Problem With Naming Observatories for Bigots.” He wrote that Mr. Webb led the anti-gay purge at the State Department and that he had testified of his contempt for gay people. He credited Dr. Prescod-Weinstein with tipping him off, and she in turn tweeted his article and attacked Mr. Webb as a “homophobe.”

Those claims rested on misidentification and that portion of Mr. Francis’ article has been deleted without notice to the reader. Mr. Francis declined an interview.

Oops!

In October, the Royal Astronomical Society in Britain waded in, declaring that Mr. Webb engaged in “entirely unacceptable” behavior. The society instructed that no astronomer who submits a paper to its journals should type the words “James Webb.” They must use the abbreviation JWST.

The American Astronomical Society demanded in April that NASA issue a formal and public report on its naming decision. And a trio of top scientific publications — Nature, New Scientist and Scientific American — published essays and editorials sharply critical of Mr. Webb with nary a dissenting word. Dr. Oluseyi said Scientific American rejected a letter from him pointing out flawed statements in its essays and rejected his proposal to write about his findings on Mr. Webb.

Scientific American’s editor, Laura Helmuth, declined an interview and wrote in an email that its coverage had been “timely, thorough and fair.”

petition demanding NASA rename its telescope has garnered more than 1,700 signatures, a majority from faculty and graduate students.

“This is about who we canonize and who are our real saints,” Dr. Prescod-Weinstein said in an interview. “We can’t just exonerate a dead white guy who was in the thick of a repressive government.”

There it is: a dead white guy, as if him being dead, white, and male count towards his perfidy. And even though he didn’t fire anybody, he was—as was every government employee in America—”in the thick of a repressive government.” This is what nasty wokesters say when they can’t pin malfeasance directly on someone. She also said this:

Dr. Prescod-Weinstein wrote that if Mr. Webb had been “a radical freedom fighter,” he would not have served in the Truman administration.

There were NO “radical freedom fighters during the Truman administration”!

Prescod- Weinstein’s rancor was exacerbated by Oluseyi’s report, which alluded to her, though not by name:

When Dr. Oluseyi wrote his essay on James Webb, he took to task journalists and an astrophysicist, whom he did not name, for not rigorously researching the accusations. He said that the scientist, who was cited by name in the Forbes article, had “propagated unsubstantiated false information.”

Dr. Prescod-Weinstein wrote on Twitter that she was this unnamed scientist in Dr. Oluseyi’s article and that he “is writing poorly researched articles that are basically hit pieces on me.”

“The leader of a professional society and a senior scientist,” she wrote, is “going out of his way to justify historic homophobia” and “attack a junior queer Black woman professor.”

Months, later, in August 2021, George Mason University recruited Dr. Oluseyi as a visiting professor, and Peter Plavchan, an astronomy professor, offered a tweet of welcome to the man he played a role in recruiting.

Dr. Prescod-Weinstein objected. In a stream of tweets, she said Dr. Oluseyi had championed “a homophobe.”

She wrote that Dr. Plavchan’s welcome was “a reminder that senior men in astronomy can treat junior women” poorly — using an expletive — “and be welcomed by colleagues with open arms.”

Notice the emphasis on her identity, and the victimhood she emphasizes by being attacked by a a “senior” man. When criticized for her inflammatory words, Prescod-Weinsten always brings up the fact that she’s black, gay, a woman, and, sometimes Jewish as well. More from the NYT:

Ms. Prescod-Weinstein, 40, was born in Los Angeles to a family of left-wing activists and is among a handful of Black women to work in theoretical cosmology. Charismatic and outspoken, she describes her writings on race and gender and science as inseparable.

“The civil rights versus gay people schtick is marginalizing and pathetic,” she said. “It’s straight people arguing about the straight canon. As a Black queer Jewish person, I’m not interested.”

Well, Dr. Weinstein, as a white, straight Jewish man (and an old one to boot), I do care: about the truth. Apparently you don’t, and your behavior reeks of self-aggrandizement and sheer nastiness.  Further Prescod-Weinstein also participated in the demonization of Oluseyi by spreading rumors—which again turned out to be false—that he was guilty of transgressions at his former university, Florida Tech.

The attacks against Dr. Oluseyi had shifted, as some accused him of personal misconduct.

Dr. Plavchan said that in July 2021, as word circulated in academia that Dr. Oluseyi might win an appointment at George Mason, he heard from a professor at a different university who claimed that Dr. Oluseyi had mishandled a federal grant and sexually harassed a woman.

Dr. Plavchan said that he reported these accusations to George Mason. Soon Florida Tech officials were combing through records and thousands of emails. They found nothing to substantiate these charges, according to Hamid K. Rassoul, a physics professor at Florida Tech and former dean who took part in the investigation. George Mason went ahead with its appointment in the fall of 2021.

Prescod-Weinstein, who must spend hours a day on Twitter, repeated these false rumors:

On Twitter, Dr. Prescod-Weinstein has pushed some of the same accusations, while not naming Dr. Oluseyi directly. “It continues to be the case that academic institutions play pass the harasser,” she wrote in a veiled reference to Dr. Oluseyi in August 2021. And this past November she questioned on Twitter why journalists have not asked why he left his last job.

Dr. Prescod-Weinstein did not reply to three emails asking for more information.

She’s clearly out to get Oluseyi, and since she didn’t get him for homophobia, she’s wants to get him for sexual harassment.

Another person who had no comment was the editor of Scientific American, whom we know well:

Scientific American’s editor, Laura Helmuth, declined an interview and wrote in an email that its coverage had been “timely, thorough and fair.”

Well, read this Sci Am op-ed, by Prescod-Weinstein and two colleagues, and see if it’s thorough and fair. A few quotes:

When he arrived at NASA in 1961, his leadership role meant he was in part responsible for implementing what was by then federal policy: the purging of LGBT individuals from the workforce. When he was at State, this policy was enforced by those who worked under him. As early as 1950, he was aware of this policy, which was a forerunner to the antigay witch hunt known today as the lavender scare. Historian David K. Johnson’s 2004 book on the subject, The Lavender Scare, discusses archival evidence indicating that Webb, along with others in State Department leadership, was involved in Senate discussions that ultimately kicked off a devastating series of federal policies.

. . . This struggle is not limited to science or to the past: Just a few months ago Representative Joaquin Castro of Texas introduced the LOVE Act of 2020, which “requires the State Department to set up an independent commission to review the cases of individuals who were fired since the 1950s as a result of their sexual orientation, receive testimony, and correct employment records.” Passage of the act would not only prompt an apology from Congress for its past complicity in the lavender scare but also provide protections for queer diplomats at home and abroad.

Yet we can honor the incredible heroes who worked tirelessly to liberate others. Before she became a conductor on the Underground Railroad, a disabled and enslaved Harriet Tubman almost certainly used the North Star, just as it is documented that others did, to navigate her way to freedom. Naming the next Hubble the Harriet Tubman Space Telescope (HTST) would ensure that her memory lives always in the heavens that gave her and so many others hope.

Shoot me now! At any rate, Oluseyi (and remember, he’s president of the National Society of Black Physicists) gets the last word:

Dr. Oluseyi is aware of the risk of damage to his reputation. For just a moment, he sounded plaintive.

“Look, I didn’t care about James Webb — he’s not my uncle,” Dr. Oluseyi said. “I had no motivation to exonerate. Once I found the truth, what was I supposed to do?”

The lesson is that being a black, gay, Jewish woman (or a woman editor of Scientific American) doesn’t give you special abilities to discern homophobia if there is no evidence, nor does it make you immune from criticism. If there’s any lesson Prescod-Weinstein should have learned as a member of the scientific community, it’s that the truth is independent of the personal characteristics of the person who finds it.

But then, in another post I wrote about Prescod-Weinstein, I analyzed her Slate piece called “Stop equating ‘science’ with truth.” To her, the truth is simply what is produced by those who have power, a distinctly postmodern position.

The final lesson is this: the woke never apologize (and they double down on their victims who do apologize), and they never admit they were wrong. Wouldn’t it be lovely if Helmuth and Prescod-Weinstein, along with the other critics of James Webb as a homophobe and Oluseyi as a sexual harasser, admitted they were wrong?

Don’t hold your breath.

Artemis-1/Orion splashdown today: 12:39 EST

December 11, 2022 • 10:00 am

This announcement comes from Jim “Bat” Batterson, and if you’re interested in seeing the splashdown, you can start watching below at 11 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.  If you just want to see the final action, I’d suggest starting to watch about half an hour in advance: roughly noon EST.

From Bat:

Artemis-1/Orion mission ends today with splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off San Diego, California scheduled for 1239 EST.  NASA Live video coverage begins at 1100 EST at the NASA live site.

Here’s a bit of info and some photos of practice rescue using a mock Orion capsule:

Concluding its 25½-day mission, Artemis’ Orion capsule will slow from a dizzying 25,000 mph – roughly a dozen times faster than a rifle bullet – to 300 mph after entering the Earth’s atmosphere. The capsule’s heat shield should reach a roasting 5,000 degrees, or twice the temperature of molten lava.

After a series of parachutes deploy, NASA engineers predict the 11-by-16½-foot capsule should slow to about 20 mph before gliding earthward and striking the sea’s surface within eyesight of the recovery ship’s crew, 50 to 60 nautical miles off the San Diego coast. [According to Bat, bad weather at the site off San Diego has forced the entry 300 nautical miles away—off Mexico.]

The three-parachute configuration will be similar to that used in the Apollo recovery (below)

Comprised of about 95 people, the Orion landing and recovery team includes Navy amphibious specialists piloting inflatable boats; NASA engineers and technicians from KSC and Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas; Air Force weather specialists; and Lockheed Martin Space Operations personnel. A helicopter squadron from nearby Naval Air Station North Island will provide aerial spotting.

The Portland will approach the bobbing Orion, and divers will use sensors to conduct “sniff checks” for leaking hydrazine or ammonia from the capsule, Jones said. Then Navy personnel will attach tending lines to Orion and flood the ship’s well deck with about 6 feet of seawater, and a cable will tow the floating spacecraft through the ship’s lowered stern gate into a specially designed cradle.

Afterward, the Portland will transport the capsule to a pier at Naval Base San Diego.

The unique aspect of the re-entry, not previously used, is the “skip” maneuver, in which the capsule will bounce off the Earth’s atmosphere before plunging through it again. This allows the capsule to reduce speed (therefore reducing the heat the capsule experiences) as well as to permit a more precise landing:

After discarding its unneeded service module, which supplied electricity and power for nearly a month, Orion will do a daring skip maneuver off the edge of Earth’s atmosphere. The capsule will use a bit of our protective envelope, along with associated lift, to skip just like a rock across the surface of a lake. This maneuver wasn’t possible during the Apollo program, but advances in spacecraft navigation make that possible today.

“The skip entry will help Orion land closer to the coast of the United States, where recovery crews will be waiting to bring the spacecraft back to land,” Chris Madsen, Orion guidance, navigation and control subsystem manager, said in a NASA statement(opens in new tab).

“When we fly crew in Orion beginning with Artemis 2, landing accuracy will really help make sure we can retrieve the crew quickly and reduces the number of resources we will need to have stationed in the Pacific Ocean to assist in recovery.”

The maneuver will also reduce the g-forces future Artemis program astronauts will experience once the Orion capsule is crewed. “Instead of a single event of high acceleration, there will be two events of a lower acceleration of about four g’s each,” NASA wrote in the same statement. “The skip entry will reduce the acceleration load for the astronauts so they have a safer, smoother ride.”

Here’s a diagram of a “skip” re-entry from Wikipedia:

 

Orion/Artemis-1: “On our way home”

December 9, 2022 • 9:00 am

Here’s an update on the Orio/Artemis-1 mission, a photo, a video of what’s going to happen when it splashes down on Sunday, and another video for lagniappe.

I know it is likely too late for today’s Hili, but in case you want to mention location of some updated Artemis material on the Nasa mission blog:  the blog is updated every day or so and the version from Dec 7 has an embedded six-minute video that shows animation of re-entry process that is planned for Sunday and video of earlier sub-orbital tests of the capsule-parachute and recovery ship systems.

Here’s a photo taken of the Moon’s surface during one of the capsule’s closest approaches (the closest it got was 80 miles or 130 km):

(from NASA): art001e002164 (Dec. 5, 2022): Cameras mounted on the crew module of the Orion spacecraft captured these views of the Moon’s surface. On flight day 20 of the Artemis I mission, the spacecraft made its second and final close approach to the Moon before its returned powered flyby burn.

Here’s an informative 6-minute video of what’s happened and how the entry to Earth’s atmosphere and landing will go:

And an appropriate Beatles video; song by McCartney, recorded for the Let It Be album on Jan. 31, 1969. The whole gang is here, including Linda, Yoko, and George Martin and Billy Preston on the keyboards.

Artemis-1 launch early tomorrow morning (and I mean EARLY)

November 15, 2022 • 11:00 am

My friend Jim Batterson, who worked for NASA and has written updates on space exploration on this site, now has a summary of the crewless NASA Artemis-1 Mission which has been scheduled for launch three times and delayed all three times. It’s now scheduled for early tomorrow morning (you can watch if if you’re a night owl or live overseas). The goal is to get humans to the Moon and have them stay there for a while, i.e., establish a lunar base. And that is preparation for the ultimate goal: establishing a base on Mars where humans can live for substantial periods, if not permanently.

NASA Artemis-1 Mission Update Summary

Jim Batterson

November 14, 2022 (1615 EST)

(Interpreted from public news reports with my best efforts)

As of this afternoon (Monday), NASA managers at Kennedy Space Station have assessed the hurricane storm-damage reports provided by engineers and technicians who have inspected the Artemis-1 rocket and launch systems after last week’s high winds and water from Hurricane Nicole. The report is that that the damage is either repairable or does not compromise flight safety; so they are still committed to a 1:04 AM EST Wednesday morning launch.

NASA plans to launch the delayed Artemis-1 moon rocket mission very early Wednesday morning at 1:04AM EST from NASA’s Cape Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  The mission was delayed several times due to mechanical glitches, conflicts with other higher priority launches, and by a couple of late-season hurricanes that hit Florida this Fall.

This launch is designed to stress-test the NASA Space Launch System, a rocket-and-capsule configuration designed to send a human crew to the Moon and return them safely to Earth.  This test will NOT carry humans. The combination of four Space Shuttle-style main engines and two solid-fuel rocket boosters produces more thrust than either the Space Shuttle System or the Apollo/Saturn V systems.

The mission is designed to last around 26 days while the Orion Crew Capsule exercises its maneuvering capabilities in lunar orbit before returning to Earth with a high-speed entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. After Orion splashes down in the ocean, it will be recovered with a ship.

The nighttime launch should be spectacular, with the solid rockets burning out after two minutes, separating from the rest of the rocket and falling into the ocean, the main rocket stage with its four liquid-fueled rocket engines continuing for another six minutes before it separates from the upper stage rocket/Orion Crew Capsule combination.  At this point the upper stage and capsule are in Earth orbit.  Over the next two hours, the upper stage engine will perform a couple of burns that take it and the capsule out of Earth orbit into a trajectory to the moon (I get excited just writing this! – jgb).

At this point the capsule is headed into a five-day coast to the moon.  It will slow due to Earth’s gravitational pull on it until it reaches a point where the moon’s gravitational pull is greater than the Earth’s and at that point will begin an acceleration toward the moon.  So the action for now is pretty much between 1:00 and 3:00 AM EDT Wednesday morning, with the next critical maneuvering scheduled for when the capsule arrives in lunar vicinity early next week.  Jerry published a very informative write-up on WEIT on September 3, before an earlier delayed launch attempt at URL

All of the information and activities listed there should be the same for this mission, except for the actual dates.  NASA Live TV will cover the launch at NASA.GOV as will my website of choice, SPACE.COM.

JAC: Here’s a NASA video of the Orion spacecraft from some time ago. Orion is the capsuleFhot, and Artemis the name of the series of its projected mission.

JAC: Here’s a NASA video showing the goal of the entire project:

The DART mission was a success: orbit perturbed!

October 12, 2022 • 11:00 am

We’ve had several posts on September 26th’s DART mission—the one in which NASA crashed a small spacecraft into the asteroid Dimorphos at 14,000 miles per hour. The object was to perturb Dimorphos’s orbit around a larger asteroid, Didymos. (DART stands for “Double Asteroid Redirection Test”.) The perturbation was effected by transferring momentum from the DART spacecraft (which crashed in a satisfying cloud of dust) to Dimorphos.

The ultimate goal of this program is to see if we can deflect a comet or asteroid heading towards Earth, staving off the immense destruction that a collision could cause. And, judging by DART, it’s at least possible.

As usual, my old friend and former NASA employee Jim Batterson gives us the details:

Earth Global Defense Test Results (DART Experiment)

Jim “Bat” Batterson

When the NASA/APL (Applied Physics Lab) spacecraft successfully impacted the small asteroid, Dimorphos on September 26, some WEIT readers wanted to know when we would know if it achieved its full mission – an actual perturbation of Dimorphos’ orbit.

 In the post-impact press conference later that day, the mission engineering leadership estimated that the answer would come in a couple of weeks or so as Earth-based telescopes took careful measurements of Dimorphus’ orbital path around its larger companion asteroid, Didymos.  They were right!  Yesterday afternoon, NASA held a press conference at NASA Headquarters in which mission leaders gave us the answer:  the orbit of Dimorphos around Didymos changed significantly – from 11hrs 55min to 11hrs 23min – a 32 minute change.

Here’s the full press conference, an hour long:

The first 30 minutes comprises what I thought was a very informative presentation from three lead project scientists; the final 30 minutes consists of the scientists answering questions from the global press.  They explain in pretty good detail how the orbital change was measured and what these results mean.

Here’s one last video that APL [Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, which partnered in the venture] put out on a summary sheet. The 40-second video compresses the final pics from the DART spacecraft and is really exciting to me. The final frame before blackout due to collision is only 51 ft across, which means the bigger boulders are about ten feet across and the visible small rubble is a foot in size or even smaller.  Incredible technology.

Click on the screenshot below to go to the summary sheet and video. This is the moment before impact:

 

 

DART impact as photographed by companion craft

September 30, 2022 • 8:00 am

Readers’ wildlife will be postponed until tomorrow so that we can see astronomical “wildlife.”

Once again our faithful space-exploration reporter, Jim “Bat” Batterson, found some new photos of the DART impact on the asteroid Dimorphos, an attempt to knock the small asteroid out of its normal orbit around its larger companion asteroid, Didymos. This was, of course, a practice to see if we could perturb the course of a future celestial body that actually might hit the Earth. The impact was on target, but we don’t yet know whether we perturbed its orbit in the expected way.

Here’s a photo from Wikipedia of Dimorphos taken from the DART spacecraft moments before impact. It’s a pile of rubble! The diameter is 170 meters, or 560 feet.

And Jim sent this:

The first NASA-released images from the small companion craft are at https://www.nasa.gov/feature/first-images-from-italian-space-agency-s-liciacube-satellite

The rubble really blasted out!  Because of small gravitational field of the impacted asteroid, I imagine that some of the debris may form a ring around the larger one, some might have escape velocity from the system itself and just continue in orbit around the sun, and of course some may slowly drift down back onto Dimorphos’ surface.  I hope that the engineers will hold a press conference about this and I hope that they got a picture of the impact point and crater.

But I’ll show you the NASA pictures below. They were taken by DART’s companion spacecraft, the LICIACube (from “Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroids”), the first autonomous spacecraft developed by a wholly Italian team under the Italian space agency. It was a tiny minicraft affixed to DART with the express purpose of photographing the impact. As the Wikipedia note shows below, it separate from DART more than two weeks before impact:

After the launch, the Cubesat remained enclosed within a spring-loaded box and piggybacks with the DART spacecraft for almost the entire duration of DART’s mission. It separated on 11 September, 2022 from DART by being ejected at roughly 4 km/h (2.5 mph) relative to DART, 15 days before impact. After release, as part of the testing process to calibrate the miniature spacecraft and its cameras, LICIACube captured images of a crescent Earth and the Pleiades star cluster, also known as the Seven Sisters.

It conducted 3 orbital maneuvers for its final trajectory, which flew it past Dimorphos about 2 minutes 45 seconds after DART’s impact. That slight delay will allow LICIACube to confirm impact, observe the plume’s evolution, potentially capture images of the newly formed impact crater, and view the opposite hemisphere of Dimorphos that DART will never see, while drifting past the asteroid.

Here’s the LICIACube by itself and then affixed to the DART spacecraft (I’ve circled it in the second photo). Look how small they can make a satellite these days!

As Jim wrote:

The LICACub is about 4x8x12 inches.  The cube class of vehicle (cheaper) was initiated by NASA in the 90’s, if I recall correctly, to give access to a broader class of potential users who wanted to conduct Their own space experiment.
The full DART mission itself is one of another class of “cheaper” at $300M or so compared with the more than $1B major mission to Pluto and beyond.

And the pictures that the cube took from NASA, with their captions (click to enlarge). They all show the dust cloud around Dimorphos after the impact:

Image captured by the Italian Space Agency’s LICIACube a few minutes after the intentional collision of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission with its target asteroid, Dimorphos, captured on Sept. 26, 2022. Credits: ASI/NASA

 

Image captured by the Italian Space Agency’s LICIACube a few minutes after the intentional collision of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission with its target asteroid, Dimorphos, captured on Sept. 26, 2022. Credits: ASI/NASA

 

Image captured by the Italian Space Agency’s LICIACube a few minutes after the intentional collision of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission with its target asteroid, Dimorphos, captured on Sept. 26, 2022. Credits: ASI/NASA

 

Here, from Facebook, is a lovely video taken from a telescope on Earth showing the impact. The asteroid system, in the center of the screen is moving to the left relative to the stars in the background:

There are a few more videos and more information in this article from the NYT (click to read):

Guest post: Some post-DART thoughts

September 28, 2022 • 10:00 am

Two days ago, Jim Batterson, an old friend and college classmate who worked for NASA for many years, wrote a precis of the DART mission designed to knock a small asteroid out of its orbit around a bigger asteroid.  He and I were two of the many who watched the “near live” impact of the spacecraft on Dimorphos, and we were both thrilled. Here’s the last 18 seconds before impact:

Here, from Facebook, is a telescopic view from Earth of the moment the spacecraft hit Dimorphos (credit: Atlas Project):

 

After I mentioned to Jim that this was the first time we tried to perturb an orbit with a spacecraft, he sent me his thoughts on the mission and reminded me of a few instances of other impacts or landings on celestial bodies, though these didn’t have the same goal as DART.  With his permission I submit Jim’s thoughts for your approval.

Some Post-DART Mission Thoughts 

Jim Batterson

Now that the excitement and really spectacular success of the DART asteroid rendezvous and impact is in the rearview mirror, I want to remind readers of some earlier space missions that were akin to DART in an engineering sense.

Much of what NASA does in space missions is “engineering in the service of science”.  That is, NASA scientist and engineers, in consultation with scientists from around the world, are responsible for managing and assuring the design of appropriate missions, building (often unique) scientific instruments, and developing the rockets and spacecraft to fly those instruments to a point in space (sometimes on a planet or simply in a planetary atmosphere) where collected data is returned for analysis to scientists on Earth.  Comet rendezvous missions are traditionally “pure science” missions to gather unique data on the composition of comets, as it’s thought that a better understanding of comets will lead to a better understanding the formation and early years of our solar system.

DART was a different type of mission, not only in its focus on an asteroid rather than a comet, but also in that it kept its engineering mission for planetary defense pretty clean and did not try to add in a large suite of scientific instruments to gather data.  That said, there have been several comet flybys over years and two comet impacts

The impacts were these:

Deep Impact by NASA/Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL). Upon rendezvousing with the Comet Temple-1 on July 4, 2005, the Deep Impact spacecraft launched an impactor craft that smashed into the comet’s nucleus.  The debris cloud and crater were then photographed and analyzed by instruments on the mother ship. Here’s a NASA photo with this caption:

This spectacular image of comet Tempel 1 was taken 67 seconds after it obliterated Deep Impact’s impactor spacecraft. The image was taken by the high-resolution camera on the mission’s flyby craft. Scattered light from the collision saturated the camera’s detector, creating the bright splash seen here. Linear spokes of light radiate away from the impact site, while reflected sunlight illuminates most of the comet surface. The image reveals topographic features, including ridges, scalloped edges and possibly impact craters formed long ago.

Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UMD

The Rosetta/Philae mission was carried out by the European Space Agency (ESA) in 2014. Upon rendezvous with Comet 67P after an almost eleven-year journey through space, the Rosetta spacecraft launched a lander (Philae) whose purpose was to soft-land on the comet and drill into its surface, gathering data on the comet’s interior. ESA was partly successful as Philae did make it to the surface. But some of its propulsion equipment failed to operate properly to slow it down completely, so it suffered a hard landing and bounced, leaving Philae in a crevice. This prevented it from accessing sunlight needed to recharge its batteries.  Sadly, the subsurface data couldn’t be collected.

However, it did survive to take some incredible photos on the actual surface of a comet nucleus. I think that this was still an extraordinary accomplishment. You can see the photos here.

[JAC: I’ll present one example, a fantastic selfie taken by Philae as it sat in the crevice. The caption is

“The Philae lander of the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission is safely on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, as these first two images from the lander’s CIVA camera confirm. One of the lander’s three feet can be seen in the foreground. The view is a two-image mosaic taken on Nov. 12, 2014.”]

DART didn’t even pretend to be about collecting basic science data, but rather was about using engineering expertise developed over our spacefaring years to help the protect our planet. This was an important proof of a “concept mission” in which the concept was that, if an asteroid were given a proper nudge, its trajectory could be changed enough to move it from a collision course with Earth to a harmless close encounter. This was a test or experiment to gather engineering data. It is a high-school physics problem to show that it works in theory, but would it work in the real world?

I think that one of big engineering challenges for the DART test was navigating and guiding using the light from the two-asteroid system and then, a few minutes before scheduled impact, to autonomously focus on and keep the smaller, dimmer asteroid as its target.  This was especially challenging because the engineers had no real knowledge of the reflective characteristics or shape of either body. It turned out, as we all saw in the final couple of minutes of approach, that both bodies were non-spherical with lots of surface irregularities, which scatter sunlight in all directions and cast shadows. But the software had been designed with enough robustness to deal with these non-ideal bodies.

For folks who want to learn more about Near-Earth Objects, I recommend Donald Yeomans’ 2013 book, Near-Earth Objects: FindingThem Before They Find Us (Princeton) as an excellent summary the general reader.

DART was a success!

September 26, 2022 • 6:22 pm

. . . well, the spacecraft hit the asteroid perfectly—couldn’t have been better. It was lovely to see it in real time, with Dimorphos getting bigger and bigger as DART hurtled towards it at 14,000 mph. It’s the first time our species has tried to alter the motion of an extraterrestrial body.

Well, I’m gobsmacked.  Here’s a screenshot I took of Dimorphos about 2 seconds before the spacecraft hit it.

Now we wait. . . . did we alter its orbit?

The DART mission: A U.S. spacecraft will hit an asteroid this evening (7:14 EDT), trying to change its orbit

September 26, 2022 • 8:00 am

Note: because I have several items to bring to your attention, the “readers’ wildlife post” will be suspended for today, but will resume tomorrow.

Today—to be precise, at 7:14 p.m. EDT (6:15 Chicago time)—is the day that the DART mission (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) culminates in a NASA spacecraft, launched last November, crashing into a small asteroid in orbit around a longer one. The goal, as my friend Jim Batterson writes below, is to see if humans even have the ability to deflect an asteroid, comet, or any smallish body heading for a collision course with Earth. (This asteroid isn’t on a collision course; this is just a test.) If you want to see the upshot, I recommend going online at least fifteen minutes at the time given above. (Actually, you should be able to see a small image of the asteroids an hour before the crash.) The the news of the mission’s success or failure will take about 45 seconds to reach the earth, as the signal must travel 7 million miles at the speed of light.  The link you want to watch is at the bottom as an embedded YouTube video.

I am absolutely amazed that we can even try to do this, especially because the collision is guided automatically rather than manually (see below) and was calculated precisely using Newtonian physics. And note the asymmetry of the collision: as the Associated Press reported:

“This really is about asteroid deflection, not disruption,” said Nancy Chabot, a planetary scientist and mission team leader at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, which is managing the effort. “This isn’t going to blow up the asteroid. It isn’t going to put it into lots of pieces.” Rather, the impact will dig out a crater tens of yards (meters) in size and hurl some 2 million pounds (1 million kilograms) of rocks and dirt into space.

The size of a small vending machine at 1,260 pounds (570 kilograms), the spacecraft will slam into roughly 11 billion pounds (5 billion kilograms) of asteroid. “Sometimes we describe it as running a golf cart into a Great Pyramid,” said Chabot.

Jim “Bat” Batterson is an old college friend who worked for NASA for many years and has kept me informed about the DART mission. He kindly offered to summarize the mission for me, and the indented bit below is what he wrote. Thanks, Bat!

Asteroid Impact Test Mission September 26, 2022 (Impact at 7:14 PM)

Jim Batterson

The DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) is scheduled to be completed today, September 26, 2022, at 7:14 PM EDT. DART is an international space mission led by NASA and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. Its mission is carry out the first in situ test of the theory that an asteroid on a collision course with the Earth can be deflected by the momentum of an impacting spacecraft into a new trajectory that will miss Earth.

This test involves spacecraft hitting a near-Earth asteroid that is NOT on a collision path with Earth. The impacting spacecraft has been journeying toward the double asteroid system, Didymos and its moonlet Dimorphos, since its November 2021 launch from Vandenberg AFB in California.  The target, Dimorphus, the smaller of the two asteroids, is about 500 feet across. The impact will occur approximately 7 million miles from Earth, so pictures and data should be available in near real-time.  A smaller companion spacecraft is programmed to miss the asteroid and and to try to photograph the impact.

The path over the past 10 months to a rendezvous millions of miles from Earth has involved yet another extraordinary engineering effort to guide a spacecraft through the perturbing effects of gravity from planets and the varying solar wind in the otherwise benign vacuum of space.

NASA has been following Near-Earth Objects in space for many years to prepare for any genuine predicted impact and to ensure that humans in space are not threatened by these objects.  Part of the NASA research program has also included determining whether redirecting a certain size-class of objects that might be on an Earth-intersecting trajectory—and which could cause catastrophic harm if they were to impact Earth—by hitting the object with a spacecraft while the object is still far away from Earth. The large distance allows a small change in trajectory of the target to result in missing Earth by a wide shot.

While mathematical models and simulations have been very encouraging over the years, DART is the first actual in situ physical test of the theory.  The theory is just simple Newtonian mechanics—much like the strategy of billiards in which a ball is hit into another ball and both balls change speed and direction.  But in the DART experiment, one ball, the asteroid, is 8 million times more massive than the other. This is much like trying to change the trajectory of a bowling ball by impacting it with a grain of sand.  Because the amount of change in direction depends on not just the masses, but rather on the momentum (the product of mass times velocity), the smaller object (the spacecraft) must be moving very fast to impart any significant momentum to the asteroid.  That will be the case tonight as the refrigerator size, 1000 lb. craft will crash into the asteroid at ~15,000 MPH!

The last human input guiding the spacecraft will occur about four hours before scheduled impact. That’s when when the image of the asteroid gets centered in the field of the craft’s onboard digital camera by ground controllers using hydrazine thrusters for orientation.  Because the craft is closing in on the asteroid at about 4 miles per second, and it takes the better part of a minute for a round trip of a radio signal between Earth and the spacecraft, from that point on the DART craft maneuvers totally autonomously using its hydrazine thrusters to keep the target image centered in the camera’s field of view..  We should see pictures taken from that camera during descent as well from a companion spacecraft designed photograph the impact and any post-impact disturbances at and above the surface of the asteroid.

I don’t know if these raw data images will be made available to the public in near real time or only after some image processing.  Any resulting momentum change will be detected by a change in orbit characteristics for the twin asteroid system as calculated from Earth-based observations.

The latest information I have (as of September 25) is that impact should occur at 7:14 PM EDT on Monday, September 26.  The mission is scheduled to be covered live on NASA TV starting at 6:00 PM EDT.  Go to NASA TV at https://www.nasa.gov/nasalive, or just click below [JAC: check the news in case there is any change in time, though I don’t expect one.]

WATCH HERE:

 

You can see pretty complete background information  at scitech.

Finally, Jim wanted me to give this caveat about what he said, and adds that he welcomes any corrections:

 I think this is pretty close to being correct, but I was more of an airplane/spaceplane guy – not an orbital or outer-space guy. So You might add the caveat that this is from my study of publicly available mission documents, back of the envelope calculations, and general accumulated knowledge of NASA missions in general from a thirty-year career that ended in 2008.  Without peer review I cannot attest to total accuracy, but as you say: I try my best.

JAC: some pictures from the BBC:

The spacecraft zeroes in:

(From NASA):

The relative sizes of the target and projectile:

The expected perturbation of Dimorphos’s orbit. Note the accompanying LICA Cube that will photograph the impact (if it occurs). If there’s no impact, there will be a second chance later as the DART craft returns. The AP notes that “Little Dimorphos completes a lap around big Didymos every 11 hours and 55 minutes. The impact by Dart should shave about 10 minutes off that.”

Here’s a four-minute video about the mission and how scientists will watch the impact and measure its effect:

Finally, a short AP film that starts with November’s launch:

NASA Artemis-1 mission today: launch window begins at 2:17 pm Eastern time

September 3, 2022 • 8:00 am

In lieu of readers’ wildlife today (the tank is quite low), and because we pay attention to space exploration, take note that the rescheduled Artemis-1 mission is scheduled for this afternoon.  That doesn’t mean it will take off, but it means they’ll try.

My friend James “Bat” Batterson, a now-retired physicist who worked for NASA, has patiently answered my inquiries about the Artemis mission, the mechanics of rockets, and so on. So I asked him to write a bit about the launch, which is below. You can watch it from the NASA site, though I prefer Space.com, which you can watch right here.  Tune in about 2 pm Eastern time.

After reviewing sensor data and a full physical inspection of the Artemis-1 Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and components, NASA has rescheduled this past Monday’s canceled test flight. The new proposed launch of of this un-crewed vehicle occupies a two-hour window that begins at 2:17 EDT this afternoon.

In a nutshell, after looking at redundant data from other sensors and their experience base, the managers believe that a temperature-sensor reading —one that told them that one of the rocket engines had not cooled to a proper temperature of approximately -420F for launch (it was reading -370F)—was wrong.  They’ve also fixed a coupling that leaked on Monday and decided that an insulation crack on the main cryogenic fuel tank did not pose a danger.

Followers of the Shuttle program may recall that a piece of foam insulation that tore loose from Shuttle Columbia’s fuel tank on launch and impacted the Shuttle wing causing a large hole that allowed hot gas into the wing during re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere a week later. That, of course, led to destruction of Columbia and the loss of all astronauts onboard.  The SLS is a safer design with the crew module configured above the tank.

While not as tall as the Saturn-5 that powered Apollo astronauts to the Moon, this rocket is more powerful, allowing for a significantly heavier payload to be delivered into lunar orbit.  Its main stage propulsion system uses four RS-25 Space Shuttle engines (the shuttle used three), in tandem with two solid rocket booster engines. Together these provide over eight million pounds of thrust.  The solid boosters last for two minutes before being jettisoned. As with the shuttles, the boosters then fall into the Atlantic. The four RS-25’s burn for eight minutes, putting the payload into a 17,500mph low-Earth orbit.

Later, a second-stage rocket burn will accelerate the payload to more than 22,000 mph to send it into a lunar trajectory, a trip that takes several days.  [The orbiting of the Moon begins September 8, with the module coming back to Earth on October 11.]  CBS News has an excellent write-up here. If you want to know more about the mission details and the ultimate goal of getting people to live on the Moon, go to the Astronomy article here.

And an important note:

This is an engineering test flight, not a demonstration flight. They have tested all the parts in isolation and in partial configurations, but this is a test of the whole system designed to carry out a mission to the Moon and back, ending with a safe splashdown. As I emphasized last week, a whole lot of things need to go extraordinarily right, and those that don’t have been designed in what is known as a “fail/operate” mode* so that the entire vehicle and thus the mission does not fail.

Here’s the best place to watch it: the NASA live site at space.com:

* “Fail/safe” refers to the eponymous book and movie on nuclear war.  It refers to a design that, if the booster rocket were to fail, the crew would be rocketed away in their own capsule and splash down safely.  The space shuttles obviously were not designed that way, but the space launch system is.

Here’s a diagram of the planned itinerary (from the Astronomy article), with the outbound leg in green and the return leg in blue. Click to enlarge: