Not exactly a giant leap

The next space tourist is understandably excited, which perhaps explains his exaggerated claim:

However, he believes on at least one count his trip may be unique: “I might be the first nerd in space,” he said.

Depending on your definition of “nerd”, I’d suggest that many astronauts fit the description. If we’re equating “nerd” with “computer scientist”, try a Google search for "astronaut biographies computer science". Not surprisingly, a lot of astronauts have a background in computer science/engineering.
Trust a Microsoft employee to claim that copying what went before is an innovation.

Friday snippets

NASA to proceed with shuttle launch despite objections. The objections come from the company that manufactures a misbehaving fuel cell. Does this sound familiar? What odds on another accident due to schedule pressure before ISS is completed?

Here in Queensland, tomorrow is state election day.

one of the most curious points is that many people are dissatisfied with both parties

Most curious? Surely least curious. Can you think of a single government who are in power because people like them, rather than because people think that they’re less rubbish than the opposition?

Finally, it’s a dangerous week to be a famous Australian. In the past 10 days we’ve lost Steve Irwin, Peter Brock, Don Chipp and Colin Thiele. Overseas readers probably know at least one of those.

Forgotten rovers

With Pluto not being a planet, SMART-1 crashing into the moon and the latest shuttle mission gearing up, don’t forget about these little guys. Originally guaranteed for 90 days, Spirit and Opportunity have notched up around 950 and 930 Martian sols, respectively and are still going strong. In that time, they’ve travelled between just seven to nine kilometres! Opportunity is now just 200 metres or so from Victoria Crater, a deep, wide crater with at least 30-40 m of exposed bedrock to examine. The rock was spotted by another forgotten craft – Mars Global Surveyor, now the oldest active craft at Mars with 3284 days (9 years on September 12) in orbit.

Planet defined – now there are eight

The votes are in and the community has spoken – Pluto is not a planet. Clifford explains all at his new blog, Asymptotia. At the end of the day, it looks like the IAU have a pretty good democratic process in place.
There was much wailing on our local radio station this morning – textbooks to be rewritten! Confusion in high school science class! How will the kids digest this new and confusing information? I suspect that they’ll take it in their stride. It’s not difficult – eight, not nine. That’s science – it’s not static, ideas change with new information. Science teachers should see this as a great opportunity to discuss the nature of science, but I suppose most school science is more concerned with rote learning of facts just like “how many planets”.

Planet debate rumbles on

Claims by astronomers that they don’t really care about the “is Pluto a planet” question would seem to be untrue, judging by this report on the IAU debate.

“He was cut off when he tried to read his proposal aloud. When more questions were prevented, there was a cry of: ‘If there is democracy, listen to the questions. Let the people speak!'”

The good news is that common sense seems to be prevailing, with a new draft resolution stating the case for eight planets. Now they just have to decide what to call Pluto. Nobody likes “plutons”, least of geologists who use the term already. Via John Hawks, an amusing account of how astronomers failed to recognise this fact:

“Since the term is not in the MS Word or the WordPerfect spell checkers, we thought it was not that common.”

Oh dear.

Dark matter and hobbits

Dark matter exists! In another example of science blogs as news sources, this story quotes Sean from Cosmic Variance. He writes about the discovery in this post. For the hardcore, the paper is now in the astro-ph archive, in multiple formats. When, oh when, will biologists get a preprint archive?

Rather less exciting is the continuing hobbit debate, which is in danger of becoming tedious. The latest round (“pygmies not species”) is now published in PNAS (open access). There’s excellent discussion at John Hawks Anthropology Weblog.

Rejoice, Australian space geeks

NASA has selected two companies to develop its Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS). If all goes well, services like these will supply cargo and perhaps crew to the ISS when the space shuttle is retired in 2010.
The surprise part of the package is the development of a $A 100 million launch site at Woomera, South Australia. Woomera is real outback territory – it fits the image of Australia that you might have if you’ve only seen it in the movies. Back in the 50s and 60s it was a British missile testing range, most famously for the Blue Streak project. I grew up not far from RAF Spadeadam in Cumbria, which was also a Blue Streak test site. More recently, Woomera has gained some notoriety as an immigration detention centre, thankfully now closed.
Could be exciting times ahead for Aussie space fans.