Hot hot news: Return to Flight, and other ephemera
What's happening Today, Right Now?
Space Shuttle Discovery is in its scheduled 3 hour hold before launch; as Countdown 101 will tell you, T-3 Hours and Holding typically lasts a couple hours, and during that scheduled hold the inertial measurement unit gets its preflight calibration, and the Merritt Island Launch Area (MILA for short) tracking antennae are aligned. This is the final series of holds; there's another important one at T-20 minutes, and yet another at T-9 minutes. Each one lasts at least a certain length of time, varying on outside conditions, specific circumstances, and technical decisions. Some of the earlier holds, such as the one at T-11 hours, which lasts 12-13 hours, last much longer than these last few.
In my only two experiences of waiting for T-0 liftoff, I was very frustrated by the tendency of the Shuttle Countdown Clock to inch downwards and then stop for scheduled or unscheduled holds. Both were for Shuttle Columbia's next-to-final launch; the first attempt was scrubbed due to a last-second (literally!) spike in a sensor reading in the hold; when the next window was attempted, lightning within 10 miles prevented the launch from ever getting closer than T-9 minutes, as I recall. They won't come out of that hold when there's a weather hold, is my understanding. I believe that the First Lady and First Daughter were present at the VIP viewing station at Cocoa Beach, like me, at that second attempt. I wound up watching the launch itself on a t.v. set at home.
The mission after that, Columbia was lost. [update: I mean, the next time Columbia flew. Columbia's next and final mission was STS-107. She was lost upon reentry with all hands aboard, see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_shuttle_Columbia and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Shuttle_Columbia_disaster for the whole sad story of February 1, 2003; it was the second total loss of a shuttle in flight and also the second such loss in my own lifetime.]
[correction to the update: Man, I can't get anything right. As the two above Wikipedia links indicate, Columbia's next-to-last successfully completed mission was STS-93, commanded by Eileen Collins, which launched in July 1999. Its final completed mission lasted from March 1-12, 2002, mission STS-109. The final, incomplete mission was STS-107, Columbia's 28th mission. The mission numbers are not chronological because each mission represents the objectives and tasks of a specific mission planned out in advance; the actual order of missions launched depends on such factors as technology (the parts, supplies, tools and payloads must be assembled together) and logistical considerations (which misison is more urgent, how can the limited and even scarce resources of NASA best be used). Even with duplication, multiple shuttles, and many many millions of dollars, this is still a shoestring operation. Launching three shuttles simultaneously (all three in orbit at the same time) would almost certainly overwhelm NASA's capacity to monitor, communicate, and coordinate the missions. We are not yet a real spacegoing nation nor world. We're still exploring our own local neighborhood. I should break this out as a separate post on Space exploration, shouldn't I.]
Eileen Collins, the first female shuttle commander, was on board when I watched Columbia's two aborted launch attempts. She successfully commanded the mission that took the Chandra X-Ray Observatory to orbit. Now she is about to begin another mission as commander, aboard the Discovery as NASA makes its heralded Return to Flight. Google news is full of Discovery coverage; NASA has a real live countdown clock you can watch, holds and all, at Launch Coverage (the other clock, running down to estimated time of launch, is counting down to six hours as I write this).
In other news: Bernie Ebbers is getting sentenced today. You remember him? CEO of Worldcom, which was a bigger fraud than Enron?
You remember Enron? It led to the effective demise of Arthur Andersen LLP? You remember Arthur Andersen? They were criminally charged with knowingly shredding their client's incriminating documents?
You might recall that the Supreme Court overturned their conviction on the important technicality that the jury charge was worded in a way that may have - may have! - allowed the jury to convict even if they did not in fact believe that AA acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind, under the statute.
Of course, if AA hadn't been charged, they'd have been sued out of existence by Enron stockholders, suing on their own losses and on behalf of the company that should have been prevented from committing the vast frauds which made it so apparently profitable, and so monumentally criminal. If AA had been charged appropriately, it would have been convicted and its life as a corporate entity probably terminated. If AA's jury had been asked, "Are you convinced, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Arthur Andersen or its responsible agents had a culpable state of mind when they ordered the document destruction," people would not today be talking about the firm being "overcharged" or about prosecutorial abuse of discretion.
End of subsidiary rant.
So: Bernie Ebbers. Already found guilty of perpetrating massive fraud - I mean, really massive. Do you know how big $1 billion is? Can you imagine a fraud that size? That's not WorldCom. WorldCom was an $11 billion fraud. ELEVEN. Anyway, the poor victimized former CEO will experience a book, perhaps thrown at him, later today.
In other news... Karl Rove: still free, despite probable cause, based on the media coverage I've read, that he committed a federal felony - or possibly treason during wartime. I'm not the prosecutor, of course, but if Fitzgerald (who is) knows something I don't, I'd love to hear it.
The Lefty Blogs are, of course, all over it. The Righty Blogs are, with some exceptions, pretending that this isn't happening. The same sort of thing, in other words, each time an event of dubious importance involves these persons of merely political importance, and there's a political benefit for one side and a political cost to the other. The partisans line up, beat each other up, and then nurse their grudges until the next political football comes along. I'm not much better, but at least I know I'm doing it.
In that same vein:
Excellent article the other day by Judge John Carroll, Professor of Law at Cumberland School of Law, Samford University, about the curse of the correct jury verdict.
This article deserves its own post. Unable or unwilling to provide said post, I hereby offer you the link. Scrushy case suffers the 'curse' by John Carroll, Monday 04 July, 2005, the Birmingham News.
Read this article! See if it applies to you. Are we all hurting the legal system, by playing along with the (stupid, stupid) media? Read the whole thing!
[update: the countdown clock is now at 1 hour 54 minutes and counting. Exciting! We're headed on toward the next scheduled hold, currently Go for launch. Try to catch it on t.v. if you can!]
[update to the update: Scrubbed, of course. Today's launch is postponed, and NASA's most officialest explanation is that the cause is "an issue with a low-level fuel cutoff sensor onboard the vehicle. The sensor protects an orbiter's main engines by triggering them to shut down in the event fuel runs unexpectedly low. Mission managers are currently assessing the problem. More information will be announced as it becomes available. " The non-official countdown clock proceeds towards 3:51 pm EDT July 13, but when it hits that, nothing happens. The official clock reads 0h 0m 0s (those're zeroes, for those inclined to read unintended sexualist slurs from hours, minutes, and seconds) with a note that "today's launch has been scrubbed." To me, that means "try again later, maybe tomorrow, at the soonest." As of an hour ago, all the news media still thought it was a go. Therefore, this post is timely. Woot! Relevance.]
Also updated: Bernard Ebbers, ex-CEO of WorldCom, has been sentenced to 25 years in prison for his role in the fraud that ruined the company he "built into a Telecommunications Giant before his fall from grace." The largest U.S. corporate bankruptcy in history is your legacy, Bernie. The federal judge, Barbara Jones of the Southern District of New York, told you that you "w[ere] clearly a leader of criminal activity in this case," as she sentenced you. Shame on you.