NASA is setting its sights on the Moon in the 2020’s. The Artemis Program (Apollo’s twin sister) will send men and women into space to set up an outpost on the lunar surface and begin testing new equipment and technologies that could pave the way to Mars in the 2030’s
When NASA plans a mission to explore the distant planets, moons, and comets of the solar system, one of the first considerations is the type of power source needed by the spacecraft that will be making the journey. Visiting Mercury or Venus, for instance, simply requires a solar panel to convert energy from the sun into electricity. But what about missions to Mars and beyond, to explore the frozen outer planets and their icy moons?
A radioisotope thermoelectric generator – an RTG – is just what it’s name says it is; a generator that converts heat into electricity using a radioactive material as a fuel source. These “nuclear batteries” were invented in the 1960’s and have been safely powering unmanned space exploration for 50 years.
A chemical element is a substance, an atom, that exists in it’s simplest form and can be identified by it’s protons, electrons, and neutrons. A stable atom with a neutral charge is one that has the same number of protons and electrons. The number of protons in the nucleus is constant for a particular element, but when there are a varying number of neutrons, these are considered isotopes of that element.
Elements such as copper, lead, and gold were “discovered” thousands of years ago but in the past 150 years, scientists have organized the periodic table to include 94 naturally occurring elements and 24 synthetic ones.
Some atoms with an excess of protons or neutrons are said to be unstable, or radioactive. As the atom of a radioactive element seeks to stabilize itself, it ejects particles from within the nucleus out into the atmosphere in the form of alpha radiation, dangerous beta radiation or deadly gamma radiation.
The nuclear fuel used in most RTG’s is Plutonium-238. This element is synthesized by “bombarding” an atom of Uranium-238 with an isotope of Hydrogen to create an isotope of Plutonium.
Scientists have found that Plutonium-238 is the safest one for use in an RTG because it emits only alpha particles at a slow, steady pace for a long duration. These particles are emitted as heat that is converted into electricity within the generator.
Air travel in America began in December of 1903 when the Wright brothers flew the first fixed-wing aircraft in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The first President to fly in an aircraft was Theodore Roosevelt (though not in office at the time) when he toured the skies above the state fair in St. Louis, Missouri in 1910.
During the twentieth century, US Presidents continued to travel safely around the country and eventually around the world in airplanes that were customized for security, efficiency, and comfort. The distinctive medium and cyan blue of the Air Force One planes, with the American flag on the tail and the presidential seal near the passenger door, was chosen by Jaqueline Kennedy for the Boeing 707’s in use from 1962-1990.
The two planes that will be used to fly President Biden and members of his administration around the globe are Boeing 747-200’s. They’re considered military planes with the Air Force designation VC-25 and tail numbers 28000 and 29000.
The 747-200 holds 53,000 gallons of fuel, can be refueled in-flight and is able to fly 100 mph faster and 15,000 ft higher than commercial aircraft.
The “flying oval office” is equipped with a command center, two kitchens, a hospital, numerous restrooms, a sleeping area, and comfortable seating for the first family, their security team, presidential aides, and the press
The planes in use today have been continuously refitted to have state-of-the-art technology and safety equipment.
Because they aren’t as cost efficient as they could be, the government is negotiating with Boeing for replacements. Though the initial cost is $3.9 billion, the new planes will have quieter, more fuel efficient engines, a wider fuselage, and a new design.
Finally some good news about COVID. Congress has approved a second stimulus package while the Biden administration is outlining their plan to lead America through the pandemic. The vaccine is now available, free of charge, and President Biden’s goal is to immunize 100 million people during his first few months in office.
Even when we aren’t in the midst of a healthcare crisis, the U.S. economy can seem like a complicated and volatile balancing act. One way to simplify it – and to realize the part we play – is to understand the workings of the Federal Reserve.
The Federal Reserve, or “The Fed” as we’re used to hearing it called, was the result of the Federal Reserve Act of 1913, signed into law by President Wilson. Years of economic instability had preceded this, along with the distrust of creating a centralized banking system that might overpower not just large and small businesses, but ordinary Americans as well.
For that reason, the Federal Reserve, located on Constitution Avenue in Washington D.C., is known as the Central Bank that has oversight on 12 Reserve Banks located in financial districts around the country. Each Reserve Bank, in turn, regulates the corporate or commercial banks within it’s district.
They ensure, for instance, that the local banking branches are complying with the Federal Reserve Requirement – keeping a set amount of paper money on hand for customer needs while using the surplus from deposits to offer fixed-interest loans and other financial products to consumers.
The Federal Reserve is responsible for the stability of the U.S. economy. The agency monitors employment levels, business production levels, and consumer spending – all indicators of inflation and the health of the GDP. The Central Bank in D.C. oversees the financial markets and provides banking services to the government and to countries around the globe.
Over the past century, the economy has grown in size and complexity, and the Fed has evolved with the times. Although it’s seven-member Board is appointed by the President with consent of the Senate, the Fed operates independent of any government oversight. The Board sets monetary policy that extends to the 12 reserve banks and the commercial banks in their districts.
Aside from the Board, the Fed is governed by the Federal Open Market Committee. The FOMC is where the real “power” of the Fed rests. It consists of the seven members of the Board along with five Reserve Bank presidents.
The “open market” refers to the activity of buying and selling securities either publicly on the stock exchange or privately to consumers
The FOMC decides whether to raise or lower the Federal Reserve Rate – the interest rate used by banks to loan money to other banks or to consumers.
Lower interest rates have the effect of stimulating the economy as businesses will be more likely to borrow money, expand production, and hire new employees.
However, over-expansion means that the economy has an abundance of goods and services. This decreases profits and lowers the value of the dollar, prompting the Fed to then raise interest rates.
If you’ve ever – just for fun – read your horoscope to find out what the universe has in store for you, don’t forget that the signs of the Zodiac are real constellations in the night sky. Astrology and Astronomy are very different things, but within the boundaries set by the International Astronomical Union, are the luminous stars, star clusters, galaxies and planetary nebulae that astrologers believe are connected to the month you were born.
When the earth’s orbit crosses the path of a comet – even one that flew through the solar system centuries ago – meteoroids ejected from the icy surface of the comet collide with the earth’s atmosphere causing meteor showers to light up the sky.
The Eta Aquarids originate near the northern boundary of Aquarius and speed through the atmosphere at a rate of 1-2 per hour from late April to mid-May each year. They’re visible in regions near the equator just before sunrise.
The source of the Eta Aquarids (and the Orionids that happen in late October) is Halley’s comet, a mass of ice and rock 15 km wide that zips through the solar system once every 75 years – not to be seen again until 2061.
In fact, a planetary nebula has nothing to do with planets at all. They’re the end phase of a star’s evolution, when an aging star fades into a small neutron star, emitting a nebula of colorful gas and stellar debris.
To astronomers in the 1780’s these mysterious deep sky objects resembled small, colorful planets.
The Saturn Nebula glows green, blue and yellow at an estimated 5,200 light years from earth. Scientists estimate that it spent millions of years as a white or blue main sequence star before releasing it’s gaseous material into the surrounding atmosphere. This colorful nebula was discovered in the 1780’s
The Helix Nebula is approximately 10,500 years, meaning that from an astronomical perspective this planetary nebula is practically in it’s infancy. This expanding cloud of stellar dust and debris is only 700 light years from earth
The region of the night sky with the water constellation Aquarius is characterized by a deep darkness that probably reminded ancient astronomers of a sea or an ocean.
The ancient Egyptians explained the springtime flooding of the Nile as the water-bearer of Aquarius placing a jar in the river, causing it to over flow.
Greek astronomers told the tale of Ganymede, the beautiful young shepherd boy stolen away by Zeus in a wave of homosexual desire. Ganymede lived on Mt. Olympus, pouring wine and nectar to the Gods.
The moon Ganymede is not only the largest of all of Jupiter’s moons, it is the largest moon in the solar system