In Other News Today

September 15, 2011

Astronaut and blogger Ron Garan is coming home after nearly six months in space. Reflecting on his preparation for his trip,  he writes:

“As I prepared to leave for final launch preparations, I experienced an interesting phenomenon. Realizing that leaving Houston starts me on a journey that will take me off the planet for six months, I started to take note of things that I will not experience for half a year. Whether it’s a flock of birds against the sunset or early morning mist on the water of Clear Lake, or a million other things that define the beauty of life on our planet, I experienced a profound appreciation for the gift of the beauty of our world. I will miss a great many experiences that I normally take for granted, but I also look forward to the new experiences that define the beauty of life off the planet.”

Not only does Mr. Garan write a fascinating narrative, he also posts some gorgeous photos of Earth from space. Like this one:

Dancing lights near Tasmania 11:00am GMT September 14, 2011

For a refreshing change from AttackWatch, rising unemployment numbers, thug tactics, and the like, check out Mr. Garan’s blog. And you can follow him on Twitter at @Astro_Ron, where he just posted this gorgeous shot.



How Much is a Trillion Dollars?

July 22, 2009

Sorry, I’ve been ranting about the money issue forever. But currently, the quantity “a trillion dollars” keeps getting thrown around as if people understand the magnitude of the number. Let’s see if we can gain insight together. (I’ve just ground out the numbers, and I can’t believe the results…) Suppose we were to lay one trillion dollar bills on each other and see just how high the stack goes…

The rascal below is my digital caliper measuring the thickness of a dollar bill. It’s coming up with a thickness of 0.0045 inches. (In fact, a dollar bill is supposed to be around .0043 inches thick, but whatever.)

Dollar bill thickness

The point being that a dollar is around four one thousandths of an inch thick. Now, imagine laying that single dollar bill nice and flat on your living room floor and then carefully laying another on top of it… Wait! Wait! Wait! That won’t work – the stack will be too tall. So instead take the dollar bill out on your deck, and again lay it flat and rest another on top of it… No… That won’t work either – your deck would never be able to hold the weight. Alright, put the dollar on a nice flat piece of earth and cover it with another, and then another, and then another… Do that a trillion times creating a tall stack of money. But how tall? Well, here’s the math. (Please Lawd, find a mistake in my math!)

  • A trillion is 1×10^12 (That’s one times ten raised to the twelfth power.)
  • 0.004″ is the same as 4×10^-3 inches.
  • So the pile would be this high: (1×10^12)x(4×10^-3)=4*10^9 inches. Read that 4,000,000,000 inches high.
  • Since there are 12″ in a foot, we have to divide 4*10^9 inches by 12 to get the height of the stack of bills in feet… That numbr is 333,333,333′. Sounds like a tall stack… How many miles is that ?
  • There are 5,280 feet in a mile. So, if I divide  333,333,333 feet by 5,280 I’ll get the height of the stack in miles… And that number is 63,131 miles. (This agrees in magnitude with the link above.)

I told you that we’d have to work through this together…

Well now! There you are in your back yard with a stack of dollar bills roughly 60,000 miles high. How high is that? Let’s see… The International Space Station orbits at 220 miles, and the moon is 240,000 miles away, so your little green monolith would soar past the ISS and stretch one quarter of the way to the moon. But that’s only one trillion dollars…

Next, imagine a $50 trillion stack. (That’s roughly where we are in national debt and obligations.) Some basic math shows that that grows our tower to 3,000,000 miles high. Gee look… I can barely see the moon in the rear view mirror! (Seriously… I’m begging you… Someone check my math and show me where I’m wrong…) A $50 trillion column would be long enough to wrap around the earth 120 times.

There… Now you have a sense of just how huge a trillion is. MREs anyone?

Alan Speakman

NASA Image of the Day: Discovery

March 21, 2009

I’m sorry… I know we here at Grand Rants almost always deal with things both political science and social… But this is just way too cool!

Discovery from above

Discovery from above

Image credit: NASA

This is from the current STS-119 mission – the one that’s delivering the last set of solar wings to the ISS. To read more about this or download the full-sized image, click here.

Alan Speakman

The ISS: In Danger Of Becoming A Casualty Of The Georgian Invasion?

August 15, 2008

While the political pundits banter back and forth as to who is at fault for the recent invasion of the sovereign eastern European state of Georgia and what to do about it (for spot-on analysis, see Alan’s rant below), the biggest and most unexpected victim could turn out to be the International Space Station. Seem far fetched? Not at all.

There are actually several conflicting scenarios, each of which is food for thought:

  • The Russians could “uninvite us” on any further missions to the ISS on their Soyuz journeys. “So what,” you say? We always take the Shuttle? The problem is, the Shuttle program is due to be discontinued in 2 years. Unfortunately, the NASA timetable for the shuttle’s replacement has us “earthlocked” until at least 2014. It would literally take an act of Congress to extend the funding for the Shuttle Program until then. Given Congress’ inability to respond to the energy crisis, I’m not sure we could count on Nancy Pelosi to do anything more than drag out Harry Reid long enough to declare, “We’ve lost the Space Station.”
  • Another version of “Star Wars: Collateral Damage” is the suggestion that the US take the initiative and refuse to continue to work with the Russians in regards to the Space Station. A strong case could be made for the US claiming ownership to the bulk of the station (I hope NASA saved their receipts). But I’m not convinced we could muster much concern without getting backing support from the other co-partners in the ISS including the aforementioned Canada, Japan and various European countries. While it would be in Europe’s best interest to stand firm against Russian aggression (they DID learn SOMETHING from history, didn’t they?), they might not see the ISS as the proper forum to make a symbolic stand against the Georgian invasion. More to the point, would the potential lack of ISS/space commerce really bother Putin that much? Not likely. The ISS is scheduled for shutdown in 2015 and the Russian economy is booming from Petrodollars. Plus, as of 2010, they’ll be the only ones with transportation there and back (Unless NASA gets an extension for the Space Shuttle program) And, if we ARE able to extend the Shuttle program, will we need UN Peacekeepers at the Space Station if we’re both there simultaneously?

I’m of the opinion that the Space Station should NOT enter the theater of this Russia-Georgia conflict. The earthbound conflicts we have should not be teleported to the ISS. But given the past behavior of both countries, that’s exactly why it will may well happen. Its times like this that make me wonder, “What would CP3-0 do?”
Gerry Ashley

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