Category Archives: Space

Heliocentricity: A Hard Pill to Swallow

Copernican heliocentrism

Copernican heliocentrism

Copernicus theorized that Earth and the other planets orbited the sun. He believed that God wouldn’t create such a disorderly universe, as “messy as Ptolemy’s”. He saw his work in heliocentricity as fix for much of the bad math of the Roman Calendar.

The prevailing wisdom of the time proclaimed that the planets and sun orbited the Earth. The earth was the center of things, and there was no reason to doubt that, according to the layperson—common sense showed celestial bodies moving across the sky.

The vast majority of peasants of Copernicus’s time had no understanding of heliocentricity.  Most people rely on the work of scientists to form their understanding of the universe, much like today. I don’t “know” heliocentricity…it has been taught to me. It is my chore to observe.


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SLIDESHOW: Nuestro Sistema Solar


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Apollo Press Conference Despondence

“It was our pleasure to participate in one great adventure.” (Neil Armstrong, opening remarks)

(L to R) Apollo 11 astronauts, Edwin E. Aldrin, Neil A. Armstrong, and Michael Collins, at press conference after their moon flight.  (Photo by Lynn Pelham/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

(L to R) Apollo 11 astronauts, Edwin E. Aldrin, Neil A. Armstrong, and Michael Collins, at press conference after their moon flight. (Photo by Lynn Pelham/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

“Too often, the search for simplicity overlooks important realities. Even so, a manager may conclude that any model or theory is better than nothing in the face of confusion and mystery. True believers may defend their faith with fervor.” (Bolman, pg. 350)

Knowing this, it makes complete sense to me to that an organizational figurehead, Neil Armstrong, would be offered, center stage, to divert attention and confuse media admirers, by spending an hour giving a public relations spiel about the team effort that went into the NASA project, rather than the mission. (it is ironic to me, that I’m a Apollo disbeliever, wearing a NASA shirt, but anyway). His press conference remarks work well, because highlight the larger effort, while doing a good job of shifting focus about any real topic or individual.

The Apollo Astronauts were never happy heroes. Does a moonshot have the side effect of terminal despondence?

Apollo 11 Facts: Press Conference (1969). (Neil Armstrong)

Bolman, L. G., & Deal, T. E. (2003). Reframing organizations: Artistry, choice, and leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. (Print)

MS PAINT ART: Space Ship


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Humankind Reaching For Mars


For tens of thousands of years, humanity would set its sights on a reddish god which would approach Earth every two years.  Many of the thoughts associated with this observation would have, no doubt, have elicited wonder and fascination.  Spurred on by this curiosity and gifted by technological innovation, mankind would look at the god, which would eventually turn into a sphere.  Features would be noticed; moons, even.  Each discovery from our fixed position on Earth would lead to more questions about the makeup of our solar system.  Foremost, what goes on “out there”: Does life such as our own exist outside our world? The red sphere would be understood to be a planet; one of many, but one close enough and similar enough in type to that of Earth to warrant exploration.   But for all their advances, mankind was still held up by the capability of its best optics.  We had seen as much as we could with the best telescopes available.  To answer the original questions, as well as the new ones that had arisen, mankind would need to touch this planet, or at least accomplish this by a proxy presence with the wild science fiction idea of robots.  Though for all of mankind’s progress, the sheer distance between here and there would keep this red planet out of reach.   “Exploration” of our planetary neighbor would remain a foolish idea; impractical until advances in rocketry, which came as a byproduct of war.  Competition would foster technological innovation and proposals once considered fiction would now make this dream of exploration feasible.

Mars would come “closer” to humanity through a series of expensive experiments in one-upmanship.  The two rival powers of their time would embark on a “Space Race” that would introduce great feats in many fields.  The progress of mathematics, design and engineering would propel one superpower to first launching a vehicle outside of our confines.   The other power, obliged to match, would do the same.  Lesser species would make the journey before man; to test the theories of whether or not life could survive beyond our atmosphere.  Very quickly, mankind would share the view of Earth witnessed by the first artificial satellites and primate space explorers—finally, testing space for himself.  While these tests of “possibility” were being conducted, both powers kept in mind as an objective of their efforts, the exploration, and possible colonization of first the Moon, then Mars.  Because one power, the United States, could not achieve an early victory, they went after the prize of landing their men on the Moon.  However, while preparations for that endeavour were being made, both civilizations were formulating ideas for Mars.  The civilization in competition with the United States, the Soviet Union, would try first for the red planet.

The Soviet Marsnik[1] program, first launched in 1960[2], resulted in what would be the first of many failures by both the Soviet and the American space programs in their attempts at reaching Mars.  Nonetheless, either threatened or inspired by the actions of their rivals, the two programs would continue until they both saw success.  The Americans would counter the Soviets in 1964 with the Mariner probe.  While the first probe proved a dud, the Mariner 4 would complete the seven month journey to become the first manmade object to flyby Mars.  On July 14, 1965, the Mariner 4 probe sent back the first close up photographs of the red planet.[3]  A clue as to who our neighbor really was, was revealed.  Signs of impact craters were observed, dimming the hopes of some optimists who clung to the dream that life existed there, despite indications of a most negligible atmosphere.  Mars was a battered world, much like our Lunar companion.  The Mariner 9 probe would be the first to enter into orbit, and along with two Soviet probes that would arrive within a month, provide an up close visual reference of the red planet.[4]  The probes arrived in the middle of a planetary dust storm.  The images sent back when the storm subsided showed the unexpected—the gigantic volcanoes of Olympus Mons and Valles Marineris, a grand canyon stretching 4,800 kilometers. The Mariner 9 probe would map 100 percent of the Martian surface, as well as study the two moons, Phobos and Deimos.  Riverbeds would also be discovered, teasing mankind with the possibility of water (and by extension, life) elsewhere.  The probe would function for almost a year in orbit before terminating.  It still occupies an orbit[5] around the red planet, while the Soviet probes would become the first human debris on a foreign world. [6]

After a series of high profile setbacks, the Soviet program would stagnate, leaving the exploration of Mars to the hands of the Americans.  The United States would now attempt to position orbiting satellites as well as planetary landings with the Viking program.  On July 26, 1976, in their first attempt at a landing, the Americans were successful.  Experiments aimed at finding evidence of organic life were a failure, but the data collected sparked intense debate.  Among the many photographs taken by Viking 1 and the subsequent lander, Viking 2, revealed clear imagery of frost on the Martian surface—possible evidence of water.  Along with these photographs, many soil samples would be taken and analyzed robotically and entry science[7] would be essentially perfected during the Viking missions.  The Viking 1 lander would continue to function for over six years, sending valuable information about the Martian soil back to Earth. The orbiter would last almost four years, photographing the surface of the planet and its two moons.  While not as long lived as is sister orbiter/lander, the Viking 2 mission would be successful in its own right, providing a plethora of information to supplement the growing reservoir of Mars data.[8]

It is important to note that while there were great triumphs in human ingenuity, there were also devastating setbacks for both the Soviet and the American space programs that threatened the future of their Mars projects.  So much so that there appears to be a “Mars Curse,” dating as far back as the first Marsnik 1 attempt. Nearly 60 percent of the missions have either failed or have been only partially successful.  The Soviets flew only two orbiters that were successful, and none of their landing attempts succeeded. Countries that would enter the space race late would lose missions as well.  Though mostly triumphant in their attempts, the United States has had its share of high profile and costly failures.  When the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) returned to their Mars objectives in the early 1990’s after focusing on the Space Shuttle program, they had a demoralizing failure in the Mars Observer Mission.   Another critical failure would follow because of careless math, and the public image of the agency would (and the tax dollars they consume) be called into question.

On an ambitious return to the red planet, the Observer mission was to spend nearly a year in orbit studying the climate and geoactivity of Mars.[9] The satellite was inexplicably lost three days prior to orbital insertion.  Communication was never regained, and the fate of the Observer remains unknown.  The total cost of the Mars Observer mission, including development, construction, launch, and ground support was estimated between $800-$900 million dollars.[10]  A less costly, but equally disappointing mission, the Mars Climate Orbiter, was carried out by NASA nearly five years after the Observer incident.  This is likely the most embarrassing mistake of the space program.  The failure of a contractor to use metric units in their trajectory models caused the Orbiter to burn up in the Martian atmosphere. The models were constructed using imperial measurements of feet instead of industry standard meters.  These setbacks would result in wide ranging managerial and technical actions throughout the organization.[11] Although detrimental to the image of the agency, the mistakes were learned from; NASA and its Mars program would push forward with exciting new projects and an increased robotic presence on the red planet.

Looking for a return to glory after setbacks in both the Mars and Shuttle programs, the Mars Pathfinder program would deliver just that.  The mission’s primary objective was to demonstrate the feasibility of low-cost landings on the Martian surface.   On the Fourth of July, 1997, the probe delivered a stationary lander and a surface rover, named Sojourner, which would explore the Ares Vallis.[12]   Knowledge of this area, a valley thought to be carved by liquids—maybe even water—would be crucial to mankind’s understanding of the red planet.  The data collected would suggest that three Billion years ago Mars had large lakes along its equator.  Volcanic activity spurred atmospheric density, which would cause the lakes to overfill and create channels that would go on to create new lakes.  Gigantic floods ran downhill, carving a deep canyon. Rocks eroded from the canyon walls were milled into smaller fractions and carried in the running water where they were deposited into the valley.  This has changed the preexisting notion that the Martian surface was too arid or cold to support liquid water during that time period.  In the search for life, past or present, outside of Earth, these ancient lakebeds and channels would be an ideal place to look.[13]

Building on the success of the Sojourner rover mission, NASA would again achieve victory with their next project.  The rovers Spirit and Opportunity would be launched in 2003.  Together, the tiny robotic representatives of humanity would explore over 17 miles of the Martian surface.  Originally, they were designed to cover only 600 meters[14], but to this day, Spirit and Opportunity have been hard at work analyzing soil and rocks.  The hope is that they can find clues to the history and existence of water on Mars.  The rovers have braved inhospitable terrain and climate, weathering out massive dust storms that threatened the capabilities of their solar panels.  More recently, Spirit became stuck, but the machine and its programmers pulled out another trick and now Spirit functions as a stationary science platform.  Opportunity has defied the odds, trekking along the Martian surface, far after its expected lifespan.  This success has come at a price, however, with a cost of over $800,000 million dollars for the 90 day primary mission alone.  When the rovers outlived expectations, the decision to keep the mission alive comes at a cost of $20 million dollars a year since 2003.[15]

Our understanding of “the universe” now reaches far beyond our sky, our solar system, and our galaxy.  Still today, Mars is considered maybe too far away. The distances of space are still difficult to overcome. The challenge now, as was at the beginning of Martian expeditions, is funding.  Concerns hinge on the practicality of a project that takes billions of dollars yet yields no near term rewards; the projects planned could take decades to complete.  These projects are still part of a larger NASA vision that requires funding and these other programs force the Mars planners to compete for ever scant federal dollars.  There is not a consensus on what the main objective of the space program should be. [16]  Programs that cover old ground could perhaps be left to private enterprise, freeing NASA to continue their exploratory aims, rather than being a mostly maintenance organization.   In the midst of a global economic crisis, dollars spent on faraway planets can be argued a wasteful expense.  It would be necessary to argue the importance of a Mars program, and that argument rests solely on the premise that on Mars, information and resources exist that we cannot get here.

Works Cited:

ESA: Mars Express.  “Ancient floods on Mars: Iani Chaos and Ares Vallis.” June 1, 2005. (Accessed April 26, 2010)

Isbell, Douglas and Don Savage.  Mars Climate Orbiter Failure Board Reaches Results.”  November 10, 1999  (Accessed April 26, 2010)

Klaes, Larry.  The Astronomical  Society of the Atlantic.  “The Rocky Soviet Road to Mars.” Volume 1, Number 3.  October, 1989.

MSNBC.  “NASA Extends Mars Rover Mission.”  October 16, 2007.  (Accessed April 26, 2010)

National Aeronautics and Space Administration.  “Solar System Exploration: Mission to Mars: Mariner 9.” (Accessed April 26, 2010)

National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  “Mars Exploration Rover Mission.  March 12, 2010.  (Accessed April 26, 2010)

National Space Science Data Center, “Marsnik 1,” (Accessed April 26, 2010)

National Space Science Data Center, “The Mariner Mars Missions,” (Accessed April 26, 2010)

National Space Science Data Center, “Mariner 9,” (Accessed April 26, 2010)

National Space Science Data Center, “Viking Mission to Mars,” (Accessed April 26, 2010)

Wilford, John Noble.  New York Times. “U.S. Launches a Spacecraft On a Mars Trip.” September 26, 1992 (Accessed April 26, 2010)

O’Neill, Ian.  Universe Today.  “”The Mars Curse”: Why Have So Many Missions Failed.” March 22, 2008 (Accessed April 26, 2010)

[1] Marsnik is a blend of the words Mars and Sputnik (the first Soviet satellite); the word does not exist in the Russian language.

[2] National Space Science Data Center, “Marsnik 1,” (Accessed April 26, 2010)

[3] National Space Science Data Center, “The Mariner Mars Missions,” (Accessed April 26, 2010)

[4] National Aeronautics and Space Administration.  “Solar System Exploration: Mission to Mars: Mariner 9.” (Accessed April 26, 2010)

[5] National Space Science Data Center, “Mariner 9,” (Accessed April 26, 2010)

[6] Klaes, Larry.  The Astronomical  Society of the Atlantic.  “The Rocky Soviet Road to Mars.” Volume 1, Number 3.  October, 1989.

[7] The art of entering an atmosphere and landing a vehicle.

[8] National Space Science Data Center, “Viking Mission to Mars,” (Accessed April 26, 2010)

[9] Wilford, John Noble.  New York Times. “U.S. Launches a Spacecraft On a Mars Trip.” September 26, 1992 (Accessed April 26, 2010)

[10] O’Neill, Ian.  Universe Today.  “”The Mars Curse”: Why Have So Many Missions Failed.” March 22, 2008 (Accessed April 26, 2010)

[11] Isbell, Douglas and Don Savage.  Mars Climate Orbiter Failure Board Reaches Results.”  November 10, 1999  (Accessed April 26, 2010)

[12] ESA: Mars Express.  “Ancient floods on Mars: Iani Chaos and Ares Vallis.” June 1, 2005. (Accessed April 26, 2010)

[13] Sanjeev Gupta, Nicholas Warner, Jung-Rack Kim, Shih-Yuan Lin, Jan Peter Muller. “Hesperian equatorial lakes in Ares Vallis as evidence for transient warm conditions on Mars.” Geology, January 2010; Vol. 38, pp. 71-74

[14] National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  “Mars Exploration Rover Mission.  March 12, 2010.  (Accessed April 26, 2010)

[15] MSNBC.  “NASA Extends Mars Rover Mission.”  October 16, 2007.  (Accessed April 26, 2010)

[16] Leary, Warren E.  New York Times. “Committee on Space Is Optimistic On Devising Plan to Reach Mars.”  February 12, 2004


Managing Space Administration


NASA is more than astronauts.

We are scientists, engineers, IT specialists, human resources specialists, accountants, writers, technicians and many, many other kinds of people.[1]


The space agency best known to the public as ‘NASA’—National Aeronautics & Space Administration—was brought into existence by the United States Congress with the passage of the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958. Congress created NASA to research matters related to flight, both within and outside the Earth’s atmosphere. While pioneering space/flight research, it was also developed “to ensure that United States’ space activities were peaceful and beneficial to mankind.” NASA is technically an independent civilian space agency under the purview of the executive branch of government, created for ‘special services’ in the ‘national interest’. Similar to a cabinet-level organization, the agency’s administrator gets nominated by the President and then must be confirmed by the Senate.[2]

 “…I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish…” (President John F. Kennedy) [3]

Presidents have set long term policy directives; achievable & ambitious, grand & impossible. NASA establishes goals, objectives, and implementing strategies to accommodate these policies while also pursuing directives to meet the needs of external customers.[4] The agency proposes an annual budget, which gets incorporated into the President’s annual budget and submitted to Congress for appropriations. “NASA’s success in carrying out its mission and achieving presidential directives is highly dependent upon funding from Congress” [5] and vice versa, the agency’s rate of success (or failure) subject to their scrutiny and tightening of the purse strings.

As a “civil service employees responsible for conducting aerospace research and development, managing resources, and operating the various NASA facilities,”[6] the agency “must have an infrastructure to deliver goods and services and account for the money spent…it requires an enormous work force (over 18,000 employees and 40,000 contractors) and a large budget ($17B, FY 2008)…they need people to develop and build new technologies, assemble and test spacecraft and their components, train astronauts/pilots and provide mission support services. With each task, there are workers to employ and pay, contractors to hire and supplies to purchase.”[7]

The organization incorporates both vertical and lateral structures within two primary levels of management responsibility. The first is Agency management, headed by the Administrator and chiefs (and deputy chiefs) of staff; followed by Strategic Enterprise management, of the ‘endeavors’ and ‘operations’ of the agency, which includes facilities and programs. “Internal integration is ensured through a number of management councils and boards that coordinate activities and planning among the individual Enterprises and between the Agency and Strategic Enterprise management levels… on critical topics that cross organizational lines.”

“Agency management provides Strategic Enterprise definition and is responsible for cross-Enterprise efficiency, synergy, investment, performance assessment, and resource allocation…This management level is responsible for Agency leadership, managing across the Strategic Enterprises, and developing NASA’s strategy (“what, why, and for whom”).” It serves as the intermediary between the Agency and stakeholders; the Presidency, Congress, and external. “It is the external focal point for accountability, communication, and liaison; the Administrator is the Agency’s highest level decision maker, providing clarity to the Agency’s vision and serving as the source of internal leadership to achieve NASA’s mission.” [8] The Administrator’s Office (and apparatus) is headquartered in Washington, D.C. The Office oversees all aspects of NASA operations. It “includes the administrator, deputy administrator, associate deputy administrator, associate administrator, assistant associate administrator, chief of staff and deputy chief of staff/White House liaison. “

The Administrator’s office also has a support staff, responsible for much of the Agency’s management and performance. This includes the offices of the Chief Safety and Mission Assurance Officer, Program Analysis and Evaluation, Program and Institutional Integration, and Inspector General.[9] Other officials within the Office of the Administrator “include Chief Engineer, Chief Information Officer, Chief Scientist, and the Chief Technologist…“These offices overall strategic direction and policies for the organization and establish the Agency’s relative priorities, associated budget guidelines, and performance assessment.”[10] The Administrator’s Office also receives independent advice and assessment from several NASA Advisory Committees, including: Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, NASA Advisory Council, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Public Administration; with the aim of improving Agency safety, efficiency, and accountability.[11]

Under the Administrator’s purview, the Strategic Enterprise (mission aspect) of NASA consists of four principle organizations called mission directorates: Aeronautics, Exploration Science, and Technology.[12] The bulk of the Agency’s employees and contractors work in this arm of NASA, and jobs are mostly related to the technicalities of high-stakes research. 60% of NASA employment is characterized by Professional, Engineering and Scientific specialists with mid-level or advanced degrees. Of the remainder, approximately 25% are employed as technical writers, or in public relations. Analysts, administrative, labor, and technical support/specialists round out the remainder of the operations, in positions related to infrastructure maintenance and quality assurance.[13]

The process of Strategic Planning enables alignment between the NASA Strategic Plan with the Enterprise Strategic Plans, the Agency’s institutional capabilities, and its functional requirements and initiatives. This process provides the direction for all Agency efforts and forms the basis for strategic (5 to 25 years) and tactical (1 to 5 years) decision making, resource allocation, and capital investment. (1998 NASA Policy Directive) [14]

NASA’s approach to Strategic Planning establishes the long-term direction of the organization “in the context of a vision of the future, organizationally unique mission, and a specific set of goals, objectives, and policies developed in response to customer requirements, external mandates, and the external and internal environments.” The expectations developed by the institution are to be Specific, Measureable, Aggressive but attainable, Results-oriented, and Time-bound.[15] The organization must also comply with the Requirements of the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 (GPRA), which attempts to improve performance in governmental agencies by requiring these Federal agencies to implement longer term Strategic Planning. This is done to “effectively measure program outcomes and to systematically hold them accountable for achieving program results.” This approach is initiated with a series of pilot projects, and these projects “set program goals, measure program performance against those goals, and report publicly on their progress…and aims to improve delivery by providing new focus on results, service quality, and customer satisfaction.”[16]

The Implementation Planning phase of NASA’s work encompasses “detailed performance planning and proposed resource allocation to implement the goals, objectives, and other organizational initiatives” that were identified during the Strategic Planning. It helps to ensure Agency-wide alignment of strategy and cooperation of supporting organizations. Implementation Planning works within of the processes established in the Strategic Plan, and it’s responsible for “the commensurate milestones, resource requirements, schedules, and performance criteria at both the program and task levels.[17] The goals primary goals are to Provide Aerospace Products and Capabilities, Generate Knowledge, and Communicate that knowledge.[18]

In execution, NASA is expected to ‘Crosscut’, as a Quality Assurance/Control, while it fulfills its mandate of delivering products, research, technical, and other scientific expertise to its customers. These Crosscutters “work at all levels within the Agency to ensure that products and services are effective and delivered efficiently.”[19] Performance is rated by NASA Managers using Agency-established measures to evaluate progress in meeting the goals identified in the Strategic Plan. These measures are uniform between both the Agency & the Enterprise. The goals and objectives established in the Enterprise Strategic Plans are also “aligned with the Administrator’s Performance Agreement with the President.”

Personnel goals are delivered to the Agency through the Associate Administrator for Human Resources and Education. Their office “designs, develops, and administers appropriate levels of training for all levels of managers and employees on both the general principles of strategic management. They also convey to employees and contractors “specific details regarding GPRA, NASA’s Strategic Management Process, the NASA Strategic Plan, performance planning and measurement, and the role each individual plays in supporting the implementation of strategy.”[20] Human Resources also “ensures that employees, and the teams on which they participate, are rewarded through bonuses, promotions, and development opportunities. These are provided for meeting or exceeding: Excellent performance in the implementation of NASA strategies; Contributions to the achievement of the goals and objectives contained in the Agency Strategic and Implementation Plans; Encouragement and implementation of agency change and an increase in process efficiencies; and Explicit contributions to the identification and satisfaction of customer needs.”[21]


“NASA, the world’s leader in space and aeronautics, is always seeking outstanding scientists, engineers, and other talented professionals to carry forward the great discovery process that its mission demands. Creativity. Ambition. Teamwork. A sense of daring. And a probing mind. That’s what it takes to join NASA, one of the best places to work in the Federal Government.” (NASA Career Webpage)

NASA describes its workforce as “consisting of Federal civil service employees, students, contractors, university researchers, and many others, representative of all levels of America’s rich diversity.”[22] NASA notes that their application process has been “specifically developed to ensure that (they) only ask you for the information (which they) absolutely need to evaluate…qualifications and eligibility. “In order to apply, you only need to submit your resume and answer the screening questions and supplemental information.”   The application and resume screening is conducted by a recruitment software program, called STARS, which uses a commercial rating tool named Resumix. The software “uses artificial intelligence, and an enormous grammar base, to “read” resumes, extract information, and rate resumes in ‘context’,” after which, they are “reviewed by a Human Resources specialist before referral decisions are made…to make sure that referred applicants meet job qualifications.” [23] NASA also gives ‘special consideration’ to applicants who qualify with ‘10-point preference’. These people are individuals who, “as a result of military service or as a result of their connection to someone with military service, are entitled to special preference in the Federal hiring process.” Disabled veterans, spouses of disabled veterans, widows/widowers of deceased veterans, and mothers of deceased veterans are also included.[24]

‘Pathways Programs’, signed into law by a 2011 Executive Order, provide an avenue for students and recent graduates to be considered for Federal employment. The Pathways Programs include the Internship Program, the Recent Graduates Program (RGP), and the Presidential Management Fellows (PMF); all designed “to provide clear paths to Federal employment for students and recent graduates…by replacing the Student Temporary Employment Program (STEP) and the Student Career Experience Program (SCEP), and enhancing the Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) Program.”[25] Much of the NASA team “consists of the numerous contractor companies located both at NASA facilities and throughout the world.” While the in-house hiring is standardized, “each of the contractor companies handles their own application process and hiring” which must work within the NASA parameters.  Members of a uniformed service of the United States apply for work with the agency (of any variety) through their service branch.

“What’s in it for the workers?” NASA appears as an organization which balances the many trades, skills, and personalities of its institution, and gives them a chance to participate in a large, worthwhile human endeavor. Far more than just a bunch of astronauts and rockets, NASA is a ‘machine’ of skill and applied expertise, ‘a small city’ of diverse background and experience, and ‘a bureaucracy’ which governs a strict, but quality achieving mandate.



[3] President John F. Kennedy, “Special Message to the Congress on Urgent National Needs,” May 25, 1961













[16] Ibid.


[18] Ibid.








Galileo: Beyond the Dogma

A detail from Cristiano Banti's Galileo Before the Inquisition (1857).

A detail from Cristiano Banti’s Galileo Before the Inquisition (1857).

In 1616, when it was formally declared heretical, it didn’t matter that heliocentricity was true and could be proven.  The scientific community of the time was biased by popular opinion, and did little to challenge archaic beliefs with persistent scientific inquiry.  Galileo believed that science reconciled with the Bible; that facts should be discovered, and then analyzed and interpreted based upon observation.  A devout follower of Christianity, Galileo felt that “the Bible shows the ways to go to Heaven, not the way the heavens go.”[1]  He thought that the facts of what he had seen through the telescope could not be denied, and expressed the challenges his ideas faced in a letter to the Grand Duchess Christina of Tuscany in 1615. He shows regret at the controversy his observations had caused when writing about the trouble he had “stirred” amongst other professors, proclaiming “as if I had placed these things in the sky with my own hands to upset nature and overturn the sciences.”  Galileo felt that scientists showed “a greater fondness for their own opinions than for truth” and felt that if they had just “cared to look for themselves” truth would be discovered “by their own senses.”[2]


There was a tendency for rational argument to be dismissed in Galileo’s era, in favor of old beliefs which clung to Aristotelian ideas and a “sprinkling” of church dogma.  Galileo felt that his critics brought “vain arguments” against him, mixing in passages from the Bible “which they had failed to understand properly, and which were ill suited to their purposes.” He points out that “these men have resolved to fabricate a shield for their fallacies out of the mantle of pretend religion and the authority of the Bible.” These poor arguments won debates because they did little to challenge the power system of the Catholic Church.  Instead of adequately countering his viewpoint and critique on Aristotle and Ptolemy, Galileo’s scientific contemporaries, as well as those of the Church, polarize themselves, spitefully, against “arguments that they do not understand and have not even listened to.”  His ideas were hardly given a chance, and “for deceitful purposes,” they were proclaimed as being contrary to the bible. He felt that his idea would live on, because it was the truth, and that truth would have “adherents,” contrary to what his critics believed.  For the issue to be effectively erased, the Church would have to “ban the whole science of astronomy” and “forbid men to look at the heavens, in order that they might not see Mars and Venus” while they changed positions in the sky.[3] As a pious man, he felt that “the Bible can never speak untruth—whenever its true meaning is understood.”[4]  He was not out to disprove Christianity, he was seeking to share with those around him, the discoveries that reaffirmed his faith.


Galileo did not see his work as besmirching that of God, who wasn’t “any less excellently revealed in Nature’s actions[5] than in the sacred statements of the Bible.”[6]  Centuries later, Pope John Paul II would echo the idea that “science and religion are both gifts from God” when issuing a posthumous apology for the treatment of Galileo during the Inquisition.  Unlike Popes of an earlier time, John Paul II believed, much as Galileo did, that faith can coexist alongside discoveries in the natural world.  He labeled the “Galileo case” a “regrettable past event of history” that “undermined the good understanding between the Church and the scientific community.  The Pope called for an “objective review” of the past controversy in that it could “do honor to the truth of the faith and of science and open the doors for future collaboration.”[7]  Seeing both as essential, he stated “that science and religion are at the service of the human community.” Both, in his opinion, would do well to shed the mutual suspicion while aspiring “to establish a constructive and cordial relationship.” The Pope believed that “the light of reason, which made science possible, and the light of Revelation, which makes faith possible, both emanate from a single source.” He sees them as harmonizing and by their “very nature,” he claims, they are designed to coexist, “never on a collision course.”  He saw science as a “gift,” a precious tool which helps “the natural capacity of the mind to grasp reality by means of rigorous and logical procedures.”  John Paul II makes the claim that any time the two are in discord, it is because of “an unfortunate pathological condition,”[8] as can be assumed the case in Galileo’s time.


The concern in the 1600s was that ideas such as Galileo’s were “dangerous,” and they can be.  The evolutionary tract of humanity’s awareness of the natural world has led to sinister creations like the atomic bomb, the dangers of which John Paul II addressed. Just as dangerous is the adherence to dogmatic biases, and although humanity is far removed from executions by burning, strict convictions continue to blind many, stifling the John Paul II’s natural “trajectory” of both science and faith.  The work of natural philosophers such as Galileo and today’s scientists, according to John Paul II, is meant to go together with the work of theologians and priests for the protection of all and the benefit of both; both science and faith, he expressed “must take on a precise ethical responsibility in regard to their relationships and applications…the stakes are too high to be taken lightly.”  He saw it as “necessary to be tireless in promoting a scientific culture capable…of serving the universal good.”[9]  Past shortsightedness and the failure to understand science should be learned from, the former Pope believed. Critical observation and reason, along with faith, in their proper dosages, fosters and nurtures a sound and happy society, while dogmatic subscription sets back and stifles the natural order of existence.


Coffin, Judith and Robert Stacey. Western Civilization, Volume Two.  15th ed. New York:  W.W. Norton & Company, 2005.

Modern History Sourcebook: Galileo Galilei: Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina of Tuscany, 1615.  Hosted at: (accessed January 5, 2010)

Pope John Paul II.  The Resolution: Science and Faith are both Gifts from God.  1993.  Hosted at: (accessed January 5, 2010)


[1] Judith Coffin and Robert Stacey. Western Civilization, Volume Two.  15th ed  (New York:  W.W. Norton & Company, 2005), 584.

[2] Modern History Sourcebook: Galileo Galilei: Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina of Tuscany, 1615. Hosted at: (accessed January 5, 2010)

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] The study of “nature’s actions,” being Galileo’s life’s work.

[6] Modern History Sourcebook: Galileo.

[7] Pope John Paul II.  The Resolution: Science and Faith are both Gifts from God.  1993.  Hosted at: (accessed January 5, 2010)

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

Daniel Malo

Western Civ 2



M13 Globular Cluster


The star cluster, M13, is a well known among astronomers for being the most prominent globular cluster in the Northern Hemisphere.  It is sometimes called the “Great globular cluster in Hercules,” as it is located in the Hercules constellation.  Similar to other globular clusters, M13 is a spherical assortment of stars orbiting a galactic core.  The stars are held close to the center because of strong gravitational forces.  The strong gravity causes the spherical shape, as stars are bound to the high stellar densities in the core.  Globular clusters typically contain hundreds of thousands of old stars. These old stars are low-metal, Population II stars; most of their metallic material was used up long ago in the creation of other stars.  No new stars are made in these in M13, and it is assumed that this cluster, like other globular clusters, is among the oldest objects in the galaxy.

The M13 cluster is over 25,000 light-years away from Earth, located in the right “armpit” of the constellation Hercules.  It lies about a third of the way down a line drawn from Eta to Zeta Herculis.  M13 spans well over 145 light-years, containing at least several thousand, but possibly over one million stars.  The majority of these stars are concentrated into a core region with a diameter of nearly 100 light-years.  The stars in the center are almost 500 times more concentrated than in those in the solar neighborhood, leaving the average distance between stars inside the cluster to only be about 1 light-year.  Estimates of the age of the cluster range from 14-24 billion years. The M13 cluster contains a young blue star (or a ‘blue straggler’), which is considered rare for a cluster that old. It is speculated that the star, Barnard 29, was captured by the cluster. The brighter stars in the cluster are red giants.  The galaxy NGC 6207 can also be seen in the vicinity of M13.  Its luminosity is over 300,000 times that of the Sun, and the sun would likely not be visible from M13.

The first recorded observation of M13 occurred by accident in 1714 by Edmond Halley. Halley found another cluster, the much larger Omega Centauri, thirty-seven years earlier. M13 has a small visual magnitude, making it difficult to see from the Earth, especially when the Moon is visible, or in areas affected by light pollution. With the best instruments of his time, Halley noted that the “Nebula in Hercules…is but a little Patch, but it shews it self to the naked Eye, when the Sky is serene and the Moon absent.”  When observed with small telescopes, it appears as a misty patch with a denser center.  When M13 was catalogued by Charles Messier in 1764, with a four and a half foot telescope, he called it “A nebula without a star,” unaware of the hundreds of thousands of stars beyond the visual reach of his Newtonian telescope.  When William Herschel observed it twenty-three years later on a twenty foot telescope, he would note that that M13 “is a most beautiful cluster of stars.”

On November 16, 1974, a frequency modulated radio wave was directed at the cluster.  From the Arecibo radio telescope, a single beam was aimed at M13 to mark the telescopes reopening after a remodeling.  The logic behind it was that M13 contained a large number of stars, thus increasing the odds of receipt.  Other factors for choosing M13 as a destination for the message, also weighed into the decision, the foremost being that it was in the sky at the time and place of the ceremony. The three minute binary message of ones and zeroes was written by Dr. Frank Drake of Cornell University and Carl Sagan.  The message contained a good deal of information relating to humanity’s understanding of math and the makeup and disbursement of the human species, as well as representations of the Solar System.  Rather than an outright attempt at interspecies contact, the message was more a demonstration of the capabilities of the new technology.



M31 Details:

NGC-6205 = M13

Dreyer’s description: !! glob. cl. , eB, vRi, vgeCM, st 11…; = M13

Cross Identifications: GC 4230, h 1968. Hercules Globular Cluster; Halley (1714), Bode 30; BD +36 2768

visual magnitude: 5.9

apparent diameter: 23′

actual diameter: 165 light-years

distance: 25,000 light-years

position: R.A. 16h 41.7m, Dec. +36° 28′



Works Cited