Priorities, In One Easy Sentence

Australia burns as seen from the NASA MODIS Aqua satellite

NASA Caption: October 17, 2013, will go down as one of the worst fire days New South Wales has seen in recent years. By 6:30 p.m. local time, 90 wildfires burned, 36 of them out of control and threatening communities near Sydney, Australia. Dry vegetation, high temperatures (above 34° Celsius or 93° Fahrenheit), and erratic winds gusting to 90 kilometers (56 miles) per hour combined to create extremely dangerous fire conditions. Image credit: Jeff Schmaltz, Holli Riebeek/NASA

Generally speaking, you don’t expect to hear a public official expressing his priorities in clear, concise, and easy to understand language. In times of stress and danger, though, that can change. Like Churchill before the Battle Of Britain, they can manage a clarity that we can all seek to emulate. So it was with the assistant police commissioner Alan Clarke for New South Wales, Australia yesterday, discussing the issues his emergency services face during this brush fire season:

“At the end of the day we hope we have buildings standing, but if we don’t have buildings standing we don’t want bodies in them.”

Australia declares emergency over bushfires

It might not rise to the level of Churchill at Whitehall, but it’s a lot clearer than I’m used to.

Afterword: The photo is from the NASA Earth Observatory, one of the many things our government does that are worth every penny we pay for them. To download the full size image, or read the rest of the text, follow the image credit link. Click on the image to see the reduced size image I embedded in this article at its full size.

While working in the federal government for more than twenty years has given me some sympathy for people who worry about government getting too large and too wasteful, what this recent shutdown should have reminded us is how much our government does, and how much of that it does pretty well.

Video Montage Of The Day

Something fun and exciting happened yesterday. Needless to say, it wasn’t anything to do with American politics.

What might surprise you is that this event was a one-minute long rocket flight. To quote MSNBC:

SpaceX’s Grasshopper rocket demonstrates in a new video how future launch vehicles may well lift off, do their job and then maneuver themselves for a precision landing.

During Tuesday’s test, the modified Falcon 9 test rig blasted off from its Texas launch pad and rose to a height of 250 meters (820 feet) with a 100-meter (330-foot) lateral maneuver.

The rocket hovered for some moments, then swung back and made a rapid, controlled descent onto the pad.

SpaceX’s Grasshopper test rocket flies sideways successfully

Rockets don’t hover, nor do they land back on their launch pads. Yet the Grasshopper did both. Here’s a montage I made of the video at that MSNBC link:
Screenshot montage of SpaceX Grasshopper test flight. 2013/01/14

Test flight of SpaceX Grasshopper rocket featuring lateral movement. Image credit: Screenshots of this SpaceX video taken and processed by Cujo359

Click on the image to see it full size. Flight time is an estimate based on the frame rate of the video. The flight lasted just over a minute.

As I wrote a couple of years ago, a single stage to orbit vehicle of any sort would be a giant leap forward in space travel. It would make flying into orbit more like taking an airliner than the adventure it is now. Being able to land that rocket on a pad would be even more convenient.

A Pale Blue Dot

At NASA’s Astronomy Picture Of The Day site today is this montage of two views of our planet:

NASA APOD for July 23, 2013

Earth as seen from Saturn and Mercury, 2013. Image credit: NASA, et. al.

The site’s caption reads, in part:

In a cross-Solar System interplanetary first, our Earth was photographed during the same day from both Mercury and Saturn. Pictured on the left, Earth is the pale blue dot just below the rings of Saturn, as captured by the robotic Cassini spacecraft now orbiting the gas giant. Pictured on the right, the Earth-Moon system is seen against a dark background, as captured by the robotic MESSENGER spacecraft now orbiting Mercury.

Check out the image credit link for a full size photo and the complete caption.

Even from the comparatively nearby locations of our own solar system, the Earth looks like such a small place. As I’ve mentioned before, there’s no need to posit gods to acquire a sense of humility. All you have to do is have some understanding of how vast the universe really is.