The Launch Pad: Successful NASA Program in Jeopardy!

This afternoon (June 24, 2009) at 2:30pm Eastern Time, the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee of the United States Senate’s Appropriations Committee will be marking up the FY 2010 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill. For those of you feeling lost by that sentence, the plain English translation is: this afternoon, a group of Senators will be making edits to the proposal for the amount of money to provide to NASA and other federal agencies for fiscal year 2010.
If recent history and the Washington rumor mill are accurate predictors–and they almost certainly are–one of the first things that will happen tomorrow is that these Senators will slash the $20 million NASA requested for Centennial Challenges, the Facilitated Access to the Space Environment for Technology Development and Training (FAST) program, and the Partnership Seed Fund. With near certainty, the budget for these programs will be reduced to zero.

To reduce the budget for these programs to zero would be to allow a great opportunity to pass. Each of these three programs provides an incredibly amount of value to NASA, and helps stimulate the American economy by creating or retaining high tech employment opportunities. To cite one example among many, the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge, one of seven incentive prizes offered by the Centennial Challenges programs, encourages innovative American teams to develop, build, and perfect vertical takeoff and landing rocket technology of the sort that will provide tangible benefits both to NASAs return to the Moon and to a variety of other civil, commercial, and military space applications. To date, NASA has paid out $350,000; and with the X PRIZE Foundation, the Northrop Grumman Corporation, and their partners supplying the operational funding, that $350,000 is a close representation of the total cost of the program to date. For that amount of money, NASA has incentivized approximately 75,000 person hours and the equivalent of about $12,000,000 in research and development–an astonishing 35-to-1 return on each taxpayer dollar invested to date. Along the way, teams have developed impressive subsystems, helped improved our nation’s regulatory regime, and generated unique data for engineers.

One could easily list dozens of such examples for each of these programs: the SEED funds leverage taxpayer dollars by a factor of ~4 and help drive technological improvements that immediately and directly benefit each of NASA’s Mission Directorates; the FAST program provides a unique and critical opportunity for new businesses to test out their hardware in a reduced gravity environment, shepherding the creation of new industries and new technologies that will likely generate tangible benefits well beyond the confines of NASA or even the aerospace industry.

The programs accomplish amazing things on extremely small budgets. The White House has recognized this, and a Statement of Administrative Policy (PDF version) released yesterday expresses concern that these programs, which use “public-private partnerships to advance important technologies and enable access to new sources of innovation through incentive prizes and partnerships” have already been identified for cuts by the US House of Representatives.

Concerned taxpayers can help breathe new life back into these programs. To show your support, please consider making a call to your Senator and Congressperson. Tell him or her that you support these prizes, even though you cannot know for sure if the eventual prize winners will live in your home state or district. Constituent calls to any member of congress are helpful, but calls to Senators Shelby (R-AL), Mikulski (D-MD), Hutchinson (R-TX), Feinstein (D-CA), and Voinovich (R-OH) may prove particularly useful. Calls to Senator Shelby are likely the most important.

Tough economic times call for financial discipline at NASA, just like in every other agency, company, or household across the United States. One of the best ways to do so is through programs like these: highly leveraged, innovative programs that appeal across party lines and that help strengthen the American aerospace industry.

via The Launch Pad: Successful NASA Program in Jeopardy!.

We like to move

My wife and I are creative people.  We’re creatively different  (you might say opposite) but often known as people with the ideas.  I didn’t say “all the good ideas”, just “ideas”.
We like to change.

Your brain is wired to recognize patterns. It’s very very good at it. The lazy thing for your brain to do is to recognize patterns it knows. Reinforcing those patterns.  Staying stationary, both mentally and physically is not good for creativity.

When you have new experiences, your brain creates new patterns and reconnects and rewires old ones. This is why you often have “ah ha” moments if you leave your home or office to go for a walk while pondering something. Your brain is seeing new things and it is in the mode to make new connections. If you bring your thought with you on your walk you bring it into this rewiring process.

We like to move. We like to meet new friends. We like to go to new places and try new things. We do it because we love being creative and keeping our minds in that new connections state.

This is often problematic for the relationships with our friends.  Our desire to always be on the move creates a significant barrier to long term friendships.  Lately, we’ve managed to reconnect with some old friends via the internet that we lost touch with because of our movement.  The Internet is great for that, but it’s not quite the same as being reunited in person.

We’ve been in the same area now since 2002.  This is a very long time for us.  We did move across town in 2006, but it really didn’t satisfy that need to move.

We’ve decided to spend the summer exploring what’s next for us.  I’m not certain that a move is in store this year, but I do know that we are both making major changes.  Long term it might mean staying here and just traveling a significant part of the year, or it may mean picking up and moving.

Whatever happens, I do know that this summer will be a great time to explore new things and I’m really looking forward to what we might uncover.

Power to electric motors from a digital controller is never easy

Hooking up 2 electric drive motors seems like a simple task on the surface, but never is in practice.  Here’s my mockup of a circuit I’m going to use.  The meat of the control circuit is an L293D Quadruple Half-H Driver. Now that the breadboard prototype is working, it’s time to assemble the thing permanently on a printed circuit board.  Leave a comment if you want the schematic for this, it works pretty well with no noticeable gitter thanks to a bunch of capacitors.