OKLAHOMA SPACE ALLIANCE
A Chapter of the National Space Society

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OUTREACH March 2008

March Meeting

      (Note that the meeting will be at the McMurray's this month rather than the Koszoru's, where it was the last few months.)
      Oklahoma Space Alliance will meet at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, March 15 at Claire and Clifford McMurray’s house. Prospective members are also welcome. Their house is at 2715 Aspen Circle in Norman.
      To get to the meeting either: (1) Take the Lindsey Street east exit from I-35, turn right at Berry, and proceed to Imhoff Road. Turn right at Imhoff, right at Poplar Lane, left at Aspen Lane, and right at Aspen Circle. The turns at Poplar, Aspen Lane and Aspen Circle are the first you can take, or (2) Take the Highway 9 east off I-35, turn left at Imhoff Road, left at Poplar, left at Aspen Lane, and right at Aspen Circle.

Agenda:

1) Introductions (if necessary)
2) Read and approve agenda
3) Read and approve minutes and reports of activities
4) Read and discuss mail
5) Old Business
      a) Yuri’s Night
      b) Oklahoma City Astronomy Club Parties
      c) Programming at SoonerCon
      d) Possible activity with rocket club.
      e) Upcoming conferences
      f) Pictures for web
6) New Business
7) Create New Agenda

Minutes of February Meeting

      Oklahoma Space Alliance met at 3:30 p.m. on February 16 at the Koszoru house. Tom Koszoru, Syd Henderson, Claire and Clifford McMurray and Tim Scott attended.
      Claire had just e-mailed Cheryl at the Omniplex about Yuri’s Night and hadn’t heard back yet.
      Tom can put pictures on line. Syd can put thumbnails on the web site. This can also potentially be done through the Mars Society web page.
      Claire brought a calendar for the Oklahoma City Astronomy Club.
      We got an ad for a subscription to the Chronicle of Philanthropy. This wasn’t of particular interest to Oklahoma Space Alliance, but since it was really meant for NSS, we’ll send it on to headquarters.
      E-mails at the Omniplex now end in sciencemuseumok.org.
      Claire alerted us to the Globe at Night project (www.globe.gov/globeatnight), which collects observations of the night sky to see how much light pollution is affecting people’s ability to see the stars. [This year’s Globe at Night concluded on March 8 and results are not yet in.. It’s done annually, so I’ll try to alert you next year.—Syd]
      We discussed alternative plans for Yuri’s Night, which is April 12. We could possibly do a party at a bar, possibly with the Challenger Center. The Omniplex doesn’t want to something in early April because they are planning a project in May.
      Tom still wants to do Casino Night with the Knights of Columbus.
      The NSS is setting up a site for people looking for roommates for the International Space Development Conference. Possibly could they do the same for the Mars Blitz?
      What can we do for programming at SoonerCon? Kip has a presentation for asteroid impact. Tom has a project that he’s working on for a space race simulation.
      We made plans for viewing the lunar eclipse [which we didn’t fulfill since the sky was overcast that night].
      Kip brought a CD documentary on Alan Bean and his art, which we watched.

Name a Spacecraft

      NASA is giving the public a chance to name an upcoming spacecraft, which is currently known as GLAST (Gamma-Ray Large Area Space Telescope). The name need not be an acronym. The space craft will be launched this summer and the name will be announced two months later. Sorry, Pookie is already taken.

Short Story Contest

      The National Space Society and Hadley Rille Books have announced a “Return to the Moon” Short Story Contest
      “WE ARE LOOKING FOR: Science Fiction stories that show the adventure of lunar settlement.  We want to feel the romance of life there, the wonder of the lunar frontier, of its magnificent desolation.  We prefer near future (50 to 150 years from now), realistic stories about human lunar settlement.  We want good characterization and well-written, tight prose.  We want to feel what it's like to live on the Moon.”

REQUIREMENTS:
* Previously unpublished stories only -- no reprints.
* No simultaneous submissions (that is, don't send your story to us and to other publishers at the same time).
* Multiple submissions are okay (you may send us more than one story).
* Set entirely on the Moon.
* Realistic stories showing very possible futures.
* No gratuitous sex or excess violence or anything beyond mild language (these stories will be read by space enthusiasts of all ages).
* Science Fiction (no fantasy, horror or other genres).
* No aliens or faster than light travel.
      Submissions must be 2000 – 6000 words long. There is no entry fee. Stories will be published in an anthology, “Return to Luna.” Winning authors will be eligible for royalties, and will receive free one-year membership in the National Space Society. Submissions must be electronic.
      For more details, see www.nss.org/news/releases/pr20080229.html.

Sky Viewing

      The sky here was overcast on February 20, but apparently there was a lunar eclipse elsewhere. One of the local schools and the Oklahoma City Astronomy Club were planning to have telescope nights, but it didn’t work out.
      The Moon will be occulting some of the stars in the Pleiades on the evening of April 8. This will be much more visible in the northeastern United States than in Oklahoma.
      Mercury is low in the eastern sky at sunrise, at about magnitude 0.0. It is moving away from us, toward superior conjunction with the Sun on April 15, so it will not be visible for most of April, but at the end of that month it will be visible about forty minutes after sunset in the vicinity of the Pleiades.
      Venus is also low in the eastern sky, within about three degrees of Mercury. Venus will be in superior conjunction with the Sun on June 8, and will be not be visible from April through mid-July. During the second half of 2008, however, it will be growing progressively brighter in the evening sky as it approaches greatest elongation from the Sun in January.
      Mars is high in the western sky at sunset and will be easily visible through April. It is moving away from us, dimming from magnitude 0.4 in mid-March to 1.2 at the end of April. Look for it in Gemini, where it is currently the brightest object.
      Jupiter is low in the eastern sky at dawn and is magnitude -2. It will be moving away from the Sun through April and be the brightest object in the sky when the Moon and Sun are absent.
      Saturn is currently about four degrees from and a magnitude brighter than Regulus, the first-magnitude star in Leo. It was at opposition on February 23 and is visible all night long, shining at magnitude 0.2. Since Saturn is currently in retrograde motion in the sky, it will be in this vicinity for quite a while.
      Uranus and Neptune are both hidden in the sun’s glare and will remain so through most of April. Neptune will become visible with binoculars in late April, at which point it will be 2.4° north of Delta Capricorni, a third-magnitude star in that rather dim constellation.

Viewing Opportunities for Satellites (March 12 – April 19)

      You can get sighting information at http://www.heavens-above.com/. Heavens Above allows you to get Station data for 10 day periods, and gives you a constellation map showing the trajectory of the satellite. If you go to the bottom of the map page, it will give you a really detailed map with the location at 10 or 15-second intervals, depending on detail. In fact, the detailed charts will even show you the tracks against maps of the constellations, which should help you if you are familiar with the night sky.
      Sky Online (the Sky & Telescope web site) carries station observation times for the next few nights at skyandtelescope.com/observing/almanac. Note that with the addition of the solar panels, the magnitude of the Space Station is now -1.0, making it brighter than all the stars other than the Sun and Sirius, and the planet Saturn as well. The Hubble Space Telescope can get up to magnitude 1.5, which is brighter than the stars in the Big Dipper, although, since it is lower in the sky, it is a bit more difficult to see. 
      Missions to the Space Station or Hubble Space Telescope may change its orbit. At this writing, the target for launch of Endeavour to the space station is March 11. The next repair mission to the Space Telescope is planned for August 7. This will be the final mission unless NASA decides that it will require a crew to de-orbit the Space Telescope.

Station  March 20, 2008
Time       Position       Elevation
7:04 a.m.    302°           16°
7:05            292            32
7:06            232            60
7:07            159            35*
7:08            147            17
* Passes just below Jupiter

HST March 21, 2008
Time       Position       Elevation
8:55 p.m.    203°           27°
8:56            176            31
8:57            149            27
Passes 2° above Jupiter

Station  March 22, 2008
Time       Position       Elevation
Leaves Earth shadow at 280° 50°
6:16 a.m.    227°           65°
6:17            153            34
6:18            144            17

HST March 22, 2008
Time       Position       Elevation
6:38 a.m.    226°           21°
6:39            207            28
6:40            180            32
6:41            152            28*
6:42            133            21
*Passes 2° above Jupiter

HST March 23, 2008
Time       Position       Elevation
6:36 a.m.    229°           21°
6:37            211            28
6:38            184            31      
6:39            157            28*
6:40            137            21
*Passes extremely close to Jupiter

Station  March 26, 2008
Time       Position       Elevation
8:55 p.m.    241°           18°
8:56            252            37*
8:57            332            62
8:58              30            32**
* Passes very close to Aldebaran and Capella
** Enters Earth shadow at 38° 18°

Station  March 28, 2008
Time       Position       Elevation
8:03 p.m.    237°           17°
8:04            248            40*
8:05            319            69
8:06              32            35
8:07              41            17
* passes 2° below Capella

Station  April 12, 2008
Time       Position       Elevation
8:46 p.m.    332°           15°
8:47            350            28
8:48              39            39
8:49              87            27
Enters Earth shadow at 102° 17°

Station  April 13, 2008
Time       Position       Elevation
9:07 p.m.    296°           16°
9:08            280            30
9:09            228            47
9:10            170            30

Station  April 15, 2008
Time       Position       Elevation
8:15 p.m.    299°           15°
8:16            285            33
8:17            219            54
8:18            162            31
8:19            149            16

      Pass times are from Heavens Above.
      Key: Position is measured in degrees clockwise from north. That is, 0° is due north, 90° is due east, 180° is due south, and 270° is due west.  Your fist held at arm's length is about ten degrees wide. "Elevation" is elevation above the horizon in degrees. Thus on March 22, the International Space Station will appear one fist-width west of due south and five fist-widths above the horizon.
      In addition to the J-Pass program which I use to provide this satellite viewing data, J-Pass provides a service called J-Pass Generator, which will e‑mail you sighting information for the next three days for up to ten satellites. For more information, go to science.nasa.gov/Realtime/JPass/PassGenerator/.

Calendar of Events

      March 12: Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority Meeting in the Commission Room at the Oklahoma Department of Transportation Building, 200 NE. 21st. Street; Oklahoma City
      March 15: Oklahoma Space Alliance meeting at 3:00 p.m. at Claire and Kip McMurray’s.
      April: India launches its lunar probe Chandrayaan 1. [Postponed from September.] The craft will orbit the Moon at an altitude of 60 miles for two years. For information, visit en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chandrayaan or
 www.isro.org/chandrayaan/htmls/home.htm.
      April 9: [Tentative] Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority Meeting in the Commission Room at the Oklahoma Department of Transportation Building, 200 NE. 21st. Street; Oklahoma City
      April 12: Yuri’s Night. 47th Anniversary of manned spaceflight.
      April 16: Mercury is in superior conjunction with the Sun.
      April 19: [Tentative] Oklahoma Space Alliance meeting at 3:00 p.m. Location to be announced.
      April 24: Launch of Discovery with the rest of Kibo module to the Space Station.
      May 14: [Tentative] Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority Meeting in the Commission Room at the Oklahoma Department of Transportation Building, 200 NE. 21st. Street; Oklahoma City
      May 14: Mercury is at greatest eastern elongation, 22° east of the Sun (hence can be seen after sunset).
      May 16: Launch of the Gamma-Ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST). (Moved from February 5.)
      May 17: [Tentative] Oklahoma Space Alliance meeting at 3:00 p.m. Location to be announced.
      May 18: The Phoenix Mars Mission arrives at Mars. For details, see http://phoenix.lpl.arizona.edu/.
      May 23 – 26: 27th International Space Development Conference in Washington, DC.  Web site is http://isdc.nss.org/2008/.
      June 8: Venus is in superior conjunction with respect to the Sun.
      June 11: [Tentative] Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority Meeting in the Commission Room at the Oklahoma Department of Transportation Building, 200 NE. 21st. Street; Oklahoma City
      June 21: [Tentative] Oklahoma Space Alliance meeting at 3:00 p.m. Location to be announced.
      July 1: Mercury is at greatest western elongation, 22° west of the Sun (hence can be seen before sunrise).
      July 9: Jupiter is at opposition.
      July 9: [Tentative] Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority Meeting in the Commission Room at the Oklahoma Department of Transportation Building, 200 NE. 21st. Street; Oklahoma City
      July 19: [Tentative] Oklahoma Space Alliance meeting at 3:00 p.m. Location to be announced.
      July 31: Launch of the Planck Surveyor and Herschel Space Observatory from Kourou, French Guiana aboard an Ariane 5. For more information, visit www.rssd.esa.int/index.php?project=Planck, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planck_Surveyor, http://herschel.esac.esa.int/ and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herschel_Space_Observatory. [The spaces in the Wikipedia URLs are underlines.]
      August 7: Launch of Atlantis on the fifth and final servicing mission to Hubble Space Telescope. [Updated January 13.]
      August 13: [Tentative] Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority Meeting in the Commission Room at the Oklahoma Department of Transportation Building, 200 NE. 21st. Street; Oklahoma City
      August 14-17: Mars Society Conference in Denver, Colorado. For more information, visit http://www.marssociety.org/portal.
      August 16: [Tentative] Oklahoma Space Alliance meeting at 3:00 p.m. Location to be announced.
      September 5: The ESA's Rosetta asteroid & comet probe passes by asteroid 2867 Steins. Web page is www.esa.int/SPECIALS/Rosetta or visit en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosetta_%28spacecraft%29
      September 10: [Tentative] Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority Meeting in the Commission Room at the Oklahoma Department of Transportation Building, 200 NE. 21st. Street; Oklahoma City.
      September 11: Mercury is at greatest eastern elongation, 27° east of the Sun (hence can be seen after sunset).
      September 18: Launch of Endeavour to the Space Station.
      September 20: [Tentative] Oklahoma Space Alliance meeting at 3:00 p.m. Location to be announced.
      October 6: MESSENGER's second flyby of Mercury.
      October 8: [Tentative] Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority Meeting in the Commission Room at the Oklahoma Department of Transportation Building, 200 NE. 21st. Street; Oklahoma City
      October 18: [Tentative] Oklahoma Space Alliance meeting at 3:00 p.m. Location to be announced.
      March 3: Mercury is at greatest western elongation, 18° west of the Sun (hence can be seen before sunrise).
      October 28: The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is launched. It will assume a polar orbit. The mission will last at least a year. For more information, visit http://lunar.gsfc.nasa.gov/ or en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lunar_Reconnaissance_Orbiter.
      November 12: [Tentative] Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority Meeting in the Commission Room at the Oklahoma Department of Transportation Building, 200 NE. 21st. Street; Oklahoma City
      November 15: [Tentative] Oklahoma Space Alliance meeting at 3:00 p.m. Location to be announced.
      December 20: [Tentative] Oklahoma Space Alliance Christmas Party at 3:00 p.m. Location to be announced.
      January 4, 2009: Mercury is at greatest eastern elongation, 19° east of the Sun (hence can be seen after sunset).
      January 14, 2009: Venus is at maximum eastern elongation, 47.1° east of the Sun.
      February 13: Mercury is at greatest western elongation, 26° west of the Sun (hence can be seen before sunrise).
      February 16, 2009: Launch of the Kepler Mission, which will look for Earth-sized and smaller planets around other stars. For more information, see http://kepler.nasa.gov/.
      March 2009: Dawn asteroid probe flies by Mars.
      March 8, 2009: Saturn is at opposition.
      April 26, 2009: Mercury is at greatest eastern elongation, 20° east of the Sun (hence can be seen after sunset).
      August 10, 2009: Saturn’s rings are edge-on with respect to the Sun.
      August 14, 2009: Jupiter is at opposition.
      September 4, 2009: Saturn’s rings appear edge-on.
      September 30, 2009: MESSENGER's third flyby of Mercury.
      October 2009: Russia launches Phobos-Grunt, a sample return mission to Martian moon Phobos. For more information, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phobos-Grunt.
      December 2009: The Mars Science Laboratory is launched. See http://marsprogram.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/ for details.
      January 29, 2010: Mars is at opposition with magnitude -1.3.
      June 2010: Hayabusa returns to Earth with a sample of asteroid Itokawa.  This will be the first asteroid sample returned to Earth. Web site is www.isas.jaxa.jp/e/enterp/missions/hayabusa/index.shtml.
      June 2010: Japan launches the Venus Climate Orbiter (aka Planet‑C) to Venus. Web page is http://www.jaxa.jp/projects/sat/planet_c/index_e.html.
      July 10, 2010: The Rosetta comet probe passes asteroid 21 Lutetia.
      September 21, 2010: Jupiter is at opposition. This is the closest Jupiter will come to Earth in the next 20 years, about 370 million miles.
      October 2010: The Mars Science Laboratory rover lands on Mars. See http://marsprogram.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/ for details.
      December 2010: Japan’s Venus Climate Orbiter arrives at Venus.
      October 2011: Dawn probe orbits Vesta. See http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov/  or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dawn_Mission for details.
      March 18, 2011: MESSENGER goes into orbit around Mercury.
      October 2011 – April 2012: Dawn probe orbits Vesta.
      Sometime in 2012: Russia launches the “Luna-Glob” mission which will deploy 13 mini-probes upon the lunar surface.
      March 3, 2012: Mars is at opposition at magnitude -1.2. This is the worst opposition for the next twenty years.
      April 2012: Dawn probe leaves orbit around Vesta for Ceres.
      June 6, 2012: Venus transits the Sun's disk.  The early part of this will be visible from the United States, but the full transit will only be visible from the western Pacific Ocean, eastern Asia, eastern Australia, and eastern Indonesia including New Guinea.
      Sometime in 2013: ESA launches the ExoMars Mars Rover. For more information, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exomars.
      June 2013: Earliest date for the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope.
      August 2013 (approximate): The European Space Agency/JAXA BepiColombo Mercury Orbiter is launched. Home page is sci.esa.int/science-e/www/area/index.cfm?fareaid=30.
      August 2014 - December 2015: The Rosetta space probe orbits comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko. In November, 2014, it will release the Philae lander. See September 5, 2008 for website information.
      Sometime in 2015 or 2016: Launch of SIM PlanetQuest (aka the Space Interferometry Mission). This mission was originally supposed to have been launched in 2005 and has been delayed at least five times. It was recently moved from 2012. For more information, visit en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Interferometry_Mission.
      February 2015: Dawn space probe arrives at Ceres. Operations are scheduled to continue through July. Dawn may continue on to other asteroids if it is still operational.
      July 14. 2015: The New Horizons probe passes through the Pluto-Charon system. The New Horizons web site is http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/.
      July 2016-2020:  The New Horizons probe visits the Kuiper Belt.
      August 21, 2017: The next total solar eclipse visible in the United States, on a pretty straight path from Portland, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina.  St. Louis is the biggest city in-between.
      August 2019 (approximate) BepiColombo arrives at Mercury orbit.
      April 8, 2024: A total solar eclipse crosses the US from the middle of the Mexico-Texas border, crosses Arkansas, southern Missouri, Louisville, Cleveland, Buffalo and northern New England.
      August 12, 2045: The next total solar eclipse visible in Oklahoma.  This one is also visible in Salt Lake City, Denver, Little Rock (again), Tampa Bay and New Orleans.

Space News

      The Apollo documentary, In the Shadow of the Moon, is now available on DVD. I reviewed this in a previous issue of Outreach. It consists of rare footage of the Apollo missions and interviews of the surviving Apollo astronauts (with the notable exception of Neil Armstrong) concerning their experiences on the Moon. It’s very good.

      The Orbital Sciences Corporation has been awarded up to $170 million for the development of a vehicle to carry cargo to the International Space Station as part of COTS. This means they are the replacement for Rocketplane Kistler, who lost its contract when it couldn’t come up with necessary financing. OSC will share the COTS funding with SpaceX, which apparently isn’t having financing problems.

      The MESSENGER space probe has discovered the existence of widespread volcanic activity on Mercury. It’s uncertain how far back the volcanism was, but Mercury has craters with suspiciously smooth bottoms, indicating that they filled with lava. The side explored by MESSENGER is less heavily cratered by impacts than the side explored by Mariner 10, indicating that lava flows were more abundant on that side.
      This is not entirely surprising: Mercury has an unusually large iron core for a planet its size, and there are some indications that some of the core may be liquid, which would explain Mercury’s magnetic field.
      The Caloris basin on Mercury also has a strange feature nicknamed “The Spider,” consisting of a 25-mile wide crater which has about 50 troughs radiating from it. Nobody apparently has an explanation for this.

      On March 6, Cassini scientists announced the apparent discovery of rings around Saturn’s second-largest moon Rhea. Rhea is just under a thousand miles on diameter and the rings are several times as wide as Rhea, and seem to consist of larger and sparser particles than Saturn’s rings. The rings appear to be stable despite the tugs you’d expect from Saturn’s other moons.
      These are the first rings detected around any satellite of any planet. Story: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/cassini/media/rhea20080306.html.

      The Ulysses solar probe is finally dying seventeen years into its five year mission to study the Sun’s polar regions. Its plutonium-238 fuel has decayed enough that its fuel is freezing.
      Ulysses made three orbits of the Sun that took it to Jupiter’s orbit, for a travel distance of six billion miles. Since its orbit was perpendicular to the ecliptic, it got a three-dimensional view of the inner solar system, in particular the solar wind.

Space-Related Articles

      “The End of Cosmology?” by Lawrence M. Krauss and Robert J. Sherrer, Scientific American, March 2008, pp. 46 – 53.  In this article, the authors look at the distant future of the Universe and conclude cosmologists are fortunate that we are living in this age of the Universe because if we lived 100 billion years in, we would not be able to reconstruct the picture of the Universe as we know it. By that time, the galaxies in our Local Group will have collapsed into one gigantic supergalaxy while the light from the galaxies beyond the Local Group will have redshifted beyond visibility. This, oddly, resembles the Universe as envisioned before Edwin Hubble, when the Milky Way was thought to be the only galaxy. Although the Cosmic Background Radiation would still be detectable (if anyone thought to look for it with no evidence of a Big Bang), it would be long-wavelength radio waves rather than microwaves, and likely missed. At some point even further in the future, the radio waves will be reflected off by the ionized gas between the stars in the supergalaxy, hence never seen at all.
      This makes me wonder about the other extreme: whether we are so far away from the origin of our Universe that vital evidence of how it came into being is forever lost. We can in principle only see light to about 380,000 years after the Big Bang, because that is when atoms formed and space became transparent. We have theories about what happened during those 380,000 years, especially about 3 minutes into it when atomic nuclei were formed. But most of our evidence is indirect and there may well be aspects that we will never know about.

      “Stirling in Deep Space,” by Mark Wolverton, Scientific American, March 2008, pp 22. In the November 2007 Outreach, I reported on Geoffrey Landis’s design for a refrigerator to keep rovers cool on the surface of Venus. This relied on a 19th century device called a Stirling Cooler, a form of the Stirling Engine patented in 1816. NASA is now looking at a version of this, the Stirling radioisotope generator, which uses two Stirling converters to generate about 100 watts of power. The kicker is that this device would weigh about 40 pounds and have an efficiency three to five times as great as RTGs. In other words, the generator will be much lighter than RTGs, while using five pounds of Plutonium-238 rather than twenty.

      This is a concern because we may be running out of Plutonium-238 in the near future. See “Plutonium Shortage May Thwart Future NASA Missions to Outer Planets,” by Brian Berger of Space News, online on March 7 at:
http://www.space.com/news/080306-nasa-plutonium-shortage-fin.html, and presumably in Space News as well. (Thanks to Jeff Liss for the alert.)
      Plutonium-238 is the isotope used in Radioisotope Thermal Generators aboard spacecraft. To be suitable for a RTG, an isotope must have a half-life long enough to release useable energy for a substantial length of time, and short enough that it gives off substantial amounts of heat. It should not give off gamma rays or energetic beta rays (since those produce gamma and X-rays; alpha radiation is preferred. Finally, for spacecraft, it must give of a lot of energy for its mass and volume. There are a number of isotopes which could be used, but Plutonium-238 requires the least lead shielding.
      The problem is that Plutonium-238 is not a naturally occurring isotope.
It is usually made by bombarding Neptunium-237 with slow neutrons, and Neptunium itself is artificial, made by bombarding Uranium-235 with two neutrons, Uranium-238 with fast neutrons (so the neutron knocks out two neutrons, including itself), or from radioactive decay of other artificial elements. (Plutonium-238 was originally made by bombarding Uranium-238 with deuterons, replacing a neutron with a proton. Both this method and the Neptunium method rely on creating Neptunium-238, which decays into Plutonium-238.)
      Producing Neptunium-237 is thus not all that easy, although it’s easy to accumulate since it has a half-life of two million years. All methods of producing Plutonium-238 require lots of neutrons (except the deuterium method, which isn’t used now). This means if you want substantial quantities, you need a breeder reactor, which can also be used to produce Plutonium-239, which they make nuclear bombs from. You can also theoretically make nuclear bombs from Neptunium-237 as well, although it requires fast neutrons to set it off. Fortunately, if it’s irradiated with slow neutrons, we get Plutonium‑238, which is not fissionable.
      Some Neptunium-237 is also created in light water reactors, which also produce some Plutonium 239, half of which is then destroyed in the reactor.
      In any case, the United States stopped producing Plutonium-238 in 1988, and has since been using up its stockpile and purchasing plutonium from Russia, which had stockpiles produced by its own nuclear arms industry. China also has a stockpile, which it intends to use in its moon rovers. The United States has sufficient Plutonium-238 to last it through the Mars Science Lab, which will fly in 2017. Stockpiles are somewhere between 23 and 100 lb., depending on who you ask. NASA is asking that the next batch of New Frontier proposals not require a nuclear power source, which pretty much rules out any missions beyond Jupiter.
      The Department of Energy was planning to resume Plutonium-238 production by 2011, but those plans have been put on hold. Restarting production is estimated to cost $250 million.

      “185 Million Years before the Dinosaurs’ Demise, Did an Asteroid Nearly End Life on Earth?” by Joel Davis, Astronomy, April 2008, pp 34-9. 251.4 million years ago, a mass extinction killed off 95 percent of marine species and 75 percent of terrestrial species. This catastrophe is known formally as the Permian-Triassic extinction event and informally as “The Great Dying.” Among the genera believed to have been wiped out are the trilobites and eurypterids (sea scorpions), placoderms (armored fishes), acanthodii (“spiny sharks”—not really sharks, but a different class of fish) 97% of ammonites, 98% of snail, 96% of anthozoa (corals and sea anemones and their kin), and two thirds of mammal-like and regular reptiles and amphibians. The change is so stark that this extinction marks the end of the Paleozoic Era and the beginning of the Mesozoic Era, which itself was ended by the second greatest mass extinction, the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event in which the dinosaurs were exterminated.
      This article is about the continuing search for a “smoking gun” for the Permian massacre. The most promising of these are the Siberian Traps, which buried seven hundred thousand square miles of Siberia under more than three miles of basalt, possibly releasing gigantic amounts of methane into the atmosphere, producing massive global warming. However, there has always been a suspicion that an asteroid impact may have caused it. The two theories are not incompatible; an impact may have caused the crust to shatter in Siberia even if the impact took place elsewhere.
      Suspicions are on a 300-mile crater discovered buried beneath the ice of Wilkes Land in East Antarctica, and the Bedout High northwest of Australia. The Bedout High is a circular uplift 16 miles wide and 2.5 miles high believed to be the center of a 150-mile wide crater. (The Chicxulub crater is 110 miles across.) The crater in Antarctica, if it is an impact crater, corresponds to an impact with an asteroid 30 miles wide. Since an asteroid 5 miles wide is believed to have killed off the dinosaurs, this one could easily have produced the Permian extinction, if it took place at the right time. Unfortunately, it’s hard to date a crater that lies miles below the ice.
      The Australian crater is seemingly more suspicious, because it actually dates to the Permian-Triassic boundary (within margin of error). However, such an impact would have produced huge amounts of ejected material, which has not been detected.

Oklahoma Space Alliance Officers, 2008 (Area Code 405)

Tom Koszoru, President                         366-1797 (H)
Claire McMurray, Vice-President/Update Editor 329-4326 (H) 863-6173 (C)
Syd Henderson, Secretary & Outreach Editor       321-4027 (H)
Tim Scott, Treasurer                         740-7549 (H)

OSA E-mail Addresses and Web Site:

claire.mcmurray at sbcglobal.net(Claire McMurray, new address)
T_Koszoru at cox.net (Heidi and Tom Koszoru)
sydh at ou.edu(Syd Henderson)
ctscott at mac.com (Tim Scott)
john.d.northcutt at tds.net (John Northcutt)
lensman13 at aol.com (Steve Galpin)
dmcraig at earthlink.net (Nancy and David Craig).
            E-mail for OSA should be sent to sydh@ou.edu.  Members who wish  their e-mail addresses printed in Outreach, and people wishing space-related materials e-mailed to them should contact Syd.  Oklahoma Space Alliance website is chapters.nss.org/ok/osanss.html. Webmaster is Syd Henderson.

Other Information

      Air and Space Museum: Omniplex, Oklahoma City, 602‑6664 or 1-800-532-7652.
      Oklahoma Space Industrial Development Authority (OSIDA), 401 Sooner Drive/PO Box 689, Burns Flat, OK 73624, 580-562-3500.  Web site www.state.ok.us/~okspaceport.
      Tulsa Air and Space Museum, 7130 E. Apache, Tulsa, OK  74115.
Web Site is www.tulsaairandspacemuseum.com.  Phone (918)834-9900.
      The Mars Society address is Mars Society, Box 273, Indian Hills CO 80454. Their web address is www.marsociety.org.
      The National Space Society's Headquarters phone is 202-429-1600.  The Chapters Coordinator is Bennett Rutledge 720-529-8024.  The address is:  National Space Society, 1620 I (Eye) Street NW Ste. 615, Washington, DC 20006.    Web page is www.nss.org.  
      NASA Spacelink BBS  205-895-0028.  Or try www.nasa.gov.  .
      Congressional Switchboard 202/224-3121.
       Write to any U. S. Senator or Representative at [name]/ Washington DC, 20510 (Senate) or 20515 [House].

OKLAHOMA SPACE ALLIANCE
 A Chapter of the National Space Society

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          National Space Society has a special $20 introductory rate for new members ($35 for new international members).  Regular membership rates are $45, international $60.  Student memberships are $20.  Part of the cost is for the magazine, Ad Astra.  Mail to: National Space Society, 1620 I (Eye) Street NW, Washington DC 20006, or join at www.nss.org/membership. (Brochures are at the bottom with the special rate.) Be sure to ask them to credit your membership to Oklahoma Space Alliance.
          To join the Mars Society, visit.  One-year memberships are $50.00; student and senior memberships are $25, and Family memberships are $100.00.    Their address is Mars Society, Box 273, Indian Hills CO 80454.

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