April 18, 2010

How to spot a spoof

"Spoofing" is a trick used by spammers, scammers, and hackers to make an e-mail that came from them look as if it came from somewhere else. We saw this before with the messages purporting to be about a package delivery.

Today I got one purporting to be from Hallmark. There are several red flags:

  • It says I received a card, but it doesn't say from whom.
  • The subject line starting with "Hey..." is not Hallmark's usual style.
  • The "To" line says "undisclosed recipients."
  • The subject line is missing a comma after that inappropriate "Hey."
OK, this last one is a copy editor's nitpick. The real clincher is that if you mouse over the "here" link without clicking, a popup shows the link actually directs to a server that's identified only by its IP address and not hallmark.com. It's also set to download a .exe, or executable file.
Since the file is called "Hallmark.exe," the unsuspecting might go so far as to launch it, and install a virus on their computers.
Hallmark offers a few other things to watch for, including these:
  • The e-mail will come from the sender's e-mail address, not Hallmark.com
  • Hallmark cards are displayed on their Web site, not downloaded.
Spread the word. Hackers will continue to send this garbage as long as there are uninformed people opening it.

April 16, 2010

Rethinking how we will work in and on space

Wow. The space forum wound up being one of the most engaging such events I think I've ever been to. It's hard to know where to start. Here are some random thoughts:

• As soon as I walked in the room, I spotted Pat Duggins, whom I promptly accosted with a request for him to sign my copy of his book Final Countdown. He's very nice, and has a wealth of knowledge about the space program. I'll give his book a Blatant Plug: It not only gives a detailed overview of the history of the shuttle program, it ties in NASA history at each stage and includes many personal anecdotes to keep things interesting. My favorite is the recollection of adults who were kids on a school field trip to see a shuttle launch on the day Challenger blew up.

• Duggins says the proposed new use of Orion is as "a lifeboat for the Titanic."

• Duggins reminded us of something I had forgotten. In the movie 2001:A Space Odyssey, the space shuttle is operated by PanAm and the space station by Hilton. That's Arthur Clarke anticipating reality for you.

• I overheard someone say Bill Nye was among those at the KSC conference. Nye hasn't updated his blog, so this is unconfirmed. [Update: Nye participated in the human spaceflight breakout session. Sesson leader John Holdren said Nye did such a "fabulous job" describing how the space program can inspire kids, "we're going to enlist him full-time."

• Florida Rep. Ritch Workman believes there is no reason the shuttle cannot be used to close the gap between its current manifest and ... whatever the next new vehicle is. He urges people to contact their representatives in Washington to support this idea.

• The kind of personalities that were appropriate for Mercury ... Apollo ... Shuttle ... are different from the kind of personality that will be suitable for long-range missions. A psychologist interviewed by Duggins for his next book (Trailblazing Mars) said NASA currently looks for Type-A Superman types, but on long-range trips, Clark Kent may be more appropriate.

• The participants agreed on two things. First, what happens in the future will depend on whether or not Congress actually approves the budget. Second, whatever happens, Florida's space industry needs to diversify from launch operations into research, development, and manufacturing.

• When you take notes in Word while recording audio, the keyboard sounds really loud on the playback.

April 15, 2010

Privatizing the space program

The president didn't say much in his televised remarks that wasn't in the documents released earlier. He did give credit to Rep. Suzanne Kosmas for supporting her constituency, but he pronounced her name "cosmos." Twice.

Once the president had gone and the conference got under way, Norm Augustine gave an overview of his commission's report for those who haven't read it in its 150-page entirety. I have to admit to being among those. I've read parts, but admittedly not all of it. If you want to take a stab at it, you can download a copy here.

Augustine identified the president's plan as the "flexible plan" outlined in his commission's report in Chapter Six, Section Five, Variant 5B. This plan will delegate routine jobs like delivering materials to the space station to commercial carriers while NASA does fun stuff like exploring the asteroid belt. To those who express concern over turning this job over to private industry, he asks whether we prefer to trust the Russians with it, or American companies. It's a valid question.

My major concern with turning spaceflight -- especially manned spaceflight -- over to private industry is the profit motive. Mind you, I'm as big a fan of the free market as anyone, but what we have seen is that the profit motive can lead companies to do crazy things like growing too big too fast and cutting corners on quality and then you're making headlines for all the wrong reasons.

I understand that this plan, by reducing NASA's role in servicing the space station, will have lower operating costs. But NASA must maintain quality oversight, lest we put our crews on rockets with runaway accelerators.

Charles Bolden, at the podium, opened the Conference on the American Space Program for the 21st Century by asking the participants to "go and do good stuff." Behind him is U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. Photo credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann.

April 14, 2010

An em-Bolden-ed conference

The concurrent breakout sessions at KSC tomorrow are being described by NASA as a "conference" hosted by Administrator Charles Bolden.

Conference Session Topics:
* Increasing Access to and Utilization of the International Space Station
* Jumpstarting the New Technologies to Take Us Beyond
* Expanding our Reach into the Solar System
* Harnessing Space to Expand Economic Opportunity

The conference will be streamed live at NASA's Web site. Since I can't be on the coast tomorrow, I'll be watching online or looking for a transcript later.

While combing through the Augustine Commission report today, I noticed that the NASA budget got a huge boost, more than 5 percent, for fiscal year 2010. Overall, budget increases for the last 10 years have risen pretty much in line with inflation, 1-3 percent per year. But the FY 2011 is pretty puny by comparison, just a little over one percent. So although the increases sound big when you express them in billions of dollars, NASA's budget is not really getting a huge raise this year. Just a cost of living increase.

Orion spared the mothball treatment

Air Force One will land at Kennedy Space Center tomorrow. The bad news is Harrison Ford won't be on it. The good news is the White House released more information about the president's new plan for the space program. Information about the program's goals and funding are here, and information about what help the administration will give Florida’s aerospace workers is here.

Among the notable pieces of information is news that the Orion capsule, part of the shelved Constellation program, will be repurposed as an escape vehicle for the International Space Station. This calls for scaling back the design of the capsule. Since Orion was already described as cramped compared to the shuttle, it will be interesting to hear how astronauts evaluate the final product.

April 13, 2010

Some summit

I've been watching both NASA and White House press office Web feeds, hoping to get the agenda for the president's April 15 "Space Summit" at Kennedy Space Center. Today, it came across the NASA news feed. You can see it here.

In short, the agenda is this:

Air Force One Scheduled Arrival: 1:30 PM
Air Force One Scheduled Departure: 3:45 PM

So this "summit" will cover two hours and fifteen minutes, during which there will be an opening session (the president will give a speech at the Operations and Checkout Building), breakout sessions, and a closing session. That's not considering the time it will take to drive the 8.5 miles from the landing facility to the O&C building.

I'm not sure how much work can really be accomplished in such a short time, especially since many local players, including the U.S. Representative for the district that includes the space center,* have not been invited.

Maybe the White House has a different definition of "summit" than I do. I would expect a summit to involve all the major players and take long enough to both air concerns and come to consensus on future goals.

I don't suppose it matters what the president's definition is, as long as the event produces some real, achievable spaceflight goals instead of being an expensive photo op.

*Correction: Rep. Suzanne Kosmas did attend, flying in on AF1 with the president. And the conference took place after the president left.

April 8, 2010

Programming space

This came in too late to make OBJ’s April 9 issue, but the University of Central Florida’s Metropolitan Center for Regional Studies will host The Future: Florida, NASA, and the Space Industry April 16, 8-10 a.m., at the University of Central Florida Executive Development Center in downtown Orlando.

The featured speaker is Pat Duggins, National Public Radio's NASA correspondent. Duggins also wrote Final Countdown: NASA and the End of the Space Shuttle Program. Orlandoans will remember Duggins from his days covering the space program from WMFE. He is now news director for Alabama Public Radio, which covers the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.

At the forum, a panel discussion will be moderated by Ray Gilley, president of the Metro Orlando EDC. The following panelists are scheduled to participate: Frank DiBello, president of Space Florida; Florida Sen. Mike Haridopolos; U.S. Rep. Suzanne Kosmas; M.J. Soileau, vice president of UCF’s Office of Research and Commercialization; and Lynda Weatherman, president of SpaceCoast EDC.

I plan to be there. If you wish to attend, admission is free, but reservations are required. Make reservations by phone, (407) 235-3934 or e-mail, metro@mail.ucf.edu.

This event takes place the day after the president’s “summit” at Kennedy Space Center, so it will be interesting to hear the reactions of these leaders to whatever comes out of that meeting.

We got one piece of good news today. Details from NASA's 2011 budget request show allocations of over $1 billion for programs and facility improvements at Kennedy Space Center. You can read more about that here.

This photo, taken at at Kennedy Space Center in January, shows the construction of a new mobile launcher that would be used in the Constellation Program. Photo credit: NASA/Jim Grossman.