The Comet and the Shirt.



The European Space Agency landed a probe on a comet this week.

Unfortunately, there were a couple of malfunctions. In the first, the “harpoon” that was to anchor the lander malfunctioned allowing it to bounce around a bit.

These revealed the astonishing conclusion that the lander did not just touch down on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko once, but three times.

The harpoons did not fire and Philae appeared to be rotating after the first touchdown, which indicated that it had lifted from the surface again.
Stephan Ulamec, Philae manager at the DLR German Aerospace Center, reported that it touched the surface at 15:34, 17:25 and 17:32 GMT (comet time – it takes over 28 minutes for the signal to reach Earth, via Rosetta). The information was provided by several of the scientific instruments, including the ROMAP magnetic field analyser, the MUPUS thermal mapper, and the sensors in the landing gear that were pushed in on the first impact.

The result of this mishap was that the lander, which was using solar energy to recharge batteries, was not positioned properly to absorb the very weak sunlight energy at that distance.

But then the lander lifted from the surface again – for 1 hour 50 minutes. During that time, it travelled about 1 km at a speed of 38 cm/s. It then made a smaller second hop, travelling at about 3 cm/s, and landing in its final resting place seven minutes later.

That is quite a move and the result has been a very limited experiment as the lander has now shut down due to low battery power.

The landing, as sensational as it has been, has been completely overshadowed by a controversy over the shirt worn by the project director at the press conference.


The shirt seems to have images of scantily clad women on it and the world’s feminists erupted in wrath.

“No no women are toooootally welcome in our community, just ask the dude in this shirt,” tweeted The Atlantic tech writer Rose Eveleth.

The poor dear ! The incident reminds of the hilarious (to me) incident with Larry Summers, when he was the President of Harvard. He made the mistake, when meeting with faculty, of musing that, perhaps, women were less interested in science than men. The result was a huge controversy that resulted in his resignation. The funniest (again to me) response to his comments was this:

The most remarkable feminist exercise in self-parody was that of MIT biology professor Nancy Hopkins, who famously told reporters that she “felt I was going to be sick,” that “my heart was pounding and my breath was shallow,” that “I just couldn’t breathe, because this kind of bias makes me physically ill,” and that she had to flee the room because otherwise “I would’ve either blacked out or thrown up.” The poor dear ! I wonder if she can stand the sight of blood ?

Even law professors of otherwise libertarian leanings are outraged !

And I will be more provocative: In the broad span of human culture, fashion is more important than space travel.

Back to Glenn:
… Then some women noticed that one of the space scientists, Matt Taylor, was wearing a shirt… featuring comic-book depictions of semi-naked women.
Some women noticed? Everyone noticed! It was an extremely showy shirt, and Taylor chose it for some reason. We were supposed to pretend we didn’t see it? It’s not as though the “some women” made something out of nothing. To blame the women for making this a topic is to impose a burden on us all to shut up about something obvious. If Taylor had wanted to keep everything focused on the achievements of the team he was on, he wouldn’t have picked that shirt. Why attack the women?

Why indeed ? They are only reacting in the way their hormones dictate. After all, colleges are now having to include “Trigger Warnings” in course materials and even descriptions of classes, lest sensitive female and transgender students be wounded.

To add to the amusement, there is actually research (performed prior to the present atmosphere of intimidation) on sex differences in mathematical ability in children.

In the November 2000 issue of Psychological Science, for example, a team headed by Vanderbilt University’s Camilla Persson Benbow summarized earlier research showing “sex differences in mathematical precocity before kindergarten”; “sex differences in mathematical reasoning as early as the second grade (among intellectually gifted students)”; and “pronounced sex differences in mathematical reasoning ability” in a 1980 study of 9,927 intellectually talented 12-to-14-year-olds.

That would never be allowed these days.

The shirt, by the way, is sold out. He gets to keep his tattoos, I guess, and that should suggest his sartorial taste.

The other issue, ignored by almost all the female commenters on the event, is the choice of energy source for the lander.

The comet probe is, after all, powered by solar panels that need six or seven hours of sunlight per day to recharge the batteries.

its solar cells are only receiving an hour and a half of sunlight each day instead of the six or seven hours needed to recharge its batteries for extended operation. If nothing is done to improve its orientation, Philae likely will exhaust its battery and shut down sometime during the next few days.

It has already shut down.

The next issue is whether there is enough sunlight energy at that distance, 317 million miles from earth. The other alternative would be nuclear power, which has been used on other probes.

For more than 50 years, NASA’s robotic deep space probes have carried nuclear batteries provided by the U.S. Department of Energy. Even the crewed Apollo moon landings carried nuclear powered equipment.

However, the United States’ supply of plutonium-238, which fuels these batteries, called radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs), is running low. Experts worry that ambitious planetary science missions in the future may have to be put on hold until more of the radioactive substance is available.

With the current state of the nuclear power industry, that may be a while.

16 thoughts on “The Comet and the Shirt.”

  1. One of the drawbacks to grading papers at an open admissions junior college is seeing the depth of “gendering” interpretations. An Asian on-line (probably an upper level student but with the problems of a non-native speaker) contended that Frederick Douglass had fought when he was being beaten but had not stepped in when his aunt was, having accepted the oppressive male perspective. That Douglass was 4 in the first instance and a rather large and coordinated 16 or 17 in the second didn’t seem to affect this interpretation. (Nor the fact that later Douglass would run on the feminist ticket for Vice-President.) You can’t win with these types (or more probably the lit critic he happened upon somehow). I really hate the fact that we are supposed to be teaching them to do research in contemporary literary criticism and they come back with this stuff. Each year the big school offers large scholarships to female engineering majors. A disproportionate number of those drop out.

  2. Thought experiment #1: Suppose the shirt had portrayed muscular, very-good-looking guys fighting monsters with ray guns. Would anyone have objected to this as gender stereotyping that would discourage pudgy, not-so-good-looking guys from going into the sciences?

    Thought experiment #2: Suppose the mission control individual who was interviewed had been a very-good-looking woman, dressed to show off her sexuality in manner not quite meeting the typical corporate or agency dress code. Would anyone have objected that she was using her sexuality unfairly at the expense of men or less-attractive women? Would anyone have suggested that her prominence in the interview would have discouraged unattractive women from careers in the sciences?

  3. Sara Hoyt and the gang in her discussion groups are P’Oed almost to incoherence about this.
    Short version – guy was a nerd and sci-fi fan, possessing zilch savoir-faire and social confidence. The professionally outraged are sad, sad human beings, having a fit of the vapors over his sense of the sartorially appropriate, and should properly be laughed to scorn by the right-minded.

    Can’t find the links right now – I’ve been all day at a craft show, and followed it on my phone.

  4. The only real gripe I can muster up about that infamous shirt is, its a tad unprofessional looking for the dudes accomplishment and and giving interviews to the press about said accomplishment, not saying he had to be in a three-piece suit, but a nice buttoned down shirt with a tie(go retro looking like they did in the 1950’s and 60’s when they were still putting people in space).

  5. Another amazing accomplishment for humankind, and we should all be proud. I’m referring, of course, to the push back against this feminista journolista. I think she should be put in the public stocks for a week for that ridiculous temper tantrum.

    Meanwhile, landing a probe on the nucleus of a comet is pretty cool. By sheer coincidence, I read Spaceflight Now first thing that morning and saw the landing attempt would be that day and streamed live on NASA TV, so I watched. I had no idea that would be a minor event by comparison to the shirt a scientist wore.

    Also, I agree completely on the need for fuel for RTG’s. They are currently powering the Cassini spacecraft at Saturn, the Mars rovers, New Horizons on approach to Pluto and The Juno spacecraft on its way to Jupiter. We could not conduct deep space exploration without nuclear power sources. Sunlight provides insufficient power at those distances.

    Here’s a Mars rover project scientist talking about RTG’s:
    New Mars Rover Powered By Plutonium

  6. “What a waste of time and energy.”

    No, feminists need such fuel for their anger and indignation. Even Ann Althouse is taking a huge load of abuse for her minor hissy fit about this.

    And I will be more provocative: In the broad span of human culture, fashion is more important than space travel.

    Yes, fashion is what Adam into trouble, or rather the absence since they are supposed to have been naked.

  7. “However, the United States’ supply of plutonium-238, which fuels these batteries … is running low.”

    My understanding is that the Pu-238 was generated by the reactors that made Pu-239 for bombs. Those reactors have been shut down. Since the cold war ended there has been no need to make more Pu-239, and those reactors (Hanford WA and Savannah GA) have been shutdown.

    Don’t expect Hussein to re-open those reactors. He is only interested in science if it justifies socialism.

  8. The Anchoress had some good points about Shirtgate. Excerpts:

    6) These umbrage-taking, offense-seeking people mewling about the travesty of shirts bearing sexy-women-with-guns tend to be the same sorts of people who believe that when Kim Kardashian props herself up as a plasticine-nude cocktail shelf, she has offered conclusive and empowering proof that mothers can be sexy, or something. For the sake of the world.

    7) Somewhere between demands that men “speak no catcalls” and “wear no inappropriately geeky shirts” and assertions that a woman’s full-frontal/champagne glass nudity is seriously empowering, there is cognitive dissonance. A disconnect.

    Indeed, there seems to be something like a sexual equivalent for what has been called anarcho-tyranny.

    (btw, The Anchoress presents a rather stereotypical view of science/engineering people. There are some who are not sweet at all, and some who are quite conscious of their images. Or maybe she’s using the word “geeks” to define a subset of the science/engineering world.)

  9. Women,

    A thousand Jacquaries with a million of your wronged sons gather, and they are coming for you. Led by the likes of Adam and Anders, just with more self-control.

    You will for a time at last get the equality you’ve richly earned.

    You can thank Feminism, you were quite happy to share in the spoils of our wrecked civilization. You can reap the whirlwind that follows its resolution.

    No man should stay this madness, let them get what they’ve earned. Remember they’ve labeled us all rapists and all the rest, let them have equality.

  10. In the 50s I read Heinlein and Asimov. They predicted there would be colonies on the moon starting in the 60s, on Mars and Venus starting in the 70s, mining the asteroid belt starting in the 80s, and the rest of the solar system before 2000.

    When men landed on the moon, commentators mentioned that millions of people in the world were starving and that money spent on space would be better used feeding the poor.

    So the only achievement we have from 1970-2014 is crash landing a drone on Mars and another drone on a meteor? And the USA didn’t do the last one.

    Now we know why it took 200 years to send a colony to North America after Columbus the Caribbean.

    I apologize for my generation. We killed the American dream but we did end famines (maybe)- or at least we stopped reporting famines and plagues.

  11. So the only achievement we have from 1970-2014 is crash landing a drone on Mars and another drone on a meteor?

    I take it you don’t keep up much with space exploration.

  12. Where is the colony on the moon? Where is the Hilton orbiting the Earth. Where are the colonies on Mars The casinos, bars and diamond mines in the asteroid belt. Where are the inter-stellar cruise ships.

    I grew up in the forties and fifties when ordinary Americans could do anything. We sang “fly me to the moon”. Abbot and Costello walked on the moon.

    Today everyone knows those dreams are foolish.

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