Monday, December 20, 2010

NASA's Egyptian God-worship examined, Part II

        Hoagland & Bara's so-called Table of Coincidence—the raw data on which they base their ridiculous theory—doesn't stop at Apollo. It continues with a hilarious claim that the Orion belt star Alnitak was at +19.5° over the Martian horizon as it would have been seen from the so-called 'face' in Cydonia, at the exact moment when the feature was first imaged by the Viking 1 orbiter on July 25th 1976.

        You have to think about that for a bit to understand how truly ludicrous this claim is. In order for the hypothetical Egyptian God-worshiping NASA clique to have contrived this feat of astrology, they first of all had to have known of the existence and exact latitude/longitude of this feature. That in itself is impossible. THEN they had to have calculated the arrival overhead of the orbiter to the nearest fifteen seconds or so. To do that, they'd have to have worked backwards to the arrival of Viking 1 in orbit, then to the trans-Mars trajectory, then to the exact time and azimuth of the launch. In short, the entire mission profile would have to have been contingent on that one astrological imperative. And if any part of that profile did not coincide with what was being planned anyway, by engineers who didn't care about Egyptian Gods, the clique would have had some explaining to do.


        The table of coincidence concludes with a mixed bag of 43 data points, of which 35 relate to the Shuttle and/or ISS—launches of Zarya and STS-88 for example. Then a couple of events related to the solar observatory SOHO. Finally, the world premiere of the Hollywood movie Armageddon—as if the NASA clique had any control over that.

        Of these 43 data points, 14 are disqualified because they involve celestial objects that are not any of the five specified in the book "Dark Mission," and four are disqualified because their viewpoints do not persuasively relate to the mission (Phoenix AZ, the Egyptian pyramids.)

        Considering that Hoagland & Bara allow themselves to search Apollo landing sites for star elevation data that have nothing to do with Apollo (Sirius at -33° as seen from the Apollo 11 landing site at the moment of the first STS-88 EVA,) it's quite surprising that they didn't find more "coincidences."

        But really, as a piece of data-gathering this is beyond pathetic. Mike Bara says "NASA always seems to want to land or launch when the stars are in favorable positions" (Video, at 04:07.) What he should do, now that the Shuttle program is almost at an end, is to do the analysis and find out whether what he said was true. He should restrict himself to shuttle launches/landings, to the five named stars and to viewpoints from KSC (the Cape) or JSC (Houston.) There were also several landings at Edwards AFB, and one at White Sands.

        I don't believe Mike Bara will do this. I think he knows he'd finally be proved wrong.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

NASA's Egyptian God-worship examined

        Richard Hoagland and Mike Bara persist in claiming that a ritual-minded faction of senior NASA managers arranges for key mission events to take place at astrologically favorable times. They do this, according to Hoagland & Bara, to honor the Egyptian Gods Isis, Osiris and Horus. Isis is represented by the star Sirius, Osiris by the three belt stars of Orion (Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka,) and Horus by the star Regulus (also known as Alpha Leonis, being the main star of the constellation Leo.)

        A time is considered favorable if one of these five stars is at certain key elevations as seen from some place relevant to that mission — a launch or landing site, typically. The key elevations are as follows: -33°, -19.5°, 0°, 19.5° and 33°. 19.5 is chosen because it is the latitude at which three vertices of an inscribed tetrahedron appear when the fourth vertex is at one of the poles of a sphere. 33 is chosen because of its Masonic significance, and because the sine of 19.5° is 0.333.

        The combination of astrology and numerology alerts any but the most devoted Hoagland disciple to the fact that we are not here dealing with science — but Hoagland & Bara give the theory the sciency-sounding name The Ritual Alignment Model, and the rules of the game are spelled out simply. Mike Bara wrote on p.14 of "Dark Mission" 2nd edn. "only five stellar objects ... have any significance ...: the three belt stars of Orion, ...Sirius, ... and Regulus. And only five narrow bands of stellar altitude (19.5° above and below the horizon, 33° above and below the horizon, and the horizon itself) have any significance."

        Speaking at the so-called Alien Event in November 2009, Mike Bara said "NASA always seems to want to land or launch when the stars are in favorable positions, at least according to their mythology." [at 04:07]

        Richard Hoagland wrote, in the caption to Fig. 5-10 of "Dark Mission," of "NASA's fanatical, relentless, redundantly symbolic message of resurrection."

        So we have five heavenly bodies and five possible elevations, and a "relentless" drive to make these coincidences happen.

        Hoagland & Bara use the "Redshift" astronomical software to check for coincidences, and back in 1999 they posted a 'Table of Coincidence' to Hoagland's web site, listing some 35 candidate events over the 53 year history of NASA that they consider validate their theory. I took a look at the list up through the end of the Apollo program, and here's my analysis:

1 >> Moon at -33°at launch of Ranger 7, as seen from Cape Canaveral, 7/28/1964. DISQUALIFIED. Moon not one of the five specified stars.
2 >> Alnitak at +19.5° at launch of Ranger 7, as seen from Ranger 7's eventual impact site on the Moon. DISQUALIFIED. Since the exact impact site was not known to anyone at the time of launch, this could not have been contrived.

That's all for the Ranger program. They claim nothing for Rangers 1,2,3,4,5,6,8 or 9.

3 >> Moon at +33°at landing on Moon of Surveyor 3, as seen from JPL. DISQUALIFIED. Moon not one of the five specified stars.

That's all for the Surveyor program. They claim nothing for Surveyors 1,2,4,5,6 or 7.

4 >> Sirius at 51° at launch of Mercury-Redstone 3, 5/5/61, as seen from the future landing site of Apollo 14 on the Moon. DISQUALIFIED. 51° not one of the specified elevations.
5 >> Comet Encke at +33°at launch of Mercury-Atlas 6, 2/20/62, as seen from Cape Canaveral. DISQUALIFIED. Encke not one of the five specified stars.

They claim nothing for the other 5 Mercury flights, or for any of the 12 Gemini flights. So far we have ZERO hits.

6 >> Mintaka at 0° at Apollo 8 LOI, 12/24/68, as seen from the future landing site of Apollo 11. DISQUALIFIED. Since the exact coordinates of the Apollo 11 landing were not known to anyone at that time, this could not have been contrived.
7 >> Sirius at 19.5° 33 minutes after the Apollo 11 landing, as seen from the landing site. THIS WAS LATER AMENDED by Mike Bara to the following (see "Dark Mission" pp.11-14, 2nd edn): Regulus at -19.5° later, at MET 105:25:38, after Aldrin made a short speech asking everyone to pause a moment and "give thanks in his or her own way." DISQUALIFIED. Mission managers were not aware of Aldrin's plans, therefore they could not have contrived this. Although it's conceivable that Aldrin himself is "in on" the ritual, since Regulus was 19° 30' below the horizon, it's quite hard to imagine how he would have seen it in order to measure its elevation.
8 >> Alnilam at +19.5°at landing of Apollo 12, 11/19/69, as seen from the landing site itself. ALLOWED.
9 >> Pegasus at some unspecified elevation at what should have been the Apollo 13 landing site. DISQUALIFIED. Pegasus not one of the five specified stars.
10 >> Sirius at +33.3°at launch of Apollo 15, 7/26/71, as seen from Cape Canaveral. ALLOWED.
11 >> Sirius at -33°at landing of Apollo 16, 4/20/72, as seen from the landing site itself. ALLOWED.
12 >> Mintaka at +19.5° at landing of Apollo 16, 4/20/72, as seen from Houston. ALLOWED
13 >> Betelgeuse at some unspecified elevation at ascent of Apollo 17, as seen from the Apollo 12 landing site. DISQUALIFIED. Betelgeuse not one of the five specified stars.

        So only four of Hoagland & Bara's claimed "hits" conform to THEIR OWN RULES for determining which events are part of what they call their "model."

        I will now attempt to estimate — conservatively — how many possible opportunities NASA's Moon programs generated for Hoagland & Bara to examine with their software.

There were 9 launches and 5 lunar impact events. The program was managed by JPL, thus the point of view for star elevations could have been either Cape Canaveral or JPL. 28 OPPORTUNITIES.

There were 7 launches and 7 lunar landing events. 35 OPPORTUNITIES, allowing an additional point of view for landing events.

5 launches. All eventually impacted the Moon but, being conservative, I assume those are not candidate ritual events. 10 OPPORTUNITIES.

Managed from Houston. 7 launches for 14 OPPORTUNITIES

10 manned launches, 4 EVAs, 7 rendezvous. Point of view could have been the Cape or Houston. 42 OPPORTUNITIES

11 manned launches, 6 lunar landings, 6 lunar takeoffs, 9 Lunar Orbit Insertions, 9 Trans Earth Insertions. 94 OPPORTUNITIES, allowing for an additional point of view for lunar landings and takeoffs.

NOTE: Considering that Hoagland & Bara actually allow themselves to identify cross-mission events as significant (ascent of Apollo 17 as seen from Apollo 12 landing site, e.g.) the number of opportunities in the Apollo program is actually many hundreds. However, being conservative, I'll stick with 94.

        A conservative estimate of the number of opportunities for ritual star alignments in these six programs is 223. Four actual alignments are identified — a 1.8% success rate.

        Hoagland & Bara's theory must therefore be judged bankrupt. A total failure. Richard Hoagland & Mike Bara are liars.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Tiny bacterium defeats pseudoscientist

        Last night, in a spectacular display of superhuman ignorance, Richard Hoagland managed to ask the wrongest possible question about arsenic substitution in biochemistry, and then capped it by coming up with the most ridiculous possible answer. He wondered aloud to his radio audience of millions why none of the journalists at the afternoon's NASA press conference had asked whether the extremophile bacterium GFAJ-1 came from an extraterrestrial source, and declared that to him the answer was obvious — yes, of course it did. "There is an alien in our midst," he said theatrically.

        To recap, for those who did not follow the day's events, the NASA astrobiology program called the conference to announce a very unusual finding. Geomicrobiologist (and, it turns out, accomplished oboist) Felisa Wolfe-Simon, a rather fetching tousle-haired nerd's dream-girl, took the credit for the discovery that, in conditions of restricted environmental phosphorous, GFAJ-1 can use arsenic instead, in building the DNA backbone upon which it depends to function. Wolfe-Simon had theorized that this might be possible, and had gone to Mono Lake in a successful search for proof.

        It was a pretty brilliant piece of work by Dr Wolfe-Simon, and it took an intellect as puny as that of Richard C. Hoagland to misunderstand it quite that thoroughly.

A nearly toxic lake

        Mono Lake, a couple of hundred miles East of San Francisco, is a natural chemistry experiment gone awry. Indifferent water management over the centuries has made it highly saline and unusually alkaline, and mine tailings from the California gold rush have bequeathed it near-toxic levels of arsenic. Yet gamma-proteobacteria like GFAJ-1 have found a way to make a living there.

        It's one of the best-established principles of evolution that organisms adapt to their environment. If the environment places stress on a population — say by getting hotter, drier, or more acidic — the population is selected for those individuals that tolerate the stress best. Over time, the population either fails to adapt and dies out, or develops a new strain that finds the environment congenial. Well, lo and behold, as Lake Mono became deficient in phosphorous and oversupplied with arsenic, the plucky little bacterium found a way of making do. High arsenic = arsenic-tolerant bacteria. Simple, really. So for Richard Hoagland, with no knowledge of biochemistry whatsoever, to ask which distant galaxy might have seeded the lake with GFAJ-1 is like him finding an apple on the ground under an apple tree and saying "Hmmm, wonder where that came from?"

Sagan misquoted
        We did not have to wait long, either, before Hoagland's attempts to justify his error led him deeper into the jungle of misunderstanding. He quoted Carl Sagan to the effect that a different form of DNA would be the hallmark of an extraterrestrial organism. What Sagan actually said was that a different DNA code would be the hallmark. That's a crucially different proposition, because phosphorous (or in the present case, arsenic) takes no part in the genetic code that is DNA's primary business.

        The DNA molecule has been likened to two intertwined spiral staircases — and the metaphor works well up to a point. The four-letter code of A,T,C,G is contained on the stair steps. Where one step is an A, its matching step on the other spiral must be a T. Where one is a C, the other must be a G. However, an actual double stairway would have a central pillar to support the whole structure — and there the metaphor fails because there's no molecular equivalent. Instead the supporting "backbone" of DNA is on the outside — looking more like the handrails of the stairs. And it's here that phosphorous, alternating with what are essentially sugars, plays its essential role. In short, the substitution of arsenic for phosphorous is just a cleverly improvised feat of molecular carpentry and would not signify extraterrestrial origin to anyone with any knowledge of biochemistry.

Testing for life on Mars
       Later in the first hour, Hoagland remarked "This marks the first time NASA has grappled with the concept 'What is Life?'" That idea would certainly bring a smile to the face of any of the hundreds of NASA-contracted bioscientists who confronted that very question as the biology instruments for the Viking Mars landers were being designed in the early 1970s. The question defies any easy answer — in fact, the Viking biology group never really made up its collective mind, instead sending three separate instruments each with its own assumption about the sine qua non of Life. It's also worth noting that some people — including Hoagland himself, as it happens — think that, even with 2 belts and one pair of braces, Viking's trousers still fell down.

The numerology of the space shuttle
        In the second hour Hoagland took off into the unintentionally comic territory of numerology. I found it hard to follow — it appeared to incorporate a strange form of mathematics in which the numbers 33 and 133 are identical. It came as no surprise, though, that he wanted to make something ritualistic of the fact that the atomic number of arsenic is 33. That's right, Richard — the sinister Masonic conspiracy within NASA reached back across 100 years of history to dump arsenic in Mono Lake for just that reason. Yeah, man.

        I did sort-of follow his next proposition — namely, that the still-upcoming STS-133 space shuttle mission is the first "post-Newtonian" mission. This means, according to Hoaglandian logic, that the energy needed to get the shuttle to orbit will come, not from old-fashioned rocket fuel, but from "hyperdimensional space, torsion physics, and etc. etc. etc." I'm sure this comes as a surprise to everybody involved in the mission.

        A classic Hoaglandian performance, ending with — guess what? — an 800 number that will put cash in the Hoagland pocket.

Way to go, Coast.

Update 1:
Two criticisms of the experiment from biochemists have now surfaced in the blogosphere. Both seem quite harsh.

Rosie Redfield
Alex Bradley

Although it might be entertaining to watch the biochemists slug it out in blogs, you can bet that isn't going to happen. It's just not dignified for the lead author of a paper in a peer-reviewed journal to respond to informal critiques.

Update 2:
Well, surprise—there is now a response from Dr Wolfe-Simon, although not in a blog or a tweet.

Update 3:
STS-133 went from ground to orbit powered by LH2/LO2, just as normal.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The 'The Choice' 2011 calendar, featuring "Wrong statement of the Month"

       I suggested this brilliant idea to Mike Bara today, and if it was a success I wouldn't even invoice him for the marketing consultancy.

       Since my suggestion is very likely to disappear from his blog quite soon, and it seems a shame to waste the ten minutes it took me to come up with 12 errors, I reproduce it here:

JANUARY (p.34) Mars and Earth would remain at the same distance from each other if Mars’ orbit were circular.
FEBRUARY (p.47) Mauna Kea is at 19.5°N.
MARCH (p.15) Scientists don’t realize that Newton & Einstein aren’t the whole picture.
APRIL (p.31) Astrology is a perfectly valid and defensible science.
MAY (p.32) The centrifugal force of Earth’s rotation tends to make us heavier.
JUNE (p.60) Newton’s laws of motion only work if the object being measured doesn’t rotate.
JULY (p.128) The International Space Station is really called Isis.
AUGUST (p.134) Gravity is only a local effect.
SEPTEMBER (p.139) Faraday cages are made of lead.
OCTOBER (p.202) The Brookings Report “detailed how best to inform the public in the event that NASA discovered extraterrestrial artifacts on the Moon or Mars.”
NOVEMBER (p.143) (appropriately) Sputnik was launched in November 1957.
DECEMBER (P.214) An annular eclipse occurs when the Moon is closer than usual to the Earth.