Hackaday Links: July 17, 2022

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Webb’s first deep-field image. Source: NASA

The folks at NASA are taking a well-deserved victory lap this week after the splashy reveal of the first scientific images from the James Webb Space Telescope. As we expected, the first public release included a lot of comparisons to images obtained from Hubble, as the general public understandably sees Webb as the successor to the venerable space telescope, now in its third decade of service. So for a “let’s see what this baby can do” image, they turned Webb loose on a tiny patch of sky in the southern hemisphere containing galactic cluster SMACS 0723, and sent back images and spectroscopic data from galaxies up to 13 billion light years away. There are plenty of analyses of Webb’s deep field and the other images in the first release, but we particularly liked the takes by both Anton Petrov and Dr. Becky. They both talk about the cooler scientific aspects of these images, and how Webb is much more than just a $10 billion desktop image generator.

It’s been a while, but next week marks the return of HOPE. The Hackers on Planet Earth conference is finally back and in person for the first time since 2018. The con, dubbed “A New HOPE,” will in their new venue on the campus of St. John’s University in Queens, as opposed to their old haunt in the Hotel Pennsylvania in Manhattan, which is currently being demolished. Attendance was limited this year, for obvious reasons, and the usual precautions will be in effect for attendees. Online ticket sales are now closed, and they won’t be selling tickets at the door. So if you’re planning on going, you’ll have to see if someone has a ticket they’re willing to part with.

You may recall that NASA recently reported on troubling glitches in Voyager 1‘s telemetry, which seemed to indicate the 45-year-old planetary-probe-turned-interstellar-explorer was having trouble maintaining its attitude in space. This would obviously be a Very Bad Thing™, since keeping its big dish antenna pointed precisely back at Earth is crucial to staying in contact with mission controllers. It turns out the glitch is just, well, a glitch, and controllers have a workaround in place, one of many that have kept the Voyager mission going at many points since the twin 1977 launches. But now, in a bid to figure out the root cause and perhaps issue a fix, engineers are taking the RTFOM — “read the freaking old manuals” — approach and poring over the original design docs for clues. This isn’t as easy as it sounds; unlike today, where everything regarding a mission is archived and preserved in digital archives, a lot of the original JPL docs were dead-tree only. What’s worse, a lot of what was written down has disappeared, as engineers at NASA and JPL have retired or otherwise moved on. That means there are probably a few boxes of old fanfold printouts sitting in a garage in Pasadena that hold the key to solving the glitch, and finding them boils down to figuring out who worked on what when, and where they ended up after their stint on Voyager ended.

And finally, a couple of weeks ago, the indispensable Grady over at Practical Engineering did a great video that explained the details of horizontal directional boring. It’s a fascinating subject, and the idea that you can control the direction of a flexible drill string over long distances is pretty cool. We’ve actually seen a fair amount around our parts lately, where multiple network providers are vying to install competing optical fiber networks. But judging by the number of news stories about contractors hitting a gas line that we see, it’s not quite as easy as it seems. To get a flavor of what it’s like to run a directional drilling rig, Grady teamed up with Dan Schiffman to create a simulator game that’s addictively educational. We’ve been playing all morning and have only managed to hit the target a couple of times — it’s remarkably difficult to control something that has just two possible orientations and moves forward relentlessly.


9 thoughts on “Hackaday Links: July 17, 2022

  1. “What’s worse, a lot of what was written down has disappeared, as engineers at NASA and JPL have retired or otherwise moved on. That means there are probably a few boxes of old fanfold printouts sitting in a garage in Pasadena that hold the key to solving the glitch, and finding them boils down to figuring out who worked on what when, and where they ended up after their stint on Voyager ended. ”

    Hi there! Well, I think it was pretty common that people took their work home after the work was done. Akin to students/teachers who take home their school work after school was over. It was their work, their contributions, after all. There weren’t other people around that were supposed to do take theur place and do their job.

    It’s neither strange, nor irresponsible if we think about it. No idea why the press makes such a fuss about it. The very specific documents weren’t needed for over 40 years.

    The only complaint “we” people of the future could make is that there weren’t photocopies being made for the NASA/JPL archives. Well, if they had archives at the time, not sure. But even then, it perhaps was time consuming to copy a few thousand pages of documents that might never be needed again.. :(

    People from other satellite projects took home their stuff, too, maybe. Like project OSCAR, for example. I do imagine documents for, say, OSCAR 1 to 13, may also be found in a garage. Say, the control codes for overriding AO-7’s Mode-A/B cyclical switchover mechanism. Or the RTTY system (defunct). Things ike that. Those which weren’t public, but exclusive to their mission control. :)

    And then there were the Soviet missions. Venera, Luna etc. Are their technical documents available to the public now? Perhaps the space agency people in Russia would be somewhat glad these days if their 1970s/80s engineers had been allowed to take the specifications and documents back to home, into their garages. ;)

    PS: Sorry for my poor English. I hope it’s understandable, still.

  2. Can anyone explain the eight-sided “starbusts” around some of the objects in the teaser photo? I would guess this is camera artifact, but… why? Internal reflections?

    1. The 6 main points are from the three support arms of the instrument. Some interference happens around the supports. The two smaller points are probably from support arms as well, bu they may be where we can’t see them, but they’re still in the optical path

  3. One of my good friends growing up joined up with a horizontal boring operation right out of high school. He’d travel the country for different jobs and one summer while I was in college his crew was working in my area for an extended period so he stayed with me to save on hotel rooms. I picked his brain quite a bit because horizontal boring was something I’d never really heard of but seemed fascinating.

    The craziest thing he told me was:
    Time was everything for these crews. In the morning (crazy early) they’d meet up with some guy that had all the paperwork showing existing underground infrastructure (water, sewer, phone, etc). When this guy didn’t show up on time they’d begin without him. But first they’d have an older member of the crew walk the area and “douse” it marking underground obstacles. He’d pick up some stiff wire from the construction area or metal marking flag, cut two sections to about 8-10″ in length then bend them 90 degrees and walk the area in a grid while one crew member walked beside him with spray paint and marked the ground where he called out.

    I know that dousing is considered pseudoscience but this crew used it extensively and with great accuracy. When I showed skepticism and pressed my friend he had no interest in arguing with me about it, this was simply standard practice and it simply worked. He also added that he never questioned it because when the guy would later show up with the paperwork around lunch time it always matched what the crew member had already marked through dousing.

    I know it sounds hard to believe but I’m just telling you what the man said and he was a straight shooter.

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