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Obama Bobblehead in Stratosphere

A group of science-oriented middle- and high-school kids from Bishop, California launched a high-altitude balloon on Monday into the stratosphere with a Barack Obama bobblehead on board as part of an academic project.  Because the balloon was launched the day before the election, it also included a Mitt Romney bobblehead, I guess to be fair to the token dunces among them or (more likely) at the direction of school authorities.  But...you know...Mitt who?  

The balloon reached over 36,500 meters (or about 120,000 feet for us backward Americans) before popping.  Another image from a different orientation:

Obama Bobblehead in Stratosphere 2

The bobblehead of the unidentified Other Guy was also photographed, apparently in its preferred orientation:

Romney Bobblehead

It was appropriate that the Other Guy be sent into the stratosphere, since Out of Thin Air is where he got most of his ideas and claims.  However, he kept complaining to the operators of the balloon about the lack of manicure service, and threatening to have them all fired.  His requests to tie his dog to the balloon had apparently been rejected.

Video from Obama bobblehead's ascent and descent following the balloon popping (I recommend muting the shitty soundtrack):

I wonder if the kids even bothered to recover the Romney bobblehead, or just left it in the desert to be worshiped as a god by lizards and vultures?

In other "hopey spacey" news, speculation is running rampant that NASA will soon be moving ahead with plans spearheaded in the first Obama term that were kept in limbo pending the outcome of the election: Namely, putting crew in orbit of the Moon in 2019, followed by manned missions to the lunar surface to establish a base as well as to near-Earth asteroids in the middle of the next decade.  

Contrary to expectations given budget woes, these missions - dubbed the "Exploration Mission" series, with the first EM-1 being an unmanned launch of the crew vehicle around the Moon in December 2017 (yup - just five years away!), and EM-2 being the crewed lunar orbit in August 2019 - had actually been moved forward by two years from the original schedule since, for the first time ever, NASA had actually been cautious in its original promises and was able to perform better than expected.  That doesn't preclude subsequent delays, of course, but things are looking pretty good.

I don't know whether, when, or to what extent the progress being made by SpaceX on its commercial launch systems is going to feed into this particular program, since it relies on a non-commercial, NASA-designed system - the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the Orion deep space crew exploration vehicle.  

The Dragon spacecraft currently being developed by SpaceX is not a deep space vehicle at the moment - i.e., not designed to handle the rigors of going beyond Earth's protective magnetic field - although they have plans to evolve it into just such a vehicle.  Also, the Falcon 9 rocket on which Dragon launches is not presently powerful enough to launch a manned spacecraft into deep space, but SpaceX is developing more powerful rockets.  So how this plays out will depend on where the schedules intersect: If SpaceX's development proceeds too slowly to help NASA further advance the Exploration Mission schedule, there will probably be delays and push the first manned missions back to their original target date of 2021 or later.  If, however, it proceeds quickly, NASA might just shift gears and end up using far cheaper and more reliable SpaceX hardware rather than its own.  

Either way, the administration is committed to returning humans to the Moon and extending our reach to near-Earth asteroids, and SpaceX is meanwhile committed to human exploration and colonization of Mars beginning at some point in the next decade.  So this is a BFD.  We don't know what the disposition of the next administration will be after 2016, but we're On Our Way.

[I should add that Space.com is reporting rumors of an additional aspect of the Exploration Missions being added to NASA's plans, although no announcement has been made: Exploration of the L2 Earth-Moon Lagrange point on the far side of the Moon - a region where the gravities of the Earth and Moon as well as their rotational motion create a point of relative stability.]

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