Thursday, September 29, 2005

ZPD: Rumsfeld violating the law ...

See, Rummy is just making sure “Poppy” and the Carlyle Group get their blood stained profits from selling better armor to American troops in Iraq after allowing the Pentagon to send them there with inadequate protection.

AP: Lolita C. Baldor: Troops Wait for Body Armor Reimbursements
Pentagon fails to figure out how to pay back troops' personal expenditures

Image: A U.S. soldier patrols a Baghdad street on Tuesday.
A U.S. soldier patrols a Baghdad street on Tuesday.

WASHINGTON - Nearly a year after Congress demanded action, the Pentagon has still failed to figure out a way to reimburse soldiers for body armor and equipment they purchased to better protect themselves while serving in Iraq.

Soldiers and their parents are still spending hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars for armor they say the military won’t provide. One U.S. senator said Wednesday he will try again to force the Pentagon to obey the reimbursement law it opposed from the outset and has so far not implemented.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs U.S. Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers (L) speaks while U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (R) listens as they brief the press at the Pentagon, September 27, 2005. REUTERS/Larry Downing - cite fair use

Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., said he will offer amendments to the defense appropriations bill working its way through Congress, to take the funding issue out of the hands of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and give control to military unit commanders in the field.

“Rumsfeld is violating the law,” Dodd said in an interview with The Associated Press. “It’s been sitting on the books for over a year. They were opposed to it. It was insulting to them. I’m sorry that’s how they felt.”

Pentagon spokeswoman Air Force Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke said the department “is in the final stages of putting a reimbursement program together and it is expected to be operating soon.” But defense officials would not discuss the reason for the delay.

Krenke said the Pentagon’s first priority is to ensure that soldiers “have all they need to fight and win this nation’s wars.”

Others don’t see it that way.

'Not good enough'
“Your expectation is that when you are sent to war, that our government does everything they can do to protect the lives of our people, and anything less than that is not good enough,” said a former Marine who spent nearly $1,000 two weeks ago to buy lower-body armor for his son, a Marine serving in Fallujah.

The father asked that he be identified only by his first name — Gordon — because he is afraid of retribution against his son.

“I wouldn’t have cared if it cost us $10,000 to protect our son, I would do it,” said Gordon. “But I think the U.S. has an obligation to make sure they have this equipment and to reimburse for it. I just don’t support Donald Rumsfeld’s idea of going to war with what you have, not what you want. You go to war prepared, and you don’t go to war until you are prepared.”

''I wouldn't have cared if it cost us $10,000 to protect our son, I would do it. But I think the U.S. has an obligation to make sure they have this equipment and to reimburse for it.''

-- A former Marine who spent nearly $1,000 two weeks ago to buy body armor for his son, a Marine serving in Fallujah

'Rumsfeld is violating the law. It's been sitting on the books for over a year. They were opposed to it. It was insulting to them. I'm sorry that's how they felt.''

-- Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., on the defense secretary and Pentagon

The Defense Department ''is in the final stages of putting a reimbursement program together, and it is expected to be operating soon.''

-- Air Force Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke, Pentagon spokeswoman

''It just became an accepted part of the culture. If you were National Guard or Reserve... you were going to spend a lot of money out of your pocket.''

-- Paul Rieckhoff, Iraq veteran and executive director of Operation Truth, an advocacy group for Iraq veterans

Under the law passed by Congress last October, the Defense Department had until Feb. 25 to develop regulations for the reimbursement, which is limited to $1,100 per item. Pentagon officials opposed the reimbursement idea, calling it “an unmanageable precedent that will saddle the DOD with an open-ended financial burden.”

In a letter to Dodd in late April, David Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel, said his office was developing regulations to implement the reimbursement, and would be done in about 60 days.

'Serious shortages'
Soldiers and their families have reported buying everything from higher-quality protective gear to armor for their Humvees, medical supplies and even global positioning devices.

“The bottom line is that Donald Rumsfeld and the Defense Department are failing soldiers again,” said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Operation Truth, an advocacy group for Iraq veterans.

“It just became an accepted part of the culture. If you were National Guard or Reserve, or NCOs, noncommissioned officers, you were going to spend a lot of money out of your pocket,” said Rieckhoff, who was a platoon leader with the 3rd Infantry Division and served in Iraq from the invasion in March 2003 to spring 2004. “These are bureaucratic failures, but when they make mistakes like this, guys die. There has been progress made, but we’re still seeing serious shortages.”

Dodd said he is worried the Pentagon will reject most requests for reimbursement. Turning the decision over to the troop commanders will prevent that, he said, because the commanders know what their soldiers need and will make better decisions about what to reimburse.

Dodd also said he wants to eliminate the deadline included in the original law, which allowed soldiers to seek reimbursement for items bought between September 2001 and July 2004. Now, he said, he wants it to be open-ended.

“I’m tired of this, obviously they’re not getting the job done,” said Dodd. “If you have to go out and buy equipment to protect yourself, you’re going to get reimbursed.”


Friday, September 23, 2005

Minotaur Launch of STP-R1

A Minotaur launched the STP-R1 STP-R1 experimental satellite into space for the Air Force Research Laboratory. Payload is DARPA's Streak technology demonstration satellite. Launch occurred at dusk and caused an impressive display visible as far away as Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico.


For the U.S. Air Force's Orbital/Suborbital Program (OSP) we have developed the low-cost, four-stage Space Launch Vehicle (SLV) Minotaur rocket using a combination of U.S. government-supplied Minuteman II motors and proven Orbital space launch technologies.

The Minuteman rocket motors serve as the vehicle's first and second stages, efficiently reusing motors that have been decommissioned as a result of arms reduction treaties. Minotaur's third and fourth stages, structures and payload fairing are common with our highly reliable Pegasus XL rocket. Its capabilities have been enhanced with the addition of improved avionics systems, including our Modular Avionics Control Hardware (MACH), which is used on many of our suborbital launch vehicles.

Minotaur made its inaugural flight in January 2000, successfully delivering a number of small military and university satellites into orbit and marking the first-ever use of residual U.S. Government Minuteman boosters in a space launch vehicle. Minotaur has since extended its 100% success record with successful launches of Mightysat in July 2000, and XSS-11 in April 2005, both technology demonstration satellites for the Air Force Research Laboratory.

Minotaur • STP-R1
Launch window: 0224-0240 GMT (10:24-10:40 p.m. EDT on Sept. 22)
Launch site: SLC-8, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

What it looked like - as the exhaust was scattered by high winds ...

The Orbital/Suborbital Program Space Launch Vehicle, nicknamed Minotaur, will launch the STP-R1 experimental satellite into space for DARPA. The four-stage rocket used U.S. government-supplied Minuteman 2 motors and Pegasus rocket stages. Delayed from July. [Sept. 19]

Follow the countdown and launch of the Orbital Sciences Minotaur rocket with the U.S. military's STP-R1 "Streak" technology demonstration satellite. Reload this page for the very latest on the mission. T+plus 16 minutes. No confirmation of spacecraft deployment from the rocket has been announced. We'll be awaiting additional information from launch officials to determine if Minotaur has successfully completed its mission this evening.
0235 GMT (7:35 p.m. PDT Thurs.)

T+plus 11 minutes. Standing by for further word.
0232 GMT (7:32 p.m. PDT Thurs.)

T+plus 7 minutes, 50 seconds. Thrust has tailed off from the solid-fueled fourth stage to complete the burn.
0231 GMT (7:31 p.m. PDT Thurs.)

T+plus 7 minutes, 15 seconds. All systems appear normal as fourth stage continues to burn.
0230 GMT (7:30 p.m. PDT Thurs.)

T+plus 6 minutes, 30 seconds. Fourth stage stage ignition!
0229 GMT (7:29 p.m. PDT Thurs.)

T+plus 6 minutes, 28 seconds. The third stage has been jettisoned from the fourth stage. Coming up on ignition of the fourth stage.
0229 GMT (7:29 p.m. PDT Thurs.)

T+plus 5 minutes. Minotaur remains in the ballistic coast phase of flight. The spent third stage will be shed, followed by fourth stage ignition in approximately 90 seconds from now.
0228 GMT (7:28 p.m. PDT Thurs.)

T+plus 4 minutes. Performance so far in this launch indicates the target apogee altitude high point will be reached.
0228 GMT (7:28 p.m. PDT Thurs.)

T+plus 3 minutes, 35 seconds. The solid-fuel third stage has burned out, and the rocket is now in a brief coast period.
0227 GMT (7:27 p.m. PDT Thurs.)

T+plus 3 minutes, 15 seconds. All appears normal with the flight as the third stage solid motor continues to fire.
0227 GMT (7:27 p.m. PDT Thurs.)

T+plus 2 minutes, 45 seconds. The rocket's payload fairing nose cone has separated.
0226 GMT (7:26 p.m. PDT Thurs.)

T+plus 2 minutes, 19 seconds. Third stage ignition confirmed as the spent second stage falls way. This sheds the Minuteman 2 portion of Minotaur and the Pegasus heritage solid-fuel motors take over.
0225 GMT (7:25 p.m. PDT Thurs.)

T+plus 80 seconds. Second stage is burning well.
0225 GMT (7:25 p.m. PDT Thurs.)

T+plus 67 seconds. Staging has occurred. The first and second stages separated. And the second stage motor has ignited.
0225 GMT (7:25 p.m. PDT Thurs.)

T+plus 45 seconds. The rocket's orientation remains normal as it passes through the region of maximum aerodynamic pressures of ascent.
0224 GMT (7:24 p.m. PDT Thurs.)

T+plus 25 seconds. A good flight of Minotaur is being reported from the vehicle telemetry receiving sites.
0224 GMT (7:24 p.m. PDT Thurs.)

T+plus 10 seconds. First stage motor pressure nominal.
0224:29 GMT (7:24:29 p.m. PDT Thurs.)

LIFTOFF! Liftoff of the Minotaur rocket with the Streak satellite, launching a new Space Test Program research mission for the U.S. military.

2124 GMT (2:24 p.m. PDT)

The launch countdown has begun for this evening's liftoff of the Minotaur rocket and STP-R1 mission from California's central coast. The launch team is proceeding through the countdown checklist to ready systems and the vehicle for blastoff, which remains scheduled to occur five hours from now.

When the sun goes down at California's Vandenberg Air Force Base tonight, an obscure little satellite will blast off to begin its year-long mission for the U.S. military's research and development agency.
The Space Test Program-R1 project's Streak satellite carries a classified price tag and limited details about its underlying purpose. But the launch should be widely visible throughout central and southern California, perhaps as far inland as Arizona and Nevada, if weather conditions permit, when the Minotaur rocket roars into space to deploy its cargo.
Liftoff from the Space Launch Complex 8 pad located on Vandenberg's southern edge will occur during a window extending from 7:24 to 7:40 p.m. PDT (10:24-10:40 p.m. EDT; 0224-0240 GMT). The period opens nearly a half-hour after sunset.
Ascending skyward along a southerly trajectory over the Pacific, the slender white rocket has the potential to produce a spectacular "twilight phenomenon" display of green, blue, white and rose colors in expanding, twisting clouds. The cause: unburned fuel particles and water drops in the rocket's contrail freeze in the less dense upper atmosphere and get reflected by sunlight at high altitudes during launches timed just before sunrise or shortly after sunset.
The Orbital Sciences-managed Minotaur rocket is formed by using decommissioned first and second stages from a Minuteman 2 ICBM missile and solid-propellant motors from the commercial Pegasus rocket program for its third and fourth stages. The vehicle is designed to provide the U.S. government with reliable access to space for small satellites.
This will be the second Minotaur launch of the year and fourth since 2000. All have been successful so far.

Air Force launch officials say it will take about nine minutes for the Minotaur to haul the STP-R1 mission to the desired orbit tonight. The satellite, dubbed Streak by its operator, will test technologies for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

"Streak is a technology demonstrator whose objective is to demonstrate rapid response, short mission life, low Earth orbit space technologies and gather information about the low Earth orbit environment," a DARPA spokesperson said.

Information released by DARPA indicates Streak is fitted with two instruments -- an ion gauge and an atomic oxygen sensor.

"The vehicle will characterize the orbital regime, demonstrate operational feasibility from a command and control standpoint and also from a platform perspective for future DoD missions," the spokesperson added.

General Dynamics C4 Systems/Spectrum Astro Space Systems built the craft in Gilbert, Arizona.

DARPA is the Defense Department organization whose mission is "to maintain the technological superiority of the U.S. military and prevent technological surprise from harming our national security by sponsoring revolutionary, high-payoff research that bridges the gap between fundamental discoveries and their military use."

Tonight's weather forecast predicts an 80 percent chance of acceptable conditions for launch. Thick clouds are the only concern for violating the launch rules.

"A weak high pressure ridge moves east Thursday afternoon, while a shallow marine layer comes ashore. An upper level trough drops into the area with altocumulus and thick cirrus over Vandenberg, while low ceilings and dense fog obscure visibility," the launch weather officer reported Wednesday.

The "marine layer" of low stratus clouds will cover the entire sky over the launch pad between 400 and 1,200 feet. Mid- and high-level clouds are expected at 15,000 and 23,000 feet. Forecasters also predict fog to reduce visibility to one mile, with a temperature between 64 and 69 degrees, ground winds of 13-to-18 knots from the northwest and maximum high-altitude winds of 44 knots near 40,000 feet.

Should the launch be delayed to Friday evening for some reason, the outlook calls for a 100 percent probability of acceptable liftoff conditions. But the viewing situation at Vandenberg is likely to remain foggy.

"An upper level low and associated trough moves into the Pacific northwest. The marine layer returns, thickening and lifting as the trough moves closer and destabilizes the atmosphere. Visibility improves to 3 miles. The gradient between the exiting ridge and this trough tightens with surface winds out of the northwest at 15 - 20 knots. Upper level winds remain northwesterly."

Saturday, September 03, 2005

ZPD: Don't ask about Noah's Ark ... as I'll mock you.

Modern humans, Neanderthals shared earth for 1,000 years

A reconstruction of the face of a young female Neanderthal.

A reconstruction of the face of a young female Neanderthal who lived about 35,000 years ago in France. (AFP)

New evidence has emerged that Neanderthals co-existed with anatomically modern humans for at least 1,000 years in central France.

The finding suggests Neanderthals came to a tragic and lingering end.

Few chapters in the rise of Homo sapiens, as modern mankind is known, have triggered as much debate as the fate of the Neanderthals.

Smaller and squatter than Homo sapiens but with larger brains, Neanderthals lived in Europe, parts of central Asia and the Middle East for about 170,000 years.

But vestiges of the Neanderthals stop about 28,000 to 30,000 years ago.

At that point, Homo sapiens, a smart, ascendant sub-species of humans originating in eastern Africa, became the undisputed masters of the planet.

So what happened to the Neanderthals?

One intriguing school of thought is that the Neanderthals did not suddenly disappear off the map but gradually melded in with Homo sapiens culturally and possibly sexually.

Interbreeding resulted, meaning that what we, today, supposedly carry some of the genetic legacy of the Neanderthals.

But a new study delivers a blow to this theory.

It shows that the two hominids did indeed co-exist for a long time but there is no evidence of any intermingling.

Indeed, it points to the likelihood that the Neanderthals petered out, their lineage expiring in starvation and Ice Age cold.

Paul Mellars, a professor of prehistory and human evolution at the University of Cambridge, and colleagues dated bone fossils preserved by French archaeologists who carefully excavated layers of soil at a site called 'la Grotte aux Fees' (the Fairy Grotto).

The cave, located at Chatelperron between the valleys of the Loire and Allier, is already famous as a former Neanderthal habitat.

But what makes the site especially interesting is that bone artefacts and flints bearing the typical hallmarks of prehistoric Homo sapiens were also found there.

Professor Mellars' team applied the modern tool of radiocarbon dating to get a precise idea of the age of the bone tools and compared those dates to the soil layers in which they were found and knowledge of the climate that prevailed at the time.

They found that Neanderthals lived in the cave between roughly 40,000 and 38,000 years ago, when the climate was, for the last Ice Age, relatively balmy.

Then came a sudden and prolonged cold snap, when the temperature dropped by as much as eight degrees Celsius and Homo sapiens - apparently migrating southwards in search of warmer climes - inhabited caves for about 1,000 to 1,500 years.

Thereafter, the climate slightly warmed again.

At that point, Homo sapiens moved out and the Neanderthals returned, staying for a period that went from about 36,500 years ago to 35,000 years ago.

After that, there is no more sign of them.

"This is the first categorical proof that Neanderthals and modern human beings did overlap in France for more than 1,000 years," Professor Mellars said.

He says it is also convincing evidence of the Neanderthals' vulnerability to climate change and of the rise of smarter, more adaptable rivals.

"People point out that Neanderthals were biologically better adapted to living in glacial conditions than modern humans, that they were built a bit like eskimos and were better anatomically at coping with cold conditions, whereas modern humans came in from Africa, where they evolved with bodies that were taller and thinner and did not conserve heat so well," he said.

"Yet the evidence is here that modern humans could cope with cold conditions better than the Neanderthals thanks to culture and technology, for instance with better clothing, better fire control and perhaps better shelters."

Professor Mellars says Neanderthals and Homo sapiens probably lived near each other for long periods.

But he says no evidence has been found of cultural interaction and DNA tests on samples taken from 1,000 Europeans have failed to find any evidence of Neanderthal genes.

In short, the indicators point to the likelihood that Homo sapiens crushed or ousted the Neanderthals in the fight to survive.