Built on Facts


I almost titled this entry “Rocket Porn” but I wasn’t sure if the management would appreciate it. Still, to the space enthusiast this is definitely pretty enthralling.

These photos are straight from my old college roommate, now an engineer at NASA’s Stennis Space Center. He works in a building that overlooks the test stand for the new engines that are going to power the next generation of rockets, and it’s apparently quite the show. The fuel costs alone run well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars per test and so I suppose I should temper my enthusiasm on the grounds that I spent Saturday’s post opposing federal deficit spending. Still, I find it hard to begrudge NASA their 0.5% of the federal budget when they manage to accomplish such amazing things like the still-functioning Mars rovers.

Anyway. This is the test stand just before ignition. A few things to notice: the big barge in front of the test stand delivers the liquid hydrogen to the site. I’m not sure if it’s emply at this point, though I’d guess it is by virtue of the fact that it’s parked so close to an operating rocket engine. The second thing to notice is the vertical pipe toward the left side of the image. Hydrogen is constantly evaporating out of the test system, and this escaping gas is collected and shunted off into this pipe, where it’s burned. The heat waves are visible coming off of the top:


This next is what the view looks a couple seconds after ignition:


And a few seconds after that:


Ah, science.


  1. #1 CCPhysicist
    April 14, 2009

    Cool. My taxes for the entire year paid for about 10% of the fuel needed for the experiment. So I guess I worked all year to pay for that one picture in the middle of this set.

    Someone else paid for killing those three pirates.

  2. #2 llewelly
    April 14, 2009

    I almost titled this entry “Rocket Porn” but I wasn’t sure if the management would appreciate it.

    From this search :
    Pharyngula: Porn for math nerds
    Afarensis: Octopi Porn
    Stranger Fruit: Airport Porn?
    Afarensis: Bee Porn and Male-Male Courtship in Drosophila melanogaster
    Neurotopia : Friday Weird Science: Which porn gets you hot, baby?

    and dozens from Joan Bushwell’s semi-regular series titled ‘Friday Flower Porn’.

    What management were you worried about?

  3. #3 David
    April 14, 2009

    If it’s rocket porn, you missed the act. Those are photos of rockets smoking after sex.

  4. #4 Uncle Al
    April 14, 2009

    Uncle Al is more the hybrid booster sort of fellow: Li2B12H12 solid fuel core and tetrafluorohydrazine (/_\H(f) = -31.43 kcal/mole) turbopumped oxidizer. 2LiF, 12BF3, 12HF, 13N2 – what’s not to like, energywise? Zero carbon footprint, no chlorine injection into the stratosphere.


  5. #5 Matt Springer
    April 15, 2009

    You’re not kidding, #2. There are two posts on the front page right now with “porn” in the title.

  6. #6 MarkP
    April 15, 2009

    They used to test rocket motors at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Al. They might still do some of it. You could hear it – and feel it – for miles.

  7. #7 Uncle Al
    April 15, 2009

    Cape Canaveral is at 4 meters elevation and 28.4505 degrees latitude. The Space Scuttle stack has maximum total launch mass of 2.13 million kg. Earth’s equatorial rotation speed is 29.78 km/sec. The energy of the Space Scuttle alone in orbit is 3.38×10^12 J,

    adequate estimate and analysis

    NASA is less a pig given an equatorial hih altitude launch platform. The sweet spot vs. latitude and Earth’s center is then (drum roll) Mt. Chimborazo, latitude -1.46667 degrees, 6.310 km altitude (6380.27 km from Earth’s center vs. Cape Canaveral 11.149 km lower): [(1.00175)(1.13700)]^2 (distance from Earth’s center and latitude fraction of equatorial spin, respectively; KE proportional to v^2)) or 29.7% more kinetic energy headed due east, for free. Having 2.13 million kg start 6306 meters higher saves mgh = 1.32×10^11 joules, 95% of a single Space Scuttle SRB’s output.

    One SRB delivers 6.757×10^10 joules

    NASA is an idiot – even after decimal trim.

  8. #8 Uncle Al
    April 17, 2009

    Mea culpa. Earth’s sidereal equatorial spin is 465.12 m/sec. The “95% of a single Space Scuttle SRB’s output” should be 195%. Don’t think when your woman is talking at you.

  9. #9 Anonymous
    May 13, 2009


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    April 23, 2012

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