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That reminds me of a story.
“HELLFIRE AND DALMATIANS!” I shouted to no one in particular.
“What’s the problem, dear?” Esme asks in that way she has of telling me to calm down without having to say it directly.
“This bloody fucking country. A day late and several dollars short.” I fume. “Can’t get a new liquor license because of the bloody COVID. Can’t go to a hotel bar and have a snort because of the bloody COVID. Can’t even slip across the border to Dubai and soak up some room service and buckets of complimentary cocktails because of the bloody COVID.”
Yes, the Sultanate of Oman, in its infinitesimal wisdom, has traditionally followed other GCC countries by at least three months in making any sort of proclamations regarding this latest bugaboo: the hideous, deadly, itchy, loathsome, and possibly serially bent, noxious, pandemical COVID-19; aka, this pandemic’s entry for flu.
Their response is one of immense knee-jerk without first having thought of the consequences.
“Bloody lockdown, 2100 to 0700. What is this, the whole fucking country’s been bad and now being sent to bed without any supper?” I wondered aloud. “Idiot benchodes.”
Even Esme couldn’t come up with a rejoinder to that.
“Plus they close all the bars. And all the hotels. And the fucking bottle shops. It’s not enough that these fucking Muppets jack the ‘sin tax’ on booze and cigars by 100%, now they’re not even legally available.” I swore.
Of course, once you’ve spent even a small portion of the time that I have in the Middle East, you have your connections. Your system. Your access to the seedy underbelly of any society; the venerable Black Market.
Jesus Q. Christ on toast with baked beans, fried tomatoes, black pudding, and mushrooms, I could get most anything in the Middle East, be it legal, shady, or just plain illegal. However, before you all recoil in horror that the venerable Dr. Rocknocker dabbles in the prohibited, just remember: the ends always dojustify the means.
“I'm telling you, Esme dear; this Gulf story is getting too complicated. The weasels have started closing in.” I complain to Es as she hands me a fresh drink.
“Do you think…?” Esme asks expectantly.
Esme is more than ready to go. I’ve used this place as a base of operations for years whilst I wear out the Omani legal system suing those asswipes that think just because they’re local and I’m a kafir, they’re immune to the law.
I’ve spent a long, profitable and time-consuming period of the last few years proving them wrong.
But, time was marching onwards. I agreed with Esme, we’ve milked this particular cash cow dry. It was time to hitch up our bootstraps, call it a day, and get the hell out of Dodge.
But not before I took care of a few loose ends.
Now, the country had recently lost its venerable Sultan, who croaked back in January of this year.
Sultan Qaboos was a good egg, friend to expat and local alike. Did a shitload of good for this benighted Middle East sandpit. Dragged it kicking and screaming out of the 12th century into, well, not exactly the 21st, but a whole hell of a lot closer.
He realized that he needed revolutionary, not evolutionary change in the country. By revolutionary, he needed American, British, Canadian, and the like Western Expats here to do the heavy thinking and lifting and Eastern Expats like Indians, Bangladeshis and Nepalese to do all the scut work.
Yeah, I know. That sounds racist as fuck, but sometimes that’s the way the ball bounced.
Simple evolution of society where Omanis graduated the local equivalent of grade school, through high school, into University, and finally into Entry level jobs in the oil and gas industry wasn’t going to cut it. Took too long and the country needed a serious cash flow now.
So, that’s what he did. And it worked a treat.
Then he died.
And his chosen took over.
Except his chosen was pretty much antithetical to everything the previous and very revered and successful, Sultan wanted.
Soon, there are 100% ‘sin taxes’ aimed directly at the western expats. Tourists included.
Then there’s quotas and ‘Letters of No Objection’, which are impossible to get so that the Eastern Expats can’t switch jobs.
Then, there are Sultanic proclamations of new taxes on tourists, new taxes on fast food, new taxes on this, that and the other. Then there’s, in his own words, “Oman is for Omanis”, blatantly ridiculous and xenophobic Omanization, and the general swipe at all expats.
This was the clear message of the new sultan.
He wanted to take over and possibly nationalize all the oil workings in the country.
Ask Venezuela, Iran, and Myanmar how well that worked out for them.
Then he wants all expats out on their asses. He wants Omanis to take over all the jobs, even though they’re nowhere near educated nor experienced enough for the positions. Then take up the massive GDP slack in lower oil production and oil prices with tourism.
Given everything else, that last line should be enough to get him off the throne.
He’s fucking nuts if he thinks people are going to want to cruise or overland anywhere near a place where foreigners are seen only as a cash supply, are despised, and would welcome these all new 100% tax levies.
Be that as it may, Esme and I decided that we have had enough of 135O F summer temperatures, virtual house arrest under the guise of a COVID lockdown, and idiots who were the only ones stupid or twisted enough not to vamoose when the great, big bloody letters were clearly written on the wall.
But, there was the physical act of getting out of the country.
Now, I had plenty of strings which I could pull, but I decided I’d start low and save those until we really needed them.
So low, in fact, we went to the US Embassy in Muscat.
“How low can you go?” reverberated through my head.
What a haven of sad-sacks, flubadubs, and third rate hobbyists.
Was either Esme or I surprised that when we finally secured an invitation to the embassy, that required a bit of string-pulling with the ex-Ambassador to Oman, now in Kabul; that besides the peach-fuzz faced Marine guarding the place, we were the only Americans in the joint?
“This is American soil!” I laughed, as I pulled out a huge Cuban cigar and was immediately told to extinguish it. “We’re as American as apple pie and napalm! We file our fucking 1040s every April; I pay my fucking long-distance taxes and demand US assistance to vacate this gloomy place of sandy, sweaty, sultry Sturm und Drang!”
“Shut up, Rock”, Esme chided me, “They don’t understand English. Much less, the florid English the way you trowel it on.”
“Fuckbuckets”, I remonstrated. “Here I had memorized the whole Patrick Henry speech he made to the Second Virginia Convention on March 23, 1775, at St. John's Church in Richmond, Virginia. Troglodytes. No admiration for the classics.”
“Rock, dear?” Esme noted, “It’s almost 1100 hours. Best to get to our appointment.”
True, our appointment was slated for 1100 hours. But around here, anything starting within three hours of the stated time was considered close enough.
We dragged ourselves, none too cheerfully, to the waiting room. Once we pried open the door, there was the usual “If you hear a high pitched wail, hit the deck” signs, and other things one could do while kissing one’s ass goodbye if there was a terrorist attack, we had a whole new slew of bullshit with which to deal.
“Social distancing. 6 feet. Or if you’re from Baja Canada, 1 cow’s length.”
“Must wear a mask. Bandanna, bandoliers, and large-caliber weapons or sombrero optional.”
“No sitting. Faux Naugahyde seats are too difficult to sterilize. You must stand at attention, do not talk amongst yourselves, and remain patient until your number is called.”
“Well, fuck!”, I snorted quietly, as I raised my first secret flask in rapt attention to our old glory of red, white, and blue.
“Good thing they didn’t say nothin’ about getting a load on. If I’m going to be treated like cattle, I’m going to at least have something to chew on in the process.”
“Oh, lord”, Esme grumbled, “You didn’t bring that Japanese Rye Whiskey with you, did you?”
“ルハイム”, I said, which is Japanese for “L’chaim”!
“Oh, hell”, Esme grinned as she borrowed my flask, “This is going to be a long day.”
I began to protest but remembered that I was wearing my Agency-issued field vest. I must have had at least 5 or 6 more flasks lurking around in those pockets somewhere.
Funny aside: they don’t bother with my going through an X-ray machine nor do they confiscate my phone, radio, knives, nor other field equipment when I go to the US Embassy.
It took them almost two solid hours last time, and by the time they got to my Brunton Compass, emergency flasks, a few spare blasting cap boosters, and saw the label sewn into the back of my vest, they decided they’d just send Rack and Ruin some evil Emails and let me pass unmolested.
“I’ll drink to that”, I say as I raise a flask as the locals raise an eyebrow. “Courtesy of Atheists International. We’re here for your children…”
The collective gasps and growls indicate they weren’t happy with me or my betrothed.
“Don’t care, Buckwheat”, I smiled, “Never did, never will. We’re out of here for good. You can curse my name all you want then. But, then again, why you standing in the American Embassy trying to get a visa to visit the land of the great evil empire?”
All the locals and most of the Eastern Expats crowded into a corner as far away from us as they physically could.
“BOO!” I snickered over a shot of Wild Turkey 101 Rye.
“Now serving number 58! Number 58!” came the call over the tannoy.
“Look at that”, I remarked to Es as I stashed both our flasks, “It’s only 12:35. Record time.”
We both shimmy into the glass-fronted and presumably bullet- but not C-4 resistant- glass.
We pick up the telephones there and acknowledge that we are who we said we were.
The East Indian fella, one Harsh Talavalakar, behind the multiple layers of glass asked us why we were here.
“Didn’t you read the appointment card?” I asked, “We’re here to have Uncle Sam get us passage out of this sordid and sultry place.”
“You are American citizens?” he asked, vacantly.
“That’s what it says on appointment cards and these here blue passports,” I replied.
“Well, how was I to know?” he scoffed, returning to his half-consumed powdered sugar doughnut.
“Maybe read the appointment card and see that we are US Citizens here on the behest of Ambassador Bethesda Orun?” I replied.
“Like I have time to read everything that comes across my desk”, he scoffed again.
I tapped on the glass to make certain I had his full attention.
“Look here, Herr Harsh. I’m not sure how you got this job at the American Consulate but want to be very clear with you. My wife and I are residents of this place for the last 20 years. We’re American citizens of very high standing and have more high powered connections than an Arduino in a nuclear power station. We have direct connections with Langley, Virginia and if you want to retain your cushy job, you’ll put down that fucking doughnut and pay very rapt attention to the two Americans standing here who are getting more and more irritated with some Indian benchode that doesn’t think he has to really do his job. You savvy? You diggin’ me, Beaumont
I guess the benchode got his attention. The two scowls he received from Esme and myself sort of cemented the idea that we’re not too pleased and not with to be trifled.
“Yes, sir?” he said, “And ma’am”, as Harsh quickly corrected himself as the doughnut disappeared.
“We want out. Gone. Vamoose. Outta here. AMF. You got me?” he nods behind the shatterprone glass.
“Now I know the borders are sealed and the airport’s closed, but fuck that. We want out and we want gone for good. I can’t make that much simpler or clearer. Get after it, son.” I said, as seriously as I could.
“Well, sir”, he began, “ The airport’s closed…”
“Are you deaf or born stupid and been losing ground ever since?” I asked, rhetorically. “I know that. We all know that. My HAT knows that. So, what devious little plan does the US Embassy have in store in just such an unsavory situation?”
“Well”, he chokes a bit, “There’s this unofficial lottery where America citizens are issued random numbers and if their number comes up, there are seats made available on special clandestine charter flights.”
Considering that Es and I are some of the last American citizens left in the country, I thought our chances might be pretty good.
“OK”, I said, “Let us have two of your finest numbers.”
“Yes, sir”, he said, “That will be US$500 total.”
“Excuse me?” I said.
“Oh, yes”, he smirked, “US$250 per number. Chances are you’ll never be called, but with these numbers, at least you stand a chance.”
“OK”, I said, “Forget the numbers. I want your name and operating number. I’ve got a report to file that’s due in Virginia before breakfast.”
“Oh, sir”, he smirked more, “I cannot release that information. Thanking you. Now be having a good day.” And he slammed the supposedly bulletproof shield between himself and Es and me.
“Bulletproof? Maybe. Nitro proof? No fucking way.” I groused as I fished out a couple of blasting cap superfast boosters.
“Calm down, dear”, Esme smiled to me as we walked out, “When he wasn’t looking, I took his picture, got his operating number, and full name. In fact, I think I got some information on where he lives…”
In the cab on the way back to our villa, I reviewed and confirmed Es’s subterfuge. Flasks number 6 and 8 needed serious replenishment by the time we arrived home.
“That’s fucking right, Ruin.” I yelled over the phone, “We need extraction. And now. Along with our personal effects and a few hundredweight of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ boxes of stuff we need to be transported.”
“Well, Rock”, Agent Ruin replied, “That’s a tall order. Usually, extraction is for one person and the stuff they’re wearing. Tell you what. Let Rack and I work on it for a week or so. We’ll arrange transport of your personal effects, then we’ll see about getting you and Esme to Dubai. At least there, you can order a plane. Hell, knowing you, you’ll get Tony Stark to fly in and provide door to door service. Sit tight. We’ll be back in touch.”
“Good!” I say as I slam the phone down. With these newfangled cellphone telephone instruments, they lack the same sort of satisfying “KER FUCKING CLANG” the old landlines used to have.
“Es!”, I yelled, “Start packing. We’re due out of here within a week.”
That meant we needed to do some packing triage:
• Things going home with us.
• Things being shipped.
• Things being sold.
• Things being left behind.
• Things no one was about to get their furry little mitts on.
“Oh, fuck!”, I startled. I had just remembered the John Wick-ian stash of various explosives, and adjunct materials I had buried in the basement. Obviously, I couldn’t take it home with me, I couldn’t sell it, and I sure as festering frothing fuck wasn’t going to leave it here.
I needed to call one of my more shifty and swarthy friends and arrange for passage out to the deep, dark desert. Around the area where the new sultan had opened a couple of brand new landfills.
Looks like I was going to expand them a few meters once we disposed of the few hundred kilos of accumulation I attained over the last few years.
See, I’m a packrat. I never leave nor toss anything that might be convenient. Might have a benefit. Might prove to be useful sometime down the line.
So, I’ve accumulated a bit of kit.
Like…well…a few hundred sticks of Du Pont 60% Extra Fast Dynamite. A couple dozen spools of Z-4 Primacord, in various degrees of fullness. A shitload of C-4; enough bricks for a Floydian wall. A couple, well, a dozen, well, two dozen cases of binary liquid explosives. Hey, this stuff is hard to come by…
Continuing, several thousand blasting caps and superfast flash blasting cap boosters. Some mercury fulminate. Some nitrogen triiodide. A couple tens of pounds of PETN. An equal amount of RDX. A few Erlenmeyer flasks full of shit even I’m not certain of what it is…
And a few kilos of freshly decanted, raw nitroglycerin; packed in sturdy wooden boxes lined with new fuzzy lamb’s wool.
Not that much. Just 10 or 12 kilos.
Yeah. I can’t leave that here. Even a small accident with this stuff would lay waste to not only our villa; but my landlord’s villa with whom we share a common wall.
Besides, as Omanis go, my landlord was the only dishdasha dressed denizen for which I had any respect or admiration. He was a good guy. I needed to return his villa at least in some semblance of what I received when we first rented from him.
So, I had to dispose of many, many billions of kilojoules of potential energy. I needed to do this out in a distant and far away from prying ears and eyes regions and I needed a truck to haul this stuff out to the range.
To be continued…
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Addressing Canada’s Employment Insurance Gap For Self-Employed Workers

Source: TD
Ksenia Bushmeneva, Economist
Dated July 15th, 2020


Chart 1 - Workers in More Precarious Employment See Steep Job Losses

Chart 2 - COVID-19 Self-employed to Cut Hours Worked Drastically

EI Leaves Many Non-Standard Workers Behind

Chart 3 - Self-employed Workers Much More Likely to Apply for CERB

Chart 4 - Prevalence of Self-employment Varies by Province

What Complicates Offering EI Coverage For Non-Standard Workers

Chart 5 - Maternity and Family Benefits Available to Self-employment

Chart 6 - Sickness, Disability, and Work Injury Coverage Available to Self-Employed

Some Solutions Based on The International Experience

Chart 7 - Unemployment Benefits Coverage Options to Self-employed

Chart 8 - Old-age Pensions Coverage Options Available to Self-employed

Concluding Remarks


  1. “Employment Insurance Coverage Survey, 2018”. Statistics Canada.
  2. Sunil Johal & Erich Hartmann. “Facilitating the Future of Work Through Modernizing EI System”. The Mowat Center.
  3. Antonia Asenjo and Clemente Pignatti. “Unemployment insurance schemes around the world: Evidence and policy options.” International Labour Office.
  4. Sung-Hee Jeon and Yuri Ostrovsky. “The impact of COVID-19 on the gig economy: Short- and long-term concerns”. Statistics Canada.
  5. Sunil Johal & Erich Hartmann. “Facilitating the Future of Work Through Modernizing EI System”. The Mowat Center. Ibid.
  6. “Evaluation of the Employment Insurance Special Benefits for Self-employed Workers”. Employment and Social Development Canada.
  7. “The Future of Social Protection: what works for non-standard workers?” OECD. Ibid.
  8. “Key Small Business Statistics - January 2019”. Statistics Canada. Ibid.
  9. “Government Response To The Fifth Report Of The Standing Committee on The Status of Women. Interim Report on the Maternity and Parental Benefits Under Employment Insurance: the Exclusion of Self-Employed Workers.”
  10. “Evaluation of the Employment Insurance Special Benefits for Self-employed Workers”. Employment and Social Development Canada. development/corporate/reports/evaluations/2016-ei-special-benefits.html

End Notes

  1. Since 2010 self-employed workers can voluntarily participate in EI Special Benefit for Self-Employed Workers (SBSE) to gain access to many life event-type benefits accessible to regular employees, such as maternity and paternity leave programs, leave due to sickness or to care for an sick family member. In addition to this, current EI system allows certain exceptions for some non-standard workers. For example some individuals who work independently as barbers, hairdressers, taxi drivers, drivers of other passenger vehicles are eligible to receive benefits through the regular EI program. Fishermen are also included as insured persons under the EI Fishing Regulations. In the case of the self- employed fishermen, EI qualification is tied to income. In order to qualify for up to 26 weeks of benefit, they need to have earned between $2,500 to $4,200 in the last 31 weeks.
  2. The two main reasons for not contributing to the EI program were not having worked in the previous 12 months, and non-insurable employment (which includes self-employment).
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[Table] IAmA: I am the Principal Investigator for the NASA OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Sample Return Mission, AMA!

Verified? (This bot cannot verify AMAs just yet)
Date: 2013-12-10
Link to submission (Has self-text)
Questions Answers
Greetings Dr. Lauretta, i have a few questions, how is 5819 doing and are there plans to probe it too? Asteroid 5819 Lauretta is continuing on its orbital trajectory through the Solar System. My astronomer friends snap a photo for me every once in awhile but there is no plan for a dedicated science campaign.
How did the idea of a sample return mission from an asteroid came about? What is the inspiration behind it? The OSIRIS-REx concept originated with Lockheed-Martin, who is always looking for new Principal Investigators for their planetary science missions. They approached Mike Drake, the original PI, in 2004 about collaborating on a sample-return mission. Mike invited me to be his Deputy at that time - which I gladly accepted. Mike and I worked on the mission concept for seven years before being accepted by NASA. Mike passed away in September 2011 - four months after winning the contract. I was promoted to PI at that time.
Can we not go faster in going to Bennu? Like less than year. What technogy is need to speed up voyage to asteroid? We can go faster to get to Bennu. However, we need to not only get to Bennu - but also go in the same direction at the same speed. Thus, if we get there more quickly, we need giant rocket engines and a lot of fuel to slow down for the rendezvous.
What is the story behind the name Osiris Rex and its Egyptian theme? I came up with the name based on the mythology of Osiris as the bringer of life to the Nile Valley - Bennu represents the type of object that may have brought the seeds of life to Earth. It is also a crazy acronym - which fits in with the way NASA names their missions,
What will happen to Osiris Rex after it return, will it remain in orbit or crash or an extension mission will be planned? OSIRIS-REx will eject the sample return capsule four hours before the spacecraft hits the top of the atmosphere at 27,000 mph. The spacecraft will then perform a deflection burn and be placed into a stable heliocentric orbit that will not intersect any object of astrobiological interest (planetary protection requirement). It may be available for an extended mission at the discretion of NASA.
Will you be able to study fragments of the Chelyabinsk meteorite? Why was it not detected earlier? Thanks in advance. We have fragments of Chelyabinsk in our lab at the University of Arizona and are actively studying it. It snuck up on us because it came out of the Sun and it was a relatively small object - we are mandated by Congress to detect objects 140-m in diameter and larger - the Chelyabinsk bolide was ~20-m across.
Awesome work! I'm wondering, how and why was Bennu selected for this mission? Do we know if we will be able to even retrieve a sample from it? (ie: do we know the composition of the surface? Are there enough small rocks on it to collect?) Also, as a current U of A undergraduate (Aerospace Engineering), what's the best way for a student to become involved in this kind of work/field? Target selection for OSIRIS-REx was originally driven by engineering constraints. First, we decided to use a Lockheed-Martin heritage spacecraft. That meant using solar power and trying to keep the thermal control system relatively simple. Using solar power limited how far out into the Solar System we could travel - setting a limit of 1.8 AU on the aphelion of the target's orbit. The thermal control limit constrained how close to the Sun we could go - limiting the perihelion of the orbit. Together these two constraints defined the semi-major axis and eccentricity of potential targets.
The next constraint was the total energy of the mission. We needed a target with relatively low delta-V (total change in velocity). We also needed a trajectory that limited the re-entry velocity of the Sample Return Capsule - since we are using a heritage design from the Stardust mission. These parameters limited the inclination of the asteroid orbit to less than 10 degrees.
These orbital constraints rapidly collapsed the number of potential targets to around 200 asteroids. The next constraint was on the size of the object. It turns out that asteroids smaller than ~200 meters tend to be rapid rotators - some spinning once every minute or so. We used absolute magnitude as a proxy for size - dropping the number of potential targets to about 20.
The final criterion was driven by science. We wanted a target that was likely to be rich in carbon and water - a carbonaceous asteroid. Of the twenty or so targets that met our dynamical constraints - only five were known to have low albedo and therefore likely to be carbonaceous. Bennu rose to the top of the list based on the extensive ground-based data set - particularly the fantastic shape model information that had been obtained from the Arecibo and Goldstone Planetary Radar telescopes.
There are three lines of evidence that constrain the average grain size on Bennu. First, in addition to the shape model, the radar astronomy also provided information on the radar polarization ratio. Basically, we transmit a beam with a specific circular polarization and measure how much of the returned energy comes back with the opposite polarization. These data show that the transition to radar roughness occurs at a scale smaller than lowest radar wavelength - 3 cm.
Next, we used the Spitzer space telescope to determine the average thermal inertia of the surface. Lower thermal inertia values mean smaller grain sizes. These data suggest that the average grain size on Bennu is on the order of a millimeter.
Finally, the asteroid shape reveals a prominent ridge at the equator - suggesting that there is loose material moving around on the surface and collecting at the geopotential lows (the valleys of Bennu) - which lie at the equator.
To get involved with OSIRIS-REx - come talk to me!
What's the biggest challenge in designing the reentry capsule? Also could I get an internet high five? The good news is that we are reusing the capsule design from the NASA Stardust mission. The only modification that is required is on the main deck to accommodate our sample collection device, which is different from Stardust. This is a minor modification - the SRC is one of the easy parts!
How do you hope to tie in your investigations at Bennu to those of Dawn at Ceres? If so, what are your plans? Ceres is a C-type asteroid - so slightly different spectroscopically from Bennu. However, we will have data that is comparable to the Dawn VIR instrument, so that will be an interesting study. We are more spectrally similar to Pallas - which is a B-type asteroid like Bennu. We have no plans to perform the comparative study - sounds like a great opportunity for a participating scientist!
Did your mission engineers take any cues from the Hayabusa probe? What steps are they planning to take to avoid computer glitches during the sample collection phase? We have studied the Hayabusa mission intently. Our main take away messages are to 1) allow enough time for the team to thoroughly characterize Bennu before sampling; 2) simulate the descent to the asteroid surface thousands of times before committing to the sampling; 3) perform a series of rehearsals for each stage of the sampling sequence - plan on repeating each step if one does not go according to pan; and 4) fly capable reaction wheels - this failure doomed Hayabusa from the start.
Does the potential for an asteroid collision worry you on an emotional level? I do not worry about getting hit by an asteroid on a daily basis. It is much more dangerous to cross the street - which I do worry about.
Also, what's your favorite Christmas song? My favorite Christmas is Happy X-mas (War is Over) by John Lennon.
What is the 2013-2023 total budget? What part of the budget is already secure? And where does the money come from? Thanks for doing this! The total mission budget (2011 - 2025 - including two years to analyze the sample after Earth Return) is $1.05 billion.
Because of the way that the Federal Government operates - the budget is secure through January 15, 2014 - when the current continuing resolution expires. However, we are a high priority for NASA planetary science and have strong support in Congress so we are confident that our funding will continue to be authorized.
The money ultimately comes from the American and Canadian tax payers - thank you!
But how much money is the actual operating budget? Doesn't the University of Arizona take out a huge chunk? Also, how do you allocate money to the different instrument teams because your group is working with other institutions. Do their budgets come out of your budget? Thanks, from a future P.I. The UA charges an indirect cost (IDC) rate of 51.5%. That means that for every dollar of direct cost that I spend at UA - I have to pay an additional 51.5 cents in IDC. These funds cover the cost of the facility, support services like maintenance, and the overall cost of running the University.
Most of our money (something like 80%) goes into our labor expenses (which includes benefits and IDC). OSIRIS-REx is all about the people.
Every organization has an overhead expense, you can't get away from paying this cost. For-profit companies also include award fee as part of their price tag.
On a lot of agencies SBIRs we're limited to 40% IDC. The UA got a good deal. Also the first time I've seen the finer points of federal contracting discussed on here. One of the most unexpected results of becoming PI for me - I have to know everything about the federal budget process and cost management. Ask away!
Hello Dr. Lauretta, I realize that there are many components to this project, but this question is in regards to the possible presence of the building blocks of life. I have read a few papers discussing the resistance of certain microbes to our most robust antimicrobial techniques (ex. UV light, saline solutions). How would microbiologists recognize pristine extraterrestrial proteins or nucleic acids? How will you keep your clean room clean? --Thank you! OSIRIS-REx has a level-1 requirement to return a "pristine" sample of Bennu. We have a pragmatic definition of pristine - which means that no foreign material introduced into the sample will hamper the scientific investigation.
We split our contamination efforts into two categories - Contamination Control and Contamination Knowledge. Contamination Control seeks to minimize the contamination of the sample using prudent and established spacecraft fabrication processes. Contamination Knowledge seeks to document any contamination that may be introduced to the sample. Together we can both keep the sample clean and document any foreign material that is present in the returned sample.
The spacecraft fabrication clean room is a standard Class 10,000 room. The curation facility will be much cleaner - Class 100.
What is the plan for extracting the sample from the asteriod? We are using a device called the Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM). The basic concept is to contact the asteroid surface with a large air filter (something that would look right at home sitting on top of a carburetor from a '57 Chevy), then blast the surface with a pulse of high-purity nitrogen gas. The gas agitates and fluidizes the regolith, which expands into the TAGSAM device. If we fill the collection chamber - we have ~2 kilograms of material. TAGSAM can collect particles up to 3-cm across. We also have contact pads on the outer edge of TAGSAM. We will collect particles less than 1 millimeter as long as we touch the surface.
I read every comment and all of your replies. This is so interesting, thank you. I am not an expert, nor a student in this field, but a housewife married to a science fiction fanatic and we have 3 amateur astronomers. My questions focus on when you are at your described third moment terror (which is my biggest moment of terror for you)...the moment of TAG, when you send the spacecraft down to the surface of Bennu to collect the sample. What type of suction or attachment, if any, will you be using on the space craft to attach the landing? Is the landing similar to a plane landing on an air craft carrier? Do you have a plan B in case it sticks too much to the asteroid? A fun question if you prefer not to discuss my other questions: What is the most common household item you will be using on this mission? We do not have any system to anchor the spacecraft to the asteroid during sample acquisition. Instead, we have very tight control on the spacecraft state during the descent. We have to contact with an approach velocity of 10 cm/s (+/-2) and a lateral velocity of 0 cm/s (+/-2). The spacecraft can not be rotating about any of its axes. If we hit the surface under these conditions then our momentum will be absorbed by a constant-force spring in the robotic arm. If we start to rotate, the attitude control thrusters will engage to damp out any angular momentum. After five seconds of contact we fire our back-away thrusters and get out of dodge.
These back-away thrusters should be sufficient to unstick us from the surface. In the case where we are totally jammed our only option is to sever the sample head from the arm - but that would mean loss of the sample.
As for the most common household item - the spacecraft has a surprisingly large amount of tape on it! Though, of course, the tape is space qualified.
Hey Dr. Lauretta! Super excited for this. Where is OSIRIS-REx launching from, where will it return, and what parts will be discarded in between? OSIRIS-REx is launching from the Kennedy Space Center on an Atlas V 411 launch vehicle in 2016. The sample return capsule (SRC) returns to the Utah Test and Training Range in 2023. The SRC will remain intact through atmospheric entry with the exception of a small amount of the heat shield - which will ablate in the atmosphere. The main spacecraft will remain in space and likely be available for an extended mission. The SRC ultimately ends up in the NASA Space-Exposed Hardware facility - or maybe in the Smithsonian like the Stardust capsule!
How did you transition from working on chondrite meteorites to the bigger-picture project of being the principal investigator on OSIRIS-REx? -Arecibo radar minion. When Mike Drake, the original PI for OSIRIS-REx, starting put his team together in 2004, he invited me to be his deputy because of my knowledge of carbonaceous chondrites and the connection to the origin of life. In the seven years of proposal writing between 2004 and selection in 2011 I learned all about spacecraft engineering, mission management, and cost, and schedule control.
I heard something about how this mission could help us understand how moons are formed. Can you expand on that? OSIRIS-REx will help us understand how asteroid satellites are formed. A leading theory for binary asteroid formation involves the YORP effect. Basically, YORP acts to either increase or decrease the rotation rate of an asteroid. As an asteroid's spin rate increases - material will start to migrate from the poles down to the equator. This mechanism may be responsible for the observed equatorial ridge on Bennu. If the spin rate continues to increase - the material may be spun off the equator and accrete into a binary companion.
What is your plan after the O-Rex mission is finished? This work was pioneered by Kevin Walsh, a member of my science team.
Do you think you'll participate in any other missions? As for Mr. Fantastic - I am fortunate enough to be married to someone who looks like Sue Storm!
I am graduating in December with a degree in Mechanical/Nuclear Engineering from an ok-engineering school. Not Ivy League or top 25 in the country. I have an average resume: ok GPA, some work experience, and activities. What can I do after graduation that would impress NASA and get me an interview someday? I would love to work at NASA when I'm older, but how do I make myself stand out over MIT, Standard, and Cornell grads? I suggest a couple of options. If you really have a great idea and are the adventurous type, start a new company to develop your product. Try to get in space as an experimental payload - say on a student CubeSat.
- Thanks for all the responses. However, I would like to emphasize that I am graduating this December. Opportunities for me to do research with professors and apply for internships has passed =(. Mainly looking for advice on how to add onto my resume after graduation to impress NASA folks. Work on my own projects? Invent something bad-ass? Gain experience working in a certain industry? You could also go to work for one of the "New Space" companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, or Planetary Resources - or one of the "Old Space" companies like Lockheed-Martin, Ball Aerospace, or Boeing.
Thanks for doing an AMA. Do you think OSIRIS-REx is the most complex backronym currently operating at Nasa? :-) OSIRIS-REx is both an acronym and backronym. I came up with OSIRIS when we first starting proposing this mission concept to the NASA Discovery program. I was the Deputy PI and my job was to write the science justification for the mission. I started doodling with the key science concepts and wrote down Origins, Spectroscopy, Resources, and Security. OSIRIS jumped right out at me! I then added some vowels to fill out the word.
We added the REx when we made the transition from Discovery to New Frontiers. Our previous proposal efforts had scored well - but we did not fit in the cost box. We wanted to keep the OSIRIS brand name but indicate that we were bigger and better than a Discovery mission. The name OSIRIS-REx was tossed out early on - sort of in jest - but the name had a nice ring to it. I came up with Regolith Explorer to back into the name.
I am a bit ashamed that this is the first time that I hear about this project... It sounds fantastically interesting and I look forward to learn much more about it! I am glad that this AMA has done its job - help spread the word!
May I ask you, what do you dream of finding in that asteroid? Best case scenario with your wildest fantasies, or if you prefer your most optimistic yet realistic possibility. What would be in your personal opinion and experience the best outcome of this mission? The greatest treasure that OSIRIS-REx can obtain, in my opinion, is something incredibly rich in carbon and organic molecules. Organic compounds in meteorites are present at the part-per-million level. I would love to find out that Bennu is one giant extraterrestrial tar ball.
As firing of the rockets that will deliver the payload depends on a lot of factors weather, malfunctioning... etc... what is the time frame(the number of days that the launch can be delayed) you can change the schedule launch if there is a problem and still reach the asteroid... is this event factored in your calculation?? We have a 39-day launch window that opens on September 3, 2016. Right now we are designing to a 30-minute opportunity each day. However, we have some extra capability on the launch vehicle so we may open up the daily window to two hours.
thanks for doing the AMA,,, science ftw. If we don't make the window in 2016. We have to wait one year for another launch opportunity in September 2017. Our current budget is not sufficient to cover such an extended slip - we have to no choice but to make the 2016 window!
Hi Dante! Thanks for doing the AMA! What inspired you to get into astronomy and how did you get to where you are now? You still have yet to buy the O-REx themed Bratfest shirt... For my back story - read my blog post here
What did you study in school, and what is your degree in? I've always wondered what you have to be educated in to get a job like this. My college life is the subject of a recent blog post - here
In summary, I have a B.S. degree from the University of Arizona with a double major in Mathematics and Physics. I also have a B.A. in Japanese, but that was just for fun.
I have a Ph.D. in Earth and Planetary Sciences from Washington University in St. Louis with an emphasis in Geochemistry.
I did my postdoctoral research at Arizona State University, where I learned transmission electron microscopy and mass spectroscopy.
Do you, or anyone in your team play Kerbal Space Program? What are your thoughts on the game and how it affects interest in orbital mechanics and space-travel? I am a huge fan of KSP. I play it on my own and with my two sons. I also use it as a teaching tool. Together with other staff members from OSIRIS-REx i lead an after school science club at a local Boys and Girls Club. I set up a screen and projector and have the kids help me build and fly different spacecraft designs. I find it to be a great way to convey basic orbital mechanics to middle and grade schoolers. I could really use a more education-centered version of the program so the younger kids could play it one their own more easily.
My project scientist has designed and flown an OSIRIS-REx like mission to Minimus. Many of the software engineers in our Science Operations and Processing Center are also Kerbal fanatics.
What is the plan if you get to the asteroid and it turns out to be an S-Type? Get a sample and bring it home.
I work in aerospace doing stuff like rocket propulsion. I've never stayed at a job for more than three years. How do you stay on one project for a full decade without getting kind of bored? End to end - OSIRIS-REx will consume twenty years of my life. The mission constantly presents new and interesting challenges - and I am always learning something new. The job changes all the time - especially now as we transition from paper engineering to seeing real hardware come in.
Do you work on other projects during the quieter times? I know Alan Stern has about fifty projects, in addition to being PI on New Horizons. I still have a meteorite research group at UA and try to keep up with the latest cosmochemistry research. I am also a father - which presents its own set of challenges and rewards every day.
Hell of a commitment. Have you ever done one of the Antarctic meteor collection expeditions? It's something I'd really like to do. I was fortunate enough to be a member of the 2002-2003 Antarctic Search for Meteorites. We wrote a blog while we were out there - you can check it out here.
How do you plan to avoid damage to the spacecraft from regolith that is kicked up by the nitrogen gas but is not captured by TAGSAM? Tough question - we are studying this now. Ask me after CDR!
Once you get the sample from the asteroid, what are you planning to do with it? Distribute it around the world to any qualified laboratory to analyze in support of our science objectives.
Are you collaborating with the possible asteroid retrieval/redirect mission? OSIRIS-REx is a PI-led mission in the New Frontiers Program, part of the NASA Science Mission Directorate. ARRM is a proposed mission in the Human Exploration program. We are not directly involved but I have offered to help ARRM. They just need to ask!
Do you have a suggestion on which asteroid is the best candidate for retrieval? EDIT I like 2006 RH120 - might have migrated in and out of the Earth-Trojan population.
Any advice for a soon-to-be aerospace engineering graduate? Working for NASA is a career life goal of mine and I'm curious about the general path that the engineers follow. Thanks for this great AMA! Most of the engineers that I know work for one of the big aerospace firms. Lockheed Martin has built the majority of recent planetary exploration spacecraft for the United States - I recommend trying to get a job at their facility in Littleton, CO.
Other options include getting on to the staff at one of the major "space-faring" universities like the University of Arizona, the University of Colorado, CalTech, or MIT.
There are many smaller engineering firms that provide components and support to NASA missions like the Southwest Research Institute, the Space Dynamics Lab, or ASC-3D (all contributing to OSIRIS-REx).
Finally, there is the "New Space" companies that are providing services to NASA like SpaceX and Blue Origin.
The Russian meteorite that fell in February has been called a comet, meteor, super bolide and small asteroid. What is your opinion and what is the difference? The Chelyabinsk meteorite is an ordinary chondrite meteorite - the most common type of meteorite that lands on Earth. It was definitely a small asteroid - most likely an S-type near-Earth object.
How personally taxing is it to be in charge of a NASA mission? It is by far the hardest thing I have ever done. I stay motivated by the knowledge that I will be one of the first people to fly a spacecraft to an asteroid see a new world for the first time - and bring a piece of it back to Earth.
When and where can I sign up to go work on an asteroid mine/factory? Am I too early for that? OK I brought a tent and a sleeping bag. I'll wait. Planetary Resources is accepting job applications.
Will researchers from other institutions write grant proposals to obtain some meteorite sample for analysis or is there already a designated group at the UA that will analyze the sample? --Thanks. The samples will be available to any qualified researcher from around the world. Our plan is to spend the first six months producing a catalog of the returned sample. Once we publish this document, NASA will start accepting proposals for sample distribution.
Do you and your team work in Houston? Or somewhere else? The OSIRIS-REx team is spread all over the world. I am a Professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson. We have ~100 people working on the project here. The main workforce is at the Lockheed-Martin facility in Littleton, Colorado - where they are building the spacecraft, including the sample acquisition mechanism and the sample return capsule. The third major partner is the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. GSFC is responsible for Project Management, Systems Engineering, Safety and Mission Assurance, as well as the visible and infrared spectrometer (OVIRS). Our other main partners are Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, KinetX Aerospace (the Simi Valley, California office), the Canadian Space Agency, the French Space Agency (CNES\), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the United Launch Alliance.
Ultimately, the samples will end up at the Astromaterials Curation Facility at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. The science team is spread all over the United States and also includes members from Canada, France, Italy, and the UK.
What's your favorite asteroid movie? Tie between The Little Prince and The Empire Strikes Back - just kidding!
The best one so far is Hayabusa
Does your mission have any correlation with NASA's plan to capture an asteroid and have it orbit the moon? OSIRIS-REx is developing key technologies that are applicable to any asteroid mission including.
Astronomical characterization in support of mission design.
Measurement of asteroid global characteristics
Detailed characterization of an asteroid surface at sub-cm scales.
Mission-critical data processing and analysis on a tactical timeline.
Accurate navigation in microgravity.
Delivery to a specific location on the asteroid surface.
Successful contact and acquisition of material from an asteroid surface.
We have no direct connection to the Asteroid Redirect Mission.
Mining of asteroids has been an idea for a long time to increase resources. Does this project have any aims to pursue that avenue? Part of the OSIRIS-REx acronym is Resource Identification. The most direct application of our mission to asteroid mining is in the technologies and proximity operations that allow you maneuver a spacecraft around a small asteroid.
As an Arizona alumnus, I'd like to start by saying Bear Down, but I do have a serious question: how do you feel the university setting benefits your work? Arizona's reputation as a center of planetary science speaks for itself but I'd really like to read your perspective. A University setting is a great place for a NASA mission. I started my career in the NASA Space Grant program at UA. It is very gratifying to be able to recruit the next generation of space scientists and engineers from my Alma mater.
We also have access to a wide range of student talents - including graphic arts, videography, business management, etc.
How large does an asteroid have to be before its gravity will allow you to land a spacecraft on it, verses just floating next to it? The rendezvous with Bennu is an exercise in formation flying. We could anchor ourselves to the surface - similar to the Philae lander on the ESA Rosetta mission - if we wanted extended surface operations.
The acceleration due to gravity on Ceres, the largest asteroid (and a dwarf planet) is ~28 milli-g (1/36 that of the Earth). Having flown on the NASA vomit comet at 5 milli-g I can tell you that this is still a very low acceleration and any spacecraft would likely need some sort of anchoring or propulsion system to remain stable on the surface.
So how long do you give before the program is cancelled? All major contracts are in place - and flight hardware items have been procured. This means that there is little money to save by cancelling the program. Also, we have strong support at NASA HQ and in Congress so I feel good about the funding line. The wild card is always the Congressional appropriation process. . .
How long do you think it will take for asteroid mining to become a viable industry? The answer really depends on how serious nations are about extending the human presence in space. If the US, China, India, or other agencies really move into space, then an industry centered around supplying life-support materials in situ will have a credible business model.
The idea of returning precious metals to the surface of the Earth is more problematic. We still produce sufficient quantities of platinum, gold, and other rare metals to cover our needs. The law of supply and demand suggests that the supply is adequate. I don't expect this situation to change in the next few decades.
Am i going to get to be an asteroid miner or should I start focusing on getting my son ready to be an asteroid miner? You can make a good living hunting meteorites - a form of asteroid mining. Your son probably has a better chance of a career on the Asteroid Frontier.
Last updated: 2013-12-14 02:59 UTC
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