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Technicians and scientists check out one of the Webb telescope's first two flight mirrors in the clean room at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD.

Week in Geek - Mirror mirror edition

02/07/16 05:46PM

This week NASA's James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) passed a major milestone - the complete assembly of its primary mirror. No small feat when that mirror is comprised of 18 hexagonal sections which, when put together, measure over 21 feet in diameter. In fact, each segment is about the size of a coffee table and weighs over 80 pounds!

JWST is slated for being launched in October 2018. It is primarily an infrared telescope (as opposed to optical like Hubble) and will study high-redshift (i.e., uber far) galaxies as well as dust disks around newly formed/forming stars where planets may be taking shape. These objects emit the majority of their radiation at infrared wavelengths: high-redshift galaxies because the expansion of the Universe between us and the galaxies stretches the light out, and dust because infrared wavelengths are smaller than dust grains so the light can pass through them and reveal what they may or may not be hiding.

When fully assembled, JWST has a footprint the size of a tennis court. If you're wondering how to launch a tennis court into space, you're not alone. Engineers had to figure out a way to fold-up the telescope, almost origami style, and have it unfold itself once it reaches its orbit. If all goes as planned, this is what should happen...

As insane as it may seem to have all those steps (which must all work perfectly), remember NASA's landed a ballistic projectile on Mars just over three years ago using pyrotechnics and a freaking sky crane.

To stay up to date on the remaining construction of JWST, you can follow along via webcams in the clean room at Goddard Space Flight Center (where JWST is headquartered).

Here's some more geek from the week:

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Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio speaks during the Republican Presidential Candidates Debate, Feb. 6, 2016 at St. Anselm's College Institute of Politics in Manchester, N.H. (Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty)

With the pressure on, Robotic Rubio has a breakdown

02/07/16 10:23AM

One of the persistent criticisms of Marco Rubio's presidential candidacy is that he's an overly scripted, unprepared rookie who can't think on his feet and can't say anything beyond the memorized talking points some handler told him to repeat.
With this kind of reputation, the Florida senator is tasked with a simple challenge: prove the detractors are wrong. Last night in New Hampshire, he did the exact opposite.
As this clip from MSNBC's coverage last night shows, Rubio, under pressure, kept saying the same thing, over and over again. For those who can't watch clips online, early on in the debate, the senator said:
"[L]et's dispel once and for all with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing. He knows exactly what he's doing. Barack Obama is undertaking a systematic effort to change this country...."
Soon after, in response to a different question, Rubio said:
"Let's dispel with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing. He knows exactly what he's doing. He is trying to change this country."
Later, in response to another question, Rubio added:
"Here's the bottom line. This notion that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing is just not true. He knows exactly what he's doing."
And soon after, mocked by Chris Christie for repeating his talking points, Rubio once again said:
"We are not facing a president that doesn't know what he's doing. He knows what he is doing."
Just to be absolutely clear, this isn't a joke. All of the above quotes are exact, word-for-word excerpts from the debate transcript.
I've watched more debates over the years than I care to admit, but I've never seen anything like this. When it comes to cringe-worthy moments, the only rival that comes to mind is Rick Perry's "oops" moment.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) delivers a speech at the Library of Congress, Dec. 3, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty)

This Week in God, 2.6.16

02/06/16 07:55AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a reaction from a leading Republican lawmaker to the "thoughts and prayers are not enough" argument in response to mass shootings.
President Obama has been a leading proponent of the idea that well wishes in the response to gun violence are welcome, but are ultimately inadequate. After one mass shooting last fall, the president argued, "[T]houghts and prayers are not enough.... It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel. And it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America, next week or a couple of months from now."
Two months later, after even deadlier mass shooting, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) took the sentiment a little further. "Your 'thoughts' should be about steps to take to stop this carnage," the senator said. "Your 'prayers' should be for forgiveness if you do nothing -- again."
This week, Congress' leading Republican offered his response to the argument. The New York Daily News reported:
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Thursday blasted critics who say prayer isn't an adequate response to mass shootings and defended his rifle-loving party's do-nothing approach to gun violence.
"The attitude in some quarters these days is, 'Don't just pray; do something about it,"' Ryan said at the annual National Prayer Breakfast. "The thing is, when you are praying, you are doing something about it. You are revealing the presence of God."
As part of the same set of remarks, but outside of the context of gun violence, the Wisconsin congressman added, "It says a lot about our country that people of both parties -- and all faiths -- will drop everything and pray for their fellow Americans. What it says is, we believe in the dignity of the individual. And that is why prayer should always come first."
As for mass shootings, the GOP leader did not elaborate on what should always come second.
President Obama, as he does every year, delivered his own remarks at the event, including an interesting and compelling exploration of "fear" on a theological level.
"For me, and I know for so many of you, faith is the great cure for fear," he said. "Jesus is a good cure for fear. God gives believers the power, the love, the sound mind required to conquer any fear. And what more important moment for that faith than right now? What better time than these changing, tumultuous times to have Jesus standing beside us, steadying our minds, cleansing our hearts, pointing us towards what matters.... And so like every President, like every leader, like every person, I've known fear. But my faith tells me that I need not fear death; that the acceptance of Christ promises everlasting life and the washing away of sins."
Also from the God Machine this week:

Friday's Mini-Report, 2.5.16

02/05/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* He has a point: "President Obama took a victory lap on Friday after new jobs numbers showed the unemployment rate falling below 5 percent for the first time in eight years." The president said, "The United States of America right now has the strongest, most durable economy in the world. I know that's still inconvenient for Republican stump speeches as their doom and despair tour continues in New Hampshire. I guess you can't please everybody."
* Syria: "A Saudi military spokesman said Thursday the kingdom is ready to send ground troops to Syria to fight ISIS -- an offer welcomed by Defense Secretary Ash Carter."
* Also in Syria: "The Obama administration is preparing for possible airdrops of humanitarian relief over besieged areas of Syria, where hundreds of thousands of people have been cut off for months from food and medicine and are at risk of starvation."
* ISIS: "U.S. intelligence estimates the strength of the Islamic State's force in Iraq and Syria is 20,000 to 25,000 fighters. More than a year ago, there were 19,000 to 31,000 fighters as the U.S.-led bombing campaign against the militants got underway, a senior government official said Tuesday."
* On a related note: "Twitter is providing new detail Friday about its efforts to fight ISIS and violent extremism online. In a tweet from the company's '@Policy' team, the social media company said it has stepped up its fight against violent extremism online. Since the middle of 2015, the company said, it has suspended over 125,000 accounts for threatening or promoting terrorist attacks -- primarily related to support for ISIS."
* CDC: "Men who have traveled to Zika-affected zones should use a condom if they want to be absolutely sure they don't infect sex partners, federal health officials advised Friday."
* Porter Ranch: "A state official said Thursday that under the most favorable circumstances, the damaged well that has spewed environmentally damaging natural gas from a storage facility near Porter Ranch could be capped as early as the end of next week. But the timeline, he cautioned, was fraught with variables."
* West Virginia: "The West Virginia State House narrowly passed a right-to-work bill on Thursday, setting the state up to become the country's 26th that doesn't require employees to pay dues to their unions -- measure that has hobbled organized labor elsewhere."
This Jan. 21, 2016 photo shows the water tower at the Flint, Mich., water plant. (Photo by Perry Rech/American Red Cross/AP)

Michigan GOP casts Obama admin as Flint villain

02/05/16 03:34PM

Ted Cruz this week reflected on the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, which the Republican presidential hopeful blamed, at least in part, on the city having been governed "with one-party government control of far-left Democrats for decades."
The fact that the crisis was created by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder's (R) administration and his emergency manager in Flint -- local Democratic officials had no decision-making authority -- was a detail the Texas Republican appears to have missed.
But if Cruz exploiting a man-made disaster for partisan gain seemed crude, the Michigan Republican Party has him beat. The Huffington Post reported today:
The Michigan Republican Party would like you to know that Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has been busy trying to heal the city of Flint while the malevolent Obama administration has only stood in the way.
That's the message of an infographic the state party started putting out on social media on Thursday. The light blue water droplets on the left represent actions Snyder has taken since October, when his administration admitted its own mistakes created a crisis in Flint, a city whose 100,000 residents still can't drink the water because of high lead levels. The dark blue droplets supposedly show unhelpful actions taken by the Obama administration, such as the refusal to declare a federal disaster area in the state (it declared an emergency instead).
As of this minute, the image is still available on the Michigan Republican Party's Facebook page. If it's taken down, it appears that the fine folks at Eclectablog, a Michigan-based site, have published the same image.
We know, of course, what state Republicans were thinking when they created this absurd infographic. GOP officials, recognizing the severity of this catastrophe and scandal, are desperate to avoid blame. Taking responsibility for Republicans' mistakes is hard; reflexively lashing out at the White House, even if it doesn't make any sense, is easy.
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump pantomimes a candidate with low poll numbers as he address the audience at a campaign rally in Nashua, N.H., Jan. 29, 2016. (Photo by Gretchen Ertl/Reuters)

As Primary Day nears, latest polls show more competitive race

02/05/16 12:49PM

The New Hampshire primary is just four days away, and the results of this contest appear likely to have a powerful impact on the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
And while polls only offer hints about the state of the race, the latest survey results offer some important insights. Here, for example, is new NBC/WSJ/Marist poll of Granite State Republicans, conducted entirely after the Iowa caucuses.
1. Donald Trump: 30% (down from 31% before two weeks ago)
2. Marco Rubio: 17% (up from 11%)
3. Ted Cruz: 15% (up from 12%)
4. John Kasich: 10% (down from 11%)
5. Jeb Bush: 9% (up from 8%)
6. Chris Christie: 4% (down from 7%)
A new Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll, also conducted after Iowa, has the race shaping up this way:
1. Donald Trump: 29% 
2. Marco Rubio: 19%
3. John Kasich: 13%
4. Jeb Bush: 10%
5. Ted Cruz: 7%
6. Chris Christie: 5%
And then there's the CNN/WMUR poll, also conducted after Iowa.
1. Donald Trump: 29% (down from 30% last week)
2. Marco Rubio: 18% (up from 11%)
3. Ted Cruz: 13% (up from 12%)
4. John Kasich: 12% (up from 9%)
5. Jeb Bush: 10% (up from 6%)
6. Chris Christie: 4% (down from 8%)
6. Carly Fiorina: 4% (unchanged)

Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.5.16

02/05/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* When the remaining Republican presidential candidates take the stage for their debate tomorrow night, only seven of the nine will be participating. ABC announced last night that Carly Fiorina and Jim Gilmore didn't make the cut, and there will be no kids-table debate.
* Though most national polling shows Hillary Clinton with relatively comfortable leads over Bernie Sanders, the new Quinnipiac poll shows Clinton's advantage shrinking to just two points.
* Hillary Clinton's campaign announced yesterday it raised $15 million in January, which would be an extremely impressive haul were it not for the fact that Bernie Sanders' campaign raised $20 million over the same period.
* Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) threw his support to Chris Christie today. Only five sitting GOP governors have made endorsements this cycle, and three of them are backing Christie.
* When Marco Rubio taught a class at Florida International University in Miami, he reportedly "worked less than 10 hours a week and missed three-in-10 classes during his first semester of teaching -- all while making more than most part-time visiting professors."
* Former President George W. Bush is reportedly the star of a new campaign commercial crafted by Jeb Bush's super PAC. The 30-second spot is set to begin airing in South Carolina today.
* Ted Cruz told voters in New Hampshire yesterday that "in the media newsrooms and in the Washington establishment circles," Marco Rubio is "the chosen one." Reflecting on the Iowa caucus results, Cruz added, "In the media's telling, bronze is the new gold."
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks at a town hall meeting at a Toyota dealership on Feb. 4, 2016 in Portsmouth, N.H. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty)

Cruz sees border wall as solution to drug abuse

02/05/16 11:20AM

When Ted Cruz reflected this week on the crisis in Flint -- which he inexplicably blamed on local Democratic officials who had no decision-making authority -- he wrapped up his thoughts by reflecting on the road ahead for struggling cities like Flint. The solution, Cruz added, is to "go with the policies that work" -- such as giving taxpayer money to private schools.
It was a bit jarring. A discussion about poisonous water led the Republican presidential hopeful to think about privatizing education -- as if, on some unidentified level, the two unrelated topics were pieces of the same puzzle.
Yesterday, we saw something eerily similar happened at an event in New Hampshire. The Wall Street Journal reported:
Ted Cruz spent 18 minutes telling an emotional, gripping story of his family's history of drug and alcohol abuse. His older half-sister and later his father, he told an addiction policy forum, got hooked and became addicted. His sister died, his father survived only after becoming religious, Mr. Cruz said in a Baptist church here.
So it was jarring to hear Mr. Cruz then pivot to his policy solution: building a wall along the nation's southern border to stop illegal immigration and halt the flow of drugs from Mexico.
"If we want to turn around the drug crisis we have got to finally and permanently secure the border," Mr. Cruz said. "We need to solve this problem; we need to build this wall."
At a certain level, my expectations have fallen to such a low point, I'm inclined to give Cruz at least some credit for acknowledging an actual, real-world problem. There's a drug epidemic; it's destroying lives and families; and policymakers at every level desperately need to take it seriously. While some Republicans have dismissed the addiction crisis as meaningless, it seems like a small step in the right direction for Cruz to recognize, even briefly, that the problem exists.
If only his proposed solution were serious, we might be getting somewhere.


About The Rachel Maddow Show

Launched in 2008, “The Rachel Maddow Show” follows the machinations of policy making in America, from local political activism to international diplomacy. Rachel Maddow looks past the distractions of political theater and stunts and focuses on the legislative proposals and policies that shape American life - as well as the people making and influencing those policies and their ultimate outcome, intended or otherwise.



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