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Today's Lesson -- Aging Soviet Rocket Engine Doesn't Fly

By Bob Brewin // October 29, 2014

The Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket, with the Cygnus spacecraft onboard, as it suffers a catastrophic anomaly moments after launch.
The Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket, with the Cygnus spacecraft onboard, as it suffers a catastrophic anomaly moments after launch. // NASA/AP

Orbital Sciences Corp. tried to launch a mission to the International Space Station yesterday using rocket engines built four decades ago, only to see the rocket blow up seconds after liftoff from a Virginia launch site.

Or as Orbital’s executive vice president, told the Guardian after the crash, “The asset stopped, there was some, let’s say, disassembly of the first stage, after which it fell to Earth,” said Frank Culbertson, in a deadpan description of an explosion that could be seen for miles and terrified observers. 

Lost in old Soviet smoke: hundreds of millions of dollars worth of equipment, ranging from “classified cryptographic” gear to school science experiments, which were destroyed in a giant fireball Tuesday evening after technicians detonated a self-destruct mechanism six seconds after launch because of a “catastrophic” equipment failure.

Oh well, we’re still ahead in the smartphone payment race. 

A Whole Bunch of GPS Action

By Bob Brewin // October 28, 2014

A United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket successfully launched the Global Positioning System IIF-5 satellite for the U.S. Air Force Feb. 20, 2014, at 8:59 p.m. EST from Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
A United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket successfully launched the Global Positioning System IIF-5 satellite for the U.S. Air Force Feb. 20, 2014, at 8:59 p.m. EST from Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. // U.S. Air Force

The Air Force plans to launch a Boeing-built GPS IIF-8 satellite Oct. 29 following the successful launch of the IIF-7 bird just shy of three months ago on Aug. 1.

The 3,950-pound new satellites have a design life of 12 years and will replace II-A satellites, which were launched between 1990 and 1997 and were designed to last about 7 and 1/2 years.

Eleven of those satellites are still in use, including four launched in 1992.

The II-F satellites feature improved anti-jam protection for military users and a new “safety of life” transmitter from aviation users. 

Want More Info on the Military’s Ebola Efforts? Tune in Here Thursday

By Bob Brewin // October 27, 2014

Members of the Department of Defense's Ebola Military Medical Support Team go through special training at San Antonio Military Medical Center.
Members of the Department of Defense's Ebola Military Medical Support Team go through special training at San Antonio Military Medical Center. // Eric Gay/AP

The Defense Department’s DOD News Channel -- known as the Pentagon Channel until this July -- plans a live broadcast with top leaders this Thursday on ongoing support operations to help battle the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and at home.

The channel is broadcast to 2.6 million people, primarily military users via broadcast TV, satellite, cable and Web streaming.

Until Thursday, surf your way to the Pentagon’s Ebola website for the latest news and updates on the military's Ebola response.

Irony Alert: Booz Allen Wins Cybersecurity Contract

By Bob Brewin // October 23, 2014

Christopher Lane/AP

Booz Allen Hamilton won yesterday a $6.6 million task order for continued support to the Defense Department’s Chief Information Officer Cybersecurity and Information Assurance Support program through Sept. 30, 2015.

It goes to show that Defense has no hard feelings toward Booz Allen even though one of its employees, Edward Snowden, used his position to pilfer and distribute an unprecedented number of highly sensitive intelligence documents.

So, How Do I Get Onto the VA eBenefits Site?

By Bob Brewin // October 22, 2014

Iraq war veteran Dave Walker uses his computer.
Iraq war veteran Dave Walker uses his computer. // Carolyn Kaster/AP

That's what I asked Department of Veterans Affairs Chief Information Officer Stephen Warren at his media roundtable yesterday, as I have been frustrated for months as I try to get past the first screens on the eBenefits website intended to make it easier and quicker for vets for apply for benefits and VA to process the claims.

The eBenefits site seems designed to frustrate Vietnam veterans who do not have a CAC, short for Common Access Card, or a Defense self-service log-on, known as a DS log-on.

Here’s the screen users see when they try to register:

Since none of the above applies to me, I can go no further in the registration process. There’s a phone number to call for help from a live human -- if one ever answered the phone.

I’m a pretty good Web surfer, and I doubt I'm the only Vietnam veteran frustrated by the eBenefits website.

Warren said he’ll have someone walk me through the process – which I can then share with other veterans who do not have CACs or a DS log-on.