Monthly Archives: October 2017

Rory Feek – Fifty Thousand Names

An evening pause: The song is by George Jones. It speaks of those who died and are remembered at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. Even though that particular war was somewhat misguided, the courage and bravery of those who fought it, and the fact that in the end it did serve to halt for a time the spread of communism and tyranny, should not be forgotten.

There’s stars of David and rosary beads
and crucifixion figurines
and flowers of all colors large and small
There’s a Boy Scout badge and a merit pin
Little American flags waving in the wind
and there’s 50,000 names carved in the wall.

Sadly, there are a lot of very wealthy athletes today who have forgotten this.

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Sierra Nevada and Canada sign agreement for using Dream Chaser

Capitalism in space: Sierra Nevada has signed an agreement with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) to study ways in which Canada might utilize the company’s reusable Dream Chaser spacecraft.

This agreement is very preliminary, with no apparent specific plans announced nor any exchange of money. It is however another signal of the strong interest that foreign governments have in buying time on Dream Chaser, once it is operational.

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Pioneer

Pioneer

I am today announcing the publication of Pioneer, a science fiction book I first wrote back in 1982 that has languished in my files now for more than three decades. As I note in the introduction,

It was never published because at the time I could not find an agent to market it to book publishers, and was then too naive and shy to attempt to do such things myself.

In viewing several recent science fiction movies, however, I was motivated to pull the final draft of Pioneer from my files, wondering if it might be marketable. I hadn’t read it in decades, and had literally forgotten the story. I started reading expecting a typical first novel, somewhat incoherent and emotionally immature.

Instead I was quite surprised and enthralled. I couldn’t put the book down. Moreover, I was astonished at the coherence of the story and characters. “This is a good book!” I exclaimed to my wife Diane. Nor am I bragging when I say this, since the person who wrote it is someone from many decades ago and who essentially no longer exists.

Thus, I decided it was time to get Pioneer published, especially since this is now a very easy thing to do, no longer requiring either an agent or a book publisher.

The press release announcing the book’s publication provides the story’s premise:
» Read more

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Nobel Prize for Physics awarded to three LIGO scientists

The 2017 Nobel Prize for Physics has been awarded to three scientists involved in the development of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO), which detected the first gravitational waves in 2015.

While some of the recent Nobel Prizes have been absurd (such as the Peace award to Obama), this award is absolutely deserved and appropriate. Until LIGO detected that gravitational wave they were merely a theory. The detection proved the theory to be real.

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One Chute

Part 4 of Doug Messier’s series on commercial space history, A Niche in Time, is now available. It is entitled “One Chute” and focuses on the long and sad history of Virgin Galactic.

One new detail that Messier notes struck me:

At the time of the accident, Virgin Galactic had about 700 customers signed up to fly on SpaceShipTwo. Officials now say the number is around 650. Assuming full ships with six passengers aboard, Virgin Galactic would need 109 flights just to fly out its current manifest. The figure doesn’t include flight tests and missions filled with microgravity experiments. That’s a lot of launches to make without expecting at least one catastrophic failure, possibly involving prominent wealthy passengers.

It increasingly appears that this will be a total loss for the investors who poured money into Virgin Galactic.

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Database of presumed human-caused earthquakes created

The uncertainty of science: Geologists have assembled a database of more than 700 earthquakes they think might have been caused by human activity.

The Human-Induced Earthquake Database, or HiQuake, contains 728 examples of earthquakes (or sequences of earthquakes) that may have been set off by humans over the past 149 years. Most of them were small, between magnitudes 3 and 4. But the list also includes several large, destructive earthquakes, such as the magnitude-7.8 quake in Nepal in April 2015, which one paper linked to groundwater pumping.

Miles Wilson, a hydrogeologist at Durham University, UK, and his colleagues describe the database in a paper set to be published on October 4 in Seismological Research Letters2. The scientists say that HiQuake is the biggest, most up-to-date public listing of human-caused quakes ever made. By bringing the data together in this way, they hope to highlight how diverse induced quakes can be — and help society to understand and manage the future risk.

Many of these quakes were likely caused by human activity. Many however might not have been. The jury is still out, as the article reluctantly admits near the end.

All possible instances of induced quakes were included “without regard to plausibility”, writes the team, because of the difficulty involved in deciding what constitutes absolute proof that an earthquake was caused by human activity. But that could mislead people about the real hazard from induced quakes, says Raphaël Grandin, a geophysicist at the Institute of Earth Physics in Paris. “When you put a dot in the database, and a scientific reference behind it, then you may lead the non-expert to think that the earthquake was caused by humans,” he says. Such a listing might hide scientific uncertainty, as with the Chinese quake: despite the paper linking it to reservoir filling, many seismologists do not believe it was triggered by human activity.

In other words, they included every quake that had the slightest suggestion it was connected to human activity, without noting the uncertainties. This makes this database to me somewhat suspect. Rather than identify the known reliable links between human activity and quakes in order to learn what causes them, this database seems more designed as a political propaganda tool aimed at limiting future human activity. It certainly doesn’t clarify our knowledge on this subject, but instead muddies the water significantly.

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Falcon Heavy launch delayed?

In quelling a false rumor that said NASA was forcing SpaceX to change the launchpad location for its Falcon Heavy (it is not), SpaceX noted that Falcon Heavy’s first launch will occur “no earlier than the end of 2017.”

Previously they have said that they are aiming for November 2017, following the reconfiguration of the 39-A launchpad from Falcon 9 launches to Falcon Heavy launches. This statement suggests that a November launch is now considered unlikely. The reconfiguration will take 60 days, and cannot occur until SpaceX switches its Falcon 9 launches from launchpad 39-A back to launchpad 40. Since a Falcon 9 launch is presently scheduled for launchpad 39-A this Saturday, that reconfiguration cannot begin before then. Moreover, the launchpad for an October 30 Falcon 9 launch remains unnamed, suggesting that launchpad 40 might not be ready by then and therefore forcing SpaceX to use 39-A for Falcon 9. This would in turn delay the first Falcon Heavy launch to the very end of December, at the earliest.

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NASA to extend use of private module on ISS

Capitalism in space: NASA has decided to extend the life of Bigelow’s module BEAM on ISS beyond its original two year test.

NASA’s original contract with Bigelow was to keep BEAM on ISS for two years and then jettison it, but NASA has concluded that BEAM has value as a storage compartment and wants to keep it there. NASA said the new contract would overlap the originally contracted test period, for a minimum of three years, with two options to extend for one additional year. A decision on whether to jettison it at that point or continue using it will be made thereafter.

The agency said that not only would NASA use it for stowage, but Bigelow will be allowed to use it “as a test-bed for new technology demonstrations.”

Using it makes a lot more sense than jettisoning it (the typical government way). This will also allow them to study the longevity in space of an expandable module.

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Democratic IT Awan sent money to Pakistani officials

The computer specialist, Imran Awan, who worked for many Democrats in Congress, including Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and is now charged with bank fraud sent money and gifts to Pakistani officials.

A now-indicted IT aide to various House Democrats was sending money and gifts to government officials in Pakistan and received protection from the Pakistani police, multiple relatives claim.

A Democratic aide also said Imran Awan personally bragged to him that he could have people tortured in Pakistan. Awan’s lawyer acknowledged that he was sending money to a member of the Faisalabad police department, but said there was a good explanation.

The relatives said Awan and his brothers were also sending IT equipment, such as iPhones, to the country during the same period in which fraudulent purchase orders for that equipment were allegedly placed in the House, and in which congressional equipment apparently went missing. Awan’s stepmother, Samina Gilani, said the brothers were paying police officer Azhar Awan and that he is their cousin.

The article suggests that Awan was involved in a lot of shady deals, and was also somewhat of a thug in how he treated others. It also suggests that the money and equipment he obtained was obtained illegally. Whether he was funneling information to Islamic sources hostile to the U.S. remains unclear, though what has been released so far suggests that this remains a strong possibility.

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SpaceX successfully completes dress rehearsal for Saturday launch

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully completed its standard dress rehearsal countdown, including a static firing of the Falcon 9 first stage, in anticipation of its schedule launch of a commercial communications satellite on Saturday.

The first stage will be the third reused first stage to fly into space.

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Restrain yourself!

Link here.

After the mass shooting in Las Vegas last night, it’s time to invoke the 72-hour rule for shootings and terrorist attacks. The rule is: offer immediate sympathy and aid for the victims and their families, but shut up about the political implications, and for crying out loud stop trying to score partisan points for at least 72 hours afterward.

This is partly out of consideration for the victims and their families, who deserve not to have their grief exploited. Or, if we’re being realistic, they should at least have a brief respite before their grief is exploited. But the 72-hour rule also exists to protect you, the commenter—whether amateur or professional—from saying something embarrassingly stupid. Or, if we’re being realistic, this should at least provide a brief respite before you go off and embarrass yourself later.

Right now, cable news shows and newspaper websites and social media feeds are full of wild speculations about the shooter, his motives, the weapons he used, and the political reforms that will supposedly prevent something tragic like this from ever happening again (but probably won’t). Most of it will be wrong. Even the stuff that is not just a rumor on the Internet but seems to have a legitimate source will be wrong. Even things announced by the authorities in the early hours of the attack will be wrong. People speculate. People jump to conclusions based on incomplete data. Insiders make up facts and pass along incomplete, poorly understand information because they like attention from reporters. Eyewitnesses misremember events or pass on speculations as if they were truth.

We know all of this, because it happens with every mass shooting, every terror attack, every controversial police shooting. It takes days, weeks, months to filter through all of the noise and sort fact from fiction.

The one advantage normal decent people have when others violate this 72-hour rule is it that their stupid and foolish posts, issued before they have the slightest idea what really happened, reveal for all who they really are and who they really hate. And all too often, that hate isn’t aimed at the murderous killer who gunned down dozens of innocent lives.

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UAE announces manned spaceflight plans

The new colonial movement: The United Arab Emirates has announced their plans to establish an astronaut corps that would fly on the manned spacecraft of other nations.

The first of those astronauts would fly by the end of 2021, the 50th anniversary of the founding of the UAE. “We have not decided on who will be flying us yet,” he said. “We do envisage that we partner up with all of the major space agencies, somehow and in some structure.”

There would be several options for the UAE to choose from, including Soyuz flights by Russia to the International Space Station and Shenzhou flights to a Chinese space station slated to be completed by the early 2020s. Other options include flights on commercial crew vehicles being developed by Boeing and SpaceX.

To me, the really exciting aspect of this is that the UAE is now a new customer looking for a means to get its people into space, which makes all those manned programs, including the American private companies, competitors for that business.

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Testing underwater interplanetary robots on the cheap

This article describing a test of an underwater robot by JPL scientists in the interior of a glacier warmed the cockles of my heart when I read this paragraph:

Klesh and Leicty’s recent expedition relied on a commercial grade submersible and a “homemade” glacial probe. The latter was built using off-the-shelf and 3-D printed parts. They did all their own wiring and programming.

NASA test projects like this are often gold-plated. I like how these scientists took a more practical approach, getting their data without spending a fortune in time and money. Moreover, they gained some engineering knowledge that can be applied practically in future probes, both here on Earth and on other planets.

Hat tip Jim Mallamace.

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World View completes first Stratollite balloon launch from Tucson spaceport

Capitalism in space: World View today successfully completed the first launch from its Tucson spaceport of one of its Stratollite high altitude balloons.

None of the stories I have found have provided any real detail about the flight, so it is unclear what they accomplished, other than to demonstrate they can launch from the spaceport.

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