Category Archives: Essays And Commentaries

The liberal bias of pollsters

In a strained attempt to explain the failure of pollsters to predict the election results yesterday in Great Britain, pollsters and pundits seem unable to see the elephant in the room that explains their problems.

And what is that elephant? Take a look at this list of bad polling predictions provided by Nate Silver, the mainstream media’s big polling guru because he correctly predicted both Obama victories:

  • The final polls showed a close result in the Scottish independence referendum, with the “no” side projected to win by just 2 to 3 percentage points. In fact, “no” won by almost 11 percentage points.
  • Although polls correctly implied that Republicans were favored to win the Senate in the 2014 U.S. midterms, they nevertheless significantlyunderestimated the GOP’s performance. Republicans’ margins over Democrats were about 4 points better than the polls in the average Senate race.
  • Pre-election polls badly underestimated Likud’s performance in the Israeli legislative elections earlier this year, projecting the party to about 22 seats in the Knesset when it in fact won 30. (Exit polls on election night weren’t very good either.)

Does anyone notice a trend? I could also reference other elections that pollsters badly predicted, such as the Sandinista defeat in Nicaragua in 1994, the Republican victory in 1994, Bush’s victory over Kerry in 2004 and practically every vote for or against the European Union. And there are others. For a bunch of so-called intellectuals who claim to be experts in predicting human behavior, they seem very oblivious to the obvious.
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Freedom speaks: An interview with Pamela Geller

Muhammad bomb cartoon

Link here. As she bluntly notes right at the start of the interview:

We incited no one. We didn’t call for violence, justify violence, or approve of violence. The people who were inciting were the ones saying that we should be killed for exhibiting Muhammad cartoons. There is no automatic or unavoidable response to being insulted. No one is forced to kill for being insulted. Those who choose to do so are responsible for their actions. No one else is.

When asked about the criticism that pundits and reporters on both the left and the right have been leveling at her for provoking the attacks, she was equally blunt, though she saved her harshest criticism for the quislings on the right.

This is the problem with the conservatives. This is why we can never nominate qualified, brave, true conservative candidates. The conservative movement has trimmed to accommodate the leftist media so much that they’ve trimmed themselves out of principle. They attack me because they’re desperately afraid that the leftist media will smear them by association with me. It is an act of sheer cowardice.

It has been disgusting these last few days watching the so-called intellectuals of our society, including many reporters who should know better, rush over themselves to blame Pamela Geller and the victims in this Islamic terrorist attack, merely because they exercised their first amendment rights.

The Islamic State has not only claimed credit for the attack, it says it plans to do more, targeting people in as many as 15 states, with Geller as one of those named to its kill list.

And we should blame Geller for the violence? How divorced from reality has our society’s intellectual class become?

The Sun drifts downward

NOAA today posted its monthly update of the solar cycle, showing the Sun’s sunspot activity in April. As always, I am posting it here, with annotations to give it context, as I have done since 2010.

April 2015 Solar Cycle graph

The graph above has been modified to show the predictions of the solar science community. The green curves show the community’s two original predictions from April 2007, with half the scientists predicting a very strong maximum and half predicting a weak one. The red curve is their revised May 2009 prediction.

Though sunspot activity increased in April, it remained well below the predicted numbers from the 2009 prediction, as has sunspot activity generally done for this entire solar cycle.

Note that if you extrapolate the red curve of the 2009 prediction down to its end you find that the solar minimum was predicted to occur sometime after 2020. Based on the rate of activity we have seen for the past year, it is very possible that the minimum will occur sooner, and will likely last longer.

But then again, the sun does what the sun wants to do. We don’t exactly understand the root causes of the solar cycle, and can only watch it unfold time after time as we try to peel back its mysteries.

New Shepard makes its first test flight

New Shepard launch

The competition heats up: Blue Origin completed on Wednesday its first test flight of its reusable suborbital spacecraft, New Shepard.

After reaching an altitude of 307,000 feet, or 58 miles, the capsule successfully separated from its first stage, what they call the propulsion module, and safely parachuted back to Earth. The first stage, designed to also be recoverable, was not recovered successfully. According to Jeff Bezos’s explanation, they “lost pressure in our hydraulic system” and that they were trying to land it vertically, like SpaceX’s Falcon 9 first stage.

The cropped image on the right of the full resolution image, gives us a close-up of the capsule and propulsion module. The small fins on the propulsion module suggest the capability for a vertical landing, but it is unclear from the image whether the module has legs, though other images and videos strongly suggest there are legs on this module.

The flight itself, getting above 50 miles, reached space according to most definitions. In fact, Blue Origin with this flight has accomplished what Virgin Galactic has been promising to do for more than a decade, a suborbital test flight of its spacecraft. Blue Origin’s flight was unmanned, but it demonstrated that their design works. They will of course have to re-fly the capsule as well as land that first stage successfully to prove the design’s re-usability, but this flight shows that they are off to a very good start. And their webpage clearly shows that they are almost ready to start selling tickets for suborbital flights.

The most significant success of this launch, however, is the performance of the BE-3 rocket engine. Blue Origin has convinced ULA to hire it to build the engines for its new Vulcan rocket. This success justifies that decision.

I have embedded their videos of the full flight below the fold.
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The building rage is not just against Democrats

People who read my website only intermittently might get the impression that I am partisan and specifically hostile to the Democratic Party. This is false. I am an equal opportunity opponent to anyone that likes oppression and the use of government to impose it.

Some stories today, describing the actions or opinions of some of the so-called conservative or moderate leaders of both the Republican and Democratic parties, illustrate clearly that we still need a major house-cleaning in Congress if we are to get this out-of-control monster under control:
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Why SpaceX’s first stage failure is really a magnificent success

Yesterday SpaceX attempted for the second time to land the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket on an unmanned barge in the Atlantic. They failed, spectacularly.

I however consider this attempt to be a magnificent success. I also think they could fail at achieving this vertical landing for the next twenty launches and still those failures would each be a magnificent success.

Why? How can an engineering failure like this really be considered an achievement? It is very simple. Even if SpaceX continues to fail in its effort to recover its Falcon 9 first stage and reuse it, the possibility that they might succeed — demonstrated time after time by the company with each launch — has struck terror in the hearts of every other aerospace launch company. Each landing attempt shows SpaceX’s commitment to lowering launch costs while developing cutting edge engineering capabilities. Each attempt shows the world that they are the world’s leading launch company.

The result? Every other launch company in the world, both old and new, are scrambling desperately to lower their own costs as well as improve their own engineering.
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The hidden glaciers of Mars

The glaciers belts of Mars

Scientists, using computer models and radar data obtained in orbit, have detected large belts of glaciers in Mars’ upper middle latitudes, buried beneath a layer of dust.

Several satellites orbit Mars and on satellite images, researchers have been able to observe the shape of glaciers just below the surface. For a long time scientists did not know if the ice was made of frozen water (H2O) or of carbon dioxide (CO2) or whether it was mud.

Using radar measurements from the NASA satellite, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, researchers have been able to determine that is water ice. But how thick was the ice and do they resemble glaciers on Earth? A group of researchers at the Niels Bohr Institute have now calculated this using radar observations combined with ice flow modelling.

The press release has one typo that is important. The belts appear to be located between 30-50 degrees latitude, not 300-500 (the degree sign became a 0 by mistake).

It is important to recognize the uncertainty of this discovery. Orbital images have seen features that suggest glaciers. The evidence that it is water-ice and that the water-ice is still largely present comes from the computer models. Computer models are notorious for seeing things that end up not being there.

Nonetheless, this result is important. It is further strong evidence that Mars still contains a lot of water locked in its immediate subsurface, where future colonists can mine it and use it to survive and build their homes.

The sunspot crash continues

On Sunday NOAA posted its monthly update of the solar cycle, showing the Sun’s sunspot activity in March. I am posting it here, with annotations to give it context, as I have done since 2010.

March 2015 Solar Cycle graph

The graph above has been modified to show the predictions of the solar science community. The green curves show the community’s two original predictions from April 2007, with half the scientists predicting a very strong maximum and half predicting a weak one. The red curve is their revised May 2009 prediction.

In February the Sun’s sunspot activity plunged, dropping way below the prediction of the solar science community. In March that plunge continued. Even though activity had seemed to track that prediction through most of 2014, the overall levels were always less than the prediction. The sunspot numbers for the past two months have simply made this fact obvious once again, dropping to levels almost as low as those last seen in 2011, before the onset of the solar maximum.

That the ramp down at this time is so precipitous is especially intriguing, as historically the ramp down from previous solar maximums has been slow and steady. It is once again evidence that the Sun is doing things that solar scientists have never yet had the opportunity to observe.

A photo tour of Vandenberg Air Force Base

Yesterday, as part of my visit to Vandenberg Air Force Base to give a space history lecture to the local section of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, I was given a short tour of these west coast launch facilities. While Kennedy is used for launches that circle the equator, Vandenberg, with its southern-facing coast, launches rockets that head south over the ocean for a polar orbit.

We only had time to go inside one launchpad, where unfortunately I was not permitted to take pictures. However, the images I did get will give you a reasonable sense of the layout for this spaceport, which is increasingly becoming a spaceport for private launch companies like ULA and SpaceX. Though the bulk of business for both companies here might be military and government payloads, the future is still going to include a lot of private payloads. The images also help to highlight the differences between these two companies, as well as some past history, as one of these launchpads was once intended for the space shuttle, though never used for that purpose.
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Whose side is Obama on?

I ask this frightening question because it is becoming increasingly clear that Obama’s loyalties do not seem to be firmly lodged on the side of western civilization, the United States, or even our allies in the Middle East, both Jewish and Muslim.

To give you an idea, here is a small selection of links:

The last is interesting in that it includes these comments by Obama:

In a Nowruz (Persian New Year) video address, Obama said that a “reasonable nuclear deal… can help open the door to a brighter future for you, the Iranian people. I believe that our nations have a historic opportunity to resolve this issue peacefully — an opportunity we should not miss,” added Obama.

The collection above is only a sampling in the past week. It ignores past stories, such as Obama’s snub of the Charlie Hebdo demonstrations in France, for example.

I repeat: Whose side is Obama on? The evidence sure is mounting that he is not allied with the United States.

Feel the middle-class rage

While this story is about the testimony of a mother before the Arkansas State Board of Education, objecting to Common Core standards and demanding that they be changed or abandoned, I think its most important take-away is watching the intelligent and thoughtful anger she expresses.

I have included the video of her testimony below the fold. Anyone who thinks the tea party movement is dead needs to watch this video to find out how wrong they are. This woman speaking as a representative of over a thousand parents and teachers, all of whom object to Common Core, the federally-imposed education standards. She also reveals the increasing level of rage and anger that is percolating in the general public over the incompetent and destructive dictates that are being imposed on them by bureaucrats in Washington.

The Republican leadership in the House and Senate might think they were elected to keep the government open, but this woman’s testimony tells me that the mid-term elections were a demand by the public for the Republicans to shut it down.

And they better do it soon, because the rage is continuing to build. If our elected officials don’t respond to it soon the very system of democracy on which our society was built — founded on the principle that government is the servant to the people — is going to become very seriously threatened.

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Sunspots crash in February


NOAA today posted its monthly update of the solar cycle, showing the sunspot activity for the Sun in February. As I have done monthly for the past five years, I am posting it here below the fold, with annotations to give it context.

In the past two months I have noted how the ramp down from solar maximum has closely tracked the 2009 prediction of the solar scientist community (indicated by the red curve).

In February, however, that close tracking ended, with sunspots plunging far below the prediction. Note also that sunspot activity in March has also been weak.

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Russians confirm plan to leave ISS in 2024

The competition heats up: Russian space managers have confirmed that they have endorsed a plan to leave ISS in 2024, when they will assemble their own space station using new modules as well as a significant number of the modules attached to ISS.

On February 24, 2015, the Scientific and Technical Council, NTS, at Roskosmos, the main planning body at the agency led by a newly appointed chairman and the former head of the agency Yuri Koptev, formally endorsed the Russian participation in the ISS program until 2024. It would be followed by the separation of Russia’s newest modules from the ISS to form the new national space station. As previously reported on this site, the initial configuration of the station would include the Multi-purpose Module, MLM, the Node Module, UM, and the Science and Power Module, NEM. Notably, the original Russian ISS component — the Zvezda Service Module, SM — was not included in the plan, thus ensuring that its propulsion capabilities would be available for deorbiting of the outpost at the end of its operational life.

Whether ISS will be functional with just the Russian Zvezda module is not clear. NASA engineers now have about a decade to figure this out and to fix it.

In general the break up of the partnership running ISS will be good for space exploration. The competition between nations will spur development and innovation. It will also free each nation from the shackles of the partnership. The Russians in particular have wanted to utilize ISS for more daring and longer expeditions to research interplanetary travel, and were stymied by NASA’s bureaucracy. Once they start doing this sort of thing on their own station NASA will feel obliged to follow.

Obviously, competition between nations carries risk. As long as there is some agreed to framework for claiming territory on other planets (something that the U.N. treaty does not allow), the nations will be able to compete peacefully. Without that framework, however, will leave room for disagreement and conflict.

It is thus essential that the space-faring nations sit down and work out this framework, and do it as soon as possible before each nation has vested interests in space that are already in conflict with each other. Above all, this new framework has got to abandon the U.N. space treaty with its rules that forbid the claiming and controlling of territory by nations in space. Those rules were never realistic, and literally guarantee that nations will eventually end up at war with each other as they fight to determine who owns what in space.

Watching politics eat away at climate science

Two stories today today illustrate how the field of climate science is being destroyed by politics.

In the first, a leading climate skeptic chortles over the resignation of Rajendra Pachauri, the man who has headed the IPCC since 2002, who has stepped down because of allegations of sexual harassment by an employee at the institute he heads in New Delhi. In the second, Willie Wei-Hock Soon, a scientist who has published numerous peer-reviewed papers raising questions about global warming science, is attacked for not fully disclosing the sources of his income.

In both cases, the two sides in the global warming debate are using these allegations as ammunition to attack the believability of each side’s stance on the scientific question of global warming. And in both cases, the stories raise literally no questions about the science itself that each man advocated.

I admit that I have attacked Pachauri numerous times in the past, but each time it was because he demonstrated outright ignorance of the field of climate science or had been caught making significant scientific errors. His resignation here however has nothing to do with the science published in IPCC reports, and should not be used as fodder to criticize the theory of human-caused global warming.

Similarly, none of the articles in the mainstream science press about the allegations against Soon have raised a single question about his actual results. All they have done is attack him for not revealing all of his funding sources. His research itself still appears valid. That the largest science journals, Science and Nature, have published articles attacking Soon, with the Smithsonian now piling on as well, without presenting any evidence that he had falsified any of his work, illustrates how corrupt this field has become. The science for these major science journals no longer matters. All that matters is destroying someone who was apparently successful in bursting the balloon on some global warming science.

Until everyone stops playing this game and focuses instead on the data itself and what that data is really telling us, we will get no closer to truly understanding the climate of the Earth. And tragically, I see far too little effort in the climate field to do this.

Sunspot activity tracks prediction

On Monday NOAA posted its monthly update of the solar cycle, showing the sunspot activity for the Sun in January. As I do every month, I am posting it here below the fold, with annotations to give it context.

As I have noted previously, the ramp down from solar maximum continues to track the 2009 prediction of the solar scientist community (indicated by the red curve) quite closely. As NOAA also notes,

While awaiting final confirmation, all evidence points to the most recent solar maximum having peaked at 82 in April, 2014. This was within the expected range for the peak, but occurred significantly later than predicted.

Since their graph doesn’t show the entire curves for their predictions, the above statement seems reasonable. However, looking at the graph with those curves inserted (see my annotated graph below the fold), it becomes clear that not only did the peak occur much later than predicted, the maximum’s overall activity was also generally less than predicted.
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“Oh, she’s going down.”

Rand Paul today became the fourth senator to announce his opposition to Loretta Lynch, Barack Obama’s nominee for attorney general.

Earlier Wednesday, in his office in the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill, Breitbart News watched as the senator’s legal and press team briefed him final time before the interview. Sergio Gor, Paul’s communications director, his press secretary Eleanor May and attorney Brian Darling were all present.

Paul asked the team about Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) question during Lynch’s Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing about whether she’d oppose using a drone to kill an American citizen on American soil.

When Paul heard about her non-answer—she wouldn’t commit that the federal government does not have such authority—he was incredulous. Furthermore, Paul was appalled that Lynch came out in favor of President Barack Obama’s executive amnesty and the use of asset forfeiture—where the federal government seizes people’s property sometimes with flimsy reasoning, something even the Obama administration has offered slight opposition to—and then told his office staff he’s going to oppose her and aim to derail her nomination chances. “Oh, she’s going down,” Paul said to the room.

The video of Lynch’s non-answer to Cruz’s question is quite shocking. I dare you to watch it and tell me afterward that this administration and Democratic Party is not a threat to your freedom and rights.

Whether the Republicans in the Senate will have the courage to stand up to this threat, however, remains a very big unknown. That four senators have announced their opposition so early is a good sign, but we shall see.

Roscomos puts the squeeze on Ukraine

Two more stories this week provide additional evidence that Roscosmos, the new Russian government-run space corporation that controls Russia’s entire space industry, intends to eliminate its dependence on any foreign contributions, even if that contribution comes from the former Soviet province of Ukraine.

In the first story, Roscosmos ends the commercial use of the Dnepr anti-ballistic missile, built originally in the Ukraine. In the second story Roscosmos makes it very clear that it will focus on using its Russia-made Angara rocket rather than depend on the Ukrainian Zenit, even though Zenit is what the Roscosmos-owned Sea Launch platform was designed to use and Angara is far from operational.

The main result of these decisions will be the bankrupt many Ukrainian space companies. Whether it will bring more business to Angara, however, remains to be seen. Angara has only had one orbital launch, and has hardly tested its many different configurations. At this stage it is highly unlikely that the commercial customers who have depended on Dnepr and Zenit will flock to it, especially since they now have other competitive options available in the west.

Proton launches successfully

The competition heats up: Russia’s Proton successfully launched an Inmarsat commercial satellite into orbit today.

Considering the problems the Proton has had in recent years, this launch success is significant. It suggests that they are back in business.

In related news, a Russian space expert was fired from his job at a hi-tech operation outside Moscow after he publicly criticized the Putin government’s consolidation of Russia’s entire space industry into a single government-run corporation.

Vadim Lukashevich worked at the Skolkovo Innovation Center, a high-tech business park outside Moscow intended as Russia’s answer to Silicon Valley that has partnerships with Western research universities such as MIT. “As I understand it, they [fired me] for a series of interviews in which I criticize the recent decision to liquidate the Federal Space Agency and create a new state corporation called Roscosmos,” Lukashevich told The Moscow Times on Friday.

…Lukashevich, a prominent voice in the Russian space scene, told the BBC the reform would remove any industry accountability and would foster corruption — all while failing to provide Russia with a long-term direction in space.

On Wednesday, a day after the interview was published, he said someone at Skolkovo’s Space Cluster called him to say he had been fired. The caller “apologized several times, saying the decision was imposed on them from above — by a phone call from URSC in the middle of the night,” Lukashevich said

I think that Lukashevich is right, that creating a single government-run corporation will encourage corruption and in the long run will be a disaster for Russia’s space industry. We will see a rebirth of the same problems that destroyed the Soviet Union. In fact, Lukashevich’s firing is illustrative of this.

I also think that in the short term it will likely energize their space program. But only for a short period of time. After they achieve some Soviet-style stunts that appear impressive, the weight of corruption and the lack of competition will cause the industry to collapse in bankruptcy again.

Obama allies himself with Islam radicals

The side that President Barack Obama takes in the worldwide conflict between fundamentalist (and violent) Islam and western Judeo-Christian civilization can be seen I think by three stories this past week:

In the first case Obama chose to hurriedly change his plans so he could attend the funeral of the Saudi king. He did not consider attending or sending an important representative to the demonstrations in France condemning the Charlie Hebdo murders. Nor did he consider attending or sending an important representative to the ceremonies commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

In the second case Obama has made his dislike for Netanyahu and Israel quite clear, almost to the point of performing childish tantrums. Yet, Israel is our ally. It is also the only real democracy in the Middle East that actually attempts to defend western values.

In the third case, Obama has his administration meet with Muslim Brotherhood leaders to coordinate an effort to remove Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, even though al-Sisi is one of the few in the Islamic world demanding that Islam reform itself away from violence.

So, what side do you think Barack Obama is on? Who do you really think he wants to win this war?

Got $500? You too can get a scientific paper published!

A Harvard scientist used a random text generator to create a fake science paper entitled “Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs?” and was able to get it accepted at 17 journals. [Note: the link includes an auto-download of the pdf of the scientist’s fake paper.]

Shrime decided to see how easy it would be to publish an article. So he made one up. Like, he literally made one up. He did it using www.randomtextgenerator.com. The article is entitled “Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs?” and its authors are the venerable Pinkerton A. LeBrain and Orson Welles. The subtitle reads: “The surgical and neoplastic role of cacao extract in breakfast cereals.” Shrime submitted it to 37 journals over two weeks and, so far, 17 of them have accepted it. (They have not “published” it, but say they will as soon as Shrime pays the $500. This is often referred to as a “processing fee.” Shrime has no plans to pay them.) Several have already typeset it and given him reviews, as you can see at the end of this article. One publication says his methods are “novel and innovative”!. But when Shrime looked up the physical locations of these publications, he discovered that many had very suspicious addresses; one was actually inside a strip club.

Essentially, these fake journals are scams to get $500 from scientists, generally from third world countries who can’t get their papers published in the bigger first world journals. (What does that tell us about those bigger first world journals?)

The best line of the article however was this: “Many of these publications sound legitimate. To someone who is not well-versed in a particular subfield of medicine—a journalist, for instance—it would be easy to mistake them for valid sources.” [emphasis mine] It seems to me that if you are a journalist writing about a particular field, you should be reasonably educated on that field and be able to spot a fake journal. I certainly can. That it is assumed that mainstream journalists who report on medicine cannot speaks volumes about the quality of the field.

Ocean science deals with limited budgets

A National Research Council report has outlined a range of budget cuts in the field of ocean science, including significant cuts to infrastructure expenses, in order to focus the available funds more wisely.

Faced with rising costs of going to sea, the ocean-sciences division of the US National Science Foundation (NSF) should immediately slash what it spends on marine hardware, says a new report. It suggests making the biggest cut to the flagship US$386-million Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI), which after years of construction is just months away from being finished.

The report, released on 23 January by the US National Research Council, is likely to guide US oceanography for years to come. It is the first formal attempt to address what many researchers have grumbled about for years — that basic ocean science at the NSF is losing out to the rising costs of infrastructure.

This report and the response of the ocean science community illustrates a pattern going on throughout the sciences. For years, their budgets had been rising so fast that they really didn’t know what to do with the money. (I know they would disagree with me.) This resulted in some laziness in how they spent it, including a great deal of feather-bedding and pork.

Now that budgets have frozen and are no longer growing, and in many cases shrinking back to more affordable levels, they need to figure out what is essential and what is not. This report is part of that effort.

I am seeing this same process happening in other fields as well. Santa, in the form of unlimited federal spending, has gone home, and is unexpected to return for quite some time.

Why I ignored Obama’s State of the Union speech

Space.com has provided a detailed look, with reactions, of President Obama’s prominent mention of space exploration in his State of the Union speech this week.

I didn’t even watch the speech, nor read it, nor really care much at all about what he said. It is garbage, political propaganda that has nothing to do with getting us into space. The speech’s only real purpose is to puff up Barack Obama and his political allies.

The article above mentions Obama’s April 2010 space speech. What I wrote about that 2010 speech in 2010 focused on this promise by Obama:

[A]s stated in the speech’s fact sheet, that he “will commit to making a specific decision in 2015 on the development of a new heavy-lift rocket architecture.” Somehow this commitment was supposed to convince us that, despite his cancellation of the Constellation program (which already has had six years of development under its belt), his willingness to postpone making a decision for five years more would somehow accelerate the program.

How stupid does Obama really think people are? [emphasis in original]

Five years later, does anyone remember this promise? And is Obama making this decision now, as promised? No to both. The only reason he is building SLS is because Congress required him to. And the purpose of that rocket program isn’t to build a rocket, but to pour ungodly amounts of money into congressional districts.

To me, the real news this week was the big money private enterprise is beginning to pour into real development in space. That will get us to the planets, not the egotistical blathering of politicians.

The sunspot cycle update for December

The monthly update by NOAA of the solar cycle, showing the sunspot activity for the Sun in December, was released this past weekend. As I do every month, I am posting it here, below the fold, with annotations to give it context.

Even though sunspot activity in December increased, the slow ramp down to solar minimum continues to track the 2009 prediction of the solar scientist community. The overall intensity of the solar maximum prior to 2014 was considerable less than this prediction, but the numbers throughout 2014 matched that prediction remarkably well.
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Do not submit!

Mohammed Bomb cartoon

The cartoon on the right prompted the first Islamic riots. More recent ones in the French magazine Charlie Hebdo apparently prompted today’s violent murders.

The goal of these Islamic acts of violence: To stop people from criticizing Islam.

My goal in publishing this cartoon: To defy these thugs and to encourage people to criticize Islam. In the past two decades we have seen nothing but violence, terrorism, death, and destruction from this Arabic religion, fed by hatred and bigotry of Jews and Christians. It is time to say so, bluntly.

If Muslims wish this criticism to stop, they need to do something about it themselves, as the President of Egypt has, instead of demanding others to shut up.

A new Russian heavy lift rocket amid Russian budget woes

The competition heats up: Even as Russia today successfully placed a commercial satellite in orbit on the 400th successful Proton rocket launch, Russian sources indicate that — despite budget woes fueled by the drop in oil prices — Russia is moving ahead with the design and construction of a heavy-lift rocket capable of competing with NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS).

From the last link above:

By 2013, Roskosmos drafted a very preliminary roadmap toward the development of heavy and super-heavy launch vehicles. Not surprisingly, it matched closely the strategy that NASA had followed since 2011 within the Space Launch System, SLS, project.

…As the American SLS project, Russian super-heavy launcher plans envisioned building a rocket with a payload of 80-85 tons in the first phase of the program. A pair of such rockets would be enough to mount a lunar expedition. In the second phase of development, the rocket would be upgraded to carry unprecedented 130-180 tons of payload in order to support, permanent lunar bases, missions to asteroids and expeditions to Mars.

As much as I remain a skeptic of SLS, it has apparently struck so much competitive fear in the Russian leadership that they are now willing to try to copy it. Much like the 1980s, when the Soviet rulers bankrupted their nation trying to duplicate American projects like the Strategic Defense Initiative and the Space Shuttle, Putin is now repeating that error all over again. His country has experienced almost a quarter-century of strong economic growth since the fall of communism because, during that time, they focused on capitalism, private enterprise, freedom, and a bottom-up economic structure. Now, they are beginning to abandon that approach and return to the top-down, centralized system of government planning.

As it did in previous century, it will bankrupt them again in this century. Though the Russian government is denying the reports that they are going to trim their space budget, their government’s budget is going to suffer from the drop in the price of oil. Something will have to give.

Update: This review of a book about modern Russia is definitely pertinent: The Land of Magical Thinking: Inside Putin’s Russia

Solar maximum ramp down continues

The monthly update by NOAA of the solar cycle, showing the sunspot activity for the Sun in November, was released on December 8, just before NOAA completely revamped its website. As I have been doing every month for the past four years, I am posting it here, with annotations to give it context.

As noted in previous months, the 2009 prediction of the solar scientist community is looking better and better with time. Though there was an increase in sunspot activity in November, the overall trend continues downward very close to that prediction, though at levels that have generally been less than predicted.

November 2014 Solar Cycle graph

The graph above has been modified to show the predictions of the solar science community. The green curves show the community’s two original predictions from April 2007, with half the scientists predicting a very strong maximum and half predicting a weak one. The red curve is their revised May 2009 prediction.

Future updates will depend on whether NOAA continues to track sunspots using these same standards. After much searching I was finally able to locate the graph above at this link, suggesting that at least for now, they are holding to these standards. I note however that the links to the 2007 and the 2009 solar cycle predictions have vanished down the memory hole. Fortunately, I still have this data, and can continue to annotate the graphs to compare prediction with actual data.

That they might have removed these predictions from their webpage however is a shame. I have emailed them to ask them about this and will let you know what I learn.

Book news!

Two book items which I think my readers will be interested in:

First, my publisher of the ebook edition of Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8 has asked me to ask my readers to please post book reviews of the book on amazon.com. Presently the book has 47 reviews. If it gets three more, we will be eligible for a number of additional Kindle promotions.

So, whether you liked the book or not, please go to its webpage on amazon and give it a review. Your support will be very much appreciated.

Note also that the sale on amazon continues until the end of December. Until then, you can get the ebook edition of Genesis the Story of Apollo 8 for only $2.99!

Second, I have just published a new book, though on a topic that has nothing to do with space. Circuit Hikes of Southern Arizona was written during my spare time during the past two years while Diane and I explored the many beautiful trails out here in Tucson. Though there are many good Arizona hiking guidebooks, I noticed a lack of guidebooks describing loop trails. Since that is what we were doing anyway, I figured why not assemble my knowledge into a new guidebook and use the opportunity to learn about the modern world of both ebook and print self-publishing.

The print edition of Circuit Hikes is available directly from me here for $15, including shipping. The ebook can be purchased here (directly from me) or from amazon, barnes & noble, and all your normal ebook venders for $10.

This post will remain at the top of the webpage for the next twenty-four hours.

Orion launch on Thursday given go-ahead

The Thursday test launch of an Orion capsule has been given the go-ahead.

Many of the news reports this week about this test flight have referred to Orion as “the spacecraft that will take humans to Mars.” I must note again that this is hogwash. No humans will ever go to Mars using Orion. It is too small and does not have the capacity to keep humans healthy and alive for the year-plus-long flight time necessary to get to and from Mars.

The most Orion can ever be is the ascent and descent module for a much larger interplanetary space vessel, used just for getting humans up and down from the surface of the Earth. The spacecraft that will really take people to Mars will have to be something more akin to Mir or ISS, a large assembly of modules put together in low Earth orbit.

One other tidbit everyone should know about tomorrow’s test flight: Though it is being touted as a test of Orion’s heat shield, the company that makes this heat shield has already abandoned this design, so the test itself is for a heat shield that will never be launched again on another Orion capsule. In addition, the flight won’t test the rocket to be used, as the SLS rocket isn’t ready. Nor will it test the capsule’s life support systems, which are not on board.

Which immediately raises the question: Why in hell is NASA even bothering with this test flight?

Sadly, I can answer that question. This is all public relations, an effort to lobby for funding. That’s it.

Cygnus on Falcon 9?

The heat of competition: Industry rumors now suggest that Orbital Sciences’s first choice for launching its next ISS freighter Cygnus is SpaceX’s Falcon 9.

The articles offers this explanation for why Orbital is favoring its chief competitor:

While flying on a competitor’s launch vehicle might be viewed as awkward, the decision could boil down to one simple determining factor – cost. It has been estimated that a flight on a F9 would set a customer back $62 million. By comparison, United Launch Alliance’s (ULA ) Atlas V 401 launch vehicle, a booster with similar capabilities to the F9, costs an estimated $100 million per mission. Moreover, SpaceX has a proven track record with the Falcon 9.

All true, but I can think of two more reasons SpaceX is the top choice.
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