Category Archives: Essays And Commentaries

Announcement: Capitalism in Space:
Private Enterprise and Competition Reshape the Global Aerospace Launch Industry

This post will remain at the top of the page for the next week. Scroll down for updates.

After much delay and discussion, my policy paper for the Center for a New American Security, Capitalism in Space: Private Enterprise and Competition Reshape the Global Aerospace Launch Industry, has finally been published.

You can download the pdf here or at the Center here. Please feel free to distribute this widely. If you visit other websites please pass it on to them. This should be read by as many people as possible, especially since the space policy of the Trump administration remains at present undecided. This policy paper will help them work out a wise policy, with the paper’s key data point contained in this table:

SLS vs Commercial space

I document my numbers very carefully. The result illustrates clearly how much a failure the government model has been and continues to be. We have spent a lot of money since the 1970s on NASA and space, and have generally gotten very little for that investment, as demonstrated by the comparison between the accomplishments of private and government space in the past two decades. Going forward it is going to be very difficult for SLS/Orion to compete with the heavy lift rockets coming from SpaceX and Blue Origin.

My concluding words:

A close look at these recommendations will reveal one common thread. Each is focused on shifting power and regulatory authority away from the federal government and increasing the freedom of American companies to act as they see fit to meet the demands of the market. The key word that defines this common thread is freedom, a fundamental principle that has been aspired to since the nation’s founding.

Political leaders from both parties have made the concept a central core tenet of American policy. Democrat John Kennedy stated that his commitment to go to the Moon was a “stand for freedom” in the Cold War. Republican Ronald Reagan proposed “Freedom” as the name for the new space station, and viewed it as a platform for promoting private enterprise in space.

Freedom is actually a very simple idea. Give people and companies the freedom to act, in a competitive environment that encourages intelligent and wise action, and they will respond intelligently and wisely.

The United States’ history proves that freedom can work. It is time to prove it again, in space.

Anyway, read the whole paper. I make a number of recommendations that I hope both Congress and the Trump administration will consider seriously. If they do, the United States will lead the world in the exploration and colonization of the solar system, and we will do it quickly and for a reasonable amount of money.

More importantly, we will be doing it under the banner of freedom.

At the crest

Looking north at the crest

Cool images time! The image above, cropped and reduced to show here, is a panorama that I have created from the most recent images sent down from Opportunity yesterday. The rover sits on the crest of the rim of Endeavour Crater, and this panorama looks north at that crest, back in the direction where the rover has come. The rovers tracks can be seen fading away into the distance slightly to the left of the crestline..If you click on the picture you can see the full resolution image.

The crater floor is to the right, the plains that surround the crater are to the left.

Below is another panorama, created by me from the same images sent down today, this time looking south at the crest in the direction Opportunity is heading. Once again, if you click on the picture you can see the full resolution version.

The full set of today’s images from Opportunity suggest that the science team took them to assemble a full 360 degree panorama before they begin the journey south to the gully that is just now becoming visible at the southernmost edge of the most recent overhead traverse image. To get to that gully they will now have to descend off the crest and down outside the rim of Endeavour Crater, moving to the right in the panorama below. This is therefore their last opportunity for awhile to get a good view from a high overlook.

Looking south at the crest

Cuts to NOAA, EPA, and the environmental bureaucracy

Two articles today outline some of the proposed cuts the Trump administration is considering for the EPA and NOAA and their generally bloated and politicized administrative bureaucracies.

The first article focuses on the proposed cuts to the EPA, which would reduce the overall budget to that agency by about 25%.

The Trump administration wants to cut spending by EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD) by more than 40% from roughly $510 million to $290 million, according to sources that have seen preliminary directives from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The cuts target scientific work in fields including climate change, air and water quality, and chemical safety. EPA’s $50 million external grant program for environmental scientists at universities would disappear altogether. Such erasures represent just part of a larger plan to shrink EPA’s budget by 25% to $6.1 billion, and cut its workforce by 20% to 12,400 employees, in the 2018 fiscal year that begins 1 October.

The second article focuses on proposed cuts aimed at NOAA and within the Commerce Department, with cuts in specific departments ranging from 5% to 26%, with an overall cut to NOAA of 17%.
» Read more

The tampering of climate data at NOAA and NASA

data tampering at NASA

Last week there was the another Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington. One presentation there by several important climate skeptics outlined in detail the data tampering that has been going on at an increasingly outrageous manner at both NOAA and NASA in recent years. The slides presented by Tony Heller (available here [pdf]), many of which I have highlighted previously here at Behind the Black, are especially educational and damning.

To the right is just one of Heller’s slides, the one that I find the most damning of all. It shows how the surface data issued by NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS), the two green lines, does not match the satellite data at all. While the satellite data shows no warming this entire century, the GISS data shows steady rising in the surface data. Other slides by Heller show that this rise comes solely from data adjustments and the extrapolation of imagined temperature data in places where no data exists, neither of which has been explained in any manner by the scientists at GISS.

What is most damning however is the change Heller documents between GISS’s November 2016 and December 2016 data sets. For reasons that are simply unjustified by any scientific measure, GISS somehow found it necessary to adjust its entire data set upward in one month about 0.03 of a degree. The only reason I can find for such a change in such a short period of time is a desire by the scientists at GISS to create the illusion that the climate is warming, and warming fast. They don’t have any real data to show this, so they make it up.

Make sure you look at all of Heller’s slides [pdf]. It is also definitely worthwhile to spend the time to watch the entire CPAC presentation, available at the first link above.

The consequences of leftwing censorship

Two stories today illustrate the consequences, both good and bad, of the left’s effort to stifle free speech on campuses:

The first story describes how a California law banning any university interaction with four states that have passed anti-transgender bathroom laws (laws that prevent men who are making believe they are women from entering women’s bathrooms) has prevented three California debate teams from attending the nationals.

This week the nation’s top debate coaches released their recognition of the top collegiate policy debate teams. This exceptional group of sixteen teams receives pre-bids to the National Debate Tournament at the end of March and will have strong potential toward winning the national title in debate at the tournament to be held at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. Two of the nation’s top teams that made this elite selection are from Berkeley, a campus recently racked by violent demands for the suppression of free speech. Incredibly, Berkeley’s teams and one other team from California who made the cut, will not attend the National Debate Tournament. That is because the state of California has banned all university related personnel from traveling to four states around the nation: Kansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Mississippi, on the specious grounds that these states have all passed “anti-LGBT legislation.” All debate teams from California state schools are practically banned from attending the national debate tournaments being held in the state of Kansas in March.

In other words, the intolerance by California to all alternative points of view has succeeded in literally shutting down all debate. As the author notes,
» Read more

Killing both commercial space and American astronauts

This all reeks of politics: A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released yesterday says that NASA it should not permit Boeing and SpaceX to fly humans on their capsules and rockets until they fix certain issues and test both repeatedly on unmanned flights before the first manned flights to ISS.

This GAO report was mandated by Congress, and it requires NASA to certify that both Boeing and SpaceX have met NASA’s requirements before allowing those first manned flights. While the technical issues outlined in the report — to which NASA concurs — might be of concern, my overall impression in reading the report, combined with yesterday’s announcement by NASA that they are seriously considering flying humans on SLS’s first test flight, is that this process is actually designed to put obstacles in front of Boeing and SpaceX so as to slow their progress and allow SLS to launch first with humans aboard.

For example, the report lists three main problems with the commercial manned effort. First there is the Russian engine on the Atlas 5. From the report itself [pdf]:
» Read more

Capitalism in Space to be released early next week

After several months of delay for a variety of reasons that I do not need to go into, my policy paper for the Center of New American Security has gone to the printers will be released to the public early next week. The title: Capitalism in Space: Private Enterprise and Competition Reshape the Global Aerospace Launch Industry.

I will have the pdf of this paper available here on Behind the Black the instant it is available. To give everyone a taste, here are my concluding words:

A close look at these recommendations will reveal one common thread. Each is focused on shifting power and regulatory authority away from the federal government and increasing the freedom of American companies to act as they see fit to meet the demands of the market. The key word that defines this common thread is freedom, a fundamental principle that has been aspired to since the nation’s founding. Political leaders from both parties have made the concept a central core tenet of American policy. Democrat John Kennedy stated that his commitment to go to the Moon was a “stand for freedom” in the Cold War. Republican Ronald Reagan proposed “Freedom” as the name for the new space station, and viewed it as a platform for promoting private enterprise in space.

Freedom is actually a very simple idea. Give people and companies the freedom to act, in a competitive environment that encourages intelligent and wise action, and they will respond intelligently and wisely.

The United States’ history proves that freedom can work. It is time that it prove it again, in space.

Mars rover update: February 14, 2017

Curiosity

Ireson Hill, Sol 1604

Dune fields

For the overall context of Curiosity’s travels, see Pinpointing Curiosity’s location in Gale Crater.

Taking a close look at rock

Since my last update in January, Curiosity done more or less what I predicted. It headed southwest through the dune area and then made a side trip to the small mesa there, dubbed Ireson Hill by the Curiosity science team and shown on the right. They then made an additional side trip past the hill to get a close look a the large sandy dune field beyond, also shown on the right. After getting some nice closeups as well as scooping up some sand for observation, they have now gone back to Ireson Hill to get another close look at the dark rocks that have rolled off the top of the hill and are now in reach at its base. The image on the left shows the arm positioned above one of those rocks.

The drill remains out of commission, with no word when they will try using it again. In addition, there had been a problem with the ChemCam laser that does spectroscopic analysis, but as of this week it is back in action, and is being used to analysis the small rock above.

Below is an overview of their route so far as well as my annotations on where I think they will be heading in the future.
» Read more

Hunting Javelinas

A javelina

This past weekend I participated on my third hunt, the second in which I was carrying my own weapon with the possibility of making my own kill. (For my first hunting experience I only came along as an observer.) The goal was to find and shoot a javelina, a boarlike wild animal whose range covers the southwestern United States down into Central America.

The hunt itself was what Arizona Game and Fish calls a HAM hunt, specifically limited to the use of handguns, archery, or muzzleloaders. This means that the only long gun you can use must be loaded through the muzzle one shot at a time, use black powder, and function somewhat like an old-fashioned musket. My weapon of choice was the 1911 pistol I use for bullseye competition, with a red dot scope, a customized left-handed grip, a carefully adjusted trigger, and in general carefully adjusted to be as accurate as possible. With this gun, shooting 45 caliber ammo, I can hit the black bullseye 50 yards away shooting one-armed about 70% of the time. At shorter distances, using two hands, I can easily group my shots in a space less than a few inches across. (Such accuracy on my part is actually not very impressive. Among bullseye shooters I am about average. The public’s general belief that pistols are not accurate beyond 20 feet is simply wrong. Practice, make sure your gun functions as it should, and you will reliably be able to hit your target at 50 yards.)

Since I really have no knowledge about hunting, I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing this without some help. My mentor this weekend was a local friend, Gary Kessinger, who has been hunting for decades, has a number of record kills, and routinely comes home successfully from his hunts. When I mentioned to Gary my desire to learn more about hunting and see how it is done, he gladly offered to guide me through the process. He hadn’t hunted javelinas much in the past few years, but decided to get his own license or tag so that he could shoot one himself.

As I told Gary on Saturday morning, I am essentially a babe in the woods, and would do whatever he suggested. My attitude was that I was the equivalent of a 10-year-old on his first hunt. Anything I accomplished well would be a success, even if it was merely learning how to spot javelinas on a distant hillside using binoculars.
» Read more

Trump to the Moon!

Two stories in the past two days strongly suggest that the Trump administration is planning a two-pronged space policy approach, with the long-term goal of shifting most of space to private operations.

From the first link:

The more ambitious administration vision could include new moon landings that “see private American astronauts, on private space ships, circling the Moon by 2020; and private lunar landers staking out de facto ‘property rights’ for American on the Moon, by 2020 as well,” according to a summary of an “agency action plan” that the transition drew up for NASA late last month. Such missions would be selected through an “internal competition” between what the summary calls Old Space, or NASA’s traditional contractors, and New Space characterized by SpaceX and Blue Origin. But the summary also suggests a strong predilection toward New Space. “We have to be seen giving ‘Old Space’ a fair and balanced shot at proving they are better and cheaper than commercial,” it says.

Another thrust of the new space effort would be to privatize low-Earth orbit, where most satellites and the International Space Station operate — or a “seamless low-risk transition from government-owned and operated stations to privately-owned and operated stations.” “This may be the biggest and most public privatization effort America has ever conducted,” it says.

Essentially, they are going to do exactly what I suggested back in late December, give SLS/Orion a short-term realistic goal of going to the Moon. This is what it was originally designed for, and it is the only technology presently available that has even the slightest chance of meeting the three year deadline outlined above. More important, this will give Congress something in the negotiations, as SLS/Orion has been Congress’s baby — pushed and funded by Congress over the objections of the previous administration and without a clear mission to go anywhere — in order to keep the money stream flowing to the big “Old Space” companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Obama tried to simply cancel its predecessor, Constellation, and that did not sit well with Congress. Trump however understands negotiation and how to play the game. In order to eventually eliminate SLS Trump is going to provide Congress some short term excitement and some viable long term alternatives.

The long term alternatives will be private enterprise. Even as they send SLS/Orion on its grand finale to the Moon, the Trump administration will accelerate the restructuring of NASA to make the agency less of a design and construction operation and more a mere customer of private space. All non-military Earth orbital operations will be shifted to the private sector over time, so that once SLS/Orion has achieved that goal of completing a lunar mission there will be a strong enough private space sector to replace it, allowing Congress to let it go the way of Apollo and the space shuttle.

The Sun turns

NOAA today posted its monthly update of the solar cycle, covering sunspot activity for January. As I do every month, I am posting it here with annotations to give it context.

January 2017 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.

Since my last solar cycle update, sunspot activity showed a slight increase in activity when compared to the previous month. Overall, however, the ramp down from solar maximum continues to underperform the predictions, and suggests that this solar maximum will not only be a very weak one, but a short one as well.

January’s activity however illustrated a statistical phenomenon that is typical of the sunspot count. That count is determined not by the numbers of sunspots on the entire surface of the Sun, but on the sunspots visible on the side of the Sun facing the Earth. Since it is not unusual for one face to be more active than the other, as we transition from maximum to minimum the sunspot counts will often show a more pronounced up-and-down curve reflecting this fact. Since the Sun’s day equals about 27 Earth days, this means that about every two weeks the active side will dominate our view until it rotates away and the inactive side reveals itself for two weeks.

Silso daily sunspot graph, January to February 2017

This pattern was very evident in January, as shown by the graph on the right and obtained from here. During the first two weeks of the month the Sun was blank. Then that inactive face rotated out of view. For the next two weeks or so the sunspot count went up, then began to drop as the active face began to rotate out of view to be replaced by the blank face last seen in early January.

This pattern of course is very fluid, as at any time the inactive face can become more active and the active face less so. Nonetheless, for short periods covering one to three months it helps to partly explain the up-and-down pattern of sunspot fluctuations during this time period when large portions of the Sun’s face are blank.

Mars rover update: January 18, 2017

Curiosity

Curiosity's location, Sol 1582

For the overall context of Curiosity’s travels, see Pinpointing Curiosity’s location in Gale Crater.

In the past month, since my last rover update on December 22, 2016, Curiosity has begun moving again, carefully picking its way through the dune-filled flats in the foothills at the base of Mount Sharp. The route taken, shown on the image on the right, corresponds to the easternmost of the possible routes I noted in my November 14, 2016 update. This route is also the most direct route, which I think is smart considering that the rover’s life on Mars certainly uncertain and the higher they can climb the more geological information they will get.

I have also annotated the likely route into the near future, including a possible side trip to the base of the mesa up ahead. It appears to me that they are now a little more than halfway through the flats, with Mt. Sharp directly ahead, as shown by the panorama below, taken near the end of December. The goal is a canyon just out of view to the right of this panorama.

Looking at Mount Sharp

The flats the rover is presently traversing, and visible in the foreground of the panorama above, is strewn with dark sand that often piled into large sand dunes. Where the ground is exposed, it is made up of a scattering of pavement-like rocks. As noted in a press release yesterday, many of these flat rocks have polygonal cracks and boxwork similar to that seen in dried mud here on Earth, suggesting that this area was once wet and then dried. This geology helps confirm the theory of planetary scientists that Gale Crater was once filled with water that slowly evaporated away. As the rover climbs, it leaves the lakebed and begins to move through the lake’s various shores, each one older than the last.

Opportunity

For the overall context of Opportunity’s travels at Endeavour Crater, see Opportunity’s future travels on Mars.
» Read more

Launch industry trends, based on recent history

The worldwide competition to launch the most rockets each year, first noted by Doug Messier about the 2016 race that was won by a squeak by the U.S., and then augmented by my own post about the various predictions by different nations and companies about what they hope to achieve in 2017, got me to thinking. How do these numbers compare with the past? What are the launch trends? Who has been moving up and who has been moving down? And most important, what would a close look at the trends for the past two decades tell us about the future?

In order to answer these questions, I decided to compile a table of all worldwide launches since 1998.

Worldwide Launches since 1998

This table reveals some very interesting trends and facts that I had not recognized previously.
» Read more

The sunspot crash continues

On Sunday NOAA posted its monthly update of the solar cycle, covering sunspot activity for December. As I do every month, I am posting it here with annotations to give it context.

December 2016 Solar Cycle graph

January 2017 sunspots as of January 9, 2017

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.

Sunspot activity continues to decline, and it appears to be declining at a steadily faster rate as the solar cycle ramps down towards minimum. Not only did sunspot activity drop below the 2007 low prediction in 2016, since 2017 began the sun has been blank almost continuously, as shown by the graph on the right. The signs continue to point to a solar minimum occurring much sooner than predicted, producing an unprecedented short and weak solar cycle.

Despite this, the appearance in December of the first sunspot for the next solar cycle suggests that we will not be entering a Grand Minimum in the coming decades. It does not guarantee it, as there is some evidence that even though no sunspots were visible during the Maunder Minimum in the 1600s the magnetic activity that causes sunspots did continue, and with our better observation equipment today we may see sunspots they would not have seen in the 1600s.

The competition heats up

According to this story, China plans 30 launches for 2017, which would smash the record of launches, 22, the country set in 2016.

This website lists the known scheduled launches worldwide. As far as I can see, only 15 Chinese launches are listed. However, China’s space program is modeled after the Soviet Union’s, which means they are somewhat secretive. The first link above has been reporting on China quite reliably during the past year, so I have some faith that the goal of 30 launches seems reasonable.

In 2017 China however is not the only country, or company, that will be attempting smash records. Russia hopes to complete 29 launches, which would not be a record for that country but would be a significant recovery from the 17 they completed in 2016. India set a record of 9 launches in 2016, and hopes to top it in 2017, starting with a single launch in January that will place a record 103 satellites in orbit in one shot. Europe meanwhile shows 21 launches on its 2017 manifest, while Japan has 9, according to the second link above.

The list gets even more interesting when you look at the 2017 launches planned for each American company. SpaceX has 31 launches all by itself,. ULA has 14, while Orbital ATK plans 4.

Obviously, these predicted numbers are not what is really going to happen. SpaceX is not going to launch 31 rockets in 2017. Not a chance. However, if they can get through the year with no launch failures, they will likely complete more than half that number, since that was the pace they were aiming for in 2016 and were getting close to achieving until the September 1 launchpad explosion. Meanwhile, ULA’s prediction of 14 launches for 2017 seems wholly reasonable since ULA completed 12 launches in 2016.

What this data suggests overall is that the total number of launches in 2017 will go up, significantly. Moreover, the increase in pace will be linked to an revived commercial satellite market, as well as a newly competitive launch industry aimed at reducing costs while making its increased launch pace more routine. These factors suggest that the increases will not be a one time thing, but will instead be heralding a new standard that signals a new age in space travel.

Hold onto your hats. The next few years in space should be quite exciting.

The real margin of error for polls

In my daily scanning of the news, looking for stories that are both educational as well as entertaining, I came across this particular post: “WATCH – This Viral Video Perfectly Illustrates Why Americans Don’t Trust the Lamestream Media”.

The title is typical click-bait, hinting at something truly revealing that nine times out of ten turns out to be immensely disappointing. This time, however, I found that the post revealed a lie about political polls, almost as an aside, that is simply never noted.

The video itself is entertaining. It shows one particularly bad performance by a MSNBC political reporter, where in only about five minutes he used NBC polls to make a string of predictions about the presidential election, every single one of which turned out to be spectacularly wrong. I’ve embedded the video below the fold for your enjoyment.

What the post however noted that I found revealing was something else:

After all, these were NBC polls that Kornacki cited time and time again. Polls that showed Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump in places like North Carolina, Georgia, and Ohio. The polls were terribly off-base. In some cases, the NBC numbers showed Clinton with a double-digit lead in states that she went on to lose. In other words, the polls were not by any means scientific, fair, or truthful.

Does the phrase “margin of error” ring a bell? Typically, it is between three and four percent, in order to be deemed usable, anyway. But NBC’s margin of error in Pennsylvania was 11 percent. [emphasis mine]

In the past decade or so political polls have routinely included what they call their “margin of error,” which generally for most polls ranges, as noted above, about three to four percent. This number is, and has always been a lie, however, as shown by the highlighted text. The real margin of error is the difference between what the poll predicted and what the actual results were. And for all of these NBC polls, the margin of error was not 3 to 4 percent, but anywhere from 11 to 30 percent!

In other words, these polls were worthless. Worse, they suggest some intentional manipulation, as they all made their error in only one direction (against Trump and for Clinton), much like the tampered global temperature data that we see coming from NASA and NOAA. It could be that there is confirmation bias going on here, producing results these liberal news outlets wish, but I do not think so. NBC, and its sister station MSNBC, have repeatedly in the past five years committed some egregious journalist frauds, all of which designed to make conservatives and Republicans look bad and to promote the interests of the Democratic Party. The network has made no moves to correct the problems. Nor has it fired anyone.

I think it very reasonable to suspect intentional fraud here, specifically aimed at helping the Democrats.

More important, this story illustrates why we should all laugh uproariously the next time we see a mainstream media journalist note pompously that the poll he or she is citing has a margin of error of 3%. He or she either doesn’t know what they are talking about, or they know very well and think you are too stupid to notice.
» Read more

Venezuela: the bankruptcy of socialism and modern intellectualism

The editorial board of the Washington Post today decided it was time to speak up about the disaster of Venezuela and the totalitarian rule of that country’s socialist leader, President Nicolás Maduro.

Venezuela, which was once Latin America’s richest country, has become an unwilling test site for how much economic and social stress a modern nation can tolerate before it descends into pure anarchy. This month its 31 million people lurched a big step closer to that breaking point, thanks to another senseless decree by its autocratic populist government.

For years Venezuelans have struggled with mounting shortages of food, medicine and other consumer goods, as well as triple-digit inflation that has rendered the national currency, the bolivar, worthless. By this month the 100-bolivar bill, the largest note in circulation, was worth only 2 cents, forcing people to carry piles of them in order to make the most rudimentary purchases. Then came this coup: On Dec. 11, President Nicolás Maduro, an economically illiterate former bus driver, announced that all 6 billion 100-bolivar notes would cease to be legal tender in just 72 hours. He also closed Venezuela’s borders with Colombia and Brazil, on the theory that traders were hoarding currency in those countries.

Almost overnight, millions of Venezuelans — about 40 percent of whom do not have bank accounts in which the currency could be deposited — lost the ability to purchase even those goods still available on the market. The result was predictable: looting and riots in at least eight cities. In the eastern town of Ciudad Bolivar, with a population of some 400,000, hundreds of stores were looted and at least three people were killed in three days of mayhem. [emphasis mine]

To the Washington Post’s editorial board, made up of east coast liberals, Maduro’s government has never been socialist. Instead, it is an “autocratic populist government.” In fact, nowhere in their entire editorial do the words “socialism,” “communism,” or “Marxism” appear, even though it has been those exact ideologies that has shaped the decisions of Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez. In fact, until recently the liberals on the Washington Post editorial board would have likely celebrated the socialist revolution in Venezuela, begun by Chavez. Their leftwing comrades throughout modern intellectual circles surely did.

With petrodollars pouring in, Chavez had free rein to put his statist prescriptions into effect. The so-called Bolivarian revolution over which he — and later his handpicked successor, Nicolas Maduro — presided, was an unfettered, real-world example of anticapitalist socialism in action. Venezuela since at least the 1970s had been Latin America’s most affluent nation. Now it was a showpiece for command-and-control economics: price and currency controls, wealth redistribution, ramped-up government spending, expropriation of land, and the nationalization of private banks, mines, and oil companies.

And the useful idiots ate it up.

In a Salon piece titled “Hugo Chavez’s economic miracle,” David Sirota declared that the Venezuelan ruler, with his “full-throated advocacy of socialism,” had “racked up an economic record that . . . American president[s] could only dream of achieving.” The Guardian offered “Three cheers for Chavez.” Moviemaker Oliver Stone filmed a documentary gushing over “the positive changes that have happened economically in all of South America” because of Venezuela’s socialist government. And when Chavez died in 2013, Jimmy Carter extolled the strongman for “improving the lives of millions of his fellow countrymen.”

Now that this socialist “economic miracle” has failed, as socialist economic miracles always do, the useful idiots on the Washington Post’s editorial board have suddenly realized that it was never Marxist ideology that moved Chavez and Maduro, but an “autocratic populist government.” The intellectual dishonesty here is amazing. Worse, however, is how typical it has become. Western intellectuals, the so-called elites of our society, have developed an uncanny ability to fool themselves. They are never wrong. Instead, they simply change the facts to protect their shallow leftist beliefs.

Nonetheless, Marxist leftwing ideology did destroy Venezuela, just as it destroyed Russia and Eastern Europe, and just as it is destroying the big urban cities of the United States, all ruled by increasingly leftist Democratic politicians whose only goal is to emulate Hugo Chavez and bring his “economic miracle” to their cities.

The great tragedy is that these leftist Democratic politicians in America’s big cities will likely succeed, because our so-called intellectual community, like those on the Washington Post’s editorial board, are willing to blind themselves to the truth.

Remember this the next time they try to tell you how evil Trump and the Republicans in Congress are. They are lying, not just to you, but to themselves.

Lobbying for the Moon

Several news articles in the past few days, partly fueled by the make-up of some of the new members of Trump’s NASA transition team, have exhibited a strong push to get the new administration to restart the Bush administration’s goal of returning to the Moon.

All of this might happen. What these stories suggest to me is that the big contractors, Boeing and Lockheed Martin who are building SLS and Orion, are pushing the new administration to give this rocket and capsule a mission, something it presently does not have. At the same time, the stories might also indicate some of Trump’s typical and very smart negotiation tactics. Unlike Obama, who never knew how to play the game, Trump appears to understand that if he is going to institute major changes in NASA’s future projects, he needs to get Congress to agree.

Rather than eliminate SLS and Orion right off the bat, as Obama tried to do when he unilaterally cancelled Constellation, Trump could offer the Moon to Congress as an interim goal for this giant rocket and capsule. This was what both were really designed for initially, as they are essentially modern copies of the Saturn 5 and the Apollo capsule. In exchange, Trump could then get Congress to place more emphasis on commercial space needs, getting the competing privately built capsules and new cargo vessels (Dragon, Starliner, and Dream Chaser) better funded and built faster. He could also propose that NASA encourage private companies to compete to design and build lunar orbiting facilities, ideas that both Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Orbital ATK have been pushing now for several years.

I should note that giving a lunar goal to SLS/Orion does not mean that the program will get bigger or last significantly longer. Congress could simply fund one or two more missions through 2024. By that time, the competing successes of private space will make it very clear that this boondoggle is not the way to go into the future. By then, the new commercial space industry will have also grown enough that Congress will have no problem letting this industry replace SLS/Orion, and will thus have less objections in letting that program die.

I must also emphasize that I am speculating here. It is probably a bit soon to predict what a Trump administration will do with NASA and space. The signs however are pointing in this direction.

Mars rover update: December 22, 2016

Curiosity

Curiosity's location, Sol 1555

For the overall context of Curiosity’s travels, see Pinpointing Curiosity’s location in Gale Crater.

After weeks of drill diagnostics and enforced lack of travel while those diagnostics were on-going, Curiosity finally moved last weekend (Sol 1553). The traverse map to the right, cropped and reduced in resolution to show here, indicates where they went, which wasn’t far and doesn’t really tell us yet which route they plan to take to pick their way through the surrounding dune fields. Thus, the options I indicated in my November 14, 2016 rover update all remain possible. If you go to that update you can see a much better Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) overhead image showing the upcoming terrain.

In the meantime, the Curiosity science team is preparing to take a well deserved Christmas-New Year’s break (see update for sols 1566-1568). So that Curiosity doesn’t sit idle during that time, they have uploaded to it an 8-sol plan to cover December 22 to December 30 followed by a 3-sol plan from December 31 to January 2. The rover will not move during this period, but will take lots of different observations in situ.

As they note rightly at the link above, “It’s been quite the year for our rover: we have drilled six holes, performed two scoops, driven 3 km, and climbed 85 vertical meters!” What is more significant is that the best is yet to come!

Opportunity

For the overall context of Opportunity’s travels at Endeavour Crater, see Opportunity’s future travels on Mars.
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The squealing of pigs

Back in October 2010, just days before the mid-term elections, I wrote the following:

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that, come Tuesday, the Republicans take both houses, in a stunning landslide not seen in more than a century. Let’s also assume that the changes in Congress are going to point decidedly away from the recent liberal policies of large government (by both parties). Instead, every indication suggests that the new Congress will lean heavily towards a return to the principles of small government, low taxes, and less regulation.

These assumptions are not unreasonable. Not only do the polls indicate that one or both of the houses of Congress will switch from Democratic to Republican control, the numerous and unexpected primary upsets of established incumbents from both parties — as well the many protests over the past year by large numbers of ordinary citizens — make it clear that the public is not interested in half measures. Come January, the tone and direction of Congress is going to undergo a shocking change.

Anyway, based on these assumptions, we should then expect next year’s Congress to propose unprecedented cuts to the federal budget, including the elimination of many hallowed programs. The recent calls to defund NPR and the Corporation for Public Broadcastings are only one example.

When Congress attempts this, however, the vested interests that have depended on this funding for decades are not going to take the cuts lightly. Or to put it more bluntly, they are going to squeal like pigs, throwing temper tantrums so loud and insane that they will make the complaints of a typical three-year-old seem truly statesman-like. And they will do so in the hope that they will garner sympathy and support from the general voting public, thereby making the cuts difficult to carry out.

The real question then is not whether the new Congress will propose the cuts required to bring the federal government under control, but whether they, as well as the public, will have the courage to follow through, to defy the howls from these spoiled brats, and do what must be done.

The legislative situation with NASA over the summer and fall might give us a hint about whether the next Congress will have the courage to make the cuts that are necessary. In this case Obama actually proposed doing something close to what conservatives have dreamed of for decades: take NASA (and the government) out of the business of building rockets and spacecraft and pass it over to the private sector.

Moreover, despite the strong dislike the right has for Obama and his leftist policies, many conservative pundits both inside and outside of the space activist community publicly supported the President in this effort.

Nonetheless, these policies were not accepted by Congress. Instead, the legislative body passed an authorization bill that requires NASA to build a new heavy-lift rocket and the manned capsule to go with it. Congress did this partly for national security reasons, but mostly because they wanted to protect the jobs in Houston, Florida, and elsewhere that NASA provides, and thus bring home the bacon to their constituents. And they did this because those constituents had squealed at them about the threatened loss of funding.

In other words, elected officials from both parties had teamed up to authorize this pork-laden program in order to keep the pigs quiet. In other words, NASA’s legislative history this past year does not give us an encouraging view of the future. It appears that Congress will give us the same-old same-old, when asked.

More than six years have passed, and my analysis of the situation in 2010 appears almost perfect. While the Republicans did not win both houses of Congress in 2010, they did in 2014. Despite these victories from voters who clearly wanted them to cut back on the power of government, they did exactly what I expected, based on their actions in connection with NASA and SLS: maintain the pork and chicken out whenever challenged by Obama, the Democrats, the press (I repeat myself), and too many spoiled members of the general public.

After the 2016 elections, things have moved even more to the right. The Republicans not only control both houses of Congress, they have a Republican president (though a very unpredictable one) and the leftwing mainstream press has been discredited and no longer monopolizes the distribution of information. What will happen in the coming years?
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Mars rover update: December 8, 2016

Curiosity

Mars' dusty sky

For the overall context of Curiosity’s travels, see Pinpointing Curiosity’s location in Gale Crater.

Since my last rover update on November 14th, Curiosity moved relatively little. They drove a short distance to the southeast to a point where they wanted to drill, but have not moved from this location for the past two weeks because of drill issues.

While the engineers study the drill problem, which requires them to not move either the rover or the drill arm, the scientists have still used Curiosity to take images of the dust in the sky, to take hourly images of the dust on the ground (to see how it is changed by the wind), and to take images of nearby interesting nearby features (below the fold).
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Canyoneering in Death Valley

Slabby Acres

This past Thanksgiving weekend I joined some caving and canyoneering friends in Death Valley to celebrate the holiday in the great outdoors as well as explore some of the park’s more inaccessible canyons. We did not camp in the park, since campfires are not allowed and the park has a size limit for groups. Instead, we camped on BLM land just outside the park, in what appeared to be an abandoned RV trailer park that canyoneerers call Slabby Acres.

First a primer. Regular readers will know that I have been doing cave exploration and mapping now for about thirty years. This recreational activity not only involves knowing how to use survey instruments in a cave, you need also to be trained in the vertical rope techniques required to reach some remote places underground, sometimes dropping multiple pits on the way in and climbing those same domes on the way out.

Canyoneering is somewhat similar to caving. Just like caving you need to know how to travel over boulders and rough terrain and also know how to rappel and climb ropes. Unlike caving the canyons are open to the sky, and you rarely climb the ropes to travel up the canyon. In canyoneering the goal is to find the head of the canyon and travel down its many drops to come out at the bottom safely, all the while getting to see some wild, majestic, and rarely seen places. In addition, modern canyoneering rarely involves virgin exploration. Most canyoneerers visit already explored canyons whose details are well documented so that they know what ropes to bring as well as how to find the canyons.

This was our goal this past weekend. Some of the western cavers who have joined my survey projects and learned how to cave survey are also active canyoneerers. While none of us had ever visited the canyons on our trip list, several were very experienced with finding and traversing places they had never been before. My plan was to follow them and enjoy the experience. Below are my pictures during one of this weekend’s canyoneering trips. The canyon is Scorpion Canyon. It was the first we visited and was relatively easy to do, only 4.6 miles long with only six rappels and only an 1,800 foot elevation drop. It would take us over one of the mountain ranges that form the eastern wall of Death Valley. In fact, this was how I was going to enter Death Valley for the first time. Rather than drive in, like most tourists, I would rappel in.
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NASA global warming advocate Gavin Schmidt fights back

The head of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS), Gavin Schmidt, declared in a newspaper interview on Thursday that “Global warming doesn’t care about the election.”

The science community and environmental campaigners in the US have already begun efforts to persuade Mr Trump that climate change is actually real before he takes office next year. Dr Gavin Schmidt, the director of Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, signalled they would have allies among the federal science agencies. He tweeted a graph including new data from Nasa showing that last month was the second warmest October on record, putting 2016 firmly on course to be the warmest year. “No surprise here, planetary warming does not care about the election,” he wrote.

I would not be surprised if Schmidt ends up getting fired by Trump. His monthly graphs showing each month to be the hottest on record, such as the one he tweeted in the quote above, have been absurd campaigning, not science. For one thing, the differences from month to month have been in the hundredths of a degrees, well within the margins of error and essentially insignificant in value. To claim that his data has determined the “hottest” month on record from this is demonstrating that he is not a scientist, but a political activist.

Gavin Schmidt vs the satellite data

Secondly, his data is not trustworthy to begin with. Schmidt has been in charge of all of the data tampering at NASA that has consistently altered the decades-old surface temperature record — without any clear scientific justification — to cool the past and warm the present so that the amount of warming is emphasized. While his graphs show the climate to be warming, based on surface data that he has been adjusting, the satellite data that NASA gathers that he (a NASA scientist) generally ignores, does not. The image to the right illustrates this, and shows that the divergence between his adjusted surface data and the satellite data has been increasing steadily over the years.

I fully expect Schmidt and the other global warming scientists in NASA and NOAA to team up with the press, as Schmidt does here, to defy Trump. Whether Trump will have the courage to fight back, something no Republican has been willing to do for decades, will be the key question.

Mars rover update: November 14, 2016

Curiosity

Curiosity looking south, Sol 1516

For the overall context of Curiosity’s travels, see Pinpointing Curiosity’s location in Gale Crater.

Since my last update on November 3rd, Curiosity has reached the region of sand dunes and has started to pick its way through it. The panorama above was created using images from the rover’s left navigation camera, taken on Sol 1516. It looks south, with Mount Sharp rising on the left.

That same day Curiosity also used its mast camera to zoom in on the canyon gap in the center of the panorama. The first image below is the wider mast camera shot, with the an outline showing the even closer zoom-in below that.
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The moderate Democrat wins

It appears that Donald Trump has won what I have been calling the November Democratic primary, and will take the office of President of the United States this coming January.

Will this make much difference? I am very guardedly optimistic. Trump remains at heart a moderate Democrat with mixed leanings. His experience during this campaign however has also clearly pushed him rightward, as he suddenly found himself the target of liberal hate. Moreover, the people he has been listing as possible cabinet and administration appointees during his term in office suggest a slightly right-of-center rule.

At the same time, the entrenched and corrupt culture that rules Washington and intellectual society will not accept a Trump administration meekly. They will fight any effort by him or his supporters to change that culture, or to wrest any power from it. This will be the ultimate test of Trump’s beliefs. If he truly has shifted rightward, he will fight back, and “drain the swamp” as he promised during the campaign. If however he allows his past moderate Democrat roots to take over he will back off and do what the Republican leadership has been doing for the past two decades: retreat in the face of the slightest opposition.

What makes me most hopeful that Trump will actually “drain the swamp” is that he will enter office with a solid Republican congress, made up of more true conservatives then we have ever seen. This more than anything will help keep him from wavering from his promises.

One other thought for the moment: The closeness of this election is still disturbing. Trump was not a great candidate, but Clinton was a truly corrupt one. That so many Americans were willing to look the other way even after almost three decades of documented dishonesty and lying and still give her their votes does not speak well of them. Until that basic fact changes, the American system of government remains very fragile and exposed to destruction from within.

Mars rover update: November 3, 2016

Curiosity

Post updated: See last paragraph in Curiosity section.

Curiosity location 1507

For the overall context of Curiosity’s travels, see Pinpointing Curiosity’s location in Gale Crater.

After spending almost a month on the flats south of Murray Buttes, during which the rover drilled another hole, in the past week Curiosity has finally resumed its journey south toward the slopes of Mount Sharp and the sand dune area that it must cross to get there.

Unfortunately, NASA has decided to change how it shows the rover’s progress, and these changes seem to me to be a clever and careful effort to make it more difficult for the public to make educated guesses about where the rover might be heading in the very near future. The image to the right is the cropped inset showing the rover’s recent travels that is part of a new a larger image that puts this inset in the context of the rover’s entire journey. This has replaced the wider orbital mosaic that they used to provide (see for example my September 27, 2016 rover update) that gave a very good view of the entire terrain surrounding the rover from which a reasonable estimate of its future path could be guessed.
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More climate fear-mongering

This article from the journal Nature yesterday, Climate change could flip Mediterranean lands to desert, about a new Science journal paper, is very typical of too much of the climate research and reporting these days.

First, they outline the coming and certain disaster:

Maintaining the historic ranges of the region’s ecosystems would require limiting warming to just 1.5 ºC, by making substantial cuts to the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions, the analysis concludes. Otherwise, the vegetation and ecosystems of the Mediterranean basin will shift as temperatures rise. Increasing desertification in southern Europe is just one of the changes that would result. “Everything is moving in parallel. Shrubby vegetation will move into the deciduous forests, while the forests move to higher elevation in the mountains,” says Joel Guiot, a palaeoclimatologist at the European Centre for Geoscience Research and Education in Aix-en-Provence, France, and lead author of the study.

Then they point out the necessary political solution, which of course requires us to agree to an odious international agreement that will limit our individual freedoms and give more power to international governments:

“I like that they’re doing this comparison across different warming scenarios in line with the Paris agreement, to start to gauge the sensitivity to them,” says Benjamin Cook, a climate scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City. The study confirms the vulnerability of many ecosystems, and could guide policymakers’ efforts to help natural systems adapt to climate change, says Patrick Gonzalez, principal climate-change scientist at the US National Park Service based at the University of California, Berkeley. “This study shows how essential it is for nations to meet their Paris commitments.”

Only at the very end of the article, almost as an aside, do they note these inconvenient facts about the limitations of the paper (which also happens to be based entirely on computer models):
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More madness from our intellectual betters

Below is another collection of links I have been gathering since last week, illustrating the intellectual bankruptcy that presently dominates American society and the so-called elite culture that is supposed to lead us.

I wish I could say that these stories are the exceptions that prove freedom and the demand from western civilization that we always seek the truth is still thriving in America, but if I did I’d be lying. These stories reflect the close-minded and oppressive attitude that is permeating our intellectual climate and is acting to squelch freedom and the ability of people to express alternative points of view.

The first three stories illustrate the hate of western civilization that dominates modern intellectual culture. The last three stories illustrate its close-mindedness. For example, consider the James Madison University speech guide:

Student leaders of this year’s freshman orientation at James Madison University were given a list of 35 things they should avoid saying, including phrases such as “you have such a pretty face,” “love the sinner, hate the sin,” “we’re all part of the human race,” “I treat all people the same,” “it was only a joke,” “I never owned slaves,” and “people just need to pick themselves up by their bootstraps,” among other expressions.

Meanwhile, a police chief (who happens to be black) is banned from speaking about the use of forensics in police work because he has had the nerve to publicly criticize the racist Black Lives Movement. We can’t have that!

The worst aspect of these stories is the lack of resistance to these totalitarian measures. If I was attending James Madison University, my response to that speech guide would be to start wearing t-shirts with those banned phrases blazoned across the front, while chalking those phrases everywhere on sidewalks. I do not get the sense that today’s students have the same courage. In fact, the story on trigger warnings suggests that today’s students are wholly in favor of this oppression, and get upset if anyone dares express a dissenting view to them.

Mars rover update: October 6, 2016

Curiosity

Post updated. See last paragraph of Curiosity section.

For the overall context of Curiosity’s travels, see Pinpointing Curiosity’s location in Gale Crater.

Curiosity looking west, Sol 1475

Having moved south from Murray Buttes, the Curiosity science team has decided [see Sol 1473] that they will veer the rover to the southwest a bit, partly to check out some interesting features but also I think as part of a long term plan to find the best route through an area of sand dunes that blocks their path to the more interesting landscape at the base of Mount Sharp. The panorama above, created by me from images taken by the rover’s mast camera on Sol 1475, was taken to scope out this route, and is indicated below the fold in the overview released earlier this week by the rover science team and annotated by me to indicate the direction of this panorama as well as the rover’s present location. (Be sure to click on the panorama above to see it at full resolution.)
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The childishness sweeping America

I find it incredibly depressing to repeatedly post the number of crazy, insane stories I read each day that document the descent into fascism that I see happening in the United States. So, this week, rather than post them as I found them, I have been accumulating them to post them all at once. I do this partly to save my own sanity, but more importantly to lend impact to them all. These stories illustrate the childishness and immaturity of too many Americans who unfortunately are also being given too much power and undeserved respect.

Quite simply, the behavior illustrated by all these links as that of a bunch of spoiled brats, throwing temper tantrums because they aren’t getting their way. Unfortunately, these brats also generally control our culture today, so no one is allowed to call them for what they are. If you do, you will get slammed, verbally, financially, and even violently. (Note that I once worked in academia, and do so no longer. I leave it to my readers to guess why.)

The video below the fold, from the third link above, nicely illustrates the immaturity and intolerance shown by all these stories. Watch as a tattooed student with a weird hairdo (proving she must be for diversity!) rips down the announcements of an event she simply considers “offensive.” The event was a lecture being given by Christina Hoff Sommers entitled “Where feminism went wrong.” The student is offended that anyone would suggest such a thing, and therefore it must not happen! (I guess some diversity isn’t allowed.)

I also encourage everyone to watch the video at the seventh link, second from the bottom. If you can stomach it, you will see a stark illustration of the hate that moves these children.

The worst aspect of all these stories is how this childish intolerant behavior is becoming increasingly violent and aggressive. Unfortunately, our society does not seem to know how to stop it, and thus I expect it to only grow worse in the coming years, no matter who wins this coming election.
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