Category Archives: Points of Information

An update on XCOR’s Lynx suborbital craft

The competition heats up: According to one XCOR official, its first Lynx suborbital spacecraft is 6 to 9 months from launch.

Peck estimated that XCOR is six to nine months away from the Lynx 1’s first flight. The main structure is complete and the wing mounts are being made. Once the craft is put together, the team in Mojave will do ground testing at the Mojave Air & Space Port. Peck cited the longer runway at Mojave and the ability to do extensive testing there without shutting down a commercial airport as reasons for doing the test back in California. …

As the Lynx 1 approaches completion, the team is already starting to work on components for the Lynx 2, according to Peck. Peck described the Lynx 1 as a testing vehicle, while the Lynx 2 will be the vehicle that first transports paying customers into suborbital space. The Lynx 3 will be similar to the 2 except that it will have a dorsal pod to carry experiments and microsatellites. [emphasis mine]

I know many space activists have been repeatedly annoyed at me for my continued skepticism of XCOR, but the highlighted news above, that the Lynx craft under construction is only a test vehicle, illustrates why I am skeptical. Until now XCOR has never stated publicly that this Lynx craft was only for testing. Instead, their press releases and public comments have implied that after testing it would be used for paying passengers.

Then there is this: Their last press release update about Lynx’s construction is no longer available on the web. Nor are other press releases. In my experience, legitimate companies do not put their press releases into the memory hole, they keep them available because they help generate publicity. Companies that make them vanish, however, are usually hiding something, and are also generally the companies that in the end do not accomplish what those press releases promise.

Back in 2012 XCOR promised that Lynx would begin test flights that year. They did not. Delays like this are understandable, and are not a reason by itself to be skeptical. Repeated failures to deliver promises however are reasons to be skeptical. For example, they first announced Lynx to great fanfare in 2008, saying then that they hoped to be flying in two years. I did not believe it then, and I was right.

I truly want XCOR to succeed, but I also am not willing to be a PR hack for them. They need to do it for me to believe them.

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Oregon forest fires blamed on federal ban on logging

We’re here to help you! The logging industry is blaming the increased number of severe forest fires in Oregon during the past three years on the federal ban on logging in federal forests.

Logging on federal lands was first limited in the early 90’s. More severe limits on logging on any roadless federal land were then passed by President Bill Clinton in 2000, essentially ending the practice on federal lands.

[Andrew Miller, CEO of Stimson Lumber, one of the state’s largest lumber companies] said this was a huge mistake. “As soon as the ban on logging took effect, fire conditions worsened,” he said. “Four or five years after the ban was put in place fires started to really ramp up.” The reason for the increase is simple, he said. When logging in these areas stopped, more and more trees began to fill the lands. These trees, particularly ones that have died and become dried out, rather than be chopped down by a logging company, give the fire easily combustible fuel. “Once logging was stopped the forests got older and older and more and more trees died off,” Miller said.

The article is well written, and includes a response by a Forest Service official, who dismissed the lack of logging as the cause and instead blamed the increase in fires to extreme weather and less snowfall in the western states.

I am willing to bet that a close look at the weather in the Northwest will find that the only extreme weather they have seen in the past three years has been snow, contradicting the Forest Service official’s claim. I do not know this, and could easily be wrong, but I am still willing to bet.

“SJW zealots proved their commitment to tolerance, openness and variety by vowing not to read a work found on [an opposing] slate under any circumstances.”

The story describes the battle this year in the science fiction field between Social Justice Warriors (SJW) — leftwing ideologues who want to limit the books that win the Hugo Awards to only those that support leftwing identity politics — and a slate of science fiction authors who oppose this intolerant attitude and wanted to get the Hugos opened up to a wider range of ideas.

This quote sums up the attitudes of the left quite nicely:

The facts of this case are the same as in gaming and in every other industry that social justice warriors touch. They do not care about art forms. They do not care about science fiction. They do not even particularly care about talent. They care about enriching and ennobling themselves and their friends, and pushing a twisted, discredited, divisive brand of authoritarian politics.

In politics, in the environment, in science, and in any number of other important fields in today’s society, the left really has no interest in achieving its stated goals. (Just read this one report about the EPA’s mine disaster in Colorado, for example.) Instead, the goal is power, and control, and gaining the ability to dictate how others shall live their lives — even if it destroys everything else in the process.

When Americans finally understand this, they might finally choose to throw these thugs out of power. Until then, however, expect them to continue their scorched Earth policy of destroying innocent people, because they can.

Two years from today a total eclipse will cross the U.S.

Start making your plans! The Great American solar eclipse will take place two years from today.

Aug. 21, 2017, will mark the first time this century, and the first time since 1979, that a total solar eclipse will cross the contiguous (lower 48) United States (Alaska had its turn in 1990; Hawaii in 1991). And for the very first time, the shadow track — better known as the “path of totality” — will sweep only over the United States and no other country, leading some people to refer to this upcoming event as “The Great American Eclipse.”

Many Americans taking full advantage of this event’s close proximity to their homes will have a golden opportunity to witness firsthand one of the most beautiful and most exciting of nature’s sky events. The total eclipse will be seen by an estimated 12 million people who fortuitously live within the totality path.  However, the number of people who are within just one day’s drive of the totality zone is probably around 200 million.

Iran: We “reject the existence of any Israeli on this Earth.”

Hey, let’s sign a deal wth them allowing them to build nuclear weapons! A major Iranian official made it clear this week that his nation remains committed in destroying Israel, and all the Jews that live there.

Hussein Sheikholeslam, a senior adviser to Iran’s Speaker of Parliament, told the Hamas-affiliated newspaper al-Resalah that Tehran “reject[s] the existence of any Israeli on this earth,” a position he says Iran relayed to the P5+1 powers during the nuclear negotiations, The Times of Israel reported Wednesday. According to Sheikholeslam, Iran “will do everything to renew” its support for Hamas, which Tehran lessened in retaliation to the Sunni group’s opposition to the regime of Bashar al-Assad after the outbreak of the Syrian civil war.

Sheikholeslam’s comments are the latest in a series of threats issued against Israel by Iran since the Islamic Republic signed a nuclear agreement with the P5+1 powers last month.

There’s really not much to say, except to note the mental bankruptcy of any American politician who decides to support Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran.

The one climate prediction that has come true

Fraud at NOAA: Several years ago Steve Goddard predicted that, no matter what the temperature records told us, NOAA scientists would begin to declare every month the hottest on record. It turns out he was 100% right!

Be sure and look at the next to last graph at the link. It shows the increasing difference between the raw, unadjusted temperature data and the adjustments made by NOAA scientists. Not surprisingly, the adjustments all increase the trend towards warming, and have been doing so more and more with each year. Nothing can justify such adjustments, under any rational scientific argument. These guys are either incompetent, stooges for their political bosses, or political hacks. Or all three.

Posted on the outskirts of Phoenix.

Making excuses for moden Islamic slavery

The bankrupt academic community: In this op-ed, Islamic expert Robert Spencer describes a typical example of a different Harvard professor finding excuses for recent examples of slavery in Islamic countries, including somehow equating the slavery we abolished 150 years ago with slavery that Islamists are proudly doing now.

As Spencer notes, this type of blindness to evil is not unique to our modern leftwing academic community. You would almost think they actually support Islamic slavery. Or maybe they hate western civilization and its concepts of freedom and personal responsibility so much they are willing to support any evil that opposes it. Either way, they have become a sort of fifth column within the U.S., doing whatever they can to weaken out ability to fight this evil.

Posted on the road north to Prescott, Arizona.

Update: The post has been rewritten slightly to make it clearer that Robert Spencer is not the Harvard professor making excuses for Islam, but someone who is observing the blindness. I have also corrected my misspelling of Spencer’s name. I was typing in a car, on a tiny tablet. Hat tip Ted.

Florida demands real skim milk be declared “imitation” because nothing was added to it.

You can’t make this stuff up! An all-natural creamery in Florida has been forced to destroy rather than sell its skim milk because the state’s agriculture department wants them to either artificially add vitamins or label the skim milk “imitation”, even though it came directly from the cow.

Webster’s dictionary defines skim milk as simply “milk from which cream has been removed,” with no mention of added vitamins. But Department lawyer Ashley Davis told a judge consumers expect whole milk and skim milk to have the same nutritional value and that the Wesselhoefts’ skim milk is nutritionally inferior because vitamins are removed when the milk fat is removed. “Ocheessee’s product is imitating — literally imitating — skim milk,” Davis said.

Judge Robert Hinkle said he’s not so sure consumers expect skim milk to have the same nutritional value as whole milk. “You know something’s been removed in order to make it skim milk,” he said. Hinkle also seemed to have problems with the word imitation. “It’s hard to call this imitation milk. It came right out of the cow,” Hinkle said. “Anyone who reads imitation skim milk would think it didn’t come out of a cow.” [emphasis in original]

The article also describes the story of a sausage company destroyed by similar absurd regulations.

The next Lois Lerner, this time at the Federal Election Commission

Working for the Democratic Party: The chairwoman of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) has voiced support for Lois Lerner’s harassment of conservatives at the IRS, and wants to wield her agency’s power in the same manner.

[Critics] take special aim at the commission’s Democratic chairwoman, Ann Ravel, who also served as chairwoman of California’s equivalent to the FEC, the Fair Political Practices Commission, before coming to Washington in 2013. Ravel has lambasted the commission as “dysfunctional” because votes on enforcement issues have often resulted in ties, and she has said the commission should go beyond its role of enforcing election laws by doing more to get women and minorities elected to political office. She has complained that super PACs are “95 percent run by white men,” and that as a result, “the people who get the money are generally also white men.”

To remedy those problems, Ravel sponsored a forum at the FEC in June to talk about getting more women involved in the political process. She has also proposed broadening disclosure laws to diminish the role of outside spending, and suggested that the FEC should claim authority to regulate political content on the Web. She’s also voiced support for eliminating one member of the commission in order to create a partisan majority that doesn’t have tie votes, saying in an interview with Roll Call, “I think it would help.”

In other words, she doesn’t like how Americans vote, and wants to change the results, by any means necessary.

Her partisan willingness to use the FEC to influence elections, something it is fundamentally not supposed to do, illustrates an important aspect of the IRS scandal. Obama might be leading the way in using the government to squelch any political opposition, but he couldn’t do it if he didn’t have the support of a lot of individuals within the government, both political appointees and civil service workers.

I have a saying: “It is the audience that counts.” Having someone in charge demanding action means nothing if he or she doesn’t have a legion of supporters willing to back him or her up. It appears the fascist beliefs of many leaders in the Democratic Party and in leftwing academic circles do have that legion of supporters. We who believe in freedom and democracy had better recognize this at some point, since an unwillingness to do so (as illustrated by the Republican leadership) will only allow these fascists to gain more power.

Oldest message-in-a-bottle found after 108 years

A bottle launched to sea as part of a scientific experiment in the early 20th century has been found by a couple in Germany, 108 years after it was deployed.

When the couple unfurled the note inside, they found a message in English, German and Dutch. It asked the finder to fill in some information on where and when they had found the bottle, before returning it to the Marine Biological Association in Plymouth. It said whoever did so would be rewarded with one shilling.

Communications director of the Marine Biological Association, Guy Baker, told The Daily Telegraph: “It was quite a stir when we opened that envelope, as you can imagine.” Once at the association, staff recognised the bottle was one of 1,020 released into the North Sea between 1904 and 1906 as part of a project to test the strength of currents. Mr Baker told the paper: “It was a time when they were inventing ways to investigate what currents and fish did. Many of the bottles were found by fishermen trawling with deep sea nets. Others washed up on the shore, and some were never recovered. Most of the bottles were found within a relatively short time. We’re talking months rather than decades.”

True to their word, the association sent a shilling to the couple as the promised payment.

Whiskey in space!

An experiment to test how whiskey ages in weightlessness is about to begin on ISS.

H-II Transfer Vehicle No. 5, commonly known as “Kounotori5” or HTV5, was launched on Wednesday from JAXA’s Tanegashima Space Center carrying alcohol beverages produced by Suntory to the Japanese Experiment Module aboard the International Space Station, where experiments on the “development of mellowness” will be conducted for a period of about one year in Group 1 and for two or more years (undecided) in Group 2.

Don’t worry, the astronauts on ISS won’t be getting drunk. After the test period is complete the samples will then returned to Earth, untasted, where they will then be compared with control samples.

Eight telescope protesters arrested on road to summit of Haleakala on Maui

Police arrested 8 protesters on Thursday attempting to block trucks delivering construction materials for the new Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST) under construction since 2012 on the summit of Haleakala on the island of Maui in Hawaii.

One of those arrested has been a leader of the protests at Mauna Kea against the Thirty Meter Telescope.

The Hawaii state government continues to waffle on what it is going to do. Either they will make sure that construction of these telescopes can proceed, as per the agreements made after years of negotiation, or they are going to bow to a handful of protesters. Right now it appears that it can’t seem to make up its mind.

Meanwhile, if these protesters really have the support of a majority of Hawaiians, then astronomy in Hawaii is doomed.

Cassini’s last close-up images of Dionne

Dionne on August 17, 2015

Cool image time! NASA has released images from Cassini’s Monday close fly-by of Saturn’s moon Dionne.

The press release itself did not include any of the close-ups for some reasons. You have to dig for them at the site. Go here, here, here, and here to see a few of more interesting, the first of which is a global view taken just before the fly-by. The second is the highest resolution image, with a resolution 10 feet per pixel. The third shows the nighttime surface lit entirely by reflected light from Saturn. The fourth, shown on the right, was taken from an altitude of 470 miles with a resolution of 150 feet to the pixel. It shows the moon’s rolling, pock-marked, and cratered surface, to the horizon.

Cruz’s good positioning in campaign recognized by more pundits

It seems I am not the only person who has recognized the smart way Ted Cruz has positioned himself in the on-going presidential campaign.

This article notes that because of Cruz’s clever work, the Republican establishment might find themselves forced to choose between Cruz and Trump, and in that case they will go with Cruz.

By this point, we might be close to the March 1 “Super Tuesday” primaries, most of which will take place in Deep South states where Cruz has trained his focus toward developing strength. He’s been outshone by Trump in most of them to date, but Cruz is building more organization in those states than any other candidate.

We could see a situation where Trump is ahead on the strength of his performance in the early states and still leads in the polls, though he might have commenced fading in the face of the various challenges befalling a presidential candidate and the terror gripping the party of having to nominate a bull-in-a-China-shop like the real estate magnate has not subsided. But while the establishment might believe Trump is beatable, they could be without candidates to beat him. And at that juncture, the unthinkable might become inevitable; namely, that the RINO/Chamber of Commerce GOP establishment might well see Ted Cruz as their only hope to stop Donald Trump from getting the Republican nomination.

The first paragraph in the quote above makes note of something I noticed clearly last week: While the other candidates have been spending a lot of time playing to the cameras, Cruz instead completed a recent campaign swing through the south to prep his campaign for those March 1 “Super Tuesday” primaries, what some are calling SEC primary because so many of them are located in the south. No one else seems to be prepping for this as he is.

Nor is this article the only analysis that has noticed this. Read this commentary of the above article at Hotair. While more skeptical, the author notes, as I do, that in the end the Republican voter is going to go with the more reliable conservative candidate. And that candidate is neither Donald Trump nor Jeb Bush.

So yeah, the establishment would go with the professional politician if they had to decide. And conservative voters, of course, would go with the true conservative. That was the significance of yesterday’s PPP poll out of North Carolina: When given a choice between Trump and Marco Rubio or Scott Walker, righties opt for the latter despite giving Trump fairly solid marks on favorability. Meanwhile, undecideds would line up behind the professional pol, knowing that he’d be less likely to alienate swing voters with his rhetoric in the general election and therefore would be more electable. And even some Trump fans, satisfied that the true RINOs in the race like Jeb Bush had been eliminated, would switch to Cruz knowing that he’s as anti-establishment in his own way as Trump is. I think Cruz wins the war with Trump easily.

A calculator beats IPCC supercomputer models in predicting climate

IPCC computer models vs observations

The uncertainty of science: A simple climate model [pdf], designed to run on a calculator and not relying on the premise that man-made carbon dioxide is causing global warming, appears more accurate at predicting the climate than the high-powered supercomputer models of the IPCC.

The current climate models fueling belief in manmade global warming do have fairly good “fit” to the data on which they were tested. However, the predictivity isn’t that great – see the recent warming “pause” or have a look at the figure above. They’re also hella complex, requiring thousands of hours of supercomputer computations.

Early this year, Christopher Monckton of Brenchley, Willie Soon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, David Legates of the University of Delaware, and Matt Briggs, “Statistician to the Stars” and sometimes PJM contributor, published a paper in Science Bulletin (the Chinese equivalent of Science) entitled “Why models run hot: results from an irreducibly simple climate model”.

They took a different approach. Observing the issues with the current climate models, they constructed a very simple model working from first principles. “Irreducibly” here means “it can’t get simpler and reflect basic physics.” … This model is about one step advanced from a “back of the envelope” calculation, since it requires taking a natural logarithm as well as some multiplication, but it’s easily done with a scientific calculator — or even a slide rule.

But it models actual temperature observations better than the complex models. [emphasis in original]

The figure on the right is from the new Monckton paper, and shows the utter failure of every complex global-warming climate model to predict the global climate for the past 35 years. Whether this new very simple model is more accurate than these supercomputer models, however, remains to be seen, but their work definitely points out the uncertainty and failure of the present theories to explain the climate. They simply don’t do so, and thus are not a useful tool for gauging what we should do about the climate, if anything. As the writers of the simple model conclude,

The general-circulation models now face a crisis of credibility. Not one of them predicted a stasis of as long as 18 years 6 months in global temperatures. Indeed, it is often stated that periods [greater than] 15 years without warming are inconsistent with models’ predictions. For instance, [two IPCC papers] state: ‘‘The simulations rule out (at the 95 % level) zero trends for intervals of 15 year or more, suggesting that an observed absence of warming of this duration is needed to create a discrepancy with the expected present-day warming rate’’.

The models relied upon in [the IPCC reports] predicted twice as much warming from 1990 to 2014 as has been observed. All models predicted a warming rate in the crucial tropical mid-troposphere considerably in excess of observation. It is no longer credible to ignore these ever-widening discrepancies between prediction and observation. IPCC itself has recognized that, at least as far as medium-term prediction is concerned, the models have failed, raising the legitimate question whether the longer-term predictions may also have been exaggerated, perhaps as greatly as the medium-term predictions.

As I say over and over again, the science of climate is incredibly complex and uncertain. No one yet understands fully how the Earth’s climate functions, and anyone who claims they do is either an ignorant fool or an outright liar. Keep that in mind as this presidential election cycle unfolds and candidates are challenged by the mainstream press (made up mostly of ignorant fools and outright liars) to comment on man-made global warming.

Ecologists try to control reporting of their presentations

At its annual conference last week, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) demanded that audience members not tweet about presentations unless given permission by the speaker.

The request to gain consent from speakers before tweeting about their presentations rankled many. In a blog post, Terry Wheeler, an entomologist at McGill University in Quebec, Canada, said that ESA was “taking a step backward” from its open social-media policy of past years. But Liza Lester, a communications officer at ESA, says that the society supports tweeting at conferences and did not intend to change its stance. “It was a misunderstanding,” she says.

Writing on the Lyman Entomological Museum blog, Wheeler says that the Twitter restriction caused a lot of frustration among ESA meeting attendees and long-distance observers, who wondered why there was such a lull in social-media chatter. He notes that the last-minute announcement differs from the code of conduct printed in the conference programme, which says that attendees cannot take photographs of slides or posters without permission and that they should avoid posting online “detailed information from presentations.” Those restrictions, he writes, seem reasonable. But the policy in the programme made no mention of requiring permission to live-tweet.

For members of this science organization the restrictions might rankle, but as fellow scientists they will feel some compulsion to obey. However, science conferences like this normally encourage journalists to attend, and if so, such restrictions are garbage. If I was there as a journalist, I would tweet, photograph, and post reports on my webpage to my heart’s content, ignoring these absurd and unenforceable rules.

Russians consider building reusable rocket

The competition heats up: Roscosmos is studying proposals for building a reusable first stage that will use wings to return to the launchpad for later reuse.

The project draft has been created as part of Russia’s 2016-2025 space program. According to Izestia, Russia could spend over 12 billion rubles (around $180 million) on the creation of the reusable first stage before 2025. The newspaper cites space experts as saying that satellite launches could become much cheaper with the use of renewable launchers as they would allow to save millions of dollars on engines installed on the first stage of the rocket. The cost of the engines used on the current expendable launch vehicles is $10-70 million.

I’m not sure how seriously we should take this. The Russians consider lots of proposals, many times leaking the proposals to the press for any number of reasons. Most of those proposals never come to fruition.

Nonetheless, SpaceX’s effort to make its Falcon 9 first stage reusable, thus making it far less expensive than anyone else’s, is clearly influencing the Russians, as it has ULA and the Europeans. They are feeling competitive pressure, and are thus compelled to respond.

Boeing’s 747 is finally heading for retirement

After 45 years of service, Boeing’s 747, the world’s first jumbo jet, is finally facing retirement as airlines consider more modern planes for their fleets.

The plane that so audaciously changed the shape of the world is now on the wrong side of history. Airlines are retiring older 747s – JAL no longer flies them – and Boeing’s attempt at catch-up, the latest 747-8 model, has had technical problems and is selling only very slowly. The air above my garden will not be troubled by 747s for very much longer.

The article gives brief but detailed outline of the 747’s history, and why passengers and pilots still love it. I love it because of this:

The 747 was America at its proud and uncontaminated best. ‘There’s no substitute for cubic inches,’ American race drivers used to say and the 747 expresses that truth in the air. There is still residual rivalry with the upstart European Airbus. Some Americans, referring to untested new technologies, call it Scarebus. There’s an old saying: ‘If it ain’t Boeing, I ain’t going.’

A comparison to the European Concorde is illuminating. The supersonic Anglo-French plane was an elite project created for elite passengers to travel in near space with the curvature of the Earth on one hand and a glass of first growth claret on the other. The 747 was mass-market, proletarianising the jet set. It was Coke, not grand cru and it was designed by a man named Joe. Thus, the 747’s active life was about twice that of Concorde.

The modern horror story

Two stories in the news today illustrate the debased and corrupt culture of our modern leftwing society, even though neither story is about anything that society has actually done.

First there is this story out of Syria of the brutal beheading of an 82-year-old retired archaeologist by ISIS.

Mr Asaad had been detained and interrogated for over a month by the ultra-radical Sunni Muslim militants, who demanded to know where many of the ancient city’s priceless artifacts had been taken in the days before and after ISIS took control of the city. Sickening images proudly shared on social media by supporters of the terror group showed the mutilated remains of Mr Asaad chained to a railing, with his severed head – still wearing glasses – placed on the floor between his feet.

Then there is this story about the release of another undercover Planned Parenthood video.

In the latest video produced by the Center for Medical Progress, Holly O’Donnell describes a medical technician using scissors to cut through the face of a newly aborted but nearly fully developed baby boy at a Planned Parenthood facility so that his intact brain could be extracted.

Both stories describe acts of evil by evil organizations. In the first case it is the brutal murder of a scientist by Islamic fundamentalists merely because he couldn’t produce any gold or silver artifacts for them to melt down for money. In the second, it is the nonchalant dissection of a newborn baby boy, with the technician coolly declaring that this was “…the most gestated fetus and closest thing to a baby I’ve seen.”

To me, however, the real horror is not what these organizations have done, as terrible and evil as it is. The real horror is the willingness of our intellectual elite society, most of whom are liberal and Democrat, to look the other way, either to pretend these things aren’t happening (as in the case of ISIS) or to aggressively defend the organization in its behavior (as in the case of Planned Parenthood).

We all know the saying: “For evil to triumph good men need only do nothing.” In today’s society, I have increasing doubts that the people who want to do nothing about these evils are good.

Another slew of science papers retracted because of fraud

The uncertainty of peer-review: A major scientific publisher has retracted 64 articles in 10 journals after discovering that the so-called independent peer reviewers for these articles were fabricated by the authors themselves.

The cull comes after similar discoveries of ‘fake peer review’ by several other major publishers, including London-based BioMed Central, an arm of Springer, which began retracting 43 articles in March citing “reviews from fabricated reviewers”. The practice can occur when researchers submitting a paper for publication suggest reviewers, but supply contact details for them that actually route requests for review back to the researchers themselves.

Overall, this indicates an incredible amount of sloppiness and laziness in the peer-review field. In total, more than a 100 papers have been retracted, simply because the journals relied on the authors to provide them contact information for their reviewers, never bothering to contact them directly.

I suspect that these retractions are merely the tip of the iceberg. Based on the garbage papers I see published in the climate field, I will not be surprised if even more peer-review fraud is eventually discovered.

Comet 67P/C-G’s fractured surface

Rosetta scientists today published a paper describing the many different types of fractures they have identified on the surface of Comet 67P/C-G.

Ramy’s team identified three distinct settings in which the fractures occur: networks of long narrow fractures, fractures on cliffs and fractured boulders. In addition, several unique features were identified: the parallel fractures running across Hathor’s 900 m-high cliffs, an isolated 500 metre-long crevice in the Anuket region of the comet’s neck, and a 200 m-long complex crack system in Aker on the large lobe. “The fractures show a variety of morphologies and occur all over the surface and at all scales: they are found in the towering 900 m-high cliffs of Hathor right down to the surfaces of boulders a few metres across,” describes lead author M. Ramy El-Maarry from the University of Bern.

The most prevalent setting appears to be networks of narrow fractures that extend for a few metres to 250 m in length, typically on relatively flat surfaces. Interestingly, in some locations, the fractures appear to cross cut each other in polygonal patterns at angles of 90º – on Earth and Mars this is often an indicator of ice that has contracted below the surface.

While their focus is on the geology of the comet and its development as indicated by the fractures, what I see is the root cause of the comet’s eventual destruction. Its two-lobed shape is inherently unstable, and these fractures illustrate this. At some point, the comet will break apart. The fractures indicate where the first breaks might occur.

A detailed status update on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

Link here. The orbiter, which continues to send down spectacular images while acting as a workhorse communications relay for the rovers on the ground, appears to be in reasonable shape. It has enough fuel to operate into the late 2020s. The other known problems appear manageable.

Zurek said the most significant technical issue aboard MRO is in one of the spacecraft’s inertial measurement units used to determine the orbiter’s motion and orientation. Zurek said a laser inside one of the unit’s gyroscopes is showing signs of aging, and ground controllers are trying to coax the sensor along by switching to an identical backup unit.

In the meantime, engineers are working on changing the orbiter’s navigation logic to rely on star trackers in case both navigation sensors go down, Zurek said. One of the gimbals used to point MRO’s power-generating solar panels toward the sun is also sticky, a sign of age-related “arthritis” aboard the spacecraft, Zurek said.

MRO also abruptly switches to its backup “B side” computer on occasion, temporarily interrupting scientific observations for a few days each time. Zurek said the orbiter’s ground team has learned to deal with the problem, which has escaped diagnosis with a root cause.

Of course, there are always the unknown problems that haven’t yet popped up that could be devastating. Let us hope none appear soon, since NASA will not be able to send a replacement until 2022, at the earliest.

Soyuz rocket builder proposes major upgrade

The competition heats up: The head of the Russian company that builds the Soyuz rocket said today that a new upgrade of that rocket could be built and flying by 2022.

Russia’s future Soyuz-5 carrier rocket will be equipped with advanced new engines using ecology-friendly fuel, according to Alexander Kirilin. “One of the distinguishing features of the Soyuz-5 is the use of liquefied natural gas as fuel,” Kirilin said in an interview with RIA Novosti published on Tuesday. “The engines will be developed from scratch, which would allow us to apply a variety of advanced technological and economic characteristics that would make Soyuz-5 competitive on global markets,” Kirilin said. “The design of Soyuz-5 allows the addition of extra side blocks to make it a heavy-class rocket, but we are focusing now on a prototype with operational payload of 9 metric tons,” he added.

At the same time, Kirillin stressed that the Soyuz-5 will not compete with the ongoing development of the Angara family of carrier rockets. [emphasis mine]

Kirillin is doing a political dance with this interview. On one hand he is trying to sell to the Putin government the idea of developing a new version of the Soyuz rocket — thereby giving his company work for decades hence — in order to increase Russia’s ability to compete in the international launch market. On the other hand, he has to convince that same government that this new Soyuz will not compete with Russia’s new Angara rocket.

The two ideas are contradictory, especially if the upgrade allows the Soyuz to be modular and scalable so it can launch larger payloads, like Angara.

Kirillin’s problem is that the only investment capital available to him comes from the government, which now controls the entire Russian aerospace industry. Under this Soviet-style monolithic set-up, he is not allowed to compete with other Russian companies. However, if he doesn’t convince the government to build something, his company will no longer have a reason for existing.

In other words, creating a single government organization to run all of Russia’s space industry, as Putin’s government has done, was very counter-productive in the long run. It discourages competition while naturally causing the industry to shrink.

Orbital ATK cargo contract extended

The competition heats up: NASA has ordered two more cargo flights from Orbital ATK.

Orbital ATK, Dulles, Virginia, will fly two more missions under its 2008 contract for a total of 10 flights, according to Orbital ATK spokeswoman Vicki Cox. The company designated the missions OA-9e and OA-10e, Cox said. She declined to say when those flights will occur, although the company has said it plans to launch any new CRS missions it gets from NASA on Antares once it completes two deliveries using United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket. The Atlas 5 launches are slated for December and early 2016 from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

NASA may also order additional cargo flights from its other CRS contractor, SpaceX of Hawthorne, California. “A modification is in work with both [CRS] providers,” NASA spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz wrote in an Aug. 13 email. “Additional missions for SpaceX are still under discussion.”

That this contract extension occurs about the same time NASA decided to delay its decision on the second round of cargo contracts is probably not a coincidence. It suggests to me that the agency is probably seriously considering awarding one of the next contracts to a more risky proposal, such as Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser. In that case, extending the present contracts gives them some additional margin should the new contractors have problems.

IRS computer hack bigger than previously thought

Government in action! A hack of IRS taxpayer information was significantly bigger than previously estimated, the IRS revealed today.

An additional 220,000 potential victims had information stolen from an IRS website as part of a sophisticated scheme to use stolen identities to claim fraudulent tax refunds, the IRS said Monday. The revelation more than doubles the total number of potential victims, to 334,000.

Well, no matter, this hack is mere chicken feed compared to the 21 million records stolen from the federal Office of Personal Management. And it hardly compares with the recent Pentagon breach, where the Chinese got almost all federal records. No, the IRS is doing a much better job then those other agencies, only being slightly incompetent and screwing up only a little.

And besides, the IRS does such a good job for Obama by harassing anyone that opposes the Democratic Party agenda! How could anyone complain about them?

Fund-raising campaign to help bakery threatened by gay fascists

Defiance: The Colorado baker who is threatened with bankruptcy and even psychatric evaluation because he refuses to bake same-sex wedding cakes due to his religious beliefs has begun a fund-raising campaign to support his fight.

There are those who think I am being unkind by describing the attackers of this baker as fascists. Well, consider this tidbit from the above story:

He declined to provide a wedding cake for a gay couple in July 2012, citing his Christian beliefs, after which the bakery in Lakewood, Colorado, became the target of protests and angry phone calls. “The calls were so vile, Jack would not allow the employees to answer the phone for weeks. The second day, a caller threatened to kill Jack as well as anyone in the bakery,” said the Continue to Give write-up.

It is important to note that no one is oppressing any homosexuals here. They are still free to practice their lifestyle. The only one being oppressed is the Christian, who is being threatened and denied the right to practice his lifestyle.

“When EPA is not ignoring Supreme Court limitations on it, it is blithely disregarding rule-making laws required of it.”

The story that has the quote above outlines the EPA’s recent and past history of ignoring the law and court rulings to write and impose its regulations. It also details the many times the environmental agency has used its ability to impose fines to extort concessions from private landowners, including the recent Colorado mine disaster.

Like the IRS, the EPA has become an out-of-control agency, a haven for fascists eager to use their power to squelch anyone that opposes them. With the former, this power is used by partisan Democrats to help the Democratic Party and hurt its opponents. With the latter, this power is used to destroy private property rights in the name of leftwing environmental fantasies, even if that use of power ends up doing terrible damage to the environment.

NASA postpones decision again for 2nd ISS cargo contracts

In the heat of competition: NASA has again delayed its decision on awarding its second round of contracts for providing cargo to ISS, delaying the decision from September until November 5.

The launch failures this year is the major reason NASA has held off making a decision. They need to see how both SpaceX and Orbital ATK react to the failures, as both have also bid for second round contracts.

Spectacular 3D image of Mars from Mangalyaan

Ophir Chasm as imaged by Mangalyaan

Cool image time! Using an image taken by India’s Mars Orbiter Mangalyaan from about 1,153 miles altitude, Indian scientists were able to create a 3D projection of Ophir Chasm, one of the side canyons of Valles Marineris, the solar system’s largest canyons.

The image itself had a resolution of about 96 meters per pixel.

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