X-Prize contestants team-up to create head-to-head lunar race

The competition heats up: Two Google Lunar X-Prize contestants have teamed up to use the same rocket to get to the Moon together, where they will literally race head to head to see who travels the 500 meter distance first to win the prize.

At a press conference in Tokyo on Monday, the leaders of two Lunar X PRIZE teams—Astrobotic and HAKUTO—announced a plan in which the two teams’ robotic rovers will travel to the moon together and touch down on the lunar surface at the same time. They will then race each other to cover the 500 meters required to win the first place prize of $20 million.

John Thornton, head of Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic (a Carnegie Mellon University spin-off), said in a call with reporters that the partnership with HAKUTO (a spin-off from Tokyo University) represented the first step in realizing his team’s goal of turning robotic moon missions into a viable business. That mission won’t stop with this single partnership. He said the team was in talks with more than half of the other 16 GLXP competitors to carry their rovers to the moon, too, in exchange for sharing the cost of getting there and splitting prize money.

If this happens as they propose, we could be watching as many as ten rovers line up for the race.

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Florist rejects attorney general’s deal to settle lawsuit over same-sex weddings

The Washington florist whose entire assets a judge has ruled can be confiscated because she refuses to participate in a same-sex wedding because of her Christian religion has rejected outright a settlement offered to her by the state’s attorney general.

Ms. Stutzman [the florist] rejected Friday a settlement agreement offered by Mr. Ferguson [the attorney general] that would have required her to pay $2,001 in damages and legal fees after a judge ruled last week that she violated state law by declining to provide services for a same-sex wedding. “My primary goal has always been to bring about an end to the Defendants’ unlawful conduct and to make clear that I will not tolerate discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,” Mr. Ferguson said in a statement.

The agreement also would require Ms. Stutzman to agree “not to discriminate in the future,” which means she must provide custom floral arrangements for same-sex weddings or stop doing weddings altogether, said Peter LaVallee, a spokesman for the state attorney general’s office.

In rejecting the offer, Stutzman was very blunt about her reasons.

“Your offer reveals that you don’t really understand me or what this conflict is all about,” Ms. Stutzman said in a letter to Mr. Ferguson. “It’s about freedom, not money. I certainly don’t relish the idea of losing my business, my home, and everything else that your lawsuit threatens to take from my family, but my freedom to honor God in doing what I do best is more important.

“…I pray that you reconsider your position. … I kindly served Rob [the gay plaintiff] for nearly a decade and would gladly continue to do so. I truly want the best for my friend. I’ve also employed and served many members of the LGBT community, and I will continue to do so regardless of what happens with this case.”

She concluded, “You chose to attack my faith and pursue this not simply as a matter of law, but to threaten my very means of working, eating, and having a home. If you are serious about clarifying the law, then I urge you to drop your claims against my home, business, and other assets and pursue the legal claims through the appeal process.”

The mildness of the attorney general’s offer suggests to me that he is feeling some political heat. He looks like a tyrant and a bad guy who is trying to destroy this woman expressly because of her religious beliefs. He thus wants this case to end with a victory, but to end as quickly as possible.

The collapse of corrupt unions in Wisconsin

Link here.

[The reason unions fought Scott Walker’s reforms so hard] wasn’t because they were worried about employees as much as they were worried about losing political clout, earned mainly through forced contributions and closed shops. They used that money not so much to improve the lives of public-sector employees, but to hand-pick their bosses, who would also be their negotiating partners. Now that their cash flow has become so greatly restricted — and will likely become even more so — they have to focus on delivering value to members or watch them walk away. That’s exactly how it should have been all along.

Morrissey is commenting on a Washington Post article, which noted these facts:

Union officials declined to release precise membership data but confirmed in interviews that enrollment is dramatically lower since the new law was signed in 2011. The state branch of the National Education Association, once 100,000 strong, has seen its membership drop by a third. The American Federation of Teachers, which organized in the college system, saw a 50 percent decline. The 70,000-person membership in the state employees union has fallen by 70 percent.

The bottom line is that the use of force is almost always wrong, whether it is forcing people to join unions or forcing florists to participate in gay weddings. Forcing public employees to be union members didn’t so much improve their wages as much as encourage corruption in the public sector while simultaneously screwing the taxpayer.

Highlights from Dream Lines IV

An evening pause: I haven’t posted a wingsuit video since 2012, so this clip is overdue, especially since the scenery is quite beautiful. My only complaint is that they cut just as one flyer releases his chute for landing. I would have preferred to see the whole flight, including its gentle end.

Hat tip tdub.

Why Isn’t Batman in the public domain?

Link here. As a writer who makes my living partly on the royalties I earn, I have still opposed every change to the copyright laws since 1978, as each change has extended the length of copyright far longer than was necessary to protect my rights. The result has been a concentration of power, in this case among a few corporations, something that should always be avoided.

Instead, the Congresses we have had in the past forty years have willingly corrupted the law in the worst possible way.

Spacewalk to begin the reconfiguration of ISS successful

Saturday’s first spacewalk in a yearlong project to reconfigure ISS so that it can accomodate two commercial cargo capsules and two commercial ferries, all at the same time, completed all tasks with no problems.

The article also provides a very clear explanation of the entire planned reconfiguration of ISS, including the reasons why these changes are necessary.

How to drill rocks on Mars

Engineers have found that to properly drill on Mars, Curiosity need only use its lowest power settings.

The new drilling procedures essentially call for the rover to use its lowest energy setting right from the beginning, rather than starting with a setting a few levels up. Curiosity has six settings on its drill that have a nearly 20-fold range in energy. The drill has only been used three times before Curiosity reached Mount Sharp (Aeolis Mons), its ultimate science goal, late last year.

On those three occasions and when the drill was used once at Mount Sharp, Curiosity began its investigations at the drill’s Level 4. The first rock probed at Mount Sharp broke under this pressure. The new algorithm instead starts at Level 1 and only progresses upwards if drilling proves too slow.

The engineers have found that the rocks they have drilled into on Mars have been more fragile that expected, which actually shouldn’t be a surprise, due to the lower gravity. In fact, this one simple fact probably reveals a great deal of important information to geologists about the geology of Mars and how it formed.

Another problem with the Obamacare online system forces further delays and problems

The glitches keep coming! Because almost a million taxpayers were provided incorrect information by the Obamacare online system the Obama administration has announced that there will be delays in sending them their tax refunds, with many being forced to resubmit their tax returns.

The truth is that these kinds of screw-ups should be and will be routine in any system as complex and Rube Goldberg-like as Obamacare is.

Bur just keep reminding yourself: The Democrats continue to support this law in every way, refusing to consider any change under any condition.

New Mexico legislature advances spaceport sale bill

A state bill to sell Spaceport America, New Mexico’s spaceport built to service Virgin Galactic’s oft-delayed space tourism business, has advanced out of its first committee.

The bill still needs to clear two more committees before it gets a floor vote, but considering the lack of progress at Virgin Galactic, I would not be surprised if it passes. The high hopes that created this spaceport a decade ago have now faded into a boondoggle that New Mexico probably can no longer afford.

Another Obamacare law delay

The law is for little people: The Obama administration announced on Wednesday that it will delay for five months enforcing a part of Obamacare pertaining to small businesses.

It seems that under Obamacare businesses are no longer allowed to offer employees spending accounts which can be used cover a portion of the cost of buying individual health plans. (Another example of not being allowed to keep your plan, even if you like it. Period.) If they continue to offer these accounts they could get fined $100 per day per employee. If they don’t, their employees might find themselves without health insurance.

So, the Obama administration is not going to enforce another Obamacare provision for five more months, even though this law was Obama’s gift to the nation and was so perfect it wasn’t necessary to discuss its passage with anyone outside the Democratic Party. In fact, it was so perfect the Democrats themselves didn’t need to read the law before they voted for it!

Will Rogers – The Ropin’ Fool

An evening pause: Most people, when asked to describe Will Rogers, usually focus on his witty political commentary. What we have forgotten however is that he initially made his fame as a cowboy with an amazing ability to do rope tricks. The film excerpt below, narrated by Rogers’ son Will Rogers Jr., was made in 1922 to highlight these tricks.

Hat tip Edward Thelen.

World still terrorized by ‘‘Random Angry Unknown Folks’’ the Obama adminstration declares

Heh. Link here.

The world has been rocked almost daily throughout the past few years by shootings, stabbings, bombings, and other atrocities throughout Western societies and the Middle East by what the White House has come to be officially call “Random Angry Unknown Folks” (RAUFs), and the Obama administration will “quadruple” on its efforts to stop these seemingly motiveless random angry people who have been plaguing the world with their seemingly “senseless, pointless, motivation-lacking non-descript acts aimed at apparently no one in particular”, according to State Department Spokesperson Jennifer Psaki.

It gets better. Read it all.

Methane leaks from natural gas wells less than predicted

Once again, Chicken Little was wrong! A new study has found that methane leaks from modern natural gas exploration is far lower than expected.

Essentially, the usual environmental doom-sayers had claimed that methane leaks would be 50% higher than predicted by industry experts. Instead, they are lower than expected, and likely pose no risk to the environment.

Work accelerates towards the first test flight of Falcon Heavy

The competition heats up: Design and construction of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy is picking up in advance of the rocket’s first test flight, now tentatively scheduled sometime this summer.

It will not surprise me if that summer launch does not happen on time. Nonetheless, I expect that before 2015 is over we will see a Falcon Heavy on the launchpad being prepped for launch.

A dozen launches for Arianespace in 2015?

The competition heats up: Arianespace’s launch manifest for 2015 predicts a busy year, with a hoped for pace of one launch per month.

What I like most in the article however is what this paragraph says:

The launch provider won nine contracts for geostationary satellites in 2014, and eight of them are the right size to ride in the Ariane 5’s lower berth, [said Stephane Israel, Arianespace’s chairman and CEO] in an interview with Spaceflight Now.

SpaceX has emerged as the chief rival to the veteran French-based launch company, which started the commercial launch business when it was founded in 1980. SpaceX and Arianespace cinched the same number of commercial launch contracts last year. Partly in response to SpaceX’s bargain prices and partly as an initiative to ensure the Ariane 5 has a steady balance of heavier and lighter payloads, Arianespace cut prices for customers with smaller satellites. [emphasis mine]

I love how competition has lowered costs while simultaneously increasing the launch rate for multiple companies. Before SpaceX arrived to challenge established companies like Arianespace the accepted wisdom in the launch industry was that it was foolish to have more rockets capable of launching at lower costs, because there simply wasn’t enough business to justify it. You’d supposedly end up with idle facilities costing money with no payloads to launch. I always thought that theory was hogwash. Elon Musk and SpaceX have definitely proven it so.

Judge rules that Christians should be persecuted if they disagree with gays

Fascists: A judge in Washington state ruled Wednesday that a florist should be “personally ruined” because her Christian faith prevented her from promoting same-sex marriage.

“The message of these rulings is unmistakable: The government will bring about your personal and professional ruin if you don’t help celebrate same-sex marriage,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kristen Waggoner. “The two men had no problem getting the flowers they wanted,” she said. “They received several offers for free flowers, and the marketplace gives them plenty of options. Laws that are supposed to prohibit discrimination might sound good, but the government has begun to use these laws to hurt people – to force them to conform and to silence and punish them if they don’t violate their religious beliefs on marriage.”

Once again, the issue here was not the oppression of gays, since these two men were not prevented by anyone from getting married, were not denied flowers or wedding cakes or any options for celebrating their wedding. All they were denied was the ability to force someone who disagreed with them about same-sex marriage to participate in their same-sex wedding. For that thought crime, they — and the government of Washington — have decided to destroy someone.

How scientists lose the average layman

Link here.

A superb essay. I have written about this myself numerable times, but sadly our modern elite intellectual society finds it somehow impossible to get the point, which Shaw sums up very well in his last paragraph:

The point of all this is simply to say that scientific conclusions change over the ages. Complicated things take time. But when you come out and start lecturing us – or worse, start telling us how the government should orient policy – based on your own favorite theory of the day while not yet proving it to a satisfactory degree (even to we simpletons) then you can expect some of us to push back and demand you show your work. And it’s not because the pastor told us to think that way on Sunday.

Read it all. It also illustrates quite well why increasingly the public does not trust scientists or journalists when it comes to hot button issues like climate change.

Work stalls on Mars One robotic missions

Mars One, the company that just this week announced the 100 finalists in its competition to send 24 people on a one-way trip to Mars, has quietly suspended all work on two robotic missions heralded as precursors to that manned mission.

These facts just add weight to my conviction that the Mars One competition is at the moment nothing more than a reality television show. It is a cool idea for a television show, but journalists should stop selling it as anything more than that.

Stratolaunch airplane 40% complete

The competition heats up: Stratolaunch has revealed that construction of the gigantic airplane — the largest ever to fly — that will take its rockets into the air is now about 40% complete.

The first flight is still scheduled for 2016. The article also includes some good analysis which indicates the competitive problems Stratolaunch faces:

Its Orbital Sciences-supplied solid-fuel rocket will be able to carry 15,000 pounds to low Earth orbit. But this is about half the lift of the competing SpaceX Falcon 9 and just 30 percent that of a Boeing-built Delta IV. Stratolaunch will be able to orbit only smaller satellites.

Nonetheless, watching this mother-ship take off will be quite breath-taking.

Rupert Holmes – Escape (The Pina Colada Song)

An evening pause: I love songs that tell great stories. This is a classic.

Note: As always, I am always looking for evening pauses and am very open to suggestions. If you want to suggest something, comment here, though please don’t post the actual suggestion. I will email you direct so you can forward it to me.

Islamic cleric insists Sun orbits Earth

Islamic science: At student discussion on Sunday an Islamic cleric insisted that the Sun orbits the Earth.

Sheikh Bandar al-Khaibari told a student that the Earth is “stationary and does not move,” according to Al-Arabiya, justifying the statement with religious texts and statements. But then he tried to debunk the common knowledge about the Earth’s rotation using “logic,” in a visual demonstration that prompted the speech to go viral. “First of all, where are we now?” he asked. “We go to Sharjah airport to travel to China by plane, clear?!” Khaibari argued, confusingly, that the Earth cannot rotate because it would render air travel impossible.

Even if Islam was peaceful, which it is not, it remains a problem because it apparently also encourages this kind of ignorance.

A stellar fly-by 70,000 years ago

Astronomers have identified a nearby star, now 20 light years away, that 70,000 years ago flew past the solar system at a distance of only 0.8 light years.

The star’s trajectory suggests that 70,000 years ago it passed roughly 52,000 astronomical units away (or about 0.8 light years, which equals 8 trillion kilometers, or 5 trillion miles). This is astronomically close; our closest neighbor star Proxima Centauri is 4.2 light years distant. In fact, the astronomers explain in the paper that they are 98% certain that it went through what is known as the “outer Oort Cloud” – a region at the edge of the solar system filled with trillions of comets a mile or more across that are thought to give rise to long-period comets orbiting the Sun after their orbits are perturbed.

I feel it necessary to note that the Oort Cloud itself has never been directly observed and only exists theoretically based on the random arrival of comets from the outer solar system.

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