Readers!

At the end of June seven years ago I began this website. While the first post was short and not very notable, in the next few weeks I put up the first evening pause and a number of longer posts, including this essay noting my fundamental focus on exploration and pushing the unknown.

 

It is now time for my annual anniversary fund-raising drive. If you like what I write and wish to support me, your financial help would be greatly appreciated. You can donate or subscribe, as per the instructions in the tip jar to the right. You can also consider purchasing my classic book, Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, available as an ebook.

 

Without the support of my readers this website will no longer be possible. Please consider giving as much as you can.

 

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First Starliner manned flight delayed to late 2018

Boeing has revealed that the first manned flight of its commercial Starliner capsule will likely be delayed a few more months to late 2018.

The latest confirmed schedules from NASA show the uncrewed mission, dubbed the Orbital Flight Test (OFT), slated for No Earlier Than June 2018, followed quickly in August 2018 by the crewed flight test.

However, comments made by Chris Ferguson last month at the Paris Air Show seem to indicate that the crewed flight test is moving from its August timeframe. According to Mr. Ferguson, Director of Crew and Mission Operations for Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program, the first Starliner crewed test flight is aiming for “last quarter of 2018” – which would be a shift of two to five months into the October to December 2018 timeframe.

The unmanned test flight, however, remains set for a June 18, 2018 launch.

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More news from racist Evergreen State College

Bigoted academia: The Board of Trustees of Evergreen State College decided yesterday to hold a “listening session.” Not surprisingly, they heard a lot of stories about how whites are considered second class citizens on the campus, and the attempt by some to challenge that status recently resulted in violence, harassment, and mob rule.

At the link are videos of testimony from two people that will make your blood run cold. This campus has become no different than an on-going hate session from Orwell’s 1984.

It is as important to listen to the testimony of the campus’s defenders. The statement of one professor in particular reveals their willingness to excuse bigotry, violence, and hate, all in the name of their personal “narratives,” whatever that means.

Professor Carolyn Prouty was especially blunt about wanting to see the Board “strategically” change the narrative.

“Finally moving forward it is critical that we all, including the Board I submit, thoughtfully and strategically choose the narratives that we tell about what happened,” Prouty said. She continued, “We are now in the time of sense-making, that is what I hear that you are here to do today. I want to advocate that each of us, all of us strategically and thoughtfully choose to listen, find and tell the stories of what happened, stories that understand social change to be messy and righeteous, difficult and necessary.”

In other words, make believe the bad stuff didn’t happen, and let the protesters off with no punishment.

I once again ask: Would you want to send your kids to this school? Would you want to attend it? I wouldn’t.

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Commercial space has won

Today the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, chaired by Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), held the third of a series of hearings on the future regulatory framework required for American commercial space to prosper.

My previous reviews of the past two hearings can be found at these links:

In today’s hearing the witnesses in general once again called for a variety of reforms that would simplify the regulatory process for private enterprise. Dr. Moriba K. Jah, associate professor from University of Texas at Austin, suggested removing NOAA’s veto power on remote sensing, something that the proposed House bill I analyzed in my Federalist op-ed actually does). Jeffrey Manber of Nanoracks suggested giving the private sector a certain date when ISS will be decommissioned so that they can more easily obtain investment capital for building the privately-built space facilities that will replace it. Tim Ellis of Relativity, a company trying to build rocket engines manufactured entirely by 3D printing, called for more American spaceports, accessible by private companies, as well as a simplification of the FAA permitting process. Robert Cabana, Director at the Kennedy Space Center, talked about the need for government facilities to provide the infrastructure for private companies, as the center has done for the private launch sites and manufacturing facilities they have helped get established at Kennedy since the retirement of the shuttle.

Tim Hughes from SpaceX topped them all.
» Read more

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House Republicans push for big spending in Defense and NIH budgets

Failure theater: Two different House committees have chosen to ignore the budget cutting recommendations of the Trump administration and add billions to the budget of the National Institute of Health while approving — against the objections of the administration — the creation of a military “space corps.”

The first story is especially galling. Instead of cutting NIH’s budget to $25.9 billion, which is about what the agency got in the early 2000s, the increase to NIH would raise its budget from $31.8 billion to $35.2 billion. Worse, the House proposal would continue the policy where NIH pays the overhead for any research grants, which has been an amazing cash cow for American universities, most of which are leftwing partisan operations whose focus these days is often nothing more than defeating Republicans and pushing agenda-driven science.

Trump was right to push for those cuts. The Republicans are fools to eliminate them.

As for the second story, as I noted yesterday, the limitations of the Outer Space Treaty are almost certainly what is pushing Congress now to create a separate military space division. That and a greedy desire to establish another bureaucracy where they can take credit for any additional pork barrel funding. While such a force will certainly be necessary should the Outer Space Treaty not be revised to allow sovereignty and the establishment of internationally recognized borders, it is simply too early to do so now. The result will be a bureaucratic mess that will only act to waste money and possibly hinder private development in space.

But then, that’s what too many Republicans, like Democrats, want. They aren’t really interested in the needs of the country. They are interested in pork and power, for themselves.

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Australia to consider forming its own government space agency

The new colonial movement: The Australian government is studying the idea of forming its own space agency.

With ever-increasing dependence on satellites for communication and navigation, an Australian space agency could oversee the launch of satellites.

But, initially, an Australian space agency’s main role would be to help keep jobs and $3 billion of spending in Australia rather than flowing overseas. The agency would also help Australians take advantage of satellite technology, especially for farmers.

This proposal is actually all about the requirements under Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty. If Australian companies wish to do anything in space, the treaty requires Australian to have some legal framework in place to regulate that activity. The regulations can merely rubber-stamp an approval for any private operation, but they must exist. Without them Australian companies will be forced, for legal reasons, to go to elsewhere to make their space endeavors happen.

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Giant iceberg breaks off from Antarctica

We’re all gonna die! A giant section of the Antarctic ice shelf, about the size of the state of Delaware, has finally broken off from the main ice cap.

The Science article immediately tries to tie this event to global warming, as articles in this pro-global warming journal are always eager to do. The problem is that there is no way to really do that, as the author himself is forced to admit.

Climate change has a new poster child: a massive iceberg the size of Delaware—one of the largest ever recorded—that early this week calved off Larsen C, the largest remaining ice shelf off the Antarctic Peninsula, scientists announced today. Although researchers cannot explicitly connect the calving event to warming air or water, those monitoring the event are now concerned that the entire shelf, after shedding more than 12% of its area, could follow the fate of its more northern peers, Larsens A and B, which collapsed entirely in 1995 and 2002, respectively.

The Antarctic icecap has been growing in recent decades. Just because a big piece broke off this week tells us nothing about the overall global climate. Furthermore, take a look at the map at the link. On the scale of the entire Antarctica icecap this iceberg is actually only a tiny piece. Such calving events are actually the normal process that occurs at the icecap, and every scientist who studies this subject knows it. Like a glacier, the icecap accumulates snow and ice in its center, which slowly flows outward to the sea, where it eventually breaks off to rejoin the Earth’s normal water cycle. There presently is little evidence that more ice is exiting the icecap than is accumulating at its center.

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White House rejects House proposal to create a military “Space Corps”

The White House today objected to a House defense policy bill that included a number of provisions, including the creation of a separate “Space Corps.”

Proposals to build the “Space Corps,” to prohibit a military base closure round, levy notification requirements for military cyber operations, develop a ground-launched cruise missile — and to “misuse” wartime funds for enduring needs — were some of the Trump administration targets.

The White House stopped short of threatening a veto, however, and said it looks forward to working with Congress to address the concerns. Still, the list will provide ammunition to Democrats and Republicans who hope to pick off provisions of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act when it comes to the House floor on Wednesday.

The idea at this time of establishing a separate military division devoted to space military operations is absurd, a waste of money, and would only create an additional bureaucracy that no one needs right now. However, in reading this op-ed by retired Air Force colonel M.V. “Coyote” Smith, one of the early proponents of this idea, I am not surprised to learn that one of the key good reasons for creating such a force is the Outer Space Treaty. As Smith notes,

Created at the height of the moon race between the two principle [sic] Cold War antagonists and others, the Outer Space Treaty was designed to prevent either power from claiming sovereignty over the entire moon upon arriving first. It succeeded. Unfortunately, it forbids any national appropriation of real estate and resources in space.

This prevents the issuance of property deeds and the awarding of resource rights to any part of the planets, moons and asteroids, without a potential legal contest. This also frustrates commercial and private entities whose business plans require legal clarity.

Thus, the limitations of the Outer Space Treaty forces the need for a military force to protect the rights of any American individual or businesses in space. As I said today in my op-ed for The Federalist:

The Outer Space Treaty poses limits on property rights. It also does not provide any mechanism for peacefully establishing sovereignty for any nation on any territory in space. Yet national sovereignty and territorial control is a given in all human societies. If we do nothing to establish a peaceful method for creating sovereignty and national territories in space, nations are going to find their own way to do it, often by force and violence.

Thus, no one should be surprised by this first proposal. It might be too soon, but it probably is not as soon as many critics claim. Unless we get the Outer Space Treaty revised to allow the establishment of internationally recognized borders, the need by everyone for a military in space to defend their holdings will become essential. And what a messy process that will be.

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Lunar landers/rovers for sale!

Moon Express, one of the five finalists trying to win the Google Lunar X-Prize (GLXP) before it expires at the end of this year, announced today its long range plans, focused on building low cost lunar landers rovers, and sample return missions that could be purchased and launched for a tenth the cost of a typical government mission.

The GLXP mission won’t be the last lunar voyage for Moon Express, if all goes according to plan. Its deal with Rocket Lab covers up to five launches, and Moon Express wants at least two more to occur in the next few years, Richards revealed during a news conference today.

The first post-GLXP mission, scheduled to launch in 2019, will set up a robotic research outpost near the lunar south pole and prospect for water and other resources. Then, in 2020, Moon Express will launch the first commercial lunar sample-return mission. That effort, Richards said, should prove out the company’s technologies and its business model, which is centered around creating low-cost access to the moon’s surface for a variety of customers. The core piece of hardware to make all of that happen is a single-engine lander called the MX-1, which will launch on the GLXP flight. Moon Express aims to mass-produce the MX-1, sell it as a stand-alone lunar explorer and have it serve as a building block for three larger, more capable spacecraft — the MX-2, the MX-5 and the MX-9, Richards said today.

The MX-2 combines two MX-1s into a single package, boosting the MX-1’s payload capacity in Earth-moon space and potentially enabling missions to Venus or the moons of Mars. As their names suggest, the MX-5 and MX-9 incorporate five engines and nine engines, respectively, and broaden the exploration envelope even further, Richards said. All of these spacecraft will be available in orbiter, lander and deep-space variations, and the MX-5 and MX-9 vehicles will also come in a sample-return configuration.

Moon Express has not revealed how much it will charge for any of these spacecraft. However, company representatives have said that, together, the MX-1 and Electron can deliver a lunar mission for less than $10 million (that’s “cost,” not retail). Electron flights currently sell for about $5.5 million apiece, putting the lander’s raw cost at $4.5 million or less.

Essentially, they are taking the revolution in satellite technology that is making everything smaller and cheaper and applying it to planetary exploration. They are then offering this technology as a very cheap and fast option for scientists and governments. Based on these numbers, a mission to the Moon could cost a customer less than $20 million, which is nothing compared to a typical NASA mission. Even India’s Mars Orbiter was several times more expensive than this.

While I consider NASA’s planetary program second to none, and one of the best things it does, Moon Express is demonstrating, as has SpaceX with launch services, that private enterprise, if given the chance, can do it better.

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Juno images of Great Red Spot released

The Juno science team has released the images taken by Juno as it flew past Jupiter’s Great Red Spot on June 11.

The three images at the link were all processed by citizen scientists, who took the raw images provided immediately and enhanced the colors. Not surprisingly, the images reveal that there are storms within storms within storms inside the Spot, which itself is a storm, the largest in the solar system.

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Mars rover update: July 12, 2017

Summary: Curiosity looks at some big dune ripples, then creeps up hill. Opportunity tests its wheels.

Curiosity

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

The interior of a dune ripple

Since my last update on June 23,, Curiosity has worked its way around and, for a few days, even into the small sandy field at the base of Vera Rubin ridge. The scientists noticed that the sandy here had a series of large ripples, and they wanted to take a close look at at least one. The image on the right, cropped to show here, was taken shortly after they had the rover drive through one ripple in order to expose its interior. You can see the robot arm directly above the cut created by the rover’s wheels. On the cut’s wall several distinctly different toned layers are visible. A close look reveals that they are wavy, and probably indicate numerous and repeated overlays as the wind brushes a new layer of dust on top of old layers, time after time. The different tones indicate a change in the material’s composition, which could reveal something about some past events in either Mars’ weather or geology.

In order to decipher this information, however, they will need to be able to date the layers, and figure out when each tonal change happened. I am not sure Curiosity can do this, especially since they have not scooped up any of this dust for later analysis.

They are now approaching Vera Rubin Ridge, and should climb up onto in the coming weeks. At that point they will move off the Murray Formation, where they have been since March 2016, made up of dried and ancient crushed mud, and up onto a lighter, yellowish layer of rock, dubbed the Hematite Unit. This October 3, 2016 press release. gives a good outline of the geology of these regions.
» Read more

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Evergreen College already admits to drop in enrollment

While trying to poo-poo the significance, the president of Evergreen College, who allowed mobs to take over his university campus and even hold him hostage because someone might disagree with them, has admitted that he has already seen a “slight decline” in enrollment.

Meanwhile, he has refused to punish any of the students or facility who were part of the mob, even though there are amply videos of them, including some where they actually identify themselves.

I expect this “slight decline” to turn into a flood come next year.

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Africa and space

Link here. Prompted by the launch last week of Ghana’s first satellite from ISS, this article take a look at what other African countries are doing to become players in the new colonial movement, noting efforts being done by Nigeria, South Africa, Ethopia, Angola, and Kenya.

Overall, no African country is doing very much in space. The fact that this African-centered news outlet feels compelled to note this, however, suggests that the competitive urge might be stirring there.

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Space law vs the Outer Space Treaty

My new op-ed at The Federalist is now online. Other than changing the title from my proposed version above to something a bit more unwieldy, “What You Need To Know About The Space Law Congress Is Considering,” they have posted it exactly as I wrote it.

The essay provides a very detailed analysis of the commercial space law that the House is presently considering. While they are proposing many good reforms, my conclusion unfortunately sums things up:

W.E.B. Du Bois, in studying the African slave trade, once asked, “How far in a State can a recognized moral wrong safely be compromised?” and answered his own question by saying that it is dangerous for “any nation, through carelessness and moral cowardice, [to allow] any social evil to grow. . . . From this we may conclude that it behooves nations as well as men to do things at the very moment when they ought to be done.”

The Outer Space Treaty poses limits on property rights. It also does not provide any mechanism for peacefully establishing sovereignty for any nation on any territory in space. Yet national sovereignty and territorial control is a given in all human societies. If we do nothing to establish a peaceful method for creating sovereignty and national territories in space, nations are going to find their own way to do it, often by force and violence. It behooves us to have the courage to face this issue now, and “do things at the very moment when they ought to be done.”

Read it all.

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John Williams – Raider’s March

An evening pause: From one of the best films ever made, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). As I wrote about it at the time for a comic book fan group, it recognizes that there is good and evil, and that there is something in the universe that casts judgement on each. Such concepts had and continue to be largely rejected by modern intellectualism, at our peril.

Hat tip Edward Thelen.

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Juno completes close fly-by of Great Red Spot

Juno has successfully completed its sixth close fly-by of Jupiter, this time dipping down to within 2,200 miles of the gas giant’s cloud tops and about 5,600 miles above the Great Red Spot.

All science instruments worked flawlessly, according the NASA press release. Images should become available in the next few days.

The next close fly-by will occur in September.

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Hamas has made Gaza unliveable, according to the UN

A UN study has found that in the ten years since Hamas took control of Gaza the place has become unliveable for its residents.

A decade after the Islamist group Hamas seized Gaza, the Palestinian enclave is effectively unliveable for its 2 million people, with declining incomes, healthcare, education, electricity and fresh water, the United Nations said.

In a report examining humanitarian conditions in the territory, which Hamas took over in June 2007 after a brief conflict with forces loyal to the Palestinian Authority, the United Nations concludes the situation in Gaza is deteriorating “further and faster” than was forecast only a few years ago. “Across the board we’re watching de-development in slow motion,” Robert Piper, the UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Aid and Development Activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday. “Every indicator, from energy to water to healthcare to employment to poverty to food insecurity, every indicator is declining. Gazans have been going through this slow motion de-development now for a decade.”

The article tries to lay the blame on everyone, including Israel, while somehow ignoring the corruption and terrorist roots of Hamas itself. Still, the real blame might belong to the people in Gaza themselves. After Israel unilaterally pulled out in an effort to exchange “land for peace,” the people of Gaza voted for their own leadership, and choose Hamas, a terrorist organization whose reason for existing is to kill Jews and destroy Israel. After making a poor decision like that, no one should be surprised it their circumstances immediately began to decline. We all get the government we deserve.

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U.S successfully tests missile intercept system

The U.S. military successfully used its new THAAD missile defense system to intercept a test target over Alaska today.

While government officials say the timing of this test of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system had nothing to do with the escalating tensions in Korea, I don’t think anyone believes them.

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Navy temporarily relieves commander from ocean collision

The Navy has temporarily relieved the injured commander of the U.S.ship involved in a major ocean collision with a cargo ship in mid-June.

The investigation is on-going, and they say this action is because he is injured, not because of any decision based on the investigation. I personally do not expect this commander to ever get a command again.

For those that want to read a detailed discussion on Behind the Black of this incident, see this thread.

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Near disaster at San Francisco airport

An Air Canada plane preparing to land in San Francisco almost smashed into four planes on the ground when the pilot mistakenly aimed for the parallel taxiway rather than the runway itself.

In what one aviation expert called a near-miss of what could have been the largest aviation disaster ever, an Air Canada pilot on Friday narrowly avoided a tragic mistake: landing on the San Francisco International Airport taxiway instead of the runway.

Sitting on Taxiway C shortly before midnight were four airplanes full of passengers and fuel awaiting permission to take off, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, which is investigating the “rare” incident. An air traffic controller sent the descending Air Canada Airbus 320 on a “go-around” — an unusual event where pilots must pull up and circle around to try again — before the safe landing, according to the federal agency.

FAA investigators are still trying to determine how close the Air Canada aircraft came to landing and potentially crashing into the four aircraft below, but the apparent pilot error already has the aviation industry buzzing.

This would have been the ultimate in pilot error, and might end the career of that pilot.

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China’s giant single dish radio telescope FAST nears completion

The new colonial movement: The completion of FAST, the world’s largest single dish radio telescope in China, nears completion.

The article over emphasizes one of the telescope’s minor research projects, the search for alien life. However, it also provides a good overview of the telescope’s status. The main dish is finished, and they are presently building the instruments that will use that dish to do astronomical research.

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The confusing Iranian space program

Link here. While written as an op-ed outlining the chaotic state of the Iranian space effort, the article highlights two pieces of interesting information.

First, Iran wants to create its own GPS satellite system, which the article refers to as a “pointing, navigation, and timing” (PNT) system.

Mojtaba Saradeghi, a deputy director of the Iran Space Agency (ISA), recently told Iranian media that the ISA plans to develop an indigenous PNT capability. Saradeghi said that the PNT programme is a long-term one and that the ISA is still figuring out how it will be funded.

This announcement is almost certainly pure bluster, instigated by the agreements signed last week between Israel and India, one of which involved working together to develop their own atomic clocks used in GPS satellites.

Second, Iran has decided that instead of launching an already built smallsat they will put it on display in a museum. The smallsat, Mesbah, was built in partnership with Italy back in the early 2000s but never launched because it was seized by Russia and Italy in 2006 due to international sanctions. Though negotiations are on-going now to get it released with the easing of sanctions, the head of the Iran Space Agency, Mohsen Bahrami, on July 2 still said it was going to be mothballed if they get it back.

This incoherence fits with other recent announcements by Iran. They have repeatedly been promising that a number of satellites will be launched in the coming months, but those launches seem to never happen. In addition, they announced in early June that they were shutting down any further work on a human space mission, citing cost.

I would not be surprised it missile tests continue, however. Iran is a corrupt theocracy and semi-dictatorship, and it is typical of these kinds of top-down governments to focus their effort on military technology.

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Toots & The Maytals – 54 46

An evening pause: Hat tip Jim Mallamace, who noted that this is “a song about getting arrested for marijuana possession and being given a prison number in the late 60’s.” Jim also added, “The song is meaningful to me because at the end of 2011, I couldn’t imagine the country would re-elect a failed president with a legacy of disastrous economic, domestic, and foreign policies. I thought Mr. Obama would lose by 54 to 46. When he went on to win his second term, 54-46 felt like our prison number for the next 4 years.”

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Australian academic group to review Outer Space Treaty

Another op-ed today once again notes that the Outer Space Treaty needs updating, and notes that an Australian working group linked to an academic international space conference in Australia in September will be reviewing the treaty and suggesting future revisions.

In late September 2017, Adelaide will host the largest space-related meeting on the annual calendar – the 68th International Astronautical Congress (IAC). In more recent years, there has been a companion conference just prior to the IAC – the Space Generation Congress (SGC). This was initiated on the request of states through the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space to represent the interests of the next generation in outer space.

At the SGC, a group of young Australians will lead a working group of delegates from across the globe, to develop and propose a set of supplementary protocols to the OST, in order to adapt global space governance to the needs of the next 50 years.

The article emphasizes that any changes to the treaty should be made with future generations in mind, and this is one reason the members of the working group are being drawn from the Space Generation Congress, since this is an event comprised mostly of students. That they are modern academic students is nonetheless worrisome, considering the increasingly oppressive culture of modern academic student communities. I fear that their naive effort to establish rules will be based too much on the good intentions of young people, and we all know what path that puts us on.

A personal note: I will have another op-ed published this week by The Federalist on the recent efforts in both houses of Congress to deal with the Outer Space Treaty, and it includes my detailed analysis of the proposed space law that was approved by a House committee in early June.

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China begins 200-day simulated self-sufficient space station experiment

The new colonial movement: Four Chinese students yesterday began a 200 day experiment, living in a simulated ground-based space station that will attempt to be self-sufficient for the entire time.

The underlying but unstated goal is revealed by this quote:

But the 200-day group will also be tested to see how they react to living a for period of time without sunlight. The project’s team declined to elaborate. “We did this experiment with animals… so we want to see how much impact it will have on people,” Liu, the professor, said.

They aren’t just testing the self-sufficiency of a future interplanetary spaceship. They are also testing the self-sufficiency of a lunar base, which must undergo 14 days of darkness each lunar day. I wonder if the facility is also subjected to no sunlight during these tests.

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