Readers!

June 27th marks the 8th anniversary of my first post here on Behind the Black. In those eight years my goal has been to provide a clear and independent analysis of the present-day space effort as well as the culture, politics, and technology that moves it.

 

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Scroll down for new updates.

Trump picks Kavanaugh for Supreme Court

Link here. Kavanaugh’s track record places him no worse than middle-of-the-road Kennedy, whom he replaces, but more likely leaning more to the right. How far will remain for time to decide.

Expect a lot of slander, over-the-top attacks, and vicious opposition from the left, based not on facts but on their insane thirst for power, now certain to shrink significantly.

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Sunspot update for June 2018: Activity increases again

NOAA today posted its monthly update of the solar cycle, covering sunspot activity for June 2018. Below is this month’s annotated graph.

For the third straight month the Sun showed a small increase in sunspot activity. The pattern also continued to follow the two-week-on/two-week-off pattern of activity caused by the Sun’s 27-day rotation, as I described in my update last month.

June 2018 sunspot activity

The graph above has been modified to show the predictions of the solar science community. The green curves show the community’s two original predictions from April 2007, with half the scientists predicting a very strong maximum and half predicting a weak one. The red curve is their revised May 2009 prediction. The yellow line compares the present activity with the activity during solar minimum in 2008 and 2009.

This pattern is continuing. As of today, there have been no sunspots since June 28, almost two weeks. I would not be surprised if some sunspots appeared within the next week, especially because today’s image of the Sun from Solar Dynamic Observatory shows bright faculae rotating into view. Faculae are, like sunspots, a sign of solar magnetic activity. The two usually go together.

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Israel considers a loosening of its gun laws

The Israeli government is considering a relaxing of its gun laws in order to allow more ordinary citizens the ability to own and carry guns for self defense.

Israel is mulling relaxing gun rules that will allow up to 40,000 more people to get weapons, the local media reports. Gun-lobbying politicians hope the measure will help ordinary citizens to neutralize “terrorists.”

The Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan proposed to allow any Israeli citizen who passed rifle training in the IDF to apply for a gun license, Tel-Aviv-based daily Haartez reported on Sunday. According to the paper, the required level of training for the license will be equivalent to the one of an IDF combat infantry soldier. If introduced, the measure will be a win for Israel’s gun lobby that had been fighting to lower the bar for gun ownership in order to help regular citizens defend themselves during terror attacks.

“Sending the citizens of Israel to protect themselves with pizza trays, selfie sticks, guitars and umbrellas is a crime of the state against its citizens,” politician Amir Ohana, who leads the gun lobby caucus in the nation’s parliament told Haaretz. “A law abiding citizen, who has the basic skill required, is entitled to be able to defend himself and his surroundings.”

It is simple common sense. It is the same common sense the required all citizens in the American west to know how to use a gun or rifle, and to be armed. Unfortunately, Israel does not have a second amendment, so the right to bear arms is something that the government can give or take, depending on who wins elections.

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Four more boys rescued from cave in Thailand

Link here.

Keep your fingers crossed. What I did not mention yesterday in describing the dangers of cave diving was the truly courageous work of the divers to find these boys. Caving diving is mostly done blind. The first person in can sometimes see, but very quickly the silt reduces visibility to zero. To make sure divers can find their way back, they lay a lifeline as they go.

There had not been a lifeline to the passages where the boys were found, prior to this rescue effort. To have laid out a lifeline in passages almost two-thirds of a mile long, so quickly, speaks volumes for the courage and skills of the cave divers here. It is also why I am not surprised one diver died in the effort.

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Why Google blurs surface images of Israel, and why that blurring could end

Link here. A 1997 U.S. law requires that all satellite imagery of Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank be blurred. The law also sets the resolution standard based on the best images produced by other commercial companies outside the U.S.

NOAA is now reviewing the law, since high resolution European commercial images have been available since 2012. If it decides this is the new standard, high resolution views of this very politically hot region could become publicly available for free.

The article focuses on the wonderfully good things in science and research this change would bring. It completely ignores the use that terrorist organizations, set on killing as many Israelis as possible, could put to such images.

In general, I prefer freedom and the wide distribution of information. In this case I am torn.

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Interorbital successfully test flies its upper-stage engine

Capitalism in space: The smallsat rocket company Interorbital Systems successfully test flew the upper-stage engine for its rocket last week.

Video of the test below the fold. This company had appeared to be moving towards test flights in 2014, than nothing seemed to happen until earlier this year. The four year gap made me suspect they were in trouble. It now appears they are moving forward towards their first flight, though when that will happen remains unclear.
» Read more

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China launches two satellites on Long March 2C

China today launched two satellites for Pakistan using its Long March 2C rocket.

Both satellites are for observing the Earth. Both were built by China for Pakistan.

The leaders in the 2018 launch standings:

19 China
12 SpaceX
7 Russia
5 ULA
4 Japan

In the national standings, China now leads the U.S. 19 to 18. China is also one short of matching its highest ever total of launches for a single year, 20, and it is getting there in just over half a year.

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The first American dogs were different, and arrived a very long time ago

New genetic research using buried dogs found at two sites in Illinois suggests that the first American dogs came over from Siberia over 16,000 years ago, and were genetically distinct from European dogs.

In the 1960s and 1970s, archaeologists excavated two sites in western Illinois, where ancient hunter-gatherers collected shellfish from a nearby river and stalked deer in surrounding forests. These people also appear to have buried their dogs: One was found at a site known as Stilwell II, and four at a site called Koster, curled up in individual gravelike pits.

Radiocarbon analysis of the bones reveals that they are around 10,000 years old, making these canines the oldest dogs known in the Americas, researchers report on the bioRxiv server. It also makes these the oldest solo dog burials anywhere in the world. The Stilwell II dog was about the size of an English setter, whereas the Koster dogs were smaller and slenderer, says the study’s lead author, Angela Perri, a zooarchaeologist at Durham University in the United Kingdom. “It wouldn’t be surprising if they were all used as hunting dogs.” But where did they come from in the first place?

A second study, published today in Science, may have the answer. A large, international team of researchers sequenced DNA from the mitochondria, or cellular power plants, of 71 North American and Siberian dog bones—including from one of the Koster dogs—dated from about 10,000 to 1000 years ago. When they compared this material, which is passed down only by the mother, to that of 145 modern and ancient dogs, they discovered that the ancient American dogs have a genetic signature not found in any other canines.

There is much uncertainty still about the dates, but not about the genetics. The dogs were larger, resembles wolves, and even howled instead of barked. They were wiped out after the arrival of the Europeans in American, probably because of disease.

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3D image of Ryugu

The lead guitarist of the rock band Queen, Brian May, is also an astronomer, and he has taken Hayabusa-2’s first full close-up image of Ryugu and produced a 3D image of the asteroid.

If you have red/blue 3D glasses you should definitely click on the link and view the image. The asteroid appears much more elongated back to front than it appears in the flat image.

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Close look at bright spots in Occator Crater on Ceres

Bright spot in Occator Crater on Ceres

Cool image time! In this week’s release of new images from Dawn, the science released close-ups of one of the bright spots located on the floor of Occator Crater on Ceres. The image on the right, cropped and reduced in resolution to post here, shows one white-topped mesa in that crater.

The geometry of this feature is similar to a mesa or large butte with a flat top. It has been puzzling scientists since its discovery in the early images of the Dawn mission at Ceres. These new images reveal many details. In particular, the relationships between the bright material, mostly composed of sodium carbonate, and the dark background might hold clues about the origin of the facula.

If you click on the image you can see the full image at full resolution.

The sun appears to be coming from the southeast, with the mesa’s cliff’s at the top. Along with some scattered bright spots, the white material appears to have a bright area aligned along the cliff’s rim. The white material also appears to be flowing down one gully in that cliff face.

It is important to remember that these bright spots are generally found in a depression in the crater. scientists now think they are remnants of a volcano-like mound that after erupting slowly slumped back down. Note also that the soft puffiness of the cliff faces probably indicates the lower density of this material due to Ceres’s tiny gravity, about 3% that of Earth’s.

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Billions to replace or decommission thousands of wind turbines

The unintended consequences of good intentions: The tens of thousands of wind turbines installed in the last two decades are wearing out, and no one has the billions it will cost to either replace them or decommission them.

The life span of a wind turbine, power companies say, is between 20 and 25 years. But in Europe, with a much longer history of wind power generation, the life of a turbine appears to be somewhat less. “We don’t know with certainty the life spans of current turbines,” said Lisa Linowes, executive director of WindAction Group, a nonprofit which studies landowner rights and the impact of the wind energy industry. Its funding, according to its website, comes from environmentalists, energy experts and public donations and not the fossil fuel industry.

Linowes said most of the wind turbines operating within the United States have been put in place within the past 10 years. In Texas, most have become operational since 2005. “So we’re coming in on 10 years of life and we’re seeing blades need to be replaced, cells need to be replaced, so it’s unlikely they’re going to get 20 years out of these turbines,” she said.

Estimates put the tear-down cost of a single modern wind turbine, which can rise from 250 to 500 feet above the ground, at $200,000. With more than 50,000 wind turbines spinning in the United States, decommissioning costs are estimated at around $10 billion.

In Texas, there are approximately 12,000 turbines operational in the state. Decommissioning these turbines could cost as much as $2.3 billion. Which means landowners and counties in Texas could be on the hook for tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars if officials determine non-functional wind turbines need to be removed.

Or if that proves to be too costly, as seems likely, some areas of the state could become post-apocalyptic wastelands steepled with teetering and fallen wind turbines, locked in a rigor mortis of obsolescence.

The key here is that wind power is simply not profitable. The turbines were built almost exclusively because of giant federal subsidies — increased significantly during the Obama administration — that are expected to cost taxpayers almost $24 billion from 2016 to 2020.

Those subsidies might disappear under the Trump administration, but even if they don’t, they aren’t there to remove turbines but to build them. The companies that built the turbines aren’t making enough to pay for their replacement.

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OSIRIS-REx makes second course correction

OSIRIS-REx, on its way to a December rendezvous with the potentially dangerous asteroid Bennu, successfully made its second course correction last week.

Rendezvous is scheduled for December 3rd. The probed will orbit the asteroid for about six months, then dive in to get a sample in July 2020, returning it to Earth in 2023.

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Failed Soviet-era Venus probe to crash to Earth between 2023-2025

A failed Soviet-era probe to Venus that never left Earth orbit is now predicted to crash to Earth sometime between 2023-2025.

The Kosmos 482 interplanetary station, which was unsuccessfully sent towards Venus in 1972 by the USSR, may crash land on Earth between 2023 and 2025, astronomer and cosmonautics historian Pavel Shubin told Sputnik. He couldn’t pinpoint the exact location of the future crash site, but noted that it would be between 52 degrees north and 52 degree south latitude.

The astronomer has studied the data on Kosmos 482 orbit as well as its deterioration and detected that it started to degrade faster due to it getting closer to Earth and experiencing increased gravitational pull.

He also expressed confidence that the station would successfully reach the surface since it was adapted for entering the much harsher atmosphere of Venus so is able to endure stress of 300g and 100 atmospheres. The astronomer is anxious to study the station after it lands in order to analyze how prolonged exposure to open space affected its materials.

It is not likely that this probe will land anywhere where it can be recovered, as most of the Earth is ocean. However, the scientist’s hopes are not unreasonable, as it is always worthwhile for future engineering designs to study how the environment of space effects materials over long periods of time.

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Four of thirteen trapped Thai cavers rescued

Divers yesterday have managed to rescue four boys from the Thai soccer team that have been trapped underground by rising cave waters.

The first boy rescued exited the cave 5:40 p.m. local time, followed by three of his team members shortly after, Chiang Rai provincial acting Gov. Narongsak Osatanakorn said in a Sunday night news conference. The boys traveled 0.62 miles underwater before they reached safety.

They were taken to the hospital — three by helicopter and one by ambulance — once they were out of the cave.

This is truly a heroic and miraculous rescue effort. The upper levels of the cave the boys are trapped within are likely to eventually fill with water before the rainy season ends in October. None have ever dived before, and this isn’t diving but cave diving, possibly the most dangerous sport anywhere on Earth. In fact, an Apollo astronaut on the Moon is doing something less dangerous.

That they have gotten four boys out so far is good news. We mustn’t count our chickens yet. Traveling two-thirds of a mile underwater in a cave, with likely zero visibility, is not trivial, even with two divers to guide the boy every step of the way. One rescue diver has already died in this effort. The remaining eight boys and soccer coach face a daunting challenge.

One more note: Elon Musk yesterday announced that he is sending some of his engineers to Thailand to help. Some reports indicated he was building a submersible, but I do not think those are right. This article describes how they are helping, and it mostly has to do with helping with the pumping and other ground issues related to Musk’s tunnel boring company.

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China reveals details of its planned heavy-lift and reuseable rockets

The new colonial movement: At a conference in late May a senior designer for China’s space program revealed details of their planned heavy-lift rocket, called the Long March 9 and comparable to SLS, as well as their first reusable rocket, the Long March 8.

The Long March 9 will be a Saturn 5-class super-heavy-lift rocket comparable in capacity to the Space Launch System currently being developed under NASA.

According to Long, the Long March 9 will be capable of lifting 140 metric tons to low Earth orbit, 50 tons to Earth-Moon transfer orbit, and 44 tons to Earth-Mars transfer orbit. The 93-meter-high Long March 9 is expected to have a launch mass of over 4,000 metric tons, producing close to 6,000 tons of thrust.

…Long explained in the lecture that the Long March 8 would be CALT’s first rocket to attempt first stage reusability, which will launch for the first time in 2021.

As previously reported, the Long March 8 is based on the existing Long March rockets, using a core very similar to that of the 3.35-meter-diameter Long March 7, a new-generation medium-lift rocket that had its maiden flight in 2016, with the second stage to be based on the 3-meter-diameter liquid hydrogen-liquid oxygen second stage of the older Long March 3A. The rocket will also use two solid propellant boosters, likely based on the Long March 11.

Long stated that both the first stage and boosters will attempt vertical landing.

At this moment we must take China’s future space plans somewhat seriously. The upper management of their government is packed with former space program managers, all of whom are likely to view space development favorably. They have also done a good job either stealing our ideas and technology and adapting it, or building their own. And they have a somewhat robust economy, much of which has been privatized, that is generating a lot of cash for their government.

We must also remember that though the Chinese are signatories to the Outer Space Treaty, and will not publicly claim any territory they eventually possess on the Moon, Mars, or asteroids, they are likely to privately ignore that treaty and make it very clear to everyone that any territory they possess is theirs, and theirs alone. I also expect them to devise ways to expand that definition of possession to make it as extensive as possible.

The problem we have in competing with them is that our government seems more focused on creating pork instead of affordable and useful rockets. SLS’s design is cumbersome, expensive, and inefficient. It can’t fly often enough to accomplish much. And though private options that are more efficient and practical are now being built, the federal government seems very uninterested in buying them.

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Witchhunt against Northrop Grumman employee because of his private opinions

The new blacklist: The modern McCarthyism goes after a Northrop Grumman employee because it doesn’t like his private political opinions.

Aerospace giant Northrop Grumman Corp. said it is taking “immediate action” to look into a report that one of its engineers is part of a white nationalist group and was involved in violent brawls during last year’s Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va.

Investigative news outlet ProPublica and PBS documentary program “Frontline” identified Michael Miselis, 29, as a member of the Rise Above Movement, which they described as a Southern California group that “expresses contempt for Muslims, Jews and immigrants.” The Southern Poverty Law Center civil rights group describes the Rise Above Movement as a hate group, and categorizes it specifically as a white nationalist group.

Read the article. The attitude of the author will chill you to the bone.

This is not an endorsement of this employee’s political opinions. In fact, a close read of the article suggests that this person might not even be the person with such opinions. Nonetheless, in a free country one should have the right to any opinions, and those opinions, no matter how vile, should not prevent you from earning your living. Furthermore, a free country will allow you to express those opinions, freely, without threat of harm.

It does not appear we live in such a country at this time. This individual has been identified as having opinions the social justice warriors of the left do not like, and thus he must be stoned to death. I am surprised they haven’t yet gotten the pitchforks and torches out and lynched him.

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Astronomers dispute existence of galaxy without dark matter

The uncertainty of science: A new analysis by astronomers disputes the conclusion of different astronomers earlier this year that they had found a galaxy that lacked any dark matter.

The original paper from March based its stunning claim of a dark-matter-free galaxy on the way clusters of stars moved through the thin, diffuse galaxy called NGC1052–DF2: They appeared to move at exactly the speed Einstein’s equations of general relativity would predict based on the visible matter (so, slower than they would if the galaxy held dark matter).

This new paper on arXiv suggested otherwise: First, the authors pointed out that NGC1052–DF2 was already discovered way back in 1976 and has previously been referred to by three different names: KKSG04, PGC3097693 and [KKS2000]04.

Then, using those names and then finding all the available data on the galaxy, the researchers argued that the researchers from the March paper simply mismeasured the distance between that galaxy and Earth. This means the galaxy is probably much closer to us than the original researchers thought.

Astronomers calculate the mass of galaxies based on the objects’ brightness and distance. If the galaxy examined in the paper is closer to Earth than previously thought, then its dimness means it’s also much less massive than researchers thought. And at the newly calculated, lighter mass, all the other features of the galaxy make a lot more sense, the researchers in the new paper said. Its globular clusters aren’t moving slowly because they’re in some strange dark matter-desert; instead, they’re moving at the regular speed for a very lightweight galaxy, the arXiv authors said.

To put it bluntly, the astronomers don’t have enough solid data to decide this issue one way or the other. Moreover, the dispute indicates once again that the whole dark matter theory itself is based on very limited data with large margins of error. It might be the best theory we’ve got to explain the data we have, but no good scientist takes it too seriously. We just don’t know enough yet.

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Kepler on verge of death

The Kepler space telescope is now almost out of fuel, and scientists have ceased science observations to devote the telescope’s last days downloading its last 51 days of data.

The telescope lasted far longer than planned, and discovered thousands of exoplanets. Its archives will be producing new discoveries for decades. And a new exoplanet space telescope, TESS, is already in orbit to take over.

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Searchers find fragment of asteroid that hit Earth June 2nd

Researchers and local park volunteers in Botswana’s Central Kalahari Game Reserve on July 8 announced the discovery of a fragment from an asteroid that hit the Earth June 2 only eight hours after it was discovered.

“The biggest uncertainty we faced was to determine where exactly the meteorites fell,” says Peter Jenniskens a subject expert of the SETI Institute in California, who traveled to Botswana to assist in the search. He teamed up with Oliver Moses of the University of Botswana’s Okavango Research Institute (ORI), to gather security surveillance videos in Rakops and Maun to get better constraints on the position and altitude of the fireball’s explosion. Team member Tim Cooper of the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa calibrated videos to the south.

After disruption, the asteroid fragments scattered over a wide area, blown by the wind while falling down. Calculations of the landing area were done independently by the NASA-sponsored group headed by Jenniskens, as well as by Esko Lyytinen and Jarmo Moilanen of the Finnish Fireball Network. These calculations were defining the fall area well enough to warrant the deployment of a search expedition.

The first meteorite was found after five days of walking and scouring a landscape of sand, thick tall grass, shrubs and thorn bushes by a team of geoscientists from the Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BUIST), the Botswana Geoscience Institute (BGI) and from ORI, guided by Jenniskens. The Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks granted access and deployed their park rangers to provide protection and participate in the search. BUIST student Lesedi Seitshiro was first to spot the stone.

This is only the second time in history that a small asteroid observed in space was recovered following its impact on Earth.

I have amateur astronomer friends who attempted to do this exact thing, here in Tucson. We actually went out one day hunting for a meteorite they had tracked, but were unsuccessful in finding anything. To have had success we would have likely required more search time and a better constraint on the asteroid’s landing zone.

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India tests launch abort system for its own manned capsule

India on July 5 successfully tested its own launch abort system for use on its own manned capsule.

The test was over in 259 seconds, during which the crew escape system along with crew module soared skyward, reached an altitude of nearly 2.7 km, swerved over the Bay of Bengal and floated back to Earth under its parachutes about 2.9 km from Sriharikota.

A video showing excerpts of the test can be viewed here.

India has not yet fully committed to building a manned capsule, but they have been moving forward on testing for several years now, and I expect them to make a commitment within the next year. In fact, I think it likely that India will be the fourth nation, after Russia, the U.S., and China, to launch its own astronauts into space on its own spacecraft.

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Back from Belize

Home at last! The week of caving in Belize was somewhat exhausting, which is why I only had time to post on the one day I took time off. It was a great success however. We managed to survey all of my goals for the week, which essentially covers the most important parts of the cave. We also had a number of local cave guides participate so that they could learn cave surveying and hopefully continue the survey on their own. The map will get finished much faster if the locals mapped it.

More important, it is their cave. They really are the ones that should do it.

I will be posting throughout the day, catching up.

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AT&T: How to Use the Dial Phone

An evening pause: I would not be surprised if some of the younger readers of Behind the Black would need the instructions in this silent film in order to properly use a rotary phone.

Introducing any new technology requires instruction. This was strange stuff to homeowners in 1927, but a great improvement over party line phones that required an operator to do the dialing. And this was cutting edge then, and a symbol of the future.

Hat tip Jim Mallamace.

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2″ 2.5″ 3″ 4″ 5″ 6″ 7″ 8″ 10″ 12″ 16″ 24″ 36″ 48″

An evening pause: As John Adams predicted right after ratification of the Declaration of Independence, Independence Day “…ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”

It was a declaration for freedom. And even if freedom dies here in this country, the idea will live on, as long as the individual soul of any human beats strong.

As an aside, check out this old post, before I moved to Arizona, when I used to participate on a fireworks team.

Hat tip Willi Kusche.

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The Declaration of Independence

Link here. I think today it is worthwhile to read the whole thing, even though it is the first sentence in the paragraph below that is most often quoted. The following sentences are just as important, though less frequently quoted.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

All governments tend toward oppression. Power-hungry individuals always act to use the power government wields for their own corrupt purposes. Thus, Jefferson was correct above when he said that, when those abuses become bad enough, it is the right of the citizen “to throw off such government.”

We sadly might be approaching a time in the U.S. where such action will once again be necessary.

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Day off on the Fourth of July in Belize

After three hard days of caving, I decided to take the Fourth of July off to rest, relax, sit by the pool, and catch up with the news in space and elsewhere.

The cave surveying has been going well, but we have been trying to finish the survey of the cave’s largest room, and have found it daunting. Basically we have four survey teams spread out across the room’s width, marching forward to cover the entire passage. Since the room is never less than 150 feet wide, this takes time. After three full days of work, we finally reached the far wall yesterday, though we still have significant clean-up in many places.

Nor is this the cave’s only passage. We have several other areas that need survey, many of which I hope the local cavers will do after we Americans go home on Saturday.

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