Sunspot Update: The Sun quiets down, but just a little

With the posting yesterday by NOAA of its monthly update to its graph showing the long term trends in the Sun’s sunspot activity, it is time for me to do my own update, showing this graph below with annotations in order to provide some context.

While sunspot activity dropped slightly in January, the activity still remained well above the prediction made by NOAA’s panel of solar scientists in 2020, with the upward trend towards a solar maximum much steeper than predicted as well.
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The first signs of a coming revolution for freedom — from the next generation

A little child shall lead them, by James Johnson
“A little child shall lead them,” painting by James L. Johnson.

If there is any hopeful sign coming out of the last two years of Wuhan panic, it might be the long term reaction of the young to how the political community has treated them.

Let me explain. For decades it has been assumed, quite rightly, that the young would automatically gravitate to the Democratic Party. That party’s tendency to favor social programs based on helping everyone fit well with the young’s lack of experience, their natural instinct to think emotionally, and their personal lives so tightly bound to their school’s social community. The young lived in a type of emotional and socialist existence, so it was natural for them to instinctively favor the socialist ideas based on feel-good emotions put forth routinely by the Democratic Party.

Polls and voting patterns have consistently for decades proven this assumption to be true. For example, small college towns found the politics of their communities suddenly shift significantly leftward when the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18. The large but temporary college population in their towns, mostly leaning left, suddenly swamped out the more moderate voting patterns of the smaller general population.

This assumption has also been illustrated by many get-out-the-vote campaigns put forth by the Democratic Party. Rather than try to get voters of all stripes to vote, the Democrats would routinely focus these campaigns inside college campuses, a tactic that for decades has repeatedly brought them great success.

Above all — and most important — the Democratic Party never put forth policy proposals that would offend the young. Instead, the party would aim its policies at businesses, which the young did not own and would thus not be impacted by any negative consequences of any new leftist laws.

The Democrats love affair with “green” policies is a perfect example. A campaign to save the planet from global warming is something that sounds so good to the emotionally-driven young. For children under eighteen environmental issues would especially resonant. They would naturally like the high-minded idealistic sounding goals of environmentalism while feeling none of the negative effects of its sometimes draconian regulation. When these youngsters reached voting age they would thus instinctively pick the Democratic Party as their home, since it had portrayed itself as the true representative of their idealistic but very naive beliefs.

Environmentalism is just one of a whole slate of policy positions taken by the Democrats, from poverty to police abuse to civil rights, that have been designed to please the young without impacting them negatively in any way. The result has been a young population that routinely favored in great numbers the Democratic Party.

The Wuhan panic however has changed this situation radically. » Read more

China’s plans to dominate space revealed in a new Chinese government white paper

China's 2022 white paper on space

The new colonial movement: The Chinese government today released a white paper summarizing in broad terms what it has accomplished in space over the past five years and what it intends to do in the next five years.

If this white paper is ignored by western governments, the ramifications to human freedom and civilization in space will be profound, and quite likely tragic.

You can read the English text of the white paper here.

The paper makes clear China’s considerable successes and advancements in the aerospace sector since 2016. It ramped up its manned program with the launch of two prototype space modules followed by the on-going assembly of its fullsize station. It has successfully landed probes on the Moon and Mars, and brought back samples from the former. It is presently upgrading or replacing its older rockets. It has launched a full constellation of Landsat-type Earth-resource satellites. It has expanded its satellite communications and broadcasting capabilities. It has completed its 30-satellite GPS-type constellation.

And that’s only a short summary.

The white paper then outlines China’s ambitious plans for the next five years. Three areas are of greatest importance.
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One doctor’s perspective on COVID

Since the arrival of the Wuhan panic in March 2020 my family doctor, Robert Lending, has been sending his patients a weekly update on what he knows about COVID and its risks to them and to others.

From the beginning he has maintained in these updates a neutral attitude, focusing entirely on facts and data. He has kept his opinions out of his updates, and has generally taken on faith much of the data released by official government agencies.

Nearly two years later, and 88 updates, Lending’s patience has finally worn thin. His 89th and most recent update, released yesterday, was quite blunt. As he told me when he gave me permission to reprint it in full,

I am getting sick of it all so I am starting to opinionate more.

Below the fold is that most recent update. I have edited out Lending’s references to his patients and regular practice, focusing instead on his analysis, based on his detailed long term review of the literature coming from science journals and government agencies. I have highlighted his most pertinent conclusions.

My readers are free to take whatever conclusions they wish from what he writes. My conclusion is that his analysis proves that everything I have written about the Wuhan virus since the beginning of 2020 has turned out to be essentially correct. This virus was never the threat it was ginned up to be, and was instead merely a political tool of fear to increase the power of those in government while oppressing everyone else.

Dr. Lending’s analysis — and his permission to me to republish it — indicates that I am no longer the only person willing to say so, publicly.
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It is finally time to end the Wuhan panic of the past two years

How governments today determine policy
How governments today determine policy

When looked at dispassionately, the news about COVID in the past few months has consistently proven two very basic points. First, the reasons to fear COVID are now definitely gone, assuming they ever existed at all. Second, the oppressive lockdown and mask policies imposed by most governments were an epic failure.

Rather than write a lot of text, I am going to provide my readers instead a nice linkfest, divided up into a variety of subcategories. Not only do the recent facts prove the failure of the government reaction to COVID, all these stories should be cause for celebration, as they show that not only has the Wuhan flu never been as dangerous as the fear-mongers have claimed, its limited but serious threat to the aged and sickly is now also fading.

The real question is whether the public and governments will actually celebrate, or stick their heads in the sand because they have fallen in love with their fear of COVID.

So, let’s take a look at the recent facts:
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Freedom is under siege, and the besiegers have now told us they have no mercy

Liberty under siege
Liberty under siege.

For many years I deeply and sincerely believed that many rank-and-file Democrat voters honestly did not know how corrupt and power-hungry the political leaders of their party had become. I thought that if I could simply get them to see the clear evidence of misbehavior and abuse of power that has been going on in the Democratic Party without check since Bill Clinton was president, they would reconsider their voting habits and abandon their support of that party.

I thought that the vast majority of Democrats were decent people who opposed oppression and intolerance and simply were unaware that they were voting for it when they supported the Democratic Party.

I now know unequivocally that I was wrong. Two stories in the past week illustrate bluntly that a large number of ordinary Democrats, maybe even a majority, are eager supporters of oppression and intolerance and dictatorship. They like the corruption and abuse-of-power coming from Democratic Party politicians. They even want more of it.
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Pushback: New VA Attorney General shows Republicans the right way to fight the left

The way it has been for decades
The way it has been for decades

All around us the oppressive leftists of the Democratic Party are in control. They dominate the mainstream media, the education and science communities, the bureaucracy, the major social media companies, and the entertainment industry. That monolith of top-down rule now imposes its will everywhere, blacklisting and destroying anyone who dares dissent from its agenda.

For decades these intolerant socialists and communists and hate-filled bigots have steadily gained more and more control and power because no one would truly resist them. Time after time they would do something egregious and never face any consequences. For example, in 1999 a DC bureaucrat was forced to resign because he used the word “niggardly,” properly describing how the political world was sometimes cheap and miserly for the wrong reasons. Several ignorant co-workers accused him falsely of using a racial slur, and DC mayor, Democrat Anthony Williams, quickly forced the man to resign. Shortly thereafter Williams realized his error and arranged for the man’s rehiring, but never did anything to discipline the illiterate fools who caused the furor.

Republicans in this matter are far worse. » Read more

Roscosmos struggles to figure out how private enterprise works

Liberty for private enterprise in Russia’s space industry?

Doug Messier at Parabolic Arc today published a translation of an interview given by Oxana Wolf, Roscosmos Deputy Director of the Department of Advanced Programs and the Sphere Project, describing Roscosmos’ effort to work with Russian private commercial aerospace companies.

Though she declared near the end of the interview that “We want our private companies to succeed,” the rest of the interview indicated that she and Roscosmos don’t really understand how private enterprise works, though it also appeared both are struggling to figure it out.

For example, when asked why Russia is having so much difficulty changing its regulations to encourage private enterprise, Wolf said the following:

I wondered this question. I saw at what point the Americans decided to change their legislation in order to raise a whole galaxy of private owners and entrust them with tasks that were previously solved by the state. Changes in space laws began in the 1980s, and laws that got [Jeff] Bezos, [Elon] Musk and [Richard] Branson and others on their feet were passed in the mid-1990s. That is, the “era of private traders education” began more than 30 years ago!

When the “private traders” proved their ability to provide quality services, the American government agencies involved in space, on a competitive basis, gave them orders for launches. [emphasis mine]

To her mind, the government led this change. In Russia’s top-down culture, such change must always come from above, from government leadership. However, her impression of this history is wrong. » Read more

Today’s blacklisted American: Space historian and science journalist blackballed for opposing COVID shot mandates

Banned because the author expressed an opinion
Banned because the author expressed an opinion.

After a year of daily reporting the blacklisting of hundreds of innocent Americans for merely expressing dissenting opinions, I am sad to say that the new leftist McCarthyism has finally come after me.

In December I was blackballed by most of the Arizona caving community because I had disagreed with their decisions to discriminate against anyone who had not gotten a COVID shot. One of the local clubs was going run an outdoor camping/caving event and had decided to require everyone who attended to either prove they had gotten the jabs or could show they were tested negative for the Wuhan flu in the past two days. I objected, first because this was discriminatory and was demanding private medical information from people that by law was forbidden, and second because the policy made no sense because the shots provided no certain protection against the virus.

Realizing that their policy was not going to do anything to protect anyone from COVID, the organizers cancelled the event out of fear, and then made both me and one other protesting caver scapegoats for their decision, demanding we be banned from all caving organizations. What made this particular action especially hurtful was that it was pushed and imposed by a number of people who I thought had been close friends. I instead discovered that they really didn’t give a damn about me, and if I didn’t bow to their political will they were most eager to make me a non-person.

So much for friendship, eh?

I hadn’t reported this at length in public because it was essentially a personal matter. Now however this new fad of blacklisting anyone who disagrees with the new fascists and their medical mandates has reached out to try to hurt me and others professionally.
» Read more

2021: The year that private enterprise took over rocketry

The year that just ended, 2021, was for the field of rocketry the most successful year since the launch of Sputnik in 1957. In a year when the world was still racked by COVID panic and its oppressive restrictions on both private and public life, the global launch industry was able to rack up the most launches ever, successfully completing 134 launches and topping the previous best year, 1975, by one.

The chart below shows all successful launches by every nation in the 21st century. It also shows in the U.S. the breakdown of those launches by private companies.
» Read more

Sunspot update: The Sun blasts off!

Over the weekend NOAA posted its monthly update to its graph showing the long term trends in the Sun’s sunspot activity. As I do every month, I have posted that graph below, annotated to show the previous solar cycle predictions and thus provide context.

In December the Sun’s sunspot activity not only continued the pattern of the past two years — whereby sunspot activity has consistently exceeded the prediction of NOAA’s solar scientist panel — the amount of activity shot up like a rocket. December 2021 saw the most sunspots in a single month since September 2015, when the Sun was about a third of the way into its ramp down from the solar maximum in 2014.

» Read more

A small victory in Nevada against COVID mandates illustrates the ongoing corrupt politicizing of all of American culture

Might still exist in Nevada
Might still exist in Nevada.

First the good news: An elected Nevada legislative commission last week overturned an extension proposed by the state’s board of health of its mandate that all college students in the state get COVID shots or be banned from school.

Initially approved in August by the Nevada State Board of Health, the emergency provision was set to last only 120-days, according to The Nevada Independent. When the mandate expired last week and was sent to the Legislative Commission for review, the Commission chose not to make it permanent, with all six Republican lawmakers voting against the mandate and all six Democrats for it.

The tie means the mandate is not renewed.

This small victory for freedom and against irrational discrimination and blacklists illustrates some fundamental points about the entire COVID madness as well as America’s evolving culture.
» Read more

Scientists discover underground reservoir of hydrogen, likely ice, near Martian equator

Detection of underground hydrogen in Valles Marineris
Click for full image.

In what could be a very significant discovery, scientists using Europe’s Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) have discovered a surprisingly large underground reservoir of hydrogen, likely ice, near Martian equator and inside the solar system’s largest known canyon, Valles Marineris.

The map to the right, reduced to post here, provides all the important data. From its caption:

The coloured scale at the bottom of the frame shows the amount of ‘water-equivalent hydrogen’ (WEH) by weight (wt%). As reflected on these scales, the purple contours in the centre of this figure show the most water-rich region. In the area marked with a ‘C’, up to 40% of the near-surface material appears to be composed of water (by weight). The area marked ‘C’ is about the size of the Netherlands and overlaps with the deep valleys of Candor Chaos, part of the canyon system considered promising in our hunt for water on Mars.

What the caption does not note is the latitude of this hydrogen, about 3 to 10 degrees south latitude. Assuming the hydrogen represents underground ice, this would be the first detection on Mars below 30 degrees latitude, and the very first in the equatorial regions. Data from orbit has suggested that Mars has a lot of water ice, found near the surface more and more as you move into higher latitudes above 30 degrees and making Mars much like Antarctica. Almost no ice however had until now been detected below 30 degrees latitude. As the European Space Agency’s press release noted,
» Read more

Kickstarter campaign for video game based on Pioneer begins January 18, 2022!

The asteroid mining ship Dream Watcher docked on the Mars space station.
From Pioneer: The asteroid mining ship Dream Watcher docked
on the Mars space station Landville, c2183.

Back in January, 2021 I wrote an essay, Pioneers and the Future, touting the coming Kickstarter campaign for a digital game based on my science fiction book, Pioneer, that we then expected to start in only a few short weeks. As I concluded,

Very shortly a crowd-funding project will launch, based on my book Pioneer itself. An adventure video game using a graphic novel style has been under development for the past two years and will launch as a crowdfunding project in just a matter of weeks. Both illustrations in this essay come from that project. The producers will be offering some exclusive and limited rewards for supporters, both from themselves and from me personally, so keep an eye on Behind the Black for announcements. You will want to be the first through the door when this project launches.

Not surprisingly, a number of ongoing issues related to COVID as well as casting forced a delay in that campaign.

No more! On January 18, 2022, the Kickstarter campaign for this new video game, Pioneer 2140CC, based on my science fiction book Pioneer, will begin.

The webpage for the game and the campaign can be found at The press release can be read here.

Tokyo, Japan – Enterstellar Studios is excited to announce that Pioneer 2140CC, a visual novel style, sci-fi space video game, will launch on Kickstarter January 18th, 2022. Pioneer 2140CC is based on the book Pioneer, written in 1983 by famed space historian, radio personality, and cave explorer Robert Zimmerman, who writes about space, science, and culture at his website Behind the Black. The Kickstarter campaign will run from January 18th until February 24th and offer unique physical and rare NFT (non-fungible token) rewards. A minimum funding goal is set at $73,000 USD

The press release outlines many of the game’s planned highlights, as well as the limited and exclusive rewards available for those who donate to the campaign.

The creator of the game, Aaron Jenkin, has worked with me tirelessly for the past four years developing the game so that it will not only be a great video game, it will also faithfully capture accurately Pioneer’s story, characters, ideas, and fast-paced action. I have been endlessly impressed with the quality of Aaron’s work, as well as the top-notch artists he had brought into the project from day one.

So, if you like video games as well as science fiction, this game is for you! Give it a look, and when January 18, 2022 rolls around please consider donating generously so that Aaron can make Pioneer 2140CC a reality!

Stop being afraid!

After almost two years the data continues to confirm the very first data in March 2020, showing the same thing time after time after time after time. COVID-19 is merely a variation of the ordinary flu, and the panic that has accompanied its arrival in early 2020 was never justified, not for one instant. Let me do a quick review of some recent data points:

First, the Wuhan flu is harmless to more than 99% of the population. If you are under 70 and healthy and get the virus, you are going to survive it. Period. And I say this from personal experience, as I am 68, have both asthma and a heart condition, and I just survived COVID. It wasn’t pleasant, but after two weeks it is over, and here I am.

More important, the numbers and data prove my anecdotal experience, as I noted in a detailed essay in October 26, 2021 — How deadly is COVID-19, really? — using numbers from the CDC as well as the New York Times. More than 99% of the population survives COVID-19, with no serious long term issues.

CDC estimates as of October 2021

Since then the CDC has updated its estimates of the number of people who have been infected by the Wuhan flu, compared to the numbers who have died, as shown in the screen capture to the right. Based on these numbers, 146 million have been infected by COVID (a little less than half the country) and 921,000 have died, resulting in an overall survival rate for anyone who gets COVID-19 as a robust 99.37%.

And that number is deceiving, because the large bulk — almost all — of those in that 0.63% who died were elderly (average age 78) and very sick (with one to three morbidities). A very few were younger, but were generally in very poor healthy (obese or with diabetes).

If you were part of the general healthy population, COVID-19 was harmless to you. In fact, half the country already knows this, as they have been infected and are alive to tell about it. Most had minor symptoms, though many (like myself) got sick for several weeks and then recovered. All however survived, just like the flu.

COVID-19 simply does not merit any special actions, other than to protect that elderly and very vulnerable population. Ordinary people must stop being afraid of it. Take off the masks. Rip down the plexiglass. Hug your friends. Return to normal life.

And most important, stop being afraid!
» Read more

A quick one week fund-raising campaign for Behind the Black: Thank You!

My quick one week fund-raising campaign for Behind the Black is now over.

Thank you to everyone that donated or subscribed. As always I am surprised by the number of people who do so, considering that my work here is free for the taking. Because of this, to make sure everyone sees this message of thanks I will keep it on the to of the page for the next few days.

You of course can still donation or subscribe, if you wish. All you need to do is go to the tip jar below or in the right column, depending on the technology you use to view the webpage. There you will find four options for supporting me, including by subscription or donation.

An example of good public school education

First rocket launch of the day

Those who are regular readers of this webpage know that I generally have a low opinion of the American public school system, based on ample evidence. It generally fails to educate while working to abuse and indoctrinate young children in ways that are so ugly and inappropriate that often the administrators and teachers involved could actually be charged with child abuse.

Today I am instead going to provide an example of a public school doing right by its students. On Saturday I was invited to watch as an afterschool engineering group, run by John Morris, the Engineering & Mathematics teacher at Casa Grande Union High School in Arizona, went out to launch model rockets that they had built themselves.

The launch to the right was the first of the day. The rest of the post below is image oriented, to give you a feel of what it involved in teaching young high school students how to make and launch small rockets. That activity, while involving relatively simple engineering, provides them the right grounding for learning how to work hard, make sure they do the work right, and learning that failure is really only a step towards success.
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How deadly is COVID-19, really?

It is now almost twenty months since COVID-19 crossed the ocean from China and arrived in the United States. When it arrived there was great fear as its true deadliness at that time was unknown. Though the sparse data from China, South Korea, and the Diamond Princess cruise ship suggested it was merely a variation of the annual flu and not something to fear, the computer models put forth by a variety of scientific institutions at that time instead predicted millions were about die from it.

No one really knew for certain. Some legitimately argued that the lockdowns, mask mandates, and oppressive restrictions on normal activities were necessary to limit its harm.

Almost two years have now passed, and we can now assess realistically which of those scenarios was accurate. To best understand these things I strongly believe is always best to look at the big picture, the larger and bigger the better. In this case, let’s look at the entire U.S. and measure COVID-19’s impact by noting the total number of people in the United States who have become infected by COVID since its arrival and comparing that with the total number who have died. These actual numbers will tells us truly how deadly COVID has been, and whether our continued fear of it is justified.

CDC COVID estimates as of May 2021
CDC’s COVID-19 estimates as of May 2021

According to CDC estimates, as of May 2021, 120.2 million Americans had been infected by COVID, of which 101.8 million experienced actual symptoms. The CDC in these same estimates in May calculated that 767,000 people had died from COVID.

These CDC estimates were further supported by a Nature peer review study published in August 2021, which estimated that by the end of 2020 100 million Americans had been infected with COVID.
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The COVID lies of governments and scientists

Liar Fauci
The man has been lying from day one.

Two stories this morning illustrate once again the utter dishonesty and untrustworthyness of the governments and scientists who have been promoting strict lockdowns and mask and vaccine mandates as a response to COVID-19.

First, the NIH yesterday admitted in a letter to Congress that it had funded the gain-of-function research at China’s Wuhan lab, despite repeated blunt denials by it and former NIH Director Francis Collins and NIAID Director Anthony Fauci.

In a letter addressed to Rep. James Comer (R-KY), NIH Principal Deputy Director Lawrence A. Tabak cites a “limited experiment” to determine whether “spike proteins from naturally occurring bat coronaviruses circulating in China were capable of binding to the human ACE2 receptor in a mouse model.” According to the letter, humanized mice infected with the modified bat virus “became sicker” than those exposed to an unmodified version of the same bat coronavirus.

[Lead scientists Peter] Daszak failed to report this finding, and has been given five days to submit “any and all unpublished data from the experiments and world conducted” under the NIH grant.

When Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) had accused Fauci of funding this research, Fauci had not only denied it, he accused Paul of being a liar. In truth, it was Fauci who was lying in his testimony to Congress. Fauci and the NIH provided a foreign government funding to do secret biological weapons research that, in the end, was used to attack our country.

Fauci should be fired forthwith. Collins had stepped down on October 5th, probably because he knew this information was about to be released, proving he had been lying.

The second story is as egregious. It appears that the mask study that the Australian government has touted to impose mask mandates throughout their country is filled with so many basic errors and faulty research procedures that it should never have been published in the first place.
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Did China test a hypersonic weapon in August?

Long March 2C rocket
China’s Long March 2C rocket

On October 17th The Financial Times published a story claiming, based on anonymous sources, that one of China’s five launches in August tested a hypersonic weapon, which supposedly circled the globe to impact the Earth only 24 miles from its target.

The Financial Times story is behind a paywall, but not surprisingly it was picked up by much of the mainstream press, with the conservative press — as illustrated by this Daily Wire story — accepting the weapon as fact, while the leftist press — as illustrated by this CNN story — giving China the opportunity to deny the claim.

Did it actually happen? I have no idea. I would add however that I would not trust any story dependent wholly on anonymous sources, considering the unreliability of today’s press and the repeated evidence that numerous federal agencies in the military and intelligence communities routinely feed it disinformation for their own political purposes. These agencies, including the Space Force, want to encourage Congress to fund them, and creating a bogey man threat that the press can tout has for decades been the standard way to do it.

To get a better idea whether this hypersonic flight happened, let’s review the actual Chinese launches in August to see if any might be a likely candidate. For a launch to fit the description, there would have to be almost no information about its payload, and that payload would have to have not reached orbit, since the hypersonic test circled the globe once and then impacted the Earth.
» Read more

Shatner vs today’s America

Shatner vs everyone else
Shatner, on the left, turns away from Bezos and the spray of champagne.

Capitalism in space: The profound, emotional, and thoughtful reaction of William Shatner to his short suborbital flight yesterday on Blue Origin’s New Shepard space capsule contrasted starkly with the crass, rude, and shallow response of his co-passengers and Jeff Bezos.

You can watch Shatner’s comments right after landing at the video at the link. Watch how he tries to express his thoughts to Bezos immediately, and is almost ignored as Bezos and the others instead want to spritz champagne at each other. Shatner turns away, almost in disgust. The screen capture to the right shows him turning away, not because he doesn’t want to be hit by champagne but because he doesn’t want that shallowness to steal from him the emotions he now feels.

Eventually Bezos realizes Shatner is going to say his peace, and that he better pay attention. Shatner, almost in tears, struggles to note how shocked he was at the relative thinness of the atmosphere. To him, the rocket so quickly zipped out of a blue sky into blackness. As he said,

“This air, which is keeping us alive, is thinner than your skin. It’s a sliver. It’s immeasurably small when you think in terms of the universe.

…”What you have given me is the most profound experience I can imagine. I’m so filled with emotion about what just happened … it’s extraordinary. I hope I never recover, that I can maintain what I feel now. I don’t want to lose it. It’s so much larger than me and life.”

Shatner is an actor. For him, the emotion is the most important thing, as that is what he has specialized in expressing on screen to others for his entire life. At this moment, however, he was not expressing the emotions of a imaginary character he was creating on screen, but his own personal emotions. He managed to do it, in the best way possible. God speed William Shatner. We shall miss you when you are gone.

That Bezos was so unprepared for this moment from Shatner was very unfortunate. It made him look very shallow and foolish, which is a shame because, as Shatner so correctly noted, Bezos was the one who made that moment possible.

Shatner, at ninety years of age, is of a different more civilized generation that believed strongly in applying thought to one’s emotions, rather than letting those emotions rule. The contrast between him and all the younger people in this clip gives us a clear snapshot of an America now gone, replaced by the thoughtless emotional America of today.

Millions have gotten COVID, almost none have died

In questioning Health & Human Services (HSS) secretary Xavier Becerra during Senate hearings last week, Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) made a comment whose significance has largely gone unnoticed. In challenging the Biden administration’s vaccine mandates that demand everyone get vaccinated, even those who have gotten the Wuhan flu and thus have a natural immunity far better than any of the vaccines, Rand said the following to Becerra:

You presume somehow to tell over 100 million Americans who have survived COVID that we have no right to determine our own medical care?” Paul asked. “You alone are on high, and you’ve made these decisions? A lawyer with no scientific background, no medical degree. This is an arrogance coupled with an authoritarianism that is unseemly and unAmerican. You, sir, are the one ignoring the science.[emphasis mine]

Most of the reporting of this hearing and Paul’s questioning of Becerra has focused on the vaccine mandate and the obvious absurdity of forcing everyone to get it, even when there is no need.

The highlighted words however are far more important. » Read more

How to discover interesting things on Mars

Overview map

Today’s cool image will do something a little different. We are going to begin in orbit, and by step-by-step zooming in we will hopefully illustrate the great challenge of finding cool geological features on the surface of Mars.

The first image to the right is an overview map of the Valles Marineris region. To its east, centered at the white dot, is a vast region of chaos terrain, endless small buttes and mesas and criss-crossing canyons. Travel in this region will always be difficult, and will likely always require some form of helicopter to get from point to point.

What is hidden in that terrain? Well, to find out you need to take a global survey from orbit with a good enough resolution to reveal some details. Below is a mosaic made from two wide angle context camera pictures taken by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

Context mosaic of chaos terrain
For full images go here and here.

This mosaic, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, only captures a small section of the long north-south strips taken by MRO. The orbiter has taken tens of thousands of these strips, in its effort to produce a global map of Mars that shows some reasonable detail.

Do you see anything in this mosaic that looks interesting? Scientists need to pore over such images, one by one, searching for geology that is both puzzling and revealing. Sometimes the features are obvious, such as a single blobby crater in the flat relatively featureless northern lowlands.

Sometimes however the search can be slow and time-consuming because the terrain is complex, as is the example to the right. The many mesas and canyons can hide many interesting features. Since MRO can’t possibly take high resolution photos of everything, scientists have to pick and choose.

The planetary scientists who use MRO did find something here worth looking at in high resolution. Can you find it? Normally I’d provide a box to indicate it, but this time I’d thought I’d challenge my readers. Before you click below to see the feature, see if you can find it yourself in this mosaic. What would you want to photograph in high resolution?
» Read more

Today’s blacklisted American: Blackballed professor at NC State sues

The Bill of Rights cancelled at North Carolina State University
Freedom of speech cancelled at
North Carolina State University.

Fighting back: Stephen Porter, a tenured professor at North Carolina State University, has just filed a lawsuit against the university and several of its faculty for blackballing him for simply disagreeing with them on issues of politics and policy.

The introduction of the legal filing [pdf] outlines clearly the actions of the university’s faculty, designed to destroy Porter’s academic career:

[I]n retaliation for Professor Stephen Porter’s protected expressions of opinion on important societal issues, Defendants have intentionally and systematically excluded him from departmental programs and activities that are necessary for him to fulfill his job requirements, effectively hollowing his job out from the inside. They have done this in a deliberate effort to set the stage for his eventual termination. … Defendants are gradually forcing Plaintiff into what is effectively a “rubber room” in retaliation for his criticisms of the so-called “social-justice” ideology that now prevails both in his department and in academia more broadly.

Read the whole complaint. It describes in ugly detail the efforts by his supervisors to isolate and ostracize him so it would be impossible for him to teach and maintain his job.

So, what exactly did Porter do to bring the wrath of these petty dictators down upon him? » Read more

The real human exploration of the solar system began on September 15, 2021

Falcon 9 at T+13 seconds

Capitalism in space: First the news: On September 15, 2021 SpaceX successfully placed four civilians into orbit using its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule.

Thus began the first private manned orbital mission in space, planned to last three days and reach an altitude of 595 kilometers or 370 miles, the highest any person has flown in space in decades.

The first stage, on its third flight, successfully landed for reuse. The Dragon capsule, Resilience, was on its second manned flight. The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

31 China
23 SpaceX
15 Russia
4 Northrop Grumman

The U.S. now leads China 34 to 31 in the national rankings.

Now the significance: There was one moment about five minutes after lift off that revealed the fundamental difference between this real flight into space and the short suborbital hops that Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic did in July.

The three most critical moments of any launch had just been completed. The first stage engines had cut off, the first stage had separated successfully, and the single upper stage engine had ignited. It was now lifting the capsule towards orbit, with the only major technical task left were its engine cut off and the separation of the Dragon capsule.

At that moment John Insprucker, principal integretion engineer for SpaceX and frequent host during its launch live streams, made a quick comment that was clearly meant to illustrate the vast difference in achievement between this flight and those two July suborbital flights. He said,
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Watching the first all-private commercial manned orbital spaceflight

Liberty and freedom enlightening the world
Liberty and freedom enlightening not only the world,
but the entire solar system.

Bumped: I will be out on a cave trip for most of today, September 15, 2021, so I’ve moved this post to the top of the page, as it clearly will be the most important space news today. I should be back before launch, but if not, enjoy!

Original post:
Capitalism in space: Let’s begin by underlining one fundamental fact about the Inspiration4 manned Dragon orbital space mission, targeted for a September 15th launch tomorrow evening, that makes it different from every other orbital space mission ever flown since Yuri Gagarin completed the first manned mission in 1961:

The government has nothing to do with it.

The launch facilities, the rocket, the capsule, the drone ship where the rocket’s first stage will land, and the entire recovery operation in the ocean are all controlled and owned by SpaceX. The passengers are private citizens, one of whom purchased the flight directly from SpaceX.

It is was organized by 38-year-old billionaire and entrepreneur Jared Isaacman, who is also a highly-capable jet warbird aircraft pilot. When he found out from SpaceX he could be the first to fly an all-commercial mission in Crew Dragon, he fronted $100 million to $200 million required and partnered with St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in a campaign to give away two of the missions seats and raise $200 Million for children’s cancer research.

Every person you will see in mission control, at the launchpad, and on the recovery ships are also private citizens, working for a private company that just happens to be in the business of flying rockets, spaceships, and humans into space. None are government employees, and I would suspect that most don’t want to be.

Not only is this mission privately run, its goals are completely different. While all past space launches were flown for purposes decided by the government, this mission’s goals have been determined by the free participants themselves. SpaceX is making money on the flight, Isaacman and his passengers are getting the chance to fulfill their long-held personal dream of going into space, and Isaacman is also using this flight to raise money for cancer research, a personal passion of his.

The flight itself will be unusual. It will be the first manned mission in more than a decade, since the last shuttle repair mission to the Hubble Space Telescope, to not go to an orbiting space station. Instead, the capsule will spend three days free-flying in orbit around the Earth. To enhance the flight for the passengers, SpaceX removed the docking port on Resilience (the capsule) and replaced it with a viewing port with large windows.

The orbit itself will in a sense push the envelope, as SpaceX plans to loft the capsule to an altitude of about 370 miles, considerably higher than ISS’s orbit of about 260 miles and about 35 miles higher than the mission to Hubble. In fact, the Inspiration4 crew will be the farthest from the Earth’s surface than any human in decades, possibly going back as far as the Apollo era.

For watching this flight I have embedded SpaceX’s live stream below, which you can also find here. You will also be able to find that stream at SpaceX’s YouTube page, where the company is also airing preflight videos.

This mission illustrates the fundamentals that built the United States of America. Give humans freedom, don’t try to tell them what to do, and they will do astonishing and magnificent things, on their own.
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The boom in commercial space continues

Starship on an early test flight
Modern rocketry soaring under freedom

Capitalism in space: In the last two days there have been so many stories about different space companies winning new contracts I think it is important to illustrate this in one essay, rather than in multiple posts. Below is the list:

The last two stories are possibly the most significant, because both show that the shift in space from government-built to privately-built, as I advocated in my 2017 policy paper, Capitalism in Space, is spreading to other countries. » Read more

Flight anomalies occurred during Branson’s suborbital flight in July

Capitalism in space: According to a New Yorker story today, the suborbital flight of Richard Branson in July experienced several flight anomalies that the article suggests should have caused it to end early before reaching space.

The rocket motor on Virgin Galactic’s ship is programmed to burn for a minute. On July 11th, it had a few more seconds to go when a red light also appeared on the console: an entry glide-cone warning. This was a big deal. I once sat in on a meeting, in 2015, during which the pilots on the July 11th mission—Dave Mackay, a former Virgin Atlantic pilot and veteran of the U.K.’s Royal Air Force, and Mike Masucci, a retired Air Force pilot—and others discussed procedures for responding to an entry glide-cone warning. C. J. Sturckow, a former marine and nasa astronaut, said that a yellow light should “scare the [“#$%#] out of you,” because “when it turns red it’s gonna be too late”; Masucci was less concerned about the yellow light but said, “Red should scare the crap out of you.” Based on pilot procedures, Mackay and Masucci had basically two options: implement immediate corrective action, or abort the rocket motor. According to multiple sources in the company, the safest way to respond to the warning would have been to abort. (A Virgin Galactic spokesperson disputed this contention.)

Aborting at that moment, however, would have dashed Branson’s hopes of beating his rival Bezos, whose flight was scheduled for later in the month, into space. Mackay and Masucci did not abort.

Virgin Galactic’s response, including the FAA’s statement, can be found here. The company noted that the flight deviation occurred because of unexpected high altitude winds. The FAA’s comment I think provides some reasonably perspective:
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Why only NOW is there mounting concern over President Biden’s mental health?

Biden as he forgets what truths we hold as self-evident in March 2020.

A Daily Mail story from last week reported on the growing concern of doctors and other health experts about the mental state of Joe Biden, the oldest American president ever.

Questions have been raised about US President Joe Biden’s cognitive wellbeing after a car crash interview over his handling of the unfolding Afghanistan crisis. America’s oldest president provided jumbled responses to questions and mixed up details about his son in an interview with ABC. The stumbles did not make the broadcasted version but were revealed when a full transcript of the interview was published overnight.

It revealed the President incorrectly stated his late son Beau Biden worked for the Navy in Afghanistan, before correcting himself that he served for the Army in Iraq. It follows a spate of gaffes and slips of the tongue since the 78-year-old ran his successful presidential campaign in 2019.

This story only highlights a growing slew of news stories and op-eds that have appeared recently during the ongoing debacle in Afghanistan, in both the right and leftwing press, that have noticed how President Biden appears repeatedly confused in interviews while showing signs that he does not quite understand what is going on around him.

Of course, for the press and the political class to recognize these facts now, after Biden has become president, is equivalent to closing the barn door after the animals have escaped. As I noted in October 2020, before the election, these cognitive issues have been obvious for the last two years, and had been getting steadily worse throughout 2020 during the election campaign. As I wrote then,
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