Category Archives: Points of Information

Jupiter in 3D

Jupiter in 3D

Cool image time! Using images from Juno, a citizen scientist going under the nom de plume YobiRoby has created the height map image to the right, showing three-dimensionality of the cloud surface of Jupiter.

Though they provide no details to go with this image, it appears it is centered on Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, the larger of the two big storms that are visible. While the smaller storm appears raised like a mound above the surrounding cloudtops, the Great Red Spot instead appears to be a mound that is depressed below the cloudtops.

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Russian cosmonauts refuse to donate sperm for space research

According to one Russian scientist, Russian cosmonauts have been refusing to donate their sperm for a space research project to be launched on that country’s next Bion-M satellite in 2023, making that research impossible.

“We have been unsuccessful in getting the Coordinating Scientific & Technical Council responsible for approving experiments on the Russian segment of the ISS to approve such a routine procedure as the handover of seminograms by cosmonauts,” [Dr. Irina Ogneva, lab chief at the Institute of Cell Biophysics outside Moscow] explained. “We are consistently impeded by objections of a moral, psychological and ethical nature, and can’t find any volunteers among the cosmonauts,” she added.

According to the scientist, the mere mention of the idea of getting the male biomaterial in conditions of space merely “causes everyone to smile” and reject it.

Ogneva also is quoted as proposing that Russia also consider a project for giving birth to the first child in space.

“We are mindful of the fact that we were always first in space and in many areas remain the leaders. Therefore, it would be nice if the first human being born in space were a Russian citizen. But we should place care for the individual, not patriotic populism, at the forefront of our efforts,” Ogneva stressed.

According to the scientist, while it remains too early to formally set the mission of having a child in space, formulating the goal is already possible. Along with technical questions, there are moral and ethical issues which remain to be resolved, since a live birth would essentially constitute an experiment involving a human embryo.

The difficulties, both moral and ethical, for that first space childbirth, are so daunting that I expect it will only happen in one of two ways. Either it will occur in an unplanned manner, with a female astronaut getting pregnant and giving birth while on a mission where a retreat to Earth will be impossible, or it will occur because some totalitarian government, such as China or Russia, will force it on a woman.

It will happen eventually, however, and when it does, we will find out the limits of our ability to populate space. We might find that only in a gravity well can humans reproduce. Or not.

The unknowns are quite striking.

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SpinLaunch gets first launch contract, from Defense Department

Capitalism in space: The smallsat launch company SpinLaunch has gotten its first launch contract from a division of the Defense Department.

In a statement today (June 19), SpinLaunch announced that it has received a “launch prototype contract” from the U.S. Department of Defense under a deal arranged by the Defense Innovation Unit. The Long Beach, California-based company aims to launch its first test flights in early 2020 from Spaceport America in New Mexico.

SpinLaunch is developing a “kinetic energy-based launch system” that accelerates a small payload-carrying booster to hypersonic speeds with a spinning system on the ground. A chemical rocket would kick in once the payload has been launched from the ground system.

The image provided by SpinLaunch at the link appears to show a 3D-printed lifting-body type spacecraft attached to the arm of a large centrifuge. This suggests that after this spacecraft reaches orbit and deploys its payload, it would then return to Earth to be reused.

SpinLaunch has raised $40 million in investment capital, so they are real. Whether they can make this happen by 2020 remains to be seen.

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Ireland’s government releases its space strategy goals through 2025

The new colonial movement: Ireland today released a national space strategy designed to encourage the growth of a commercial space sector by 2025.

You can download the actual report here [pdf].

They want to increase both public and private investment by 50% by 2025. Whether that means investment in private companies or simply a growth in a government bureaucracy is uncertain, based on my reading of the report. It appears their goal is to grow the private sector, but they will be using European Space Agency approaches for doing so, which tend to favor government growth and control rather than developing an independent commercial industry.

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Sri Lanka’s first satellite launched from ISS

The new colonial movement: Built by two Sri Lanka engineers, astronauts this week successfully deployed that country’s first satellite into orbit from ISS.

The satellite was designed and developed by two Sri Lankan engineers – Tharindu Dayaratne and Dulani Chamika – studying space engineering at Japan”s Kyushu Institute of Technology.

Raavana-1 was deployed to the 400-km of orbit at an inclination of 51.6 degrees using the JAXA (Japanese Aerospace and Exploration Agency) owned Kibo experiment module, the paper said.

…Raavana-1 is expected to fulfil five missions including the capturing of pictures of Sri Lanka and surrounding regions, active attitude stabilization which ensures that satellite’s attitude is stable under the influence of external talks. It will have a minimum lifespan of one and a half years but was expected to be active for up to five years.

More significant than its Sri Lankan roots is that this cubesat was built entirely by only two engineering students. While it is apparently a simple engineering test satellite, that it could be put together so easily by only two people illustrates the revolution that the satellite industry is presently undergoing. Very soon it will literally be true that major satellites will be assembled in someone’s garage.

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Boeing shifts space headquarters from DC area to Florida

Capitalism in space: Boeing today announced that it is moving the headquarters for its space operations from Arlington, Virginia, to Titusville, Florida, just outside Cape Canaveral.

From an operations point of view this move makes sense. The timing of this announcement suggests to me that they are trying to put a PR band-aid over yesterday’s damning GAO report about the endless cost overruns and schedule delays of their SLS rocket.

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New Oberlin College PR campaign blames jury while declaring itself a victim

This is how you get more Trump: Oberlin College has begun the rollout of a new PR campaign that tries to spin the recent slander decision against it as an attack on free spech while declaring the university a victim.

The email letter from Oberlin announcing this campaign, as well as the accompanying FAQ, are so filled with sanctimonious self-righteous blather and hatred for those it considers the great unwashed (such as the jury) that it is difficult to read. Go to the link and absorb it for yourself. It will disgust you, and reveal that the university, like Evergreen State College, has learned nothing from this episode. They are still certain they are right, and everyone else is wrong. They also think they are the only ones capable of understanding these issues, and that anyone who disagrees with them must be either a fool or plain stupid.

As noted at the link,

What Oberlin College wants to do is now (in addition to winning an appeal) is not to become the next Mizzou or Evergreen State, where unsavory social justice warfare by faculty and staff, egging on students, cause enrollments to collapse. Oberlin College, already suffering from weak enrollment numbers, faces that real possibility. [emphasis mine]

I think this is an understatement. I expect their enrollment numbers to drop like a rock. And if I had a child attending this college now I would pull them out as fast as possible, demanding my money back. Every administrator there should be out of a job. They are not qualified to run a college. In fact, I’m not sure they are qualified to do anything better than street sweeping, and in saying this I must apologize to every street sweeper in the world.

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U.S. Communist Party praises Democrats’ policy shifts

I wonder why? In preparation of its 100th anniversary, the U.S. Communist Party is heaping praise on the leftist policy shifts of the Democrat Party.

“There’s some thinking that ‘communism’ has always been a sort of bogeyman, and yet we want some of the same things,” said Harvey Klehr, a history professor at Emory College who specializes in the American left.

The connections between the Communists and the increasingly active Democratic left wing have been highlighted by Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernard Sanders, who emerged from the democratic socialist movement to become leading critics of capitalism and guiding lights of the broader Democratic Party.

That, Mr. Klehr said, is heady stuff for the Communists. “The left is very excited that Sanders has normalized socialism, and in a sense he’s doing what they wanted to do,” he said. “So now I imagine those in the CPUSA think they’re not members of the Democratic Party but they want to take it over.”

Professor Klehr sees only a “bogeyman” when he talks of communism. What I see is an ideology that killed in the past century upwards of a 100 million people, and that’s not including the Nazis, which also followed a leftist socialist agenda.

But what matters that? This time Bernie Sanders and Congresswoman Ocrasio-Cortez will get it right. They are so much wiser than us!

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Mass wasting on Mars

Mass wasting in Martian crater
Click to see full image.

Cool image time! Mass wasting is a term that geologists use to describe a specific kind of avalanche, where the material moves down slope suddenly in a single mass.

The image on the right, taken from the image archive of the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and cropped and reduced in resolution to post here, shows a dramatic example of this kind of avalanche. You can see two separate avalanches, each of which moved a significant blob of material down slope into the center of the crater floor.

Studying such events is important. Scientists know that Mars has an underground ice table at high latitudes. What they don’t know is how far south that ice table extends. This crater is located at 5 degrees north latitude, almost at the equator, so if this avalanche exposed any ice in newly exposed cliff wall that would be a significant discovery.

Based on the color image, there does not appear to be any obvious ice layers, as seen in higher latitude scarps in the southern hemisphere. This doesn’t prove they aren’t there, merely that this image was unable to see them. Maybe the resolution is not good enough. Maybe the ice is too well mixed in with the dust and dirt and it therefore isn’t visible. Maybe the ice table is deeper underground than the deepest part of this crater.

Or it could be that at the Martian equator the underground ice is mostly gone. For future colonists, knowing this fact will influence where they put those first colonies. Near the equator has some advantages, but if there is little easily accessible water those advantages mostly vanish.

At the moment we simply do not know, though much of the imagery now being taken from orbit are attempts to answer this question.

One final detail about the image. Note the slope streaks coming down the crater’s slopes. These remain their own Martian mystery.

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SpaceX reschedules manned Dragon demo flight to November

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has now apparently rescheduled its first manned Dragon demo flight to ISS to no earlier than November 1, 2019.

The information comes from a SpaceX application with the FCC, listing the launch window as sometime between November 1, 2019 and April 30, 2020.

This now gives us the time frame when both NASA and SpaceX expect to complete their investigation into the Dragon test explosion in March as well as institute changes as a result. It also suggests they now have a much better idea what happened and what they need to do, thus allowing them to create this time frame.

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GAO: More delays and cost overruns for SLS/Orion

Surprise, surprise! A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found that NASA’s SLS and Orion programs are even more behind schedule and over budget than NASA has been revealing.

Instead of launching in 2020, the Artemis-1 mission that will see a Space Launch System rocket boost an uncrewed Orion spacecraft around the Moon will instead launch as late as June 2021, the GAO report finds. NASA also appears to have been obscuring the true cost of its development programs, particularly with the large SLS rocket, which has Boeing as its prime contractor.

“While NASA acknowledges about $1 billion in cost growth for the SLS program, it is understated,” the report found. “This is because NASA shifted some planned SLS scope to future missions but did not reduce the program’s cost baseline accordingly. When GAO reduced the baseline to account for the reduced scope, the cost growth is about $1.8 billion.”

You can read the full report here [pdf].

The GAO June 2021 launch date will mean that the first manned mission using Orion/SLS cannot happen before 2024. This also means that NASA will take 20 years to get off one manned mission with this project.

There’s more. NASA awarded both Boeing and Lockheed Martin significant award fees totaling almost a quarter of a billion dollars, despite their inability to meet any cost and scheduling targets.

The conclusion of the report is quite damning:

NASA…has been unable to achieve agreed-to cost and schedule performance. NASA acknowledges that future delays to the June 2020 launch date are likely, but the agency’s approach in estimating cost growth for the SLS and Orion programs is misleading. And it does not provide decision makers, including the Administrator, complete cost data with which to assess whether Congress needs to be notified of a cost increase, pursuant to law. By not using a similar set of assumptions regarding what costs are included in the SLS baseline and updated SLS cost estimates, NASA is underreporting the magnitude of the program’s cost growth. Similarly, NASA is underreporting the Orion program’s cost performance by measuring cost growth to an earlier-than-agreed-to schedule date. As a result, Congress and the public continue to accept further delays to the launch of the first mission without a clear understanding of the costs associated with those delays. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted text is to emphasize NASA’s dishonesty here. This program has been badly managed and out of control for the better part of the last decade, and NASA, rather than fix it, has been aggressively hiding this fact in every way it can,

If the GAO is right, SLS/Orion is finally in very serious political trouble. The Trump administration has made it clear that it wants it to meet that June 2020 launch date, and if it fails the administration will then look to private launch providers to get the job done.

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Two Earthlike planets possibly found around neaby red dwarf star

The uncertainty of science: Astronomers think they may have detected evidence of two Earth-sized planets orbiting a tiny red dwarf star only twelve light years away.

Ribas and his colleagues are currently searching for planets orbiting 342 small stars, so they aimed the CARMENES instrument, located at Spain’s Calar Alto Observatory, at the mini-star.

CARMENES observed Teegarden’s star over three years, watching for the wiggles and tugs produced by any orbiting planets. In the end, more than 200 measurements suggested that two small worlds are jostling the star, each weighing in at approximately 1.1 times Earth’s mass. The team calculates that one of the planets, called Teegarden’s star b, completed an orbit in a mere 4.9 Earth-days; the other world, Teegarden’s star c, has an orbit of just 11.4 days.

There is great uncertainty in these results, as the article correctly notes. However, if confirmed these planets could be the home of a very ancient civilization, considering that the red dwarf star is already twice as old as our Sun. There also could be no life there at all, as red dwarf stars tend to be very lacking in many of the materials needed for life.

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NASA releases draft commercial Gateway resupply plan

Capitalism in space? NASA today released a draft document outlining its plan for having commercial companies provide cargo to its Lunar Gateway station.

NASA is creating the Gateway Logistics Services (GLS) arena that will oversee supply delivery efforts to the lunar outpost. The draft Request For Proposals document, released by NASA last Friday, will form the basis for the formal Request For Proposals that companies will use later this summer to submit their bids for selection as part of the GLS program.

The draft document will be reviewed by commercial industry providers who will then submit feedback for NASA to consider as the agency formalizes the document.

While not official in its entirety, large portions of the document will remain unchanged or only undergo minor tweaks/clarifications at this point. Thus, the draft provides excellent insight into services, pricing, and timelines that commercial companies will have to meet if selected to participate in the GLS offerings. Of note, any company selected to fly GLS missions would receive a guarantee of two missions, minimum, and each awarded contract would not exceed $7 billion (USD). The total number of contracts NASA can award is not constrained via the language in the draft GLS solicitation document.

The reason I question above whether this will be capitalism in space is because of one new rule NASA wants to impose on its commercial vendors:

Unlike the [ISS cargo] contracts which did not carry a “one successful flight” requirement if changes to the launch vehicle were made after initial certification (both the Falcon 9 and the Antares underwent significant design changes after their [cargo] flights began – with some of those changes debuting on [later cargo] flights), the draft GLS language seems to indicate that NASA would seek to prohibit launch vehicle design changes debuting on GLS contract flights.

If the draft language becomes formal, the GLS contracts would require a launch vehicle that undergoes a design change to complete one successful flight of those changes before its next GLS mission is allowed to proceed.

I can see no reason for this rule other than to prevent private companies from making NASA’s own slow development process look bad. Or to put it another way, NASA wants to prevent the U.S. from getting things done fast in space, because that will prevent the agency from stretching out development endlessly, as it routinely does.

The GLS plan does propose one very good change in NASA policy. It proposes to break the SLS monopoly on launching Gateway components. For years NASA has said that only SLS could launch Gateway components, something that is patently absurd. The Trump administration has been pushing against that shortsighted position, and this plan accelerates that push. It will instead allow commercial companies to compete for those launches, which puts more pressure on SLS to deliver or die.

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Dutch university to only hire women

Academic bigotry: A Dutch engineering university has decided that it will only hire women, banning men from applying for job vacancies.

Starting on 1 July, the Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) in the Netherlands will not allow men to apply for permanent academic jobs for the first 6 months of the recruitment process under a new fellowship program. If no suitable applicant has been found within that time, men can then apply, but the selection committee will still have to nominate at least one candidate of each gender.

“We have been talking about [gender balance] for ages,” says TU/e President Robert-Jan Smits. “All kinds of soft measures are taken and lip service is paid to it. But the stats still look awful.” Currently, 29% of TU/e’s assistant professors are women; at the associate and full professor level, about 15% are women. With this program, TU/e wants to reach 50% of women for assistant and associate professors, and 35% for full professors.

The plan was announced today and is already attracting controversy. “People say it’s illegal; they say we will lower standards. That’s a load of baloney,” Smits says. Some critics say the program discriminates against men. “Yes, absolutely,” Smits says. “For years, men have been discriminating against women, and women haven’t been paid the same as men for the same jobs.” [emphasis mine]

In other words, because women were once discriminated against it is now okay to discriminate against men. Or to put it another way, two wrongs will make a right!

This is the corrupt attitude that now permeates all of western academia. Bigotry is perfectly okay, as long as it attacks whites and men. In fact, throughout our bankrupt intellectual culture there is now a pecking order of racial and ethnic and gender groups. If you are sexually perverse, you go to the head of the line. Then comes women, then men. If you are a minority you get treated better than whites, but if you can demonstrate you have Hispanic roots, no matter how white you are, you go ahead of any American whose root go back to the first founders.

Also, if you are Jewish and white expect to be kicked around a lot, since you are clearly oppressing Arabs in Palestine.

This all stinks. The result with this university is going to be a decline in the quality of engineers in produces. This won’t be because women can’t do the job, but because they won’t be picking candidates because of their engineering qualifications, but because of their racial/gender status.

Hitler would be proud.

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Bennu from 2,200 feet

Bennu from about 2,200 feet
Click for full image.

The OSIRIS-REx science team today released one of the first images taken of Bennu after the spacecraft lowered itself into its closest orbit in early June. I have reduced and cropped slightly that image slightly to post here on the right. As they note,

From the spacecraft’s vantage point in orbit, half of Bennu is sunlit and half is in shadow. Bennu’s largest boulder can also be seen protruding from the southern hemisphere. The image was taken from a distance of 0.4 miles (690 m) above the asteroid’s surface by NavCam 1, one of three navigation cameras that comprise the spacecraft’s TAGCAMS (the Touch-and-Go Camera System) suite. At this distance, details as small as 1.6 ft (0.5 m) across can be resolved in the center of the image.

In other words, if a person was moving across the asteroid’s surface you could see them.

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Two more commercial Proton launches later this year

According to Russian officials, they will have two more commercial launches later this year using their workhorse Proton rocket.

They made this statement at the Paris Air Show yesterday. However, the story did not specific who the customers were, which I find puzzling.

They will use the Proton to launch Russia’s first space telescope in decades later this week. If successful, and if the two other launches occur, that would be the most Proton launches in a year since 2017.

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The culture of theft at Oberlin College

The coming dark age: It appears that the initial shoplifting incident that triggered the Oberlin College lawsuit by Gibson’s Bakery was only part of an overall culture of theft by students at the college, ignored or possibly even condoned by the college administration.

[T]his theft culture influenced the decision making at the college with regard to Gibson’s, as related in the trial. College officials were concerned that backing Gibson’s over shoplifting could “trigger” a negative reaction from students, since the college was “trying to get students to realize that shoplifting was harmful.”

It’s truly astounding that a college would be afraid to support a local store that was the victim of shoplifting. It is deeply depressing that students did not already know that “shoplifting was harmful.”

Remember, the students at Oberlin were paying almost $28,000 in tuition per semester, with additional costs raising this figure to almost $40,000. They might have had to take loans out to pay these costs, but they certainly weren’t poor or starving. In fact, they were required to buy a meal plan by the college.

Thus, this thievery was entirely by choice, and voluntary. It speaks to a complete collapse of morality by the student body, supported by a similar complete moral collapse by the college administration. Worse, Oberlin really is not unique. This same kind of collapse can be seen at most American colleges. If we wish to revive our culture, it seems to me we need to shut these cesspools of immorality down, entirely, and start over.

Above all, parents and children should be thinking very hard about the schools they wish to attend. All past assumptions about which schools are best must be thrown out the window.

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Wind and/or water erosion on the Martian northern lowlands

A mesa in the northern Martian lowlands
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The picture on the right, cropped and reduced in resolution to show here, was taken by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on April 21, 2019, and shows the erosion process produced by either wind or water as it flowed from the east to the west past one small mesa.

It is almost certain that the erosion here was caused by wind, but as we don’t know when this happened, it could also be very old, and have occurred when this terrain was at the bottom of the theorized intermittent ocean that some believe once existed on these northern lowlands. The location itself, near the resurgences for Marineris Valles and the other drainages coming down from the giant volcanoes, might add weight to a water cause, except that the erosional flow went from east to west, and the resurgences were coming from the opposite direction, the west and the south.

The terrain has that same muddy wet look also seen in the more damp high latitudes near the poles. Here, at 43 degrees latitude, it is presently unknown however how much water remains below the surface.

When the craters to the right were created, however, it sure does appear that the ground was damp. Similarly, the material flow to the west of the mesa looks more like the kind of mud flow one would see underwater.

I must emphasize again that I am merely playing at being a geologist. No one should take my guesses here very seriously.

At the same time, I can’t help being endlessly fascinated by the mysterious nature of the Martian terrain.

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India to use PSLV 4th stage for orbital research and docking tests

The new colonial movement: India’s space agency ISRO now plans to conduct research, including docking tests, using the 4th stage of its PSLV rocket following normal commercial operations.

The PS4 is the last stage of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) rocket, which until now used to go waste after putting the spacecraft into the desired orbit. ISRO, in the last two attempts tried to keep PS4 alive in space, and was successful. As the next step, it has now called for experiments from national and international institutions. The experiments will cover six areas, including space docking

“The PS4-Orbital Platform (PS4-OP) refers to a novel idea formulated by ISRO to use the spent PS4 stage (fourth stage of PSLV) to carry out in-orbit scientific experiments for an extended duration of one to six months. The advantage being the stage has standard interfaces & packages for power generation, telemetry, tele-command, stabilization, orbit keeping & orbit maneuvering,” Isro said on Saturday.

All of this is engineering research, finding ways to operate in space effectively. More important, they are doing what SpaceX does, letting their commercial operations pay for their research and development. Rather than fly separate missions to do these engineering experiments, they will let their commercial customers pay for it.

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Bridenstine: Artemis to cost $4-$6 billion per year

According to several reports this past weekend, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine is now estimating the cost for the Trump administration’s Artemis lunar program at $20 to $30 billion, or $4 to $6 billion per year.

This has not been officially confirmed. Either way, I am not sure how Bridenstine will get this approved in the House, where the Democrats now have a policy to oppose any Trump proposal 100%. And if it doesn’t get approved, SLS will die after its second launch, as the bulk of this budget is to pay for its future flights to the Moon.

If a lower figure gets approved, that might force NASA to buy private rockets almost exclusively to get back to the Moon, rather than the mix of private and SLS as now proposed.

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Texas court says it is okay for Texas university to steal

Theft by government: The Texas appeals court has ruled that is acceptable for the University of Houston to use photos and intellectual material belonging to someone else without paying for it.

A Texas appeals court has ruled that the University of Houston does not have to pay the photographer of a picture it has been using in online and print promotional materials. Houston photographer Jim Olive says the university removed copyright markings from an image downloaded from his stock library, failed to credit him when it was used and wouldn’t pay when he sent a bill, but the university claims it has sovereign immunity and that it can’t be sued.

Worse, the court required the photographer to pay the university’s legal costs.

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Stratolaunch for sale?

A report today says that the Stratolaunch company, including its giant airplane Roc, are up for sale.

Sources say Vulcan Inc. is looking to sell Stratolaunch, the space venture founded by the late Seattle billionaire Paul Allen, and one report says the asking price could be as high as $400 million.

That price tag was reported today by CNBC, quoting unnamed sources who were said to be familiar with the discussions.

Vulcan had nothing new to say about Stratolaunch’s fate, which has been the subject of rumors for months. “Stratolaunch remains operational,” Alex Moji, manager of corporate communications at Vulcan, told GeekWire in an emailed statement. “We will provide an update when there is news to share.”

Since the sources are all anonymous, it is wise to not take the story too seriously. At the same time, it seems to fit with events since the death of Paul Allen.

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Nearly 400 medical procedures found to be ineffective

The uncertainty of science: A new review of the science literature has found almost 400 studies showing the ineffectiveness of the medical procedure or device they were studying.

The findings are based on more than 15 years of randomised controlled trials, a type of research that aims to reduce bias when testing new treatments. Across 3,000 articles in three leading medical journals from the UK and the US, the authors found 396 reversals.

While these were found in every medical discipline, cardiovascular disease was by far the most commonly represented category, at 20 percent; it was followed by preventative medicine and critical care. Taken together, it appears that medication was the most common reversal at 33 percent; procedures came in second at 20 percent, and vitamins and supplements came in third at 13 percent.

A reversal means that the study found the procedure, device, or medicine to be ineffective.

If you have medical issues it is worth reviewing the research itself. You might find that some of the medical treatment you are getting is irrelevant, and could be discontinued.

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Update on development status of ULA’s Vulcan rocket

Link here. Overall the rocket seems to be on track for its planned April 2021 launch, except it appears ULA has decided to do that launch without two new components of the rocket that previously were planned, delaying their implementation.

First, it appears that Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine might not power the rocket’s first stage in its initial flights. It seems that both companies want that engine to first fly on Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket, whose first launch is not set until 2021 as well.

This delay in the engine’s use has me wondering whether ULA has gotten cold feet about Blue Origin and its engine. It certainly seems to me that progress at Blue Origin has slowed considerably in the past year. For example, they promised manned flights of New Shepard that did not happen, and testing on the BE-4 seems to have gone underground.

In fact, the combination of increased hype and lack of progress has made Blue Origin and Jeff Bezos remind me increasingly of Virgin Galactic and Richard Branson, that team of endless unmet promises.

Second, it appears ULA has given the recovery and reuse of Vulcan’s first stage engines a very low priority. The technique they had chosen was to have the engines separate from the tanks and return to Earth by parafoil, protected by an inflatable heat shield. However,

A technology demonstration payload for the inflatable heat shield, which could also be used to deliver payloads to the surface of Mars, is slated to fly as a rideshare payload with NOAA’s JPSS-2 satellite aboard an Atlas V launch no earlier than 2022. [emphasis mine]

In other words, that reusable technology probably won’t be operational until well into the 2020s. Vulcan will likely be completely expendable for at least the first five years of its use.

ULA apparently has decided to take the safe technology route. Financially secure because of a $1 billion Air Force development contract to pay for Vulcan, combined with the military’s obvious desire to favor them in the awarding of future launch contracts, the company doesn’t have any incentive to innovate in any way to lower costs.

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Illegal acts in Justice Dept routinely given wrist-slap

The law is for the little people: A new inspector general report has found that Justice Department employees who are caught committing crimes are routinely allowed to get off without any punishment at all.

In cases closed in the past month, more than a half-dozen FBI, DEA, U.S. attorney and U.S. marshal officials were allowed to retire, do volunteer work, or keep their jobs as they escaped criminal charges that everyday Americans probably would not.

In most instances, the decisions were made by federal prosecutors who work with the very figures impacted by or committing the bad conduct. In local law enforcement, that go-easy phenomenon is known as the “thin blue line.”

Spokespersons for the Justice Department and FBI did not respond to a request for comment.

I remain very pessimistic we shall see anyone prosecuted in Washington for the clear attempt in the past two years to overthrow a legally elected president. I also expect this behavior to worsen in the coming years. The law no longer means anything to most of the people in power in Washington, and they are increasingly teaming up to use their power to defy the law for their own personal gain.

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Oberlin hit with maximum punitive damages in slander case

The jury today hit Oberlin College with the maximum punitive damages allowed, $33 million (to be reduced to $22 million by law) for its slanderous attacks on a local bakery.

I suspect that the college can afford this hit, despite its pleading poverty to the jury during final deliberations. It also made clear in those deliberations its continuing lack of remorse for its slanderous behavior.

The second fact should inform every parent and high school nationwide: Oberlin is not a decent place to get a college education. If everyone makes that decision and enrollments dry up, the first fact above will become irrelevant, as the school will quite properly no longer exist.

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Communist wins election in Denver city council

The coming dark age: Denver voters have voted an outright communist, promising to create “community ownership” of property “by any means necessary,” to their local city council.

The winner, Candi CdeBaca, beat the incumbent 52.4 percent to 47.6 percent. Before the election she was very clear about her position and goals.

“I don’t believe our current economic system actually works. Um, capitalism by design is extractive and in order to generate profit in a capitalist system, something has to be exploited, that’s land, labor or resources,” CdeBaca alleged.

“And I think that we’re in late phase capitalism and we know it doesn’t work and we have to move into something new, and I believe in community ownership of land, labor, resources and distribution of those resources,” she continued. “And whatever that morphs into is I think what will serve community the best and I’m excited to usher it in by any means necessary.”

The real story here is the voters, not the candidate. She was very upfront about what she was proposing, and Denver voters apparently agreed with her. Nor is this the only example. American voters are increasingly choosing the Venezuela socialist/communist option, even though empirical evidence in numerous countries over the last century has shown such socialist/communist policies always fail, and they do so routinely in the most horrible way.

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Mexico deploys its national guard to its southern border

The Mexican government has begun deploying its national guard along its southern border in order to stem the tide of illegals entering its country aimed at reaching the U.S.

This is a major change from past Mexican policy, which previously had facilitated the movement of those illegals through its country so that they could reach the U.S. as easily as possible.

Mexico’s president is going to pay for this operation by selling his presidential plane for $150 million.

These actions are a direct result of the tariff deal Trump forced on Mexico last week. Though it is still unclear how much effect these actions will have, it is clear that Mexico wants the U.S. to believe it is now serious about stopping illegal immigration. The proof however will be in the pudding. The tariff deal gets reviewed in 90 days, and if the U.S. doesn’t see some real progress by Mexico in reducing illegal immigration through its country to the U.S., Trump has said he will then impose those tariffs.

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Hayabusa-2 completes close approach of target/manmade crater

Target on Ryugu's surface

Hayabusa-2 has successfully completed its close approach and reconnaissance of the positioning target it had placed on May 30 near the crater it had created on Ryugu on April 4.

The image to the right is the last navigational image taken at the spacecraft’s closest point. You can clearly see the navigational target as the bright point near the upper center of the image, to the right of the three larger rocks. This location also appears to be inside the manmade crater, based on earlier reconnaissance of that crater. The crater is in an area they have labeled C01, which is where they have successfully placed the target. It also appears that this is the smoothest area in C01, which will greatly facilitate their planned sample grab.

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