Genesis cover

Want to learn the inside story of the Apollo lunar landing, now celebrating its 50th anniversary? Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

 
The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit.

 
The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.
 

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs." --San Antonio Express-News

 

Scroll down for new updates.

Vikram fails to land on Moon

Vikram, India’s first attempt to soft land on the Moon, apparently has failed, with something apparently going wrong in the very last seconds before landing.

As I write this they have not officially announced anything, but the live feed shows a room of very unhappy people.

It is possible the lander made it and has not yet sent back word, but such a confirmation should not take this long.

India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, was given a very short briefing by K. Sivan, head of ISRO, and then apparently left without comment. This I found an interesting contrast to the actions of Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu when its lunar lander Beresheet failed in landing earlier this year. Netanyahu came out to comfort the workers in mission control, congratulating them for getting as far as they had. Modi apparently simply left. UPDATE: Modi has reappeared to talk to the children who had won a contest to see the landing as well as people in mission control. After making a public statement he has now left.

They are now confirming that communications was lost at 2.1 kilometers altitude, which was just before landing. They are analyzing the data right now to figure out what went wrong.

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Watch Vikram landing on Moon

Vikram's primary landing site

The new colonial movement: I have embedded below the live stream of India’s attempt today to land its Vikram lander on the Moon, broadcast by one of their national television networks.

The landing window is from 4:30 to 5:30 pm Eastern. This live stream is set to begin about 3 pm Eastern.

If you want to watch ISRO’s official live stream you can access it here.

Some interesting details: Vikram is named after Vikram A. Sarabhai, who many consider the founder of India’s space program. The lunar rover that will roll off of Vikram once landing is achieved is dubbed Pragyan, which means “wisdom” in Sanskrit. Both are designed to operate on the Moon for one lunar day.

The landing site will be about 375 miles from the south pole.

That spot is a highland that rises between two craters dubbed Manzinus C and Simpelius N. On a grid of the moon’s surface, it would fall at 70.9 degrees south latitude and 22.7 degrees east longitude.

The white cross on the image to the right is where I think this site is. The secondary landing site is indicated by the red cross.

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Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

 
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

 
The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.


He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

 
Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit.

Update on SpaceX’s plans for Starship

According to FAA regulatory documents, SpaceX has updated its development plan for Starship, including changes in its overall plans for its Boca Chica facility.

The document also lays out a three-phase test program, which it says “would last around 2 to 3 years”:

Phase 1: Tests of ground systems and fueling, a handful of rocket engine test-firings, and several “small hops” of a few centimeters off the ground. The document also includes graphic layouts, like the one above, showing the placement of water tanks, liquid methane and oxygen storage tanks (Starship’s fuels), and other launch pad infrastructure.

Phase 2: Several more “small hops” of Starship, though up to 492 feet (150 meters) in altitude, and later “medium hops” to about 1.9 miles (3 kilometers). Construction of a “Phase 2 Pad” for Starship, shown below, is also described.

Phase 3: A few “large hops” that take Starship up to 62 miles (100 kilometers) above Earth — the unofficial edge of space — with high-altitude “flips,” reentries, and landings.

The first phase is now complete, with the company shifting into Phase 2.

Boca Chica meanwhile is no longer being considered a spaceport facility. Instead, its focus will now be a development site for building Starship and Super Heavy.

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Results released of July Vega launch failure investigation

The European Space Agency (ESA) this week released the results of its investigation into the July 10, 2019 launch failure of Arianespace’s Vega rocket, the first such failure after 14 successful launches.

The failure had occurred about the time the first stage had separated and the second stage Z23 rocket motor was to ignite. The investigation has found that the separation and second stage ignition both took place as planned, followed by “a sudden and violent event” fourteen seconds later, which caused the rocket to break up.

They now have pinned that event to “a thermo-structural failure in the forward dome area of the Z23 motor.”

The report says they plan to complete corrective actions and resume launches by the first quarter of 2020.

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Leaving Earth cover

In March I obtained from my former publisher the last 30 copies of the now out-of-print hardback of Leaving Earth. I quickly sold 10, and with only 20 left in stock I am raising the price. To get your own autographed copy of this rare collector's item please send a $75 check (which includes $5 shipping) payable to Robert Zimmerman to
 

Behind The Black, c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652
 

I will likely raise the price again when only ten books are left, so buy them now at this price while you still can!


  Also available as an inexpensive ebook!
 

Leaving Earth: Space Stations, Rival Superpowers, and the Quest for Interplanetary Travel, is now available as an ebook everywhere for only $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit.

 


Winner of the 2003 Eugene M. Emme Award of the American Astronautical Society.

"Leaving Earth is one of the best and certainly the most comprehensive summary of our drive into space that I have ever read. It will be invaluable to future scholars because it will tell them how the next chapter of human history opened." -- Arthur C. Clarke
Readers!
 
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Thus, I must have your direct support to keep this webpage alive. Not only does the money pay the bills, it gives me the freedom to speak honestly about science and culture, instead of being forced to write it as others demand.

 

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Township shuts fire company because one member spoke to Proud Boys

They’re coming for you next: A local Pennsylvania township has shut down an entire voluntary fire company because it refused to blacklist a member who also happened to have expressed interest in joining the Proud Boys organization.

Officials in Haverford Township, in Delaware County, were informed on Aug. 12 that a volunteer with the Bon Air Fire Company was affiliated with “an organization described as an extremist group,” the township’s manager David Burman wrote in a statement released Thursday.

The township immediately launched an investigation, which included interviewing the volunteer, who admitted he was involved with the Proud Boys, Burman said. The volunteer revealed he had attended social gatherings hosted by the group and had passed two of the group’s four initiation steps, “which includes hazing.”

Burman’s statement quoted the group’s “self-proclaimed basic tenet,” posted on their website, that they are “Western chauvinists who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world.” The proclamation belongs to the Proud Boys, who “are known for anti-Muslim and misogynistic rhetoric,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which designates them as a hate group. Women and transgender men are not allowed in the group.

While the volunteer “indicated that he had attempted to distance himself from the group in recent months” Burman and a police official met with Bon Air Fire Company officials on Aug. 14 to address “the seriousness of this matter and urged the fire company to address it.”

Burman said he was informed the next day that the volunteer had offered his resignation, but the Bon Air Fire Company chief had refused to accept it. A week later, Burman said he received an email that said the fire company’s board had “found no basis for terminating the volunteer’s membership.”

First, the accusations of bigotry by the Southern Poverty Law Center are pure slander and libel. There is no evidence of this. The Proud Boys are admittedly a male-only organization, but so what? This isn’t proof of bigotry, no matter what the modern idiotic political correct leftist interpretation claims. And the organization’s proud favoring of western civilization over other cultures, such as Islam, actually has strong empirical proof, for anyone who has read any history at all. These slanders are part of Obama’s legacy of hate, whereby liberals now have the freedom to label anyone who disagrees with them bigots and hate-mongers, without any evidence.

I applaud the fire company for standing up for the freedom of speech of one of its members. I wish that there would be an outpouring of support for them in this locality in Pennsylvania. They should be honored for defending freedom, and telling the local petty dictators on the township’s government to go to hell.

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Terraced and banded hills on Mars

Banded or terraced hills in eastern Hellas
Click for full image.

Cool image time! In my review of the most recent download of images from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s (MRO) the high resolution camera, I found a very startling (and cool) image of some dramatic terraced Martian hills, taken on July 30, 2019. I wanted to post it here, but decided to first do some more digging, and found that an earlier image, taken in 2017, showed more of this particular hill. It is this earlier image posted to the right, cropped and reduced.

Don’t ask me to explain the geology that caused this hill to look as it does. I can provide some basic knowledge, but the details and better theories will have to come from the scientists who are studying this feature (who unfortunately did not respond to my request for further information).

What I can do is lay out what is known about this location, as indicated by the red box in the overview map below and to the right, and let my readers come up with their own theories. The odds of anyone being right might not be great, but it will be fun for everyone to speculate.
» Read more

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Democrats at climate forum: Ban everything!

Fascists: When asked by CNN interviewers during that network’s seven hour pro-Democratic climate forum yesterday what they would do to prevent global warming, it appears that the primary solution by every Democratic presidential candidate was to ban things.

Democrats appearing at CNN’s marathon 7-hour global warming forum have a plan to solve a changing climate: Ban everything!

Over the course of the television extravaganza, Democrats’ leading 2020 presidential candidates floated a variety of proposals to cut Americans’ energy use and, ostensibly, to stop the climate from changing. Among them: Bans on plastic straws, red meat, incandescent lightbulbs, gas-powered cars, nuclear energy, off-shore drilling, fracking, natural gas exports, coal plants, and even “carbon” itself.

The article goes on to detail each candidate’s banning proposals, all of which were similar, mindless, and based on an incredible level of ignorance about the climate and science. Bernie Sanders however probably gave us the most revealing and honest glimpse into all their mindsets with his suggestion that human life itself was the problem.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) went the furthest, saying we should try to minimize human life itself to help the environment. Sanders said he’d use taxpayer money to help fund 3rd world population control programs: “The answer has everything to do with the fact that women in the United States of America, by the way, have a right to control their own bodies and make reproductive decisions. And the Mexico City agreement, which denies American aid to those organizations around the world that allow women to have abortions or even get involved in birth control to me is totally absurd.” [emphasis mine]

No one should be surprised by this. Every socialist/communist/totalitarian movement in the past has always led inevitably to the killing of millions. For them, their ideas are much more important than people, and should those people get in the way, well then, they must be removed, by force and by gas chambers if necessary.

Be prepared. Should one of these power-hungry leftists win the White House they will be coming for you next.

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The bit rate of human languages

Language scientists think they have determined that the universal bit rate for transmitting information across multiple languages is about 39 bits per second.

Scientists started with written texts from 17 languages, including English, Italian, Japanese, and Vietnamese. They calculated the information density of each language in bits—the same unit that describes how quickly your cellphone, laptop, or computer modem transmits information. They found that Japanese, which has only 643 syllables, had an information density of about 5 bits per syllable, whereas English, with its 6949 syllables, had a density of just over 7 bits per syllable. Vietnamese, with its complex system of six tones (each of which can further differentiate a syllable), topped the charts at 8 bits per syllable.

Next, the researchers spent 3 years recruiting and recording 10 speakers—five men and five women—from 14 of their 17 languages. (They used previous recordings for the other three languages.) Each participant read aloud 15 identical passages that had been translated into their mother tongue. After noting how long the speakers took to get through their readings, the researchers calculated an average speech rate per language, measured in syllables/second.

Some languages were clearly faster than others: no surprise there. But when the researchers took their final step—multiplying this rate by the bit rate to find out how much information moved per second—they were shocked by the consistency of their results. No matter how fast or slow, how simple or complex, each language gravitated toward an average rate of 39.15 bits per second, they report today in Science Advances. In comparison, the world’s first computer modem (which came out in 1959) had a transfer rate of 110 bits per second, and the average home internet connection today has a transfer rate of 100 megabits per second (or 100 million bits). [emphasis mine]

When I went to Russia the first time in 1995 I used to joke with my caving friends there that the real reason the U.S. won the cold war was that English words routinely used one syllable for the three required by Russian and thus we could get things done in one third the time. I would start listing comparable words, (for example “good” vs “khah-rah-shoh” and “please” vs “pa-ZHAL-sta”) and challenge them to come up with any example where the Russian word had fewer syllables. It drove them crazy because they couldn’t do it.

I was joking of course. It makes sense that the information rates should actually be pretty much the same, as this study suggests. However, the highlighted words also suggest that the subtle differences should also not be ignored.

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San Fran government declares NRA (and its members) terrorists

They’re coming for you next: The San Francisco Board of Supervisors, all Democrats, yesterday voted unanimously to declare the National Rifle Association a domestic terrorist organization.

[The resolution blames the] NRA … for causing gun violence. “The National Rifle Association musters its considerable wealth and organizational strength to promote gun ownership and incite gun owners to acts of violence,” the resolution reads. The resolution also claims that the NRA “spreads propaganda,” “promotes extremist positions,” and has “through its advocacy has armed those individuals who would and have committed acts of terrorism.”

In addition to calling the NRA a domestic terrorist organization, the Board of Supervisors called on the city and county of San Francisco to “take every reasonable step to limit … entities who do business with the City and County of San Francisco from doing business” with the NRA.

You can read the resolution here [pdf]. Its aim is to blacklist this legal organization made of about five million Americans. It also aims to forbid any legal agreements between any businesses in San Francisco and the NRA, as well as encourage all other city, state, and federal governments to do the same.

Ah, blacklists! I remember them well. There was once a time that Democrats considered blacklists to be the font of all evil, and proof that anyone who suggested them was a fascist. Now that the left proposes such things they stand for justice and righteousness.

Nor is this the only example. Recently several Hollywood television actors called for the publication of all attendees to a Trump fundraiser in Beverly Hills, so that they could make a list of people to blacklist. Fortunately, a lot of other Hollywood stars balked, criticizing the idea.

Nonetheless, this is where the leftist Democratic Party is headed. Either you agree with them, or you must be squelched, in every way possible.

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Charles Walker: the first commercial astronaut

Charles Walker on the Space Shuttle in November 1985

Last night I attended another one of the monthly Arizona Space Business Roundtable events held here in Tucson to bring together the business-oriented space community of this city.

The speaker was Charles Walker, who had flown three shuttle missions in 1984 and 1985, but not as a NASA-employed astronaut but as an employee of McDonnell-Douglas, making him the first astronaut to fly in space under the employ of a private commercial company.

Walker’s job then was to monitor and maintain a drug-processing unit designed to produce large quantities of pure biological hormones that on Earth were simply not possible. Gravity polluted the process, while weightlessness acted to purify things. If successful the hormone produced could be sold to fight anemia, especially in individuals taking radiation treatments. The image on the right shows him on his third and last shuttle mission, launched November 26, 1985. He is working with a handheld protein crystal growth experiment, with the larger hormone purifying experiment on the wall behind this.

According to Walker’s presentation yesterday, this third flight in November 1985 demonstrated the process worked and could produce as much as one liter of hormone, enough to easily make back the cost of the project and leave room for an acceptable profit. They were thus ready for fullscale production on future shuttle flights, only to have the entire project die when the Challenger shuttle was lost on January 28, 1986. With that failure President Reagan declared that the shuttle would no longer be used for commercial flights.

Their business plan had been dependent on the artificially low launch prices NASA had been charging them for shuttle flights. Without the shuttle there was then no affordable alternative for getting into orbit.

The process is still viable, and the need for these drugs still exists. Whether they could now be flown on the new cheaper private rockets, on board future private space stations like Bigelow’s B330, remains unknown. A new company would have to pick up the pieces, as McDonnell-Douglas no longer exists, having been absorbed into Boeing.

I personally suspect there is real money to be made here, should someone decide to go for it.

What struck me most while watching Walker speak was the same thing that has struck me whenever I have seen or interviewed any astronaut: He appeared to be such an ordinary down-to-earth human being. He could have been anyone you meet anywhere.

What made him stand out, as he described his upbringing and how he became an astronaut, was not his intelligence or any physical attribute, but his clear willingness to stay focused on his goals, to work has hard as possible to make them come true. What made him succeed was an unwavering commitment. He wanted to get to space, and by gum he was going to do it!

Charles Walker on first flight, August 1984
Walker on his first flight in 1984.

For example, he was too young to fly in the initial space race in the 1960s. When he finally was old enough and ready in the 1970s, NASA’s space program was being shut down. That option seemed dead. So instead, he began looking for another route into space, and found it with private industry and possibility of making money by using weightlessness to produce medicines in space that could not be produced on Earth.

Obviously, luck is always a factor. Had his project been a little delayed, only a year, it would have never flown, and he would never have gone into space. Similarly, he needed to be in the right place at the right time to get this particularly job in the first place.

At the same time, “Luck is a residue of design,” as said by Branch Rickey, general manager of the Brooklyn Dodges in the 1950s. Walker didn’t give up when the Apollo program died in the 1970s, and thus he put himself in the right place at McDonnell-Douglas when this opportunity arose.

We should all pay close attention. If you have a dream, you need to follow it, with a fearless wholehearted commitment. If you do, you still might not get it as you dreamed, but you will increase your chances, and regardless, you will end up doing far better for yourself and everyone around you.

And you still might end up like Walker, bouncing around in weightlessness out in the vast reaches of outer space.

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China withdraws extradition bill that sparked Hong Kong protests

The Hong Kong government today announced that it is withdrawing the extradition bill demanded by China that sparked Hong Kong protests.

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, said Wednesday that the government would withdraw a contentious extradition bill that ignited months of protests in the city, moving to quell the worst political crisis since the former British colony returned to Chinese control 22 years ago.

The move eliminates a major objection among protesters, but it was unclear if it would be enough to bring an end to intensifying demonstrations, which are now driven by multiple grievances with the government.

“Incidents over these past two months have shocked and saddened Hong Kong people,” she said in an eight-minute televised statement broadcast shortly before 6 p.m. “We are all very anxious about Hong Kong, our home. We all hope to find a way out of the current impasse and unsettling times.”

Her decision comes as the protests near their three-month mark and show little sign of abating, roiling a city known for its orderliness and hurting its economy.

The article suggests that the protests will still go on, that the “genie is out of the bottle.” I am not so sure.

Regardless, what this means is that, as of now, China is admitting that its effort to eliminate Hong Kong’s democratic systems and fold it completely into the communist power structure of the mainland has failed. This does not mean that China will stop trying, merely that they will now pause in this effort.

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The end of the Thirty Meter Telescope?

The arriving dark age: It appears that the protests in Hawaii that are preventing the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope might end up killing the telescope completely.

The problem is twofold. First, the Democratic-controlled government in Hawaii is willing to let the protesters run the show, essentially allowing a mob to defy the legal rulings of the courts:

The Native Hawaiian protesters blocking the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on the summit of Mauna Kea appear to have settled in for the long haul. After 2 months of protests, their encampment on the Mauna Kea access road has shops, a cafeteria, and meeting spaces. “It’s like a small village,” says Sarah Bosman, an astronomer from University College London who visited in July. “There are signs up all over the island. It was a bit overwhelming really.”

Second, there is opposition to the alternate backup site in the Grand Canary Islands, both from local environmental groups and from within the consortium that is financing the telescope’s construction.

Astronomers say that the 2250-meter-high site, about half as high as Mauna Kea, is inferior for observations. Canada, one of six TMT partners—which also include Japan, China, India, the California Institute of Technology, and the University of California—is especially reluctant to make the move and could withdraw from the $1.4 billion project, which can ill afford to lose funding. Finally, an environmental group on La Palma called Ben Magec is determined to fight the TMT in court and has succeeded in delaying its building permit. It says the conservation area that the TMT wants to build on contains archaeological artifacts. “They’re willing to fight tooth and nail to stop TMT,” says Thayne Currie, an astronomer at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.

We now live in a culture that is opposed to new knowledge. It is also a culture that prefers mob rule, giving power to the loudest and possibly most violent protesters, while treating the law as a mere inconvenience to be abandoned at the slightest whim of those mobs.

If this doesn’t define a dark age, I’m not sure what does.

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Vikram makes second and last lunar orbital change

The new colonial movement: India’s Vikram lunar lander today made its second and last orbital change, preparing itself for landing on the Moon on September 7.

The orbit of Vikram Lander is 35 km x 101 km. Chandrayaan-2 Orbiter continues to orbit the Moon in an orbit of 96 km x 125 km and both the Orbiter and Lander are healthy.

With this maneuver the required orbit for the Vikram Lander to commence it descent towards the surface of the Moon is achieved. The Lander is scheduled to powered descent between 0100 – 0200 hrs IST on September 07, 2019, which is then followed by touch down of Lander between 0130 – 0230 hrs IST

They plan to roll the rover Pragyan off of Vikram about two hours after landing.

This article provides a nice overview of the mission.

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UK Tories purge 21 who opposed party today

The Conservative Party in Great Britain today expelled 21 members who voted against Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan to exit the European Union, deal or no deal.

[The expulsion plan was announced] just hours after lawmakers in Britain passed legislation designed to stop Johnson from taking the UK out of the European Union without a formal deal. The House of Commons earlier Tuesday passed a bill allowing members of Parliament to introduce legislation forcing Johnson to ask for a three-month extension from the EU if a deal is not made by Oct. 31, the Brexit deadline.

The bill passed in a 328 to 301 vote, with 21 members of the governing Conservative Party defecting and joining the opposition party, The Guardian reported.

Johnson has also announced that he will call for general elections, to decide if his party should remain in power. At the moment it appears he does not have a majority in parliament to rule.

At the same time, Johnson has soared in the polls for his hardline exit strategy, and it also appears this strategy is garnering him international political support.

If Johnson wins in the elections, he will have succeeded in purging his party of the equivalent of what conservatives in the U.S. call RINOs, fake conservatives who mouth the right thing but don’t really mean it and when push comes to shove always betray the people who voted for them. This will put Johnson in a very strong political position for doing what he was chosen to do, uphold the choice of the electorate when they voted to leave the European Union.

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SpaceX issues explanation for nonresponse in potential satellite collision issue

SpaceX today issued an explanation for why it had not responded when ESA officials had asked them to change the orbit of one of its Starlink smallsats to protect against a possible collision with ESA’s Aeolus spacecraft.

SpaceX, in a statement Sept. 3, said it was aware of a potential conjunction Aug. 28 and communicated with ESA. At that time, though, the threat of a potential collision was only about 1 in 50,000, below the threshold where a maneuver was warranted. When refined data from the U.S. Air Force increased the probability to within 1 in 1,000, “a bug in our on-call paging system prevented the Starlink operator from seeing the follow on correspondence on this probability increase,” a company spokesperson told SpaceNews.

“SpaceX is still investigating the issue and will implement corrective actions,” the spokesperson said of the glitch. “However, had the Starlink operator seen the correspondence, we would have coordinated with ESA to determine best approach with their continuing with their maneuver or our performing a maneuver.”

This incident increasingly strikes me as a tempest in a teapot created by ESA for any number of reasons, including their overall dislike of SpaceX (for generally making all government-run space programs look foolish). There is also this quote from an ESA official in the article above:

“The case just showed that, in the absence of traffic rules and communication protocols, collision avoidance has to rely on the pragmatism of the involved operators,” Krag said. “This is done today by exchange of emails. Such a process is not viable any longer with the increase of space traffic.” He said that, if the Space Safety initiative is funded, ESA would like to demonstrate automated maneuver coordination by 2023. [emphasis mine]

I can just see ESA officials drooling with eager anticipation the coming of more “traffic rules and communication protocols,” partly inspired by this fake crisis they just created. Imposing more rules and getting increased funding is what they do best, since it certainly isn’t exploring space with creative and efficient innovation.

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Mars’ mysterious slope streaks become even more mysterious

Bright slope streaks in Arabia Terra
Click for full image.

Mars is an alien planet. This fact needs to be restated over and over, because we humans have an uncontrolled and unconscious tendency to view the things we find on Mars and assume they are caused by and resemble phenomenon we see all the time here on Earth.

Not. Mars has a very different climate, a significantly weaker gravitational field (about one third of Earth’s), and a geological and environmental make-up very alien from Earth’s. While many phenomenon there might have parallels on Earth, it is very dangerous to assume they are the same, because more often than not, they are exceedingly dissimilar and mysterious.

The image on the right is another example of this, reduced and cropped to post here. It is of some slope streaks in the Arabia Terra region on Mars, the largest most extensive region in the transition zone between the northern lowland plains and the southern highlands. I found it in my review of the August 30th release of new images from the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

As I already noted in my previous article about the mysterious slope streaks of Mars:

The bottom line, as noted in one paper, “The processes that form slope streaks remain obscure. No proposed mechanism readily accounts for all of their observed characteristics and peculiarities.”

Mars is strange. Mars is alien. Mars epitomizes the universe in all its glory.

The image above only reinforces this conclusion.
» Read more

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Boris Johnson loses one-vote majority in House of Commons

In the continuing political battle in the British parliament over the decision by the voters to leave the European Union and prime minister Boris Johnson’s effort to abide by that decision quickly, a member of his Tory Party defected from that party today in a public stunt.

Boris Johnson has seen his one-vote Commons majority vanish before his eyes, as a statement by the prime minister to parliament was undermined by the very public defection of the Conservative MP Phillip Lee to the Liberal Democrats.

The stunt, in which the pro-remain Bracknell MP walked across the chamber to the Lib Dem benches flanked by two of his new colleagues, happened as Johnson updated the Commons on last month’s G7 summit, a statement devoted mainly to Brexit.

At the start of a crucial day in the Commons, Johnson condemned a backbench plan aimed at delaying Brexit to avert a no-deal departure, calling it a “surrender bill”. Jeremy Corbyn responded by criticising the PM’s language. MPs will vote on Tuesday evening on whether to take control of the order paper to allow the passage of the bill. Johnson has promised to seek a general election if they do so.

It is very clear that Great Britain has the same political problem as the United States: an entrenched elitist power structure that doesn’t wish to abide by the popular will, and is willing to do almost anything to maintain its power, even if that means corrupting or even destroying the democratic institutions that have made western civilization possible.

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Hayabusa-2 in safe mode for one day on August 29

Japan’s Hayabusa-2 space probe automatically entered safe mode for one day on August 29, causing engineers to postpone a planned operation set for Sept 5.

Hayabusa2 is equipped with four reaction wheels that are used to control the posture of the spacecraft, and posture control is usually performed using three of these reaction wheels. On August 29, the back-up reaction wheel that has not been used since October last year was tested, and an abnormal value (an increased torque) as detected. The spacecraft therefore autonomously moved into the Safe-Hold state. Details of the cause of the abnormal torque value are currently under investigation. On August 30, restoration steps were taken and the spacecraft returned to normal. However, as the spacecraft moved away from the home position due to entering Safe-Hold, we are currently having to return to the home position. We will return to the home position this weekend.

The attitude of the spacecraft is controlled by three reaction wheels as before. Entering the Safe-Hold state is one of the functions employed to keep the spacecraft safe, which means that procedures have worked normally.

In this case it is very clear that this event actually demonstrated that the spacecraft’s systems are operating properly to prevent it from becoming lost. However, the event also underlined the urgency of getting its samples from the asteroid Ryugu back to Earth.

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Lunar lander company PTScientists purchased

Capitalism in space: The private commercial lunar lander company PTScientists has been purchased by an unknown investor, thereby avoid liquidation after declaring bankruptcy in July.

Berlin-based PTScientists and the law firm Görg, which handled the company’s bankruptcy administration, announced the acquisition in a German-language statement published Sept. 2. The announcement said neither the company buying PTScientists nor the purchase price would be disclosed, but that the deal was effective Sept. 1.

The acquisition, the announcement stated, allows PTScientists to retain its staff of about 60 people who had been working on lunar lander concepts, including a study for the European Space Agency of a mission to send a lander to the moon to perform experiments for in-situ resource utilization. ESA awarded that study to a team that included PTScientists as well as launch vehicle company ArianeGroup in January.

It seems that someone decided that this company was worth saving, and that it (and the private construction of private planetary missions) has the potential to make them money in time.

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Parker completes third fly-by of Sun

The Parker Solar Probe has completed its third close fly-by of the Sun.

At just before 1:50 p.m. EDT on Sept. 1, 2019, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe completed its third close approach of the Sun, called perihelion. At the time of perihelion, the spacecraft was about 15 million miles from the Sun’s surface, traveling at more than 213,200 miles per hour.

Mission controllers at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, received a green “A” beacon from the spacecraft soon after perihelion, meaning all systems were performing as designed and that the spacecraft was in good health.

As they had the science instruments turned on sooner during this close approach, and will let them operate longer afterward, they will get more data then on the previous two close approaches.

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Vikram completes first de-orbit burn

The new colonial movement: India’s Vikram lunar lander has successfully completed its first de-orbit engine burn, lasting 4 seconds, adjusting its orbit slightly in preparation for landing on the Moon on September 7.

They will do a second burn tomorrow, further adjusting the orbit.

Note that the update says that this burn was by Chandrayaan-2, but this must be a mistake. The Vikram lander separated from the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter yesterday, and it is Vikram that is doing the orbital changes and will land on the Moon.

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SpaceX declines to shift Starlink satellite to avoid collision

When European Space Agency (ESA) engineers realized there was a greater than normal chance that a new SpaceX Starlink satellite could collide with ESA’s already orbiting Aeolus satellite, they asked SpaceX to shift its orbit, only to have SpaceX decline.

According to Holger Krag, head of the Space Debris Office at ESA, the risk of collision between the two satellites was 1 in 1,000 – ten times higher than the threshold that requires a collision avoidance maneuver. However, despite Aeolus occupying this region of space nine months before Starlink 44, SpaceX declined to move their satellite after the two were alerted to the impact risk by the U.S. military, who monitor space traffic. “Based on this we informed SpaceX, who replied and said that they do not plan to take action,” says Krag, who said SpaceX informed them via email – the first contact that had been made with SpaceX, despite repeated attempts by Krag and his team to get in touch since Starlink launched. “It was at least clear who had to react. So we decided to react because the collision was close to 1 in 1,000, which was ten times higher than our threshold.”

As to why SpaceX refused to move their satellite, that is not entirely clear (the company did not respond to a request for comment). Krag suspected it could be something to do with SpaceX’s electric propulsion system, which “maybe is not reacting so fast” as the chemical propulsion on board Aeolus.

The article is clearly spun to make SpaceX look bad, though based on the stated facts the company shot itself in the foot quite ably. If their propulsion system could not have done the job as well as the other satellite, they should have simply said so and worked with ESA to get the issue fixed, rather than simply saying they would do nothing.

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The modern academic view of the future

Samsung has just released a new report, dubbed Samsung KX50: The Future in Focus, where the company asked “Six of Britain’s leading academics and futurists” to give their prediction of what the world will be like fifty years hence.

According to the report [pdf], people will be living mostly in very dense urban environments consisting of giant, self-sufficient skyscrapers that grow their own food, huge underground complexes, and even undersea colonies. Travel will be by self-driving pods that can double as hotel rooms on long trips, with travel possible between places like Britain and Scandinavia by aquatic highways. Alongside these will be autonomous air taxis that use rivers as commuter routes, hyperloops, and hypersonic airliners.

Not that there will be much traveling. For environmental reasons, most food will be grown close to home, if not in the home itself. Manufacturing will be equally local thanks to 3D printing. And, thanks to automation and artificial intelligence, most people will work in their self-cleaning homes with most of their professional and personal interactions with others conducted through means of full-feedback holographs.

That means that most people will live very sedentary lives, but they’ll also be monitored by biosensors throughout the day as virtual digital companions assess their health, help doctors to prescribe treatments to keep them at peak fitness, dispense health advice, and even custom tailor diets and medicines. [emphasis mine]

The last paragraph immediately stood out to me. These academics saw no moral or ethical problem with such monitoring and supervision. Nor it appears were they aware of the political ramifications of such technology.

Similarly, the report also envisioned “TV and movies beamed directly to your brain via optoelectronic devices” and “Living forever with our memories uploaded to the Cloud.” And from introduction in the report [pdf] itself:

One of the first things that struck me, reading their submissions, was how much consensus there seems to be between all our futurologists, on matters such as direct brain-to-internet connection being a very real possibility before 2069.

The essays in the report itself confirmed this impression. The predictions of all these academics are all focused on imposing their hot-button leftist agenda, including preventing global warming, allowing gender fluidity, pushing environmental activism, and eliminating of meat as food (to name a few), and doing so by the use of technology that is implanted directly into each human being. The world they envision will have every human a pawn in their interconnected robotic-controlled society, with brain implants eliminating our ability to think independently because we are now part of a kind of hive mind.

Samsung then asked British citizens to rank these predictions by what they would most like to see come true. Self-cleaning robotic homes was by far the most popular prediction at 63%, with “Body implants that monitor our health and translate any language” coming in second at 44%.

This poll however was rigged, as it did not ask anyone if they opposed some predictions. I wonder what response Samsung would have gotten had they asked that question.

Nonetheless, the number of people enthused by the idea of monitoring by body implants make me fear for the future. Today young people are addicted to their smart phones and that hive mind. They see nothing wrong with Google monitoring their lives and even acting to control them. I fear that when more convenient but invasive monitoring and control become technologically possible, future generations will be quick to accept it, while they simultaneously lose their individuality and ability to create uniquely.

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Vikram has successfully separated from Chandrayaan-2

The new colonial movement: India’s lunar lander, Vikram, has successfully separated from Chandrayaan-2, and is functioning nominally in lunar orbit.

The update describing this is the second update at the link, with the first detailing the arrangements for the press to cover the landing on September 7.

The lander carries the rover, dubbed Pragyan, which will roll off Vikram only a few hours after landing.

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Chandrayaan-2 now in proper lunar orbit for release of lander/rover

India’s Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft today completed its fifth engine burn in lunar orbit, placing it in the correct orbit for releasing its lander/rover.

The next operation is the separation of Vikram Lander from Chandrayaan-2 Orbiter, which is scheduled on September 02, 2019, between 1245 – 1345 hrs (IST). Following this, there will be two deorbit maneuvers of Vikram Lander to prepare for its landing in the south polar region of the moon.

The landing itself is scheduled for September 7.

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