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.
 

New data: The asteroid Psyche is rusting

Using new ultraviolet data from the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers now believe that the high density asteroid Psyche, thought to be largely metallic, is rusting because of interaction with the solar wind.

Becker observed the asteroid at two specific points in its rotation to view both sides of Psyche completely and delineate as much as possible from observing the surface at ultraviolet (UV) wavelengths.

“We were able to identify for the first time on any asteroid what we think are iron oxide ultraviolet absorption bands,” she said. “This is an indication that oxidation is happening on the asteroid, which could be a result of the solar wind hitting the surface.”

There will be a U.S. probe to Psyche launched in ’22.

Seven recent examples of leftists threatening to murder their opponents

They’re coming for you next: If you want to know what is in store for those who oppose the Democratic Party and its leftist storm-troopers, this article outlines just seven public examples of Democratic Party and leftist activists calling for the murder of their opponents, not because they committed crimes, but because they simply did not agree with the agenda of the left.

Here’s just one example, from a CNN contributor:

[O]n Aug. 4, 2019, a supposed religious scholar and CNN contributor Reza Aslan announced on Twitter — a tweet still up as of Oct. 22 — that all Trump supporters “must be eradicated from society” along with Trump, and that there is “no longer any room for nuance.” Aslan has nearly 300,000 followers.

His extremely defamatory and threatening tweet reads verbatim: “The President is a white nationalist terror leader. His supporters — ALL OF THEM — are by definition white nationalist terror supporters. The MAGA hat is a KKK hood. And his evil, racist scourge must be eradicated from society.”

None of the examples cited are out of the ordinary. Such statements have become increasing typical from all levels of Democratic Party support, from on high and down low. They have been matched by numerous actions reminiscent of NAZI Germany, from rioting to looting to intimidation to attacking innocent Trump supporters whenever they are spotted.

Just remember this when you vote. If the Democrats win, they will expect total obedience and compliance, or they will be coming for you next.

Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.


 

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Studies: COVID-19 mortality plunging in hospitals

Two new studies have found that the death rate among COVID-19 patients has significantly dropped since the beginning of the epidemic in March.

[One] study, which looked at over 5,000 patients inside the Langone Health system, discovered that in the study timeframe, the mortality rate decreased from 25.6 percent in March to 7.6 percent in August—an 18 percentage point decrease from the start of the pandemic.

According to the data, the median age was seen to have decreased over time, meaning that as time went on, most patients infected with the CCP virus were younger. Although that change seemed to partially explain the decreased mortality rate, it didn’t account for all of it. “Even after risk adjustment for variety of clinical and demographic factors, including severity of illness at presentation, mortality was significantly and progressively lower over the course of the study period,” the study stated.

Patients of all ages experienced a decreased mortality rate. Among those, patients who were at or over the age of 75 saw the largest decrease, from just under 45 percent in the beginning of March to a under 10 percent in August.

The other study confirmed these results. Both suggest a range of factors, most of which centered on doctors learning more about the disease and thus treating it more effectively.

Overall the data confirms once again that COVID-19 is not the plague, and should not be feared in the same way. Yes, like the flu it can kill, but the conditions almost always require the patient to be very old and already badly weakened from other illnesses. For everyone else, the risks are far less, with the likelihood that if you get it, you will easily recover.

Vostochny official arrested on fraud charges

Russia this past weekend arrested another Vostochny official on charges of fraud and bribery.

The arrest was of a different individual than the one Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin fired this weekend.

Roman Bobkov, the head of the state entity operating the cosmodrome, has been placed in pre-trial detention for two months by a local court, on Saturday, and faces several charges, including fraud, abuse of office, and incitement to abuse of office and forgery. He assumed the role of director at Vostochny in March 2019.

Bobkov is accused of using bribery to entice a senior Defense Ministry inspector, Dmitry Fomintsev, to file fake reports on the commissioning of several of the spaceport’s major water-supply facilities. The fraudulent documents were allegedly drawn up to conceal Bobkov’s own misconduct during their construction, which had left them unfinished.

They estimate the cost of Bobkov’s actions to be around $6.5 million, which in rubles is about a half billion.

The level of corruption and theft that has permeated the construction of Vostochny raises great doubts about the quality of work there, building the spaceport. Expect many “glitches” when they start attempting regular launches.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. 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, 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

Firefly gets two new launch contracts; completes testing on 1st stage

Capitalism in space: Firefly announced last week that it has signed two new launch contracts even as it has completed testing on the first stage of its Alpha rocket and has shipped it to the launch site..

One of the two launch contracts was for multiple launches. As for Alpha:

The Alpha Flight 1 Stage 1 performed a 35 second static fire, including a full suite of thrust vector control maneuvers. Subsequently, a 15 second final trim test was performed, and the stage will now ship to Firefly’s launch complex at Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB).

Concurrently, the Alpha Flight 1 payload fairing successfully completed a separation test. The payload fairing separation system was designed and manufactured by Firefly. The system is operationally recyclable, allowing for multiple tests of the flight unit.

Firefly is also nearing completion of its Launch Control Center, Integration Hangar, and launch pad, including assembly of the Transporter Erector Launcher (TEL) at historic Space Launch Complex 2 West (SLC-2W) at VAFB. Firefly’s TEL, built by Firefly’s design and fabrication teams in Texas and California, is being integrated and will soon commence ground system activation.

They are still aiming for the first launch before the end of this year.

Jewish pro-Trump convoy attacked repeatedly in New York

They’re coming for you next: A pro-Trump convoy of Jewish New Yorkers was attacked repeatedly by hostile anti-Trump protesters during its trip through the city today.

Multiple disturbing video clips of the convoy posted on @NYScanner show crowds not taking too kindly to rows of vehicles with hoisted Trump 2020 flags. In one video, a man can be seen appearing to throw eggs at the convoy in Brooklyn. In another video, pedestrians can be seen appearing to throw rocks at vehicles displaying a Trump flag.

The hostility evidently lingered throughout the day. In multiple clips, people can be heard yelling expletives at the “Jews For Trump” participants.

One man – on a bike, no less – appears so incensed that the “pro-Trump” vehicles have congested traffic on the Brooklyn that he resorts to punching a window. In Manhattan, a woman was arrested for allegedly using pepper spray on the convoy, according to police.

Later, a scuffle broke out between the pro- and anti-Trump crowd in the middle of a street. Masked protesters could be seen in one clip converging on a vehicle doused in red paint as “YMCA” is blasting in the background.

“Go home! We don’t you here!” somebody in the crowd shouts. “Go back to Long Island!” another person shouts.

A video posted on Twitter shows a pro-Trump caravan led by former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani shows being pelted with eggs.

The worst story was the lead attack at the link. A family of seven, including four children, were pepper-sprayed when another car pulled up beside their Trump-festooned vehicle and sprayed them through the open windows.

This is supposed to be America, the land of free speech and free debate, where your right to express your political beliefs are defended by all. Sadly, for the left and those on the side of the Democratic Party, such tolerance is no longer acceptable. Instead, they celebrate storm-trooper tactics against all who disagree with them.

I hope everyone remembers this when they vote. Remember, they’re coming for you next.

Leaving Earth cover

In 2019 I obtained from my former publisher the last 30 copies of the now out-of-print hardback of Leaving Earth. I sold about half of these, and with only a handful left in stock I have raised the price. To get your own autographed copy of this rare collector's item please send a $75 check (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, can be purchased 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

Russia launches new GPS-type satellite

Russia today successfully launched another one of its GPS-type Glonass satillites, using its Soyuz-2 rocket lifting off from its Plesetsk spaceport.

This was the first launch of this type of satellite in more than five years due to an inability to get parts because of U.S. sanctions following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In response, the Russian government instituted an export-replacement program aimed at providing indigenously produced electronics for the nation’s industries. The effort was complicated by the need in some cases to build entire factories virtually from scratch.

Around 2016, ISS Reshetnev, the prime developer of GLONASS satellites, began re-designing the GLONASS-K variant for the Russian-built components. It is unclear to what extent the original GLONASS-K series relied on foreign components, but the new batch of spacecraft did not come out of assembly until the end of the 2010s.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

26 China
18 SpaceX
12 Russia
4 ULA
4 Europe

The U.S. continues to lead China 28 to 26 in the national rankings.

Reviewing the development of Starship/Super Heavy

Link here. This five-part article is a detailed review of SpaceX’s development of its new completely reusable heavy-lift rocket, with Super Heavy being the first stage booster and Starship being the orbital upper stage capable of returning to Earth, landing vertically, and being reused.

From the article’s conclusion:

The Starship program is unique and one of the most ambitious in the history of rocketry. The design has now gone through at least twelve known versions and four different names!

Its first version was a single or triple-core rocket back in 2013, which has evolved into the single-core stainless steel Starship design under construction today. Even as the design’s size has fluctuated dramatically, its repertoire of missions and roles has expanded.

It started out as a rocket meant to colonize Mars but now is envisioned as an all-purpose carrier rocket to replace the Falcon 9 rocket family. It is expected to launch satellites into Earth orbit, fly people point-to-point on Earth, ferry cargo and crew to and from the Moon, in addition to its original role as a Mars colonization vehicle.

Two significant points: First, SpaceX as a company has shown itself remarkably capable of shifting design and development tracks, on a dime, if it realized there was a better way to do things. Second, the company has also smartly rethought this big rocket’s reason for existing. In the beginning they focused on Musk’s goal of getting to Mars. That concept however had few if no customers, and therefore have little chance of producing profits. Overtime the company adjusted their design goals to expand the rocket’s purposes so that its capabilities would serve as many customers as possible.

The result is a useful product that still could take people to Mars.

Rogozin shakes up Vostochny management, again

The head of Russia’s space agency Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, has reprimanded two and fired one high level managers running the construction of the new Vostochny spaceport in Russia’s far east.

Roscosmos CEO Dmitry Rogozin trekked out to the Amur Region in Russia’s Far East on Friday to check on how construction is proceeding at the Vostochny Cosmodrome. The answer was apparently, not real well. “Following the results of hearing reports at a production meeting at the Vostochny cosmodrome, Roscosmos CEO Dmitry Rogozin reprimanded Andrei Okhlopkov, Director General of the Center for Operation of Ground-Based Space Infrastructure Facilities, and Vladimir Zhuk, TsENKI Chief Engineer,” Roscosmos said in a press release.

“Prior to that, by decision of Dmitry Rogozin, Evgeny Rogoza, General Director of the Vostochny Cosmodrome Directorate, was fired,” the document said.

The article then outlines the slow pace of development at Vostochny over the last few years.

This is not the first time Russia has shaken up the Vostochny management. Early shake-ups had included arrests and prosecutions due to corruption. None have apparently succeeded in speeding up development of this giant government-run project that in many ways reminds me of NASA’s SLS/Orion project. The delays are really a feature, not a bug, as the Russian government mostly wants to be able to claim it has created jobs, and really doesn’t care too much if they actually accomplish anything.

Eventually Vostochny will become operational. I have great doubts it will ever act to make Russia once again competitive in the international launch market.

SpaceX launches 60 more Starlink satellites

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully launched another sixty Starlink satellites, bringing the total in orbit to over 800.

The company also recovered the first stage, completing its third flight. The fairings were to be picked up in the ocean, rather than caught in a ship’s net, as the last launch one fairing broke the net. SpaceX engineers might have determined ocean recovery is now safer and sufficient for reuse.

This was also the company’s 100th successful launch and its 63rd successful first stage recovery.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

26 China
18 SpaceX
11 Russia
4 ULA
4 Europe (Arianespace)

The U.S. now leads China 28 to 26 in the national rankings.

Why Do Stupid People Not Realize They Are Stupid?

A bonus second evening pause: Considering some of the foolishness being imposed on free Americans by clearly stupid politicians, their minions in various government bureaucracies, and much of the mainstream media (as illustrated by tonight’s first satirical evening pause), I thought it worthwhile to post this short video, explaining the Dunning Kruger effect. I also thought it especially worthwhile to post, prior to the election.

The solution for everyone, no matter your intelligence, is to be humble, to always consider the possibility you could be wrong. Do that, and you will take the first step in recognizing when you do stupid things.

MadTV – Windstorm 97

An evening pause: We find this funny because it so accurately documents the inanity and stupidity of almost all television news. And yet, so many people who would laugh at this take with complete faith the reporting on COVID-19, all of which has been as absurd and as untrustworthy.

Hat tip lazarus long.

OSIRIS-REx sample grab so successful they are losing material

The samples from Bennu
Click for full two frame gif movie.

In a briefing today and press release, the OSIRIS-REx science team announced that they estimate that they have gathered a lot of material from the asteroid Bennu, at least 100s of grams, about twice the minimum of what they hoped to get.

In fact, images of the TAGSAM sample grab equipment suggest that there are some larger rocks lodged in its opening (preventing the flap from closing), and that the small movements they have done to photograph it has caused some of the captured material to escape. The image to the right shows this. You can see floating specks and their shadows (the horizontal streaks) that have escaped. At about 9 o’clock you can see a curve in the contact between a lighter material and blackness to its outside, bending towards the center of the TAGSAM. At other exposures they can clearly see a rock there, distorting the shape and thus preventing the flap from closing properly.

Because of this, they are foregoing the spin maneuver that would have weighed the sample, as well as one engine burst that would have slowed the spacecraft’s movement away from Bennu.

This means they will not know the exact amount captured until the sample gets back to Earth. This is a gamble, but they are confident that they have gotten a lot of material. According to Dante Lauretta, the principal investigator, the sample grab-and-go “got very down” into Bennu, as much as 19 inches. He is also confident that they grabbed more than a 100 grams.

They are therefore going to as quickly as possible store the samples in the Sample Return Capsule for return to Earth, beginning on October 27. They need to do a complex series of steps to make this happen, which is why it cannot happen until then.

One more detail: In their simulations prior to the touch-and-go, they had a range of estimates of how deep the spacecraft would penetrate. According to Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx plunged into Bennu at the softest part of that range, telling them that the asteroid is probably much more loosely packed than expected.

Because they are not doing that last engine burst means that they are moving away from Bennu for good. They will not return to the asteroid. Whether they will be able to get post sample grab images of Nightingale is unknown.

US sets new record of COVID-19 cases in one day

O no! We’re all gonna die! The United States yesterday set a new record of 77,770 new COVID-19 cases detected in one day.

Thursday’s numbers — 77,640 new cases — eclipsed the previous record set on July 29, when 75,723 new cases were reported, according to a tally by NBC News.

A total of 921 coronavirus-related deaths were also reported on Thursday. [emphasis mine]

I highlight the number of deaths to make the same point I have made repeatedly. Less than a thousand deaths with so many cases demonstrates again how this virus is relatively harmless to practically everyone who gets it. I am quite sure that of those 921 deaths, almost all were over seventy, and all were saddled with other very serious chronic illnesses that even without COVID-19, were on the verge of killing them.

Also, 921 deaths out of 77,770 cases calculates as a death rate of 1.2%. While this is much higher than the flu’s normal death rate of 0.1%, it almost certainly includes almost all flu deaths this year, since the CDC records practically none, something that is just not creditable. Moreover, there is ample evidence that the number of deaths that have been assigned to the coronavirus has been inflated, at least as much as 25%, so that higher number is certainly an overstatement. Moreover, it includes the epidemic’s earlier period, when the virus was more lethal and doctors were struggling to learn how to treat it properly.

To sum up, COVID-19 is merely a variation of the flu. It is weakening in strength. And it never was the plague our fear-mongering political class was claiming it to be.

Sadly, the story above does the same as all mainstream stories about COVID-19. It fails to mention these basic facts, and instead focuses on the increase in cases, as if that increase means millions more will die. It is all a lie, and disgraceful for anyone in a civilized society to do it.

But then, there are a lot of journalists today who have no self-respect, and are quite willing to do many disgraceful things for partisan and emotional reasons, rather than do their jobs properly.

Sudan joins UAE and Bahrain in normalizing relations with Israel

The Trump administration’s successes in the Middle East continue: Sudan is apparently about to join the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain as the first Arab countries in decades to normalize its relations with Israel.

Moreover, there are rumors than another five more Arab countries are about to join in. They are probably holding back to see what happens on November 3rd. Expect a swarm of new agreements should Trump win.

This deal, along with the one with the UAE and Bahrain, are the direct result of Trump’s hard-nosed policies against the terrorist organizations running the Palestinian territories adjacent to Israel. Unlike past presidents from both parties since the first Bush, Trump has made no effort to pander to either the Palestinian Authority or Hamas. Instead, he has cut off their funding. He has also recognized the real strategic landscape in the Middle East, divided between Iran and its terrorist surrogates in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, and every other Arab nation, and used that divide to gain allies.

During the 2016 campaign, he promised to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, just as practically every presidential candidate had promised since the mid-1990s. Unlike all those other liars, Trump kept that promise. He however also reshaped U.S. Middle East policy in fundamental ways, as described above, and thus has achieved real progress. Voters must remember this when they vote.

Space officials, from in and out of NASA, meet to plan Biden administration space policy

A group of senior space officials from both inside and outside of NASA held a closed door “war game” on October 20th, designed to plan out what they thought should be the space policy of the Biden administration.

About a dozen officials participated. Attendees included two former astronauts, Charlie Bolden and Pam Melroy, who have worked in space policy since their retirements. Bolden was NASA administrator under President Obama. Also participating were two former senior NASA officials—Mike French, chief of staff under Bolden, and Doug Loverro, a chief of human spaceflight for the Trump administration. Loverro was forced to step down in February and is now under investigation for improper contact with Boeing. The meeting also had participation from industry, including entrepreneur Rick Tumlinson and Marc Berkowitz of Lockheed Martin.

They claim that this is not at the behest of the Biden campaign, but what I see is a group of high-level bureaucrats from Washington gathering together to plan space policy strategy for Biden, with the expectation that should he win they will be well placed to inaugurate his policy for him.

The article did not name all the participants, but if any are presently working in the Trump administration or in NASA their participation in this “war game” was highly inappropriate. It is not their place to set policy, only to implement the policy determined by the elected president now in office.

Should Trump win on November 3rd, the attendance list of participants will thus provide a good guide on who not to hire, as well as who to fire should Trump’s new looser policy on hiring and firing take effect. These individuals have now signaled their partisan loyalties, and it isn’t with Trump or the Republicans. If any are part of his administration now they are wolves in sheep’s clothing, likely acting against his interests when no one is looking.

On this topic, I just bought this book “The Memo: 20 Years Inside the Deep State Fighting for America First,” based on this review, which states:

Higgins’ new book, “The Memo: 20 Years Inside the Deep State Fighting for America First,” is an eye-opening and unique book for a political memoir. It is not heavy on political wonkiness, policymaking stratagems, and personal vendettas typical of Washington, DC tell-alls. It is a refreshingly direct tale of a talented young man’s rise from the enlisted ranks of the military into politics and then policy-making, only to discover the realities of a brutal and seditious opposition fighting to preserve a decrepit, America-destroying agenda that culminated in an outrageous coup attempt against a U.S. president.

And while Higgins does “name names” in his book, when describing the subversion of the Trump agenda by those inimical to it, he does so only to drive home his larger point about the incredible obstacles President Trump has faced in orienting U.S. policies toward advancing his America-first agenda.

Seems very apropos at this moment in time.

Starship prototype #8 gets its nosecone

Starship prototype #8, with nosecone
Screen capture from LabPadre live stream.

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has now installed the nosecone on Starship prototype #8 in advance of its first vertical hop to 50,000 feet, or more than ten miles, expected sometime in November.

Curiously, hours prior to nose installation, SpaceX apparently removed one of Starship SN8’s three Raptor engines while also revealing that a spare fourth engine was already in Boca Chica. In other words, the prototype likely has only two Raptor engines installed at the moment, meaning that SpaceX will need to install another before the company can prepare for SN8’s next major test campaign.

According to CEO Elon Musk, the plan was to static fire Starship SN8’s three Raptor engines, perform final inspections and checkouts, perform another static fire, and finally attempt the first high-attitude Starship flight test. As of October 22nd, SpaceX has seemingly completed the two steps. Nosecone freshly installed, it’s likely that SpaceX will use the second triple-Raptor static fire opportunity to test the engines while feeding propellant solely from Starship’s liquid oxygen and methane header tanks – the latter of which is located in the nose.

The removal of one engine suggests they found something in that engine they didn’t like during last week’s static fire test, though that is mere speculation on my part.

The addition of the nosecone, with its own fins, clearly changes the appearance of prototype #8, making it look truly like a rocket ship. In fact, it looks more like the rocket ship imagined by science fiction writers for decades prior to the advent of spaceflight in the 1960s. The irony is that this is the first real rocket since the V2 in World War II to have this look.

India’s Mars orbiter confirms global dust storms speeds atmosphere loss

India’s Mars orbiter Mission (MOM) has confirmed that the periodic Martian global dust storms act to accelerate the loss of the red planet’s atmosphere.

The U.S. orbiter MAVEN found the same thing during the 2018 global dust storm. Moreover, the two orbiters focused on observing different hemispheres (MOM in the morning and MAVEN in the evening), and bot got comparable results.

On the radio

The podcast of my thirty minute appearance with Bill Bartholomew in Rhode Island is now available here. His description of our talk:

Bill Bartholomew welcomes Bob Zimmerman, the person behind the website Behind The Black for a conversation on all things space. How might the 2020 elections impact space exploration and technology? What are some of the key issues and projects the U.S. is involved in the space exploration and technology sectors?

Enjoy!

New Trump executive order suggests major house-cleaning should he win

The Trump administration has just released a new executive order that would shift many federal managers from civil service positions, where they cannot easily be removed, into a new category that will allow the President to remove them “at-will.”

The order would create a new Schedule F within the excepted service of the federal government, to be composed of “employees in confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating positions,” and instructs agency heads to determine which current employees fit this definition and move them—whether they are members of the competitive service or other schedules within the excepted service—into this new classification.

…Positions in the new Schedule F would effectively constitute at-will employment, without any of the protections against adverse personnel actions that most federal workers currently enjoy, although individual agencies are tasked with establishing “rules to prohibit the same personnel practices prohibited” by Title 5 of the U.S. Code. The order also instructs the Federal Labor Relations Authority to examine whether Schedule F employees should be removed from their bargaining units, a move that would bar them from being represented by federal employee unions.

The timing of this order is most revealing. If approved it will go into effect on January 19, 2021, the day before the presidential inauguration. This suggests that if Trump wins, he does not want a repeat of his first term, when many civil service employees worked to sabotage his administration and its goals. He wants the power to fire people in large numbers, especially those who are in a position of setting policy, sometimes policy that Trump, legally elected by the American people, opposed strongly.

Be sure that this change will be fought hard by the administrative state in Washington, as well as by their backers in the Democratic and Republican parties. And though it would also give increased power to Biden should he win, it would still be an appropriate change, as the elected president should be the person in charge, not some unelected bureaucrats buried in the DC civil service.

Was there a catastrophic flood in Kasei Valles on Mars?

Overview map of lower section of Kasei Valles

Figure from paper

In our on-going exploration of Mars using the amazing high resolutions being taken by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), we return today to Kasei Valles, the drainage valley coming down from Mars’ giant volcanoes that I featured only a few days ago. And like that post, we must begin from afar and zoom in to understand what we are seeing in the final cool image.

Kasei Valles is a canyon system is about 1,900 miles long, and would cover two-thirds of the continental United States if placed on Earth. Its north-trending upstream section to the west and south of the area shown on the overview map to the right is thought to have been formed by some combination of glacial and volcanic processes. The downstream west-east section shown in the map instead appears to have been formed by a sudden catastrophic flood, which some scientists have theorized [pdf] occurred when a three hundred long ice dam broke suddenly, releasing the flood quickly across this terrain to create its features. The second map to the right, from their paper, illustrates this hypothesized event.

The white box in 60-mile wide Sharonov Crater near the center of the first map above indicates the location of today’s cool image below. The 1976 landing site of VIking 1 about 420 miles to the east is also indicated.

If you look closely at the first overview map above you can see that the rim of Sharonov Crater appears breached in its southwest quadrant, just to the west of the white box. This breach is less a break and more an area of increased erosion. Regardless, it sure appears that a massive flow pushed through the rim here.
» Read more

Why Barrett’s confirmation went fast: Senate Republicans finally grew a spine

Link here. The author outlines all the ways the Democrats tried to duplicate their slander campaign against Brett Kavanaugh, then notes this:

The biggest difference is that Republicans simply weren’t playing with these attacks. Each and every one of these stories — and dozens of similar ones — was met with swift condemnation or yawns. Every single one.

It took a few decades of the left playing the exact same games with most confirmation battles, but finally, the right figured out how to render those attacks worthless. It’s not just conservative Americans, but the senators themselves who are playing this differently.

Rather than the Senate Judiciary Committee immediately responding to the Washington Post’s anti-Kavanaugh attack by bending to the will of the Democrats, this time they just didn’t care. As Democrats openly said on national television that they would do anything to stop Barrett’s confirmation, rather than act scared, the Republicans were not moved. They haven’t responded with outrage or drama, but just a steely resolve to get the nomination done. [emphasis mine]

Why it took Senate Republicans decades to figure out this basic premise, that the best way to deal with bullies and temper tantrums is to ignore them, is another question. It suggests that for decades those Republicans really liked bowing to those tantrums, because they really didn’t want to achieve any of the conservative goals their voters wanted and that they always campaigned on.

However, fake conservative senators like Jeff Flake and Bob Corker are gone, replaced with senators who are either more legitimately conservative (Marsha Blackburn) or faced with a tough reelection fight that forces toughness (Martha McSally). The result is that no Republican in the Senate is willing to play the Democrat’s game anymore. They can scream and kick and hold their breath, but on Monday Amy Barrett will be confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

SpaceX wins partial approval to provide Starlink service in Canada

Capitalism in space: Though SpaceX has obtained permission to provide its Starlink internet service from Canada’s Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, similar to the U.S.’s FCC, it still has not gotten full government approval to begin offering its service to customers.

It appears a different Canadian regulatory body, dubbed Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED), has still not given its okay of the “satellite spectrum” SpaceX requires. From the second link:

SpaceQ had previously contacted ISED in June about SpaceX. ISED wouldn’t comment directly on any application, but did tell SpaceQ that the applications and approved website pages were up to date at that time. The website had last been updated in May. Since then, the website was updated in July. And yet there’s still no mention of SpaceX. It’s my understanding that the specific pages with applications and approvals is updated pretty quickly when there is new information to post. Though it took 3 weeks for changes to appear after Kepler submitted their application in June of this year.

With respect to how long it takes to get approval, ISED said the “service standard for the processing of satellite applications, including for those for foreign satellites, is 130 calendar days.” It’s quite possible that it could take longer.

This description carries all the hallmarks of a typical government bureaucracy whose only purpose is to block new companies and new technology. The political swamp of Canada might also be using it as a means of extortion for campaign funds from SpaceX. “Nice business you got there. Sure would be a shame if it didn’t get that license approval.”

I don’t think SpaceX needs to bow to these games. In the end ISED will back down and give approval, especially when the company begins offering its services just over the border in the U.S. The competitive and political pressure to give its okay will then be too great.

Lockheed Martin to move its smallsat rocket launch project to the UK

Capitalism in space: Lockheed Martin announced today that it is moving its Pathfnder smallsat rocket operation to a new spaceport in Shetland in the United Kingdom, with the first launch targeted for ’24.

This Shetland site is a different UK spaceport than the Sutherland site, also in Scotland, where both Lockheed Martin and the British company Orbex also hope to launch.

Russian oxygen regenerator malfunctions again

The Russian oxygen regenerator in the Zvezda module of ISS has malfunctioned again, the second time in a week.

“After the Elektron-VM system was deactivated, the crew, guided by the main operational group, dismantled it in order to detect faults. Oxygen will be generated by a backup system located in the US section until repairs are completed,” the spokesperson said.

This unit was launched with Zvezda in 2000. After ten years of operation it needed repair In 2010, and then operated for another ten years until last week’s failure. Though this second failure after last week’s repair could be fixable, the age of the unit raises reasonable questions about its future.

That it has worked for twenty years, and could still be fixed, speaks well for this Russian design however. Its longevity reminds me of home appliances from the mid-20th century, which routinely were expected to last many decades, and did.

If the time has come to replace it, however, I have doubts about any new “upgraded” unit. Technology development in both Russia and the U.S. has fallen in love with complexity, which often results in less reliability, shorter lifespans, and often units that fail to do what they were designed for. I fear the same would happen with any new unit.

ISS crew returns safely to Earth in Soyuz

After a six month mission on ISS, three astronauts have safely landed on Earth in their Soyuz capsule.

Cassidy, Ivanishin and Vagner spent 196 days in orbit, having arrived at the station on April 9. They left behind NASA’s Kate Rubins and Roscosmos’ Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, who arrived at the orbiting outpost a week ago for a six-month stay.

Cassidy, returning from his third space mission, has now spent a total of 378 days in space, the fifth highest among U.S. astronauts.

While serving as the station’s commander, Cassidy welcomed SpaceX Demo-2 crew Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, the first NASA astronauts to launch to the space station on an American spacecraft from American soil since the retirement of the space shuttle fleet in 2011.

Cassidy and Behnken completed four spacewalks for a total of 23 hours and 37 minutes, becoming two of only four U.S. astronauts to complete 10 spacewalks.

The three astronauts still on board ISS now await the arrival of four astronauts on SpaceX’s Resilience capsule, scheduled for launch in early to mid-November. This will rise the crew on ISS to seven, which I think is the highest since the retirement of the shuttle in 2011.

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