A Reputation is a Terrible Thing to Waste

•April 20, 2019 • Leave a Comment

I haven’t yet read the Mueller Report. It is too large and I’ve been busy. I will read it before election day 2020 though. I also doubt that a lot of folks with opinions about it have yet had time to read it either. Hence the topic of this post.

United States President Barack Obama holds a meeting in the White House Situation Room on 20 April 2013 on the continuing investigation into the Boston Marathon bombing. From left at the table, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, Attorney General Eric Holder, FBI Director Robert Mueller, Director of CIA John Brennan, and Lisa Monaco, Assistant to the President of Homeland Security and Counterterrorism.
Pete Souza – White House (P042013PS-0352)

Does anyone remember the famous slide-show done by Colin Powell regarding evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? Saddam Hussein had been engaging in an elaborate shell game with inspectors, attempting to demonstrate to the world that he had something to hide. Colin Powell, a man with a stellar reputation for integrity, showed the public a piece of that shell game with a slide show of satellite photos in an attempt to make a case for invasion.

He left public life shortly after that when his conclusions didn’t pan out.

Confirmation bias is a drag. It stifles the inquisitiveness of people and corrupts their reputations because of over reliance on questionable information sources. How many people denied reports that the staff of the Trump White House felt like babysitters when managing this President and trying to keep him out of trouble? How many people laughed at Trump when he Tweeted early in his Presidency that he had been “spied on” by the Obama administration during the campaign? How many people denied that elements of the FBI could allow bias for or against Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump to impact how they did their jobs?

President George W. Bush announces the White House conference on Missing, Exploited and Runaway children in the Rose Garden Aug. 6. Standing with him are, from left to right, FBI Director Robert Mueller, Education Secretary Rod Paige, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and Ernie Allen and Carolyn Atwell-Davis from The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. White House photo by Tina Hager https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2002/08/images/20020806-2_p20479-03-thjpeg-515h.html

How many people in the news media and Congress declared that they had seen “irrefutable evidence” that criminal collusion had occurred between the Trump Campaign and Russia?

OK. Everyone take a step back.

  • Donald Trump is a pathological liar that says and does stupid things when he is angry or in situations that his handlers can’t control (like on Twitter or in stump speeches). Conservatives need to stop denying this.
  • The FBI leaks and those leaks are selective, biased, and unreliable. Everyone needs to stop denying this.
  • The difference between “necessary law enforcement surveillance” and “Big Brother spying on American citizens” is constructed on intent and probable cause. Everyone needs to stop denying this.
  • The domino effect of Russia’s attempt to disrupt our electoral process has worked…on multiple levels…and it continues. Everyone needs to stop denying this and participating in it.
  • There are people and organizations on both sides of the isle who seem to either be far to deeply reliant on questionable information sources, or are themselves unscrupulous liars who care more about their own issue agenda than they do about the strength and stability of the U.S.A. Everyone needs to stop denying this, review and verify everything those people have said regarding Trump-Russia and the Mueller Investigation and its origins, and adjust their opinions accordingly.
  • Even now, some of the aforementioned unreliable people who don’t care about the truth are attempting to selectively read the Mueller Report to you and tell you what they think you need to think about it.
  • At some point the public information distribution mechanisms of this country went totally off the rails and left too many of its citizens with the evidently incorrect conclusion that the President of the U.S. was an agent for Russia. Liberals in Government and the News Media who have not yet come around to admitting this need to do so now.
  • The effects of lost reputation among various people in 2016-2019 will ripple through the 2020 election process and may have the inverse impact on policy winners vs losers than the liars originally intended.

Consider and learn from this fiasco. The reputation you save may be your own.


Israel Rising

•April 11, 2019 • Leave a Comment

See? That’s what I’ve been talkin’ about.

This photo was taken by a collection of firsts…

First Israeli probe to the Moon.

Soon to be first Israeli lander on the Moon.

First Commercial Space Spacecraft to the Moon.

First Falcon-launched payload to the Moon.

First Lunar XPrize contender to reach the Moon.

All in one probe.

While we wait for Falcon Heavy’s next Arabsat 6a launch window today (since upper-level winds prevented yesterday’s launch) SpaceIL, a small company based in Israel, will attempt to land a spacecraft in the Lunar dust of the Sea of Serenity.

This sort of thing just wasn’t possible at traditional launch costs a decade ago and you can expect to see more small countries getting into the game during the next decade. I’m not just talking about robotic missions like this Israeli probe Beresheet either, but later this year or the next Commercial Space will finally start arranging to fly passengers. Yes, companies and small countries will soon be able to send their people into Earth orbit.

The lander itself isn’t much, it isn’t meant to be. It was built to satisfy the requirements of the Lunar XPrize. The prize expired uncollected, but several contenders like SpaceIL kept going. Their lander can take and send images like the one at the top of this article. It also carries a magnetometer and a Retroreflector for bouncing research lasers from Earth.

It launched from Earth on February 22nd on a SpaceX Falcon 9. The whole project has a budget of just $95M.

BTW…if the U.S. State Department doesn’t like you, then they won’t allow your country to buy these cheap rides from SpaceX — a U.S. company. Bare that in mind when making your foreign policy decisions. Russia, Iran, North Korea, China…I’m talking to you. Time to jump on the train before the Conductor closes the doors. The opportunities of the space economy won’t wait.

Just sayin’. Play nice and maybe you too will have a new generation of engineers rising up and making money for your country.

Or would you rather countries like Israel have all the fun?

Watch “Arabsat-6A Mission” on YouTube

•April 10, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Here is where you go to watch this historic launch.

The next installment of the series we have been doing here on Falcon Heavy will be a merged, long-term timeline of various space-time related events as they currently stand. It does of course rely heavily on the success of this flight…so I’ll wait until after second stage relight before I send that out.

High Flight

•April 8, 2019 • Leave a Comment
The Saturn V breaks the sound barrier on Earth’s first Moon landing mission.

“Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds -
and done a hundred things You have not dreamed of –
wheeled and soared and swung high in the sunlit silence.
Hovering there I’ve chased the shouting wind along
and flung my eager craft through footless halls of air.

“Up, up the long delirious burning blue 
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace, 
where never lark, or even eagle, flew; 
and, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod 
the high untrespassed sanctity of space, 
put out my hand and touched the face of God.”

John Gillespie Magee,  Jr.


The First Commercial Launch of Falcon Heavy — Part 3: What Will It Do for Human Space Flight?

•April 7, 2019 • Leave a Comment

The second flight of the epic SpaceX Falcon Heavy is scheduled to fly on Tuesday, April 9th 2017. That date might still drift down the calendar a couple more days…after all rocketry is difficult, it is only the second flight and some pretty important things are riding on this. The Arbsat 6A is an expensive satellite, but there is more to it than just that.

The above photo shows the Falcon Heavy that will fly this week. Also in the photo is the charred Falcon 9 booster that flew the successful Commercial Crew test flight earlier this year and landed for refurbishment and reuse. Every booster you see in this photo are the Block 5 variant, built to be refueled and re-flown many times with a minimum of rework. While the Falcon Heavy itself is not crew rated, its side boosters are of the same design as, and are interchangeable with, the soon to be crew-rated Falcon 9 rocket. This ties their fates together. This week’s launch of the non-crew-rated Falcon Heavy will add needed data to the launch history of the Block 5 version of the Falcon 9 rocket and move SpaceX closer to qualifying Falcon 9 to fly crew to the International Space Station this summer and later other places in Earth orbit.

NASA has committed itself to the path of Commercial Crew, to the point of not paying Russia for the series of NASA crew rotations that need to take place for the ISS this year.

Boeing, NASA’s other Commercial Crew partner, is having it’s own problems with preparing their crew-rated capsule, and it will not launch crew this year.

Furthermore, SpaceX has prepared the same launch pad, 39A, for both crewed flights to the ISS and for flying Falcon Heavy. If this week’s rocket explodes on the pad it could set SpaceX back as they make repairs.

So ya, there are a lot of eggs in this basket.

In 2016, during fueling for a static fire test (pre-flight engine test), a Falcon 9 second stage ruptured a tank and exploded. This grounded that flight operations for that rocket design for several months and damaged the launch pad. The cause of the anomaly was identified and corrected, both in tank design and in fuel loading procedures. Also, when they performed the static fire last week, the Arabsat 6a payload was not on the rocket yet. That is why they pulled this rocket back indoors after the the successful test is complete. This Block 5 version of the booster, besides being more powerful than it’s predecessor, includes modifications that NASA wanted for additional precautions against the 2016 accident in preparation for it’s participation in the Commercial Crew program.

On the upside, the SpaceX design practice of using multiple engines on each rocket has made the Merlin one of the most heavily tested rockets in the world, and probably contributed to its efficiency improvements over the years. Since the rocket is landed and examined after every launch, and built for multiple re-flights, the company’s understanding of their equipment is improved. In fact some of SpaceX’s customers have even come to appreciate that a previously flown rocket has already been “flight proven”…a slap in the face to some early re-usability naysayers who claimed that re-flying rockets would be dangerous.

Even though this launch carries a fairly routine type of payload, the launch itself extends the envelope of human launch capabilities and moves the Commercial Space industry one step closer to full autonomy from Government whims. The Falcon Heavy launch for the U.S. Air Force, together with a successful certification of the Falcon 9 for carrying passengers to orbit, will finish establishing the Falcon Heavy, currently the most powerful rocket in the world, as fully ready for business.

Once the Falcon 9 and Dragon begin flying people to orbit, they don’t have to just do so for the International Space Station. Bigelow Aerospace has been building and testing their own inflatable space station modules for several years now and intend to launch that business as soon as non-government rides to space become a thing this year. between private space stations, the Commercial Crew program, and the advent of inexpensive heavy lifters like the Falcon Heavy for placing private space station modules into orbit, the price of human spaceflight will soon fall to epic lows. Any large company, or even small country, will be able to buy a ticket to ride.

It all starts now!

Don’t miss the launch!


After this launch, if it is successful, what comes next? A combination of currently planned events in the Commercial Space Industry.

Click here to search all articles in this blog that speak of Falcon Heavy.

The First Commercial Launch of Falcon Heavy — Part 4: What Next?

•April 7, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Now that this launch went off successfully, here are some of the tentative timelines merged together. I know that this is far from a complete list; tell me in the comments if you know of any other important events that you think should be included. Understand that Wikipedia (from which I compiled this list), still thinks that SLS will fly in 2020…which many folks still think is unlikely. I think that every minute later than that endangers the program.

Note below how the International Space Station needs to be replaced very soon by Commercial Space Stations or we have to wait many years, until the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway is complete, before continual human habitation in space can continue. Also note that with current timelines where they are and relations between the U.S. and Russia declining at the current rate, the only access to space by the U.S. and possibly the world might be on harward owned by SpaceX and the New Space version of Boeing for several years.

Lastly, I read yesterday about a late-breaking plan to build a smaller  LOP-G to speed the path to boots on the ground on the Moon, to meet the new 2024 deadline. I have not included that idea below.

Today — Falcon Heavy’s second flight, its first commercial flight, and its first flight with the new Block 5 booster design, successfully deployed the Arabsat-6A satellite.

Today — SpaceIL installed the new Beresheet Crater in the Sea of Serenity on the Moon. Better luck next time folks! They were the first commercial company to send a probe to lunar orbit and at $95M it was probably by far the least expensive lunar orbitor/impactor in history). Cheer up! Space exploration is hard and partial first achievements push back the envelope too. To put this in perspective, click here.

Later this year — Falcon Heavy’s third flight, second flight for the side boosters from this week’s flight, and first flight for the U.S. Air Force.

Later this year — First crewed flight of Falcon 9 and the Crewed Dragon capsule, first Commercial Crewed flight to the International Space Station and first orbital crewed flight on a commercial rocket, and first ever certification of a commercial carrier for transporting humans to and from Earth orbit. This is all relevant to those article because every launch made by SpaceX downstream from this one will be made by one of only four or five organizations in the world running a human space flight program.

Later this year — Extended hop tests of Starship.

April 2020 — Second un-crewed test flight of the Orion capsule and Orion’s first trip to the Moon and back…carried by the first test flight of SLS Block 1.

2020 — Boeing’s Commercial Crew capsule will launch it’s first crewed mission to the ISS aboard the Atlas IV…making them both crew-rated systems and ready to compete with SpaceX for crewed flights to orbit for NASA and others.

2020 — An Atlas IV rocket will launch Bigelow Aerospace’s Nautilus module, an independent crewed inflatable research station with 330 cubic meters of living space that can house a crew of six. This spacecraft will later be boosted to low Lunar orbit.

2020 – Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin starts flying its New Glenn orbital rocket. At this point Blue Origin stops being a billionaire vanity project and becoming competition. We all know what happens to a market when Bezos steps into it.

2020 – This may be the end of Russia’s involvement with the International Space Station. Understand, they will not just walk away, they will undock their modules and deorbit them or use them elsewhere, leaving the ISS unusable. This would abruptly end NASA’s Commercial Crew and Commercial resupply programs. The Russians might wait for as long as 2028 to leave, depending on how well the U.S. and Russia are getting along. NASA has plans to hand it all over to Commercial Space, but someone would have to come up with a suitable replacement for the Russian parts and folks are dubious as to whether or not it’d even be worth it to a company financially. Someone really needs to orbit something else very soon…something a bit bigger than just Nautilus.

2020-2022 — Test flights and then later operational flights of Falcon Super Heavy and Starship…marking the beginning of the end of the Falcon 9 program…which would include the Falcon Heavy.

2022 — Third operational flight of Orion, Orion’s first crewed flyby of the Moon, second flight of the SLS Block 1 design to put the Propulsion Module of the Lunar Orbital Platform/Gateway (aka LOP-G — essentially NASA’s International Interplanetary Spacecraft) into a Lunar L2 (far-side) orbit. If on time, these astronauts will be the first humans to fly to the Moon since the Apollo program..if not, then #dearMoon will be.

2023 — #dearMoon, the world’s first ever commercial Lunar mission, flies on SpaceX’s 100 seat Falcon Super Heavy and Starship with Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and 7 of the world’s leading artists aboard. BTW, Unlike Orion, Starship is an Interplanetary Spacecraft.

2023 — Europa clipper flies on…something…not SLS…Falcon Heavy maybe, or Falcon Super Heavy. Depending largely on politics, successful development, and whether or not Congress insists again that it MUST fly on SLS.

2024 — The Trump administration insists that we have boots on the ground on the Moon by this point…the end of Trump’s second term in office…”at all costs”. Most folks think that “we” means NASA…I think he doesn’t care so long as the mission is “Made in the U.S.A.”, which by 2024 will not necessarily have to be NASA. Maybe some kind of accelerated program deeply integrated with commercial partners.

2024 — Second module of LOP-G goes into Lunar L2 orbit aboard the first flight of the SLS Block 1B design. From here NASA plans to launch a module roughly every year on an SLS Block 1B, and later Block 2, until the LOP-G’s planned completion and flight to Mars in 2030 or so.

2025 — SpaceX’s plan to begin flying crewed missions to Mars starts about here.

2029 — First flight of SLS Block 2.

Click here to search all articles in this blog that talk about Falcon Heavy.

The First Commercial Launch of Falcon Heavy — Part 2: What Will It Do To NASA’s Space Launch System?

•April 7, 2019 • 1 Comment

NASA, the Air Force, ArabSat…they all want a piece of Falcon Heavy…the rocket that SpaceX has already decided to replace with it’s new Falcon Super Heavy and Starship (formerly BFR) someday.

NASA’s Orion capsule currently languishes in its hanger waiting for its terribly late and overly expensive ride, the Space Launch System (SLS Block 1), to be completed. NASA and the Trump Administration very much want Orion’s EM-1 mission (uncrewed Lunar flyby) to go off on schedule around April-June 2020, but SLS is widely viewed as not able to meet that launch date and unnamed commercial launchers are being considered.

I said “Unnamed” commercial launchers, but Bridenstine and Pence can only be referring to the only two large currently operating rockets in the world…Falcon Heavy and ULA’s Delta IV Heavy. Now, experts widely view such a plan as untenable for a number of reasons. However, the danger to SLS is that just the brain exercise involved in trying to figure out how to split an Orion lunar launch between a Delta Heavy and Falcon Heavy endangers what is left of SLS’s already shaky mission profile and quite rightly gives SLS builders and the Congress folk whom they vote for the heebeejeebees. After all, if Orion can dock in orbit with a lunar stage launched on a separate rocket, then what do we even need the $1B per launch SLS for…especially when Falcon Super Heavy, New Armstrong, and probably several others will come along and render it obsolete sometime in the mid-2020s? Also, without the need for SLS, the new Lunar Space Station plan would need to go into redesign and might not wake up from that surgery, since it was partly envisioned to provide launch missions for SLS/Orion and might even be obsolete before it is complete.

It’s not surprising that NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine announced afterward that the engineers working on SLS had found some ways to speed development of SLS along.

Falcon Heavy should not be compared to the Space Launch System capability wise anyway, but timing keeps bringing their fates together. Setting aside the fact that Falcon Heavy is flying and SLS isn’t, I’ve said here before that as awesome as Falcon Heavy is, it cannot compete with even the Block 1 SLS in detail. Once in space the kerosene engines on the Falcon line are not as good as the liquid hydrogen Space Shuttle engines used by SLS. Please do not compare lift capacities and say, “But, Bill, they lift roughly the same.” They don’t. SLS is 9 meters wide…the Falcon Heavy second stage is the same as Falcon 9, which is only 3.7 meters wide. So payloads built for SLS CANNOT fly on Falcon without a special payload adapter which SpaceX has already said they are not interested in building because their next rocket DOES lift as much as SLS, IS 9 meters wide, burns much more efficient liquid methane, will be fully reusable and dang cheap to launch, and will need missions once it is in operation. It’ll come in to operation right in the middle of SLS’s working lifespan with comparable capabilities and a minuscule price.

I hate even comparing the FH and SLS…because they will never even be operational at the same time anyway. However, folks keep slapping them next to each other anyway…largely because SLS is still a paper rocket, is horridly expensive, and its schedule creep keeps dumping its missions off on Falcon Heavy. They’ve already moved Europa clipper and one of the LOP-G modules to a “commercial launcher”. NASA can’t actually SAY Falcon Heavy because it isn’t even officially certified to fly missions for them yet, and SpaceX doesn’t want to develop it any further. NASA’s money is as good as anyone’s but doing business with the government generally comes with lots of baggage and NASA didn’t help build that rocket. I guess it’ll depend on how much SpaceX needs the cash. At a certain point though, SpaceX will start preferring to market Starship and Falcon Super Heavy instead.

We’ll see.


What does this week’s Falcon Heavy launch do for Commercial Crew…NASA’s plan to totally hand off all low Earth Orbit operations to Commercial Space?

Click here to search all articles in this blog that speak of Falcon Heavy.

The First Commercial Launch of Falcon Heavy — Part 1: Do We Need it?

•April 6, 2019 • Leave a Comment

No Roadsters or mannequins this time.

If you witnessed the static fire yesterday it was spectacular. The upcoming launch of Arabsat will be epic.

The launch that is currently expected sometime next week will lift the 13,200 lb Arabsat 6A communications relay satellite that will serve television, Internet, telephone, and secure communications to the Middle East, Africa, and Europe.

I read folks who were skeptical whether Falcon Heavy would even have a market. However, it is not that much more expensive than Falcon 9, quite a bit less expensive than Atlas IV, and way less expensive than Delta IV Heavy. It can launch large payloads much closer to Geosynchronous Orbit, a very, very high orbit where a satellite can seem to hover over a fixed point over the Earth’s equator so that you can point your satellite dish at it. Lighter lifters like the Falcon 9 can only lift those spacecraft to what is called Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit, and then the satellite has to expend its own fuel to raise and flatten that orbit with its station-keeping engines, taking years off of its useful lifespan.

Cable and satellite TV, and some Internet and telephone, are currently relayed to the masses through huge, singular, high-flying geosynchronous spacecraft like Arabsat…but times they are a-changin’. These satellites can only be reached with a heavy dish and only in places on the planet where the Southern sky is unobstructed.

I have a device in my truck called a Garmin InReach. It uses the Iridium satellite network, a large group of very low-orbiting satellites that orbit the Earth from pole to pole. These can relay signals to cell-phone sized devices anywhere. My InReach device is for GPS navigation and emergency text messaging, but commercial aircraft use that same network to provide in-flight telephone and Internet access to their customers. Ships at sea use the Iridium network for the same thing. Several companies, including SpaceX, are planning to serve very high-speed Internet this way direct to your cell phone the very near future.

More and more people are using Internet streaming for their video these days instead of cable and satellite TV. However, enough of the world still uses traditional satellite TV to make that orbit the most lucrative target for launch companies like SpaceX. To provide a comparatively inexpensive lifter to put large communications spacecraft right into that orbit allows a satellite investment to serve longer and thus encourages companies to build and fly even larger, more sophisticated and expensive spacecraft down the road. While some folks think that satellites like Arabsat 6A might not be as badly needed in the future, those that are currently in planning will now have the cheap Falcon Heavy to orbit them right where they need to be…keeping that orbit more financially competitive for a few more years until the polar, low-orbiting networks like Skynet and similar technologies come online and push them out of the market.

Even better, this second launch, if successful, proves that the first launch wasn’t just a fluke. It puts this launcher one step closer to full certification with NASA and further solidifies its current certification with the U.S. Air Force and future U.S. Space Corps.

As the first launch of the Falcon Heavy using the crew-ready Block 5 version of the Falcon 9 core, it puts data on the board for crew rating both the Falcon Heavy and the Falcon 9 that will fly crew to the International Space Station later this year. It also has somewhere between 10% and 20% more thrust than the lifter that threw Starman to Mars’ Solar orbit last year.

And yes…NASA, the Trump Administration, and others have noticed.


What will this launch do to NASA’s Space Launch System and Orion Crew Capsule?

For more articles on the Falcon Heavy, Click here!

photo credit: jurvetson SpaceX Falcon Heavy Blastoff (6 of 7) via photopin (license)

Are We Building a Wall, or Building Trump?

•March 16, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Do you think that only racists oppose illegal immigration? Is it strictly a Left vs Right issue? Do all Democrats in the U.S. secretly support Open Borders? Au contraire mon frère!

Racists do oppose immigration because they fear culture change, they don’t want their tax money to support poor “Mexicans”, or they just plain don’t like looking at faces around them that ain’t white.

Racists also oppose…or support…immigration from South and Central America because they see poor, unemployed Hispanics as an enslaved Democrat voter block.

To the left lies San Diego, California and on the right is Tijuana, Baja California. The building in the foreground on the San Diego side is a sewage treatment plant built to clean the Tijuana River.

Rich Libertarians support Open Borders…yes they do…because they want an exploitable labor class. Did you know that as recently as 2018 The Koch Brothers were helping to fund Open Borders action groups?

Many Conservatives support The Wall because it has become an ensign to folks like me who think that laws should mean something and have become frustrated with pole-fence border barriers and “catch and release” border apprehension procedures.

Climbing the Mexico–United States barrier fence in Brownsville, Texas

Compassionate people want to help refugees get into the U.S. any way they can because Honduras and Nicaragua are horrible human catastrophes that good people need to escape from.

Compassionate people also want to end illegal immigration because of the unseen horrors of human trafficking and smuggling.

Democratic Socialists oppose Open Borders because they, and the Labor Unions, don’t want downward pressure on wages.

Democratic Socialists support Open Borders because lots and lots of poor people create a market for lots and lots of government assistance of various kinds…historically a slippery slope to Socialism.

Vehicle barrier in the New Mexico desert

Capitalists oppose Open Borders because lots and lots of poor people create a market for lots and lots of government assistance of various kinds…historically a slippery slope to Socialism.

Like it or not, right or wrong, good or bad, regardless of any of these other angles, Trump is actually fighting on the winning side of the immigration issue politically.

DOUGLAS, Ariz. (March 14, 2009) Seabees assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalions (NMCB) 133 and NMCB-14 construct a 1,500 foot-long concrete-lined drainage ditch and a 10 foot-high wall to increase security along the U.S. and Mexico border in Douglas, Ariz. Builder 3rd Class Petty Officer Ian Burkhard in foreground. (U.S. Navy photo by Steelworker 1st Class Matthew Tyson/Released)

Before Donald Trump got involved in the issue, many Democrats wanted an improved border barrier of some kind. The photo above of U.S. Navy Seabees building a border wall was taken in 2009, during the Obama Administration. However, now that a President who they hate has made building The Wall an icon of his Presidency, they oppose it because they don’t want him to serve a second term. Huge numbers of single-issue Republican voters, who have always viewed immigration from the South as the apocalypse of our time, WILL SIT HOME AND SULK LIKE A BUNCH OF CRY BABIES ON ELECTION NIGHT AND NOT VOTE IF THEY DON’T GET THEIR WALL!

Currently serving elected officials know full well the impact of coattail votes in a Presidential election year and have been elbowing each other for a winning position on what they think is the up-side of the border security issue.

Some corrupt polititians and land owners may have been making money from the human trafficking.

Most people have, from time to time, taken views that they know are selfish, immoral, controversial, or flawed in some other way and packaged them in pretty boxes made up of sunshine and lollipops…and immigration leaves folks plenty of room on either side to do that.

Everyone suffers from issue culture blindness and a general lack of situational awareness to some extent.

All of this combined makes the core issue, the need to reform our outdated immigration laws, impossible to legislate properly. This has left immigration policy and its enforcement almost entirely at the mercy of media hype and Presidential whim.

Where are you on this issue? Comment below.

(Photos from Wikipedia)

One Land, One People

•October 28, 2018 • Leave a Comment

I’ve had complaints about the image that I chose for the first cover of the second edition of Into the Dark:Escape of the Nomad. Well, that cover isn’t selling books very well and I have another one in the works, but let me tell you why I chose it.

Voyager One launched in 1977, a deep space probe bound for the outer reaches of the Solar System and sent on a trajectory that would allow the gravity of the outer planets to fling it out into Interstellar Space, which it will soon enter. Thirteen years after launch it looked back toward home. Those light bands in the picture are lens flares caused by the need to point the camera so close to the Sun in order to zoom in on Earth’s orbit. If you look really close at the middle of one of those lens flares you’ll find a dim spot. That lonesome dot, surrounded by emptiness, is the planet Earth in a quarter-phase as seen from space.

It looks almost like an anomaly in the photo, an error of light or maybe a missing pixel caused by an errant beam of radiation hitting the imager. In that dot lies every person, every country, every people, every living creature that humans have ever discovered. All of the mysteries, stories, religions, philosophies, prejustices, opinions, governments, politics…they all mix together there. Inside that little tiny spot on a three decades old photo lies all that is humanity.

Last week in the U.S., a disturbed man mailed pipe bombs to over a dozen people. Thankfully, no one was hurt. This past weekend another disturbed man walked into a church and opened fire into a crowd, killing about a dozen people. These men invoked fringe politics and bigotry as excuses for these acts of terror and violence, but at their core they were based on hatred. These men do not fairly represent philosophy in the U.S. because they used violence to speak their mind. That is not our way.

As the U.S. midterm voting deadline approaches, please remember the Pale Blue Dot. Remember how many people have died to secure a system that protects all factions while it gives each a voice. Remember all that has been done by so many people over so many years to build that system where the blessing of peaceful transfer of power is possible. The U.S. should stand as an example of stability and strength, a beacon of light and hope to the world in such things.

Let us not further smudge that image, throwing back to this planet’s past history of bloodletting for power. The morning after November 6th, 2018 there will be both winners and losers. Some political careers will start while others end. Some will roll up their sleeves and get to work on the things they planned to get done, while others will look ahead to 2020 for a second chance. Government will shift its footing a little to achieve a new balance and life will go on. New paths will be forged as everyone looks to whatever our new future holds.

Therein lies the most important part. Life will go on…for both the winners and the losers. That is what the peaceful transfer of power means. Everyone lives.

EVERYONE lives to struggle on another day and look forward to the next election. Why, because like in that grainy, famous image of the Pale Blue Dot, the smallest part is the most important…you! Your life, hopes, dreams, beliefs, loves, victories, defeats…YOU are what makes up humanity and YOU MUST LIVE ON for humanity to survive. That precious heartbeat in your chest carries someone’s future with it. You are the one who can make a difference in so many things.

I implore you. Help me make a difference and carry the legacy of our ancestors forward in promoting a smooth and peaceful election. Please. That dignified and bloodless transfer of power protects us all and allows all sides of all issues to continue on to 2020 and a brighter tomorrow.

#Soyuz Booster Failure — Breaking News

•October 11, 2018 • Leave a Comment

The latest crew launch to the International Space Station on a Russian Soyuz rocket suffered a launch failure and the capsule returned Earth. At last news both the astronaut and the Cosmonaut are said to be fine.

Updates on NASA Live TV.

These things happen, and it is the reason why we have launch abort systems. Soyuz is a good ship. They’ll find the cause and Roscosmos will be a better organization as a result.

I’ll post an article on the outlook going forward once those in charge of such things have had time to mull it all over. However, Soyuz is currently the only ride to the ISS, and it will now be grounded for a while for an investigation.

Congress…why did you underfund Commercial Crew all those years? Now humanity has no crew launch capability.

UFO Spotted Over California Coast

•October 8, 2018 • Leave a Comment
Forgive the title please, but I want folks who Google “UFO Spotted Over California Coast” to find this article so that I can help them know what it really is. If this is what you saw…
Twilight phenomena over California from a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch out of Vandenberg AFB.
…then it came from Earth, specifically Vandenberg Air Force Base. It may have been military, but it was probably a satellite launch. Maybe that they launched was a ULA Atlas 5 or a SpaceX Falcon 9. The satellite flew out of Vandenberg because it needed to orbit the North and South poles and Vandenberg allows for such launches to fly over the ocean so that if the rocket explodes then the debris won’t hurt anyone. One example of a polar orbiting satellite is Iridium. Of you use a satellite phone or pager, or if you’ve ever used the Internet during an international flight, then you may have done so using an Iridium satellite. On the evening of October 7th a Falcon 9 launched an Argentinian Soil Moisture sensing satellite that flew down the coast and many folks thought they’d seen a UFO. When the launch occurs just after dark like that, the sun will still be able to reach it and illuminate the rocket exhaust. Contrasted against the dark night sky it is quite spectacular. Rockets launching things into orbit do not fly straight up, but rather they fly nearly horizontal to the Earth to accelerate to orbital speeds. Often, an object in orbit is really not very far away from Earth. In fact, if an Iridium satellite flies directly overhead, it is really no further than a couple hundred miles up. With less air up there it encounters very little resistance to slow it down, so it just stays up there. An object in orbit is still pulled by Earth’s gravity and is actually always falling, however it is moving so fast that the curvature of the Earth’s surface just falls away from it as fast as it falls. The Moon and even TV satellites orbit much further away, but the principle is the same.

NASA’s Space Launch System On The Ropes

•October 8, 2018 • Leave a Comment

The first test flight of the Space Launch System, called EM-1, has recently been delayed further down the calendar to June of 2020 and maybe even 2021.

I’ve already pointed out the looming danger that delays pose to that program. As it falls further down the calendar it will encounter competition from other launch systems that cost far less to fly. I’m thinking specifically of SpaceX’s upcoming Big Falcon Rocket, and to a lesser extent Falcon Heavy, but there might also be others that show up at some point along the way as well.

OK…so…I have a rhetorical question…

What good are the lessons learned from EM-1 if it launches only months before EM-2? Next question…How close does the EM-1 mission have to get to the EM-2 mission before EM-2 gets pushed down the schedule with it?

We used to think it was idiotic that EM-2 followed EM-1 by a whole whoppin’ five years! Boy has that stopped being an issue! It is now nearing just one. It seems to take more than a year to build an SLS rocket, so if they find a problem in the EM-1 test mission that they want to fix in future rockets like the one that will fly EM-2…well, you get the picture.


As things currently stand, the second component of NASA’s Lunar Orbiting Platform-Gateway (LOP-G) belongs to the European Space Agency. They call it the “European System Providing Refueling Infrastructure and Telecommunications” (ESPRIT) and it will fly in 2022, if it is ready on time, and will likely launch on a Falcon Heavy. That is the same year as EM-2…the SLS flight on which the “Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage” (ICPS) for LOP-G is currently scheduled to launch. Soon after that, in 2023, comes the Europa Clipper mission…an orbiter and lander for a Jupiter moon (if that mission survives budget cuts and doesn’t get moved to Falcon Heavy so it can launch sooner and cheaper). About once every year after that, starting in 2024, begins a series of LOP-G construction and mission launches ending in a two-year long Mars orbit mission sometime after 2030. They intend to fly more Interplanetary missions on this reusable spacecraft after that.

As you can see, there is no room for any more development delays. NASA, Russia, ESA, Japan, Canada, and perhaps even China will be committed to their own flight and assembly mission schedules related to LOP-G. BFR will be available somewhere in there to jump in, maybe at two full decimal places cheaper, and take over if any SLS flight becomes unable to step-up. Then folks will ask SLS, “What do we even need you for?”

Even if BFR has not yet begun regular flights by 2022 (I don’t think it will), Falcon Heavy will still be flying. In addition to ESA and the ESPRIT module, Japan’s space agency (JAXA) wants to fly their space station resupply ship, HTV-X, to LOP-G on Falcon Heavy. Of course, all of that relies on a reliable LOP-G development, flight, and operation schedule, which itself currently relies on a reliable SLS flight schedule.

Falcon Heavy will also be certified by both NASA and the U.S. military and might have even flown more missions than ULA’s Delta Heavy by then. It lifts twice as much payload than Delta Heavy for roughly half the price. However, neither it nor Delta Heavy are big enough around to fly NASA’s planned LOP-G construction modules, but BFR will be.


So, Falcon Heavy, if it flies well between now and then, will be considered an acceptable option for uncrewed NASA missions. It will likely fly the ESPRIT to lunar orbit for ESA. Falcon 9 will fly at least one Lunar XPrize package to the Moon’s surface. BFR will probably run one or more test flights to prepare to send a Japanese billionaire with 7 artists on a loop around the Moon. All this likely will fly in 2022, the same year that SLS flies EM-2, with Orion and four NASA astronauts…for more cost than all the rest of the above. If ANY further schedule slippage pushes EM-2 into 2023 with all these other options available someone might just say why even bother with SLS.

Indeed, SLS is indeed on the ropes.


The Phenomenon Called @realDonaldTrump

•October 1, 2018 • Leave a Comment

There are places all over the world where billionaires go to retire from the sweaty masses…politics isn’t one of them. A great many people think the country is in jeopardy, simply because a billionaire became President…as if that’s all it takes to destroy a country!

Politics is a game for millionaires. Only millionaires can live in the public eye like that while blending into the halls of power. Donald Trump, IMO, is a sleazy con man, a pathological liar, and a philanderer. I have spoken out against these particular traits in people, particularly public officials, my whole life. These traits (along with hypocrisy) in each of us push our civilization toward entropy. When powerful people possess these traits, the damage is multiplied. In fact, these traits in elected officials do so much damage that I fail to see what difference it makes if that person’s net worth is a couple of digits wider. Information flows faster when greased with money, this is true, but it also reaches a saturation point that is within the budgets of millionaires to achieve.

That is what bugs me about the NFL player National Anthem kneeling thing. Those men are most definitely NOT poor, downtrodden, suppressed minorities. They are some of the most influential people on the planet simply by virtue of being millionaires and entertainers. They don’t need to bite the hand that feeds them to fight for the things they feel passionate about. Anyone with an ax to grind, a product to sell, or a political issue to promote should envy the reach these guys have just by being them.

Don’t believe me? In using social media to promote my books, I watch hit trends for Twitter and Google. I do that because Tweeting into those trends can instantly reach tens if not hundreds of thousands of people. Let me show you what those trends looked like when I typed this article yesterday…

The top screen shot is from trends.google.com. The bottom one is from Trends24. I took both of them about 1:13 pm Sunday Sept. 20, 2018.

Now my book ads for Into the Dark for Kindle have an interaction rate of between 1% and 4% (pretty good). That means that folks who see those ads tend to click on them. The book itself seems to have a sales conversion rate of almost 10% (needs a lot of improvement there). That means that 10% of the folks who see it featured on their screen after clicking end up buying it. So any hour that my book ad is seen 200k times should sell 20 books even with that sad conversion rate. 20 books an hour for an obscure author like me would be time to party! Given that formula I can spend $100 on paid ads and expect to sell between 1 and 4 books. A better cover for the book would probably improve that. BTW, 200k hits on any article on this blog on any single day would easily put it in the news.

Back to Donald Trump…he has so much money and property that if he approached me and said, “Bill, I read Into the Dark and I like it and want to help you sell it. What do you suggest?” I could have him work it into a State of the Union speech, but that would have negative consequences as well as positive ones and would only offer a temporary bump. Given that, I’d actually prefer free advertising on the lobby TVs in his hotels worldwide. It would make me rich quietly because those who didn’t like seeing those ads there would just ignore them and go on about their day. Having Trump use his bully pulpit for my published works, on the other hand, would have folks throwing rocks at my house and children.

Now back to billionaires in politics. Given what I said above, how would the average billionaire prefer to promote their preference on a particular political issue, in a way that pushes it steadily with minimum personal blowback? I think you’d agree that it would not be running for the U.S. Presidency.

Now I want to show you something else on Google Trends…beware, this may frighten you…

Digest that for a moment. It looks like that every day. It says that over the course of fourteen years of various U.S. Presidential controversies (of which Trump has only been part of for about four years) more people have Googled Donald Trump than any other President…and more than all of the 2nd through 5th trending names combined!

Ooo! I just thought of something else…

So, according to this, since about May of 2017, after Google searches on Donald Trump calmed down and leveled off, he accounts for somewhere between about 17 and 22 percent OF ALL DAILY GOOGLE TRAFFIC!

So which really is worse, having a man like Trump live in Dubai, quietly pulling the strings of power with most of the rest of the world’s billionaires, or becoming President, frightening and activating all the people who are scared of billionaires with power? Don’t tell me all those Google hits are because he’s the only sleazy conman, pathological liar, and/or philanderer in Washington…there are plenty of those! In fact he’s probably not even the only elected official with the same mix of those traits.

Trump’s money may have helped make him President (even though he spent far less on his campaign than most Presidents), but his money does not make him any more powerful now that he is President. I submit that he is powerful because he is more hated by the Left than any other Republican President in history…because of his money. That hate translates into media attention and screen time. Is it any coincidence that the MAGAs hate, and have always hated, the very same news media sources that tend to report most negatively about Trump? Hate breeds hate and screaming masses in MAGA hats are yelling as much against those media sources as they are yelling for Trump.

I dislike him too, as much or more than any other U.S. President in my lifetime, but he really hasn’t done much that any other equally visible Republican President wouldn’t do. I usually don’t like the way he does those things…I prefer a President with more dignity…but any Republican President would have signed that tax-cut bill, wanted out of the Paris Accords, cracked down on illegal immigration, cracked down in Iran, cracked down on Syria, and maybe even cracked down N. Korea given the times we are in. Also, most of those who hate him the most hate him no more now than they did the day after the election…before he’d had even had time to do any of that other stuff! It’s like that infamous protest sign railing against his pick for the Supreme Court…with the name of that pick still blank.

The hatred directed against Trump, by people who wouldn’t like him anyway, is epic. His support among many mainstream Republicans like me is considerably more reserved than with past Republican Presidents, but the fandom level of support that he enjoys among the formerly disenfranchised, apolitical Conservative occasional voter is as enthusiastic as the hatred against him on the other end. They are the voting block that pushed him through the primaries, put him in office, and now cheer his policies more than anyone.

This is not a normal Presidency…far from it. Heightened emotions drive voter turnout and voter turnout has always driven midterm election results…more than the issues themselves.

Democrats felt entitled to a Hillary Clinton Presidency and were disappointed. If they feel entitled to a normal midterm election where the party out of power sweeps seats out from under their rivals, then they may be disappointed again. There are more vulnerable Democrat seats than Republican ones, a strong proportion of MAGAs don’t participate in media polling, and this thing with Judge Kavanaugh will animate the MAGAs into a screaming mob bending Hell and creation to get to the polls in November.

So I think Donald Trump may be about to win another election…

…and if you think that he’s is incorrigible now, and has the Republicans in Congress licking his diamond-studded New York loafers…just wait until a strong Republican showing in the midterms gives him a mandate!

NASA is Sixty

•October 1, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Happy Birthday NASA

Some folks think that NASA has seen better days. Really?

While it is true that these robotic spacecraft get all the press coverage, let me remind any doubters out there that the International Space Station was put in space mostly by NASA’s Space Shuttle and has been continually inhabited by earthlings, NASA employees included, for 18 years as of this coming November 2nd…

What about human spaceflight? Doesn’t NASA need to do that to be “real”? Setting aside that fact that robotic spacecraft are, and always will be, by far the least expensive way to reach into space…human spaceflight inspires children to do their math and spins-off medical advances like nothing else. NASA should do human spaceflight, and since the retirement of the Space Shuttle NASA has been paying Russia to fly U.S., Canadian, and Japanese astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

But that is human space LAUNCH…a necessary but tiny part of human space FLIGHT, which NASA does constantly.

Don’t believe me? Does this look like human spaceflight to you?

Of course, NASA spends much more money than they should need to to do these things, but that’s because, as a government agency, they are joined at the hip to the U.S. Congress and Military industrial complex…both of whom prefer to do things in the most expensive way possible. For them, the measure of success isn’t how far we reach into space and how often, but rather how much Federal money ends up getting spent in specific areas of the country on particular stuff that Congress decides that it wants.

That will change soon as NASA “spins-off” human space launch…and certain key deep space exploration technologies…to private industry. This will accelerate expansion of humans into the solar system by driving down costs and eventually cutting dysfunctional government out of the human space flight decision chain completely.

The future of human discovery glows bright because of NASA. I won’t be around 60 years from now to celebrate their 120th birthday, but they’ll have one I assure you. I wonder what it’ll look like…

Brett Kavanaugh vs Dr. Christine Blasey Ford or Republicans vs Democrats? #DelayTheVote

•September 28, 2018 • Leave a Comment


Let me untangle this rat’s nest for you…

This isn’t about sexual exploitation of women…but it should be.

This isn’t about hypocrisy…but it should be.

This isn’t about the culture war…but it should be.

This isn’t about drinking to excess…but it should be.

This isn’t about irresponsible handling of allegations of impropriety…but it should be.

This isn’t about the Left-Right balance on the U.S. Supreme Court…but folks think it should be.

It isn’t even about rancor in politics…but it should be.

None if this is really about the need for an additional FBI investigation…but that angle on things plays a very important role in the desired result.

From Justice Kennedy’s decision this summer to retire, until now, this appointment was intended from the start to be about midterm election turnout.

Typically, on the first midterm election after a new President ends in a landslide against that President’s political party. Voters who’s party is in power tend to become apathetic and not show up to vote in midterm elections. In fact, too may Americans vote only in Presidential elections, which is totally backwards since the value of everyone’s ballot is the most diluted when voting on U.S. Presidents. Any real power that citizens carry starts at the caucus level.

Every midterm, folks of the President’s part try and find a way to prevent this seeming inevitable turn of Congress against the President because it limits the ability of a still-new President to push forward his agenda. This year, we call this the “Blue Wave”…an expected flip of majorities in the Senate, and maybe even the House of Representatives, from Republican to Democrat. The Democrats in Congress want the Trump base to stay home on election day, or vote for someone other than Republicans. The Republicans in Congress want the Trump base get fired up enough to come out and vote…and to vote for them instead of Libertarians or Independents or something. It has even been suggested by some that Donald Trump and Justice Kennedy actually arranged the timing of his retirement specifically to have maximum impact on the 2018 Midterm election to try and squash the Blue Wave.

Brett Kavanaugh is and always has been intended to serve as a sacrificial lamb, an offering to the base to be dangled out there only to be snatched away by Red State Democrats just before Congress recesses to go home and campaign for November. That the rabid wing of the Democrat party would show their colors and offend reasonable moderates is icing.

Whether it be a vote that Kavanaugh loses, or a delay that kicks this can down the road to 2019 (that can be painted as unreasonable and blamed on the Left), the result is the same…an angry mob of right-wing base that charges to the polls in November to vote against Democrats and crush their expected Blue Wave. Everyone in the halls of power know this…and all of the apparent craziness around this appointment makes perfect sense in that context. I’m not alleging that Dr. Ford personally has anything to do with this power struggle, but those who handled her allegations initially, and those who leaked those allegations to the press against Dr. Ford’s wishes, may have been. Therefore Republicans in Congress WANT to vote quickly on this nomination so that they have time for Trump to announce a hard-core, Right-Wing second choice just before the polls open. It is the reason why Democrats tried so hard yesterday to get Judge Kavanaugh to explicitly ask for an FBI investigation that WILL push his vote into next year and why the Republican leadership doesn’t want to be seen to willingly participate in such a delay. Kavanaugh, both aware and complicit in this conflict, worded his answers accordingly. Most if not all of those Judiciary Committee members are lawyers. Kavanaugh is a lawyer. They are all engaged here in the game of lawyers…the art of message packaging.

Voters care about issues…Politicians care about power. Power is the currency of Presidents and Congressfolk and everything they do is better understood in that context.

Now go back and rewatch yesterday’s Ford vs Kavanaugh hearing again with that in mind. Watch today’s deliberations of the Judiciary Committee with that in mind.




The Waiting is Over

•September 27, 2018 • Leave a Comment

For all you folks who asked me eight years ago if my novel is available in eBook.

For all you folks who purchased and enjoyed the print book and would like to carry it with you on your various devices.

For anyone with an interest in space travel and Science Fiction.

I revisited this story for you.

As of midnight yesterday, the eight year anniversary of the release of Into the Dark in paperback…

I enjoy presenting my research to you here. However, if you follow this blog and enjoy it, or find it useful to you, then this full-length novel that you’ve seen dangling along the right sidebar for all these years was originally written with you in mind. I know this for a fact because I’ve spoken to folks with your interests all over this great country of ours and people like you have been the ones most interested in this novel. In fact, this book matches the interests of the readers of this blog more than any of the other stories I’ve written.

Now you don’t have to look at my hairy face, or shake hands with me at a convention, or wait for delivery by mail. With three clicks and three dollars you can have this riveting story on all of your devices in minutes.

Into the Dark: Escape of the Nomad tells of a man and his starship, fighting the odds against a world that has grown apathetic about space exploration. At a time when NASA has been defunded and closed its doors, and Commercial Space has been taxed and regulated into oblivion, an astronaut steals the plans for an FTL spacecraft and uses his inheritance to begin building it, but there are powerful forces at work…forces that stopped NASA in the first place…that find out about him and put forward plans to stop him also, permanently. Former astronaut Stan McPherson learns that Earth is a pawn in a cold war between two alien superpowers and that he and his half-completed ship are a barrier to the invasion of his planet and a fuse to interstellar war.

Click above and enjoy.

The 25th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America

•September 22, 2018 • Leave a Comment

There has been a lot of hot air foisted around lately by a lot of so-called experts as to the 25th Amendment in the context of getting rid of President Trump. I am not a legal expert, nor a Constitutional scholar, neither I think are you.

Here’s the thing, we just need to know how to read. All these pundits, (with so much inflated sense of their own importance) say so much, but they don’t tell you what you really need to know…what the amendment says. Well, also you probably need to know what the term, “Pro tempore” means, because it is used a lot in this amendment. I Googled it–

“Pro tempore, abbreviated pro tem or p.t., is a Latin phrase which best translates to “for the time being” in English. (Source:Wikipedia)”

So here it is, straight out of the horse’s mouth. I am not going to tell you what I think it says or means, I’ll just show you what it says and let you decide for yourself! Thanks to constituteproject.org, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the 25th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.



In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.


Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.


Whenever the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.


Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.


Will the MUCH Bigger Falcon Eat the SLS?

•September 20, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Yes! Well…provided NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) is still a thing when Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) becomes a thing, which might be a while yet.

Also, I should clarify something from the start, the development timelines that Falcon Heavy and the Space Launch System demonstrated have had no respectable schedule reliability and there is no reason to believe that SLS or Big Falcon Rocket will improve on that record and every reason to assume that they won’t. However, I don’t want to keep saying, “projected” this and “projected” that throughout this blog entry. I’ll just say upfront that the numbers I will use here the projected timelines claimed by relevant experts according to various sources today. Also, the projected capabilities of these systems are fairly solid for Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, as they are at the end of their development cycle. Those of SLS were probably pretty much set in stone at design time and are based largely on a very well-known engine from the Space Shuttle era, and so are also fairly solid. The Big Falcon Rocket is a cutting-edge system reflecting some ideas that might not pan out in the end, some problems that have yet to be fully solved, and a new engine design that will improve from its base over repeated use and refinement. Therefore, BFR’s performance numbers will likely be quite fluid for a while.

Having said all that, the #dearMoon mission for BFR is their next goal after rolling out Commercial Crew and establishing Falcon Heavy with the Air Force. But Yusaku Maezawa’s ride will not likely be its first flight nor its first trip to the Moon. In fact, it should probably launch several robotic missions, and crewed LEO missions, before it can be expected to take a bunch of artists on a Moon tour. Elon announced a projected date for that flight as occurring in 2023, which you should consider to be a very aggressive goal.

SLS has been in development for a long time now, and will begin its flights in 2020, and isn’t currently expected to fly very frequently because of its high cost. Yet, some NASA representatives have said repeatedly that SLS is real and the SpaceX Heavy Lift Vehicle (HLV) is not. They stopped saying that this February when a SpaceX Falcon Heavy lofted a car out to Mars orbit…taking it off of the list of paper rockets that it had been sharing with SLS. Falcon Heavy, with current Block 5 technology, carries nearly as much capacity as the earliest version of SLS will, but not later versions. Its payload fairing is far too small to compete with SLS on the total dimensions of payloads that can be lifted. Also its fuel, rocket-grade kerosene, is not as efficient in space as the liquid hydrogen that SLS uses, so it’s performance drops off for interplanetary missions. Still, it will always be viewed as nearly SLS capable by those who don’t care to look at those other details. That’s important. Also it is still far from dollar for dollar less capable in the eyes of most folks.

BFR is a different bird entirely from Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy (FH), or SLS. In capabilities, BFR will have a slightly larger diameter than SLS, a slightly higher payload capacity than SLS Block 1 and slightly less than SLS Block 1B amd Block 2 as currently designed. Still, they are so close in capability that such a droll comparison descends into an unnecessarily complicated game of hair-splitting when their expected differences in cost and availability are taken into account.

Money is the main enabler for doing things in space, so doing more for less means doing more much more frequently and for a wider list of payloads and industries. This goes for both Commercial and Government projects, but far more for the Commercial ones which also happen to fly far more missions anyway. For both, greater cost means fewer missions and thus slower launch cadence, a higher percentage of overhead costs, less public interest and a greater perception of waste. Depending on who you talk to, SLS will cost between $500M and $1B per launch. Falcon Heavy, by comparison, when launched fully expandable like SLS, costs only $150M per launch. BFR will never be used expendibly, but each unit is projected to cost $335M to build if you want a basis for comparison there. Bottom line…SpaceX thinks that, due to full reusability, they can fly the BFR for an astonishingly low $7M per launch! With reusability, the much smaller Falcon Heavy can’t even come close to that at $90M! Nothing currently flying can!

There exists a powerful triumvirate at work…a mutual back-scratching club between the military procurement industry that builds SLS, certain powerful Congress persons and certain parties within NASA. These people have gotten together and arranged things nicely so that SLS doesn’t have to ever compete in any serious way with Falcon Heavy. So, it might actually survive the $500M to $90M price difference between them.

Currently, both SLS and BFR are paper rockets. So, the one remaining issue between them left to discuss is time. Therefore, let’s now look at their current development and flight timelines.

SpaceX plans begin hop tests of a prototype of BFR next year in 2019. The new engine it will use, the Raptor, burns Methane and has already been in testing. Given the routine schedule slippage of SpaceX projects however, 2020 might be more a reasonable expectation. These hop tests will attract a lot of attention, are necessary to prepare for BFR reusability, and will take place in the shadow of the very busy crewed and uncrewed Falcon 9 (F9), and ramping uncrewed FH launch schedules. The first stages of the Block 5 FH and F9 rockets are supposed to be 10x reusable and this will add credence and authority to the BFR hop tests. Even though BFR won’t be a full rocket nor an orbital launcher, blog articles like this one, written by many others out there besides myself, which compare the cost and capabilities of SLS with SpaceX rockets will receive ever-increasing Google search attention with each orbital hop test! I have already seen this. WordPress provides very detailed reports on it.

SLS will fly its first full on test flight in June of 2020. This date has shifted many times as a result of several design and quality control setbacks. This flight is referred to here and elsewhere as EM-1 and it will fly without a serious interplanetary propulsion stage. It will carry the Orion crewed spacecraft, without crew aboard, on a loop around the Moon, and will also deploy 13 CubeSats. I promise that the launch and flight will be important, beneficial, and epic. However, nothing else SLS related will fly in space until then. Remember that; it is an important. The last SLS/Orion related flight was EFT-1 when the Orion capsule went on a short flight aboard a Delta Heavy (another excessively expensive launcher). This flight occurred on December 5th, 2014 . Do you remember it? I had to look up the date on Wikipedia and it seemed to me to be a great deal longer ago. Rockets are Rock Stars, and like Rock Stars they must perform or they are quickly forgotten.

The SLS EM-2 mission cannot launch at all until 2022 because the Interplanetary upper stage (aka. the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS)), and the flying of crew on the Orion capsule, will require launchpad upgrades that are not projected to be completed until then. This mission, called EM-2, will be a Moon loop with a small crew.

The next SLS launch, the uncrewed Europa Clipper mission, is planned for 2024 if it does not get canceled. Not everyone is happy with it and many think the cost of launching it on SLS wil unnecessarily add too much to the mission.

All SLS launches after that through 2030, 9 launches in all, are then earmarked for the planned cislunar space station and to support the use of that station for the in-space construction of an Interplanetary spacecraft to take Orion to Mars and other places in the Solar System. This project is called the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (LOP-G). The tenth launch of SLS/Orion will ride the LOG to Mars. Between now and then, the above mentioned Interplanetary launcher, the Delta Heavy (half the capacity of Falcon Heavy for $350 M / launch), will be cancelled and unavailable. So when NASA or anyone else wants to launch something out of Earth orbit, like Mars probes and landers, for the next decade, who they gonna call? Why SpaceX of course…or one of their upcoming competitors.

BFR will be on an everramping development and testing schedule leading up to #dearMoon, projected for 2023. Expect this to be the apex demonstration/test flight and for it to go into full service and begin replacing the F9, FH, and anything else that can’t measure up to it. However, I cannot stress enough that this rocket is not mostly a derivative product like Falcon Heavy. It is a totally new and still fluid design with some highly optimistic technology challenges to overcome. The orbiter component of this system is in several important ways a space plane. Such things are very hard to do and have notoriously caused many unforeseen challenges and horrible timeline creep for other companies. Even a shameless SpaceX fan like myself cannot expect SpaceX to hit anywhere near their schedule target. I will be shocked to a heart attack if do.


Frequent Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy flights will make it increasingly difficult for the languishing SLS to maintain its support in Congress. When BFR (or something else like it) starts flying, SLS will have only slightly higher lift capacity than BFR, but a staggering price difference. SLS cannot survive any further delays because we can only afford to fly the pig once a year, and BFR will be capable of taking over the SLS mission profile. Every year that SLS doesn’t launch brings it one year closer to the 1:71 cost ratio between it and BFR. That price difference means that even if SLS survives Falcon Heavy, when Big Falcon Rockets fly repeatedly and reliably then the SLS program will fly into a wall. Nobody, not even Congress, will put up with that price difference.

Many future jobs will arise from the constantly expanding future of space exploration that will be empowered by the lower launch prices available through fixed-price Commercial contracts. Many jobs also rely on SLS, but those workers don’t need the Space Launch System to actually launch to get paid from year to year. This acts like an anchor in the mud of human progress. Folks can see more rockets flying from Fixed Price contracting. It brings about more rapid innovation, is more visible, exciting, and gets more done for a wider industry. If you work on the SLS and will retire soon, hang in there. If not, then you should make a move that will benefit you and your family and that will find your established in a more stable situation 5-10 years from now.

Update:Falcon Heavy vs Big Falcon Rocket, Tag Shuffle, and Google Tips and Tricks

•September 19, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Ok, I think I got them all.

I want folks to get what they came here for.

WordPress trends keeps showing folks Googling Big Falcon Rocket and getting my very popular article “Will the Big Falcon Eat the SLS” (conclusion: no, but it will chew off it’s wings), which is an article about Falcon Heavy, not SpaceX’s upcoming behemoth “Big Falcon Rocket” (aka. BFR). I have another article which was called “Will the Bigger Falcon Eat the SLS” (Conclusion: Eventually, yes) that no one ever seems to find via Google, but which contains much more useful, relevant, impactful, and up to date information and which is about BFR (an earlier design version of it anyway).

So. I’ve renamed both articles to clearly point to the appropriate bird and clarified the tags so that folks are more likely to get what they Googled for. I’ve also added tags on all the good articles that feature either rocket.

Update: Oops! Looks like I never actually wrote the promised comparison between BFR and SLS. I’ll do that today. It’ll be fun! I think THAT rocket’s timeline…well, I write it now. Now is a great time. Ya, now. 😉




Also, a Google tip. If you are ever looking for anything with a specific, multi-word name, or a specifically worded quote, then put it in quotes…like this…

Targeted Search

The above will give you search result that are more likely to contain both words together… next to each other. Without the quotes, the results might be cluttered with articles with both words in them, even if separately. For example, the above Google search without the quotes might show you a webpage about falconry that happens to mention what prey is too heavy for the bird to carry…fun information, but maybe not as useful to you if you are looking for the launch date or industry impact of SpaceX’s heavy-lift rocket that sent Starman to the solar orbit of Mars. Using quotes in this case might also give you more useful results if you want to learn more about “Big Falcon Rocket” today and not “Falcon Heavy”…which lots of folks seemed to want to do yesterday because of the Monday’s #dearMoon announcement.

I expect increasing trends on searches for both of these rockets as word continues to spread about them and more people realize the impact that they will have on our culture and other things in our daily lives. I want people to come here for accurate, easy to fathom information about them because, well, I want to inform folks and sell them books…because that is what I do! 😉


Falcon Heavy cropped.jpg

I Choose to Go To the Moon! (On Big Falcon Rocket)

•September 18, 2018 • Leave a Comment

These are the words of Yusaku Maezawa, a Japanese Billionaire entrepreneur and the man who has fronted the money to help in the development of the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR).

Well, now we know who he is and what he’s made of.

He loves art, and believes in the ability of art to stitch humanity together. He bought all 100 seats on the flight, and will GIVE 6-8 of those seats away to artists of various types.

He is the author of the #dearMoon project, which is what he is calling this trip to space that he has partnered with SpaceX on. The plan says they launch in 2023, in four years. It won’t happen that fast, but the momentum is now in place. Elon Musk says that Yusaka’s down payment was “significant”…which is a big word coming from the mouth of a billionaire.

The best part is that when all of this is finished, humanity will have a cheap Mars rocket and hopefully no more excuses. Fully reusable it will also be by far the cheapest ride to orbit per pound ever devised at $7 million per launch. The cost of developing this rocket is from 5 to 10 billion dollars…chicken feed for such things. Replacement cost of each rocket will be $335 million.

This rocket, the BFR, will be the largest, most powerful spacecraft ever built, 9 meters in diameter and 118 meters tall. Elon Musk said that it is taller than the Statue of Liberty…so I looked up the size and proportioned a Wikipedia drawing of BFR against a photo of the lady from the Liberty Ellis Island website. It is an approximation (I used my thumb) but here is about how the two would look side by side.

More important than the actual size is this rocket’s capacity to send 220,000 lbs of anything to Mars.

Now some of you will say that this is a rich-guy-helping-another-rich-guy-help-build-something-for-other-rich-guys thing. To you I offer the following example of selfish rich guys spending staggering amounts of money on each other.

You be the judge.


In the end, this project is nothing short of the starting gun that will launch for good a new space. When a reporter asked Elon about the Boeing CEO’s claim that the first people to go to Mars will ride on a Boeing Rocket. He just smiled and said, “Great! Do it!”.

To that I add to the nay-sayers…Put up or shut-up.


Falcon Heavy will not Fly Again This Year: Updated

•September 17, 2018 • Leave a Comment

9/19/2018 Update: Elon said nothing on Monday about this, and the reporters at the event didn’t ask any questions about it (but did do the typical and annoying waste-everyone’s-time-repeating-the-same-questions-just-to-get-attention crap).

Steve Pietrobon, PhD, the author of both of the documents referenced earlier (see below), emailed me back shorty after the #dearMoon announcement broadcast and kindly set me straight. They are not at all official and his company is not in any way part of the launches of SpaceX rockets. He is a guy like me who likes to keep track of this stuff (though he seems to do a better job of it than I do).

Quoth he…

I get a lot my launch dates from the NASASpaceflight.com forum. Here’s the
source for STP-2 launch in March 2019.


“Currently NET March 2019 as well, SpaceX’s third dedicated USAF launch – STP-2
on Falcon Heavy – is being set up primarily to help the USAF certify SpaceX’s
newest heavy-lift rocket for national security launches.”

For Arabsat 6A, Spacenews say its launching in the December 2018-January 2019


Elon Musk announced at the BFR press conference a few hours ago that the Dragon
2 DM-1 will be launching in December. Since Dragon 2 and Falcon Heavy both use
Pad 39A, it is unlikely that both of these important missions will be launching
at the same time. So that would put Arabsat 6A to January 2019 at the earliest.

My expectation though is that since the USAF has been waiting so long for STP-2
(original launch date was December 2012.
) that Arabsat 6A will likely be delayed further to after March 2019. The
Spacenews article is also old (June 2018), when the STP-2 launch was scheduled
to be before Arabsat 6A.

In other words, the manifests I used were built based on news articles that I should not have missed. Also, the conclusions in them are not solid and their predictions don’t seem to be fully confirmed officially by the major players.

Just the same, Wikipedia was right in paying attention to Steve’s afore referenced launch manifests and I confidently stand by my prediction in the title of this article on the following grounds…launch pad availability, Falcon Heavy risks, and CCDev priorities.

When Falcon Heavy debuted in spectacular fashion back in February, Elon Musk himself had serious doubts, saying in effect that if the monster gets far enough away from the pad not to do serious damage when it explodes, he would call that a win. The market for Falcon Heavy is seen by a lot of folks (not me) as being a lot less important to the overall scheme of things than was originally envisioned.

Commercial Crew, however, is absolutely critical to Space Station operations and too much (IMO undeserved) industry doubt still exists for the program.  Crew Dragon must not only beat Boeing to space for one-up-man-ship reasons, but any more delays to either or both programs risks a gap in crew rotations aboard the ISS…serious stuff. In light of these factors, no risk of pad damage to 39A is acceptable .

FH is currently still a risky one-off at this point. The FH launch was a great first, and I look forward to its bright future, but has no serious competitors pressing its schedule and has no pressing, industry-critical launches currently planned beyond STP-2.

I think that these things, combined with the typical and natural schedule creep that always exists with launch facility planning, will result in both FH launches following at least the un-crewed first flight of Crew Dragon, which will end up, sadly, definitely, pushing them both to 2019.



I might be the first one to break this news. I might end up sticking my foot in my mouth.

According to two recently released flight manifests, one purporting to be a list of U.S. Military and one purporting to be a list of commercial launches, both of the planned launches of the Falcon Heavy that were planned for 2018 now have launch dates set for early 2019.

According to a document on Wikipedia that was sourced on August 6th and last updated today, the Air Force STP-2 “Ride Share” demonstration launch is currently on schedule for March 2019.

According to a seperate Wikipedia article and a manifest document of commercial flights that was sourced September 13th and last updated today, the Arabsat 6A launch is listed for sometime in the 1st quarter of 2019.

Neither of these documents list any remaining FH flights in 2018. They come from a company called Small World Communications in Australia. The source is not an official representation of SpaceX, the U.S. Air Force, or Arabsat. I have not seen any official announcements or news releases from any of those three. I have emailed Small World Communications for more information. I am guessing that they do comm relays of telemetry for flights.

I know that Elon will probably say something tonight about it. I don’t have a way to PM him.

I’ll release this blog article and tag him and see if he responds.



Update: Seasonal Wildfires — How to use the NASA Worldview Event Feature #BaldMountainFire #PoleCreekFire

•September 15, 2018 • Leave a Comment


Sorry, I just noticed something cool that I’m geeking out about and that you might find useful…



The above image was taken on today’s pass and is newer than in my previous post, which was from yesterday (September, 14th 2018). I was using NASA Worldview to show the fire and smoke to someone, and they asked if it was possible to see the fires burning. Well, you actually can’t; these images don’t have that fine of resolution and the smoke obscures everything. However, the “Events” feature (see the selection in the upper left hand corner of the image) of Worldview map will place a marker where the fires started and a dot where there are fires actually burning when the photo was taken. Of the events displayed in the screenshot image that I just now captured, the Pole Creek fire is the marker at the lower left, and the Bald Mountain fire (on the map it is called the Coal Hollow Fire) is upper right.

The WorldView satellite takes one photograph each day. By selecting an event in the upper left corner of the image, the display will take you to the starting day of the event. By moving the time slider at the bottom of the image, you can track the fires’ history from day to day. By zooming out, you can see other events listed. Click here to go to NASA Worldview.

I love technology!


Seasonal Wildfires #BaldMountainFire #PoleCreekFire

•September 15, 2018 • Leave a Comment



I stepped out of the house this morning and saw ash falling from the sky.



Smoke trail from Bald Mountain and Pole Creek fires

Image Credit, NASA Worldview



I like sleeping with the window open, even in the fall when it’s a bit chilly out. Yesterday morning I woke to the smell of a wildfire somewhere. We learn how to know from the smell if the fire is near or far. This one started down near Provo Utah, I guess about 90 miles away from my place in Evanston as the smoke flies.





The ever faithful Wyoming wind shifted pretty early yesterday and the smoke mostly cleared.





This morning I woke late. Dallin’s caregiver arrived at 9:00 and the smell of smoke that wafted in made me glad to have slept last night with the windows closed. Julie made haircut appointments for Aaron and I for 10:30 and when I hobbled out to the truck I could see ash blowing around. It wasn’t a lot of ash, just a whole lot more than I’ve come to expect from a fire several mountain ranges away. In addition, it has to cross the Uintahs…some very high mountain terrain. NASA World view shows the stream of smoke stretching corner to corner all the way across the state of Wyoming.





Aaron remarked on the way back from haircuts that the ash in the air from an event so far away makes it as if there had been a volcanic eruption rather than a desert brush/forest fire. The thought had crossed my mind as well.





We had a fire here on the Fourth of July that cancelled fireworks. That was fine. The wind shifted just as it reached the back fences of homes at the East end of town and blew it back on itself. According to the most recent news reports I’ve seen these fires in Utah this week haven’t eaten any homes yet. Here’s hoping they don’t.



Fly Me To the Moon and Let Me Launch on #BFR (Big Falcon Rocket)

•September 13, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Last year, SpaceX announced that a pair of wealthy individuals had made a down-payment for a trip to the Moon. Originally, it was to be aboard a modified Crew Dragon launched on a Falcon Heavy, with lessons learned from development plans for Red Dragon, a Mars mission intended to be flown the same way, and at least one actual Commercial Crew flights to the International Space Station. Both the Falcon Heavy and the crew Dragon projects ended up being delayed way too far for a 2018 Lunar tourism mission with that flight hardware.

Well, once NASA partnered with SpaceX on Red Dragon, it was discovered that something about that wasn’t going to work either…something very important that Elon won’t elaborate on. Quite suddenly, all talk of flying the Crew Dragon design on Falcon Heavy to send it outside close Earth orbit were thrown to the wind. Elon said he was going to “cannibalize” both Dragon and Falcon (one can only assume that he meant financially starve those products out) and plans for the massive BFR (Big “Falcon” Rocket) were pushed up. A photo of the 9 meter rocket body mold hit the Internet and property for a new plant at the Port of L.A. was leased for immediate construction of the new rocket.

Our spectacular and long-awaited Falcon Heavy was relegated, mostly, to un-crewed missions for the Air Force and maybe NASA, for the very short-term and Crew Dragon has presumably been down-purposed to LEO only…and maybe just the ISS Commercial Crew contracts. When folks asked if the postponed Moon trip would be planned to fly on BFR or Dragon/Falcon Heavy, Elon said we’d have to see how fast BFR progressed…but his tone said probably BFR.

Now, a big reveal this coming Monday at 6pm for the Moon trip is planned, and the announcement has BFR’s orbitor/lander on the cover, not Dragon.

And…yes…we also get to learn who ponied up the money for the flight. By now, they may even have a BFR orbiter hull or hull segment to show us.

Does anyone here want to bet that more will pay to jump on board that 100 seat behemouth? I think that whatever a flight to the Moon and back on the fully reusable BFR costs, divided by 100, will put it well within the reach of practically any multi-millionaire. I expect to see a sample of Travel Agent Elon on Monday, selling seats for the flight like they were Teslas.

Stay tuned.


On This Day in 1961 — President Kennedy’s Famous Moon Speech

•September 12, 2018 • Leave a Comment

We (the U.S.) did it. We did it and it triggered a technology revolution where we led the world for my entire life…and still do.

The time has come to do it again.

If You Are in the Path of Hurricane Florence, Beware! Don’t Mess With Major Hurricanes!

•September 12, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Ok, I know I don’t have to say this to the prudent among you; these words are for the unwise.

Don’t mess around with Category 5 hurricanes! If you live in the Carolinas or near there you must take care to be safe this weekend.

  • Yes, I know that rich folks will be gone from home and will leave their stuff behind for you to steal. However, if you stay to loot you will either likely die or someone else will have to risk their lives to rescue you.
  • Yes, I know that idiots stay behind to loot and might take your stuff. However, if you stay behind to protect your stuff then it might get destroyed anyway and you will likely either die or someone else will have to risk their lives to rescue you.
  • Yes, folks just love to find an opportunity to drink and dance like it’s the end of the world. However, if you stay to hold a storm party it just might be the end of the world for you and those partying with or someone else will have to risk their lives to rescue you.

I could go on and on.

Even if the hurricane is not a cat 4 or cat 5, ALL hurricanes spawn tornadoes of random sizes and in random places and any tornado above about a 2 will shred the building that you are in and kill you.

If you live in a mobile home, the prognosis for any hurricane above a Cat 2 is that it will shred the house.

If you live on an island or peninsula and are in the path of the storm, your house will probably be washed out to sea, best not be in it or on it. There will be nowhere to run.

Don’t be an idiot.

Get out of town; come back after the storm.

The roads are not typically enough to move everyone at once, so stay informed and give yourself plenty of time to get away. Use this website…


Be safe.

When Will 9-11 End? #NeverForget

•September 11, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Seventeen years have passed, but our eyes still see smoking towers.

They take our fingernail clippers at the airport, but they can’t take away our fear.

We invaded Afghanistan, but the war there never ends.

We invaded Iraq, and we still don’t know why.

We abandoned Iraq to the Wahhabists, unleashing an old demon upon the world, and the Wahhabists destroyed two countries.

The world defeated the Wahhabists, but ISIL continues to rape, murder and plunder.

We’ve tossed the word “Terrorist” around until it is both narrower and broader than ever before in history, but the terror still doesn’t end.

Many, many multiples of the 9/11 dead have perished and the killers continue to kill the killers and the killing of the innocent lives on.

When will the hate and bloodletting stop so the healing can begin?

When will those deaths in New York, The Pentagon, and that Pennsylvania field mean something substantive?

When will all this pain end?





•September 6, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Looks like I’ll be at FanX/ComicCon in SLC this weekend. It’s very sudden, no panels or booth; it was kind of unplanned.

That doesn’t mean I won’t talk to people and do other kinds of business networking.

Riding The Dangerous Wave of #Kavanaugh Hate

•September 5, 2018 • Leave a Comment

If you type “Trump” into the search tool on the sidebar of this blog, you’ll see that I don’t like our current President. Even though I’m a Conservative, another search on the word “Obama” will show that I have been more severely critical here of Trump than I was of his Democrat predecessor.

In fact, this has been a weird Presidential term for me where I make some of my more rabid Conservative friends sit in the backseat of my focus while I ride upfront with my Liberal friends on an increasing number of political issues because of Trump excesses. In this way at least Donald Trump has been a great unifier. I and other conscientious and concerned Conservatives have been joining hands with Liberals all over the country and singing kumbaya around the campfire of Trump disapproval.

Also, a quick glance through this blog would show you that I rarely discuss politics here because the purpose of this blog is to sell my books and Liberals like to boycott people who don’t agree with them in order to muzzle their voices financially. For this reason, I don’t wear my Conservative views as far out on my sleeve here as I have done on Twitter and Facebook. I only talk about politics here when something has annoyed me so much that I cannot stay silent about it.

Having issued those disclaimers, I have some points to make…

  • There is as yet no evidentiary support revealed for any criminal allegations against Donald Trump. Do I think that a continued probe will eventually find SOMETHING SOMEWHERE in his life to prosecute him for? Probably. One can’t be a pathological liar without doing something illegal at some point.
  • There are no exceptions in the Constitution or the law limiting any of the powers of a President who is under investigation. Why? Because the opponents of any President’s agenda would always use such provisions to slow the Administration down. Nor has any President under investigation for potentially impeachable stuff (and there have been many) ever been disallowed from appointing Supreme Court nominees. To do so now with Trump would be unprecedented in the extreme.
  • Every President who has ever appointed a Supreme Court justice during their first term has appointed someone who might be involved in that President’s impeachment someday. So, yes, the President can and does choose their own potential judge. Since there are no impeachment proceedings in play currently, and per the first bullet point on this list, Trump is no different from any other President in this regard.
  • In the last election, the Democrats nominated a pathological liar with a sordid and possibly prosecutable history too. The Republican scumbag won the election and the Democrat scumbag lost…but Democrats have no room to whine about potentially criminal Presidential nominees when they nominated the likes of Hillary Clinton. If they truly cared about Presidential ethics they wouldn’t have kicked Bernie Sanders to the curb. They, like us Republicans, care more about their pet issues than they do about having good people serving as President…unfortunately. While Bernie is a Democrat, he is also an ethical and FREE THINKING and FREE SPEAKING Democrat who genuinely cares about the people instead of just PRETENDING to care, and there is no room for someone like that on the Democrat ticket in this age where populism takes a backseat to social Liberalism and unpopular pet issues.
  • The timing of this nomination, so close to the midterms, is very dangerous for Democrats. Polls show that only 35% of people don’t want Judge Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court. That means that the other 65% either automatically support him or are reasonable people who have not yet decided either way…waiting for actual facts to be fairly presented. Many will come out to vote in the midterms in November based on how fairly they perceive Kavanaugh was treated. Remember, the midterms are mostly influenced by an apathetic lack of VOTER TURNOUT. Not only does too much Kavanaugh abuse risk annoying Moderates, but it also risks activating the Conservative base, who would then promptly rise up and strangle the BLUE WAVE that the Left is hoping for. Pushing the vote on this nominee until after the election could do the same thing. Frankly, so could a vote that doesn’t appoint Kavanaugh. In fact, now that I think about it, if Democrats get too annoying over Judge Kavanaugh they may force their Representatives to have to choose between Kavanaugh confirmation and victory in November.

There…I’ll get off my soapbox now and get back to selling my books and discussing science and space.

Acoustophoretic Printing

•September 4, 2018 • Leave a Comment

I love learning and writing here about technology that has the potential to impact our lives.

While reading an article from the LiveScience RSS feed (near the bottom of the right sidebar on this blog), an unrelated video flew past that I nearly missed. It spoke of acoustophoretic printing.

In a nutshell. The technology uses different amplitudes of sound to dislodge different sized droplets from the nozzle of a 3-D printer to achieve greater control over the droplet size. The effect varies with the different materials used, but it pretty much adds a scientific level of quantity control to measure each droplet…like the difference between a centrifugal pump and a peristaltic pump. The following video discusses, with pictures, the abstract of the a new paper (August 31, 2018) regarding it

And to demonstrate the effect using actual numbers…

Acoustophoretic printing also controls the path of the droplets, to combine them with other droplets with more consistency.

The implications of all of this, in the more scientifically precise areas of food and medicine, are profound in that it continues to expand the usefulness of 3-D printing beyond simple pre-manufacture modeling and moves 3-D printing closer to replacing traditional, more limited ways of making things on the industrial level.

Sounds wonderful!

Available for Purchase on Kindle!

•September 3, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Now a free download for a limited time only!

Jessica and Bobby Ratcliff, child soldiers, orphaned by war, flee to another planet to find peace. But when they arrive they find the enemy there ahead of them. Now, in a wore torn city overrun with insurgents and other refugees, thirteen-year old Jessica must find a life of peace for her and her brother as a local resistance cell tries to suck them back into the fighting…learning along the way the true difference between friend and enemy.


And for just a dollar!

When Pauline and her husband experience a deadly gas leak on board their cargo ship on the way to Saturn, she discovers a mysterious stowaway and a lifetime friend she never knew she had.


Humanity on Earth is extinct, destroyed by a meteor impact. Some humans escaped and now live on a distant planet. But wait a minute…wasn’t there someone there before? What happened to them and what did their destroyers have to become in order to survive?

This disturbing 600 word flash fiction story explores the necessity of war and the evolution of a conquering race.



Available for Pre-Order!

You kept asking for it, now here it is! An eBook version of my first full-length novel.

Into the Dark: Escape of the Nomad

Stan McPherson, an out of work astronaut, steals the plans for an Interstellar spacecraft from a defunct NASA and becomes embroiled a deadly game of cloak and dagger being waged between alien superpowers fighting over Earth.




Look for these and other titles on my Amazon page, or the sidebar of this blog.

Magpies In The Dark

•September 3, 2018 • Leave a Comment

I love the way China names their spacecraft.

China seems to be the only thing that the bipolar U.S. Government can agree on. Between human rights abuses, patent infringement, and lack of respect for International accords, China has made themselves personae’ non-gratae with the U.S. Government with respect to technology transfer. This makes it almost impossible for NASA and U.S.-based space companies to partner with them.

The short-lived Space Western series “Firefly” was a story based partly on the premise of the Chinese dominating the exploration of the Solar System and Earth culture in the future. Sometimes it looks like that’s where we’re going, sometimes it doesn’t.

I wish someone would figure out just where humanity is headed with respect to Chinese technological progress. I think it’s going to end up being pretty important some day.

The experience gained from Russian space activities and the goodwill gained from their policy of Perestroika (openness) became the root of the International Space Station project…a significant multinational achievement. Much of that progress has begun to erode with their new hawkishness, but I think it has resulted in a net positive impact for them and the world.

Tiangong, China’s copy of the Russian Mir space station, was lost and deorbited itself in April of this year. But now with the upcoming Chang’e 4, China has stopped following in the footsteps of others and begun an effort to explore the dark-side of the Moon.

Yes, I know it is no more dark on the far-face of Luna than anywhere else on its surface and that it is called the Dark-Side because throughout human history it was unseen by the inhabitants of Earth…until Russia sent a spacecraft there. I’m still going to call it the “dark-side” because it is a way cool name and I’m a science fiction author. OK?

This first step in China’s effort to explore the “dark-side” of the moon was a communications satellite called Queqiao, or Magpie Bridge, to relay communications back and forth from Earth to probes that they plan to send to the far-side. It entered its halo orbit at the L-2 Lagrange point beyond the Moon back in June.

When China sends their lander and rover, the rest of the Chang’e 4 mission, which is scheduled to launch in December, they will be the first to do so. Russians first mapped the dark-side and named most of its features. Apollo astronauts were the first humans to view it directly. It has since been mapped and photographed in detail my several spacecraft, but none have ever landed there usefully. A cubesat launched with Queqiao took photos of the Earth and part of a darkside crater. Also on that cubesat is an Arab deep space experiment. China’s first-time contributions to Earth’s knowledge of space are looking up (no pun intended). They will make history. Even before that, sending the Magpie Bridge to L-2 is a pretty cool thing anyway.

The rate things are going, there will be many following them soon, but still. Queqiao represents a significant logistics foothold on lunar exploration. I foresee other planned dark-side missions by other countries partnering with China to use Queqiao for relay to Earth some day.

Save This Opportunity #SaveOppy #WakeUpOppy

•September 1, 2018 • Leave a Comment

In a nutshell, it’s like this…

The Mars rover, Opportunity, is powered by solar panels. One of the worst dust storms in observed Martian history has been raging for months, blotting out the Sun and causing Opportunity to run out of power. The last time it was heard from was June.

NASA administrators want to declare the rover dead, but they will undertake some measures to try and revive the rover first. They plan to wait until the opacity of the dust reduces to a certain level, then send it occasional wake up commands followed by listening passes and do this over a period of 45 days. After that they will begin a passive listening phase until January when they will declare the rover dead and reassign the team to other projects.

The problem is that there are experts who claim that this plan does not give the rover sufficient opportunity (see what I did there?) to recover from the storm. Earlier this week, social media efforts called #SaveOppy and #WakeUpOppy pushed administrators to extend the active contact phase from 30 days to 45 days. But experts say that when the atmospheric dust storm calms, the dust will settle on the solar panels. After that, there is a period of strong surface winds that they say will blow the dust off. These winds, like the atmospheric dust storms, are regular annual events. This year the surface winds are predicted to run from November through January.

When Opportunity’s sister rover, Spirit, became stuck in the sand back in April of 2009, in a position where its solar panels could not get adequate light during the winter to keep vital components from freezing, NASA made every effort to save the rover. Experts now say that the plan for this crisis with Opportunity doesn’t go near as far as the efforts to recover Spirit. Spirit was declared dead about a year later.

Now these experts, who are risking their careers bucking NASA administration on this issue…are going to the public and asking us to help.

If you use Twitter, please use the hashtags #SaveOppy and #WakeUpOppy to join in on the discussion, Maybe Opportunity is dead, maybe she isn’t, but those people who know her and Mars best say that they can’t be sure if active wake-up calls end in November.

The Mighty Delta II

•August 31, 2018 • Leave a Comment

The Delta II has launched 155 times with only two launch failures. It has been one of Government’s main workhorse launch platforms for 29 years. One of it’s big projects were the GPS fleet.

I talk about it today because this rocket is about to launch on it’s final flight.

The ICESat 2 is scheduled to launch on the last ever Delta II rocket at 8:46 Eastern Time on Sept 15th from Vandenberg into a polar orbit to study sea ice. The satellite is important for measuring climate change, of course, so I don’t mean to under value it. But if you want to watch a space-culture icon fly into history, you should find time to stream the launch and watch it live.

Change is good. Paying $51M per launch to loft a max of 13,400 lbs to Low Earth Orbit is a thing of the past. The newest version of the Falcon 9 lifts 50,300 lbs to LEO for $50M, and while the rest of the industry can’t match that, the average is a lot closer to it than Delta. The Delta rocket is the poster child of over-priced rides to space. But that should keep us from celebrating this magnificent piece of engineering that has carried so much of the workload of our country’s space activities.

I’ll be watching. Will you?

Introducing — My First eBook!

•August 30, 2018 • Comments Off on Introducing — My First eBook!

I have finally done it.

Because of a hiking accident that has kept me home from work with a broken ankle, I’ve had time to take a step in my writing that I’ve been putting off for over four years.

I’ve taken as an experiment, a story that has sat on my hard drive for a while, and used it to learn and apply the tricks of the trade of publishing to the Amazon Kindle.

Invader Space was actually born of a writer photo prompt contest at Cowboy Logic Publishing long ago, so it was low-hanging fruit for this effort.

It is now available to download to your Kindle app or device for $1 on Amazon…

Like I said, this has been in the works for a while, I commissioned the artwork for cover from Sky Glanville clear back in 2014.

If you don’t want to spend $1 on a 600 word short story, that’s fine. The Novella for Another Man’s Terrorist is up for pre-order now too.


Will the Big Falcon Rocket Eat the SLS?

•May 12, 2018 • Leave a Comment

(This is Part II of the series on SpaceX rockets vs SLS. For Part III, click here)


Apparently, something momentous occurred on Friday and I missed it.

I know, I know…but it does happen.

The first Bangladeshi communications satellite was successfully put into orbit by the first Block 5 Falcon 9 rocket. My congratulations to SpaceX and Bangladesh for this monumental achievement.

On June 4th, 2010, SpaceX launched the first of their series of Falcon 9 rockets. From its beginning, it was built to refly. However, since landing and reflying orbital rockets efficiently was a totally new concept, they had to first take some time to learn how to do that.

ORBCOMM-2 First-Stage Landing

Through repeated launches, fiery crashes, landings, refurbishments, design improvements and component additions/improvements, the new Block 5 Falcon 9 rocket is finally manufactured from the ground up for the dedicated purpose of achieving the closest thing to routine space flight that this rocket can do.

Built to fly more than ten times each, with (maybe) a 24 hour turnaround and more than double the initial thrust of the first Falcon 9, this is the final version of that rocket and will be used for all Falcon launches from now on, including Falcon Heavy, going forward. SpaceX will now stop improving this rocket and put all of their research and development work into their new ride, the Big “Falcon” Rocket (BFR), which Elon says he wants to start hop-testing next year.

Block 5 culminates the reusability goals for the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rocket lines, having been built on the knowledge base of 2 years of refurbishing and reflying boosters.

They did this in several ways…more robust internals, heat protection instead of paint, bolting the engines on instead of welding them, self-retracting legs, titanium grid-fins, and better heat-shielding for the engines.

But another thing that folks are talking about is a last major upgrade to the Merlin Engine. All told, this new version of the Falcon 9 supposedly has more than twice the initial thrust of the first-ever Falcon 9. Elon says that it can lift roughly 8% more weight to LEO than the Falcon Full Thrust rockets they’ve been flying for the past two years or so.

Something folks aren’t talking about is what those short turnaround times are going to do to the usual 2 year-plus launch lead times…another key point of competition in the launch services industry. If SpaceX can ever catch-up on the backlog in its launch manifest, they’ll be able to use those short turnarounds to start chopping lead times and saturate the market, and launch reservations at Kennedy Space Center and Vandenberg Air Force Base, with cheap F9 and FH rides.

What about NASA’s Space Launch System? Back in February 2015 I wrote here about how staged improvements to the engines had brought about the Falcon Full Thrust upgrade that would fly SES 9 in April 2016. That article does a little math and speculates that the Falcon Heavy with those same Full Thrust boosters would be a “stone throw away” from the low-end of NASA’s upcoming Space Launch System. Throughout last year and into this year, and especially since the Falcon Heavy test flight, that article has seen much heavier traffic on this blog than anything else I’ve ever written here, due to folks web-searching for information on that rivalry. Even now, every time a Falcon 9 launches or someone important is on the news talking about this stuff, the page gets another flurry of hits. I’ve been using it as kind of a measuring stick for interest in the new space race.

The Falcon Heavy test flight used three Falcon 9 Full Thrust boosters. Wikipedia has these numbers for the Falcon Heavy’s lift capacity to LEO, but I don’t know if it is referring to the Falcon Full Thrust or the new Block 5. It looks an awful lot like the number that I saw when I researched the earlier article on Falcon Heavy Full Thrust…

“63,800 kg (140,700 lb)”

Is this number in wikipedia really based on the Falcon Heavy Full Thrust? Or is it the Mark 5? If it refers to the Falcon Full Thrust, and if that same 8% improvement applies equally to the Falcon Heavy and the Falcon 9, then when the FH flies that demo mission for the U.S. Air Force in October, its lift capacity will be 70,180 kg to Low Earth Orbit. It’s possible SpaceX knows this and is shying away from bragging about it for now to avoid political resistance to that Air Force launch.

Wikipedia still uses the same numbers for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) that I used back in 2015…

“70,000 to 130,000 kg (150,000 to 290,000 lb)”

So when the SLS debuts next year (or so) with the EM-1 mission, with the weakest planned variant of the rocket, it might not be the biggest boy on the block! I’m still waiting for some real experts to verify this for me and I’ll update this article with a clarification when I get several good answers in one direction or another. Even if FH does top out at 64K kg, then the upper-end Falcon is still almost as mighty as the lower-end SLS.

Now, just to clarify, the Falcon Heavy will probably not ever actually carry that maximum-mass payload. Reusing the rocket means saving some fuel so that the boosters can fly to a pad somewhere and land. That number that I just quoted is if they plan to fly the rocket only once, burn every last drop of fuel during the launch, release the second stage, and then abandon the entire first stage to just crash into the ocean…like SLS will do anyway. Also, the larger diameter payload fairing on SLS means it’ll have room at the nose of the rocket to mount much larger spacecraft than Falcon Heavy’s Falcon 9-sized payload fairing can. That makes SLS far more useful for crewed interplanetary travel and especially for launching modules for larger space stations. Lastly, the liquid hydrogen that the SLS’ left-over Space Shuttle engines burn works more efficiently in space than the RP1 kerosene used by the Merlin engines on Falcon, making SLS better suited than Falcon Heavy for interplanetary missions in that respect as well.

But most taxpayers won’t care about any of that. They’ll see the FH and SLS as near-equals at what is starting to boil down to less than 20% of the cost for Falcon Heavy. The public will begin to speculate that SpaceX will have replaced NASA, especially once the Falcon 9 starts flying the upcoming Crew Dragon to the International Space Station. Nothing can be further from the truth. NASA is a space agency, SpaceX is a launch services company. NASA has been providing SpaceX with a lot more technical assistance to get them this far than the other way around. The development of the Dragon spacecraft, and the Falcon 9 technology on which the Falcon Heavy Mark 5 relies, was achieved with a ton of NASA patronage. NASA and SpaceX do not compare in the same category as competitors but truth be told are actually partners in this New Space revolution.

In fact, I think that NASA instigated all of this. I think that they know they’re working themselves out of a job in the field of launch services and spaceflight. I think that they’re doing it on purpose because they know that as long as those things remain tied to Congressional politics they will never go anywhere.

The Falcon Heavy and the SLS don’t compete either, not really…as you saw from the other differences between the two rockets beyond just their respective throw-weights. The SLS won’t even have a decent second stage for it’s first flight or two. Falcon Heavy will likely fly dozens of times before the REAL monster, the Interplanetary version of the SLS, gets off of the paper and starts flying actual missions! So SLS and FH should never have to compete for anything important due mostly to timing. Even if NASA and Boeing can follow through with the idea of flying an extra wimpy SLS Block 1 in between, Falcon Heavy will still be in full operation for many years, and launch more than a dozen times, while SLS is still flying what are essentially R&D launches.

There is some danger to SLS if it doesn’t fly soon though. Falcon Heavy will fly the same or similar mass to the SLS test launch many times before the SLS first test flight even occurs. And every time a Falcon rocket goes up, more folks will hit Google and read this and other articles that say that SLS costs too much money to develop, much less fly, with an adequate and less expensive Commercial alternative available.

What is more likely to happen is that Falcon Heavy is too small to eat the SLS, and the SLS will be developed and flown to slowly to be eaten. A successful Falcon Heavy launch in October will herald the end of the heavy-lifter race, with SpaceX the next winner. SLS will have survived by virtue of having missed the race and being out of its weight class anyway. Sort of like a young grizzly sleeping in a cave as an adult black bear shambles on past the entrance.

The super-heavy lifting contest, on the other hand, starts next year. It’ll probably have more players in it than just SpaceX and NASA, no medium-lift payload fairings or half-baked second-stages, and those rockets won’t burn a drop of kerosene. For now it looks like the young SLS will fly and some sign of an actual development timeline for SpaceX’s Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) will be seen by the mid-2020s. We might also see something fly from elsewhere in the world in the heavy or super-heavy lift category.

The contenders for that race are still lining up at the starting line and we’ll talk about them in Part Three of this series…Will the MUCH Bigger Falcon eat the SLS? It will all depend on development times, with the SLS Block 1A and Block 2 the birds to beat.

Stay tuned.

An InSight into NASA Leadership

•May 7, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Early Saturday morning (May, 5th 2018), a United Launch Alliance Atlas V launched NASA’s Mars mission for this year’s Earth/Mars conjunction.

The first interplanetary mission launched from the West coast, this Mars shot demonstrated NASA and ULA’s unique experience in sending payloads to Mars. InSight will land on Mars and take seismic readings to help scientists better understand the composition of Mars below the surface. The Viking landers carried seismic instruments on board, but those experiments weren’t successful. InSight carries a seismic sensor that will use Marsquakes and meteor strikes to map the interior of Mars in the same way that geologists have done with Earthquakes for 150 years. We’ve needed to study that aspect of Mars for a long time, and should have done so sooner. This probe missed the last Mars launch window because the seismic sensor package on board was found to be faulty and could not be repaired in time.

After InSight separated from the Centaur Upper stage of Atlas, a cubesat dispenser mounted on Centaur kicked out two small communications satellites. Named Wall-E and EVA, these experimental Mars fly-by craft will relay InSight’s transmissions back to Earth from the far-side of Mars during planet fall and landing. Collectively called MarCO (Mars Cube One) these inexpensive spacecraft are a proof of concept for the use of cubesats for communications and navigation in Interplanetary Space. If they succeed, then you can expect to see many organizations start flying these cheap probes to accelerate the exploration of our solar system, utilize its resources, and start putting space entrepreneurship into the hands of the world’s millionaires…not just its billionaires.

NASA and JPL prepared and ran this mission and it will reach Mars in October. Currently, only NASA and its partners like ULA can do this kind of work, with so many combined firsts, with this level of confidence in the outcome. This mission further demonstrates NASA’s continued global leadership in Space and Mars exploration. Just because NASA does not currently launch their own people into space, that doesn’t mean that they do not lead. Mars has earned its reputation as the Skeleton Coast of exploration spacecraft, but the folks at NASA have many times earned their reputation as the masters of Mars.

I could name some other examples…and more will fly very soon.

The first test flight of the Space Launch System will happen in the next two years. In spite of the many critics of SLS (myself being among them) NASA’s new ride will push back the envelope, again, as the heaviest lifting launcher in the world.

Under NASA leadership, private companies with internally designed and owned spacecraft and launchers, have been shuttling cargo to and from the International Space Station at a fraction of the cost of using government-owned systems. This year, the same procurement structure (Space Act Agreement Contracts) will be used to begin hauling crew.

NASA had begun serious work on a new International, Lunar orbiting research and construction station…sort of an ISS version 2…which looks like it will use the above named commercial partnering method (under the label “NextSTEP”) from its inception. I think it will also include many habitat and research modules from international and commercial partners as well.

The James Webb Space Telescope, the long awaited first interstellar research probe targeted for a Lagrange point orbit, has begun rattling through it’s “shake-down” testing. Yes, they shook some nuts and bolts loose but hey, that’s what testing is for, right? Better now than on launch day.

On Tuesday, NASA is holding a commercial partners conference at their headquarters in Washington to begin preparations for next cycle of crewed exploration of Luna.


The list goes on. Stay tuned.

The Daughter of Kepler

•April 14, 2018 • Leave a Comment

TESS will do her father proud.

Kepler, the scientist, was awesome. However I don’t know if he had any children. Kepler…the spacecraft…is/was a spacecraft that was built to discover alien planets. It’s unblinking eye stared at a particular area of the sky continually, watching for the tell-tale wink of faraway planets passing between us and their parent stars. In spite of several technical difficulties it helped to discover roughly 3,758 planets in orbit around 2,808 different stars.

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) spacecraft will do the same thing, using lessons learned from Kepler on how to best conduct these studies, but in an area or sky 400 times larger and target specific stellar types particularly close to Earth.

TESS will also be better able to detect Earth-sized planets. Most of the worlds that Kepler found are much larger.


Once a list is made, then several current and future observatories (including the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope) will focus on these areas.

They’ve put TESS on the schedule to launch on April 16th, 2018 on a SpaceX Falcon 9. It will fly to a somewhat challenging 2:1 Moon synchronous orbit where, if they insert it correctly, it should be stable for several decades.

Click here (NASA TV) at 11 am Eastern today (Sunday April 15th) for further details.





A Light Over the Ocean

•March 30, 2018 • Leave a Comment


“Mommy, what’s that?”

“What’s what sweetheart?”

“Outside in the sky over there.”

“That’s odd…maybe it’s an airplane in trouble.”

“It’s pretty. Maybe it’s a UFO.”

“There are no UFOs dear. Oh, look, it’s on the TV too. It says it’s from a rocket launch…Iridium Next.”

“Cool! Is it going to Mars?”

“I don’t think so. Nobody goes to Mars. Hurry, finish getting ready or we’ll miss our flight.”

“Will there be Internet on the plane, mommy?”

“Probably. I don’t know. I wouldn’t be surprised. It’s amazing some of things they can do now days.”

“I hope there is.”

“That Iridium thing is probably horribly expensive. There are so many better things to spend money on than NASA shooting people off on spaceships.”

“Mommy, can we fly to Mars instead of going to Grandma’s house?”

“What? I just told you no one goes to Mars.”

“But that man on the TV just said that he is.”

“Really…Oh look at the time! Come on! Come on! Let’s go or we’ll be late.”

“Maybe someday we’ll ride that man’s pretty spaceship to Mars. Maybe it’ll have Internet too.”

“Yes dear.”



Cover image credit — Javier Mendoza/AP

To Live on Mars

•March 17, 2018 • Leave a Comment

When is a doughnut not a doughnut? When it’s a bagel.

Please understand, I don’t mind so much the actual taste of bagels, they’re OK I guess, but I rarely eat them, but only because they are food and I like food. Doughnuts on the other hand are a craving. If someone hands me a bagel, I’ll eat it…but I wander through life seeking doughnuts.

Bagels are a doughnut tease…a vain and cruel mockery of donuts.

So I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t live on Mars. I know, it’s heresy for a vocal space advocate like myself to admit such a thing, but Mars just would not work out for me.

How do I know? Because I’ve already lived on Mars once before and didn’t like it at all…or rather one of Earth’s closest analogues of Mars.

Back in 2001 I spent part of November and December working at the computer-end of a copper mine expansion project in Chile. The valley on the way to the Escondida Copper Mine (http://www.riotinto.com/copperanddiamonds/escondida-4740.aspx) from Antofagasta, and the area near the mine, looked just like those first Spirit Rover photos of the Mars countryside.

We worked ten days at a time at the mine site and then spent four days off out on the coast. The coastal area resembles most any other seaside tourist attraction, but the geography near the mine…and all along the road to get there…mocked that of the mountains and West Desert area of Utah where I’ve lived most of my life…sans any plant life. Seriously, the graphical overlay labeled “plants” had been stripped away and deleted.

Also, the rocks float. No, they don’t float in the air. Your local landfill shreads tires and recycles them, partly because if you bury a tire it might show up on the surface some 10 years or so later. In the Chilean desert, like on Mars near where the Spirit Rover landed, the freeze-thaw cycle floats rocks to the top so that they lay around on the surface of the trackless sand like thousands of tennis balls on a vast, abandoned court.

The area recieved about a quarter of an inch of rainfall a year, so aside from a small tumble-weed-like plant that one might see occasionally in the bottoms of shallow ravines, all that grew out of that fine sand of the Chilean desert were rocks.

So if a person wanted to fake a Mars landing, and needed a good photo back-drop for it, all they would need during that drought in the mountains and deserts of Chile would be a red filter for their camera.

I missed my family terribly when I was in Chile, but the pictures that I kept on my computer back-drop were recently-captured weather cam shots of the snow covered mountains of Utah. Growing up, I wandered those mountains and smelled the air of all four seasons, so much that I might not even need a calendar.

I’ve listened to the rattle of the wind blowing through the quaking aspen trees in the fall.

I’ve cross-country skied across the top of those same mountains under a full moon, then unrolled a tarp and mummy bag on the snow and slept to the sound of icy winds blowing through the bare trees under winter stars.

I’ve seen the dirt ropes left behind in the early spring by rodents after they’ve stuffed snow tunnels with their diggings.

I’ve witnessed the “purple mountain majesties” that confuses city slickers when they sing about it in “America the Beautiful”. It happens when a late frost touches the first buds of spring, turning the mountainside an iridescent violet under the morning sun.

I’ve swam in a mountain lake, loved on a mountain peak, and worn out footwear walking the trails of riverbanks and high desert plateaus.

My work at the Escondida mine brought me great fulfillment and growth. I enjoy challenging computer programming and support tasks. I also like to travel, and my days off in Antofagasta were all very nice. But when the time came to go home I couldn’t get on that plane fast enough. I returned just before Christmas, and as Christmas’ go that was one of my most memorable.

We know that Mars looks like Death Valley and feels like Antarctica. We won’t know what it smells like because we can’t breath the air. A full lungful would likely saturate a person’s red blood cells and tissues with CO2 and unless someone else is right there with pure O2 to bag them with they’d die and then the rest of us still wouldn’t know what Mars smells like. I suppose someone could gather a sample of Mars air in a bag and then go indoors and open it, but that would probably be irresponsible too.

So for all you city slickers who never see the stars, along with all you other folks rearin’ to go, I’ll continue to fight, here on this blog and elsewhere, for your ride to Mars.

But don’t bother holding the door open for me when you board that spacecraft. I’ll just bow to you and wave. Then, after you launch, I’ll head straight to the mountains and fall asleep looking up at the Red Planet with a smile on my face and my ears full of the rattle of the quakies.

I Attended a Caucus

•March 16, 2018 • Leave a Comment

This week I attended a caucus for the first time. Not knowing anything about such things, I honestly didn’t know what to expect…yet all of my preconceived notions turned out to be totally wrong. It was more of a gathering than a meeting, the format having a little bit of a community flu vaccination type arrangement. The first step of the U.S. election process consisted, at least in this case, of a very small bunch of quiet, mild-mannered, reasonable, grassroots folks, getting together at the local library around tables (one for each precinct) to talk about and name delegates to the county and state Republican Conventions. The small turn-out there surprised me, given the current state of political upheaval that brought me there. However, to be fair there were two official community meetings held elsewhere that same evening, one of which was the local school board discussing conceal-carry by school district staff, which you can imagine had an impact on attendance at the caucus. The number of people present for this half of Uinta County came nowhere near the number of delegates being selected, so they said that all of us could be delegates just for showing up.

When I arrived five minutes before the designated time, the organizers had just arrived also and had began setting up tables and chairs. Once they were ready, they had us all line-up and take turns helping some nice folks find us on a list of declared Republicans so that they could highlight our names as having attended the caucus. That was also when they found out what precinct we lived in in order to get ready for the next step.

(BTW, the images that I’m using in this article didn’t come from MY caucus…I didn’t think to take any pictures…however, it looked just like that! I lifted these images from an article in The Coloradoan about some caucuses in Larimer County. The above image is from a Democratic Caucus in Fort Collins. The cover image is of a Republican Caucus in Loveland.)

Each precinct sat at a separate table and made two lists of names…one of delegates for the Uinta County Republican Convention and one for the Wyoming Republican Convention. We were all put on the list if we would be willing and available to serve as delegates for the conventions. Others who were not present were also suggested by us to be added to the lists.

The nice elderly lady in charge of our table of five, who was a member of the Precinct 1-1 Committee, quietly wrote “First Alternate” next to my name. I asked her what it meant and I think she said that it refers to those who can temporarily hold the credentials of one if the committee members at the convention if they step out for a smoke or something. I am not sure at this writing if this applied to just me or also some of the other folks on the list with me. I gave them my phone number and I’ll ask when they call.

You maybe shouldn’t trust the news media when they say that this level of government is back-filled with fire-eyed, good-ol-boy, party loyalists…for I am none of those things. I mean granted, attendance at this caucus was low, but anyone who has declared a party affiliation while voting (necessary to vote in the Primaries in Wyoming) could just walk in off the street and attend one of these things without an invitation and participate in selecting delegates.

I heard no one even ask for an ID and I saw none provided, but your mileage may vary depending on your location. Evanston is a fairly small town and there were several folks there who knew me from work association, church, and from when I ran for School Board.

I spent a total of an hour and a half of my time and I was only there mostly just to learn how this level of the process works. Now, just for the effort, I am involved in the process as a delegate where I can participate in setting policy preferences and choosing Republican candidates in the great state of Wyoming. I have voted in almost every election since I was old enough, but I now see that I’ve spent over 30 years missing out on a key, very influential step of the voting process. If I had known earlier how easy this was, then I maybe could have had the chance to vote against Donald “Scrooge McDuck” Trump early enough in the process for it to maybe mean a little something…at least to me.

Now that I’ve told you about it, you have no excuse.

Just sayin’.

I guess what I’m really sayin’ here is …

Quit your gripin’.

Get off your butt.

Get involved.

The World Reacts to Falcon Heavy

•February 26, 2018 • Leave a Comment

SpaceX told the world about this rocket many years ago, few people noticed. Many folks who do follow such things predicted that the world would change with this launch…but that was before any of us knew about the “(shrill whistle) Hey, everyone! Look what we can do!” payload.

As I write this, the Starman video was up to 15 Million views on YouTube. Even more crazy was the SpaceX Live hosted webcast of the launch, which was viewed all over the world, was said to have had 4 million concurrent viewers on launch day.

The Falcon Heavy launch occurred three weeks ago and the world has begun to digest it. Quite a lot of talk has been about how an operational Falcon Heavy (which is scheduled to fly two or three more times this year) will inevitably apply new pressure on NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS)…currently under development and not scheduled for its first flight until 2020.

Former NASA Deputy Administrator under President Obama, Lori Garver, already a strong advocate for New Space, had this to say almost immediately after the launch in an oped for The Hill, questioning the continued purpose of further funding for SLS…

“The question to be answered in Washington now is why would Congress continue to spend billions of taxpayer dollars a year on a government-made rocket that is unnecessary and obsolete now that the private sector has shown they can do it for a fraction of the cost?”

“It is understandable that government employees, contractors and their elected officials want to keep this expensive rocket development program going. A large share of NASA’s roughly $19 billion budget has been spent on this constituency, and in turn is protected by them. We have come to accept this “tax” on the agency, but It is time for the nation to decide if we want a space program — or a jobs program.” — Lori Garver


Many folks smarter than me continue to insist that SLS and Delta IV Heavy, with their liquid hydrogen second stage, are a better and more efficient deep-space solution. However, I doubt the efficiency savings over the kerosene engines on Falcon comes anywhere close to beating the horrific price difference.

The currently published plan is for Falcon Heavy to fly for over a decade before SLS with its superior performance will be available for any mission other than building the Deep Space Gateway and Deep Space Transport. SpaceX expects to fly the rocket two to three times per year.

Between now and 2022 NASA will build the propulsion module for the Deep Space Gateway at the same time as the second SLS rocket that will launch the module onto Lunar orbit. However, NASA should still continue to build and fly its smaller experiments using the launchers that are available, for the sake of the schedule. Is Congress really going to force NASA to postpone all other deep space missions (like Europa Clipper) until then? Either way, folks will still spend all those years watching Falcon Heavy build a launch history flying other missions and will increasingly ask the question that Ms. Garver asked above.

The next launch window to Mars will occur in May/June of this year…a little too soon for a bran spanking new system, but you can bet that SpaceX will try and launch a Falcon Heavy into the next one (mid 2020)…with or without customers. Some level of NASA participation, similar to what they arranged for the now cancelled Red Dragon mission, would help ensure success on that flight, as well as garner confidence from other commercial interests who might have a payload or two to send along.

Eric Berger at ARS Technica did a nice comparison of Falcon Heavy, Delta Heavy, and the Space Launch System. He crunched some throw-weight numbers and came up with this shocker…

“The SLS rocket was originally supposed to launch in 2017, but now the maiden flight of the SLS booster has slipped to 2020. That is understandable; most large aerospace rockets experience delays. However, the cost of a three-year delay is $7.8 billion.”

“That $7.8 billion equates to 86 launches of the reusable Falcon Heavy or 52 of the expendable version. This provides up to 3,000 tons of lift—the equivalent of eight International Space Stations or one heck of a Moon base.”


SpaceX has announced first flights of their new BFR (pictured above) in 2020. It will burn methane fuel, lift more than SLS, and likely be fully reusable and far cheaper. Of course, few people believe that SpaceX will actually hit that target, Elon being notorious at “rocket vaporware”, but how far will that timeline actually have to slip for it to compete with SLS for NASA missions?

There were those who interpreted the metaphor of Starman more negatively than I and others did, being put off by the frivolous nature of launching a dude with a sports car into space. To those I would ask this question: If the payload for this test launch had been the typical block of concrete, would you have focused on it, or the capabilities of the breakthrough in cheap lift capability that was tested with it? If the latter, then why not just ignore Starman and do that?

If you still can’t bring yourself to see past Space Tesla, then consider the following…

  • How much does a 2008 model Tesla Roadster weigh?
  • How much spacecraft can one build, that weighs that same amount…if it doesn’t have to do much more to reach Mars than a dummy in a spacesuit driving a Lotus :Glitze: with an all electric powertrain can do?
  • Is the mission fundable at a launch price of somewhere around, say, $150M to LEO? $60M?
  • Can you have it ready by 2020?

It isn’t just SLS that feels the pressure exerted on the industry by this launch. ESA has expressed serious concern with their Arian line of rockets competing against this new capability…

“…breakthrough developments from new space sector players such as reusable launchers and marketing wheezes like sending a car into space are attracting attention and increasing pressure on the public sector.”

“Totally new ideas are needed and Europe must now prove it still possesses that traditional strength to surpass itself and break out beyond existing borders.” — Jan Wörner, ESA


SpaceX accomplishments have begun to be characterized as an expansion of United States prowess in space…with the Falcon Heavy launch sighted as an example…

U.S. Vice President Pence

“And of course, just a couple of weeks ago, the world watched with wonder as the Falcon Heavy blasted off from this very shoreline, and then moments later sent two of its boosters sailing back down to Earth, where they landed side-by-side, intact, less than a mile from where they’d lifted off. Very impressive indeed.”

“The evidence is clear: While the government can blaze new trails into exploring the outer expanse of space, like all frontiers, ultimately that will be settled by the dreams of our people, by the brilliance of our innovators, the energy of entrepreneurs, and the daring of our explorers together.”

“This truth echoes through the history of the Kennedy Space Center, named for a President who challenged the American people to marshal the best of our, in his words, “energies and skills” to “become the world’s leading space-faring nation.”



“…to put it more bluntly, this time the Americans showed us Chinese with pure power why they are still the strongest country in the world.”


Not everyone in this new industry shows off like Elon Musk, others who hold things closer to the vest have been busy building too. They work in comparative secret to prepare their surprises. So this event was not an outlier. Momentum has been building toward it for about a decade. The rising of that rocket through the Florida skies was just one of the first larger bubbles in a pot that has only now started to boil. I doubt it can be stopped by governments anymore, and they seem to have moved off the tracks and instead have lined up to board the train.

Get used to it. Bigelow Aerospace, who has been waiting for over a decade for favorable market and support conditions to release their new space product, inflatable space station modules, finally announced last week that it will orbit the world’s first private space station in 2021 and send another to Lunar orbit in 2022.

Like and Comment. What is your reaction to the launch?

Is it Finally Over?

•February 19, 2018 • Leave a Comment

If you follow this blog, then you know that I don’t like Donald Trump, and you know why.

If you follow my Facebook and Twitter feeds, then you know me to be a fiscal and religious Conservative who supports most of the traditional Republican platform and is often critical of “Progressives”. Many of my fellow science enthusiasts and publishing industry contacts who would disagree with me, loudly, on my overall political and religious viewpoints, have shared with me these past couple of years a common ground regarding the man who has now become our new President.

Yes, I said OUR new President. Now don’t scoff. I strongly dislike Bill Clinton too, for most of the same reasons, but I still called him MY President.

Republicans ignore what he is, because he can further their agenda. Democrats scream about what he is, not because of what he is but because screaming about it might further their agenda. They both miss the point and blind themselves to the real danger. Two many folks on both sides of the isle have been using Trump to slash away at the safety ropes that keep us all away from the cliff. The system was designed to protect the country from people like Donald Trump, but it can only do that if it’s citizens work together to put the system first and the politics second.

I live in the United States of America. It is a melting pot that condenses politically, very roughly, along urban vs rural lines. It is filled with opinionated people with animated temperaments like my own. This is normal. What I have witnessed in my torn and bleeding country since election day is not normal. We are the UNITED States of America…but we haven’t acted like it.

The special counsel investigation was heralded by Democrats as a way to reverse the results of the election (that they lost through their own arrogance and corruption)…poorly cloaked under “get to the bottom of the Russian investigation and protect our Democracy”. Not to be outdone in our blind-folded march into entropy, many Republicans, in their lock-step bootlicking of the Trump Administration, have ignored how important it is to understand what role Russia played in the 2016 Presidential election and worked to criticize and discredit one of their own (Mueller) just to protect the President-the-man…at the cost of the power and credibility of the President-the-office.

And the violent on both sides, in willing ignorance of what such methods do to other countries, sickened and embarrassed the rest of us with their willingness to just burn the whole system to the ground just to have things their way and their way only…as if the whole concept of shared power was the root of all evil.

Last Friday’s 13 grand jury indictments vindicated those of us who have been calling for sanity. All of the indictments that have come out of the special council have either had only a fleeting connection to the election, or now have pointed to mostly foreigners and no politicians yet. Also, virtually none, including these, address the core issue that formed the Special Council in the first place. The investigation isn’t over of course and should be allowed to run itself out so that it can actually eventually indict SOMEONE connected to collusion of U.S. citizens with Russia as they hacked the DNC’s email to tell us that they cheated against Bernie Sanders in favor of Hillary Clinton during the debates. Also, these 13 indictments involve things like identity theft that no one can defend, allege crimes by Russian citizens that will never set foot in a United States court room, and they point to a more overall objective that began many years before Trump’s candidacy.

Oh, and don’t whine about my remarks until you’ve actually read the 37 page indictments (just in case you missed the link to it above, click here… https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/02/rosenstein-mueller-indictment-russia/553601/). Also I suggest you then read and listen to the various pundetry in search of people lying to you about what the indictment document says or doesn’t say. There’s lots of that going on on both sides.

The General Council indictment document further alleges that the overall goal of the effort was to sow chaos within the system. That does not necessarily mean that Trump didn’t collude with Russia in some way (legal or otherwise, knowingly or otherwise) during his candidacy or after. What it does do is point out that they (the Russians) have been winning and that those in the U.S. that have been contributing to the havoc have been Russia’s unwitting tools. There is clearly the opportunity for Trump (and lots of other folks) to willingly collude with Russians or even knowingly pretend that they didn’t know they were colluding with Russians.

Anyway, I say, “Enough”.

Mueller was selected because he is a good man who is trusted by virtually everyone who has worked with him. He has been doing his job with this investigation through it all while both sides tried to sidetrack the true point of his probe on political grounds.

When he’s finished with the Russia interference investigation he should be directed by the Justice Department to look into the allegations in the Nunes memo…wherever it leads. Also, his team should be the only ones to see the documents behind that memo because evidence kept under a hat during questioning is the best way to squeeze out the weasels.

All of those elected officials, on both sides of the isle, who have damaged their credibility over this whole mess, deserve to have their butts whooped in their next election. I hope they do.

All of those U.S. citizens, on both sides of the isle, who have damaged their credibility over this whole mess, should hang their heads in shame. I hope they do.

I propose a new faction in U.S. politics…name the faction whatever. We don’t have to agree on guns, religion, gay rights, abortion, taxes, climate change, immigration or any of that. We will never agree on those things nor should we ever stop debating them and sticking up for what we think is right. But we, must agree at least to work to preserve the integrity of the process and the peaceful and orderly transfer of power, and to peacefully protect that system from all enemies, both foreign and domestic. Because if we stand together behind those principles, then no amount of anarchists, con-man Presidents, butt-kissing sycophants, or foreign meddlers can stop this imperfect United States of America from serving and protecting our descendents better than it has served and protected our ancestors.

Please feel free to comment below.

I promise my next blog entry will go back to talking about the new direction in space exploration. I have a couple of items I’ve been working on in that regard.

Also on a side note, I’d like to give a huge shout out to whoever’s turn it was to pick the next book in the reading group that my wife attends. The book chosen was “I Am Malala” and so I just now snagged a copy for our Kindle Paperwhite. You may recall that I wrote several angry blog entries here regarding Malala Yousafzai. All women everywhere should read her story from her own hand and not my ham-fisted, bile-soaked punditry about it.

(cover image credit Heritage.org)

Feb. 21 update: They just indicted somebody’s lawyer for lying to investigators. Now, I may have said this before somewhere…even so listen up. If the FBI ever questions you about something, or even asks you what you had for breakfast, TELL THE TRUTH! This is why Democrats in Congress want so bad for Trump to be interviewed, because a skilled lier relies on convincing themselves that a lie is actually true, and this creates a situation where the liar in question no longer even knows what the truth is. If Mueller questions Trump under oath TRUMP WILL LIE, probably without even realizing it, and give his opponents an impeachable charge against him.

Launching A New Space Age

•February 7, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Did you see it?

If you already follow this blog then you were probably watching and cheering with me.

Yes, a billionaire really did just launch his car into space.


Well, it was the test launch of a first-of-its-kind vehicle loaded to the gills with highly explosive propellant…with a fairly high possibility of something going wrong, blowing its payload into a gazillion very small pieces and delivering it to the mid-atlantic as burning rain. That is why this kind of test flight carries “ballast”…water or concrete or something…to simulate the weight of somebody’s expensive spacecraft. Elon Musk, owner and founder of SpaceX, said he thought that would be boring and boring companies fail. So they didn’t just attach a dummy load to the rocket…they loaded a dummy!

The Falcon Heavy, as a heavy-lift rocket, can send things to other planets in our solar system. SpaceX wants that market and needed to demonstrate that ability as part of this launch.

SpaceX, later this year, will also begin launching NASA crew to the International Space station aboard their Dragon 2 spacecraft using the Falcon 9 rocket. As part of this, they’ve designed a special space suit for the crew to wear. The Dragon can not only be used to carry people to the ISS, but to any other space station that someone might build someday (soon). It is even scheduled to take the Falcon Heavy, with some paying human customers, on a joy-ride out to the Moon and back sometime in 2019 or 2020

SpaceX was founded on the goal of someday sending folks to Mars. In fact, the new launch industry that is being led by SpaceX, called New Space, is all about empowering the people to set the pace of space exploration because governments tend to spend too much money and drag their feet getting anywhere. NASA’s new heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), is the most current example if that. It has been under development since early in the Obama administration (much longer than that if you consider it an extension of NASA’s previous paper-rocket project “Constellation”). It has cost many billions of dollars so far, and will cost half a billion per launch once it flies. Falcon Heavy was privately funded at just just over a half billion dollars to develop and just 90 million per shot to fly. SpaceX’s low prices for the single core Falcon 9 has set the target price of space launches around the world and put SpaceX at the head of the pack in launch frequency because it empowers entrepreneurs to find profitable business ventures in space. They’ve also pioneered the landing, recovery, and reuse of orbital-class rockets. Still, this whole change has been a tempest in a tea kettle for several years now, with very few of the common folk even aware of it.

Lastly, Tesla, where Elon serves as CEO, has a new model of their roadster coming out that is now available for pre-order. The 2008 model is based on parts from Lotus that are no longer available for Tesla to purchase, so that line had to be discontinued before it could really become the thing that it deserved to be.


  1. Take Elon Musk’s 9 year old Tesla.
  2. Take a test dummy and stuff it into one of SpaceX’s new Commercial Crew space suits and name the dummy “Starman”.
  3. Buckle Starman into the driver’s seat with one hand resting on the car and the other on the steering wheel.
  4. Put a copy of “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” in the glove compartment.
    Set the CD player to play “Space Oddity” by David Bowie.
  5. Modify a Falcon Heavy payload adapter to mount the car at a cool angle and then put THAT inside the Falcon Heavy test rocket’s payload fairing instead of some boring block of concrete.
  6. Launch to low earth orbit with one second stage engine thrust, then restart the engine to place it into a transfer orbit to get ready to leave Earth for good…which also exposes it to the Van Allen Radiation belt for a while. Some classes of commercial satellite launches require the second stage to spend some time in the Van Allen Belt, which is extremely destructive on electronics.
  7. Then, after the second stage of the Falcon shows that it can survive the Belt, relight it one more time and run it dry sending it out to Mars’ orbit.

See what they did there? This was not just a test flight and it was not just a marketing stunt. It had been very skillfully designed, down to the detail, as a demonstrator of both the technology and the future promise of Commercial Space.

I and other space geeks already knew that if it succeeded it would do most of those things. The part that floored us was the media attention that the flight grabbed. As I write this, at 11:27 eastern time, the video from Starman’s earlier live YouTube feed had 5 million views. 5 Million! When I compare that to past space-related events, this number is staggering. There are lots of YouTube videos that get millions of views eventually, but very few get there in just a few hours and I’ve never seen live space events ever get more than 50,000 or so!

Multiple national news media outlets also covered the event from near the start of the launch window at around 2 pm Eastern, clear through the launch holds when they waited for upper-level wind shear to die down to a safe level, until the actual launch at 3:45. They filled that gap with space stuff that kids along the East Coast got to see as they arrived home from school.

Then this huge viewership got to watch the launch itself. Heavy lifters put on an amazing show anyway, and this one was doomed to be a bit of a nail-biter from being that rocket’s first flight and doing several things that SpaceX had never done before and a couple of things that no one has done before. The launch was accompanied by the epic SpaceX staff heralding every dangerous milestone with deafening cheers. The whole thing had the feel of a rock concert.

I myself incorrectly predicted at least one scrubbed launch day that didn’t happen. So many things that could go wrong didn’t. The only blemish was that they crashed the center core when they tried to land it, but the side cores returned together in a synchronized dance and landed back in Florida like they belonged there.

The cat has left the bag. The Falcon Heavy has now made New Space a thing today in the eyes of the masses. Children were seen staring at Starman, eating popcorn as they gazed at the screen. A whole new generation of space geeks were born with that launch, except that this next group will actually get to see all the things that my generation hoped for and never got. The tech now exists and the prices have been dragged down to where folks can get down to business. Many politicians and old school space companies have tried to keep these developments in a bottle, hidden, in order keep space expensive and rare and the initiative under the control of a very few. But that ended on a cold afternoon on February 5th, 2018.

Space isn’t just for NASA, or even scientists, anymore.

It’s a Bird! It’s A Plane! No, It’s a Rocket Propelled Flying Tesla!

•December 28, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Yes, I know you’ve probably already heard about this, but its been a busy Christmas. I actually tried to tell you all about it in an earlier attempt to discuss all the cool space things coming up in 2018, but the WordPress app accidentally deleted the article instead of posting it. I’ll still rewrite that, maybe, but not right now. 

Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX, thinks that the typical payload for a test rocket launch…water or concrete…is boring, and that companies that do boring things fail. So instead of launching inert ballast into space in the upcoming first launch of the new Falcon Heavy orbital launch vehicle…

…he’s sending his car.

That’s right. The super quick, first edition, cherry-red, 2008 Tesla Roadster all electric muscle car that he has been driving is about to become the fastest car in history, if the launch succeeds, or be blown to smithereens if the launch fails.

The design of the Falcon Heavy has been computer simmed and wind-tunnel tested as far as possible, but rockets are still such fickle things that one never really knows for sure if it will function as designed until actual flight. An important and expensive satellite cannot ride on such a chancy launch.

Elon recently unveiled the prototype of an upgrade to the roadster design coming out in 2019, so he already has a new car to drive. Apparently billionaire Elon Musk considers his old-model car, valued at a quarter million dollars new, is expendable as advertising for both companies.

The Falcon Heavy will be the heaviest lifter to fly since the Saturn V that carried the Apollo missions to the Moon…and can carry an object the size of a Tesla (and more) to Mars. That’s where the car is going. It’s a little early for the Mars launch window, so it’ll miss the planet by a few weeks, but if it succeeds then the flight will at least prove the rocket’s capability and drum up business for it as an interplanetary launch vehicle.

If the rocket fails, then data from the failure will be used to correct whatever caused it and they’ll have a more tested design to fly. Plus, we’ll all get to see what happens when enough kerosene to send a Tesla to Mars looks like when it explodes, and all he’ll have lost is a $90 million rocket and a $1/4 million car (and maybe a launch pad…again…but let’s hope not).

What’s in it for you? Well, which would you prefer to see in January to kick-off the 2018 space launch season…an epic launch that causes an electric hot rod to enter permanent Solar orbit playing “Space Odity” on the radio, or an epic explosion that causes that same electric hot rod to rain down on the Atlantic in small burning pieces?

Let us all know in the comments.

Oh, and by the way that weird thing you folks in California saw in the Western sky last Friday night wasn’t a UFO, it was a “Twilight Event” from another SpaceX launch that put ten more Iridium satellites into orbit.

Images From #Eclipse2017

•September 3, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I know. I should have posted this weeks ago. Been busy.








The Great American Eclipse of 2017

•April 22, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Here it comes.

Four months from now, on August 21st.

It’ll slash right across the heartland…from coast to coast…darkening every summer climate in the U.S.

The birds will hide their faces and Mother Nature will hold her breath as a ring of fire appears in a blackened sky.

Take the day off, skip school, bring your family.

How far will you travel? Pack luggage or lunch.

Don’t miss the show of the century.

Coming soon to a celestial theater near you.

My Country and President-Elect Donald Trump — Part II

•November 26, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I have to add something else.

I sort of went off half-cocked earlier this month…about folks leaving the country because of the results of this election. My very understanding, and far more open-minded, daughter reminded me very diplomatically in a Facebook response to that post that I may have overlooked something in the passion of the moment. She pointed out that some folks might want to leave the country because they feel unsafe.

I live in Evanston, Wyoming. There are folks who hurt each other here, but rarely. Most of the time when something like that happens it is somewhere or somewhen that my lifestyle keeps me far away from. Still, there is practically no violent crime here at all…and this in a state where people can legally conceal-carry handguns without a permit (something that actually makes me feel more safe, but just might horrify some of the rest of you). Folks walk any street here, any time of the day or night, with almost zero concern for their personal safety. This is not foolish. It is common knowledge that many small, Intermountain West towns really are that safe. Some folks here don’t even bother locking their homes, fences or vehicles. The folks in the out-lying areas around this town care even less about security.

Note:(If you are the type that thinks to come out here and take advantage of that trust, please don’t. Those same folks don’t want your blood on their carpet either.  😉

When I spoke out in my about people leaving the country because of the results of a Presidential election, I had in my mind Barbra Streisand moving to France during the Bush years. You know…THAT kind of leaving. Those are the folks I was talking to. I hadn’t even considered the possibility that some people might feel physically unsafe in a Trump-run country.

This has been a very weird and very emotional election year. Both candidates, and especially their fans, saw it as a high-stakes essential win for their side. Both sides used a lot of fear-mongering, trying to make it look like people’s personal safety for themselves and their families was at serious and immediate risk of the opposite side. I read reports of threats and violence in both directions. A lot of that was blown way out of proportion…and maybe some of it wasn’t.

Let me point out that in the same way that a white, intermountain, small-town male like myself might not take enough personal security precautions, because of the safe place that I live, that fear-mongering could cause other people who live in less secure places (or who belong to political, cultural, or ethnic groups that are more likely to be targets of hate in their areas) to feel more fearful than maybe is necessary.

Here are the facts…

  • All forms of violence are illegal everywhere in the United States. They are just as illegal today as they were on November 7th and as they will be after Trump takes office on January 20th. A very real risk of very serious, life-path altering consequences lurks for anyone who chooses to break those very-strict laws. If you lived in a dangerous place on November 7th…it still is. If you trusted the police before November 8th (or didn’t), then you still should (or shouldn’t). Likewise, if you felt safe from crime on November 7th, then I think you still probably still should.
  • Racial bigotry is hated by the overwhelming majority of the people in this country…even while they are practicing it. How weird is that?
  • If you are in the U.S. illegally, then you were in as much risk of being rounded up and deported on November 7th as you are today. After January 20th that risk will increase, a little at a time. If you’re an immigrant and have engaged in drug-dealing or violent crime then the Obama administration is already after you to send you home. The risk will go up a whole lot very quickly come Jan. 20th. I would expect the same treatment if I broke laws in your homeland. Also, green-card or not, if you haven’t done any of those things yet and want to stay here, then now would be a bad time to start.
  • Racism is not just a white man’s disease and neither is bigotry in general.
  • Trump got a lot of votes from a lot of people who dislike him, distrust him, think he’s a racist, a con-man, and a sleaze, and don’t believe most of what he says. Some of those people are even hat-wearing fans (I don’t pretend to understand that part).
  • Even though low-credibility ratings, secret email, racism, offensive behavior towards women, lack of concern for truth, Benghazi bungling and talk of general underhanded behavior dominated this election, most folks felt like they had to look past those things and vote along party lines for the sake of more tangible issues.

This is a very large country with both very safe and very dangerous places to live. If you are considering leaving for safety reasons, then please ignore the harsh and emotional remarks in my earlier post, they don’t apply to you. I would respectfully ask, however, that you consider a safer place here in-country to move to instead and then continue to work with the rest of us to keep it that way.

Predjudice means “Judging before the facts”. So if you see anyone walking past you wearing Trump hats (or turbans, or black skin, or brown skin, or disturbing tatoos, or a holstered firearm) and you think that because of just that they might hurt you, then please consider the possibility that such fears might stem from your own prejustices.

And please just everyone calm down. If you fear that Donald Trump might be a rising tin-horn dictator, then know that a lot of other folks…even his political allies…agree with you.

I agree with him on some things…other things not so much. But be assured that freedom of speech is alive and well and we will all keep an eye on him together and he will not be allowed to turn this country into a banana republic. If you see something happening on the streets that you don’t like, help if you can do so safely. You might also stream it live with your phone camera on Ustream (free), LiveStream (free), or Facebook Go Live (free), if you’re situated where you think you can do so without endangering yourself. Tweet it. Tell your story.

This people prize their freedom. We detest tyranny and injustice.

With your help, there will be no Hitler here.

Major Earthquake Strikes off Fukushima

•November 21, 2016 • Leave a Comment


Please, if you are near coastal waters that face this epicenter, GET AWAY FROM THE COAST. If you see that the tide has gone way, way out then please understand that a disastrous tidal wave is imminent…you may only have minutes. If you are in a tsunami, please understand that it is more than just one wave. If you survive the first, use that chance to escape the area and avoid the second…which will likely reach further and be worse. Several waves could hit. Get to high ground and wait until all the waves are gone, then follow the instructions of local authorities as to what they need you to do next.

Photographing the Supermoon

•November 12, 2016 • Leave a Comment

My Country and President-Elect Donald Trump

•November 11, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I stand appalled.

Other words that I might use would be abandoned, disenfranchised, ignored, destitute.

Most people felt shocked by the come-from-behind victory of Donald Trump in the election…I wasn’t. As November 8th drew closer and Hillary Clinton’s lead shrank, I warned some euphoric Clintonians that she needed a 5% lead. I predicted that there might be an unpolled 5% for Trump on election night because Obama, Clinton and Trump had all angered the far-right into voting this year. Clinton’s lead was only 3% in some very dangerous places going into election night and I expected a squeaker.

But I didn’t care who won. I didn’t want either of them. I am a Christian Conservative first and foremost. I find accusations from the Left that Republicans are racists to be deeply offensive and have for many years defended mainstream Republicanism as having grown out of such barbarity. The Democratic party sold it’s soul to its racists several decades ago, but apparently, sometime during the past several years, the Republicans did too. Between that and Trump’s other character flaws that I wrote about here last fall, the non-racist respecter of women behind this blog went into this year’s election day feeling severely depressed and under-represented.

Something else…I think I see some historical parallels between Trump and his rise to power and dictators in other times and countries. This will bear some watching. Many Conservatives thought we had elected a potential trouble-maker eight years ago, and accused Obama of heavy-handed methods throughout his Presidency. I think that this country has not yet seen as dangerous a President as Donald Trump.

That being said, we are citizens of the freest land on Earth, ruled by a system of checks and balances that were specifically designed, down to the finest detail, to prevent the rise of a king. Though the coming years might put that system to the test, we need to give that system a chance.

Yes, Trump now has, with Republican majorities in both houses, more than enough power to totally dismantle everything that Obama achieved. Ideologically I am not that far from mainstream Republicans on some of the reforms that they will want to push forward now that there will be a Republican in the White House. But Trump will be a very wild team member who came to power on some pretty whacked ideas. I have already openly criticized him and several of those ideas on social media (I always get a laugh when I talk about The Great Wall of Texas) and I and others will continue to do so. Also, our new President-elect will have to share his power with a Congress and country filled with a very great many frightened and appalled people like me, on both sides of the aisle…I think a veto-proof majority. They will watch him very, very carefully and if necessary will be more than willing to join hands across the aisle and pull him down out of that chair in the Oval Office of he tries to turn it into a throne.

“The United States of America never needed to be made great again. It was made great long ago and has remained great to its roots.”

The Republican Party is not all to blame for Trump either. The Democrat Party is supposed to be this Nation’s populist standard bearer…our equivalent of the U.K.’s Labor Party. The Democrat Party leaders and the News Media chose their candidate for this election almost a decade ago and used unfair tactics to kick their Populist standard-bearer, Bernie Saunders, to the curb. Then, instead of listening to what he had to say, they blindly ran their flawed establishment Golden Girl, on decade-old establishment issues, against a Populist candidate with a very large and angry following…during a Populist uprising! What?

Anyway, I know that many of you are upset. Legally protest if you feel you must, public outcry helps keep Governments from forgetting who they work for, but please keep it civilized. Don’t riot like the ignorant masses in other countries. Have faith in the system that made your country great. Our nation can always get better (though we rarely agree on what “better” means), but The United States of America never needed to be made great again. It was made great long ago and has remained great to its roots.
Lets set a good example for other countries and show the less-civilized parts of our planet how it’s done. Honor the sacrifices that our Veterans have made in protecting our freedom and putting down tyrants throughout the world by supporting, and helping to facilitate, a peaceful transfer of power.

Oh, and one more thing. If you flee like a cockroach to Canada or France or somewhere instead of staying here with the rest of us and participating in the public discourse, working to maintain the peace, freedom, and prosperity that so many legions of good folk have lived and died for for 240 years, then please just stay gone! Cowards like you don’t belong here! We don’t need you! This country was and is still built of better stuff than you!

I’ll be here, writing about what I see and fighting for my county with the full strength of my hurt, abandoned, frightened and angry pen.

Watch ExoMars SocialTV by European Space Agency on Livestream

•October 19, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Watch ESA’s Facebook Live programme here from 15:09 CEST on Wednesday, 19 October, when the #ExoMars Orbiter and Schiaparelli lander will arrive at Mars. Part 1 will go live at 15:09 thru to 15:41, and Part 2 runs 16:45-17:15 (all times CEST). https://livestream.com/accounts/362/events/6518620

I don’t know what will happen here, but if successful the European Space Agency and Roscosmos get to become Mars surface explorers today. Click the link and watch it live, but the action will probably be slow, so don’t interrupt your breakfast.  😉

Candidate Bill

•September 12, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I’ve thrown my hat into the ring again…


The above article pretty much describes my reasons and focus. In general, I see an upcoming, science and space technology based, new economy. However, I also see certain education guidence trends coming out of Washington, D.C. that in my view seem to run across purposes with that future. It’s as if the powers that be have given up on getting kids interested in Science at an early age, just when the country needs that interest the most. NASA’s most optimistic timetable (perhaps a bit conservative, but some think is the equivalent of a wildman on a motorcycle for NASA) has today’s 2nd graders graduating with their PHds about the time humans first land on Mars. On SpaceX’s plan (far more aggressive and perhaps unlikely), it’s roughly today’s High School juniors. Whichever estimate you think is the correct one, there will be a lot of building and testing along the way. More profitable revenue sources will be discovered in space (besides just communications satellites) and then developed. This at a time when the U.S. has just invoked a Common Core education standard for K-12 schools that does not set any basic knowledge level requirements in Science.

Math, Reading and Statistics yes, Science no…and the Math one seems a bit wimpy.

Very bad timing I think.

They seem to have done this, in part, to clarify the measuring stick between Urban and Rural schools. However, rural schools in the U.S., like the one my youngest son attends, aren’t burdened with as many cultural challenges (multiple languages, broken families, homelessness, etc.) that urban schools in the U.S. are. They can never actually be equal. I think that to try and measure them as equal drives down the bar too far to build and maintain the infrastructure for a spacefaring economy and misses a chance for our children to be prepared for the careers of the future.

Common Core is set in stone. So let’s help the urban schools. Lets give them the resources they need to bridge the gap. However, those like me who live in rural communities will need to fight to keep our bar above the standard. That is why I ran for School Board in 2014 and it is one of the reasons why I’m running again this year.

If you agree with my thoughts concerning the future of our schools, then please share this blog entry, or the above Facebook link.


The Landing of The Falcon and the Launching of Humanity

•April 13, 2016 • Leave a Comment


Hey folks, I too did the happy-dance when the rocket landed on the drone ship. I cheered and shared the video and bored all around me to tears talking about it.

But cool as it was, it means little if human spaceflight demand continues to be the exclusive realm of government agencies. So the really cool part is that while the first stage booster retro-burned, the second stage continued on to put the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) into space as it rode in the trunk of the Dragon spacecraft. The very first, privately built space habitat module, to be directly tested for human habitation, has now been placed in orbit. Once NASA, ESA, Jaxa, and Roscosmos have all had their chance to play in it aboard the ISS, that technology will provide a proven platform for human spaceflight that can then be driven and funded entirely by private enterprise. The new industry that many think will rise from that could come on line just as the human-rated SpaceX Dragon v2 and the Boeing Starliner complete their second or third year of operation with NASA and the ISS.

Reusable boosters rock. But the dream of private human space flight writes the music!

Did you notice how the post-launch press conference ended up being all about SpaceX? Almost all of the questions were directed at Elon Musk. Kinda funny how those three other folks at the table all had a ton of useful information too, but nobody seemed to care. A rocket lands on a ship, bathed in the bright sun and media coverage, while Bigelow Aerospace makes history sitting in the dark, in the rumble seat of an orbiter.

English: NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver...

English: NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver is given a tour of the Bigelow Aerospace facilities by the company’s President Robert Bigelow on Friday, Feb. 4, 2011, in Las Vegas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are now three Bigelow space station modules in orbit. Government didn’t specifically ask for any of them. No Senator (that I know of) demanded that they be built. This third one, BEAM, will see people. The forth one is much larger and will launch in 2020 aboard an Atlas V. Bigelow Aerospace would like it to attach to the ISS, where it would increase the usable space inside the station by roughly a third, and double the Commercial Crew traffic to and from the station…but it doesn’t have to.

So, we all cheered both times the boosters landed. When it arrived at port, some cheered some more. We’ll all cheer big when it re-flies, maybe in June. But take another deep breath and get ready to cheer again all the louder when the ISS crew inflates BEAM and someone takes that first “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” into it.

Because on that day, the world will change forever.

The company logo for Bigelow Aerospace.

The company logo for Bigelow Aerospace. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Gravity of It All…#Mindblown

•February 14, 2016 • Leave a Comment


A long time ago in a galaxy far far away…

Two black holes collided, invisibly obliterating in an imperceivable instant the mass equivalent of three suns.

The energy released equaled the output of all the stars in the universe times fifty.

Last year, that energy arrived here, and for a split second everything you know stretched and then shrank by less than the width of an atom.

I know, I’m a Science Fiction author, but I promise I’m not making this stuff up. Researchers at two specially designed facilities have measured a gravity wave…a hiccup in space-time that emanated from that event and arrived here last year. Two more gravity wave observatories will be built later in other parts of the world to help add details to future events of this kind. The implications of our ability to study gravity in this way are difficult to comprehend. It gets into the very deepest fundamentals of the forces that hold everything together.

I don’t usually write about such things…but this just too cool.

They hope to be able to use gravity wave detectors to study the internal workings of much smaller events…like supernovas!

Again…mind blown.

Challenger Remembered

•January 28, 2016 • Leave a Comment

English: View of the Liftoff of the Shuttle Ch...

English: View of the Liftoff of the Shuttle Challenger for STS 51-L mission taken from the PAFB/IGOR camera site. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While going to college, I lived with my grandmother. There were others visiting that day, but I was downstairs in my room. People told me that the Shuttle launch was coming up, so I came upstairs to watch. That is how I remember it.

I’d dreampt of a Shuttle crash once…an event that never happened…where the shuttle left the pad, did a 180, and plowed into the ground behind the Vehicle Assembly Building. The dream was very realistic, complete with the huge explosion. I actually did something like that last year with the shuttle, accidentally, in the Orbiter 2010 simulator. But I digress.

The real thing, when Challenger exploded, felt for a moment like that, like it wasn’t real. Then a few seconds later the reality hit. It wasn’t at all survivable and seven people had just died.

It didn’t anger me much. It saddened me deeply, but after the results of the investigation were released I felt like launch cadence had gotten in the way of safety, and that wrong choices were made in the face of expert dissent. I felt like it was a natural growing-pains thing though. Rocket science is hard to do and very dangerous and everyone involved in it knows that, but there is also a learning curve. Heroes were made that day, as they are every day that humans do extraordinary things. Humanity needs its heroes, but martyrs were made that day too. That was how I viewed the victims of the Challenger accident.

It was the Columbia disaster that angered me. I felt like that accident could have been avoided, like those people shouldn’t have died. I remembered, in the very earliest days of the Shuttle Program, an expert saying on camera that if leading-edge tiles were ever damaged the orbiter would be destroyed on reentry. There were no unknowns, no hidden flaws, no accidental gotchas. I viewed, and still view, those deaths as a waste and for the first and only time in my life I was deeply disappointed in NASA.

Challenger humbled us as a nation. She reminded us of the frailty of flesh and that our processes, like those O-Ring design, can have deadly hidden cracks in them. It matured our space program in a way that only a catastrophe can. The Shuttles were good, and played a critical role in our growth as a species, but it increasingly became apparent to me that they were premadonnas and that spaceflight shouldn’t have to be quite that hard.

Challenger Accident documentary on The History Channel. http://www.history.com/topics/challenger-disaster/videos/engineering-disasters—challenger#

I won’t harp further on the lessons learned. I will just honor the Challenger crew for what they were, brave pioneers, and end this post with a nice poem that is frequently used in reference to such events as this…

High Flight

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, –and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of –Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

John Gillespie Magee, Jr



The Privatizing of Human Spaceflight

•January 23, 2016 • Leave a Comment

From out of the fog

Falcon 9 rises out of the fog to launch the Jason 3 Satellite from Edwards Air Force Base in January of 2016. Its attempt to land the rocket on a barge in the Pacific failed due to a faulty landing leg.

I can’t find enough time to write lately. I think this post might set a record for this blog on how long it took to finish. Plus, events have updated the progress highlighted in these thoughts as I write them, causing me to keep updating words that I thought was done and dusted.

Anyway, NASA seems to want to walk a road that will totally end the use of the traditional military procurement paradigm that built the Apollo and the Space Shuttle programs. It makes me grin, and makes a lot of sense given how much Congressional strings have cost space exploration in delays over the years. If lawmakers let NASA get away with cutting down their cherry tree it might finally kick the momentum for exploitation of space back in gear.

Military-style contracting is like what they’re doing to build the Space Launch System and Orion. In a nutshell, here is how it works…

  • NASA owns the designs.
  • Congressional politics rule the upgrade schedule, the funding, and the calendar for each and every item built for the duration of the life of the product.
  • The contractor/s (defense industry providers with strong Congressional connections) build only as many as NASA orders, and at military procurement costs…so whatever you think the cost should be, just add another digit or two.
  • Congresspersons support it more for the sake of local jobs than for human technology advancement, and so long as certain Senators and Congresspersons continue to win elections, that particular NASA project gets to continue to fly.
  • The process keeps the costs high, support spotty and uncertain, and puts funding for important projects in competition with social programs, making NASA a slur for wasteful spending.
  • NASA is the only buyer, but the lessons learned from the program go into a database that is owned and operated by NASA and made available to other NASA partners in various ways.

Most regular launch services have already been semi-commercialized for many years, provided largely by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between two competing military contractors, Boeing and Lockheed-Martin. They made this cute little merger so that they could set the price and tell everyone to just accept it. This sweet, monopolistic arrangement displays a facade of cost savings because the government gets to pay “industry prices”…with industry prices being the same ridiculous, military procurement price tag that NASA and the Air Force pays because nobody knew any better.

Those days ended several years ago when SpaceX entered the market and started telling folks that the old price was stupid and that the key to getting our feet out of the mud and exploring deep-space is to do it for under $1K per pound…an enormous price drop. Now, because of pricing, SpaceX and Arianespace get the lion’s share of any competitively bid launch business…and the European Union has to heavily subsidize Ariane in order to keep their prices competitive in the new market. This has suddenly turned the space launch business into one of the only growth industries in this current, otherwise gloomy, global economy.

SpaceX’s current pricing is for expendable rockets, the tradition of the industry. Yes, everyone has, for more than 50 years, thought that the only thing to do with a hundred something million dollar rocket, after the payload is in orbit, is to just toss it into the ocean and let it sink. However, SpaceX’s goal has always been to vertically land, then refuel and re-fly, their hardware. I think part of the reason for this is because Mars has no oceans to splash down in, nor rocket industries to build throw-away boosters to fly back to Earth. Mars colonies are what SpaceX and its founder Elon Musk are really after.

They recently succeeded in bringing the first-stage booster for their Falcon 9 rocket back to Earth intact with a scifi-style, rocket powered descent and landing. They did this with no request or initiative from any government agency and nothing but spit-balls from most of the regular industry players. They then successfully test-fired that booster to begin gathering data on it. They intend to try and land all of their boosters as a routine so they can analyze them to determine how to improve new rockets for quick turn-around and re-launch. They intend to relaunch one of those reusable rockets later this year. Blue Origin recently relaunched their New Shepard space tourism rocket…setting a new level for the bar and leaving an unstated invitation for SpaceX to more quickly add an exclamation point to the new re-usability trend. If successful, rocket re-use will disrupt orbital industries forever. Even without that, SpaceX has already used pricing (and lawyers) to kick in the doors of the commercial, research, and U.S. military launch industries to force the players to compete on price.

Some claim that re-usability of rockets isn’t cost effective, and in a way they are correct. To them (and Congress) the main objective of spaceflight is to pay as many people as possible to build as many one hundred plus million dollar rockets as the market can bear, so no wonder so they treat them like paper plates! SpaceX’s goal is two-way flights to Mars. Do you see the difference? Spend as little as possible to go somewhere vs spend as much as possible to go nowhere. They and Blue Origin have already begun their own little cold-war of rocket re-usability innovation. Competition and free enterprise have been viewed by some as the key to cost reduction and innovation in spaceflight.

English: Stylized text "COTS", used ...

English: Stylized text “COTS”, used to represent the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program managed by the Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office at NASA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To leverage the energy of capitalism in their pursuit of space, NASA started quietly bringing multiple commercial partners into the mix about a decade ago. One of the old market players, Orbital ATK, recently flew their Cygnus cargo ship to the International Space Station. Cygnus was developed with a funded Space Act Agreement contract under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Service (aka. COTS)…which works a lot like a NASA spin-off program. It flew on ULA’s Atlas V rocket this year because Orbital’s own launcher, the Antares, blew up over the launch pad late in 2014. They fly one more time this year on the Atlas, and then go back to Antares with an all new engine design.

SpaceX Falcon 9 with Dragon COTS Demo 1 during...

SpaceX Falcon 9 with Dragon COTS Demo 1 during static fire test (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule was also developed under a Space Act Agreement contract with NASA and uses SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launcher.

Both Orbital and SpaceX own all the rights to their products that NASA helped them develop. They can sell their products and services to anyone, not just NASA, and nothing controls the price except competition. NASA has been the exclusive customer for these services up to now, but that’s only because the International Space Station is the only orbiting, functioning, occupied habitat that they can do business with…for now. Frequent, reliable, and cost effective resupply is essential to any long-duration human presence in space. Now that that service has been made available to anyone, anyone can build and fly a space station if they can get people up into orbit to inhabit it.

The new COTS contractors for 2019 forward were recently announced to continue to be SpaceX and Orbital. Also, NASA has added Sierra Nevada Corp’s new space plane, the Dream Chaser, this time around. Several rules have been adjusted based on the lessons learned in round one, including insurance and the need for providers to have greater flexibility in the services that they provide. Dragon always did provide both pressurized and un-pressurized up mass and pressurized down mass (bringing cargo intact back to the Earth’s surface). Orbital’s Cygnus provided garbage disposal (destructive reentry). Now they all need to do all of these things. NASA also wants an option for quick-return of any landed cargo to Earth-based labs. This is where Dream Chaser shines, because it can land on aircraft runways instead of having to be plucked out of the ocean like the Dragon. I’m thinking SpaceX will use Dragon V2 for quick cargo returns, which they intend to be able to vertically land. Cygnus was never designed with down-mass ability in mind, so it’ll be fun to see what they come up with. Maybe they’ll build a capsule or a spaceplane.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon and Boeing Starliner currently under development and testing to carry astronauts to the ISS were both developed under Space Act Agreement contracts also. They intend to start launching people to space stations in 2017, starting with the ISS. Some in Congress have attempted, unsuccessfully, to limit that effort to a sole provider and rope those services into the status quo procurement system. Some attempts to tie in SLS/Orion as a backup ISS support provider were also made, drawing the public relations equivalent of polite laughter from NASA. Clearly, NASA’s stated goal, both expressed and implied, is to build-up Yankee free-enterprise to take over all Low Earth Orbit operations…both human and robotic…some day very soon and then leave them there while they go off and explore the solar system.

NASA astronaut Robert L. Curbeam, Jr. (left) a...

NASA astronaut Robert L. Curbeam, Jr. (left) and European Space Agency astronaut Christer Fuglesang, both STS-116 mission specialists, participate in the mission’s first of three planned sessions of extravehicular activity (EVA) as construction resumes on the International Space Station. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Currently, thankfully, Congress seems to have finally given up on Low Earth Orbit industries to feed their campaign coffers. Instead, they look forward to SLS/Orion and deep-space projects like Mars and asteroid research to draw NASA money into their respective states and keep their game of mutual back-scratching with NASA procurement officials and the bloated military industrial complex going.

Here’s the rub. The SpaceX Falcon 9 and other commercial launchers have been contracted to fly Google Lunar X Prize rovers to the Moon in 2017. This year SpaceX will test-fly the Falcon Heavy, a rocket that is way too big to have to stay in Earth orbit. It will have the world’s heaviest throw weight since the Saturn V Moon rocket. SpaceX will start making money with it and building a flight history on it long before NASA’s first test flight of the Space Launch System, since Falcon Heavy already has customers lined up waiting to fly on it.

If the Falcon 9 can already boost some things to the Moon, then what can the biggy sized Falcon Heavy fly to the Moon and elsewhere? Elon Musk claims that the Falcon Heavy can carry a heavily loaded Dragon Spacecraft to Mars or a lightly loaded Dragon to the moons of Jupiter. SLS will cost $500 Million per flight, IF it flies at least once a year, every year, for ten years, but Falcon Heavy will cost about $150 Million per flight right from the first launch. Once they start landing and reusing its boosters it may cost even less. The question that everyone keeps asking is whether SLS can even survive ten years, or even two, when Falcon Heavy can fly some SLS missions for less than half the SLS price tag. The other question is whether NASA’s relaxed time line can keep them at the pointy end of the stick once SpaceX can fly to SLS destinations at far lower cost.

Congress has dictated in the latest authorization bill, that has now become law, that NASA will fly a mission to the Jupiter moon Europa. The law also states that it will carry a lander to descend to and study the moon’s surface, and that it will fly on SLS. They have also required that NASA let them know by June or so how they will do their deep-space habitats and other technologies for long-duration space flight and which areas of the country will manufacture that equipment. They look like they still think that they get to pick who builds all the stuff to do the “explore the solar system” part of the future in the traditional, expensive, Congressionally controlled way.

English: NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) refe...

English: NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) reference vehicle design baseline. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, late last year (Nov. 2015) NASA announced the awarding of contracts to three companies for building prototypes of high-power electric spacecraft engines for swift flights to Mars and elsewhere. I read somewhere that these were Space Act Agreement contracts, but now I can’t seem to find those references anymore. Digging deeper, I found that these awards were made as part of a fairly new commercial partnership program called NextSTEP, which goes way beyond just 100 watt ion propulsion…




NASA Awards ORBITEC Contract for Advanced Propulsion Systems



Deep space propulsion, space habitats, even part of the SLS construction infrastructure, these are components of NextSTEP and look like they will be organized, funded and developed a lot more like COTS and Commercial crew and a lot less less like SLS and Orion. Their success will be driven more on how well they meet performance milestones than on who they know in Washington. Like other spin-off programs, these NASA commercial partners will own the products that NASA helps them develop so that they can later sell their products and services to anyone.

One provider listed under NextStep for space habitats is Bigelow Aerospace. Bigelow modules are built on the lessons learned from the ISS. They cost a lot less to build and fly, are way larger, and carry better shielding from radiation and micro-meteors. Once they gain a foothold in space, they will render the ISS (along with any other Mir and Skylab “tin can” technology) obsolete for longer-term crew accommodations. They’ve already orbited two unoccupied test stations and will launch another as a module to the ISS aboard Dragon in March of this year for hands-on testing.

Model of the Bigelow Aerospace Space Complex B...

Model of the Bigelow Aerospace Space Complex Bravo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Congress owns SLS/Orion and NASA will launch it to new destinations…Congress demands it. But NASA looks like it wants all of the other necessary tech that they develop for that effort to be owned by the folks that build it, thereby saving money and making that technology available to anyone to use. Other launchers (not just Falcon Heavy) will be available for anyone to fly that tech anywhere the launcher can reach. Out of the box, this year, Falcon Heavy will be able to lift some 53K lbs to low Earth orbit. The SLS that will not fly for the first time until 2018 will lift 70K at 4 or 5 times the cost. SpaceX, China, and Russia are all working on much bigger launchers than Falcon Heavy.

I predict that Congress will no longer have to like space flight projects for space flight projects to happen. They will only need to show a passing ambivalence toward an idea, and that only long enough for NASA to empower commercial partners to just do it. After that, if anyone else wants to do something new in space, they’ll fly it with or without long-term support from Congress or NASA…and for a fraction of the cost.

And that’s the stuff dreams are made of.

Space Club

•December 26, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Israel gets to go to the Moon…but Iran doesn’t?

Back in October, William Waldon reported that an Israeli company from Tel Aviv, SpaceIL, participating in the Google Lunar X Prize, won the first phase of the contest by securing a launch contract to send their bouncy-lander to the Moon aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

Hardly seems fair does it? Even though the world has negotiated an arrangement with Israel’s rival, Iran, to end economic sanctions over their nuclear development, they still cannot do business with companies like SpaceX because they sponsor terrorism. Spaceflight technology crosses over into military technology, making it illegal for U.S. launch providers to do business with rogue states such as Iran.

SpaceIL secured their flight arrangements with a U.S company called Space Industries, which normally brokers small, secondary payloads, but which has purchased an entire $60M Falcon 9 launch to fly in late 2017. SpaceIL will fly as one of the two leading payloads on that rocket.

Moon Express, a U.S. company competing for the XPrize, has achieved a launch contract to fly their rover to the moon on a $5M Electron rocket built and operated by another U.S. company, Rocket Lab with an office in New Zealand.

Team Synergy Moon will partner with Interorbital to develop their own nanosat moon launcher that will test-fly in 2016. After that their payload will fly to the moon on their launcher, along with several other Lunar X Prize contenders, on an innovative new fuel-saving trajectory.

Why is interest in the moon growing? Some talk about Helium3, but industry does not yet know how to use that resource. However, platinum group minerals lay on the surface of the moon from asteroid impacts scattered throughout its history. The Earth’s surface has renewed itself regularly through plate tectonics and erosion, making these space-borne riches harder to find, but the moon’s surface has been geologically dead for about a billion years.

Whatever resources that exist on the moon, and are cost-effective to extract, are still uncertain, since the moon is still largely unexplored. The surface has been mapped and analyzed from orbit by robotic spacecraft in some detail, but only the United States and Russia have obtained actual samples…and those were collected, at great cost, from locations that were picked more for their safe landing feasibility than their mineral geology. Much more in the way of exploration and targeted sample gathering and analysis needs to take place by somebody.

Also, there has grown a renewed interest in solar system exploration with the moon as a fuel depot. Large quantities of water have been recently discovered there, locked in the polar regolith or buried under the surface. Water can be broken up into hydrogen and oxygen by solar-powered electrolysis and used for rocket fuel for long voyages, then fuel doesn’t have to be lifted at additional expense from Earth. However, all of that industry needs to be launched, setup, and maintained by someone, in a cost-effective way, ahead of anyone planning missions around it.

Because of the business potential on the moon, and in some cases military strategic interest, many of the world’s governments have begun to look at the moon more closely, but most lack the ability to reach it on their own. In the past, it has cost a lot of money to access space. Launch prices for the Space Shuttle were roughly $25,000 per pound to Low Earth Orbit, but more traditional launch costs run between $3,000 and $5,000 per pound. Anything bound for the moon would have to include its own rocket engines and fuel to fly out there and maybe back and the weight of all of that would be included in the launch price to Lunar Transfer Orbit.

However, recently there have been innovative new launch services companies willing and able to offer prices as low as $1,000 per pound to LEO. They continue to work to lower the cost even further. In the U.S., SpaceX has lead this effort and older  providers have had to move in that direction or face extinction.

Combine launch providers that turn billions of dollars of cost into millions, with a new trend toward tiny nanosats that can piggy-back with other launches, and you have the makings of a new space race among private organizations and small countries. It takes a lower-cost launcher like SpaceX’s Falcon to bring the moon within reach of a small, private company like SpaceIL and anyone else who can legally do business. NASA, and now the U.S. Congress, are not just encouraging, helping, and supporting the development of Independent Commercial activities in Low Earth Orbit, but are openly facilitating them. Government-tied, military-style procurement practices by NASA will soon be a thing of the past, and with it the high-cost of access to space that has kept most private industries and small countries on the sidelines.

If someone in Iran, or some other U.S. military rival, wanted to send a spacecraft to the moon, they could maybe fly on Ariane, Soyuz, or one of China’s Long-March rockets. They’d pay more money for the trip though, making the project more difficult to justify and fund. They could also decide to spend a lot more money and develop their own moon-launch technology, but they wouldn’t get any technical help from NASA like NASA’s SAA partners in the U.S. do.

Now, Israel will get in on the game through SpaceX and Space Industries. The U.S. Canada, ESA, Russia and Japan already play in space together. China may soon be called out to bring their toys and both them and Russia have announced their intentions to setup permanent facilities of one kind or another on the moon.

Partnering shares scientists, ideas, and costs. It facilitates technology sharing and builds new and varied business opportunities for everyone…both in orbit and dirt-side. Several thriving, international businesses have long provided, launched, and/or operated robotic communications, navigation, and Earth-observing satellites in Earth orbit profitably. Now, lower launch costs will soon begin to open up business opportunities further out in space for even lower startup costs.

CZ Chinese rockets

CZ Chinese rockets (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Currently, Russia and China are the world’s only providers of human space launch. Anyone else who wants to send researchers to space has to either buy a ride with them or develop their own capability. Come 2017, NASA will certify SpaceX and Boeing to launch people to the ISS, as well as a to new generation of mass-produced, inflatable space stations built by another U.S. company, Bigalow Aerospace. These players will enter this new, low cost, human commercial spaceflight industry at the ground floor and start refining their products and building consumer confidence. They will latch on to and lead that market early on world-wide…bringing anyone along for the ride that they can legally do business with them.

Some countries think that they have priorities that make it necessary for them to isolate their populations from these and upcoming technology industries that will build the new world economy. Countries that work and play well with the modern world will get to participate, those who don’t won’t.

I hope that an era of peace through common interests in space will result as increasingly more areas of the world start to see a rich future in the bounty of space.


My New Christmas YouTube Playlist

•December 24, 2015 • Leave a Comment

I do this every year. I realize that most of you don’t come here for this kind of stuff, but too bad.

I have always been an unabashed fan of Christmas and music. But having no musical talent of my own, and no time to develop a film production talent of my own, I make a playlist every year of Christmas themed videos.

This year, the theme is “Christmas Messages”.

It’s a brand new list, and when you see it you’ll notice some obvious flaws. I need some help growing it, so any suggestions would be helpful.

Now forewarning, I know that some of you don’t believe in God, but those who know me best know that I don’t believe in the conflict between Science and Religion. I think that that entire debate is the product of closed-mindedness on both sides. You are looking at a walking, talking, breathing, Tweeting example of a fan of both.

I’ve almost finished updating the lists from past years. I prune out the dead branches and add anything new that I find. The hardest is the Christmas Longruns play list, designed to play quietly in the background (espessially over Chromecast) during a Christmas party, while decorating the tree, or while opening presents on Christmas morning.

Check them all out and use them wherever they serve you best, and like “Christmas Messages” please feel free to offer polite suggestions for improvement, especially dead links, and most espessially those links that contain nothing but a lot of dead air.

Here is the complete list of lists…

Christmas Favorites:

Christmas Flash Mobs:

Christmas Music Long Runs:

Christmas Music Videos:

Christmas Music with slide show:

The Historic Landing of the Falcon Rocket

•December 22, 2015 • 1 Comment

“there and back again” — Elon Musk

On Monday evening, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket returned to flight by orbiting 11 Orbcomm satellites. These global messaging service satelites fly in Low Earth Orbit to allow low-power access by their customers. Plus, because they do not fly in fixed-point orbits like other communications satellites, they provide intermittent messaging access to areas that typical communications satellites can’t usually reach.

In addition, for the first time in history, the first stage of an orbital launch system returned home and landed under its own power…no sea water in the engines, no wave action damage, and no legacy spaceflight garbage at the bottom of the ocean. Since the dawn of orbital spaceflight, every orbital launch first-stage, except this one, has crashed or otherwise fallen back to Earth or sea and either been destroyed or required lengthy and expensive refurbishment. This has, in the eyes of many, kept spaceflight unnecessarily expensive, hobbling humanity to Low Earth Orbit.

The goals of SpaceX in pursuing this landmark achievement are two-fold…

  • To dramatically lower the cost of spaceflight through true, routine, quick-turnaround re-usability of orbital launch components.
  • To develop, test, and improve technologies that will some day allow round-trip access to Mars.

Today is the day that orbital spaceflight joins suborbital and atmospheric flight as fully turn-around reusable. Soon, the whims and corruption of politics and empires will no longer hamper the progress of space exploration, because the cost will no longer require the decisions and funding of governments.

Mark this day..it will become a holiday. From here on out, the sky’s NOT the limit. If you have any inventions or business ideas that require $500-$800 per pound to launch to Low Earth Orbit in order to be viable, warm them up! Watch the above video and witness the first step of our planet’s next giant leap into space.

ULA? Arianespace? ROSCosmos? Your turn! No, I don’t want to hear anymore of your whining and sour grapes. Admit that SpaceX topped you today and then go out and land a booster. If upstart companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin can do it, then why can’t you? Why didn’t you do it decades ago? Is it because you like crashing your boosters, so that you can sell your customers brand-new rockets with each and every launch?

How Worms Turn Part 2: John McCain vs Alabama

•December 20, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Atlas rocket launches military payload

Atlas rocket launches military payload (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Senator John McCain and the United Launch Alliance (ULA) are not getting along.

He’s not very happy with some of his fellow lawmakers either.

After ULA refused to bid on the GPS III launch contract, siting the RD-180 engine restrictions and a budgetary requirement that funding for the launches can’t come from other projects, McCain called Horse Hockey on them and ordered an audit.

Now more recently, a lawmaker from Illinois (ie. Boeing, part owner of ULA with Lockheed Martin) and a lawmaker from Alabama (ie. ULA), both members of the Senate Appropriations Committee, secretly snuck a provision into the omnibus spending bill, just before it went to a vote, that effectively ends the RD-180 engine restrictions that originated with John McCain and the Senate Armed Services Committee. This after multiple failed debates and votes over the question of ending those restrictions.

President Obama signed that omnibus appropriations bill into law on Friday.

English: John McCain official photo portrait.

English: John McCain official photo portrait. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“This is outrageous.  And this is shameful.  And it is the height of hypocrisy, especially for my colleagues who claim to care about the plight of Ukraine and the need to punish Russia for its aggression.

…perhaps we need to look at a complete and indefinite restriction on [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s rocket engines. … I simply cannot allow Senator Shelby, Senator Durbin, the Senate Appropriations Committee, or any other member of this body to craft a … bill that allows a monopolistic corporation to do business with Russian oligarchs to buy overpriced rocket engines that fund Russia’s belligerence in Crimea and Ukraine, its support for Assad in Syria, and its neo-imperial ambitions.” — Senator John McCain


It remains to be seen whether this new development will impact the GPS III launch contract. If ULA changes their mind on bids on it then we all get to see ULA and SpaceX compete on a contract after all. Unless ULA can afford to fly Atlas rockets at anything near $93 Million (it can’t), then the winner would be chosen based on the more nebulous “total value to the government”. That could potentially put the Air Force in a pickle between the Senate Proportions Committee, which would certainly become annoyed if they choose SpaceX, and SpaceX lawyers which would almost certainly sue the Air Force, again, if the much higher-priced ULA gets the contract. The evidence discovery process of Federal lawsuits is deep, probing, and multi-layered, and includes Supreme Court mandated felony charges for purgery. Is there something dark and unseemly embedded in the military procurement process that doesn’t want so much light shed on it? Almost certainly.

I’ll enjoy watching, and writing about, what unfolds. I’m already enjoying watching folks turn it into a McCain vs Alabama flap (see the link below).


How can I continue to criticize lawmakers for turning space exploration into an overly expensive, go nowhere, pork-barrel jobs program when folks in the media talk like that?

Folks, listen, again, launch mishaps (like what happened in June to SpaceX) don’t kill launch systems, mission shrink kills launch systems and almost all the new launch contracts signed in 2014 went to SpaceX or Ariane Space…because of price. Atlas is more reliable because it is older, it is loosing business because it is dramatically more expensive. When Vulcan comes out it will be younger, and less reliable, than Falcon and still be dramatically more expensive. Customers stop caring about reliability if a successful launch on any Atlas costs more than a failed launch on Falcon 9.

The Little Space Probe That Could

•December 12, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Album cover of Lost in Space Original Televisi...

Album cover of Lost in Space Original Television Soundtrack, Volume 1 CD, with music by John Williams (ASIN B000001P1R). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Back in the spring of 2010, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) launched a weather satellite…to Venus. The Venus Climate orbiter, Akatsuki, was intended to enter orbit around its target in October of 2010 to study the Venusian atmosphere, but suffered a main engine mishap when it arrived and ended up zipping right on past.

Now, after 5 years of operation for which it was not designed, closer orbit of the sun for which it was not designed, and a 20 minute long Venus orbit insertion burn, using its attitude control thrusters, for which they were not designed, the probe has finally arrived close to where it should be. It orbits Venus high and elliptical, swinging out from about 400 km to 1000 times that at around 400,000 km, but after 5 years lost in space they’re just happy that Akatsuki is safely on station. After one more orbital adjustment in March it will start the scientific portion of its unexpectedly long mission.
This is the only probe that anyone has orbiting Venus, and will be JAXA’s first successful mission to another planet. Its five instruments (we all hope that none of them were cooked during Akatsuki’s close brush with the sun!) will gather data of immeasurable value, increasing our understanding of the climates of both Venus and Earth.

Kudos, JAXA!

They also refer to Akatsuki as Planet-C, since they regard it as their their third planetary explorer. JAXA’s first, SUISEI, or Planet-A, successfully studied the coma of Halley’s Comet back in 1986. It’s second, NOZOMI, or Planet-B, failed its insertion into Mars orbit and currently orbits the sun near Mars. It performed some science of the Earth, moon, and the interplanetary medium however. A deeper description of the adventures of NOZOMI can be found here (http://www.isas.jaxa.jp/e/enterp/missions/nozomi/status_01.shtml). Mars is the Skeleton Coast of exploration spacecraft, so JAXA is in good company on that score. Though this mission was ultimately a failure, it failed heroically.

Image of Earth and moon taken by JAXA's Mars probe NOZOMI.

Image of Earth and moon taken by JAXA’s Mars probe NOZOMI.

Akatsuki joins SUISEI, JAXA’s participation in the ISS project, the highly successful HAYABUSA asteroid probe, and their KAGUYA Lunar orbiter on the list of JAXA’s great achievements in space.

May there be many more.


English: Japan Aerospace eXploration Agency He...

English: Japan Aerospace eXploration Agency Head office from Chofu, Tokyo. 日本語: 東京都調布市にある「宇宙航空研究開発機構」(JAXA)の本社。 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


•November 28, 2015 • 1 Comment


Note: I thought I posted this on Thanksgiving, but just now found it in my drafts. Oh, well. Better late than never.


Where do I begin?

Lately, watching events in the world, I have felt more thankful than ever about the peace and security of the land where I get to raise my family. I realize that not everyone in the U.S. can say that, but the corner of it where I live just might be one of the safest places in the world.

Of course the political and economic stability of the U.S. becomes a part of that, because even in the worst of times power transfers peacefully and on schedule when needed and all parties participate in and rely on that same smooth process.

Those who know me personally know that I’m a man of faith, and the religious freedom enjoyed by my countrymen and I has always been one of the greatest blessings in my life. Recent years have seen some things which challenge those rights, and I’m privileged to live in a place where I can make my views known and lend my voice to the process of those issues. I don’t discuss religion, politics, or the culture war much here on my blog, but my Facebook and Twitter feeds have more of that along with the more personal things if you’re interested.

My family gives me an avenue for fulfillment, a focus for my energy, a sanctuary when the world crashes in on me and a rock of personal stability without which I would live my life adrift on the currents of whim, trouble, and circumstance. The depth of my gratitude for that goes beyond words even for me.

God blessed me with a particular mix of intellect and persuasiveness without which my addiction for problem solving would be a pointless and maddening torment. He did this, as He always does, with a combination of birth gifts and life experiences that I would have never thought to add up for myself if it had been left up to me.

For all of these things I thank God, my family, and all of those many nameless folk who I have met along the way. The

efforts of all of these have combined to help make Bill Housley into a very happy man today with so many things to be thankful for.


Blue Origin’s Suborbital Flight Test

•November 25, 2015 • Leave a Comment

They accomplished a historic flight in many, many ways, just not in the way that they claimed. I don’t blame the engineers, they did great.

Let me tell you what suborbital means. It means that your payload goes up, then comes right back down and doesn’t reach orbit.

Orbit means that your payload doesn’t go vertical so much as it goes horizontal very, very fast until the curvature of the planet curves away from it at more or less the same rate of speed that your payload falls, such that it falls and falls and falls but never catches up with the ground.

Both are different paths of ballistic flight in that they both fall until or unless stopped by the ground or something.

English: Backdropped against a mostly blue Ear...

English: Backdropped against a mostly blue Earth scene, part of the Raffaello multi-purpose logistics module, packed with supplies and spare parts for the International Space Station, the vertical stabilizer of space shuttle Atlantis and the orbital maneuvering system (OMS) pods are seen in this view photographed by one of the STS-135 crewmembers using windows on the spacecraft’s aft flight deck during the mission’s second day of activities in Earth orbit. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Space Shuttle did orbital flights, it dropped off the expended solid rocket boosters before reaching orbit. It dropped off the empty external tank before reaching stable orbit, but we call the entire flight event an “orbital” launch and the system, solids, tank, and all, an orbital launch system.

SpaceX Falcon 9 with Dragon COTS Demo 1 during...

SpaceX Falcon 9 with Dragon COTS Demo 1 during static fire test (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The International Space Station orbits Earth, and the SpaceX Dragon capsule joins it there to deliver cargo. The Falcon 9 rocket sends it to orbit, and that makes the first stage and second stage of the Falcon 9 an orbital rocket. Even though the first stage booster never actually reaches orbit itself, it is the first step of an orbital package. SpaceX does this at a monopoly killing, new opportunity building, never before matched price that it wants to cut even further by landing and reusing the booster stage.

Blue Origin‘s Shepard test rocket flies very high, but it was designed and intended to fly suborbital. It flies very fast but cannot fly anywhere near orbital speeds. It’s payload, a test article of a planned human rated space tourism capsule, did not reach orbit, was not intended to reach orbit, and likely isn’t even designed to reenter the atmosphere at orbital speed without burning up. It goes up and comes right back down again and that makes its test flight a suborbital test flight and its rocket a suborbital rocket.

Let me be clear. That teenie-wheenie rocket couldn’t even boost your cat into orbit. I don’t pretend to know more than Blue Origin CEO Jeff Bezos or his engineers. They know all about what I just told you and great as it was, it was over-stated. For Jeff Bezos to compare it to the failed landings of Falcon 9 is unfair. If they’d been honest with you about where that flight fit in the scheme of things I’d have nothing but praise for their successful launch and landings.

What’s the difference you ask? A lot.

Are both boosters going the same speed when the engines shut off? No, but for the purposes of this discussion it wouldn’t matter if they did.

Moving an object to orbital speed takes a lot more fuel. That fuel load is divided between two rockets and all the fuel for the launch, plus both the rockets, plus the payload, all have to be put into flight from a dead stop by the first stage. So the first stage has to be huge! Huge things without wings fly like rocks and bigger rocks take a lot more time and energy to slow, steer, stop and stabilize and you have to do a whole lot of all of those things to bring a booster back to a dead stop at the correct time, place, and angle to keep it from crashing and turning itself and everything in its immediate vicinity into an epic explosion.

As for that capsule, did you see how hard it hit! The look on that cartoon character’s face wasn’t wonder or awe, it was sheer terror! Good thing the capsule wasn’t really occupied. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that it wasn’t even occupiable. It would need a launch abort system of some kind, redundant life support systems and some way of softening the impact with the ground besides just parachutes because we are delicate creatures and break easily. Blue Origin’s went a lot higher than a weather balloon though, but in every other meaningful way their capsule appears to have accomplished little more than the many “capsules” that have been built in folks’ garages recently. Like this one…

I wonder if Jeff Bezos had his iPhone onboard.

I know…that was an unfair comparison, but if billionaire Jeff Bezos can do it, so can I. 😉

It was all kinds of cool. When SpaceX lands an orbital booster next year sometime, this event combined with that one will put the question of recoverable boosters to bed forever. Then we all get to ask OldSpace, “How come you’ve made us buy you new rockets after every launch? Is crashing them into the ocean after every flight all you’ve learned how to do in the past 50 years?”

Until then Blue Origin can bask in the glory while SpaceX wishs they’d inspected their support struts better and flown the thirteen flights in twelve months they’d planned on flying going into 2015. If they had, then I’m quite sure we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

Blue Origin intends on expanding this success by building a true orbital vehicle. I look forward to writing nicer things about their many accomplishments. Go BLUE!

Centaur Cubed

•November 24, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Computer simulated image of AAU CubeSat in orb...

Computer simulated image of AAU CubeSat in orbit around Earth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

See, that’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout.
United Launch Alliance made a gloriously clever marketing move last week. They’ve announced that their launches will start carrying CubeSats aloft aboard the Centaur upper stage and releasing them through a spring-loaded deployment tube. They’ll carry twenty-four per launch as a secondary payload.
They also said that they’ll take up a certain number of cubes for free, focusing on STEM projects selected by ULA and industry leaders.
Currently, these 4^3″ satellites have long launch waiting lists and high (for schools anyway) launch costs. By becoming a frequent-flying provider of piggy-back CubeSat flights, ULA will add to peoples’ options, apply downward pressure on the price for CubeSat launches, and help new ideas get out there to change the world.

Centaur upper stage lifted up to put on the fi...

Centaur upper stage lifted up to put on the first stage of the Atlas V (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Atlas rockets have some extra energy at launch that goes unused, so filling a corner of the second stage with a CubeSat launch tube costs them very little upfront.
While their rival, SpaceX, struggles to get safely back to flight, works on sticking their landings, builds a heavy rocket, and dreams of Mars, ULA pulls this great, Microsoft-esc market grab to build their NewSpace exposure. The students that get to fly their cubes on Centaur will remember when it comes time to fly full-size birds for who knows what industry they work for when they leave school. It builds the industry in ULA’s direction, and that is where a company’s long-term growth and market tenacity is made.
ULA has started thinking like a new company again. In a fast-moving industry, it’s the only way to survive.

How Worms Turn

•November 20, 2015 • Leave a Comment

In April of last year, SpaceX sued the United States Air Force over an exclusive, uncompeted, bulk-buy for launch contracts that they’d quietly signed with United Launch Alliance the previous December.

At the time, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket had accumulated enough of a successful launch history to qualify to launch Air Force satellites, but still waited for its certification to be processed by the Air Force paper jungle. SpaceX wants the legitimacy and launch history that comes with U.S. Military launches as it drives toward its ultimate goal of human flights to Mars.

“It just seems odd that if your vehicle is good enough for NASA . . . there is no reasonable basis for it not being capable of launching something quite simple like a GPS satellite…This doesn’t seem right to us.” — SpaceX founder Elon Musk

The lawsuit then gained foreign policy relevance when Russia invaded Crimea and prompted Congress to pass a law banning the purchase of military cross-over technologies from Russia…like the engines used in ULA’s Atlas rockets. SpaceX quickly and loudly pointed out the Russian engine issue as another reason to question ULA’s exclusive access to U.S. National Security launches.

ULA leads the Old Space launch industry where government officials, lawmakers, and contractors have played together behind the scenes in a decades-long, taxpayer-funded, three-tiered game of mutual back-scratching that many believe has kept humanity chained to Earth orbit far longer than necessary by keeping the cost of spaceflight too high to expand.

“Essentially we’re asking them to award a contract to a company where they are probably not going to get a job, against a company where their friends are…So they’ve got to go against their friends, and their future retirement program. This is a difficult thing to expect.” — Elon Musk

I should note here that the evidence discovery process of federal lawsuits can be embarrassingly thorough, with perjury and evidence tampering charges often rising out of them as separate and independent felonies.

English: President Barack Obama tours SpaceX l...

English: President Barack Obama tours SpaceX launch pad with CEO Elon Musk, at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over the course of 2014 and 2015, the Air Force expedited the certification of the Falcon 9 and declared that it could compete in some contracts. Since the good-ol’-boys network let him into their tree-house, Elon put down his ax and settled the lawsuit. Congress waived rocket engines from their ban on Russian military tech, but tensions with Russia increased further and the Air Force decided they really couldn’t rely on tech from a growing military rival. SpaceX and Arianespace pretty much split almost all of the planet’s competitively bid launch contract awards in 2014, completely shutting out Russia’s Proton launcher. ULA won a contract to launch a Cygnus resupply ship to the ISS after the regular launcher blew up in an engine failure over the pad. The Delta, ULA’s other rocket, was slated for cancellation because it couldn’t compete on price with SpaceX and Arianespace. ULA started working on buying engines locally for the Atlas, but that will take quite a while to setup. ULA also started work on another rocket, the Vulcan, which will be built from the ground up to be more price competitive…but for now it’s still just a paper rocket.

Oh, and SpaceX blew up one of their launches to the ISS in June of 2015, but the Air Force had already certified them and said it was ok.

Now, only 17 months after the lawsuit that stripped ULA of their Air Force launch monopoly, they’ve announced that they cannot compete for an upcoming series of GPS III launches and will not bid, saying that Atlas won’t have the engines to fly them. They probably could have shuffled things around and made it work anyway, but there were other provisions in the Request For Proposal (RFP) from the Air Force that combined to give ULA heartburn…

“The RFP requires ULA to certify that funds from other government contracts will not benefit the GPS III launch mission. ULA does not have the accounting systems in place to make that certification, and therefore cannot submit a compliant proposal.”

“In addition, the RFP’s Lowest Price Technically Acceptable (LPTA) structure allows for no ability to differentiate between competitors on the basis of critical factors such as reliability, schedule certainty, technical capability and past performance.” — ULA

So SpaceX will win this GPS III contract uncontested, from a client that they had to sue last year just to get their foot in the door.

ULA enjoyed a great launch year in 2015, with Antares and Falcon both temporarily grounded after launch mishaps. However, it fights for its life and launches lag new contracts by two or three years. ULA still needs to sign new contracts to survive. They must have cash flow as they restructure their company, reorganize their product offerings, develop a new rocket, and adapt a new engine…all while getting their tails kicked all over the conference room by SpaceX and Arianespace.

“I don’t know how to build a $400 million rocket, I don’t understand how expensive they are.” — Gwen Shotwell, SpaceX President and COO to U.S. lawmakers when they asked her why the Falcon 9 only costs under $100 million.

I’ve found that old players in industry don’t always adapt well to a changing world, especially when they spend too much time and energy trying to resuscitate a dying status-quo. Often they add to the pile of bleached bones left behind by progress. However, if they survive then it’s the newcomers that find it hard to compete with them, what with their size, experience, and market capitalization. That’s why I think that even though it looks like the eventual end of Delta and Atlas, ULA itself may live on.

Here’s a broader question though…How can anyone still think that, at the high rate at which this industry is changing, it’ll still take us another twenty years to put people on Mars?

Who’ll ride that wave?

Image result for tomorrowland movie

Barbarians II

•November 15, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Dark IfelBoy, I sure missed that one.

Between being seriously behind on my sleep, and not having enough time to get things done, I tunnel-visioned right past that terrible tragedy in France and Lebanon. I saw news of it mere minutes after hitting the Publish button on my last post.

Since then the sadness and turmoil have taken me by degrees during my busy Saturday. I posted a couple of brief remarks on Twitter and Facebook, talked to my loved ones, and said a prayer or two, but I really need to write about if I can hope to sleep. So this post is more for me than it is for you, but I hope it helps you too. Don’t look for my best English spelling, grammar, and punctuation here though, nor a lot of pics or YouTube videos. It’s late and I’m already behind on my sleep, so I won’t be polishing this post over much.

A couple of key points…

Now is not the time to talk about Gun Control in the U.S. in the context of this disaster in France, so those of you who are please stop. I will note that I read something last week from someone in Germany who was worried about the impact of armed refugees in his gun-less land. That may be a valid concern there, but politicking in the U.S. on that issue in the face of what just happened in France so recently is cold and heartless.

Many want to cut off their countries to refugees. This issue has emboldened the words of those in my country who want to take draconian steps to seal our own Southern borders. Seriously, how many miles of wilderness to the North, and unpatrolled coastline to the East and West do we have here in the U.S.? Illegal Hispanic immigration is a very totally separate topic. However, the issue of Muslim refugees has been very real for months both here and in Europe and has now taken on a new twist. Think though…these ISIL Wahhabists regard all refugees as traitors and would harm them if they had the chance. Please understand that “harm” in this context means kill all the men, rape all the women, and steal all their stuff. “Wahhabist” is Arabic for “Land Pirate”…well, not really, but it should be. Run-of-the-mill Muslims really don’t like them. So don’t blame refugees, they disagree with and fear ISIL as much as you and I do. That’s why they ran instead of staying home and joining up. Of course it’s true that some ISIL hide among the refuges, but what part of that surprised anyone? In what war in the history of this planet has this sort of thing ever not happened? Try this on and see if it fits…if ISIL wanted to stop folks from escaping to places where they could not reach them, they might manipulate a tragedy like this one to get frightened people in peaceful places to close their borders to those escapees and make them easier for ISIL to catch. By forcing people to stay home and never become refugees, we grow ISIL’s numbers. So, please, let’s get all of the friendlies and innocents out of the way so that the worm has all the room that it needs to turn.

Some have asked why we are painting our Facebook profile pics with French flags, talking about the French, praying for the French, but not Lebanon today, or other places where violence is more common. I’ll speak for myself, and I think any folks here in the U.S. who are like me, by saying that we grieve for the slavery, death, and suffering of those other places constantly. I know those of you who are closer to other, more violent parts of the world (including some areas of the U.S.) may not understand that, and I completely sympathize. This sort of thing rarely happens to France, so like 9/11 did here it comes as a much greater shock for the French. We take our peace and security for grant it and it is not so much the violence that pains me, it does, but the violence in the world is a constant ache. I grieve specifically for France today because I know that for them this is a new pain, fear and insecurity that they are not accustomed to feeling. I felt it in 2001 and those wounds have not yet fully healed. I live in a place of peace and so do the people of France and together we all wish that all people on planet Earth could live in places as peaceful and safe as ours.

Lastly, there is this issue of religion. I really don’t like it when folks label me for things done by other Mormons, or U.S. Citizens, or Republicans, or Science Fiction authors, or tall, sarcastic, wordsmiths with black hair and hazel eyes. So understand how as a religionist and devout Christian I really don’t appreciate being lumped in with these barbaric Wahhabists just because their Abraham is my Abraham. Agency is God’s first gift to us and He doesn’t withdraw it just because some of us misuse it. How would just rewards and punishments work if He did that? How could a perfectly just God do that? Wahhabist barbarism shouldn’t be blamed on religion in general, or even Islam in particular, just because they’ve licked Muslim stickers and slapped them on their foreheads.

Oh and if I pray for the victims, either individually or in a group like Twitter, please don’t take my expression of faith personally or as some kind of an insult just because you don’t believe in God. I’m directing my prayers to God, not to you. So just ignore me like you would if you caught me talking on a cell phone or something. 😉

NASA, Trump, and Potholes

•November 12, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Pirs docking module taken by STS-108 (NASA) or...

Pirs docking module taken by STS-108 (NASA) original description: Backdropped by the blackness of space, the Pirs docking compartment on the International Space Station (ISS) was photographed by a crew member aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ya, I know. Here I go with another post criticizing Donald Trump.

I have a backlog of three different blog entries waiting to be polished and here I am talking about Trump…again.

This time, the thing he said that set me off was this…

“In the old days (NASA) was great. Right now we have bigger problems, you understand that, we’ve got to fix our potholes. You know we don’t have exactly a lot of money. I love NASA. I love what it represents.  I love what it stands for. And I hope that someday in the not too distant future we can get that going. Space is terrific. Space is terrific. … space has actually been taken over privately, which is great. …. Lot of private companies going up into space. And I like that even better. It’s very exciting.”


He obviously needs someone to educate him about the tech economy and the relationship between NASA and Commercial Space. Either that or he’s the first troll that ever ran for the White House.

So, here goes…

speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on Februar...

speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on February 10, 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dear Donald Trump,

You should have researched NASA a little bit, instead of just walking shots across it.

I realize that as a real estate entrepreneur you’ve made your billions in areas that don’t see much of space, but the people you pay to expand your view to Presidential proportions should have briefed you. Since the “Space Coast” is located in Florida, and no Republican in history has ever won the Presidency without winning Florida in the general election, you need to know what really goes on there.

So, I will teach you, free of charge, how to use NASA to help you fix potholes.

  1. Launch Google.com on your web browser.
  2. Type “NASA Spinoff database” in the search window.
  3. Click “NASA Spinoff Database” or just click here.
  4. In the Topic Search window, type “road” and click the “Search Now” button.
  5. Let the listed technologies prompt you for great road improvement ideas to support.

The spin-off database might also help you find a way to round up 14 million illegal aliens, or even build The Great Wall of Texas. You won’t know until you look.




The most recent Commercial Space achievements that you touted as good things still struggle and need small amounts (proportionally speaking) of NASA help and funding to keep building their infrastructures. Some of them are pioneering efforts to drive down the cost of space access for everyone, not just NASA. This in turn will help the country find more money to fix potholes.

What most folks don’t know is that Commercial Space in the U.S. feeds off NASA intellectual property…data that is built with NASA funding. Lessons learned from designing, building, and testing the upcoming Space Launch System and Orion Spacecraft, for example, are handed down by NASA to their Space Act Agreement partners to spearhead their own designs and operations and not reinvent wheels.

The NewSpace effort is poised to lead a new space-race, a multi-trillion dollar industry that will rise from the recent and historic drop in launch prices to around $1,000 per pound. For several decades, private U.S. companies have built robotic research and communications spacecraft and launchers, for companies and government space agencies all over the world. I’m sure you already know how much money those folks make, in spite of the traditionally high cost of the launchers.

Universities explore the solar system and cosmos with cutting-edge robotic telescopes and space probes designed and funded by NASA, who also partners with other countries on a variety of projects like the International Space Station. People have lived in orbit aboard the ISS continually for 15 years. Over three hundred folks have rotated there for short periods doing unprecedented research, with Earth-bound impact, that can be performed no other way.

In order to stop funding Russia’s military technology network by hiring them to lift our astronauts to the International Space Station, NASA’s Commercial Crew Development program has been facilitiating private human spaceflight capabilities among companies based here in the U.S.

In 2017, those companies will start flying their launchers and orbiters, all facilitated and certified by NASA. Private space stations, with test articles already in orbit, stand ready to start construction as soon as private human spaceflight becomes available. Countries, corporations, and affluent individuals will be able to buy their own space stations and buy and fly spacecraft to take people to them at costs that are within your reach. How would you like to own and operate your own orbiting property? U.S. companies can lead this next space race, and it could reverse the trade deficit inside the span of two Presidential terms. You’ve said that you find that exciting? A few of your fellow billionaires agree with you and have already thrown their fortunes into the effort. Soon, through economy of scale and the reusable spacecraft of various kinds that are currently in development, the price of access will drop again to create a whole another layer of entrepreneur opportunities for millionaires to pursue.

Don’t think that it stops at close Earth orbit either. SpaceX will test a rocket next year that they developed for launching payloads to the Moon and Mars. That means that the crewed capsule that NASA is currently helping them build for the ISS would also serve as a privately funded, crew-rated Lunar lander.

Spacex39aThis sudden surge of Commercial human spaceflight is not the NASA alternative, or competitor, or rival that your comments seem to imply. These companies, though in competition with each other, function as separate parts of a technology network with NASA at the center, serving them all directly as project facilitator, tech adviser, development funding source, test-bed, and first customer for their new products.


NASA does all this work, along with their various Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education outreach programs, for around $00.005 out of every dollar of the U.S. Federal Budget.

So, instead of using your experience as a shark to suggest ways to help NASA do more with their tiny budget, you use a two-word kill-shot on them! Fixing potholes? Really? Why don’t you say something useful, like offer to develop a block grant bill to fund NASA in order to make Congresspersons stop writing pork into NASA’s budget? Congress’ preferred space technology procurement process uses a small cadre of near-monopolies with bloated infrastructures, making NASA operations notoriously and unnecessarily expensive. Their cabal of mutual back-scratching currently works to kill projects that create competition in the space industry, by cutting funds to NASA programs that work to develop that competition. They care more about protecting their own empires than you do about solving our country’s problems, and that makes them one of those problems.

I’m sure a smart fellow like you can think of something constructive and innovative to do to help in the key role that NASA plays in our nation’s future economy.


Your humble space advocate.


Dream Chaser

Dream Chaser (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

15 Years In Space

•November 3, 2015 • Leave a Comment


Fifteen years ago yesterday, the first crew arrived at the International Space Station. Since then, humans have always lived in orbit.
That’s right, for every day of the life of every 15 year old person today people have lived and worked in space. Think of it. It’s not a colony of course, folks leave their families and regular jobs back on Earth, hundreds of folks, 81 expeditions in all. These researchers have built and maintained the station, loaded and unloaded cargo, and performed countless space-based experiments, including life sciences research on themselves and each other.
The contribution of the ISS research station grows each day. Not only does the ISS make science that can only be made “Up There”, but currently the IIS is at the core of a new wave of advancement in Commercial Space, with humans to launch to the station in privately built spacecraft in 2017. It sits up there and beckons to the world to utilize the resource rich environment of space. Before those aforementioned 15 year olds graduate from college, there will be many other places in space besides just the ISS for them to go, and many other organizations besides just government space agencies that can send them there.
Will your children see their home planet from space?
The view of Earth from the ISS.

Tell them to do their math homework and someday this can be them! They might even look out that window at Mars, or the Moon, or perhaps even more distant worlds! All spacecraft orbit something, so spaceflight is more about ballistics than rocket fuel. Also, science uses modeling before experimentation. That all means math!

America Competes (in space)

•October 23, 2015 • Leave a Comment

U.S. Senators working on the Senate version of the America COMPETES bill want input from the science community on Science, Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) and competition issues.

English: The International Space Station is fe...

English: The International Space Station is featured in this image photographed by an STS-134 crew member on the space shuttle Endeavour after the station and shuttle began their post-undocking relative separation. Undocking of the two spacecraft occurred at 11:55 p.m. (EDT) on May 29, 2011. Endeavour spent 11 days, 17 hours and 41 minutes attached to the orbiting laboratory. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(See the following article on SpaceRef)


I’d like to propose an idea for how the Senate can help America compete on technology, and it fits right in line with the kind of input that the Senators seek…stop trying to kill Commercial Crew!

Ever since 2006 NASA has worked to develop a stronger partnership with the private sector in helping to develop new export products that could place U.S. industry at the core of a fast-moving new tech industry. These efforts have consistently encountered obstacles in Congress and the Senate, some members of which work to protect Old Space launch companies from competition. The old way go doing business uses a small number of providers who subcontract directly with NASA to build vehicles that are designed and priced to serve only NASA. This status quo for spaceflight spends too much money on too small a group and keeps spaceflight innovation and pacing bound to the whims of legislative power and vision. The Commercial Crew program effectively turns NASA-held human spaceflight technology into a spin-off program that widens the tent far beyond the immediate transportation needs of NASA and the International Space Station in time frame, in world-wide impact, in economic growth, and in STEM momentum by developing human spaceflight into a product that can be purchased with private money.

Listen up…If you agree with me on this issue, please copy/paste the following letter that I just wrote and email it to SciencePolicy@commerce.senate.gov with your name at the bottom, as well as to your own Senators. Remember that correspondence to your respective Senators needs your address attached to it, so that they know that you are one of their constituents and so that they know that it isn’t just some yahoo like me with a keyboard and an email copy fetish.

COTS combined demo 2 & 3 spacecraft

COTS combined demo 2 & 3 spacecraft (Photo credit: Wikipedia)




Copyright notice: Please edit the letter below however you like before sending, but the original will remain here as a baseline and I take no responsibility for other peoples’ wording. Copying this letter without reference is only permitted in letters and emails to lawmakers, after which those specific letters and emails become part of the public record and as such become public domain. Any other use of this text must link back to this site as its source.


Subject line: America COMPETES

Dear (Insert your Senator’s name here), the U.S. Senate, and the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation;

As you know, our great country has led the world in most aspects of space exploration for more than 50 years and currently collaborates with many countries on various projects in low Earth orbit (LEO) and beyond.

An industry that leverages the communications advantages of Geosynchronous Orbit (GSO), where robotic satellites seem to hover over specific points along the equator to provide television and other signals to fixed direction dishes, thrives internationally and regularly brings billions of dollars worth of spacecraft development and launch revenue into our country every year.

However, until recently, our launch industry has been dominated by a small group of very expensive (as measured in dollars per pound to orbit) launch providers. This has had the effect of stifling innovation and business opportunity. Much new growth among customers of this industry could have stirred if access to Space had been less costly. Further, these high costs have largely kept other uses of spaceflight a government sponsored industry, making any new investment subject to shifting government priorities and forcing space innovation dollars to compete with social programs. Spaceflight industry in other countries mimics this paradigm.

However, since the arrival of SpaceX and others into the market, this landscape has begun to change. Even China has said that they cannot compete with SpaceX prices, and Arian Space has had to receive subsidies from the European Union in order to share SpaceX’s current dominance in new launch contracts. Older providers in the industry have been forced to innovate and work to lower their own pricing or face crippling market shrinkage.

This new paradigm of low-cost robotic access to LEO and GSO has already started to turn hundreds of millions of dollars of cost per launch into tens of millions. As lower prices become the market expectation, new businesses everywhere will begin to emerge to profit from those lower launch prices. Revenue from foreign businesses and agencies will increasingly pour into U.S. companies which provide that access and the various goods and services associated with it…powering innovation, broad-based job creation, and domestic economic growth.

But what about human spaceflight? Robotic satellites do not generate the same public passion that human spaceflight does. Currently, Russia and China provide the only human orbital space launches available. Our country, the only nation on Earth to land humans on the moon, photograph Pluto close-up, and successfully land and operate robotic rovers on Mars, relies on Russia to carry our astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) in LEO. Since space launch technology crosses over to military purposes, Russia’s renewed military aggressiveness in the world makes our business with their Soyuz launcher somewhat awkward. NASA’s launch contracts with Russia help fund the military tech development and growth of a rising military rival!

Routine operation of the Space Launch System and Orion Spacecraft remains many years away, and those platforms are priced on more traditional scales. Also, they are designed and priced for less frequent use than the ISS needs. For this reason, NASA intends to use them only for deep-space projects. Our earliest and best option to once again launch our own astronauts to the ISS lies with NASA’s Commercial Crew Development program, which is rapidly moving forward to completion in 2017 at currently requested funding levels. However, some in the Senate seem to see Commercial Crew and commercial space competition for launch services for NASA as larger threats than Russia, continuing to cut its funding in the hopes of forcing a down-select to a single launch provider. Boeing, one of the contract winners in Commercial Crew, is already considering a newer launcher for their spacecraft to someday replace the over-priced Atlas used in their current plan. They’ve done this in response to direct pricing pressure applied by their competitor, SpaceX. This proves that the multiple provider plan works for lowering cost to the taxpayer.

Ponder then also, by extension, what the availability of two or more, low-cost, NASA-approved, human launch providers will do for world-wide human access to other LEO destinations besides the ISS. In truth, new space business opportunity, including even commercially owned and operated space stations, currently sit paused, metaphorically holding their breath, waiting for the Commercial Crew Development project to reach its goals. SpaceX, Boeing, and other U.S. companies, with offices or production facilities dispersed throughout the country, want to provide goods and services that other countries cannot provide for themselves at those prices. The moment that the first SpaceX Dragon V2 or Boeing Starliner successfully docks with the ISS, any research organization, private company, small country, or private individual, with hundreds of millions (or maybe even tens of millions) of dollars to invest, will be able to pay that money to U.S. taxpaying companies for enough human access to space to start their own space agencies and human spaceflight programs.

Don’t you see that by cutting funding to Commercial Crew below the amount requested by NASA and President Obama, you kick the can down the road to U.S. human launch independence from Russia to access the ISS? On the issue of the America COMPETES bill, budget cuts against Commercial Crew strangle a Golden Goose that could bring billions in foreign money home to the U.S., liquidating U.S. trade deficits and solidifying U.S. technology leadership in the world.

If you could only see into future decades and witness the results of each dollar invested into Commercial Crew, you would double its funding and maybe even up-select to a third provider. Instead, several Senators from states with Old Space industries have worked to kill the program’s well thought-out goals with irresponsible budget cuts.

Myself and others urge you to consult with your respective business advisers and ask them what being the preferred launch providing nation in a new International space race could do for the revenue of your respective states. We urge you to provide the contracted amount of funding to Commercial Crew, and then invest more into STEM education so that our children can compete in the new technology boom that will soon arise.

Please write wording into the America COMPETES bill that supports the goals and funding of Commercial Crew and our dominance in the upcoming commercial space race.


Bill Housley


English: NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver...

English: NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver speaks at Sierra Nevada Space Systems, on Saturday, Feb. 5, 2011, in Louisville, Colo. Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser spacecraft is under development with support from NASA’s Commercial Crew Development Program to provide crew transportation to and from low Earth orbit. NASA is helping private companies develop innovative technologies to ensure that the U.S. remains competitive in future space endeavors. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Is Trump Slime?

•October 17, 2015 • Leave a Comment

English: Donald Trump at a press conference an...

English: Donald Trump at a press conference announcing David Blaine’s latest feat in New York City at the Trump Tower. The photographer dedicates this portrait of Donald Trump to Tony Santiago, Wikipedia editor Marine 69-71, perhaps the most officially recognized and accomplished content contributor to Wikipedia, for his outstanding contributions to improving articles related to his Puerto Rican heritage. He is also a close friend. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ok, time for a reality check. Donald Trump is a salesman. He became a multibillionaire by being a REALLY GOOD salesman. In fact he’s a master salesman, and all you on the far-right are buying into his elevator pitches hook, line and sinker.

Here’s a thought…what’s the difference between a master lawyer and a master salesman? Actually, I think there are two differences…one is the product and the other is the pay grade. Everything else is the same.

What are the jobs that we joke about being the most dishonest? Lawyers and used car salesmen? I know that not all people in those professions are dishonest. I know that Trump doesn’t sell cars. We generally regard both as untrustworthy unless they represent us…and then they are ok. In the end, they generally still work for themselves more than for us.

Both are able to sell things that they think are wrong, and do it convincingly…it’s part of that skill set and what we pay them to do.

Both make money on conflict.

Both can sell (or represent) either side of anything because the techniques that they use are transferable to any side of any product.

Just like the rest of us, there are tricks to their trade that people of other occupations don’t understand and often even get exactly backwards.

Most importantly, both know how to persuade folks by telling them what they want to hear.

20 or so percent of the electorate here in the U.S. live on the far-right, and many of those folks usually refuse to vote unless they see something to vote for that they think speaks to them directly. I have a theory that that’s why G.W. Bush “leaked”, during a fund raiser, his intention to do away with Social Security, and then later denied it. That’s right, I don’t think that Liberals leaked that to damage him, I think he did it to trick the news media into helping him call out to the portion of that 20% who say that they never vote except to get rid of Social Security.

Here’s the thing…lawyers and salesmen are negotiators, and those kooky-sounding, far-right comments that keep coming out of Donald Trump’s mouth, that make many folks think he’s off his rocker, are actually what the pros call “negotiation anchors”. That means that both sides set up their positions somewhere on the edges of the map and then take turns compromising until they agree on some kind of common ground at the center where everyone gets something that they want. What sings to the aforementioned 20% is that Trump’s anchor points are precisely what they actually want to happen and they think it makes Trump sound like he’s one of them. You don’t think he sees that angle? Of course he does.

The trouble is that the roughly 40% of the Republican Party that support Trump are not enough people to elect him President. He will need some moderates to vote for him too but too many of them still think he’s bats.

That’s all well and good, but I’ve found another problem with Trump that I think could put a Democrat in the White House. That horribly despicable thing that he said about Fox News correspondent, Megyn Kelly has angles to it that I haven’t seen anyone else explore yet. I’m referring to that deeply personal quip referencing female biology that I will not repeat here. No person who respects women would say a thing like that, especially in public. In fact, it may constitute sexual abuse. His followup comments to it don’t contain any apologies either, just doubling down…blaming and denigrating the victim, a common symptom of abuse. Maybe he’s just being vindictive, we all know he does that, but that is also a symptom of a habitual abuser. He has to know that there’s a problem here too because I’ve seen a lot of photo-ops with female supporters lately and Tweets from him complimenting other women for jobs well done. This all looks like damage control to me.

Abuse is a habit, and thus a repetitive behavior that goes beyond snide remarks about monthly biological cycles. Are there other, similar things in his history? I’m not making any allegations, that would be irresponsible. Nor am I offering a prediction (but that won’t keep me from saying, “You heard it here first” if I turn out to be right ;-). Just call it a warning hunch.

If he does have secret skeletons of this type in his closet, you can bet that they aren’t secrets to everyone. I’d bet that the Clintons have already found anything like that and that re-paid, best-selling novelists are ghost-writing those victims’ stories even as we speak. If Trump is nominated, those books would be released in a carefully timed sequence next summer. Religious Conservatives would stay home on election night and whoever the Democrats nominate would become the President along with landslide coat-tail takeovers of the House, Senate, and many state governments as well.

Of course, before he ran for President and started saying all these right-wing fringe things, very few people took him seriously.

Folks, the real estate mogul that you didn’t trust before has not changed, he’s just trying to buy another house. Please don’t willfully and knowingly nominate slime…if slime indeed he is.

It will only end in tears.

The Mars Omelette

•October 1, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Mars, 2001, with the southern polar ice cap vi...

Mars, 2001, with the southern polar ice cap visible on the bottom. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve waited a few days to comment on this, and I’m glad that I did. It allowed time for my natural cynicism to soften somewhat, and for me to better educate myself about the history of the Planetary Society’s “Orbit First” proposal so that I don’t make a fool of myself.

I thought about introducing this piece as a joke, with a sarcastic punchline, but The Planetary Society in general, and Bill Nye and Emily Lakdawalla in particular, deserve better.

  • Yes, we now know that Mars, whether it already has life or not, is probably capable of supporting some kinds of Earth microbes that we might bring there.
  • Yes, if that happened it would cloud the waters on the question of whether or not Mars has life of its own.
  • Yes, any creature from here that goes there will bring microbes with them.
  • Yes, if there is life on Mars, and if that life can be proven to have originated there, it would mean that the universe, and maybe even our solar system, teems with life…at least microbial life.
  • And…Yes, I fully appreciate the deep cultural and scientific significance of answering that question. I for one want an answer to that question.
  • And…No, I’m not going to argue with the scientists over the details and benefits of Orbit First. I had planned to, but multiple people far smarter than me put it together. In fact I actually agree with them…along that line of thinking.


Exploration isn’t just about science, folks. It’s also, and always has been, about people and economics. No one is going to fork over the money to send someone to Mars just to hang out in their spacecraft in orbit and not get their feet dirty. No government would do that, and don’t even ask commercial interests like Elon Musk to do it. Phobos maybe, but unlikely. A “flyby and return” would be prudent, but to go all the way there and aerobrake to enter orbit and then stay in orbit and NOT land? Ain’t happenin’. Too many folks want to start turning it Mars into a second Earth. On that note, the “Orbit First” philosophy does have at least one safety/cost advantage, the lack of a need to carry or synthesize fuel to reboost out of the Mars gravity well to get home.

They say that good science can be lost by having researchers live on the ground verses playing with germ-free robots from orbit. How much longer do we have to wait for the scientists to convince folks that Mars is important to Earth? How much more science would be lost by dashing the hopes of yet another generation of potential Mars explorers? On a 2040ish timeline, how many more folks would miss out on a planetary exploration career and go do something else instead? Now compare that to a 2030s timeline or a 2020s timeline where today’s middle-schoolers graduate from college into a world that sends geologists, chemists, climatologists…maybe even biologists, to the surface of Mars.

Ya…I said 2020s. Hear me out.

English: Artist's rendering of a Mars Explorat...

English: Artist’s rendering of a Mars Exploration Rover. Français : Vue d’artiste d’un Mars Exploration Rover (litt. « rover d’exploration martienne »). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not even all that sure that Orbit First actually solves the whole “Earth microbes mucking up Mars’ science” problem. If there is no life on Mars, then we still won’t know that there isn’t. You can’t always prove a negative. So, what then? Do we still just sit in orbit and keep looking…the slow robot way…spending money to send both humans and rovers? For how long? They will still need to use more expensive, mostly autonomous rovers like Curiosity, because you can’t repair them or pull them out of the sand from orbit. Assuming they do find a way to find life using just robotic explorers, and do find some single-cell critter down there, that still won’t conclusively rule out the highly unlikely possibility that it originated from Earth. Whether humans land on the planet first or not, the follow-up study concerning the origins of that critter will still need to be conducted before scientists can answer the core issue of “Can conditions on Mars MAKE life?”. Good science would still require it. We might even have to find life on Europa and/or Enceladus to fully satisfy the skeptics and put that issue to bed for good. How long will that take? I’ve already been told by professional scientists that it would take a decade or more.

Well I’m not a professional scientist, but I am a cultural science fiction writer. So I’ll let two fictional characters, 11 year old Bobby and his mom, explain the next problem in terms that both NASA and The Planetary Society can understand…

“Bobby, put away that computer game and go do your math.”

“But maaaaaahm! Math is boring!”

“Bobby, if you do your math you might someday help land more robots on Mars.”

“A…huh…and…umm…what’s Donald Trump do for a living? He has lots of money right? If he needs math, maybe you should lead with that, Mom. Oh, actually, I think I’ll just let someone pay me to test computer games. There’s no math in that.”

Do you see how that works? That delusional little bit about spending a lifetime being paid to sit around at home and play computer games isn’t fiction. It’s a near direct quote from several young people I’ve listened to. We’re raising a generation of intellectual cro-magnons, and it’s our own fault. We’ve forgotten how to be a resilient species. We’ve spent fifty plus years going in circles in low earth orbit. The current U.S. President, the one person with the most influence over NASA’s direction, calls the moon a “been there done that” sort of thing…like it was some kind of Disneyland, an epically lame excuse for institutional selfishness and mediocrity! We kick the can down the road to Mars, generation after generation after generation of elected officials taking the easy way out, paying Mars rocket prices for spaceships that fly around the world, and then patting themselves on the back for bringing tax money home to their states!

Mars Polar Lander

Mars Polar Lander (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The biggest issue though, and the one that we’ll have to end up breaking the eggs over, is that human scientists do faster work than robots and far more careful work than colonists. The clock for that is already ticking.

  • Last month, NASA said that they wanted to fly a sample-return mission to Mars. I know…they were talking about sending it on the Space Launch System, but SpaceX almost instantly tweeted that they already had their spacecraft for that, “Red Dragon”, all drawn up and ready to build. Tick.
  • Right after that, on the same day, Elon tweeted that the throwaway version of Falcon Heavy will have enough throw-weight to heft a fully loaded Dragon V2 to Mars, or a lightly loaded V2 to Europa. Ya, that’s right…he’s talkin’ about JUPITER! BIG tick.
  • A Bigalow 330 space habitat module will fly to the ISS this year for testing. Tick.
  • Next year, the Falcon Heavy flies for the first time. Elon built it to go to be Mars launcher, make no mistake about that. Tick.
  • Those SpaceX and Boeing Commercial Crew capsules fly with people in them in 2017. Tick.

According to Bill Nye, NASA’s plan to land on Mars can’t work until 2045. That makes sense to me but NASA and Congress will both be in denial about that right now. SLS as a program would never survive budget cuts that for long without going to Mars. For SLS and Orion, the 2030s are do or die. Bill says that the Orbit First plan will orbit Mars during the 2030s and land in 2039. I recall he and Emily Lakdawalla both said that some of it could be crowd funded, but that it would need the help of one or two wealthy donors too…but I say that the big private money is already pickin’ targets and it ain’t shootin’ for orbit and ain’t waitin’ for 2030.

Emily says that Orbit First serves good science better than sending our germ-oozing, “meat-bag” selves down…and she’s right…but I say that by 2030 there will already be plenty of germ-oozing meat-bags living on the surface of Mars (and maybe not just Mars), building structures, planting corn, andwiping their noses on their sleeves, and kicking over rocks looking for ununobtainium.

Drawing of the American (SpaceX) Falcon 9 carr...

Drawing of the American (SpaceX) Falcon 9 carrier rocket (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s the thing. The dot com billionairs (and Elon isn’t the only one interested in this) won’t wait. They won’t be denied, and neither will the upcoming generation. What happens when Mars starts to look close enough and useful enough that the old money starts to notice and throw coin at it too? What happens when it starts to look like a game that millionaires can play too? What happens when venture capitol firms get in the game. Bill says that the Orbit First plan gives NASA time for buy-in from Commercial Space…but who says that Commercial Space will even need buy-in from NASA?

You don’t believe me? That proof of concept flyby that I mentioned earlier…lets see just what that’ll take.

  • One or two Falcon Heavy launches. They cost some $150 M each I think, and will start flying in 2016.
  • One or two Bigalow inflatable modules. I don’t know what those cost, but they’re in the millions, not billions, and there are already two of them in orbit. Another one will go up this year and connect to the ISS for testing.
  • One Dragon V2 or whatever comes after…or a Boeing Starliner. Again, millions, not billions and they’ll be certified for human travel in 2017.
  • Eight healthy Mars enthusiasts for passengers, with enough money to split the cost between them, with some help from someone else with deep pockets. Remember that Elon Musk started this journey with the intent of spending his money to go to Mars.

I’m guessing…2020. After that who know what comes next?

The private money, the tech, the momentum…they’re all converging on powered descent to Mars dirt much closer than 2040. Anyone headed to the surface of Mars much after about 2028 will be there to deliver the mail. They’ll descend onto a very nice, VFR guided, 3D printed landing pad. The friendly, hard-working locals will come out and throw an arrival party complete with home-grown vegiburgers and Olympus Mons beer!

If current trends hold, by the time anyone funded by Congress makes it to Mars, they won’t need to bring any food. Theyll eat at fancy, shmancy equatorial restaurants serving Black Angus Beef!

So if the Planetary Society wants to put people in Mars orbit to study it for a while before all them germ-oozing, Mars-hugging, meat-bags land, they’d better launch soon.

Emily’s young, maybe she’ll sign-up for that fly-by. 😉

Media Myopia #PopeInNYC

•September 25, 2015 • Leave a Comment


Take off your blinders,
When a religious leader talks to you.
He represents a broad message.
You hardly noticed past Popes.
They didn’t say socialist things.
They didn’t say climate change things.
They didn’t say air pollution things.
But you still hardly notice this Pope,
Because he says other things.
Things which can advance civilization.
Things which can help people fulfill their potential.
He opposes hatred.
He opposes abortion.
He opposes same sex marriage.
He opposes violence and war.
He opposes divorce…and its various causes.
He supports religious freedom.
He supports faith in God.
He supports marriage, and family, and moral decency.
So why don’t you talk about those things?
While you fawn over this Pontif…

…try listening to him.

Space Industry News

•September 24, 2015 • Leave a Comment


I have been accepted as a writer for Space Industry News. What that will mean for this blog is that some space related content that I post here will also get cross-posted there.
For you, it means a new place to read space news because the other writers over there post on topics that I sometimes don’t cover.
Check it out!

Behold Yondeer Moon Thar Maties!

•September 19, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Moon with a patchArrr, Maties! Today (September 19th, 2015) be BOTH International Observe the Moon Night (http://www.lpi.usra.edu/observe_the_moon_night/) AND Talk Like a Pirate Day (http://www.talklikeapirate.com/piratehome.html)

In this the calendar has made for us a grand opportunity for fun and science.

Whichever be yer preference! Sail wherever the winds take ye! The Moon has watched over many a pirate tale through the ages. How else can ye watch pirates partying by night except under moonlight? Well, this night the partiers will be gaukin’ back at ‘im!

The Moon be best observed by scope at a quarter phase, as the shadows highlight ‘is features and ‘is brightness doesn’t bedazzle ye. This year it looks like Luna will not quite be cruisin’ at a quarter-sail, but close enough!

Don’t miss this chance to make memries with the young folk who will take up the watch when the rest of us go to visit Davy Jones. Yer ten year olds might even be among the first to sail back to ‘im some day! Those’ll be glorious times indeed!


Pluto: Like You’ve Never Seen It Before

•September 18, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Click here to download your screen’s next wallpaper.



I first noticed this on SpaceFlightNow.com, but I went to the raw gallery on JPL to pull down the pictures.

I wish I could say that I’m speechless, but then I wouldn’t have much to write.

I guess I don’t.

New Horizons Transparent.pngThe artists that they hire to give renderings of things up there, the things that are too far away to be photographed, draw some very stunning stuff.

I really am struggling to find words.

An artist didn’t paint this one though…it was the New Horizons probe (shown to the right here), that did a fly-by of Pluto and Charon on July 14th and took this photo…looking back after it passed.

Here are some zooms…

How would that look on a postcard? Kind of makes you want to go visit doesn’t it? Well you’d better pack your long-johns. That glacier down there formed out of frozen nitrogen…and likely a few other things that you might breath as invisible gases on a very, very cold day here on Earth.

As the probes get newer and faster, they carry better cameras further out there, so we’ll see more staggering imagery like this in the future. Actually, these are just the thumbnails, which will keep coming until about the end of 2015. Then the real fun starts as it takes most of next year to send us the high-resolution photos and science stored on board as it flies onward to go study something else out there in the dark.

I can’t wait.

Here is where you can go to get the first released look at new space probe shots of the cosmos…http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/

U.S. Space Program Mothballed?

•September 15, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Pluto Closup

Photo: 6 days ago…the most recent closeup of Pluto ever released by a mothballed space program.

Peter Debruge, a movie reviewer in Toronto, released an article about the upcoming hard scifi thriller, The Martian. I’ll start off by saying that I very much enjoyed his treatment of the movie and look forward to seeing it for myself.

However, near the end of the article, in reference to the upbeat tone that the movie sets regarding the future of space exploration, he says…

“But instead of trying to scare people off space travel, Scott and company combine these elements in hopes of inspiring a generation for whom the moon landing and Shuttle missions are ancient history, practically nostalgia, while the American space program sits mothballed.”



Au contraire mon frere.



Yesterday’s (Tuesday) headline on the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory website reads…“Cassini Finds Global Ocean in Saturn’s Moon Enceladus” (http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?feature=4718). Cassini, one of many ongoing NASA missions, currently orbits Saturn, as it has for years. It takes cool pictures of things for us to see and performs cool, unrivaled science that most of us don’t see. Scientists have long suspected that Enceladus had an ocean, due to the amazing geysers spouting out of its southern pole. Now, they’ve decided that a global ocean is the only explanation for the wobble that Cassini’s gravity measurements have found in the moon as it orbits Saturn. Liquid water is one of the criteria that is used to determine if a world can support life. Cassini is only the most recent of three spacecraft that NASA has sent to Saturn. NASA remains the only space agency on earth to fly any probe there.

Click here for larger annotated version of PIA19818

Another headline on JPL reads…“Mars Panorama from Curiosity Shows Petrified Sand Dunes” (http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?feature=4716). We can call Mars the Skeleton Coast of exploration spacecraft, since it is littered with the bones of failed missions. Curiosity, nearly the size of an SUV, has been operating on the planet for two years now…gathering scientific data that can currently be obtained no other way. While the European Space Agency has successfully orbited a spacecraft at Mars, no other space agency has successfully placed functional equipment, gently, on the surface. NASA has done several times and currently operates two rovers there.

Click here for larger annotated version of PIA19837

Here is another… “Telescopes Find Galaxy Cluster with Vibrant Heart” (http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?feature=4715). This discovery regarding vigorous old galaxy growth and star formation at the center of galaxy cluster, involved NASA’s Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes. Hubble has been declared by many to be the most successful spacecraft in history. It’s successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, will operate from a Lagrange Point for the best ever view of Intergalactic space.

And another…“Ceres’ Bright Spots Seen in Striking New Detail” (http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?feature=4714)…is research brought about by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft. Dawn uses a high-specific gravity ion engine, allowing it to carry enough fuel to fly to one body, orbit it, study it for a while, then leave orbit and go study something else. Ceres is the second dwarf planet Dawn has orbited, making it the first spacecraft ever to study two separate, distant planetary bodies from separate stable orbits. No one even knew that those highly unusual reflective craters were there until Dawn photographed them on approach…and no one else except NASA has sent a probe there either. NASA is the leader of space propulsion research and you can look forward to seeing them launch more ion thrusters into deep space in the future.

Even though these robotic spacecraft carry no humans aboard, they are definitely not “ancient history” and operate as part of “America’s space program”. I should also admit that these are, in many ways, International efforts, since other countries have contributed instruments to fly on these spacecraft.

Now I know that Mr. Debruge really meant to say that NASA’s human space flight program sits mothballed. Sorry, but the International Space Station flies in space with NASA astronauts on board. NASA’s human spaceflight program is very active. Granted, they launch to the ISS and back aboard Soyuz, but Peter didn’t say “space launch program” he said “space program”.

Oh, oops. Saying that America’s human “space launch program” sits mothballed would also would be somewhat off, since NASA is currently very actively developing, and testing components of, the Space Launch System and the Orion orbiter for deep space exploration of the solar system. They also assist and/or sponsor the development of several, rapidly growing, U.S. based, commercial space launch systems for the purpose of lowering the cost of human space flight to make space commonplace worldwide. One of whom, SpaceX, even has deep-space aspirations of their own. My 11 year old son will leave college and enter the workforce during a time when private corporations will orbit more folks than governments do today. At that same time NASA intends to plan and fly human missions to deep-space targets like Europa, Jupiter’s largest moon.

The Space Shuttle sits mothballed, a monument to human achievement. However those center four engines in the above video are Shuttle engines, and the infrastructure that built the shuttle now builds the first SLS Rocket and Orion. The people who do that work would take great exception to being called “mothballed”.

America’s space program sent people to the moon, a long time ago, and needs to do it some more, but America’s space program continues, even today, be the first at most things, the leader of many things, and with some things the one and only.


ComicControversy #SLCComicCon

•September 5, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Here it comes, yet another repetition of the phenomenon that we nerds call Salt Lake ComicCon.
My goodness, but there are a lot of us out there aren’t there? How did we get so out of control?
Here’s an even better question, how did ComicCon corporate miss such a huge group of fans?
The first ComicCon held in the Mormon stronghold of Utah had to change venues several times in its planning stages as the expected turnout exploded. The result of their efforts was a zoo of people and cosplay the likes of which the region had never seen before. At another local con, the organizers of that first Salt Lake ComicCon admitted that even though they knew there would be a large turnout, they didn’t expect those record-breaking numbers.
This particular area of the country is filled with science and fantasy fiction fans, and for most of those thousands of people, as with me, a family vacation to San Diego is out of the question. I know some who’ve made the pilgrimage in past years, and they probably still do, but most Utahans have never even been to California. We have a hidden fan base way out here in the desert. We read. We go to the movies. We watch TV. But like other communities in this country, most of is don’t have the resources to drag the whole family clear out to the West Coast once a year, just to spend the time there indoors.
When ComicCon came here, we didn’t have to.
Well, OK, it didn’t “come here”, it was home-brewed, but the distinction is totally lost on us. It seems to be lost on the entertainers who show up for these things too…and their publicists who’s job it is to put them in front of their devoted fans. Stan Lee himself showed up…and William Shatner. They didn’t seem to care it wasn’t an “official” ComicCon. So if they don’t seem to care about SDCC’s copyright claims, and the fans don’t care, and the vendors don’t care, and the event organizers certainly don’t care, then there you go. Right there SDCC themselves have built a formula for a revolution that frequently turns what may have once been a brand name into a part of the lexicon…like PC, Kleenex, and Xerox.
That’s what you get when you ignore a large potential customer base; someone else steps forward and snatches it up! I saw this happen many times when I worked in the computer industry, when IBM-PC compatible computers took the world by storm and they, and their their software, spent three decade stealing one and other’s customers and taking turns pushing one and other off of pedestals. We are seeing it starting up now too with the growing New Space industry.
Still, the old gate-keepers never see the barbarian hordes…until they’re storming the gates.

Here are the numbers…

Sept. 7th-9th, 2013….50,000-80,000…sold out.

April. 17th-19th, 2014….100,000

Sept. 4th-6th, 2014….120,000

No wonder the stars come out here, to tea-total Utah, to meet their fans!
Well, the official ComicCon organization is still all butt-hurt, still sharpening their lawyers, the last resort of the old, slow, and clueless. Of course, if they actually CARED about speculative fiction and its fans and entertainers as much as WE do, THEY’D celebrate the successes of OUR cons as much as WE celebrate the successes of THEIRS. Who are the real fans now, huh? 😉
My two oldest daughters and their families are coming down this year from their own homes on the West Coast to attend. My youngest daughter and her family already live nearby. I spent the last September ComicCon at the University of Utah Medical Center with my son, Dallin, so I skipped it, but this year we might just turn it into a big, expensive family reunion with my wife, my younger son, and Dallin all joining us in the fun. It’ll be the first con of any kind that they’ve attended with me. I won’t help run a booth or anything like that this time, I’ll have my hands full of children and grand-children as I help indoctrinate a new generation of Scifi geeks. I shaved off my beard recently, and won’t have time to grow it out to Abe Lincoln proportions this time, but maybe I’ll have enough for a passable Tony Stark impression.
It’ll be fun.
And not even once will any of us care that we aren’t in San Diego.

Dilbert’s App Stops Cyber Attack – Dilbert Comic Strip on 2015-06-25 | Dilbert by Scott Adams

•June 26, 2015 • Leave a Comment



The next epic Dilbert comic! I expect to see this one on T-Shirts at conventions soon.




Science likes the Pope for a Week

•June 21, 2015 • Leave a Comment

A “Blue Marble” image of the Earth taken from the VIIRS instrument aboard NASA’s most recently launched Earth-observing satellite, Suomi NPP. This composite image uses a number of swaths of the Earth’s surface taken on Jan. 4, 2012. Credit: NASA/NOAA/GSFC/Suomi NPP/VIIRS/Norman Kuring

Ok, granted, the “climate change is caused by us and we’re all gonna die” folks need credibility help, because they really are terrible missionaries for their cause. They look, talk, act, and breath like they’re hiding a grand conspiracy. I think that most of that is just institutional arrogance, but who can tell the difference? Of course ignoring planetary science, and climate change on other planets, just because they “muddy the message” is just stupid, but there is plenty of stupid on the issue to go around.

People have to stop treating scientists like they’re incorruptible. They like money and renown just as much as anyone else with house payments, and they speak a lot of lemming-speak back and forth betwixt themselves, especially when an issue becomes popular enough to make funding easy. Opportunism and a whole ‘nother flavor of the denialism surrounds them on a variety of issues.

On the other hand, will Conservatives who continue to deny that the climate changes ever get a clue? Maybe. At some point, someone may ask, “Why are they being so stupid?…” Of course the obvious answer is, “…because big oil pays them to be stupid”. Now there are so many good, honest and important issues that Conservatives stand for, and those issues are all in danger because of this idiotic, almost lunatic view that the climate does not change. Satellite to that is the unsubstantiated claim that if the climate does change temperature then humans have no influence on it. Ok, listen! You can’t say that your opponents cannot support their claims due to a lack of data to support their models…and then hold an equally reticent position based on even less data…especially when your PR is worse than your opponent’s.


Pope Francis was said to be preparing a statement called an “Encyclical Letter“, which is essentially an official position paper from the Catholic Church, making climate change reversal a moral prerogative. I think it’s a stretch to call it that, it was released on Thursday and I don’t think it said that. It says  “…a very solid scientific consensus indicates” that climate change is happening and has a variety of assigned causes, including human activity. I can’t argue with that. It also touts that environmental responsibility is important…I agree with that also.

My fellow Conservatives should not criticize the Pope for taking sides against them. It is not his job to agree with them. The document is carefully worded to not claim expertise on the issue. In fact, it seems to carefully avoid sourcing itself for its conclusions about climate change. Many non-experts…like myself, the news media, and politicians…take no care to do that. For a Conservative politician to say that the Pope is no expert on climate change, or for the news media to say that a Conservative Politician is no expert on climate change, or for me to say that any of the above is no expert on climate change…takes comedic irony to a whole new level.

Environmental and cultural responsibility do seem to be major themes of the Encyclical. However, out of the 246 numbered paragraphs in the document, only 8 or so specifically mention climate change. News sources everywhere seem to like quoting out of those sections only. Interesting. It’s as if the world’s most influential religious leader had nothing else important to say.

The document also speaks out against the usual topics of war and moral decline, but folks don’t seem to be interested in talking about that. I saw 3 or 4 paragraphs in the Encyclical Letter which spoke of the disintegration of the family unit. I Googled it…nope, no mention. My Google search did spider several links to articles saying that the Pope is going to theme the next meeting of the Synod on the topic of families, and supposedly talk about it on an upcoming U.S. tour. The family unit has been confirmed, by both science and religious leaders from the whole of Christiandom (that can’t seem to agree on much else), to be very important to our culture at several levels…and at least one science writer remembered to mention that today.

So maybe there is hope. 😉

Update: News critic Bill O’Reilly made a similar comment regarding myopic Liberal support for the Pope when he came to visit… http://www.billoreilly.com/column/The-Pope,-The-President,-The-Press,-and-Politics?pid=46483


Loss of Proton

•May 16, 2015 • Leave a Comment

ArabSat 4B Launch campaign. The Proton-M, with...

ArabSat 4B Launch campaign. The Proton-M, with Breeze-M upper stage and the payload, arrive at Pad No. 39. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


This is not good.

Even though the crash of the Proton third stage with the Mexsat 1 satellite probably has no connection whatsoever to the loss of the Progress cargo delivery to the ISS, it still looks like two failed Russian launches in something like three weeks. They don’t need that.

In case you haven’t already heard, a Russian Proton launch vehicle had some kind of stage separation failure on Saturday (May 16th) and turned a Mexican communications satellite into a pretty light show over Siberia…instead of delivering it into orbit. Sorry, Mexico.

The fact is, this particular launch vehicle has had a lot of problems. Folks should not automatically lump it in with Progress or Soyuz. They will, but it is a different organization, different issues (presumably), different companies, and different quality control systems. Still, ROSCosmos has delayed the next Soyuz 2 months because of the Progress failure a couple of weeks ago as they investigate that incident. It’s a good thing that the Progress space craft currently docked at the the International Space Station was able to start its engines and raise the station’s orbit today (5/19/15). It couldn’t on Saturday.

But here’s the thing, unlike Progress and Soyuz, Proton competes in a very active industry against several other companies who are achieving far better launch success trends than Proton.

International Launch Services, the joint Russian-U.S. company who oversaw this launch, is already struggling against ULA, Arianspace, and others. Now the lower-priced SpaceX, who with its recent engine upgrades is now launching a larger class of telcom satellites, and in a few months will have the first flight of their new heavy launcher, is deep into that market too. Reliability (measured in terms of success history), and experience are the biggest things the old players have going for them today. Launch failures are bad for business, in a business that for ROSCosmos is already not nominal.

Russia is developing more modern heavy-lift rockets, but their current line of launchers has to keep flying until the new launchers are ready. They have to keep up their launch frequency in order to maintain the cost-effectiveness of their rocket building and launching infrastructure overall.

That snarky comment from a Russian politico about NASA astronauts needing a trampoline to get to the International Space station was probably bad for ILS’ business also. But might there come a day when a U.S. Congressperson gets to say that back to the Russians? We shall see.

Play Splashdown Bingo!

•May 6, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Progress, the Russian ISS cargo ship, is dead and spinning out of control. It will reenter the atmosphere and burn up in an unknown location some day very soon.

If you Tweet your guess to #SplashdownBingo you could win a 3-D printed Progress if you guess right.

Here are the rules…


Dragon’s Six Second Ride

•May 5, 2015 • Leave a Comment

dragon-hold-down-firingI hope they never have to do that for real, but if they do I hope it goes at least as well.

Either way, that was way cool! I need to write something like that into a story-line sometime and describe it through the eyes of the one on the ride.

Today, the Dragon Crew Capsule underwent its pad abort test. As of this writing it appeared successful, but I guess they’ll know that for sure after they study the data returned from it. The test is to confirm that the spacecraft can escape a launch accident at the pad from a dead stop. If this had been an actual launch accident, with people inside, it would have had to put a lot of distance between itself and a rocket exploding on the launch pad and outrun debris from the blast. To do that, it pretty much has to be shot out of cannon.

Do you think that was fast enough?

Other systems have been tested this way, but this flight was to test a new technology that will lower costs, improve flexibility and survive-ability and also prepare the way to start landing these capsules and re-flying them. That will lower the cost of spaceflight and bring it closer to you and I. Unlike past launch abort systems, which use a solid rocket booster tower attached to the nose of the capsule, this system uses eight liquid-fueled rockets attached to the capsule. The plan is, that on some future flight, they will use these rockets to land the capsule after successful flights. The launch abort tower system that other systems use just gets tossed aside after launch to burn up in the atmosphere and the capsule splashes down in the ocean.

This capsule will be recovered after the test and studied for issues that they will correct for the final design. Then this same capsule is intended to be relaunched on the in-flight abort test later this year.

English: Artist's concept of SpaceX's Falcon 9...

English: Artist’s concept of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Launch Vehicle and Dragon crew and cargo capsules. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Loss of Progress

•May 3, 2015 • Leave a Comment

English: The unmanned Progress M-52 (ISS-17P) ...

English: The unmanned Progress M-52 (ISS-17P) spacecraft photographed by the crew of Expedition 11 following its undocking from the International Space Station at 15:16 CDT on 15 June 2005. The spacecraft had previously delivered supplies to the space station before being filled with rubbish and disconnected from the orbital complex, in preparation for its destruction on reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Russian Progress cargo ship, one of the world’s most reliable spacecraft systems, failed about a week ago. Sometime between solar panel deployment and navigation antenna deployment, something went “snap” and left it tumbling in an unstable orbit where it had been delivered by its launcher. Progress was supposed to use its own thrusters to enter orbit with the International Space Station and dock with it to deliver supplies, new experiments, and other things. Unable to complete that final step, it was only a matter of time. Last night (May 7th, 2015 U.S. time) it reentered the atmosphere and disintegrated over the Pacific Ocean. On a personal note, I picked that it would die over Texas in @VaxHeadroom’s  #SplashdownBingo contest on Twitter. Oh well, maybe next time. 🙂

People don’t ride on Progress, and no person was ever at risk from this accident…except for the very remote possibility of a piece of it falling on someone’s head). The Space Station’s cargo delivery routine has enough variability and overkill built into it to allow for mishaps such as this…rocket science is hard and everyone knows that. This delivery by the Progress spacecraft was important, and station operations will be impacted by its loss, but not critically.

A U.S. commercial cargo delivery spacecraft, Cygnus, was destroyed late last year when the Antares rocked carrying it failed five or so seconds after launch and exploded. These two losses put a temporary halt in the operation of both of those systems while the problems are found and corrected. This has placing added reliance on other launch and delivery providers. Progress has some systems in common with the spacecraft that astronauts and cosmonauts ride on, so it could cause delays to that schedule as well.

All of this only further highlights the need to have multiple launch providers supporting the International Space Station. The U.S. Congress has wanted to down-select to a single commercial provider for sending NASA astronauts to the ISS. They hope that this will result in a reliance on the NASA-owned Orion spacecraft (currently having trouble filling it’s launch manifest) for ISS visits.

Orion Spacecraft approching ISS (May 2007)

Artist’s rendering of Orion Spacecraft approaching ISS (May 2007) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Those who are doing this only seek to protect traditional launch industry providers and their components which are located in their home states which too overpriced and stagnant to compete in an open-market system. NASA has said repeatedly that they want multiple commercial providers to fill the ISS support transport role because they are getting out of the Space Station supply activities business, so that the very expensive Orion can focus on exploring the rest of the solar system. The fact that NASA currently pays Russia to launch our (and Japan’s and Canada’s) astronauts to the station on Soyuz, rivets home the fact that the traditional, big government ownership of single-provider routine spaceflight that we’ve used for fifty years cannot be relied upon for an expansive, routine space program.

Progress will fly again…probably late this year. Cygnus will fly again sooner, but on another provider’s rocket. The SpaceX Dragon will visit the station in June, maybe with a few Russian experiments on board. During all of this, the U.S. Government will fight over how these flights will go in the future from the U.S. end. U.S. citizen participation in this process will be critical in helping keep that Government from practicing stupid, self-serving politics regarding space policy and help assure a healthy, reliable system in the years to come.

NASA Climate Change

•May 2, 2015 • Leave a Comment

English: The NASA insignia. Español: Insignia ...

English: The NASA insignia. Español: Insignia de la NASA. Italiano: Logo della NASA. Русский: Логотип НАСА. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Folks in the U.S House of Representatives discussed the following important question last week…

Should NASA’s budget include money for climate change research come out of NASA’s?

BTW, they decided no…sort of. It isn’t entirely up to them anyway, and the President won’t stand for a $500,000 cut in climate research from anyone’s budget.

It ties in with this question…

Should a publicly perceived good thing be treated as the only thing?

…and this one…

Is Climate Change more of a science or more of a funding band wagon?

I’m all for Climate Change research. I think that study and discussion of Climate Change is critical to the survival of our culture, maybe even our ciivlization. I don’t fully agree with mainstream Conservatives or Liberals on the topic. The climate is warming and it has had and will have an impact on our environment and world cultures and economies…and we need to know how much of an impact it will have on us and how much of an impact we have on it.

English: NASA's Vehicle Assembly Building as s...

English: NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building as seen on July 6, 2005. Español: Edificio de ensamblado de vehículos de la NASA en el Centro Espacial Kennedy. 6 de julio de 2005. Polski: Potężny Vehicle Assembly Building w Centrum Lotów Kosmicznych imienia Johna F. Kennedy’ego. Widoczne zniszczenia spowodował Huragan Frances (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These questions involve numerous variables, only one of which is the footprint that we leave on the environment. However…folks are overly polarized concerning how much or how little we are driving Climate Change and refuse to listen to each other. Many of these same folks divide along the same lines on several political and cultural issues that they want to disenpower each other on. There is also a lot of personal investment in relevant industries on both sides of the question, by those on the further ends of both sides of the Climate Change debate.

So, should NASA do climate science? Let’s start by defining some acronyms and assigning roles…

  • NASA–National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
  • NOAA–National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.
  • EPA–Environmental Protection Agency.

What do these all have in common? Well, they all have their own portion of Federal funding. They all employ scientists…of various disciplines and specialties. They can all own, design, fund, launch, and operate Earth-watching satellites by themselves…or rather can hire someone to do so on their behalf.

So the real questions I think should be….

Does NASA need to conduct Earth Climate Science? –>For their purposes, yes, because Earth is a planet and NASA studies planets. For Climate Science advancement purposes…no, because everything that research needs from NASA is already old-hat common and easily had (perhaps less expensively) from the growing space industry and scientific community at large. Do you see where I’m going with this?

Is NASA best suited to guide Earth Climate science? Umm…no. That’s NOAA’s job. They can hire NASA to help them, if they choose, with their funding, but I think they probably don’t need to and would save some money if they made use of the private sector instead of government employees.

However, if you see Climate Science as a just huge trough from which scientists feed, then you might ask, “Why can’t NASA join in the feast?” Well, first of all, no one directly involved with Climate Change research is going to publicly admit to that angle of the issue. Putting that aside though, Congress has not said that NASA should loose that half million dollars, but rather that they would spend it on the Space Launch System instead of Climate Change research. I’m glad that Congress has stopped taking money away from Commercial Crew and Planetary Science to feed SLS/Orion, but I would have preferred it if they’d shifted any cost savings from cuts to Climate Science to repair some of the recent years’ cuts to Planetary Science.

English: Illustration of a NASA ITOS series sa...

English: Illustration of a NASA ITOS series satellite in orbit around the Earth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Also, NASA and politicians need Public Relations help. Very few people understand the importance of most of the things that NASA does, because very few people understand most of the things that NASA does. Climate Science is a large issue that gives those who are not familiar with NASA something to sink their teeth into. It’s like when NASA provided topographic imagery to aid in rescue efforts after the earthquake in Nepal. It makes NASA look good in the eyes of folks who don’t understand anything else that NASA does, and NASA needs that. Those who support the larger scientific stand with respect to Eart’s climate trumpet Government taking the issue seriously enough to spend money on it. Those who oppose the broader scientific community see NASA’s involvement as an opportunity to set the record straight, both because NASA seems to be a standard-setting agency and because they don’t seem to mind stepping on a few toes. For NASA involvement in Climate Change is a PR win no matter what happens. The truth is that NASA contributes to both Climate Change and disaster assistance without ever having to spend their own money on them. NOAA works with NASA on the space-based components of Climate Science research without government having to make a show of throwing money at them for it. Sensors already mounted on the ISS aren’t going to just go away either.

Earth Climate Science needs Planetary Science and Planetary Science needs Climate Science, but all of that is part of the information that flows between researchers anyway. NOAA does not need NASA to build and launch satellites for them to use NASA knowledge. Anyone they would likely hire to build spacecraft would already be NASA partners and thus have access to the NASA knowledge base anyway.

The fact remains that the best PR money can buy for NASA, bar none, is expanding the envelope of human spaceflight. This is done by Planetary science, SLS/Orion, and Commercial Crew. Bolden and Obama have already said that they want NASA to study the rest of the solar system. So let’s let NASA stop goofing around in low Earth orbit, pointing cameras at the Earth, and let them zoom in on what’s out there that we don’t see yet. Yet NOAA buy, launch and operate their own satellites.

English: Artists concept of the X-30 aerospace...

English: Artists concept of the X-30 aerospace plane flying through Earth’s atmosphere on its way to low-Earth orbit. the experimental concept is part of the National Aero-Space Plane Program. The X-30 is planned to demonstrate the technology for airbreathing space launch and hypersonic cruise vehicles. Photograph and caption published in Winds of Change, 75th Anniversary NASA publication (page 117), by James Schultz. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Age of Ultron

•April 30, 2015 • Leave a Comment

The New Avengers (comics)

The New Avengers (comics) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First, I need to gloat.

I saw it before you did! Aaaa nah nah-nah, nah-nah nah!

There, now that that’s over with, I think I’ll tell you about it.

Don’t worry, no spoilers here, and there are enough twists to make most anything I say a spoiler…oops, that was a spoiler. I little one.

My son Dallin and I went to see it tonight, and the powers that dictate showing schedules allowed the local theater here in Evanston to show it at 7:00 pm instead of waiting until midnight. So my boy and I were driving home while some of you were still waiting to get in.

As I write this, about half of you opening-night owls are seeing it or just sitting down, so you won’t see my comments, but the rest of you listen up.

All I need to tell you is that there is more personal violence, some cussin’ and a couple more direct sexual innuendos than the vague “one out of five” quip that Stark tosses at Loki in the first Avengers (I mean, even some ADULTS might not get that one!) So you might consider leaving your kids home until you’ve had a chance to judge it for yourself. Also, the robot Ultron has a god complex and likes to quote Bible scripture a little bit, for those of you who are bothered by that sort of thing…I’m not but I’ve heard that some of you are. I have a couple of other complaints, but if I share them it’ll draw your attention to them and you might not enjoy the movie as much, and it does deserve a chance to entertain you.

Still, lots of action, more than the last one in fact, and super hero vs super hero fights. Yes, Iron Man and the Hulk get to mix it up just like it shows in the trailer, I won’t tell you who wins. There is also a little bit of the best kind of romance…I’ll let you work on that one a little before you see it.

All in all we enjoyed it. I’ll let you decide how it compares with the first one.

Happy 25th Birthday, Hubble

•April 24, 2015 • Leave a Comment

A quarter century ago, the Space Shuttle Discovery launched with the Hubble Space Telescope aboard. Originally slated as a 400 million dollar project, its combination of contractor problems, schedule slippage, the loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger, and the cost overruns that resulted from all of that inflated the price tag to 2.5 billion dollars. Many breathed a sigh of relief at that shuttle launch.

After that it was found that the contractor that built the 2.4 meter mirror had misshaped it, but did so so precisely that corrective optics were able to reverse the problem, first for the entire telescope and then later for each instrument. Hubble was planned from the start to be repaired in orbit, but that means that it flies in low orbit where the Space Shuttle could reach it. Then the Shuttle had to boost the orbit because Hubble flies low enough that the upper atmosphere puts drag on it. The amount of that drag has so many built-in variables that some types of long-term observations have had to be watched carefully to make sure that Hubble keeps its aim true. Low orbit also means that the Earth, Moon, and Sun often swing around into the viewer, requiring operators to interrupt a study and point away to protect delicate instruments from the glare.

In spite of it all, Hubble has been called the most successful scientific instrument of all time.

Most folks who visit http://hubblesite.com go there to see the many pretty pictures, but those are just the icing on the cake. Like all of NASA’s and ESA’s other robotic spacecraft, most of what Hubble does involves science that most of us do not understand. Hubble has performed an unprecedented series of break-through science that only a general purpose orbiting telescope of its size can achieve. Also, five repair and upgrade missions have swapped in more advanced instruments and other tech to help today’s Hubble achieve astonishing images and science that the older technology of the corrected Hubble version 1 had not never been equipped to do.

In celebration of the 25th anniversary of Hubble, they’ve offered up a host of cool stuff for us to savor. It’s a mixed bag of goodies that would take me too long to go through and tell you about, so I’ll just pass on the links…



You might also be interested in ESAs production called HubbleCast



They expect Hubble to last another six years or more, to give the James Webb Space Telescope time to fly and work in tandem with it. The JWST is an infrared telescope that can acheive science that Hubble can’t do, because Hubble’s instruments are too warm to do infra-red observations very well. The JWST will not fly in low Earth orbit, but will orbit a gravitational pocket called a Lagrange Point on the far side of Earth from the Sun. There, it will be able to keep its sun-shield pointed at the Sun, and the Earth and Moon will not shadow it, so as to maintain JWST’s instruments at a constant, very low temperature. It will also be able to observe targets for much longer periods and view them in far greater resolution with its 6.5 meter wide system of mirrors.

The Space Shuttle that made Hubble possible has retired, but the telescope lives on and continues to teach us new things about our area of space, as well as distant times and galaxies. May we all remember the little telescope that could and the science that it provides. However, the Shuttle is not going back up to upgrade and boost the telescope again, it is on its final journey. The most recent upgrade included a package of equipment to safely de-orbit it. What will replace Hubble if the JWST dies of budget cuts before Arian can launch it?

This Site is Mobile Freindly!

•April 23, 2015 • 1 Comment

My Blog on MobileGoogle recently placed an emphasis on easing the use of mobile devices on their site. They’ve done this with a “Mobile-Friendly” tag and by emphasizing Mobile Friendly pages in their search algorithm.

WordPress has released a news article concerning these developments that contain other relevant links on the issue…


Actually, this blog has always has been Mobile-Freindly, since it’s author has used PDAs since the release of the Compaq IPAQ. 😉 Back then, I used Handango to preload mobile-friendly websites of interest whenever I docked my Windows-Mobile IPAQ, which didn’t have its own networking ability.

Still I checked today just to make sure that I hadn’t missed anything important. You should do this with your site too. Click Here and type in your site’s URL to let Google assess the Mobile Friendliness of your site.

English: mobile Web user--please replace if yo...

English: mobile Web user–please replace if you have a better image (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I first chose the now retired WordPress ChaoticSoul theme for this blog many years ago, I chose it for the color scheme and how well that the theme fit a website focused on Space Exploration. However, I also checked to see how it looked on a mobile device and I liked the results. On a mobile, the sidebar content gets downstream after the content though, so I still need to find a better way to make sure that popular old hit generators like Shocking Truth Revealed and Another Breathtaking Image from Hubble still show up on search engines while not pushing the important stuff in my sidebar (the bread and butter of the site) impossibly far down the page for folks who just hit the main page URL from a mobile.

Palm TX

Palm TX (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At the same time, I’d like to reduce load times for the entry screen. New viewers hitting the un-embellished URL shouldn’t have to load image and text clear back to the inception of the site just so that Google can fully spider all of the content to direct folks Googling for what to feed their newly-hatched mantids to my page showing them how the adult Preying Mantis eats a hummingbird. 😉

Any suggestions from other WordPress users?

Person with PDA handheld device.

Person with PDA handheld device. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



Feed Store #Writing101

•April 15, 2015 • 1 Comment


Eight varieties of chicken pullet.
Four varieties of turkey.
Two varieties of gosling.
Standard duckling.
All tweeting.
Just like people.
Some types flee from me.
Some types ignore me.
Some types look at me as if to say, “Would he be my freind?”
Just like people.
“We have room in the back yard,” say my wife and son.
“We’d need to buy more than just the chicks,” I say. “They’d need food and shelter”.
I talked them out of it.
Then I came to the feed store,
I looked at the eight varieties of chicken pullet,
Like little fuzz balls.
Four varieties of turkey,
With their ragged wings.
Two varieties of gosling,
Already noisy.
Already noisy.
Standard duckling.
Then I think about eggs and drumsticks,
And start reading books about raising chickens.

Watch SpaceX CRS-6 Launch by SpaceX on Livestream

•April 14, 2015 • Leave a Comment

After six successful missions to the International Space Station, including five official resupply missions for NASA, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft are set to liftoff from Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, for their sixth official Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) mission to the orbiting lab. Liftoff is targeted for Monday April 13, 2015, at 4:33pm EDT.

If all goes as planned, Dragon will arrive at the station approximately two days after liftoff. Dragon is expected to return to Earth approximately five weeks later for a parachute-assisted splashdown off the coast of southern California. Dragon is the only operational spacecraft capable of returning a significant amount of supplies back to Earth, including experiments.

The live launch webcast will begin here at approximately 4:15pm EDT. http://livestre.am/55t5J

Of Rockets and Barges #writing101

•April 13, 2015 • Leave a Comment

“Hey…what’s that?”
“What’s what?”
“That…out there.”
“It’s a barge.”
“I know it’s a barge, but it’s…you know…different.”
“I know it is.”
“Why what?”
“Why’s it different?”
“Would you get back to work please?”
“I will, I will, just tell me what it’s for.”
“They’re gonna land a rocket on it.”
“They’re gonna land a rocket on the middle of that barge.”
“What…on that ‘X’ there?”
“Are you sure?”
“Yep, they talked about it on the news.”
“Yep. Would you watch what you’re doin’ please? You almost broke that.”
“Oh…sorry. That’s not what they’re for.”
“That’s not what barges are for…nor rockets for that matter.”
“I know.”
“Why what?”
“Confound it! Why are they landing a rocket on a barge?”
“To save money.”
“To save money? How?”

English: SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon s...

English: SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft lift off from Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., at 10:43 a.m. EST, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“(Sigh) OK, they launch something into space with the rocket, then they fly the rocket back down and land it on the barge. Then the barge brings the rocket back and it hops on over back to a landing pad, then they move it to a launch pad, then they refuel the rocket and launch something else into space with it.”
“Wow. How much does the rocket cost?”
“‘Bout sixty million.”
“What? Dollars?”
“No Pesos! Of course Dollars!”
“That’s a lot of money.”
“Not really, but the fuel is only ’bout two-hundred grand.”
“OK, so let me get this straight. They build a rocket for sixty million, launch it, and then bring it back and launch it again for just a couple hundred K?”
“Well, sort of. It’s quite a bit more complicated than that…but…ya. That’s the general idea. Eventually they’ll skip the barge and just land it on land. They need to practice out at sea first.”
“I see. Isn’t stuff like that supposed to cost, like, billions of dollars?”
“Not anymore.”
“Hmm, times they are a changin’.”
“Hey! Maybe, if it gets cheap enough, maybe you and I can go to space.”
“Not if we don’t get this work done. Hey, don’t sit on that!”
“Oh…sorry. You know lots of stuff, Elon.”

My Son Dallin #writing101

•April 12, 2015 • 1 Comment

2012-06-02_12-26-16_333 2 - CopyWe at the WordPress writing101 workshop have been assigned today to write about someone we’ve met this past year. The truth, I have to say, is that I haven’t had time to get out and meet people in that much detail lately. Between a new job at work and a turn in Dallin’s health, my life has been full for two or three years now.

Those of you who already know me may have wondered where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing. My son’s care needs have increased to the point that it is difficult to keep up. Also, his health is too unstable for me to make commitments with the level of reliability that I expect of myself. That is why I stopped actively attending Science Fiction conventions in 2014, and won’t likely attend any in 2015 either.

Dallin is 21 years old and has Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy. (http://ask.healthline.com/health/duchenne-muscular-dystrophy)

I’ve not talked about him here because this blog’s purpose is to promote my published works, and telling the world that I have a son with special needs is not viewed by me as an appropriate way to sell books. You understand. However, the writing101 prompt wants a character vignette of a person who has had a major influence on my life. I spend much time with Dallin, much more even than I spend with my spouse, so I think he influences my life more than anyone right now. My job is to give him as full and normal a life as possible, while still keeping him alive as long as possible. Right now that means staying out a little late several times a week with him and his peers.

His grandmother first noticed his swollen calf muscles when he was very young and started to add it all up. Muscular Dystrophy runs in my wife’s family and so her mother has had experience with it and knew the signs. My wife noticed that he fell down more than he should as he learned to walk. He doesn’t walk anymore, but he gets around anyway.

But I’ve gotten ahead myself.

IMG_20131225_102043_524Before Dallin started attending Kindergarten my wife commented, “I feel almost selfish, having him all to myself”. Everywhere he goes, he makes friends of every age group. His contagious smile and dry, gently mischievous sense of humor draws people to him in droves. When I’d bring him with me when I went to vote, he’d end up in the middle of a cluster of people I’d never met. He often attended MDA (Muscular Dystrophy Association) summer camp in Salt Lake City as he grew up and my wife was a little bit surprised several years into it to find a mural of Dallin on the wall behind a camp organizer’s desk.

Like a lot of folks, he spends a lot of time in his own thoughts and doesn’t always seem to grasp the power of his magnetism. One day when he was in highschool I saw a young lady from our church congregation, sitting in her father’s pickup truck in the grocery store parking lot, straining her neck to get Dallin to meet eyes with her. I said, “Dallin, will you please wave to that poor girl before she has to go see a chiropractor?” He had honestly not even known that anyone else was around. He doesn’t seek attention, it just arrives and jumps in front of his wheelchair.

IMG_20141218_161554_377In spite of all this he really doesn’t date much. I think it is because of a lack of initiative. This is because his physical needs have required him to be under constant adult supervision his entire life. We’re working on that and I coach and encourage him.

He has always demonstrated much in the way of artistic skills. From tin foil origami to computer art. He has acquired a computer gaming habit along the way, which we have worked with him to correct. Now he spends his days reading, drawing, making things, and playing chess both against the computer and online. Every Thursday he serves as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doing Family History work.

A couple of years ago he started catching pneumonia from time to time.

Each time we’ve agreed to have his physicians add something to his care to cheat the Reaper. Each of these interventions add to his care needs. I and his mother are his primary care providers, but my wife has a bad back, and we have a younger son with Asperger’s Autism that also needs our attention. So we have hired helpers assist us with Dallin, and we have Government assisted funding to pay for them, so we can manage as long as he can. His other caregivers feel the same about him as the rest of us do.

10-25-2011 295By all rights he should be dead, but medical technology has found ways to extend the lives of people with his condition. It is called a childhood illness because its victims don’t usually get better and don’t live much into adulthood. The type of DMD that Dallin has only gets worse until diminished heart and lung function eventually causes the victim to lose a fight with pneumonia. I’ve always had a good immune system, not so much now that I’m growing older, but Dallin’s ability to heal injury and fight off disease is better than mine ever was. That has helped keep him in our lives I’m sure. We wish we could have him longer than he will be with us. Without the pneumonia and flu vaccinations he gets every year, we might have lost him already. Most recently we’ve started to feed him through a stomach tube so that he can get the nutrition he needs without the risk of aspirating food and drink into his lungs.

10-25-2011 461He is a joy to have around. When he does finally leave this world he will leave a very large gap in the hearts of all who know him. I know that I will not take it well, so I’ve decided I’ll need to write a book about his life with us to help me cope when the time comes. I guess this blog article is kind of a content study. What kinds of things would you like to know about our lives with Dallin? Leave comments.


Found a Letter #writing101 (five word flash fiction)

•April 9, 2015 • 1 Comment

Who’s letter? “Dear Santa,…”? Me!

Lost (Late) in the Mountains: Part 1 #Writing101

•April 8, 2015 • 2 Comments

Image courtesy of Google Maps.

Image courtesy of Google Maps.

The need for stress relief can make us do some weird and stupid things, and Microsoft Certification tests are SO HARD!

Almost twenty years ago, while working toward a MCT certification, I went and did a really dumb thing that could have gotten me killed. I tried to hike the trail between City Creek Canyon and Mill Creek Canyon down into Mueller Park…alone.

I arrived at the trail head dressed in fur trade period clothing, for the “dream” as reenacters call it. I had a map and compass and everything…I’m not that stupid. It was a very poor-quality map in a book, but I’d also looked at the route on a satellite photo on the computer and studied out the trail. Someone told me that it was a very difficult, all-day hike and I believed them. I’ve done similar things successfully before, so I wasn’t worried. I planned to get to the top of the ridge between the canyons by 2 pm and and then follow the trail back along the ridge line and then down into the park and meet up with my wife and family around sunset. I’d hiked from the park up to the ridge line several times before, but I hadn’t been up City Creek Canyon. The day was Saturday, July 22nd 1995.

Goggle seach: Mueller Park Utah

I parked my car and started my walk. I’d hiked quite high from Mueller Park before, and cross-country skied the lower areas of the park in winter. I knew about where I’d get down into familiar territory and where the trail that I knew of in the park eventually joined the ridge line. I knew about how long it would take to get back down from there. I carried so much confidence in the adventure that all I brought to eat was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch when I reached the foot of Grandview Peak.

Grandview Peak in Google Maps

The trail started out smooth and easy and I walked with a wide gate. On that high-country trail, with wildflowers up to my elbows, I felt rejuvenated. The tension melted off. It’s as if the mountain and the floura lent me their strength and urged me onward. I came across an older couple heading down and we chatted a bit. I told them what I planned to do, and they seemed to appreciate my courage, while doubtful glances between them seemed to say that they thought I might have bitten off more than I could chew.

Some time later, around 11:30, I came to what I knew would be the hard part of my journey, a wide and steep wash coming down from the ridge. The trail, as I remember it now, crept along the side of it, and then across it, and then up to the ridge line.

I thought I could even catch glimpses of the trial that I planned to link up with at the top that would eventually descend down into Mueller Park. I was a couple of hours behind schedule, but after skiing through the park at night many times, I knew I could find my way out of that part of the hike in the dark if I arrived a little late.

Like with so many of then other things we do in life, I made my plan on the assumption that nothing would go wrong.

By the way, I had no cell phone.

As I turned to head up the wash, my family was watching “Babe” at the Matinee.

During the several days that followed I’d wish many times that I’d gone with them.

To be continued…


These Songs Three #writing101

•April 7, 2015 • 4 Comments

So many songs have moved me, but these are the three which have done so most recently. In the case of the first two some passing thought or happening reminded me of the song and I pulled it up to hear it afresh and then even replayed it again several times, to re-memorize the words, so I could carry it around in my heart for a while after.

From the first time I heard it, I’ve always enjoyed this song. As a grandfather who misses his distant children to the point of physical pain, I only now can fully appreciate it. Here’s a photo…

…the adult girls and two boys in front are mine. There are also three additional grandchildren, in addition to the ones on each side, that had not yet arrived when this photo was taken. The dog isn’t mine, she’s just a friend to the whole neighborhood. If you are one of those folks who know where I live, go to Google Street View and then turn and look across the street and you’ll see that german shepard with her ball. She invites anyone to play soccer with her. She’s very good at it too. I hope the photo shows up for you, I’ve never tried to embed a Facebook photo into WordPress before. It may take a while to load, so you might want to just read on and scroll back to it later.  Also, the pic is a bit older than the date shown.

He is Risen! Do you believe? If you do then I wish you luck watching this video while trying to sing along. I can’t. If you don’t believe in this person folks call Jesus Christ, or believe Him to have been just a man, then at least ponder and believe in the things that he taught. Why? Because they are the rules of a stable and prosperous civilization. It’s taken humanity a good while to gain a little traction on putting those teachings to practice, and we still have a long way to go, but where would we be without the great Teacher who showed us the way? He doesn’t have to be your Shepard, but he wants to be. At least read his words and put them into columns of “Good” vs “Bad” and see if you don’t come away at least admiring Him.

I have never served in the military, but I have spent time away from home on business. This song might not have started out as a soldier’s tale, but the timing and marketing put it there and gave the song a stronger feeling and touched more hearts than a truck driver’s (or author or computer geek’s) tale ever could. War is Hell…even for the loved ones of the soldier. The people that we gather around us join a piece of themselves to us and us to them. Then threads of thought and prayer join us together even though our bodies travel great distances apart. My favorite renderings of this song by LoneStar include recordings of soldiers’ families, but I chose this one particular YouTube video for here because it’s closer to the source copyright-wise. Feel free to spider out through YouTube and find the other in there though if you wish.

And yes, this post ended up taking quite a bit longer than 15 minutes. Oh well. Blame my old, slow laptop. 😉

Retraction: I owe my oldest daughter, the one in the middle, and her daughter, a rather sheepish apology. She had to remind me via Facebook that she too had a daughter since this picture was taken. I’ve corrected the text of the blog entry to reflect the correct number of grandchildren. I’m sorry for my stupid oversight.

Going Back #writing101

•April 6, 2015 • 2 Comments

Dancing wind skitters over the cracked concrete.
Boney-fingered vines crush the walls.
Forsaken trees shake horned heads at their bleached roots.
Laughing ghosts of children, long old, sit the swings.

Which Way? #writing101

•April 6, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Movie poster for Civilization

Movie poster for Civilization (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My first installment into the WordPress Writing 101 workshop is supposted to be twenty minutes of random thoughts, so here it goes.

Which way does the world turn? Seriously. Now I don’t mean in the astronomical context. I mean what parts of what we do enhance, advance, improve and grow our civilization and which parts detract, delay, roll-back, and reduce it. The lump sum of civilization does not seem to go anywhere. The degree of civilized behavior at the high-end seems to advance…or does it. As we isolate and remove things that some folks think hold our culture back, we might be ditching some of the things that brought us this far. Yes, Secular Humanists, I’m talking to you.


There are folks who think that any new societies that we establish on Mars and other places should be free and open and devoid of religion.

How’s that?

First of all, you can’t put the words “free and open” and “devoid of religion” together in the same sentence. You contradict yourself.

I also don’t think it would be healthy to try, or even possible to accomplish, a religion-free culture. Religion in its purest form occurs in the heart and many say that it often guides us without us even knowing. No new culture can eliminate it without becoming the very usurpers of thought that have been the enemies of science since Plato.

Further, which patterns  of civilized behavior will these new cultures eliminate along with religion? I don’t see anything in science that teaches folks how to protect the family unit, or that inspires most folks to help the poor and disadvantaged. Yes, lots of folks think that is important, but lots of folks don’t, and religion is still the loudest, and practically the only, organized cheerleader of those concepts without which the apocalyptic science fiction that we enjoy today would be right at our heals.

Without religion to teach large groups of people toward civilized behavior, civilization would fall to dust and take the infrastructure that supports our scientific advancements with it and doom future generations to running around naked, stabbing rabbits with sharp sticks in order to eat. On a planet such as Mars, that technological infrastructure would keep everyone alive and then the bones of that colony would join all the other failed colonies through the history of our culture.

My twenty minutes are up, so I’m just going to hit “Publish” now and head off to work. Ok, first I’ll let Zemantha pop in a picture of Aristotle. No, I’ll delete that. I think this “Civilization” movie poster would work better.

What do you think? Offer comments. Some of the most interesting content on this blog has come from long message threads. I know you have something to say. Come on. Let’s hear it.

Will NASA Ever Fly People to Mars?

•March 7, 2015 • Leave a Comment

The journey of Columbus failed. He went looking for the West Indies and didn’t find them. Ol’ Chris made a very serious math error and didn’t know that there was another continent in the way, even after he’d landed on it!

The Voyage of Discovery made by Lewis and Clark failed also. As it turns out, The North West Passage over the North end of the continental United States did not, and had not ever, existed! Climate change might make one some day north of Canada, but that is not a good thing anyway, and pointless since we now have aircraft and stuff.

So those human exploration endeavors fell flat on their original objectives. The explorers found none of the things that their funding agencies paid them to find. They were mistakes and should never have been attempted. Someone should have just taken longer to plan them out. They should have waited to make sure the path was clear, that all of the risks were foreseen and managed, and that they knew everything they were going to find ahead of time so that all that was needed was for someone to simply walk over and pick it up.


If Columbus had done his math right, he would’ve seen that the West Indies were way too far away for him to get there in a single journey with his technology…and that he very likely would die trying it. Then he might have just stayed home and spent his life making maps for other travelers, growing old and fat while telling his children and grandchildren tales about that huge, dangerous, embarrassing mistake he almost made.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition sights the Grea...

The Lewis and Clark Expedition sights the Great Falls of the Missouri River and the Pacific Ocean. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lewis and Clark, after reaching the top of the Continental Divide in Montana, at the head of the Missouri River, saw that what lay beyond was not another river flowing down into a Western sea, but instead row after row of huge mountain ranges as far as the eye could see. They didn’t just shrug their shoulders and say, “Well, alrighty then. That looks pretty hard to cross. So let’s just go back and tell Jefferson to let Mexico have it.”

Has the spirit of discovery died? Have we as a culture grown so comfortable with the known quantities in our lives that we’ve forgotten that part of us that makes us most human? Does the bulk of humanity finally think that we found what we left Africa for so long ago? Have we lost what moves us to…well…move us?

Self portrait of in the Cupola module of the o...

Tracy Caldwell Dyson’s self portrait in the Cupola module. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think that NASA (and their government sponsors) may have become too risk averse to conduct traditional exploration. Robots do great science, but they have no soul and practically no one understands 99% of what they do. When we start to put visual light imagers on exploration spacecraft just as an after-thought then maybe it’s time for human eyes to run out and take a look. The Cupola on the International Space Station almost didn’t happen because Congress thought that a big, fancy, window-seat looking out over Earth was too frivolous for funding. However, such things feed the human spirit of discovery!

I’ll share with you an excerpt from my book, Into the Dark: Escape of the Nomad. In it a former NASA astronaut, grounded by a world filled with apathy and fear, takes matters into his own hands and builds a ship of his own with which he travels to Saturn…

“I’ve seen Earth from orbit and it is truly beautiful–and awe inspiring. It consumes the mind with its size, and with its geologic and atmospheric wonders. But Saturn is almost ten times larger than Earth; with thick, complex clouds completely obscuring the surface of the planet and moving barely fast enough for the human eye to perceive. The colors between the bands, pushed by powerful winds, swirl together in circular patterns that never occur again, and never seem to end, as the rapid spin of the planet mixes its atmosphere like a giant blender.

“And those rings! The many bands and colors in their plaited arrangements show a depth and iridescence that is impossible to see from a distance or in a photograph. They reflect the sunlight as a rainbow, that shifts and rolls before your eyes, changing at every angle, making you hesitate to blink lest you miss the next phenomenal episode in their never-ending light show. Their glistening particles, arranged and aligned as if by an artist’s hand, seem like they’re made specifically to entrance you with their sparkling gravitational dance.

“All this at the same time that the planet’s shear size reaches out and crushes you with a fearful realization of your own smallness. Nothing on Earth can prepare you for it, because the Earth cannot contain anything so in contrast to your size as is Saturn. It looms over you, growing ever larger, like some great doom in a childhood nightmare.

“The eyes, strained by its brightness, want to look away; yet they are ensnared in an all enveloping, wondrous trance; leaving the other senses envious of their torture.”

Will anyone ever describe Mars this way, through eyes of flesh? Yes…but the person who does it first won’t be sent by NASA.

We see a convergence of technology advancements that will very soon lead to a human exploration of Mars, but NASA will not arrive at the red planet on that day. I have watched this closely for years, taking the Jet Propulsion Laboratory training online, listening to their press releases, and I’ve come to the conclusion that NASA will support the development and application of the combination of tech that will empower other folks to send their folks to the surface of Mars. Then NASA will follow in vessels built and tested by others and will stay in Martian shelters built by the locals. They’ll do like National Geographic and that guy on River Monsters, hiring the natives to serve as guides when they visit to do their science. NASA, their sponsors, and their sponsor’s sponsors (the U.S. citizens) have grown too comfortable. Most of us have stuck our feet so deep into the warm, cozy mud of linear thinking and surrounded ourselves with so many music icons and sports heroes and acting idols that we content ourselves to see the unknown through our magical entertainment devices. We prefer to stay curled up, snuggling under a the false blanket of our own delusions of free this and free that.

Mars is hard. Mars is actually really, really hard. To send people to Mars will be the most difficult exploration project that humans have ever undertaken. So it will be done like most of the big exploration projects of old…on the fringes of human awareness…until the discoveries made by the obscure few grab the rest of us by the shoulders and shake us awake.

Here is what will need to happen, in sequence, before NASA ever sends their own boots to Mars…

  1. A National Security interest will need to be at stake…then,
  2. An act of Congress will fund the project, at at least a full digit more cost than any of us feel comfortable with…then,
  3. All necessary technologies will need to be available and fully tested…, then.
  4. The designs and design changes for all spacecraft will be locked-in for a four to eight year development cycle (and no, the current Orion and SLS Mark I and Mark 1A designs won’t cut it alone)…then.
  5. We will need to experience no significant change in political momentum for 80% of the length of the development cycle…then,
  6. They have to HIT the launch window! Slipped milestones that push the launch forward an additional 26 months until Mars swings past us again would almost certainly kill the project.

No wonder NASA doesn’t think they’ll go until after 2030.

What happens when you stand around too long at Wendy’s while deciding what to order? I’ll tell you…someone who already knows what they want slips in line in front of you.

English: The NASA insignia. Español: Insignia ...

English: The NASA insignia. Español: Insignia de la NASA. Italiano: Logo della NASA. Русский: Логотип НАСА. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ironically, only NASA knows how to shoot things off to Mars and land them, GENTLY, on its surface. If anyone unaffiliated with NASA tries to do it first, they run a very real risk of placing a small number of unfortunate people either in permanent solar orbit or at the bottom of a fresh crater on the Martian surface. However, SpaceX, the European Space Agency and even RosCosmos are all affiliated with NASA. Even the NASA contractors of old look like they may have finally started to figure out where all of this New Space stuff is headed and some of them just might survive the revelation long enough to start start competing head-to-head with the new guys. These people all share access to the NASA tech database. What NASA knows they know, or will know long before NASA can fly to Mars in 2030.

At least we know that an Apollo-style “Flags and Footprints” mission won’t work for a Mars. Travel to and from such a place is measured in months and years, not days or weeks. Explorers will spend most of their time on the opposite side of the Sun from us, and so colony-style living accommodations will have to be developed and used for the trip there and the trip back and for dirt-side. No one can live in a capsule for two years and anything that you build that you can live in for two years has another name that we can use for it…”infrastructure”!

But private explorers will build it…not NASA.

Will the Falcon Heavy Eat the SLS?

•February 25, 2015 • Leave a Comment

English: Artist concept of SLS launching.

English: Artist concept of SLS launching. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(This is Part 1 of the series on SpaceX Rockets vs SLS. For Part II, click here)


A few days ago, I commented here about the upcoming challenges to the future of the Space Launch System and Orion orbiter. In my remarks, I happened to mention that SpaceX‘s Falcon Heavy, that is scheduled to have its first-ever test launch in the summer of this very year, can carry 3/4s of SLS’s capacity but those numbers are fairly rough and seem to move around depending on where you read.

However, then I read this article…

SES signs up for launch with more powerful Falcon 9 engines

…where it says that SpaceX has a new thrust power for the Merlin 1D engine that they will use in the Falcon 9 to launch the SES 9 telecommunications satellite next month. Not much detail is provided, but it does say that they’ve bumped the rated energy output for those engines by 20%.

Let’s see…5,300 lbs, plus 20% is…well it’s more than 6,300. That seems to put the high-end Falcon Heavy within spitting distance of the low-end of the Mark I SLS…at a meager 85 million dollars per launch!

How much is an SLS launch? Half a billion? And it’s not even expected to fly for the first time (an unmanned spin around the moon) until late 2018? The next flight after that, and the first peopled flight, is planned for 2021 to an asteroid and is already under fire.

Oh, and this also expands the business envelope for the Falcon 9, putting even more market pressure on some traditionally expensive birds that used to be the only choices for throwing those big telcom satellites out to Geo-Transfer orbit. Of course, pushing the edges of the Falcon 9s lift capacity like that also pushes any possible reusability right out the window too, but no one else’s rockets are reusable right now either. SpaceX might still have that capability later this year for less challenging flights…most of those other providers won’t even try.

So, Congress uses billions of tax dollars to build the world’s next human-rated deep space rocket, while SpaceX uses a couple hundred million private dollars to beat that rocket to space with what will soon be human-rated components. SLS teams redesign the reusable Space Shuttle engine, to make any new ones they build more appropriate for a throw-away rocket, while SpaceX puts their reusable engines into what will soon be an optionally reusable rocket. NASA mission planners struggle to fill a half-billion-dollar-per-shot launch manifest for SLS, begging Congress for every penny, while SpaceX signs up a self-perpetuating line of willing customers to fly their payloads for $85 million on Falcon Heavy. Launch providers all over the world work to trim their business models to try and compete with the $1,000 per pound price point, while SpaceX works to chop that price point in half.

What will happen to the 70,000 lb to low Earth orbit, $.5B per launch SLS program the first time a nearly human-rated Falcon Heavy flies a 63,000 lb satellite to Geo-Transfer orbit for well under $100M? If that happens in 2016, will we ever even see an SLS test flight in 2018? Or if we do, will it be destined to be a one-off like Ares? What will happen to Orion when it looses its ride? What will happen to Dragon V2, and the CST-100, and Falcon, and Atlas, all built with a lot of technology gleaned from NASA’s tech database, when they find themselves with the most advanced, human-rated launch systems available because NASA’s new deep-space bird is dead on the ground…riddled with budget cuts?

Over roughly the past decade, NASA has used Congress to help commercial space carefully put the pieces in place that will soon strip Congress of most of its power over the United States’ human access to space…and not just to Earth orbit either, but to the entire solar system. It’s a very good thing that Congress is too clueless to see the knife that NASA and its partners are about to stab them in the back with. I hope that all those folks who build SLS and Orion are ready to jump ship when they see those projects start to sink.

SpaceX is not the only company working on reusable launch systems either, other rocket companies are doing it too, and there are space planes under development as well. What SpaceX does soon, others will do later and build an industry of inexpensive access to deep space for you and me and our ideas.

I hope that your children are learning their math, so they can participate in the new space race that is about to unfold as a $1,000 per pound drops to $800 and then to $500. The number of profitable uses for space that will spring from that, most of which no one has even envisioned yet, will touch each of our lives in ways we cannot yet even imagine.