Category Archives: Space

#MAGA: Space Force. The Stupid Dreams of Stupid People

Countable

#MAGA=Misguided Appallingly Gullible Americans. This is a truism I’ve demonstrated more than once on this blog. (1, 2, 3) The latest whiz-bang idea from the Orange Hate-Monkey (OHM) is this idiocy he calls the Space Force. Even his Vice President, a strangely quiet man lost in the shadow of the OHM’s vast vanity, has gotten in on the deal. Yesterday he was promoting the idea publicly. Today on the Texas Standard I hear that Maddog Mattis is gungho to get right on this stupid idea and make it a reality. That’s weird, because I thought even Maddog was against it. When a guy nicknamed Maddog doesn’t want to do your idea, you should know it’s probably even crazier and dumber than you might have thought.

Let me spell out just how dumb this idea is, from the perspective of decades of Science Fiction reading. The Earth sits at the bottom of a pretty deep gravity well. It’s face would be more visibly pockmarked than it is were it not for the wind and water action on the surface, not to mention the verdant tree growth, masquing the damage inflicted on the Earth from simple rocks that it has encountered in it’s annual journey around the sun. There are tons of rocks out there in space. Tons of them. Asteroids that could extinguish all life on this planet, in an instant. If we want to destroy any spot on the globe, that potential is out there right now. It is just waiting for anyone, anyone, to go out there, strap a rocket motor to the thing, push it this way or that and hey, presto! you’ve vaporized the target of your choice on the surface of the earth, and probably several hundred square kilometers around it.

The stupidity of believing we could continue our warlike ways into space was spelled out quite well in Robert A. Heinlein’s libertarian exploration novel, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. In that book we accompany the main character as he plots revolution against the Earth that sent him to a penal colony on the Moon. In order to avoid any major spoilers, I will simply observe that lobbing rocks at the Earth figures heavily in the plot of that novel. A Space Force is akin to the stupidity of placing the exiles from the Earth at the top of the Earth’s gravity well and daring them to get back at us. I expect a lunar penal colony will be the next great idea that the OHM will come up with, that’s how dumb the idea of a Space Force is. The world of Starship Troopers is waiting for us down that route through time, and I don’t recommend that future, either.

What life on this planet needs to understand is that we are at war with the rest of the universe, because the universe wants to kill us. Everywhere outside of the blanket of atmosphere that covers the Earth, death awaits. Gasping, freezing, boiling, death. We don’t need a Space Force because we don’t need to militarize space. Everything about going to space is a weapon. The rocket engines are weapons, the ships are weapons, that lug nut you forgot to tighten properly is a weapon after it comes loose, hurtling through space at thousands of miles an hour just waiting to intersect some habitat somewhere and destroy it. We cannot be at war with other people in space, because killing each other is far, far to easy to do out there. A moment of carelessness and everyone dies. Not exactly the place for the murderous or the stupid. Our only hope for the future is demilitarization, and it’s a pretty faint hope at that.

Stonekettle Station

The demilitarization of space is the opposite of a Space Force. This is all aside from the fact that a Space Force is probably just another boondoggle like Reagan’s Star Wars. A boondoggle that will go nowhere and cost billions. It’s a stupid idea endorsed by stupid people. Or as Stonekettle Station put it, the money goes in the black hole and never comes out.

Splitting this so-called space force off from the Air Force (and presumably pulling the space-related components out of the other services as well), what does that give us that we don’t have now — and not just give us, but give us to such a degree that it justifies the cost and significantly increased complexity? What are the distinct requirements, the technology, skillsets, logistics, communications, training, facilities, targets, strategies, tactics, objectives, and missions that will define this space force? And how are those distinctly different from the current Air Force, distinct enough to warrant an entirely separate service with its enormous associated cost?

Why both an Air Force and a Space Force, instead of a single Aerospace Force?

Like everything else with Trump: what are the details?Stonekettle Station on Facebook

The Beginning is The Ending

Back when I was first arguing the concepts behind Atheism is Not a Belief System my main antagonist cited the Big Bang as proof of god’s existence on more than one occasion. It was one of his cherished arguments, one that he was convinced there was no answer to. According to him god willed the creation of existence from nothingness, in his eyes an absolute proof of his Catholic god. The rebuttal to this particular line of argument involves understanding physics and extrapolating data to its ultimate conclusion. Essentially there was existence before there was what we know as spacetime today, and what we see as matter today existed then, perhaps in some other form. We don’t know what that form is or how before was measured before there was time, but you can’t get something from nothing without god, ergo there was something before.

Unless you want to posit god the continuance of existence is a fact, due to the law of conservation of energy. In order for the bang to occur the matter had to be there to explode in the first place. You can’t have an explosion of nothing. An explosion of nothing is a miracle of godlike proportions, and positing god just adds the complexity of the creator of god and then his creator’s creator, in an infinite loop of creator beings that mirrors the common expression turtles all the way down. Either existence always was and always will be, or there is something else we don’t yet understand at play here, as far as the cosmos is concerned.

As a baseline, our understanding of what is occurring really is in question. What we casually refer to as dark matter and dark energy makes up most of what we refer to equally as casually as the universe. Dark matter is no more certain to be one simple thing than dark energy is. These are merely placeholders like unobtainium, a number to plug into the missing holes in our understanding of the universe. We don’t know what most of the universe is made up of, and we don’t know what kind of energy is pushing it to expand at the rates that we can measure from astronomical observations. We simply can’t see everything we need to see to understand the universe at a fundamental level.

In much the same fashion, black holes exist both in this spacetime and outside of it. The Schwarzschild boundary marks the point at which normal space ceases to exist. Inside that radius we can’t know what is occurring because spacetime breaks down beyond that point. We can, and do, theorize as to what occurs and maybe, someday, we will  be able to test some of these theories. But until we can go and directly measure a black hole what we are left with is mathematical proofs that we must accept as true because the math is valid to the extent that we understand it. In the meantime we have found black holes in our observation of the universe, so their existence is an established fact, much like the matter that we can calculate is present in them even though we can’t see them directly. That is the part of them that is outside of our spacetime, the matter we can’t see because it passed the Schwarzschild radius and is invisible beyond the lensing effect of that radius.

The above is simply the prequel of this entry to the blog. The bare minimum explanation that I feel I need to include before even linking the podcast that spawned this little jaunt down hypothetical lane.


Inquiring Minds, 135 Sean Carroll – Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself

Mother Jones

Inquiring Minds is a show that I listen to pretty regularly. There have been two or three episodes that I passed up over the run of the series, but as a rule I try to give them a listen because I find their reliance on science to be pretty solid. This episode though, this episode pushed the limits for me. I liked the conversation, but I disagree with the conclusions that Sean Carroll comes to in the episode. Conclusions that he states with far more certainty than we can possibly justify, even with my limited knowledge of the math involved. We simply don’t know how the universe will end, or even that it will end. We don’t know that it ever began, either. He said as much in the podcast, but then he went on to repeat the heat death story that most physicists fall back on these days.

If any part of string theory is real then there are other dimensions to spacetime than the four dimensions that we currently can measure. In any one of the many other possible dimensions, gravity may have effects that we can’t predict and that gravity might very well exert forces that would explain some of the measurements that we currently mask with the labels dark matter and dark energy. To phrase it the way I prefer to think about it, the universe is currently accelerating into the big bang. The universe is a nearly indescribably complex toroidal shape, in my estimation, but even that is a gross oversimplification. Hawking radiation hasn’t been demonstrated to exist, so black holes don’t necessarily evaporate away. Nor do we know that space without mass and time is really a thing that exists at all. What we can say is that the universe appears to have sprang from what we think is on the other side of a black hole.

Who is to say it isn’t the same one at both ends? I’m certainly not well-versed enough in the math required to argue this conjecture knowledgeably. What I’m attracted to is the poetry, the symmetry of the circular rhythm created by the universe expanding and contracting over eternity, spawning and collapsing the multiverse or many worlds hypothesis that seems to be the most promising explanation for observed quantum effects that we’ve come up with. Maybe, just maybe, they are occurring simultaneously on different dimensions.

Inspired by two paragraphs written about this episode on Facebook. It’s one of the few things that I believe without concrete proof.

Don’t Just Land. Colonize the Moon.

The first glint of hope for the future that I’ve seen since November 8th of last year comes from the Russian space agency. Talk about global political shifts. That sense of the surreal that captured me on November 9th continues to intensify,

Roscosmos

Russia’s Space Agency (Roscosmos) has begun planning for its first manned lunar landing, starting with a recruitment drive for potential cosmonauts. The agency is looking for six to eight trainees with a background in engineering or aviation, or those who already have experience working in the space industry. All interested candidates will go through several stages of psychological, physical and medical tests during the selection process. The chosen eight will have to undergo some intense training until four remain. Those who get the job will pilot Russia’s next-gen reusable manned spacecraft Federatsiya. 

Engadget, Russia’s space agency preps for its first manned moon landing

Vladimir Putin, as part of his full court press to prove that Russia is still a world-class power (which, frankly, it is anyway. Who flies astronauts to the international space station? It isn’t the US) Mr. Putin has decided to ramp up the Russian space program and set a goal of returning to the moon, the first time for Russians to attempt a manned lunar landing.

Sorting through the dozens (dozens!) of conspiracy fantasy sites talking about the grander plans and accusations floating around the interwebs in relation to this story, I begin to see a pattern. Vladimir Putin has embraced the lunar landing hoax fantasies (Here’s proof the first landing happenedsubsequent landing sites documented here) and is beating that dead horse for all it is worth. Clearly this is part of a multi-faceted strategy to discredit the US and elevate Russia in international circles. It appears that Mr. Putin and Mr. Trump deserve each other.

There does appear to be a program though; and that program does appear to at least include moon landings if not the far grander moon base, shuttles and Mars landings that the soap opera digests of the internet can’t seem to get enough of. (Google search result) Since there is a program to return to the moon, I’d like to offer a word of advice to the directors of the various space agencies on the subject of returning to the moon. Advice on the subject of wasting more money on flags and photo shoots and no permanent plans beyond that.

Don’t do it.

Don’t let Putin go back to the moon just to erase the proof of previous US landings (if that is even possible) Don’t go back just to visit again and prove we can do it, again. Establish the permanent moon base that should have been established 20 years ago now. I cannot believe that I am sitting here in 2017 and we still don’t have a permanent moon base. Why is this even a thing?

Colonizing space, if it is ever going to occur, has to start with a permanently manned lunar base. The dark side of the moon would be ideal for long-range telescopes at the very least, and is an obvious reason to place a permanently manned base there if only to service and maintain those telescopes. Those Hubble pictures we all remember? Does anyone aside from me remember how they put that telescope in orbit and it needed glasses? That was the first servicing mission to Hubble. Followed by four more missions. Now imagine instruments on the dark side of the moon with a nearby manned outpost that could just go out and kick a transceiver (or the moonwalk equivalent) for pennies on the dollar, all while doing colonization experiments that will get us ready to go to Mars. (No I won’t change the phrasing to “far side of the moon.” I like the dark side of the moon. It reminds me of something) If we had a moon base and the resultant enhanced launch capacity and expanded near space traveling range that comes with it, it might even be possible to go out and service the James Webb telescope after it launches. That is, if it fails to deploy as expected. If it needs maintenance like the Hubble did, because spending billions on a telescope that is effectively out of service range makes absolutely no sense to me.

I’ve already run across a chorus of we can’t afford that‘s today just discussing this subject on Facebook. I’d like these people to justify themselves, just once. Just this once I’d like them to be honest on this subject and many other similar subjects. I want the people who complain about the economics of space exploration to admit, at least to themselves, that what they want is an end to space exploration altogether. I want them to at least admit it to themselves, because I know that is the goal whether they admit it or not so they might as well confess and get it over with.

Here’s a topical economic aside. Saying we can’t afford it when the government prints the fucking money in the first place is just this side of ridiculous. These people are happy to promote an increase in military spending when that spending is already higher than at any time since WWII. These are the same people who want to kill all spending on the arts and sciences and healthcare for the poor and disabled. They’ve long killed the spending on welfare and still beat the dead horse of welfare queens long after even the fake welfare queens would all be dead and gone. These we can’t afford its are just another demand for austerity; and like all austerity, they are an attempt to produce wealth through starvation. This isn’t really a viable long-term option, because you will starve to death eventually if you stay that course.

You want to talk about economics? How about the reduction in lift requirements to get materials off of the moon and into space, 1/6th the lift requirements of boosting these materials from Earth. Materials for the assembly of larger space vehicles and the solar satellites we will have to build if we are ever going to stop polluting the atmosphere burning fossil fuels for power. Those are all real economics that we are going to have to face at some point.

Personally I’m going to hold on tight to this ray of sunshine in the otherwise dismal post-apocalyptic double-plus good 1984 hellhole we’ve found ourselves in. I will continue hoping this renewed interest in space exploration will spur on the rest of the space industry to actually set a goal of a permanent base on the moon in the next 20 years. That would be completely doable and would prove that space colonization was possible. Let’s do that instead of go to war again because of the economy, if you conservatives don’t mind. Let’s spend money on that, waste money on that, rather than on bombs and weapons. Where do I sign up for that parallel universe? That simulation? Anyone have a clue?

Top Ten Science Fiction Movies. Can’t Do It.

This is going to be a bit like stream of consciousness to the reader. My apologies in advance for this if you find it impossible to follow.

I clicked a Youtube video link not realizing I was going on a journey that would take all day.


Archangel Films Unbelievable!!!!! The Movie – Official Trailer 2016

This kind of slapstick comes across as too funny. Too funny as in 90 minutes of this would kill me with stupid. I might watch it. I might not. I can’t say. It is billed as featuring 40 previous iconic “Star Trek” actors so I might have to see it. But then that is what the filmmakers are counting on when they make these kinds of movies.

While I’m sitting there contemplating whether to hazard my diminishing quantities of brain cells watching so much stupid at one time (like a Marx Brothers film) the dreaded Youtube autoplay kicked in. First it was this short.


Looper, 6 Movies That Audiences Walked Out Of

Camera motion, blood effects. Chopping one’s own arm off. Yeah, I can see walking out of all of these (I haven’t watched any American Horror Story. It’s just not my style. I am surprised the wife hasn’t wanted to watch it) which is why I haven’t seen some of them. Infrasound would explain a lot of things about certain horror films and my reactions to them.

Crap. Autoplay kicked in again while contemplating Tree of Life (Should I, shouldn’t I? Have I already? Is this me thinking?) What the hell will be next is anybody’s guess.


WatchMojo, Top 10 Underrated Science Fiction Movies

I’ve seen all but three of these (those three are now in my Netflix queue)  Two or three of them are on my “must see” list when someone asks me what to watch next (hint; I have a soft spot for Bruce DernRoy Scheider and Sam Rockwell) For the inquiring minds, Heavy Metal was a movie about an adult comic book which apparently nobody ever admits to reading, not about the rock music which may or may not have been either inspired by or the inspiration for the magazine.  The artwork in the movie is drawn directly from the various illustration styles in the magazine. Yes, I will admit to reading a few copies in my youth. Regrettably I don’t own any of them anymore.

Had Pitch Black made it on their list, it would have been four movies. I am once again victimized by autoplay.


WatchMojo, Top 10 Best Sci-Fi Movies You’ve Probably Never Seen

Not sure all of these films are worth watching, much less being best films you should watch but haven’t. Foreign language films are not for everyone, so I don’t generally recommend them to people I know who won’t be up for reading subtitles, even if I might watch them myself.

I would personally recommend A Boy and His DogThis is where the list starts to go sideways for me. This and the list that follows this one. It starts with the still image that introduces the list.

Don’t get me wrong, I think 2001 is a fine film. I think you should watch that and 2010 back to back. But 2001 is a snooze-fest. It is glacially slow as a movie.  I don’t think a lot of people watch that movie over and over. They remember watching it as a child, but haven’t tried to watch it recently. I have, several times.  Like the 60’s it was created in, it takes the right kinds of drugs to appreciate this film properly.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Stanley Kubrick.  He has three films at least that I would put in the category of Best Science Fiction Films. Not just 2001 but also A Clockwork Orange and Doctor Strangelove.  Most film critics will speak highly of Stanley Kubrick and his films. He is an auteur, his films bear the indelible mark of his authorship.  But few of his films are light or fun to watch.  You don’t just pop in A Clockwork Orange for a bit of light afternoon entertainment.

If they can recommend Strange Days without a caution (and I wouldn’t do that. Be prepared for murder and rape scenes conducted in the first person) then A Clockwork Orange is a walk in the park to watch.


WatchMojo, Top 10 Sci-Fi Movies of All Time

No top ten list of Science Fiction is complete without Metropolis and Forbidden Planet.  You cannot be a science fiction film fanatic without having seen those two films and recommending those two films. They can’t be on a list of films you haven’t seen; and if they are, your fan credentials will be subject to revocation.

Metropolis is arguably the mother of all modern Science Fiction, a film that has been revisited and reimagined in nearly every tale of dystopia, every film that questions who we really are, any film that posits the difference between man and machine.  In the same vein Forbidden Planet is the forebear of Star Trek, Star Wars, etc.  Those two films have to be on the top ten list or the list is invalid, in my opinion.

Especially any list that credits The Empire Strikes Back as the best science fiction film of all time. I doubt very much that anyone who wasn’t raised on Star Wars will think that Empire Strikes Back (much less any other Star Wars film aside from the original) should be on the list, much less topping it.  Well, perhaps the original Star Wars; not the now-titled Episode 4, but the film which aired back in 1977, the film that may single-handedly require my maintenance of a functioning laserdisc player in my home.  You remember, the movie where Han is the only person to fire a blaster in the famous bar scene? That film goes on a top ten list, if I could ever settle for ten.

I’m lying by the way. I won’t maintain the laserdisc player just for Star Wars. I will do it for the making of disc for The Abyss, for Tron, for the pressing of Highlander 2 Renegade cut and the copy of 1776 with the bits Jack Warner personally cut out of the film spliced back in and the splice marks still visible. I can link the version of 1776 that says “director’s cut” but there isn’t any way to watch the version I like other than on laserdisc. Same for the making of the Abyss which goes into the ordeal of constructing a set inside of and then flooding an abandoned nuclear reactor vessel so that real underwater shots could be pulled off with that deep water feel. The Abyss (special edition only) is one of the many, many films I would have to include in any list of Science Fiction films worth compiling.

There are a lot of good films included in their list, but I disagree with most of the films in the top five. I like them but they are all modern films. Derivative works of derivative works, unless you are talking about the Matrix or the Terminator (Not Terminator II. It’s good and a decent rewatch, just not as good as the first movie which it is derived from) both of which should be way up the list, higher than the Matrix actually appears.

Ten through six are all good solid films. I need to rewatch the War of The Worlds. I haven’t seen it since the 70’s on broadcast TV.  I have the box set of all the original Planet of the Apes films. They all rewatch well aside from the last one.

Children of Men was a heart-wrenching film to watch, but I have little doubt it will survive as a cautionary tale of meddling with mother nature. The original version of The Day the Earth Stood Still was almost unique in its time period with the portrayal of aliens as not being hellbent on destroying us (a fact that the equally good but not as memorable remake decided to change) which lends it the credibility to withstand time. Children of Men is actually one among many films which portray humans as our own worst enemy.

Jurassic Park is showing signs of age, despite their insistence that it isn’t. Maybe it is the weight of the miserable sequels that colors my impression of it. Can’t tell yet. But Aliens? Really, Aliens but not Alien? I agree the sequels that follow are best forgotten, but how do you watch Aliens without first watching Alien? Can’t be done.

Which is the problem with derivative works and especially sequels.  Without context the film is divorced from most of its meaning and has to survive on its own merit alone.  This is why The Empire Strikes Back will not be remembered as the best science fiction film ever. Because without the first film (1977 Star Wars) you don’t know who the Empire is. Why the villain being Luke’s dad is a problem. Who the hell Luke is in the first place.

If we’re just going to recommend sequels, movies that you have to have watched the previous versions to be able to appreciate, I’d like to put in a shameless plug for Terminator Genisys (deja vu if you’ve read my last post carefully) As I’ve noted when recommending previously, the first 10 to 20 minutes of the film (after the first time jump) is a shot for shot tribute to the original film. It is the most beautifully made and scripted film that I’ve seen for awhile now, and it builds on established previous entries into the film canon, builds on them then knocks them all down, in ways that the viewer will not see coming. If you want to watch a good sequel, this is one for you to enjoy.

If I was going to make a list of ten films you probably haven’t seen recently (if ever) but speak highly of, 2001 is going to be top of that list. In fact, most of the Top 10 list that WatchMojo put together are films that I guarantee the compilers have not rewatched recently.

If you surf over to the WatchMojo website you will notice that they do an awful lot of top ten lists. Way, way more of them than is healthy, quite frankly. In fact, I can’t even find the films-by-decade lists that are mentioned in the Top Ten list just to see if the films I think are relevant are on those lists. I think that creating these endless list films that they produce keeps them from taking the time to enjoy the life that they rate in top ten increments several times a day.

I appear to have stumbled upon the kind of site that internet surfers loathe.  The dreaded clickbait. The site that sucks up all your life and time, without giving you much in return. This explains why their films list is mostly modern films, or films recently remade with modern versions, like War of the Worlds and The Day the Earth Stood Still. Not an in depth analysis of any real kind at all. And I’ve written how much on this subject now? Several pages, at least.

So what about a real Top Ten List? The ten best SF (Science Fiction) films ever made? I don’t think I can create a list of only 10 of them. I tried to create one of those kinds of lists ages ago on Flixster. I soon found out that limiting the list to ten films requires that I eliminate films that are essential to understanding the artform.  Films like Metropolis and Forbidden Planet.

The profile link for my list says I have 15 films on it. I can’t see them because their website enters an error when I go to click on my own created content.  The web 2.0, more broken than the web 1.0 and now featuring more advertising. Luckily I copied a version of it off and posted it to this blog. I have no idea if it is the last one or not, but here is at least one of my lists.

Avatar should be in the top five. We can start with that. A lot of people love to hate on Avatar, but it is the film that inspired the resurgence of 3D and it wasn’t the 3D in the film that was remarkable. It is the fact that you cannot tell the animation from the real images in the film that makes it so remarkable. That you can have such a realistically animated film and not cross the uncanny valley in the process.  It is an amazing film, soon to be a series of 4 films.

Top Ten worthy films produced since Avatar? I can offer a few.

Ex Machina. Highly rated and very watchable, it explores the boundaries of what is or isn’t human better than any film I’ve seen on the subject.  A film worth mentioning that is also in the vein of Ex Machina is Transcendence, one of those poorly received for no good reason films, consequently not a film that would make a top ten list.

Because commercial success figures into the calculation of what is or isn’t good, what is or isn’t preserved, what is or isn’t watchable by people who pick up the material to watch later.  It was highly rated and it made a lot of money, it is also still a valuable experience to have, even though I don’t know who Luke is (figuratively, from the future) if you want to make lists that don’t make you sound like an idiot, you have to take all of those metrics into account. And since future prediction is something we humans suck at, most of our lists will be utterly worthless.

Take, for instance, Gravity. This is a fine film. Highly rated. Made lots of money. Probably won’t be remembered (my apologies to Sandra Bullock) because it deals with current technology and doesn’t do that really well, even though the cinematography is excellent an the acting is nearly faultless.

In the same vein the mainstays of current cinema, the sequel, the franchise, none of those films survive without the other films in the series, like the Saturday morning serials of old.  Consequently no Star Wars, no Star Trek, no Mad Max, no Alien will go down in history as worthy of mention, unless the first in the series merits it, or there is established a place for serial media (like television) to be consumed in the order it was produced.  This gives it context, gives it meaning it doesn’t contain by itself.

That is why Alien appears at number five in my old list, and Aliens at number 10, and those are the only sequelized films on the list. Because films that are part of another genre, that can’t hold their own alone, will not be remembered. This means most of the comic book movies will also not be on any lists, if we can call those Science Fiction and not Fantasy. That is an open question, so don’t dismiss it.  If we’re talking fantasy films, that is a whole other ball of wax.

Blade Runner would also have to be on the list. It is iconic. Worth mentioning is Dark City a twisted little film with the same feel and a completely different storyline. Both of those border on fantasy, so I could see how they would be excluded from a hard SF list.  That is, if anyone actually knew what hard SF was, could meet others who thought they knew and that group could then agree on what the term meant.  I consider that likely to be a fantasy in and of itself.

As I go down that old list, I can discard several films as being temporarily relevant. Films like Serenity. I still love it, but I am reconciled with the show never returning now. I keep hoping the Firefly online game will release, but I’m beginning to suspect that is also not going to happen.

Vanilla Sky and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind really are hard to rewatch. The Truman Show is still watchable, but really not surprising in the current age of reality TV. You can easily see someone pretending not to be on camera, deluding themselves into thinking the illusion is real. Sadly, it is all too believable now. Truman not knowing he was on camera? That is hard to believe.

I think A.I. should still be on the list, but it may fall off soon. We are just now getting to the point where robots are real things, much less making them capable of passing for human. The singularity that futurists are still fascinated with is portrayed loosely in that film, making it still relevant. Once the robots are among us, there is no telling what will happen next.

The last film that I’ve seen that should probably be included in any top 10 list is The Martian. Worlds better than Red Planet or Mission to Mars (Hollywood is so incestuous) both of which I paid money to see (Red Planet is good fun, just not good science fiction) The Martian holds up to the most intense scrutiny of scientists (other than the storm at the beginning) making it the most solidly science based fiction film since 2001.

Worthy of mention is Interstellar. Almost a time travel story (almost!) it mixes science and fantasy and comes up with a decent little film exploring the near future and what we might be facing soon if we aren’t careful.

Which brings me to the last great film that Robin Williams was in before he died, the movie The Final Cut; the story of a man afraid to live his own life, so instead spends his time authoring the stories of other people’s lives.

The actual current list? I’m still working on that.

Challenger 30 Years Later

“Everyone knows how they died, we want people to remember how they lived.” – June Scobee-Rodgers, widow of Challenger commander Dick Scobee

(author unknown)

At 10:40 am on January 28th 1986 the space shuttle Challenger was issued the command “go for throttle up” and the subsequent explosion ended space’s age of innocence. I remember where I was that day. Like most of our memories of those kinds of events, it is probably full of holes and exaggerations.  But I do remember it.  I also remember honoring the Challenger crew’s sacrifice with the crew of the (can you remember the name before you read it?) Columbia.  For quite some time my personal page at ranthonysteele.com had a memorial page for the Columbia and Challenger as a tribute to the sacrifice of both crews.

High Flight
(the pilot’s creed)

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 falls of air… 
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue 
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace 
Where never lark, nor eer 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

The above was found in a particularly moving article by Nigel Rees (on another now dead website) describing how the poem came to prominence and caught the attention of Ronald Reagan (or one of his speechwriters) who later remembered it and uttered it in memoriam for the Challenger crew. It was the words of Columbia commander Rick Husband that caused me to go looking for the poem back in 2003, when he unknowingly forshadowed his impending death by observing;

It is today that we remember and honor the crews of Apollo 1 and Challenger. They made the ultimate sacrifice, giving their lives and service to their country and for all mankind 

Four days later, his shuttle burned up on re-entry.  I was awakened from an uneasy sleep that Saturday morning, by the ringing of the phone.  One of our fellow space enthusiast friends calling to tell us to turn on the news.  Columbia had been destroyed.

Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia, whose crews were all killed within the space of a week on the calendar, if over 36 years in elapsed time. That is the way it has been for ten years and more for me.  I’ve kept notations on my calendar since the Columbia disaster, so that I could remember these crews and their sacrifices on the anniversaries of their deaths.

Space.com

The space program means a lot to the Wife and I.  She’s become so heartbroken that we still don’t have a permanent lunar base for her to immigrate to that she refuses to discuss the subject of space in any other form than as a betrayal by the US government of the people of the nation, especially people like she and I who dreamed of going to space someday.  My balance issues convinced me long before I became disabled that I would never have made it to space anyway, so I don’t take the betrayal personally.  But it is hard to argue that we weren’t lied to when the ISS is a shadow of its promised size and scope, and that moon vacations still aren’t a thing we can experience.  Not to mention the complete abdication of NASA’s involvement in space as it pertains to getting supplies to and from the ISS, the reliance on Russia to transfer astronauts to and from the station via 1960’s Soyuz technology.  These are dark days for space enthusiasts when it comes to manned space missions.

So I was a little surprised that I hadn’t noted that today was Challenger day until listening to the BBC World News podcast. As I frequently do, I paused the program and went over to the browser on my phone and inquired about current articles on the Challenger disaster that might be worth sharing.

Top of the list was this piece over at Gawker. It is probably worth mentioning that I have a love/hate relationship with Gawker, the name of the website itself recalls miles of freeway made impassable by hundreds if not thousands of people who just have to look at automobile accidents. Maybe I’m weird, but I can still summon up images from my high school drivers education classes, so I don’t need a refresher on just how we lemmings die encased in steel on US freeways.

The subject of the article was even more enraging than a freeway pile-up that keeps you from getting where you need to be until several hours late, though;

…after the disaster, over time, a different and more horrible story took shape: The Challenger made it through the spectacular eruption of its external fuel tank with its cabin more or less intact. Rather than being carried to Heaven in an instant, the crippled vessel kept sailing upward for another three miles before its momentum gave out, then plunged 12 miles to the ocean. The crew was, in all likelihood, conscious for the full two and a half minutes until it hit the water.

This particular bit of conspiratorial fantasy really isn’t news.  The briefest perusal of the wiki entry on the subject of the Challenger disaster will reveal that it has been premised that the astronauts survived the initial breakup. It isn’t even controversial anymore. There is little evidence either way on the subject, and knowing they survived (or that the crew of the just as tragic Columbia disaster survived) the initial breakup only to be killed later really doesn’t prove anything, or provide any great insight into either tragedy.

I remember picking up at least one supermarket tabloid in the months after Challenger went down that purported to have written transcripts of the last moments of the crew as preserved on the flight recorder.  That concoction was a total fantasy, beneath even the satirical minds of the writers of the Onion today; and the grisly nature of interest in the last moments of the life of a person about to die tragically is something that I’ve never had the stomach for.  That there would have been panic from trained military flyers even in the face of certain doom is very doubtful. As more than one pilot has mentioned to me over the years, the most common last words on flight recorders is oh, shit.  That is because trained pilots are too busy working the problem to realize that ultimate failure is about to kill them until the last moment. When it is too late to panic and have that panic recorded for posterity.

NASA image STS 107 launch
Some of the experiments survived

The pilots of Challenger and Columbia were both powerless to save themselves and their crews. That is the true nature of these tragedies.  The decisions that cost their lives were made by people above them in authority, people who were willing to risk the lives of others even when the engineers who designed those systems stood solidly against launching under the weather conditions present at the time.

Failure of the O-rings caused the Challenger disaster. It is doubtful that a parachute system or some other secondary contingency could have worked in the specific scenario the evolved in that launch. There was a way to decouple the shuttle from the tank and glide home, but that contingency failed with the explosion of the central fuel tank.

Ice and foam chunks damaged the leading edge of the wing of Columbia during its last launch.  There was no way to rescue the crew once they were in space without risking another crew flying under similar conditions, if the next shuttle could have even been made ready in time. Thinking back to the steely-eyed missile men who brought Apollo 13 back home, one wonders what they might have done if they had still been in charge when Columbia was in space.  Would they have risked an EVA to check the wing? Probably. Would they have found a way to get a rescue mission up to Columbia in time to get the crew off?  Maybe. Was there some way to seal the wing in space so it could survive re-entry? People familiar with the mission said no, still say no.

Hindsight is always 20/20. There would have been no need for a parachute contingency (and the added weight/cost) had NASA listened to its own engineers in 1986, because they recommended a scrub and were over-ruled on the subject.  A similar discussion occurred just prior to the launch of Columbia as well.

I have recommended this book several times on the blog, Deadly Decisions: How False Knowledge Sank the Titanic, Blew Up the Shuttle, and Led America into War.  If you really want to understand just how stupidly large human systems fail, read that book.  You will come away with a completely different view on history and on current events.  The failures of the shuttle missions in particular remain haunting to the American psyche in ways that so many of our other failures do not. Perhaps this is because they touch on the hopes and dreams of so many. Perhaps because they remain the most visible black marks on the aspirations of this country.

New York Daily News

Personally they represent the end of manned space exploration missions in my lifetime. That is what I think of most bitterly when I recall the aftermath of the Challenger disaster. I remember the teacher Christa McAuliffe and her brave, hopeful words.  Her energetic wave as she boarded the transport heading for the shuttle.  I remember thinking upon hearing of the shuttle’s destruction there goes my chance to get into space.  Because that is what it meant, what the tragedy still means to me to this day. The end of hope for a brighter future.  With that knowledge comes acceptance of our limitations as human animals and a greater understanding of just how fragile we creatures are. How fragile our home is.

We may be stuck on this rock for awhile yet, so we probably should figure out how to keep it safe for the time being. Try to avoid that next big thing heading our way.  What is it? Only the future knows.

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.
– Hanlon’s Razor

Tiangong 1?

China announced Thursday (Feb. 28) that it will send three astronauts to space this summer on a docking mission to its orbiting lab, according to news reports.

Carrying three Chinese astronauts the Shenzhou 10 capsule will launch into space atop a Long March-2F rocket sometime between June and August, the Xinhua news agency reported. Once in orbit, the Shenzhou 10 spacecraft will link up with China’s space station prototype, the Tiangong 1 laboratory module.

The new space mission will mark China’s second manned docking of two spacecraft in orbit, and the fifth Chinese manned spaceflight. The country’s space program achieved its first manned orbital docking 2012, when the three-person crew of Shenzhou 9 linked up with Tiangong 1. – Space.com

Raise your hands, anyone who knew the Chinese built their own space station? Have sent manned missions to it before? and the media claims to report “the news”. Apparently this isn’t newsworthy in the US.

Facebook Status update backdated to the blog.


This one made it to the blog because this event is apparently happening soon,

The European Space Agency (ESA) has issued a new re-entry forecast for China’s Tiangong-1 space lab.

The 8.5-ton spacecraft is now expected to fall into Earth’s atmosphere between March 24 and April 19, though ESA officials stressed that this is a rough estimate.

“Re-entry will take place anywhere between 43 degrees north and 43 degrees south (e.g. Spain, France, Portugal, Greece, etc.)” latitude, officials with the Space Debris Office at ESA’s European Space Operations Center in Darmstadt, Germany, wrote in an update last week. “Areas outside of these latitudes can be excluded. At no time will a precise time/location prediction from ESA be possible.” – Space.com

In all honesty, I thought that this space station had already suffered re-entry. Apparently I had read the story projecting the re-entry data, and never took into account how far into the future this event would occur.

Also? I love the comment by someone of Asian descent who thinks that because Chinese spaceflight is important to him, it should be important to everybody. I was simply marveling that as a voracious news consumer I had never encountered this story in two years of listening to and watching the news almost constantly. Space is simply not something that the mainstream media reports on, and when they do, they do it badly.

So, Chinese space station coming down at the end of the month (March, 2018) set your calendars and watch for space debris accordingly.  

Huge Crater Found in Egypt

The crater is about 19 miles (31 kilometers) wide, more than twice as big as the next largest Saharan crater known. It utterly dwarfs Meteor Crater in Arizona, which is about three-fourths of a mile (1.2 kilometers) in diameter.

read more | digg story

Click and enlarge the photo. Too Cool. Found this image while browsing Killer Space Rock Theory Is Soaking Wet a classically provocative Space.com title for a story about what part of the impact killed the dinosaurs; not whether or not they were killed by a meteor impact. Interesting findings, though.

Mars Rovers – Still exploring the red planet

I have been waiting for news that the rovers had survived the dust storms. I apparently missed it.

Mars Rovers Survive Severe Dust Storms, Ready for Next Objectives

Two months after sky-darkening dust from severe storms nearly killed NASA’s Mars exploration rovers, the solar-powered robots are awake and ready to continue their mission. Opportunity`s planned descent into the giant Victoria Crater was delayed, but now the rover is preparing to drive into the half-mile diameter crater as early as Sept. 11.

read more | digg story

Not only did they survive, but they’re mission has been extended yet again.

NASA Extends Mars Rover Mission a Fifth Time

The twin rovers landed on Mars in January 2004 on a mission originally planned to last only 90 days. That was 45 months, or nearly four years, ago. Both robots recently survived a series of global dust storms that threatened to end the mission by blocking sunlight to their solar panels.

read more | digg story

The most impressive stat in the article is the lifespan of the robots on Mars.

The twin rovers landed on Mars in January 2004 on a mission originally planned to last only 90 days. That was 45 months, or nearly four years, ago.

On the Subject of Pluto

I’ve blogged on this subject before.

I was watching a program on the Science Channel, Last Planet From Our Sun, which was discussing the pros and cons of why Pluto would or would not be a planet. The program opened with a rather bold series of statements from Dr. Neil Tyson, Director of the Hayden Planetarium.

It seems that much of this hoopla over the status of Pluto is just a tempest in a teapot, and will end up amounting to nothing. Dr. Tyson, and several of his colleagues, have been agitating since 1999 (Pluto’s Honor, Natural History magazine, February 1999) concerning the status of Pluto, and rightly questioning whether or not the oddities surrounding it should exclude it from being called a ‘planet’.

“I hope we find plenty of objects bigger than Pluto. If they’re made of ice, and they are out there beyond Neptune, they are Kuiper belt objects. Get over it.”
Dr. Neil Tyson

I’ve mentioned this before, the oddities surrounding Pluto have always made it not a planet in my own judgment. It wasn’t until this latest mini-tempest that I even realized there were others out there who shared my opinion; people who actually work in the field of astronomy, even. The need to re-classify Pluto as a Kuiper belt object (as Ceres was classified as an asteriod when the nature of the asteriod belt was discovered) has been a known issue since the mid 1990’s when dozens of objects were found orbiting out beyond Neptune. The issue came to a head with the discovery of Eris (previously referred to as Zena) in 2005, a body larger than Pluto, much farther from the sun, and well outside the plane of the ecliptic. So it was either consider all these ice bodies as ‘planets’, or come up with a definition of planet that excluded them. Personally I’m beginning to agree with Dr. Tyson, the word planet is misleading, and covers an over-large range of bodies in the solar system.

The long and the short of it, though, is that anyone who was blindsided by the demotion of Pluto really wasn’t paying attention to astronomy news. It was only in the pipe for ten years before it happened…

An Answer to the Fermi Paradox

From WWdn in Exile: the secret is to bang the rocks together, guys

The question was originally posed by Enrico Fermi, and has become known as the Fermi Paradox:

The extreme age of the universe and its vast number of stars suggest that extraterrestrial life should be common. Considering this with colleagues over lunch in 1950, the physicist Enrico Fermi is said to have asked: “Where are they?”[1] Fermi questioned why, if a multitude of advanced extraterrestrial civilizations exist in the Milky Way galaxy, evidence such as probes, spacecraft or radio transmissions has not been found. The simple question “Where are they?” (alternatively, “Where is everybody?”) is possibly apocryphal, but Fermi is widely credited with simplifying and clarifying the problem of the probability of extraterrestrial life.

A Danish researcher has come up with an interesting answer (if not a complete solution) to the Fermi Paradox:

Extra-terrestrials have yet to find us because they haven’t had enough time to look.

Using a computer simulation of our own galaxy, the Milky Way, Rasmus Bjork, a physicist at the Niels Bohr institute in Copenhagen, proposed that a single civilisation might build eight intergalactic probes and launch them on missions to search for life. Once on their way each probe would send out eight more mini-probes, which would head for the nearest stars and look for habitable planets.

Mr Bjork confined the probes to search only solar systems in what is called the “galactic habitable zone” of the Milky Way, where solar systems are close enough to the centre to have the right elements necessary to form rocky, life-sustaining planets, but are far enough out to avoid being struck by asteroids, seared by stars or frazzled by bursts of radiation.

He found that even if the alien ships could hurtle through space at a tenth of the speed of light, or 30,000km a second, – Nasa’s current Cassini mission to Saturn is plodding along at 32km a second – it would take 10bn years, roughly half the age of the universe, to explore just 4% of the galaxy.

…Which just means they haven’t found us yet.