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October 2, 2017

Agnett Bonwitt, Managing Editor

The 6-Gazillion Idea Man

A recent excellent article in The Verge makes a strong case for our suspicions that Space X chief Elon Musk is really a replicant from some dismal Blade Runner-type future as the author Andrew J. Hawkins rips apart the lack of human consideration in his latest seemingly off-the-cuff proposal to use his company’s future mega rocket launcher to blast people between major cities on Earth in 60 minutes or less.

“His [Musk’s] frustration with our current outdated methods of transportation is understandable,” Hawkins writes.  “After all, we’ve been stuck with four modes of travel (road, air, water, and rail) for almost a century … And while throwing cold water on his ideas has become a media cottage industry unto itself, his latest pitch to connect cities by suborbital rocket needs much closer scrutiny.”

SpaceX BFR concept.

According to Hawkins, Musk’s quixotic proposal  would involve his yet-to-be built “BFR” super rocket that would lift a spacecraft into orbit around the Earth, and would then alight down on floating landing pads near each destination city. While both launcher and spaceship are still only a gleam in his eye, Musk said he hopes to begin construction on the rocket within six to nine months.

Specifically, here are a few item’s in Hawkins’ laundry list of complaints about Musk’s newly-announce plan and obsession that “no trip between any two cities on the planet should last longer than an episode of The Big Bang Theory.”

  1. Musk hardly touches on the ginormous risks passengers would take ” by boarding one of these rockets “for a breezy trip from Shanghai to Paris or Dubai.” While’s SpaceX ‘s Falcon 9 rockets have had more successes than failures, the current triumph-to-defeat ratio is still unacceptable on a commercial basis (see recent blooper reel).
  2. From a physics standpoint, Musk’s idea is doable; however the human stress from spaceflight, even on short trips, could have adverse consequences too great just for shaving a few hours off a trip. “You can’t fly humans on that same kind of orbit,” Brian Weeden, director of program planning for Secure World Foundation, told The Verge. “For one, the acceleration and the G-forces for both the launch and the reentry would kill people.”
  3. Another danger with launching people like intercontinental ballistic warheads is the radiation exposure present in space. And while most deep space particles are deflected by Earth’s magnetic field thereby posing a less significant health threat,  Anderson feels that the high-tech empresario’s “indifference toward the impact that these interstellar concepts would have on human bodies is classic Musk.”
  4. Another huge hurdle is costs. Musk declared that these express trips would be competitive with commercial air travel. However this would be possible only if reusable rockets were able to be operated for up to 10,000 flights as conventional airplanes are. And since a recent US Air Force study found that recycled rockets were only good for about 100 flights, Musk’s space-age shuttle jaunts are “probably going to be 10 times the cost per-seat,” said Charles Miller, president of NexGen Space LLC. “He may be 1-in-10,000 [for] loss of vehicle, but it’s nowhere near the 3-and-10 million reliability of airlines,” Miller noted.
  5. One of the surprising conclusions from a recent Department of Transportation paper is the effects that futuristic commercial space travel would have on pilots. “The pilot will have to deal with activities ranging from direct control of the vehicle to oversight and situational awareness to planning,” said the paper’s author, Ruth A. MacFarlane Hunter.  “The much larger array of instruments and situations may require the pilot to quickly shift to a different activity using different instruments,” subjecting him or hert “to confusion and cognitive overload,” she added.
Essentially, Hawkins’ major beef is that while “we need visionaries to motivate us as a society …  Musk’s approach has always been more fatalistic than inspiring.” We would add, as Hawkins mentions earlier in his piece, that ultimately this is just another Silicon Valley scheme that “will most likely benefit wealthy VCs, billionaire industrialists, and no one else.”


Cosmic Co-op

Artist’s rendering of the proposed US/Russia Deep Space Gateway that would act as a staging platform for future Moon missions and serve as a possible springboard to Mars and beyond.

While America’s Congress, intelligence agencies, and special prosecutor continue their sleuthing into the extent of Russia’s presidential election meddling, US and Russian space agencies quietly signed an agreement last week on a new venture to orbit the Moon, and to potentially explore other parts of the solar system.Coming one week before the 60th anniversary of the historic Sputnik satellite launch (October 4, 1957) that sparked the space age revolution, the newly-inked “deep space gateway” deal between NASA and Roscosmos initially calls for a lunar-orbiting station where astronauts can evaluate systems needed for interplanetary travel, and for logging time in space while only being a couple of days from Earth. Eventually, the two agencies hope to establish a lunar base that would serve as a staging area for more exotic celestial locales such as Mars and beyond.

Photo Finishes

Below is a spectacular series of pix taken by NASA’s Juno Cam on September 1 as swooped by Jupiter during its latest in a series of scheduled fly-bys of the gas giant. The sequence of 11 color-enhanced images from “Perjove 8” spans 95 minutes, starting with the Jovian north pole on the right of the first image and the planet’s south pole on the left of the 11th photo.

In a not-so-related story, European Space Agency scientists were surprised and delight to find a final snapshot transmitted by its Rosetta space probe before the craft ended its 12-year mission and crash-landed on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (67P) just over a year ago on September 29, 2016. Apparently the final moments of photo data originally not recognized by the agency’s automatic processing software, but in a recent manual scan, technicians were able to reconstruct the final clear pic of the comet’s surface:

Sticky Situation

If tests from a recent study hold up, we may have a glimps into how protoplanets are formed as cosmic dust circles around a newborn star.

Effervescent ice under ultraviolet light.

New research suggests that a combo of low temperatures and ultraviolet light makes ice behave like a liquid, and could explain how planets began to form in the earliest epoch of our solar system, reports Science Alert. According to scientists at Hokkaido University in Japan, when these deep-space conditions are present, the resultant mutant ice can gobble up dust and other cosmic debris. forming a chain reaction that ends up with, for instance, a giant gas ball like Jupiter. Head researcher Shogo Tachibana and his team reached their tentative conclusions after deep-freezing a brew of water, methanol, and ammonia, and as it began to warm, the scientist noticed that the icy substance began to bubble like boiling water and had a viscosity similar to honey.  “The liquid-like ice may help dust accrete to planets because liquid may act as a glue,” said Tachibana. “However, further experiments are needed to understand the material properties of the liquid-like ice,” he added.

Cutting the Cheese

A newly-released study sponsored by NASA has climatologists raising their eyebrows over updated figures showing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions flatulated/excreted by livestock worldwide is 11 percent higher than estimates made over 10 years ago, reports Gizmodo. If correct, the new research published in Carbon Balance and Management, is a fresh blow to efforts fighting climate change since methane gas, while being less abundant in the atmosphere than CO2, is 30 times more efficient in trapping the Sun’s heat and consequently rising the Earth’s temperatures. And with approximately 1.5 billion bovines expelling 30-50 gallons of the planet-warming gas a day, that’s  a problem the world will have to collectively hold its nose and address before we roast ourselves into extinction.

Racket Man

While it’s not hard to recall less than five offensive brain farts Donald Trump has billowed out in the past couple of months, our Twerp-in-Chief’s recent racially-charged comments regarding Charlottesville and NFL players protesting during the national anthem caught the attention to former shuttle astronaut and NFL gridironer Leland Melvin, who had a few choice things to say in an essay to friends that was recently published in Boing Boing.

Below are excepts from Melvin’s essay (Note: Melvin also is a former NASA educator and author of “Chasing Space: An Astronaut’s Story of Grit, Grace, and Second Chances,” is pictured here with his two adorable pups):

To Donald Trump

I believe in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of this country even though at the time they were drafted, … only applied to a select group of people and not ones that looked like me.

… I listened to your Alabama rally rant and could not believe how easily you say what you say.

… I used to walk the grounds of UVA in Charlottesville, VA as a graduate student only to watch in horror as those same grounds became a battlefield being trod by Nazi and anti-Semitic worshippers armed with assault style weapons ready to fight to make America White again. (their words). You actually said there were nice people on both sides.

… Comparing this to what you say in condemnation of an unarmed black man peacefully protesting by exercising his constitutional First Amendment rights by silently taking a knee is appalling, unnerving and reprehensible.

Today, you called Colin Kaepernick “a son-of-a-bitch.”

You said he should be fired.

… The strong contrast in language for a black man and a Nazi is very telling. Do you have any sense of decency or shame in what you say to the American people that are part of your duty to serve respectfully with dignity, presidentially?

Our National Anthem has been edited to try not to offend, because when Francis Scott Key penned the song he watched freed slaves fighting for the British and wrote this stanza:

“And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution. No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

I guess if I were a slave back then

 I probably would have done anything to obtain freedom from my American oppressors who were whipping, killing, raping, dismembering, hanging or releasing the dogs on people like me all under our Constitution.


… I served my country not in the military, but as 1 of 362 American Astronauts that have explored the universe to help advance our civilization. Not just Americans, but all humans. I also was briefly in the NFL and stood for the National Anthem with my hand over my heart. What makes us great is our differences and respecting that we are all created equally even if not always treated that way.

Looking back at our planet from space really helps one get a bigger perspective on how petty and divisive we can be. Donald Trump, maybe you should ask your good friend Mr. Putin to give you a ride on a Soyuz rocket to our International Space Station and see what it’s like to work together with people we used to fight against, where your life depends on it. See the world and get a greater sense of what it means to be part of the human race, we call it the Orbital Perspective.

Donald Trump, please know that you are supposed to be a unifier and a compassionate and empathetic leader. If you can’t do the job then please step down and let someone else try. I pray that you do the right thing.

May God bless you.


Leland Melvin
Former Astronaut and NFL Player

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