Category Archives: Technology and Society

Baumgartner’s Skydiving Record

has been broken already. It’s inevitable that people are going to want to do this from a hundred kilometers.

[Update a while later]

Here’s the press release:

Roswell, NM – Oct. 24, 2014 – Following the record-breaking 135,908-foot space dive accomplished by Google’s Alan Eustace and the Paragon StratEx team, World View Enterprises, the commercial balloon spaceflight company, has acquired the technology from this history-making project. The acquisition will advance the company’s mission to pioneer a new frontier at the edge of space for travel and research.

“We’d like to congratulate Paragon Space Development Corporation® and its StratEx team along with Alan Eustace and all involved on their exceptional work,” said Taber MacCallum, World View’s chief technology officer, and Paragon’s founding CEO and CTO. “Without the efforts of these companies and Alan’s dedication, the project would not have been possible. World View is proud to carry the StratEx technology into the future by leveraging the incredible experience gained into a new era of space flights.”

For StratEx, Eustace was lifted to his peak altitude of 135,908 feet via high-altitude balloon, the same ballooning system that World View will employ to launch sailing-like journeys to the edge of space. While World View’s voyagers will ascend within a luxuriously engineered pressurized capsule, Eustace was kept safe from the elements in a self-contained space suit system designed with the goal of allowing manned exploration of the stratosphere above 100,000 feet. Paragon, which specializes in extreme environmental control systems, initiated the project with Eustace and worked with him to develop, build and manage the system used during the incredible space dive.

As former Paragon executives, World View founders Taber MacCallum and Jane Poynter played integral roles in the success of StratEx. MacCallum served as CEO and CTO of Paragon and played a key role in the development of the StratEx program, then transitioned to the critical role of chief safety officer, working with the team to ensure Eustace’s wellbeing. MacCallum will leverage this experience from the successful StratEx dive in his role as the chief technology officer for World View. Jane Poynter, World View’s CEO, served as the president and chairwoman of Paragon throughout the development of the StratEx program.

The patent-pending technology developed for StratEx has been acquired by World View for future space travel and research flights, adding depth to World View’s systems for launch, recovery, communications, ballooning, tracking, mission control, avionics and aerodynamics, among others.

World View will have Voyagers floating peacefully to the edge of space for a one-to-two-hour space cruise within a luxury capsule complete with bar and lavatory, which is transported by a parafoil and high-altitude balloon. Guests will enjoy 360-degree vistas of the world’s most spectacular panorama, marveling at the beauty of the Earth below, watching the sun slowly rise above the curvature of our planet suspended in a vast, black and infinite universe. They can even share the experience in real-time with loved ones thanks to in-flight Internet access.

Individuals who wish to be a pioneer in this exciting new era of space exploration can reserve their World View flight with a $5,000 deposit; the remaining $70,000 is due six months prior to their flight. Visit us to reserve.

In addition to offering breathtaking experiences for Voyagers, the capabilities being developed by World View will offer unprecedented and affordable access to the near-space environment for educators, researchers, private companies and government agencies alike.

World View has a number of strategic partners in this endeavor. Paragon Space Development Corporation® has decades of experience developing life support and space-related technologies. Paragon is leading the design and development of the World View space capsule. United Parachute Technologies, Performance Designs and MMIST, all leaders in pioneering parachute technology, are providing expertise and support for the development of the flight system’s airborne guidance unit and innovative parafoil.

About World View

Offering a gentle, comfortable, and life-changing travel experience to the edge of space for private citizens; and affordable access to a range of near-space commercialization opportunities for researchers, private companies and government agencies, World View is pioneering a new era of discovery at the edge of space. Available today for unmanned commercial opportunities with an altitude threshold of 130,000 feet, and currently taking reservations for manned flights and private tours, World View is creating unprecedented access to the near-space environment. Watch the World View experience here. For more information, visit http://www.worldviewexperience.com. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for real-time updates.

ABOUT PARAGON

Paragon Space Development Corporation® is a premier provider of environmental control components and systems for extreme and hazardous environments. As an industry leader in designing and manufacturing of thermal control and life support systems, Paragon provides solutions for its customer’s most challenging extreme environment protection needs in space, on Earth, in water and underground. Founded in 1993, Paragon is a small business headquartered in Tucson, Arizona. For more information on Paragon please click here.

Maybe I just hadn’t been paying attention, but this is the first that I’d heard they were planning to do this. It had nowhere near the hype that Red Bull did with Baumgartner. Of course, the latter was about branding, so it makes sense that they’d give it a lot of publicity.

Peter Thiel And Global Warming

Why he’s skeptical:

“Whenever you can’t have a debate, I often think that’s evidence that there’s a problem,” Thiel said on The Glenn Beck Program. “When people use the word ‘science,’ it’s often a tell, like in poker, that you’re bluffing. It’s like we have ‘social science’ and we have ‘political science,’ [but] we don’t call it ‘physical science’ or ‘chemical science.’ We just call them physics and chemistry because we know they’re right.”

Thiel said no one will be upset if you ask questions about the periodic table, because it is actually science. But referring to man-made climate change as “science” tells you “that people are exaggerating and they’re bluffing a little bit,” Thiel said.

“The weather has not been getting warmer for the last 15 years. The hockey stick that Al Gore predicted in the early 2000s on the climate has not happened,” he remarked. “And I think as this monolithic culture breaks down, you can have more debates.”

Yes.

Bootstrapping A Solar-System Civilization

There was an interesting blog post at OSTP last week:

Have ideas for massless exploration and bootstrapping a Solar System civilization? Send your ideas for how the Administration, the private sector, philanthropists, the research community, and storytellers can further these goals at massless@ostp.gov.

Needless to say, I don’t expect this to go anywhere with the current Congressional committees.

China’s Big Gamble In Space

A brief history of their program, from Joan Johnson-Freese.

I’d note that as long as they follow the Soviets/Russians lead in tech, they won’t be doing anything big. Like the voyages of Zheng He, it seems to be more about prestige than expansion. If and when SpaceX starts to reuse their launchers, that will set the new bar for space activity.

A History Of SpaceX

There’s a good article over at Quartz about the company and Elon. It had a few errors, though.

And the response?

That’s exactly how it should work.

The Bioethics Of Mars Settlement

An interesting article over at Slate that raises similar concerns to mine:

If we send heterosexual astronauts, of different sexes and of reproductive age, on extended space missions, then the possibility of pregnancy looms. To ward that off, could it be ethical to demand sterilization for any potentially fertile astronauts in a mixed-sex crew? Radiation exposure may eventually take care of the issue by causing infertility, but some pregnancies could happen before infertility occurs. Is conception even possible in the zero-gravity of space, or in the low-gravity, high-radiation habitats on Mars? If so, would a fetus develop normally?

We don’t know, since it would seem patently unethical to even conduct these sorts of experiments today in space or anywhere else, at least with human subjects. Again, the physical and psychological dangers of procreating and living outside of Earth can seem inhumane, especially for involuntary subjects (the children). Yet many plans for space exploration already take it as a foregone conclusion that humans will reproduce in space. For some, it’s a crucial part of the business plan, as in the case of Mars One’s goal of moving toward a “permanent human settlement.”

As I noted:

What I would suggest to the Mars One people, though, is given that they’re planning to spend billions on this project, and the long-term goal is to have true human settlement of the planet, which necessarily involves offspring of the settlers, they devote a modest amount of their budget funding research that NASA has completely neglected for decades, but that others have privately proposed, to establish a variable-gravity laboratory in orbit where we can start to understand these issues. The fact that NASA (or Congress) have never given such research any priority whatsoever is eloquent testimony to how unimportant both consider the goal of spreading humanity into the solar system. But until we do, young people who want to go off to barren (at least initially) worlds will have to continue to face the prospect of remaining barren themselves.

Space really isn’t important, politically. Just “space” jobs.

[Update a few minutes later]

Meanwhile, Kate Greene says that economics would dictate that a Mars mission consist of all women.

Here’s my problem with that. While of course mass is an important consideration, it isn’t the only one. I would argue that any Mars mission would have to be based on an affordable mission concept, and that if it is, mass won’t matter that much, and if it isn’t, no one will go. Beyond that, I think there’s a flaw in the logic here, or at least insufficient information:

Week in and week out, the three female crew members expended less than half the calories of the three male crew members. Less than half! We were all exercising roughly the same amount—at least 45 minutes a day for five consecutive days a week—but our metabolic furnaces were calibrated in radically different ways.

During one week, the most metabolically active male burned an average of 3,450 calories per day, while the least metabolically active female expended 1,475 calories per day. It was rare for a woman on crew to burn 2,000 calories in a day and common for male crew members to exceed 3,000.

We were only allowed to exit the habitat if we wore mock spacesuits. So many Martian hassles, so little glory.

The data certainly fit with my other observations. At mealtime, the women took smaller portions than the men, who often went back for seconds. One crew member complained how hard it was to maintain his weight, despite all the calories he was taking in.

She doesn’t say, but is it possible that maybe the men were doing more physical work? If so, it might be that if the women had to do all of the heavy lifting, their calorie consumption would increase too. In any event, if you just want to send people to Mars for the sake of sending people to Mars, a female crew would be fine, but if you want to settle the planet, there would be a problem…

[Tuesday-morning update]

There seems to be a lot of off-topic whining in comments about what will be “allowed.” I said nothing about government involvement. I simply expressed an opinion that, given current knowledge, it would be unethical to attempt to have children on Mars (or even in weightlessness). I stand by that opinion.

The Quality Of Metal 3-D-Printed Objects

Looks like it’s about to exceed any other fabrication technology:

“We can now control local material properties, which will change the future of how we engineer metallic components,” Dehoff said. “This new manufacturing method takes us from reactive design to proactive design. It will help us make parts that are stronger, lighter and function better for more energy-efficient transportation and energy production applications such as cars and wind turbines.”

The researchers demonstrated the method using an ARCAM electron beam melting system (EBM), in which successive layers of a metal powder are fused together by an electron beam into a three-dimensional product. By manipulating the process to precisely manage the solidification on a microscopic scale, the researchers demonstrated 3-dimensional control of the microstructure, or crystallographic texture, of a nickel-based part during formation.

Crystallographic texture plays an important role in determining a material’s physical and mechanical properties. Applications from microelectronics to high-temperature jet engine components rely on tailoring of crystallographic texture to achieve desired performance characteristics.

“We’re using well established metallurgical phenomena, but we’ve never been able to control the processes well enough to take advantage of them at this scale and at this level of detail,” said Suresh Babu, the University of Tennessee-ORNL Governor’s Chair for Advanced Manufacturing. “As a result of our work, designers can now specify location-specific crystal-structure orientations in a part.”

This will be key for human expansion into space.

Curing Alzheimer’s

…with a ketogenic diet?

Ketone esters are in a class of supplements called “generally recognized as safe” or GRAS by the FDA. They are expensive, difficult to find, and taste nasty (I’ve smelled some, and it was a bit like salty urine). There are no long term studies of the safety of these supplements in humans, though high ketone levels were maintained in severely obese, fasting patients for 6-8 weeks and there seemed to be no side effects. The main risk might be an exacerbation of gout, but truly, the long term consequences are unknown. For someone with dementia facing an inevitable downward spiral and life in a long term care facility, the question of benefits versus risk is a different calculation than in someone without that condition.

After a few days of escalating doses, Mr. Newport was brushing his own teeth, spontaneously dressing and bathing himself again, had improvements in mood, and was able to recite the alphabet. After 6-8 weeks, his memory improved and he started to do yard work again. After 20 months, he maintained definite improvement, with his cognitive function seeming to wax and wane with rising and falling ketone levels in his blood.

While this report is just a single case study, it does merit more clinical investigation. Given the severity and cost of the disease, the possibility of a far more effective treatment than what we currently have must be explored further.

It actually wouldn’t surprise me at all. Alzheimer’s may be just one more modern illness caused by the awful official dietary advice over the past six decades.

Safe Is Not An Option: A Review

Finally, someone at NASA is willing to take the book seriously enough to critically review it. Obviously, I will respond at some point (TL;DR version, he cherry picks and ignores much of what I have to say, but that’s to be expected, given his NASA-centric viewpoint), but it’s a bad week between taxes and ISPCS. Anyway, despite my disagreement with the review itself, I’m sincerely grateful to Mr. Fodrocci for finally acknowledging the book’s existence, rather than (as much of the industry, including IAASS, has) pretending it doesn’t exist and hoping it will just go away.

Sierra Nevada’s Bid

Why NASA rejected it:

Although the document praises Sierra’s “strong management approach to ensure the technical work and schedule are accomplished,” it cautions that the company’s Dream Chaser had “the longest schedule for completing certification.” The letter also states that “it also has the most work to accomplish which is likely to further extend its schedule beyond 2017, and is most likely to reach certification and begin service missions later than the other ‘Offerors’.”

Discussing costs, Gerstenmaier says that “although SNC’s price is lower than Boeing’s price, its technical and management approaches and its past performance are not as high and I see considerably more schedule risk with its proposal. Both SNC and SpaceX had high past performance, and very good technical and management approaches, but SNC’s price is significantly higher than SpaceX’s price.”

Touching on why Boeing received a $4.2 billion contract, versus $2.6 billion for SpaceX, he adds “I consider Boeing’s superior proposal, with regard to both its technical and management approach and its past performance, to be worth the additional price in comparison to the SNC proposal.”

Given how subjective such evaluation processes are, it’s not an implausible story.

Is There An Open-Source Doctor In The House?

OK, so I installed Gnucash on my machine last week, and it worked like a charm. I rebooted over the weekend after a yum update (which included a kernel rebuild I think) and now when I try to load the program, it crashes, with this response:

Backtrace:
In ice-9/boot-9.scm:
157: 16 [catch #t # ...]
In unknown file:
?: 15 [apply-smob/1 #]
In ice-9/boot-9.scm:
3597: 14 [process-use-modules (((gnucash price-quotes)))]
702: 13 [map # ((#))]
3598: 12 [# (#)]
2864: 11 [resolve-interface (gnucash price-quotes) #:select ...]
2789: 10 [# # ...]
3065: 9 [try-module-autoload (gnucash price-quotes) #f]
2401: 8 [save-module-excursion # ]
3085: 7 [# ]
In unknown file:
?: 6 [primitive-load-path "gnucash/price-quotes" ...]
In gnucash/price-quotes.scm:
41: 5 [# ]
In ice-9/boot-9.scm:
3597: 4 [process-use-modules (((www main)))]
702: 3 [map # ((#))]
3598: 2 [# ((www main))]
2867: 1 [resolve-interface (www main) #:select ...]
In unknown file:
?: 0 [scm-error misc-error #f "~A ~S" ("no code for module" (www main)) #f]

ERROR: In procedure scm-error:
ERROR: no code for module (www main)

Any ideas from anyone what the problem might be? I’ve tried uninstalling/reinstalling, with no joy.

[Update a few minutes later]

Someone else seems to have the same problem, or a very similar one. I’ve emailed Mssr. Villemont.

Also, I’ve come up with a temporary fix to let me get taxes done. Skrooge seems to be able to import the data. It’s more of a personal finance app than for business, but it will let me do what I need to do until I get Gnucash fixed.

[Update a few minutes later]

Great. I can import my personal finances, but it fails when it tries to bring in the business books.

[Update a while later]

Good news. I deleted the file recommended at that page, and Gnucash seems to load properly now.

The Chairman Of The House Science Committee

is a moron:

“If Orion could provide a redundant capability as a fallback for the commercial crew partners, why is it necessary to carry two partners to ensure competition in the constrained budget environment?” Smith asked NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in an Oct. 7 letter co-signed by Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.), chairman of the House Science space subcommittee.

So as a bonus, the chairman of the space subcommittee is an idiot, too.

The country’s in the very best of hands.

Bias In Academia

…is destroying scientific integrity:

OK, it’s not exactly a “Sopranos” plot. But it’s pretty shady for the world of higher education. Chen went to great lengths to make up fake email addresses and even assume the names of other scientists to write approvingly of his own research.

In a sense, though, he was just exploiting the deep flaws of the peer review system. The academy has become a kind of club where friends give friends flattering assessments of research, which essentially guarantees promotions and tenure.

Here’s how the former editor of the British Medical Journal explained peer review:

“The editor looks at the title of the paper and sends it to two friends whom the editor thinks know something about the subject. If both advise publication the editor sends it to the printers. If both advise against publication the editor rejects the paper. If the reviewers disagree the editor sends it to a third reviewer and does whatever he or she advises. This … is little better than tossing a coin.”

But it’s not just the clubbiness of academia that is to blame. There is such ideological uniformity in the ivory tower that no one ever questions the important assumptions behind anyone else’s research.

Gee, where have we seen that sort of thing before?

I’d note, though, that contra the headline, it’s not a “liberal” bias. It’s a leftist bias.

Firefox

Great. Now not only is it refusing to restore tabs after it crashes (even though that’s what my preferences tell it to do), but this morning it came to with total amnesia of every page I’ve ever visited.

[Update Monday morning]

OK, I’ve installed Pale Moon 24.6.0, which seems to be the most recent version for which there’s a Linux tarball. It seems to run quickly so far, but I haven’t done much with it, or opened many tabs.