Still One Seat Left

Time is running out for a space tourist on this fall’s Soyuz flight.

According to NASA Watch, rumor has it that Lance Bass’ sponsorship deal with NBC has fallen through, and he’s now talking to CBS. Lori Garver hasn’t raised the money yet, either.

It looks like it may be premature to see sponsorship as a means of raising money for rides into space. For now, you probably still have to bring your own cash, as Tito and Shuttleworth did. If I were Lori, I wouldn’t have had that gall bladder pulled until the deal was signed.

But Shuttleworth wants to do it again. Maybe he’ll consider investing in some companies that can make it happen, and get him up while making some money, instead of just laying out cash for a ticket. Let me know, Mark–I have some ideas…

Star Wars Was No Star Wars

We’re starting to see reviews of the latest Star Wars installment.

Ken Layne describes how viewing it at a tender age affected his world view.

One blogger is collecting reviews, with the comment that:

“…this movie is going to be the coming out party for blogs as chroniclers of culture. If September 11 and the subsequent War on Terrorism gave the blogger-as-political-pundit credibility, Episode II will do the same for blogger-as- cultural-commentator. Thanks to bloggers, Star Wars Episode II will have more reviews written about it than any movie that has come before it.

Jane Galt saw it, and semi-panned it, with paens to the original. She finishes her review with “…it was no Star Wars.”

I’m betting that the favorable reviews are going to skew toward the younger demographic. And those who don’t like it that much, but think that the original was the greatest thing since sliced beer, are going to be in their thirties. And those elderly among us just don’t get it.

Jane, Ken, et al, consider that your age when first seeing the movies has something to do with your perception of them. (Well, actually, basically, Ken admitted that).

I’ve noticed that most of the the real Star Wars-o-philes are in your age bracket–they were kids of varying ages when the first movie came out. Those of us who were older are much less impressed by the series, including the original (probably because we saw it at a time that we were less impressionable). As I said over at The Dodd’s site, “2001: A Space Odyssey” was the template, the touchstone, of superb SF for my generation.

At the risk of being heretical, when I saw Star Wars, I was disappointed, perhaps because I was looking for good SF, and instead found simply a space opera, with numerous holes in the story line, and an insufficient level of reality, consistency, and adherence to the laws of physics, even within the context of the premise.

If you were five or fifteen today, you might be as impressed with Lucas’ latest, as you were at the time with his first.

Yes, yes, I know, you went back and saw it again as an adult, and still thought it was great. But you’d already been imprinted.

And to the degree that my analysis is correct, it’s an example of why a clone of a person would not be a copy.

The Legacy Of Zheng He

During the Ming Dynasty, under the leadership of the eunuch Admiral Zheng He (not to be confused with the Big He, and also spelled Cheng Ho), the Chinese had the most advanced nautical technology in the world, with ships larger than anything being built in Europe at the time.

The Admiral built over sixteen hundred multi-masted ships, and sent them out, laden with treasure, throughout the world. About a hundred years prior to the European Age of Discovery, he made several expeditions with these ships, probably reaching Europe itself. In the early 1400s, China seemed on the verge of extending a colonial empire to most of the known world at that time. Obviously, it failed to do so.

While it may not obviously be related, let me say that I’ve occasionally gotten emails asking me what I think about the Chinese space program.

Now, the pressure increases. In linking this story about supposed plans to extend the Middle Kingdom to Luna, complete with resource extraction, the great Instantman himself challenges me for a response.

Well, I sincerely hope that they do so. If they do, there’s at least a possibility that it will shake us from our continued complacency toward serious civil space policy in this country.

And it will set up some actual precedents for determining what the Outer Space Treaty really means with regard to issues of property rights and sovereignty, which may clarify things in that regard. Actually having a recognized legal regime in place can’t hurt private investment prospects, even if it’s seemingly restrictive. Even a restrictive policy is probably preferable to the current uncertainty, particularly given all the other uncertainties (technical, regulatory, market) with which investors have to deal in considering space ventures.

But I don’t expect it to happen soon. The Chinese don’t have a great track record technologically, as the article itself points out. It’s a government program, with all of the attendant problems. We got away with it with Apollo, because it was considered to be critical to the national security, and we solved many problems by simply throwing money at them.

I don’t think that the Chinese have that luxury, even under a dictatorship. In addition to their technical difficulties, their economy doesn’t have great prospects right now, and the temporary domestic peace bought by literally crushing the dissidents in Tiananmen Square thirteen years ago is a fragile one. The leadership knows that they continue in power only because they’ve brought some economic gains to the nation. If those are seen to be faltering, and they’re perceived to be squandering precious resources on lunar pie in the sky, the country could be ripe for a revolt, and they know it.

The other thing that concerns me is their stated reason for doing it.

Correspondents say China’s main motivation for space exploration is to raise national prestige, both at home and overseas.

The story of the Ming Dynasty is often used as a cautionary tale by space activists, as they warn us, and our government, of the dangers of a failure of vision and imagination. In this version of the story, the Chinese were on the verge of opening up the trade routes to India, and Africa, and points further east, and could have preempted the Portuguese explorations, by establishing their own beachheads and colonies decades earlier. But the Mandarin bureaucrats in the Forbidden City could see no value in these voyages and, needing resources for problems at home (building dikes and other flood control, and the like), cut off the funding for Zheng He, ordered him home, had the ships burned, and made the construction of a ship of more than three masts a capital offense. Similarly, some have argued that in essentially turning our backs on the cosmos after the rapid success of Apollo, in favor of welfare programs and pork, our own politicians have given us a similar failure of vision.

But that draws the wrong conclusion. The fact was that Zheng He’s journeys were a failure. They sent out vast amounts of treasure, with which to impress the heathens, and gain tribute and the appropriate respect (just as is the goal for the current Chinese space activities). But when trade occured at all, the ships often came back with items that were perceived to be of less value than what had been sent out to the ports. The trade was not profitable. The bureaucrats were right.

The Chinese suffered a failure of expansionary will six hundred years ago, because they were doing it for the wrong reasons. And I suspect that the current leadership is similar to Zheng He in their outlook. His missions were for national prestige–not the generation of wealth. As, apparently, are the current Chinese space plans.

As was Apollo.

Space will not be settled by governments, whether Chinese, Russian, or American. It will be settled by the people who want to go, and seek their own opportunities, and dreams. Governments can help, and if the Chinese government can navigate the difficulties I describe above, and actually eventually get to the Moon, that might be one way of helping, not just the Chinese, but as the article states, all who want to go. But I suspect that there will be private activities that beat them to it, and we cannot, and should not, count on Beijing.

We will know that things are moving forward seriously in space when, in addition to remote-sensing and communications satellites, there are activities going on in space, involving humans in space, that bring more value back than is put into them. Communist goverments are not notable for their value-added activities, and I don’t think that the present Beijing regime is that far removed from its predecessors, either in the Ming Dynasty, or the Mao.

More Lies From Mike

Our man from Davison, he of great physical, and trivial mental, girth is at it again. He’s hawking his latest anti-gun propaganda (using Columbine as the backdrop) at Cannes.

Growing up in Michigan, Moore was surrounded by guns. In northern Michigan, on the opening day of deer season, over a million enthusiastic sharpshooters take to the woods. Moore was a crack shot himself.

Now he’s just a crack pot.

Next, he rewrites American history.

Moore’s own conclusions are bleak. “The early genesis of fear in America came from having a slave population… that grew from 700,000 to four million,” he states. The Colt 6-shooter, invented in 1836, was cheap and portable, and was just what the white folk needed to “contain slavery” for the final 25 years. “It’s something we’re raised with in the United States ? to believe in not only the gun, but using violence to get what we want and enforce a class system, so the have-nots stay there.”

This is a novel interpretation. If there was such tremendous demand for the six shooter to hold down the “nigras,” why was their main recorded use prior to 1846 killing Indians in the west? Why was Colt unable to sell so few of them until he got an order from the Army during the Mexican War, that finally established the company? Surely, if this is the reason for the skyrocketing demand for handguns, wouldn’t there be some evidence of large six-shooter sales in the antebellum South, instead of some of the earliest implementations of concealed carry laws in the young nation?

Mr. Moore wants us to believe that the same states that were so fearful of their slave population that they loaded up on six-shooters (when long guns were just as effective for holding down slave rebellions), also passed laws against carrying those very same weapons?

This is the Internet, Mike. We can fact-check your ass, particularly when it’s as large and lardy a target as yours.

Maybe he and (hopefully-soon-to-be-ex) Professor Bellisles can get together and co-author their next work of historical fiction.

Spam Du Jour

Yeah, I know blogging’s been light this weekend–I’ve been both busy and uninspired.

But Patricia got this spam that she and I thought was amusing, and worth posting.

We are desparately looking for 100 lazy people who wish to make lots of money without working.

We are not looking for people who are self-motivated.

We are not looking for people who join every ‘get rich quick’ scheme offered on the internet.

We are not looking for class presidents, beautiful people, career builders or even college graduates.

We don’t even want union workers or trade school graduates.

We want the laziest people that exist – the guys and gals who expect to make money without lifting a finger. We want the people who stay in bed until noon. We want those of you who think that getting out of bed to go lay on the couch is an effort that is best not thought about.

If you meet these criteria, go to:

[email address snipped]

and type in the Subject Line the following words:

“I do not want to work”.

In fact, if you are so lazy that typing those words in the Subject line is an effort, than don’t bother. Just click on the email and we’ll know that you want us to send you the domain name anyhow, because then we will be absolutely certain that you are the kind of person we want.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, we want the kind of people who DO NOT take risks. If you are the kind of person who will consider doing something that’s NOT a ‘sure thing’, then do NOT respond. This is too easy a way to make money and there’s no challenge in it.

If you can get to the website that we are going to email you, you will be able to see the first home business in history that requires no work. NONE.

By clicking on this email and then going to this website, you will be telling us that you want to make enough money that you can quit your regular job and sleep all day.

We are not looking for a commitment from you and we don’t even want your money. As a matter of fact, we don’t even want you to hear from us again if the idea of making lots of money without working does not interest you.

So this is the first and last email we will ever send you.

That is a promise.

So if nothing else, remember this – to make money without working for it just send an email with the following words in the subject line: “I do not want to work” to:

[email address deleted]

and we will email you back with the website that gives you information on the best of both worlds – a way to make money without having to work.

We look forward to hearing from you.

In all seriousness,


[Monday afternoon update]

Reader Dr. Clausewitz has the best surmise as to the source. He thinks it’s a solicitation to join the Democratic Party.

Clear Lake Full Employment Bill

That should be the name of this legislation introduced by Congressman Nick Lampson (D-TX). The NASA Johnson Space Center, and many of its employees, are in his district. Its official title is the “Space Exploration Act of 2002,” and it will read like a dream-come-true to many space enthusiasts.

Let’s dissect it: First, the statement of purpose:

To restore a vision for the United States human space flight program by instituting a series of incremental goals that will facilitate the scientific exploration of the solar system and aid in the search for life elsewhere in the universe, and for other purposes.

Note the archaic language. “Human space flight program” is a notion left over from the Cold War, and it’s getting pretty long in the tooth. This legislation clearly assumes that the primary purpose for humans to be in space is “exploration,” and a “search for life elsewhere in the universe.” It pays lip service to “other purposes,” but it’s non specific, and this is the last time you’ll hear about them from the drafters of the bill.

Continue reading Clear Lake Full Employment Bill

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