Random thoughts on politics, current events, popular culture, and whatever else interests me.
Mark R. Whittington is a writer residing in Houston, Texas. He is the author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction, including the novel of suspense Nocturne which he coauthored with his wife, Chantal, The Children of Apollo trilogy, The Last Moonwalker and Other Stories, Gabriella’s War, The Man from Mars: The Asteroid Mining Caper, and Why is it So Hard to Go Back to the Moon?
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Monday, November 30, 2015
Russian moon landing to take as many as six launches of advanced rocket
Russia has made no secret of its desire to land cosmonauts on the lunar surface sometime in the late 2020s. As the United States, at least for the current administration, has decided to bypass the moon in favor of Mars, Russia could move to wipe out the humiliation it suffered at the hands of NASA when it lost the 1960s race to the moon with the landing of Apollo 11 on July 20, 1969. However, a Monday story in TASS suggests that a Russian moon landing effort would be complex, requiring up to six launches of its Angara rocket.
Planned Parenthood blames Republicans for Colorado Springs shooting rampage
According to a Sunday story on ABC News, Planned Parenthood blamed the Republican Party for the shooting rampage committed by Robert Louis Dear at one of its facilities in Colorado Springs. Dear is alleged to have injured a number of people, killing three, including a police officer, before surrendering to law enforcement. The Republican candidates have condemned the attacks though being careful not to endorse Planned Parenthood abortion practices.
Sunday, November 29, 2015
The bad news and the good news about climate change
As world leaders and environmental groups gather in war on terror torn Paris to save the world from global warming or, at least, be seen to do so, Matt Ridley took to the pages of Scientific America on Friday with some bad news and some good news about climate change. The bad news is that global warming is real and not a hoax cooked up by politicians and corrupt scientists. The good news is that it is nothing to worry about, at least for about a century, and that we have time to deal with the matter without taking quick, ill-considered decisions that will make matters worse.
Foreign law professors condemn space mining provisions of commercial space act
The Commercial Space Launch Act, which includes provisions allowing American companies the right to keep resources that they mine in space, was recently signed into law by President Barack Obama. While the act has been hailed as groundbreaking in the United States, the space mining title has gotten an angry reaction overseas. In a Friday article in Science Alert, Gbenga Oduntan, Senior Lecturer in International Commercial Law, University of Kent, condemned the space mining provisions as environmentally risky and a violation of international law. Ram Jakhu, a professor at Canada’s McGill University's Institute of air and space law, adds that space mining is a violation of the Outer Space Treaty and should not be allowed.
Saturday, November 28, 2015
I’m still feeling melancholic about Tom Wells. I find myself stumbling across something amusing and thinking, “I bet this would give Tom a good laugh.” The next thought, of course, is that he is not around to tell or to laugh. It is hard to believe that this man of infinite jest is gone. The house is quiet as a result, which makes me at once sad and uneasy. I am also thinking about those first few moments when I was giving him chest compressions as the 911 dispatcher gave the count. I have no training in CPR. Was I doing it right? Could I have called him back from death if I had such training? Of course the EMTs brought to bear all that medical science has to try to revive him. It was to no avail. I pray that wherever he is, there is no pain, that he knows only joy and, knowing Tom, they have cable access
NASA prepares to launch an Orion and three Cubesats to deep space in three years
As NASA noted on Friday, the space agency and its contractors are working diligently on the first launch of the heavy-lift Space Launch System. The launch, officially called EM-1 or Exploration Mission 1 will loft an unpiloted version of the Orion spacecraft around the moon. NASASpaceFlight.com also noted on Friday that a number of secondary payloads, known as CubeSats, will be along for the ride as well. NASA considered EM-1, scheduled for 2018, a crucial step in its Journey to Mars which will, it is hoped, reach its ultimate destination sometime in the 2030s.
Alan Grayson will sue if Ted Cruz becomes the Republican nominee for president
The ever entertaining and mercurial Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Florida, threatened to file a lawsuit if the Republican Party picks Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas as its presidential nominee in 2016, according to a Friday story in the Washington Times. Grayson made this threat while appearing on Alan Colmes’ radio show. The stated reason for the threat is that, in Grayson’s view, Cruz is not a natural born American as required for being president in the United States Constitution, having been born in Canada, albeit to an American mother.
Friday, November 27, 2015
Ballot initiative to force state lawmakers to wear campaign contributors' logos
Ever since the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law was essentially neutered by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, people who have been concerned about the influence of money in politics have been casting about for ways to address the problem. A California businessman named John Cox has hit upon a unique approach, according to a Friday story in the Washington Times. He is pushing for a ballot initiative to force state lawmakers to wear the logos of their top 10 campaign contributors when on the floor of the state Senate or the state Assembly. The logos would appear on all political ads.
SpaceX's Elon Musk battles with Blue Origin's Jeff Bezos in a new space race
SpaceX’s Elon Musk and Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos do not like each other. That fact was demonstrated once again, as Business Insider noted on Wednesday, by a series of tweets Musk sent concerning the successful launch and landing of Blue Origin’s New Shepard, a suborbital rocket intended to take paying passengers on jaunts into space. The flight was the first time a rocket reached space, albeit barely, and then landed on Earth under its own power. Musk has been trying to land the first stage of his Falcon 9 on a barge in the middle of the ocean, thus far unsuccessfully.
Thursday, November 26, 2015
NASA concludes that comets, not alien megastructures orbit KIC 8462852
Back in October, findings from the Kepler Space Telescope suggested that something strange was going on around a star called KIC 8462852. Kepler was built to detect exoplanets by measuring the cycles of dimming light from other stars, indicating that a large object was passing between them and Earth. But the dimming light cycle from KIC 8462852 seemed to suggest a lot of smaller objects swarming around it. Scientists narrowed down the explanations to either a swarm of comets or alien megastructures. Tuesday, NASA announced evidence garnered by two other telescopes that pointed to the comet explanation.
Wednesday, November 25, 2015
Neil degrasse Tyson causes firestorm with remarks on commercial space
In an interview published on Tuesday in The Verge, celebrity astrophysicist and media personality Neil deGrasse Tyson touched off a firestorm when he suggested that commercial space was not going to lead the way to open up the high frontier. Tyson has started a live show that he calls "Delusions of Space Enthusiasts” in which he touched on, among other things, why the Apollo program did not lead to greater things in space exploration such as going to Mars. Tyson repeats conventional wisdom about Apollo and the Cold War. In any case, it is his remarks on commercial space that has caused the most irritation.
Democrats try to ruin Thanksgiving with advice on political snark at dinner
The Washington Times reported on Tuesday that the Democratic National Committee has shot off an email that, in effect, consists of instructions on how to ruin the holidays by politically snarking one’s Republican uncle. Hot Air adds that a website has been created that displays talking points on subjects ranging from the Affordable Care Act to Ted Cruz for those heartwarming Thanksgiving discussions along with the turkey and stuffing. The website is entitled, “Your Republican Uncle.” Of course aunts, cousins, siblings, parents, and children can be Republicans as well. Why the DNC has it in for uncles, one can only speculate about.
Tuesday, November 24, 2015
I have the sad duty to report that one of my oldest friends, Tom Wells, died earlier today. He had been contending with lung cancer for the past two years, but he was apparently taken by a sudden heart attack or some other coronary event. I found him on the floor unresponsive just before noon and then called 911. The EMTs showed up and worked on him for 35 minutes before calling it. At this moment he is laying under a sheet in my living room waiting for the ME to take him away. My heart is on the ground.
What humans may do by following New Horizons to Pluto
NASA’s New Horizons flew by Pluto last July and is continuing to send back stunning images and breathtaking data. Forbes, in a Monday story, speculates about sending humans to the once and possibly future ninth planet from the sun. Since New Horizons took nine and a half years from launch to flyby, such a voyage would have to await the development of very advanced propulsion systems, among quite a few other technologies.
Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin successfully flies and lands New Shepard in West Texas
Blue Origin announced on Tuesday that its New Shepard spacecraft flew successfully into space from its test launch facility in Van Horn, Texas. The vehicle consisted of two elements, a launcher powered by a single BE-3 rocket engine and a crew capsule. New Shepard, named after the first American in space Alan Shepard, launched at 11:21 a.m. CST on Monday. It flew to an altitude of 329,839 feet or 100.5 kilometers. The crew capsule separated and spent several minutes in space before descending. The crew capsule deployed parachutes and landed about 11 minutes after launch. The launch vehicle fired its engine and achieved a vertical soft landing.
Monday, November 23, 2015
Hillery forgets about her husband & Juanita Broaddrick when tweeting about rape
Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state, senator, and first lady who is now running for president stepped in it with a Sunday tweet on the subject of rape. She tweeted, “Every survivor of sexual assault deserves to be heard, believed, and supported.” It was a case of Hillary believing that accusations of rape and sexual assault were distractions before she believed that they were serious. Of course, as many people who responded to her tweet pointed out, those accusations involved her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
Lori Garver claims that NASA is 'wary' of Elon Musk's Mars plans
Ars Technica reported on Monday that former NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver claimed, during a panel discussion at the Council for Foreign Relations, that many at NASA are “wary’ of the Mars ambitions of SpaceX’s Elon Musk. While the space agency has yielded low Earth operations to the commercial sector as part of the commercial crew program, it reserves for itself deep space exploration. As with many things that publically come out of Garver’s mouth, this statement has to be taken with a grain of salt.
Ratings for 'The Late Show' plunge because of Stephen Colbert's liberal humor
Back when David Letterman announced that he was leaving “The Late Show,” the suits at CBS thought it would be a good idea to elevate Stephen Colbert from his perch at Comedy Central and see if he would be able to appeal to a broader audience. The Washington Post noticed on Saturday that Colbert’s ratings have plunged. He has become third in his time slot behind Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel. The reason seems to be that his brand of liberal humor that made him a hit at Comedy Central is not flying among mainstream audiences. Conservative late night TV watchers are staying away in droves.
Sunday, November 22, 2015
Despite environmentalists objections, FDA approves first GMO salmon
ZME Science reported on Saturday that the FDA has approved of a species of genetically modified salmon for human consumption. The salmon, developed by a company called AquaBounty Technologies, took 20 years to get approval. Five years, the FDA deemed the new species of salmon safe, but then took its time to “get everything right.” Despite rather stringent requirements to keep the GMO salmon segregated from the wild, Think Progress notes that environmentalists are outraged at the approval.
As fears of terrorism rise, George W. Bush gets strange new respect
Friday, a writer named Jamelle Boule took to the pages of Salon and demanded that former President George W. Bush sit the Republican Party down and give it a good talking to about how mean it is being to Muslims. It seems that Republicans are being just a little too paranoid about ISIS and Al Qaeda jihadis sneaking into the country and performing acts of mayhem and murder. Bush needs to put a stop to this kind of rhetoric fast, quick, and in a hurry.
Saturday, November 21, 2015
Thanks to a Texas congressman, NASA will land on Europa
Business Insider reported on Thursday that NASA has decided, quietly, to add a lander to its upcoming $2 billion mission to Europa, the ice-bound moon of Jupiter. The Europa Multi-Flyby Mission will orbit Jupiter, making multiple passes at Europa, examining and mapping it in detail. Now, when an appropriate landing site is detected and decided upon, a landing craft will detach and set down, it is hoped, on the Europa ice field.
If you start to go to Mars, then go to Mars
Thanks to the recent smash hit movie, “The Martian,” Mars and the prospect of sending people to explore it seems to be on again. The fact that NASA discovered that water flows on the Martian surface from time to time certainly helped matters.
The left is trying to make Woodrow Wilson into an unperson for being a racist
Back when the Soviet Union threatened the peace and freedom of the world, that country had a unique way of dealing with people who became out of favor. Government or party officials who had the misfortune to fall from grace became “unpersons,” which is to say they were not only blotted out of existence but out of the historical record, including having their images airbrushed out of old photographs. A group of students at Princeton University propose to make Woodrow Wilson, past president of that university and of the United States, as Reuters reported on Friday. The university is considering caving to the students’ demands.
Friday, November 20, 2015
Florida group wants to make space a 2016 presidential campaign issue
According to a Thursday story on News 13, an Orlando TV station, Space Florida is working to make space a political issue in the 2016 presidential election. Thus far the campaign for the presidency has been dominated by more mundane issues such as the economy, illegal immigration, and the threat of terrorism. Space Florida, which is “the State of Florida’s aerospace economic development agency,” is said to be “working with three other battleground states to make sure America's space program is a part of the campaign for president.” Presumably one of those states is Texas, which has lots of electoral votes.
As Obamacare enters a death spiral, political advantage goes to Republicans
The Hill reported on Thursday that Senate Republicans are arguing over whether to support a House-passed bill that would partially repeal Obamacare or go ahead with a full repeal, as Sen Mike Lee and presidential candidates Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Marco Rubio demand. However, as the Washington Examiner reports, a repeal may become a moot point. The Affordable Care Act is in a death spiral with insurance companies like United Health moving to pull out of the individual policy exchanges.
Thursday, November 19, 2015
NASA selects universities to develop humanoid robot astronauts
Tuesday, NASA announced that it is sending copies of its R5 Valkyrie humanoid robot to two universities for software upgrades and other research and development. The effort is part of a continuing project to develop cybernetic astronauts that will assist human astronauts in exploring other worlds. The idea is that robot astronauts would initially scout potentially hazardous environments, say on Mars, and then actively collaborate with their human counterparts in exploration. NASA is paying each university chosen $250,000 per year for two years to perform the R&D. The university researchers will have access to NASA expertise and facilities to perform the upgrades.
Obama does not want Americans to arm themselves against terrorists
The Washington Times editorialized on Wednesday the one deterrent to a terrorist massacre in the United States such as happened in Paris is that some Americans have concealed carry permits. France, like many European countries, heavily restricts the private ownership of firearms. Hence, the ISIS terrorists were able to use Paris as a free fire zone, slaughtering people at will. The massacre of human beings like deer would be less likely in America since a number of people could return fire. However, as Hot Air reports, President Obama has that covered. He wants his last year in office to feature a push toward more gun control.
Wednesday, November 18, 2015
How Bill Nye insulted NASCAR fans about the sport being the 'anti-NASA'
Bill Nye, the former science guy and current head of the Planetary Society, is very depressed about NASA and NASCAR, according to a Tuesday story in Business Insider. He believes that the red-state yokels pay too much attention to NASCAR, which employs gas guzzling cars in races, and not enough to NASA, which employs cutting edge and environmentally correct technology, to explore the universe. However, it is a meme that the space agency itself once disagreed with. Indeed, NASA has suggested that the exploration of space is like NASCAR only with rocket ships instead of souped up, high powered cars.
Is Donald Trump doomed to lose in Iowa and does it matter?
The “inevitable” demise of Donald Trump has been predicted so many times that it has become the punch line of a joke. The latest polls, according to Reuters, has him riding high at just shy of 38 percent nationally, comfortably over his nearest rivals such as Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz. However, the Washington Times suggested on Tuesday that the mercurial businessman will lose in the Iowa Caucuses. The experts who say this have history and the unique nature of the Iowa contest on their side.
Tuesday, November 17, 2015
Scientists and communities look at biogas from human waste as renewable energy
Biogas is one of the most obscure examples of renewable energy that scientists are trying to develop to replace fossil fuels. Biogas is defined as “a mixture of different gasses produced by the breakdown of organic matter in the absence of oxygen. Biogas can be produced from raw materials such as agricultural waste, manure, municipal waste, plant material, sewage, green waste or food waste.”
The future of renewable energy is in distributive grids
People who have been following the solar power industry have been excited at the stream of technological breakthroughs that are making solar competitive and, potentially, cheaper than energy derived from fossil fuels. From ever more efficient photovoltaic cells to new methods of electricity storage, solar technology is proceeding apace.
However, the really big breakthrough, which isn’t being talked about, but which, when combined with solar, will be as profound as when the telephone monopoly was breaking up, is a concept called the distributive grid.
Barack Obama decries 'American leadership or America winning' against ISIS
President Barack Obama made remarks and then held a press conference in Antalya, Turkey on Monday that seemed, at times, to be more defensive and combative against critics of his foreign policy than it was against the ISIS terrorists. He reiterated that he would not send significant ground troops to destroy the Islamic State, even after the ISIS terrorist outrage that slaughtered over a hundred people in Paris. While French President Francois Hollande pledged to fight “pitiless” war, President Obama pledged, in effect, to the extent that he proposes to fight at all, something more limited.
Ted Cruz helped write & pass U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act
Sen Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a candidate for president of the United States, is known for quite a few things, including waging fights against Obamacare and illegal immigration. He is not generally known for crafting and passing legislation. However, as the Dallas Morning News reported on Monday, Cruz played a crucial role in writing and then passing the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act. The bill, a compromise between a previous Senate and House version, had recently passed the Senate and yesterday passed the House. It is on its way to President Obama for his signature,
Monday, November 16, 2015
Space journalist provides critique of Obama NASA space policy
Recently, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden stated that NASA would be “doomed” if the next president were to deviate in any way from the current Journey to Mars program. Space journalist and founder of the America Space website Jim Hillhouse took exception to Bolden’s assertion in a Monday letter to the aerospace newspaper Space News. In the process, Hillhouse provides a good summary of how space policy has evolved during the past five years under the Obama administration.
After ISIS Paris terrorist attacks, Obama still plans to admit 10,000 Syrians
Despite the ISIS terrorist attacks in Paris, the Obama administration is still planning to admit and resettle 10,000 refugees from Syria, according to a Sunday story in the Washington Times. A White House spokesperson made this assertion even though at least one of the terrorists who participated in the slaughter of over 100 people was identified as a person who had been allowed to enter Europe as a refugee from Syria. The White House is insisting that the government can weed out troublemakers. That claim has been widely disputed.
Sunday, November 15, 2015
Louis Friedman says humans will never venture beyond Mars
Dr. Louis Friedman, one of the co-founders of the Planetary Society, is coming out with a new book, “Human Spaceflight: From Mars to the Stars,” an excerpt of which was published on Friday in Scientific America. Friedman revives and revises a version of the humans vs. robots controversy that has roiled through aerospace circles for decades. Unlike previous advocates of restricting space travel to robots, such as Robert Park and the late James Van Allen, Friedman admits that humans are going to Mars to settle. But there, human space travel will end. Only robots will ever venture further.