The Climate Issues You Should *Really* Be Worried About: Solar Output Variation And Ice Ages

The average G-type star shows a variability in energy output of around 4%. Our sun is a typical G-type star, yet its observed variability in our brief historical sample is only 1/40th of this. When or if the Sun returns to more typical variation in energy output, this will dwarf any other climate concerns.

The emergence of science as a not wholly superstitious and corrupt enterprise is slowly awakening our species to these external dangers. As the brilliant t-shirt says, an asteroid is nature’s way of asking how your space program is doing. If we are lucky we might have time to build a robust, hardened planetary and extraplanetary hypercivilization able to surmount these challenges. Such a hypercivilization would have to be immeasurably richer and more scientifically advanced to prevent, say, the next Yellowstone supereruption or buffer a 2% drop in the Sun’s energy output. (Indeed, ice ages are the real climate-based ecological disasters and civilization-enders — think Europe and North America under a mile of ice). Whether we know it or not, we are in a race to forge such a hypercivilization before these blows fall. If these threats seem too distant, low probability, or fantastical to belong to the “real” world, then let them serve as stand-ins for the much larger number of more immediately dire problems whose solutions also depend on rapid progress in science and technology.

Via “2013 : WHAT *SHOULD* WE BE WORRIED ABOUT?” at’s no direct link to the essay I’ve quoted; search for the essay title “Unfriendly Physics, Monsters From The Id, And Self-Organizing Collective Delusions” on that page.

Why You Should Be More Interested in Mars Than the Olympics

This summer, if you want the world’s best story of international human triumph, you’ll have to look past London (even beyond the amazing hurdlers with very popular warm-up routines). You’ll have to look 200 million miles away, in fact, to discover a spectacular feat of endurance more grueling than the longest ultra-marathon. You’ll have to look to Mars. Yes, the planet. And the dream team that’s about to land NASA’s nuclear-powered super rover called Curiosity.

This one-ton, laser-beam-blasting wonder is going to land on Mars via a "sky crane." Most of us have zero idea what it does or why it’s going to Mars. That’s a real shame, because the Curiosity story is a modern epic of explorers on the path to discovering a second genesis. It will be a tiny blip on our summer radar — landing somewhere between the shot put finals and the Kimye engagement rumors — before it fades away without any of us ever knowing its true brilliance.

Why won’t you hear about it? Because NASA isn’t going to tell us. Sure, they’ll tell you a little bit — press conferences about what they discovered, an inspirational video. NASA partners will create fun websites, and bits of awesome will trickle out. But there is a larger narrative tragedy, and it’s a bigger conspiracy than any tinfoil-hatted crank could come up with — a conspiracy born out of fear.

via Andrew Kessler: Why You Should Be More Interested in Mars Than the Olympics.

Former NASA scientists, astronauts admonish agency on climate change position

49 former rocket scientists and astronauts think NASA is doing it wrong:

We believe the claims by NASA and GISS, that man-made carbon dioxide is having a catastrophic impact on global climate change are not substantiated, especially when considering thousands of years of empirical data. …

The unbridled advocacy of CO2 being the major cause of climate change is unbecoming of NASA’s history of making an objective assessment of all available scientific data prior to making decisions or public statements.

… We request that NASA refrain from including unproven and unsupported remarks in its future releases and websites on this subject. At risk is damage to the exemplary reputation of NASA, NASA’s current or former scientists and employees, and even the reputation of science itself.

The first response from CAGW adherents will be “Not a single climate scientist among them!” Although if they agreed with the CAGW position, it would be “The rocket scientists agree with us!” Via Hansen and Schmidt of NASA GISS under fire for climate stance: Engineers, scientists, astronauts ask NASA administration to look at empirical evidence rather than climate models | Watts Up With That?.

A Thousand Dollars per Pound, Delivered to Orbit

Reaching Earth orbit and only spending a thousand dollars per pound to get your spacecraft there—it’s long been the shining goal of the launch business. Tuesday, Elon Musk, the founder of Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), made an announcement promising a new launch beast that could reach that mark in a couple of years—and shake up the space industry. He unveiled a new launch vehicle dubbed "Falcon Heavy." It’s a derivative of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which successfully delivered a pressurized capsule into orbit in December after a successful first flight last summer. But Musk says the Heavy will be able to blast five times as much payload into orbit.

via SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket – Private Space Technology – Popular Mechanics.

A Space Elevator In 7 Years

… compared to the technology of the 1960s, when mankind first embarked on a trip to the moon, a space elevator is simple for our modern world to build. In fact, if you took a cellphone back to the Apollo scientists, they’d treat it like a supercomputer and have teams of engineers huddled over it 24 hours a day. With only the addition of the computing technology of one cellphone, we might have shaved a year off the date of the first moon landing.

via Lifeboat News: The Blog.

A Space Program for the Rest of Us

Apollo was not a methodical space program; it was an anomalous race in the Cold War in which anything could be wasted but time. It turned out to be unsustainable and unaffordable, which is why it boggles the mind that over three decades later—during which time there were huge technology advances—Apollo was chosen as a model for a program that was supposed to be affordable and sustainable.

The shuttle program didn’t demonstrate that reusable vehicles don’t work. In fact, the one reusable part of the shuttle—the airplane-like orbiter—was the only part that didn’t kill crew (the solid rocket booster was responsible for the Challenger accident, and the external fuel tank’s foam was responsible for the Columbia accident). Moreover, the shuttle program tells us nothing at all about reusable space transports that are designed to reasonable requirements and high flight rates—particularly fully reusable ones that don’t shed hardware each flight.

Neither does the shuttle experience prove that we shouldn’t mix crew and cargo. All it tells us is that if we are going to build a reusable vehicle, it has to be sufficiently reliable to safely carry either crew or valuable cargo (just as airplanes are), because space transports cost too much to lose, regardless of their payloads. When Columbia was lost, we lost seven astronauts, yes. But we also lost a quarter of our orbiters. That is simply unaffordable. Cheap bulk cargo could reasonably be launched on less expensive, less reliable vehicles, but when we do develop practical space transports, the notion of throwing rockets away will make no more sense than burning a 747 on the runway after it lands with a load of cut flowers.

Likewise, the space station doesn’t teach that we must avoid assembling things in orbit; if anything, it shows that orbital assembly can be very effective when building something large out of many smaller pieces. That it took so long and cost so much is attributable to the constraints of the shuttle (and of the co-opting of the station for diplomatic ends). For that matter, the several repairs to the Hubble Space Telescope, various satellite repair missions, and the first Skylab mission back in 1973 show how even complicated and dangerous repair and servicing operations can be successfully conducted in orbit.

via The New Atlantis » A Space Program for the Rest of Us.

Buzz Aldrin’s Plan for NASA

I’m in no mood to keep my mouth shut any longer when I see NASA heading down the wrong path. And that’s exactly what I see today. The ­agency’s current Vision for Space Exploration will waste decades and hundreds of billions of dollars trying to reach the moon by 2020—a glorified rehash of what we did 40 years ago. Instead of a steppingstone to Mars, NASA’s current lunar plan is a detour. It will derail our Mars effort, siphoning off money and engineering talent for the next two decades. If we aspire to a long-term human presence on Mars—and I believe that should be our overarching goal for the foreseeable future—we must drastically change our focus.

Here’s my plan, which I call the Unified Space Vision. It’s a blueprint that will maintain U.S. leadership in human spaceflight, avoid a counterproductive space race with China to be second back to the moon, and lead to a permanent American-led presence on Mars by 2035 at the latest. That date happens to be 66 years after Neil Armstrong and I first landed on the moon—just as our landing was 66 years after the Wright Brothers’ first flight.

via Buzz Aldrin’s Plan for NASA – Scrap Ares I, Fast-Track Orion and Colonize Mars – Popular Mechanics.

Header Image: Jupiter and Io

So I finally got around to putting up a custom header image for this blog; now it won’t look exactly like every other default installation of WordPress. It’s a picture of Io in orbit above Jupiter, taken by the Cassini space probe on its way to Saturn. The original is here.

Although I didn’t intend it, there is a minor visual pun here. The WordPress theme is Kubrick, and the image subject is Jupiter, and given my fascination with the movie 2001 … well, you see what I mean. What a geek.

Sputnik and SpaceShipOne

On this day in 1957, the Soviet Union started the space race among national governments.

On this same day, today, in 2004, SpaceShipOne won $10 million X Prize and started the space race among private organizations.

Great going, guys, let’s hope you are the first of many. 🙂


R. A. Heinlein first wrote about private space travel (specifically in opposition to government-managed programs) in his short story The Man Who Sold The Moon. (Incidentally, that story is as much about project management as it is about space travel; Fred Brooks quotes it in chapter 7 of The Mythical Man Month).

There is a more recent author who approaches the same topic. Michael Flynn, in his novel Firestar, writes about a return to orbit through commercial venture. He specifically details the educational culture and requirements necessary to produce people who are capable of building, maintaining, and extending an organization dedicated to spaceflight. It’s rocket science, after all, and if we’re going to get well-educated people in a short enough time then we need their education to be much better in a short amount of time.

In the novel, Flynn posits that the space-travel corporation owns charter schools as one of its sub-enterprises. The schools provide top-notch education; the students are fed a steady diet of achievement orientation, how to approach problem-solving through experiment and results-testing, and modern life-management skills (such as personal finance; i.e., how to budget and balance a checkbook). Testing is by written essay only. The teachers themselves take over the administrative tasks of the school. All students stay “after” school for a two-hour tutoring, mentoring, and peer-review study hall in order to finish their homework (this helps to alleviate the “parental involvement” issue — as a premium is put on actually learning, being able to help other students makes “being smart and helpful” more valuable as social captial).

Is that a pipe dream? Probably. But it’s something to shoot for — espeically if we are shooting for orbit, or the Moon, or Mars … or Jupiter. 🙂