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All Reason.com articles with the "Space" tag.



Published: Sat, 10 Dec 2016 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Sat, 10 Dec 2016 03:39:24 -0500

 



Elon Musk Wants You To Be Able To Afford To Move to Mars

Tue, 27 Sep 2016 15:54:00 -0400

Right now, Space X founder Elon Musk is giving a Steve Jobs–style presentation of his plan for Mars colonization. It's part science lecture ("Here's a slide with the different types of rocket fuel"), part time-share presentation ("It'll be, like, really fun to go, you'll have a great time."), part TEDtalk ("Technology does not automatically improve, it only improves if a lot of really strong engineering talent is applied to the problem"), part in-joke extravaganza (the slide marked FUNDING starts with "Steal Underpants").

Here's a good writeup of what we already know about the technical specs of the mission: He's talking about a 2018 start with a 2024 manned launch to Mars building on tech Space X is already using to provision the International Space Station.

From the presentation, here are three key Venn Diagrams. They are simultaneously duh and oooh:

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This notion, that a vanity project for the rich could become a new frontier for the middle class, is too often overlooked. It's central to Musk's motivation and it should always have been central to our understanding of space colonization and exploration. It hasn't been, until now.




Rocky Earth-Sized Planet Found Circling Nearest Star

Wed, 24 Aug 2016 13:50:00 -0400

(image) Astronomers from the University of Texas at Austin have just announced that they have discovered evidence that a rocky planet slightly larger than the Earth is orbiting Proxima Centauri, the closest star to Sol. The planet orbits its star in 11 days, but because Proxima Centauri is a cool red dwarf star, its surface temperature is low enough to be suitable for liquid water and thus lies within the conventionally defined habitable zone around the star. The new exo-planet is named Proxima b.

If this result stands, the new private Breakthough Starshot program will have an excellent target at which to aim. As reported earlier:

A fleet of laser-boosted nanocraft could be on their way to the Sun's nearest neighboring star, Alpha Centauri in a couple of decades. Breakthrough Starshot is the ambitious proposal announced by Russian internet entrepreneur Yuri Milner in New York [in April]. As outlined by Milner, the idea is that a fleet of gram-sized spacecraft - StarChips - kitted out with diaphanous lightsails will be boosted into orbit and then blasted with a ground-based "light beamer" consisting of phased 100 gigawatt array of lasers. Traveling at 20 percent of the speed of light, a fleet of StarChips would make the trip in only 20 years.

Of course, if warp drives were available (and consistently described), it would take perhaps 3 days to get there at Warp Factor 3.

(image)




SpaceX Foots the Bill for 2018 Mission to Mars

Thu, 28 Apr 2016 12:26:00 -0400

SpaceX announced plans to send an unmanned capsule to Mars by 2018 on Twitter yesterday: Planning to send Dragon to Mars as soon as 2018. Red Dragons will inform overall Mars architecture, details to come pic.twitter.com/u4nbVUNCpA — SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 27, 2016 Right now, Dragon capsules ferry cargo to the International Space Station as part of a $5.5 billion contract with NASA. But SpaceX founder Elon Musk has made it clear that the capsules are built for more than just hauling shipments of astronaut ice cream, tweeting that "Dragon 2 is designed to be able to land anywhere in the solar system. Red Dragon Mars mission is the first test flight....But wouldn't recommend transporting astronauts beyond Earth-moon region. Wouldn't be fun for longer journeys. Internal volume ~size of SUV." Veronique de Rugy labels Musk a crony capitalist in her column today, noting (quite correctly) that companies he has founded have received many billions in federal taxpayer dollars, state incentives, and more. But it's worth highlighting that for this ambitious 2018 mission, Musk is footing the bill—despite some warm, fuzzy press releases about partnering with NASA. One might consider some of those private funds his firm is spending on the mission ill-gotten gains, I suppose. But SpaceX has delivered the services it promised for those NASA billions so far; though not without the occasional mishap. And the company has done so under a type of contract that keeps much more of the incentives to behave like a profit-maximizing private actor (rather than an old-school appendage of the bloated space agency, like Boeing or Lockheed) intact. The Washington Post reports that NASA will providing only "technical assistance" for this first unmanned mission to Mars, quoting space historian John Logsdon saying that "NASA has more expertise in getting to and landing on Mars than any other organization in the world....So if a U.S. company wants to try it on a no-exchange-of-funds basis, why not?" For a while now, Musk has been beefing with science celeb Neil deGrasse Tyson about whether a Mars mission is an appropriate undertaking for a private entrepreneur. Last fall, Tyson said "The delusion is thinking that SpaceX is going to lead the space frontier. That's just not going to happen." Calling a Mars mission too time-consuming and expensive, Tyson declared: "A government has a much longer horizon over which it can make investments." But, as space journalist Alan Boyle notes in GeekWire, Musk seems perfectly cheerful about the expense and rather more optimistic than Tyson about the time horizon. He's been pretty clear about how he hopes to overcome commercial pressure to think short term—the company will remain privately held for now. "When we're doing regular flights to Mars, that might be a good time to go public," he said. "But before then, because the long-term goals of SpaceX are really long term—it takes a long time to build a city on Mars—that doesn't match with the short-term time frame of public shareholders and portfolio managers that are looking at the two- to four-year time horizon." In other words, Musk thinks that this insanely huge undertaking will be good for his business in the long term. So much so that he's putting up cash now and delaying the big payday that would come with going public. And frankly, it's hard to doubt the sincerity of a man who has said repeatedly over many years that he hopes to die on Mars (though ideally not at the point of impact).[...]



A Private Trip to Alpha Centauri: Breakthrough Starshot*

Tue, 12 Apr 2016 19:31:00 -0400

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A fleet of laser-boosted nanocraft could be on their way to the Sun's nearest neighboring star, Alpha Centauri in a couple of decades. Breakthrough Starshot is the ambitious proposal announced by Russian internet entrepreneur Yuri Milner in New York today. As outlined by Milner, the idea is that a fleet of gram-sized spacecraft - StarChips - kitted out with diaphanous lightsails will be boosted into orbit and then blasted with a ground-based "light beamer" consisting of phased 100 gigawatt array of lasers. This would get the StarChips traveling at about 20 percent of the speed of light enabling them to reach Alpha Centauri in just over 20 years. According to the Breakthrough announcement of the project:

The Alpha Centauri star system is 25 trillion miles (4.37 light years) away. With today’s fastest spacecraft, it would take about 30,000 years to get there. Breakthrough Starshot aims to establish whether a gram-scale nanocraft, on a sail pushed by a light beam, can fly over a thousand times faster. It brings the Silicon Valley approach to space travel, capitalizing on exponential advances in certain areas of technology since the beginning of the 21st century. ...

Breakthrough Starshot aims to bring economies of scale to the astronomical scale. The StarChip can be mass-produced at the cost of an iPhone and be sent on missions in large numbers to provide redundancy and coverage. The light beamer is modular and scalable. Once it is assembled and the technology matures, the cost of each launch is expected to fall to a few hundred thousand dollars.

Milner plans to spend $100 million on the research and engineering program to demonstrate proof of concept for the project.

This is not the first time Milner has financed visionary projects. Last year he announced that he is bankrolling the Breakthrough Listen project with the Unverisity of California Berkeley. That project will use radio telescopes to search space for signals from extraterrestrial intelligences. He has committed $100 million over the next ten years to Breakthrough Listen.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Cambridge University physicist Stephen Hawking will join Milner on the board of the Breakthrough Starshot project. The executive director will be Pete Worden, former director of NASA Ames Research Center. 

Bon Voyage!

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*To those commenters who alerted me to this, many thanks (you know who you are). My apologies for getting to it so late in the day.




Will Giant Sticky Space Roombas Solve Our Space Junk Problems?

Tue, 12 Apr 2016 13:15:00 -0400

Space junk is annoying now—small objects have already popped holes in the International Space Station—but it will become an increasingly serious problem as we enter the era of cheap, frequent commercial launches. (Pretty solid work in April, by the way, SpaceX and Blue Origin. Kudos.)  Just in the last month, debris was spotted flaming over the Sri Lankan coast and a rogue object was briefly blamed for knocking out Japan's new research satellite (unfairly, as it turned out). Enter Astroscale, the Singaporean company that just received $35 million in funding to work on clearing out some of the estimated 150 million pieces of junk floating around the ol' blue marble—especially antique microsatellites, which have a relatively short two- to five-year lifespan and will soon be deployed by the dozens and hundreds for all kinds of reasons, including mapping and communications. Here's the plan: Step 1: Find the junk. Astroscale will do this using a Japanese microsat called OSG IDEA 1 launched on a Russian rocket, designed to map objects less on a millimeter across—including stuff that's not visible to ground-based systems. Step 2: Send up sticky space roombas to roam around cleaning up the junk, especially those discarded microsats. ADRAS 1 spacecraft will be covered in adhesive which will grab debris and then pull the stuff that's in low-earth orbit down to be incinerated on re-entry. Junk that's higher up will be nudged away from high traffic areas.  Step 3: Profit.  Last month, Astroscale received a big second infusion of cash, primarily from a Japanese government-based public-private partnership, but also from the private venture firm JAFCO. The first round of funding was $7.7 million in venture money a little over a year ago. The company is aiming to launch the ADRAS in 2018. Astroscale certainly isn't the only player in this area: Last week, NASA announced an investment in a Brane Craft, a 2D membrane designed to drag space junk down to burn up, and some Russkie academics have a few ideas as well.  Looks like the market for space maids is heating up. P.S. Space junk also causes ongoing diplomatic problems, since the U.S. has historically had more and better info about floating debris than other nations and also created more than its share of the man-made portion of that debris. Some fear space junk could even trigger global war if strategic sats are destroyed under suspicous circumstances. So we'd better get to work tidying this place up.[...]



The Martian is Up for Seven Academy Awards Tonight

Sun, 28 Feb 2016 17:00:00 -0500

frameborder="0" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/aZqxXYY-8Yk" height="340" width="560">

Whether or not you consider it a comedy, it's undeniable that the Ridley Scott-helmed, sci-fi rescue story The Martian has been raking in awards.  Tonight the film is up for seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Writing, and Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role.

Reason TV's Zach Weissmueller sat down with Andy Weir, author of the best-selling novel that spawned the film, to talk about his amazing journey from computer programming, the challenges of writing a scientifically accurate space novel, and his thoughts on the future of real-life space travel.




President Obama's Moonshot Presidency

Wed, 13 Jan 2016 08:02:00 -0500

In President Obama’s final State of the Union, he promised that Joe Biden would cure cancer.

No really. That was the president’s Big Bold Idea: a new national effort that he framed as a “new moonshot”—with Vice President Biden “in charge of mission control”—the goal of which will be to cure cancer “once and for all.” (Granted, Biden probably wouldn’t be the one in the lab coat testing cures, but he’d be directing the program and its resources.)

It’s a dubious idea—and its indicative of both the problems with Obama’s final State of the Union and the larger failures of his presidency.

Curing cancer would be wonderful indeed, but in few ways is it comparable to America’s first trip to the moon. Getting to the moon was a massive undertaking, but it was a fundamentally understandable engineering problem: how to get out of earth’s gravity well, get into orbit around the moon, put down a lunar lander with a couple of people in it, and then make a return trip with the crew unharmed. It was hard, and required massive human and financial resources, as well as considerable experimentation and innovation, and yet basically straightforward in terms of the challenge it presented.

A similar challenge today would be making a manned trip to Mars. It would be very expensive and time intensive for any government to accomplish, would require a fair amount of engineering experimentation and innovation, and would be somewhat risky for the astronauts making the trip. But we have a pretty good sense of what would be involved, and we can be reasonably certain that we could make it happen given some time and resources.

Curing cancer would be…different. For one thing, cancer isn’t monolithic. There are hundreds of types of cancer, and those different cancers affect each individual in different ways. For another thing, we don’t even know what the end product would look like, what sort of biological process or technology it might involve. It’s as if we’re trying to get to the moon, but there are dozens of moons, and we don’t know where they are, or what a rocket is.

This is the problem with “moonshot” proposals: Very few things are like going to the moon (except perhaps going to other relatively close places within the solar system), and the methods and lessons of the moon program aren’t terribly applicable to other sorts of scientific challenges.

What that means is that means that moonshot proposals almost always turn out to be empty declarations that if we just believe and try and devote ourselves with enough intensity and passion, we can make something happen.

That’s a nice thought, but it’s more of a hope than a plan. In many ways, though, that’s the gist of a lot of what Obama said in his State of the Union address last night—that if only we believe and dedicate ourselves to a cause, we can make it happen.

That sort of determined hopefulness can be comforting, but Obama’s own presidency is a study in its limits. It is telling that Obama’s final State of the Union returned to many of the themes that defined his first presidential run, in particular the polarization of America’s politics, and lamented that the old problems remain—or, in some ways, have grown worse. Fixing America’s politics was a kind of moonshot idea, and after seven years, it’s clear that Obama has failed. The real problem is that there’s no obvious way to fix it, no clear idea of what a fix might look like. But a recognition that some problem is intractable or unsolvable doesn’t make for a very stirring State of the Union speech, and so we get visions of moonshots instead. 




"Welcome Back, Baby!": SpaceX Returns Rocket to Earth

Tue, 22 Dec 2015 11:17:00 -0500

Last night SpaceX launched its Falcon 9 rocket into orbit and landed the first stage vertically on a Cape Canaveral pad. It was kind of a big deal. This was a huge success after two previous failures, and CEO Elon Musk was pumped:

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The goal of reusability has been a holy grail for private spaceflight industry, since recovering key components of the spacecraft could dramatically bring down the price of getting stuff and people into space. 

Last month, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos' company Blue Origin managed a landing as well, another milestone for the industry, though it was a less ambitious project all around, with a smaller craft going slower and returning from a lesser height. 

Before this year, rockets boosters were incredibly expensive feats of engineering that became incredibly expensive garbage as soon as they served their function. Musk and Bezos' obsession with reusability is about the bottom line, bringing down the cost of getting stuff off the surface of the earth is a crucial precondition to all kinds of space-based industries and ventures, such as asteroid mining—though the primary commercial application at the moment is satellites.

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In case the whole thing wasn't nerdy enough for you, here's one more tweet from Musk, who seems to have gone full Bilbo: 

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And for more, check out Reason TV: "When Can I Buy My Ticket to Outer Space?"

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Legal Space Mining!

Mon, 30 Nov 2015 16:15:00 -0500

(image) Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit writes in USA Today of a great victory for property rights that's literally out of this world:

Last week, of course, we heard about Jeff Bezos’ company Blue Origin’s successful launch and landing of a fully reusable spacecraft. But another thing happened last week that got less attention: President Obama signed landmark legislation,  the "U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act of 2015.” That legislation does a number of things, but the most important part is this passage:

"A United States citizen engaged in commercial recovery of an asteroid resource or a space resource under this chapter shall be entitled to any asteroid resource or space resource obtained, including to possess, own, transport, use, and sell the asteroid resource or space resource obtained in accordance with applicable law, including the international obligations of the United States."

There are a lot of good reasons to celebrate this development (even if it may not actually have been necessary under existing law). Reynolds explains:

Now investors don’t have to worry about whether they’ll plow millions (or billions) into a space mining company only to be told later that it broke the law....The solar system abounds in energy and material wealth, and far and away the greatest part of it is somewhere other than Earth. Rather than staying here, and fighting over slices of what’s left, humanity should expand outward, competing peacefully to expand instead of engaging in zero-sum squabbles. We’ve taken a big step in that direction in the past week.

Some asteroids are believed to contain as much as $20 trillion in minerals, so the land rush (space rush?) will happen at some point. Reynolds hypothesizes that making it easier to mine in space also will help avoid conflict on Earth while resurrecting some of the frontier spirit that made America great (and this time, without displacing native Americans).

Read the whole thing here.

This is as good a reason as any to post Chris Elliott's senses-shattering dramatic reading of Rocket Man:

frameborder="0" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/56g2gNdWxxw" height="340" width="560">

For context, go here.




The Martian author Andy Weir on Mars Colonization, Commercial Space Travel, and Going From Programmer to Best-Selling Author

Tue, 29 Sep 2015 09:00:00 -0400

"I want us to have a self-sufficient population somewhere other than Earth because 25 years of being a computer programmer has taught me the value of backing things up," says Andy Weir, author of the best-selling novel The Martian, which tells the story of astronaut Mark Watney as he struggles to survive alone on Mars after he’s mistakenly left for dead in the wake of a botched mission. It's the basis for the upcoming Hollywood film directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon, which hits theaters this weekend.

Weir was working as a computer programmer in Silicon Valley when he began writing The Martian in serial form and posting it for free on his personal website for an audience consisting of what he describes as a few thousand "hardcore science dorks." Five years later, he had a book deal with Crown Publishing and a film option from 20th Century Fox.

Reason TV's Zach Weissmueller sat down with Weir to talk about his amazing journey from programmer to best-selling author, the challenges of writing a scientifically accurate space novel, and his thoughts on the future of real-life space travel. 

Approximately 15 minutes. Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Shot by Paul Detrick and Alexis Garcia. Music by Lee Rosevere.

Scroll down for downloadable versions, and subscribe to Reason TV's YouTube channel for daily content like this.




This is What Pluto Looks Like from 766,000 Miles Away

Tue, 14 Jul 2015 09:51:00 -0400

NASA posted a new photo of the planet Pluto this morning. The photo was taken by the New Horizons deep space probe from 766,000 miles away, but even still, it's bigger, closer, and more colorful than any photo of the planet we've ever seen before. 

In a Tweet, NASA calls the photo a "love note back to Earth," referencing the giant heart-shaped mark on the planet's underside. 

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The photos are about to get better. Much better.

This morning, New Horizons is flying by Pluto and will come within about 8,000 miles of the planet, providing us with the best view of Pluto we've ever had. 

Data from the flyby won't start coming back until a little after 9 p.m. tonight, however, in part because the probe will be spending all of its processing power collecting data, and in part because it takes more than 4 hours to send a signal back to Earth. 

In the meantime, you can follow along with NASA's video simulation of New Horizons' activities this morning via their Eyes On the Solar System. Or watch this short video via NASA's app and Wired, which shows, in sped-up form, what the central eight hours of the mission will look like. 




PornHub's Space Sex Tape: An Awesome Idea That's Probably Not Going to Work

Mon, 15 Jun 2015 16:41:00 -0400

PornHub calls itself the "#1 free porn site in the world," (link is NSFW, obviously) but has now decided that tagline is too modest. "The production of the video will begin when the spaceship takes flight. Filming will commence upon takeoff and as the ship climbs, so too will the lovemaking...As soon as the ship reaches its maximum altitude there will be weightlessness for at least a few minutes. Our actors will be having sex and climaxing within that time frame—ideally, of course." PornHub Vice President Corey Price explained to the Huffington Post. The site is looking to raise $3.4 million to train and equip astronaut/porn stars to send them into space. PornHub has already chosen the actors, including the charming Eva Lovia pictured at right. The rest of the plan seems pretty vague, and so far it's only 1 percent funded.  Believe me, I want to see space porn as much as the next gal. And I believe in the power of pornography to drive new technologies, so I think interest in zero-g smut would likely provide a boost for even more important space commerce, such as asteroid mining and colonization. But here are a few boner-killing things PornHub execs should probably know before they (literally) launch their space porn initiative:  1) Sex in space can be tricky. I reported on this important topic for Reason back in 2007:  According to Vanna Bonta, a poet and space sexpert with a sweet, breathy voice, ““Zero gravity could cause a slight decrease in the size of the erect penis because of the heart not working hard, or low blood pressure.”” 2) Sex in space could have tragic results:  ““One of the by-­products of sex is people,”” said Bonta. Unlike in Vegas, what happens in space does not stay in space, and there’’s a major concern that babies born off planet would not be able to return to Earth. It’’s pretty clear that conception doesn’’t require gravity, but ““there may be some problems with embryo survival.”” And fetuses can’’t take gravity-­simulation countermeasures, such as exercise with weights and running on a treadmill, which even adults staying in space for a relatively short period must do. 3) PornHub isn't the first company to have this idea: In 2006, Laura Woodmansee wrote a book called Sex in Space, which chronicled plans to make a porno on the (late) Mir space station. They didn't work out.  4) The physics are going to be tough. (But there's a silver lining to this one): There may already be a fetish community out there tailor-made for this market: bondage. According to Bonta, space sex will require ““stabilization rooms”” with handles, cubicles, Velcro, and bungee cords. It turns out that Newton’’s Third Law——the one about equal and opposite reactions——makes sex in low gravity something of a logistical challenge. 5) Newt Gingrich has been totally into this idea since at least 1984:  In his 1984 book, Window of Opportunity (and again in his 1994 book, To Renew America), he suggested that private space flight would open up business opportunities for space tourism—specifically for honeymooning couples. As he put it: "Imagine weightlessness and its effects and you will understand some of the attraction." 6) Current providers of quick zero-g trips often refer to their vehicles as "vomit comets." Just sayin'. Here's the incredibly awkward IndieGoGo video, which features a grown man making obscene hand gestures as well as some suggestive footage of space vehicles docking. Watch at your own risk: [...]



"The first woman to be raped in space has probably already been born."

Thu, 07 May 2015 08:14:00 -0400

Courtesy of the great Brit-Lib (British libertarian) site Samizdata comes this not-The-Onion-piece in The Guardian: "How can our future Mars colonies be free of sexism and racism?"  "We’re going to Mars—eventually," declares the author Martin Robbins, who "writes about science, pseudoscience and evidence-based politics." After space-walking through various cliches about Manifest Destiny and noting, sensibly enough, that said "destiny is rarely great for the people already at the destination," we get to the meat of the piece. Which, given this is about space exploration and colonization, the meat involved is a hunk of prophylactic social-justice-warrioring that's about as fresh and substantive as one of those old Space Food Sticks we suffered through in the 1970s. The first woman to be raped in space has probably already been born. And if that last sentence makes you howl with protest or insist that such a thing just wouldn’t happen, then I’d stop a second and ask yourself why.... To paraphrase Douglas Adams: “Space is white. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly white it is.” It’s also very male and European. Women in space-colony fiction have generally been presented as sexy walking vaginas, whose main purpose is to provide the male astronauts with a place to dock their penis at night. This being necessary in order to “ensure the survival of the species”... if we really want to create a progressive new world then issues like these should be at the hearts of our efforts from the very start. I hope [private space entrepreneur Elon] Musk and his peers open up that discussion sooner rather than later, and I hope that people like Lee can take part in it. The last thing we need is to wake up in 50 years and find that a bunch of #gamergate nobheads are running Mars. More here. What's that line from Barry McGuire's faux-'60s-protest song, "Eve of Destruction?" Oh yeah: "You may leave here for four days in space/But when you return it's the same old place." Sing it, brother, sing it. You can't win the human race, or the sermonizing of SJWS when it comes to "GamerGate." Seriously, you're talking about starting a colony on Mars (which thankfully—and unlike large swaths of colonies formed on Planet Earth—has no native population) and you're stuck on GamerGate? In the 19th century, many people feared "monomania," or fixations on a single comprehensive idea that possessed individuals to their detriment. Monomaniacal characters populate American fiction of that period—think Capt. Ahab in Moby-Dick—but often also to great comic effect. The titular character of Washington Irving's "The Adventure of the German Student" (which is part of a tightly integrated series of very funny stories in Tales of a Traveler) is one such figure. The student becomes obsessed with the idea that "an evil genius or spirit seeking to ensnare him and ensure his perdition" and, needless to say, he gets exactly what he fears most. Even better is Hollingsworth, a boorish prison reformer in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Blithedale Romance who won't STFU already about how his very specific, very tedious insights will transform all aspects of humanity. "It cost me many a groan to tolerate him on this point," observes the novel's wry narrator. So it is with Martin Robbins and his ilk. You can figuratively fly off into outer space but when you touch down on the Red Planet, it turns out you might as well never left your mother's living room. Everywhere you go, there you are. There really is no escaping the prison of your own obsessions. Each of us, walking vaginas or ambulatory penises alike, are just slave girls of Gor. Reason TV's Paul Detrick recently talked to a woman who just might die [...]



Watch SpaceX Try to Land Rocket Parts on a Drone Barge, Right the Heck Now

Tue, 14 Apr 2015 15:57:00 -0400

FINAL UPDATE: 

UPDATED UPDATE: Here's the new feed.

UPDATE: Canceled Monday, rescheduled for Tuesday. 

Yep. I said "drone barge." Isn't living in the future awesome?

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The private space firm SpaceX (read Reason's cover story on the company and its founder Elon Musk here) is sending another resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS), using its Falcon 9 rocket. The Dragon capsule will make its way to the ISS with cargo and supplies, as well as a small satellite by Planetary Resources. But while they're at it, SpaceX is going to try something new that could make space flight quicker, cheaper, faster, better.

Right now, when a rocket takes off it discards various bits and pieces on the way up—boosters breaking off and falling as the spacecraft ascends will be a familiar sight to anyone who ever watched a Shuttle launch—in order to be more efficient about fuel use. But those pieces can technically be reusable. Enter the "drone barge," which will use GPS to position itself under the falling booster. That booster has been designed to retain enough fuel and wherewithal to set itself down relatively gently on the barge instead of smashing into the ocean.

This is SpaceX's second attempt, after a lack of hydraulic fluid in the descending booster's fins screwed things up in January. 

Go here to watch the livesteam of the SpaceX launch, starting at 4:15, weather permitting.

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Ever Wanted to Go to Mars? Mars One Candidate Talks Exploration

Wed, 08 Apr 2015 14:15:00 -0400

Ever wanted to go to Mars? People have fantasized about what it may be like for decades.

"Everybody thought the idea was crazy," says filmmaker Mead McCormick, one of the 100 finalists chosen to go to the red planet through the Mars One mission. "I sincerely did not think it was a crazy idea, so I thought that probably meant I should apply."

Mars One is the Danish non-profit that hopes to fund a human mission to Mars through billions of dollars worth of media deals and sponsorships. The idea is that four humans will start a settlement and live the rest of their lives there, with more humans to follow later.

"I think a big part of the mission itself and the Mars One program [...] is to inspire humanity, and I think exploration does that," says McCormick, who also says that a mission to Mars would be similar to the harsh winters and isolated existence of explorers of the new world. "It broadens our horizons, it makes us learn new perspectives and new ways of thinking about what we know."

If you've been following the news about Mars One, you know that the non-profit has garnered criticism lately over its applicant pool, technical capabilities, and funding. CEO Bas Lansdorp responded to criticism in a YouTube video, defending the program and announcing that the project would be delayed by two years

Approximately 3:30 minutes.

Produced by Paul Detrick. Shot by Alexis Garcia.

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