Space stuff.


"Falcon Heavy ultimately amounts to three Falcon 9 rockets linked together (one of which is strengthened), but it should be crucial to SpaceX's future business. Right now, a solo Falcon 9 can't carry more than 50,000lbs on a one-way trip to low Earth orbit. The Heavy system, however, will haul 140,700lbs into that same orbit, and should be powerful enough to participate in voyages to the Moon and Mars. The sooner the company can get Falcon Heavy into service, the sooner it can handle challenging missions that are barely on its radar."  engadget


Space X goes from strength to strength.  I don't own stock in the company but I wish I did.  A workhorse booster for transport of heavy loads into orbit for development of lunar or asteroid mining is an obvious path to economic justification of space commercial activity.  This booster is a big step in that direction.  pl


"Stephen Hawking’s Breakthrough Listen project has detected mysterious signals that could be coming from intelligent alien life.

Astronomers working to identify alien civilizations picked up 15 repeated fast radio bursts (FRBs) from a dwarf galaxy 3 billion light years away from Earth.

It’s unclear if the signals, observed over a 30-minute period, emanate from black holes, rotating neutron stars, or if they represent signs of alien life.

Hawking founded the Breakthrough Listen project to investigate — and identify — signs of intelligent life in the universe. Russian internet billionaire Yuri Milner is also behind the initiative.

The 15 signals came from FRB 121102. Astronomers had previously detected radio pulses coming from the same source."


 SETI has been looking for this for many years.  Can it be that this private project of Hawking and a Russian billionaire might succeed where SETI has not succeeded?  pl

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33 Responses to Space stuff.

  1. mike says:

    Elon Musk’s Falcon will also be used to launch the next flight of the Air Force unmanned X37 space vehicle. Scheduled four days from now.

  2. My older son had us involved in the SETI@home project even when we had dial up internet. That was on earlier versions of MacOS as well as our IBM clone running Linux. It’s still going on although my son has moved on from the project.

  3. John Minnerath says:

    I also ran SETI@home for a long time, I think the reason I stopped was all the magic smoke leaked out of my computer.

  4. ambrit says:

    Oh yes. And don’t forget Arthur C Clarkes’ Project Solar Sail, which was advocating proof of concept work on ‘Light Sails.’ Now we have the LightSail program being promoted by The Planetary Society. If Super Falcon lives up to hopes, it would provide earth to low earth orbit delivery, and the light sail idea could provide very cheap, if slow, delivery of cargoes almost anywhere else in the solar system.
    As far as Mars goes, there is Mars Direct, that proposes to use Apollo style heavy lifters to send craft and cargoes direct from Earth to Mars. The return trip would depend on robotic mini refineries cracking martian water into oxygen and hydrogen to power the return trip. This would make the weight of cargo to propellant ratio of the heavy lifters
    ‘economical.’ The entire idea utilizes old style Industrial Revolution technology. No special technical breakthroughs are needed.
    With the Falcon series heavy lifter added into the mix, the sky is literally the limit.
    Finally, to rebut critics of the space programs of the various Earth governments, I simply ask; “What about weather satellites?” Q.E.D.
    Thanks for your indulgence.

  5. Hamilcar says:

    I enjoy your semi-regular updates on the subject of commercial space travel, Colonel. I might just live to see this new space age realized, if I take good care of myself.
    I’m less enthused about the reports from the Breakthrough Listen project, and these conflicting emotions have a common source.
    Until someone can demonstrate an alternative mechanism for producing intelligent life, I’m going to assume that Natural Selection is the only show in town. Here on Earth, the closer we get towards exhausting our resources, the more likely we are to see violent expression of our worst genetic instincts. Selective pressures will increase. Survival strategies will diminish (become more limited), and those that persist may well be those considered to be our most primitive.
    Expanding our horizons and extending our resource base could spare us that outcome: So long as easier survival strategies exist, or selective pressures are kept to a minimum, those primal imperatives are largely kept in check. You know as well as anyone here, Colonel, how to make friends among the natives – with the promise of a better future.
    But what of extra-terrestrials who come with the same selective mindset as ourselves? It isn’t hard to follow the implications of Darwinism to their logical conclusion – if we allow ourselves to. Our counterbalance to those Darwinian instincts is our cognitive system – our emotions. Take them out of the equation? Reason dictates all, and eradicating a potential competitor/threat is an entirely reasonable strategy. What sentiment might those extra-terrestrials have for human beings? Not a lot, perhaps. What kind of emotional logic might they adhere to, if any? What kind of selective pressures did their evolution navigate through, and what is the result?
    Some of you might be tempted to suggest I’m being hysterical (if so, I’m in good company). But am I? Is it worth the risk? For the biggest dopamine hit in human history, perhaps, but for what else?
    Space is a big place, I anticipate some of you might be thinking. No, it is not. Not in the practical sense. Space is mostly empty. If you bundle up all of its resources, sure, they’re abundant. But they aren’t bound up. Most will never be within range of us. The proportion of that eco-system that is (even theoretically) available to us is relatively small; unquestionably finite (if we really use our imaginations and try to look ahead). We may discover that we share it with others. We should be better prepared for that outcome than we are now (and it isn’t impossible to imagine what kind of threats we should be prepared for).
    Ironically, Hawking knows this; indeed, has warned of it himself, so I need to learn more about this project and how its aims align with what he’s said in the past (his warnings with regard to AI aren’t unconnected; AI is Darwinian logic incarnate, absent the emotional counterbalance possessed by humans – amoral and entirely rational).
    No offense, Sir, but when I read about some of these first-contact projects, and witness the childlike enthusiasm of some of their supporters, I’m reminded of the scene in “Independence Day”, where like-minded citizens of New York wave signs on top of skyscrapers to welcome our new alien friends – and are promptly vaporized by the spacecraft above. That movie may lack the intellectual and introspective qualities of, say, a War of the Worlds, but the message isn’t as dumb as we might think (and, don’t tell anyone I said so but it’s great entertainment).
    Hopefully we make first-contact with a benevolent people who chide us for being naive and tell us not to light fires at night. There are enough lessons from our own history to warn us things might not play out like that.

  6. Nancy K says:

    Hopefully they are much kinder than we are.

  7. turcopolier says:

    Nancy K
    “I come in peace.” pl

  8. Nancy K,
    Klaatu barada nikto

  9. John Minnerath,
    Did you get any good photos of the eclipse?

  10. Hamilcar says:

    “Hopefully they are much kinder than we are.”
    Well, yes. The thing is, I see no reason why they should be. Speaking of “hope”, in his foreword to his second popular science effort, *The Universe in a Nutshell*, Hawking paraphrases Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous words when he writes, “it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive.” That’s what worries me…
    The actual quote is, “Little do ye know your own blessedness; for to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour.”
    It has its roots in the Taoist teaching, “the journey is the reward”.

  11. Allen Thomson says:

    This relates, kind of, to the Fermi Paradox. Likely everyone here is familar with it but if not, see . To misquote Butch Cassidy, “Where are those guys?”
    It’s one of those cases where perfectly justified assumptions lead to a conclusion that is totally at odds with observed reality.

  12. dilbert dogbert says:

    The some of the first SETI organizational meetings were held at NASA Ames Research Center just down stairs from my office. I think signal processing is the major outcome of the project.

  13. Babak Makkinejad says:

    There are no resource shortages.

  14. John Minnerath says:

    Yes and no, my observatory was a few hundred yards from dead center of the path and sky conditions were superb. I had a big telephoto set to shoot every 2 seconds through totality, but it was a 3 step process to go from the partial phase. When I saw the Corona I had a terrible brain fart and forgot 1 step so got 30 blank exposures!
    I did have a pair of 16X80 binocs on a mount and the view through them is etched in my minds eye, impossible to describe the beauty of those 2+ minutes we had.

  15. turcopolier says:

    Nancy K
    “Noch Nech” pl

  16. mongo says:

    Hello Sir,
    My short answer to your question is probably not. To say that some curious radio signals detected over a 30 minute period from some source 3 billion light years away is potentially meaningful makes me smile and think of the “legend of Lake Victoria.”
    There was a time when the lake level correlated almost perfectly with sunspot activity, but it was only a very short time (about a couple of decades). Hawking’s project, regardless of its funding, doesn’t achieve the same sky coverage of SETI, which itself has very limited sky coverage. Statistics simply aren’t working in our favor here, at least not yet. Ask the question again in a few thousand years, I guess.
    @Allen Thomson,
    Fermi’s Paradox should really be called Fermi’s Hypotheses because no one has figured out a way to test it one way or the other. Falling back to statistics again, the odds of a planet having life, based on our direct observations, is one in nine. We’ve sent probes past eight other planets and so far, we’ve only seen life on Earth. Anything else is romantic conjecture.
    Finally, Elon Musk may well turn out to be a real-life D.D. Harriman, but commercial activity on the Moon is still a long way off — when I hear about the development and use of probes that can do “luna-magnetic surveys” I promise to pay more attention (and maybe buy some stock myself). This also presupposes that the terrestrial governments with space programs will get off their collective keisters and do something about all of the junk that’s currently in low-earth orbits. Falcon Heavy in the short run is only going to add to the pile.
    My $0.02,

  17. Nancy K says:

    “To Serve Mankind”

  18. Nancy K says:

    A good phrase to remember.

  19. LondonBob says:

    ‘3 billion light years away from Earth’ is the pertinent part.
    That said I listened to talk by a cosmonaut and he said he had seen many weird and wonderful things whilst he was in space, the Soviet authorities told him to keep his mouth shut about it when he returned. There is a lot of wonder in our own world, I am sure there is much in space too, whether it is intelligent, I doubt.

  20. paul says:

    the unfortunate reality of life 3 billion light years away means they are most likely extinct since before complex life crawled out of our oceans. an no possibility for any communication.

  21. MRW says:

    The The Parkes Radio Telescope in Australia was the first to pick up these signals in November, 2012.
    Also this, which is astonishing to me:

    Critically, it is important to remember that even though we are now detecting these fast radio bursts coming from dwarf galaxy FRB 121102, when they originally left the Auriga constellation in the northern hemisphere, our solar system would have been fairly new at just under 2 billion years of age. This means that when the high-energy radio bursts first ventured forth, life on Earth would have been comprised of only single-cell organisms. It would take billions of years before the evolution of more complex, multi-cellular life began to evolve on this planet.
    Breakthrough Listen is located at UofC Berkeley CA, and it’s researchers and astronomers are using equipment developed by NASA in this country under public investment. Andrew Siemion heads up the organization there. Hawking put his imprimatur on the project, but still lives in Cambridge I believe.
    Mark Zuckerburg is the major backer with Hawking and the Russian guy.
    The Breakthrough Listen Digital Backend C-band receiver that discovered the recent signals is located at the (largest radio) Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, designed and built by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in 2000. But the telescope is now operated since October 2016 by the independent Green Bank Observatory.
    See the ‘telegram’ announcing it on August 29th:
    The SETI Institute in Mountain View CA is a partner with Breakthrough Listen on many of their projects.

  22. MRW says:


    To say that some curious radio signals detected over a 30 minute period from some source 3 billion light years away is potentially meaningful makes me smile and think of the “legend of Lake Victoria.”

    It wasn’t 30 minutes. it was five hours.

  23. Babak Makkinejad says:

    What is the point? You guys cannot even communicate with ayatullahs in Qum; yet you crave dialogue with some alien species with whom you will almost certainly have nothing in common.

  24. LondonBob says:

    Worth remembering that there are supposed to be just under nine million species on earth yet only one is intelligent. Mankind is unique.

  25. Babak Makkinejad says:

    I think what is meant by intelligence in humans is the ability to use language (noun, verb) to carry on an ihnternal dialogue eith oneself. But language itself requires a social setting. I wonder if elephants, certain cetaceans, and some species of bats and rodents are on threshold of this type of verbal intelligence.

  26. John Minnerath says:

    On our planet, certainly, in our galaxy possibly, recent estimates of the number of OBSERVABLE galaxies go as high as 1 trillion. Reduces our odds of being unique considerably.

  27. MRW says:

    You made me laugh, Babak! You’re right.
    It’s just happenstance that I’ve sort of being following this for five years, since the Aussies first got the signal. (The NY Daily News reporter didn’t do his homework. To say this is Hawking and the Russian’s idea or work is like claiming the private sector had anything to do with inventing space travel.) All the action’s been coming out of the Observatory in West Virginia, which has run the Green Bank Telescope (GBT) since 2016.
    The Green Bank Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation, funded by them. Their GBT radio telescope (one of quite a few they run) is the largest in the world, state-of-the-art, which astronomers use to conduct their experiments because their equipment is the best and they are located in a National Radio Quiet Zone, protected by Zoning Acts that prohibit the use of radio equipment within a ten-mile radius that could interfere with their work or equipment.
    Scroll to the bottom and read the two Twitter-length descriptions.
    These are scientists, Babak. They sit in dark rooms and listen for pings and gaze at the galaxies.
    Check the Partners tab. You’ll see Breakthrough Listen is listed as one of them. Hawking and the Russian didn’t come up with any of this. Neither did Zuckerberg.

  28. MRW says:

    The Russian and Zuckerberg are involved so they can get a heads-up on anything they can exploit commercially the way Musk and Bezos did.

  29. Mark Logan says:

    And if they aren’t extinct I agree with Hawking in this, it may be exceedingly unwise for us to contact them.
    A recent story about SETI informed me they are aware they couldn’t detect ourselves from just a couple light years away…aside from a few military radars which happened to be aimed directly at them, and those for not much further.
    Space is a very, very, VERY noisy place, so “They” are or were channeling a quasar-level power source. I imagine They would have started their signaling experiments by blinking low and moderate energy stars such as our sol off and on with telegraph sending key.

  30. MRW says:

    The real geniuses in all this progress are the Military and DoD scientists who have been developing all this technology since the 50s and 60s, but (1) no one knows this or wants to believe it (2) no one understands the public-private partnerships the federal government developed starting in WWII for public purpose because since 1980 we think private developers and corporate shareholders are more important than the People, and (3) the really important work was top-secret.
    The American people have abdicated their judgment.
    Not to mention, so many are infected with Ayn Rand(ism)—it’s a Silicon Valley religion—the selfish skank who spent her life fighting the Bolsheviks mentally and never understood what the Spirit of America was about. Who thought kindness, especially economic kindness, was a sign of weakness. (But it was okay to fuck her young follower and ruin his young wife, not to mention how she cuckolded her own husband publicly.)
    All you have to do is listen to Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell today. The Dems and Antifa are no better. (Let’s not even bring up John McCain who is still pissed that the president of the US (Obama, Trump, whomever) doesn’t recognize him as the head of an equal branch of government. The American Netanyahu.)

  31. Nancy K says:

    Not just a Silicon Valley religion, I believe Paul Ryan said his life was changed when he read Atlas Shrugged at a young age.

  32. WDL says:

    I would suggest watching the movie Unacknowleged before jumping to any conclusions about our ability to get to space and who might or might not be out there. It’s available on Netflix and YouTube

  33. LondonBob says:

    You reminded of the South Park episode when they decided to take the piss out of Richard Dawkins and evolution. In a few hundred years sea otters had evolved in to a highly intelligent species battling humans for planetary dominance, ‘Know this Time Child I shall smash your skull like a clam on my tummy!!!!’

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