Posts Tagged ‘the Moon’

1980’s Book Discussing the Future Militarisation of Space

March 16, 2021

One of former president Donald Trump’s controversial decisions has been to propose the establishment of an American military space force. As with just about every stupid decision the orange buffoon made, this caused immediate controversy. It breaks the current international agreement banning the militarisation of space and threatens a new arms race, increasing international tension and the possibility of real war. Which could result in the nuclear annihilation of humanity and the reduction of our beautiful, blue-green planet to a smouldering atomic cinder.

But The Donald’s proposal was hardly new. Congress and the US military discussed the possible establishment of a space force over thirty years previously. These discussions had been accompanied by the publication of a book, Military Space Forces: The Next 50 Years, by John M. Collins (Washington: Pergamon-Brasseys 1989). The book was published to help congressional representatives understand the issues. It also gives a fascinating insight in what American politicians and military staff considered might happen in this new area of human combat over the following half century. The book’s blurb runs

‘The latest from renowned defense authority John M. Collins, Military Space Forces: The Next 50 Years was requested by key U.S. congressmen to help them and the White House evaluate and understand future space issues. This is the foundation document upon which future U.S. space policy will be based.

Concentrating on the Earth-Moon system, Military Space Forces has four purposes:

  • To describe space as a distinctive military medium.
  • To describe military space planning and programming, with particular concern for problems and options.
  • To compare present and projected U.S.-Soviet military space postures.
  • To indicate courses of action that might improve U.S. military space posture at sensible costs.

All appraisals are based on present technologies and predicted improvements during the next 25 to 50 years. Designed as a tool to help Washington blend military space capabilities with land, sea, and air power in ways that best assure U.S. security-without avoidable destabilization or waste of time and resources-Military Space Forces also clarifies the complex technology and issues facing military space planners today. This pathfinding new book provides any citizen an essential frame of reference with the nation’s future role in space.’

Among the issues discussed are military strategies, doctrines and tactics in space, and the development of space forces themselves. This includes their military infrastructure on the High Frontier, military space industries, military space installations, deployable space forces, R&D requirements and contributory science and technologies.

The book includes two sets of recommendations. One is a set of nonprovocative actions intended to strengthen deterrence and improve American combat capability in the event deterrence fails. These are:

  1. Develop comprehensive military space doctrines applicable to the total Earth-Moon system.
  2. Integrate military space more effectively into U.S. national security strategies.
  3. Emphasise verifiable arms control to confine threats.
  4. Reduce Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps dependency on space support by cross-training to preserve traditional skills such as communications and navigation.
  5. Embellish basic research to multiply serendipitous results that might benefit military space programmes.
  6. Employ technological expertise to produce first-class systems at acceptable cost.
  7. Improve passive defences for selected military space installations and vehicles, with particular attention to innovative hardening and deception.

These are all low cost options. Far more expensive are those in the second list, which suggested

  1. Survivable launch, recovery, and C3 infrastructure.
  2. Heavy lift boosters.
  3. National Aerospace Planes (NASP) able to breach the atmospheric barrier easily and maneuver in space.
  4. Reasonable redundancy and reconstitutions capabilities for essential military space systems.
  5. Anti-satellite systems.,
  6. Active onboard defences for military support satellites on a case-by-case-basis.
  7. Land-and space-based SDI systems.

The book concludes with this paragraph

Former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, at a March 1974 press conference in Moscow, asked, “What in God’s name is strategic superiority?” It may be unilateral control of space, which overarches Planet Earth, all occupants, and its entire contents. If so, possessors of that vantage position could overpower every opponent. They might, in fact, impose their will without fighting, a feat that Sun Tzu called “the acme of skill” 25 centuries ago. U.S. military space forces therefore need means to forestall strategic surprise from space and respond successfully, unless best case estimates prove correct as events unfold.

The book’s clearly a product of the Reagan era and his wretched ‘Star Wars’ programme. Among the weapons and installations the book discusses is a six-man lunar base, space-based railguns, which use electromagnets to propel missiles to colossal speeds, and space based lasers. I don’t know how dated the book and its predictions are. It considers the threat of electromagnetic pulses generated from nuclear explosions high in the atmosphere above targets disrupting computers and other electronic systems, but I think that threat might have been overcome.

Whatever the reality is today, it shows that Trump’s demand for a space force follows decades of debate within the American military and political establishment.

Dido Harding Didn’t Realise Viruses Mutate – How Did She Get Her Job Again?

February 7, 2021

I realise that it’s an old story, but it’s worth repeating as it shows the level of corruption and plain incompetence surrounding Boris Johnson and his appointments to official post. Mike posted up a piece a little while ago commenting on a statement by Dido Harding, the head of NHS Test and Trace, that no-one could have predicted that the virus would mutate. Really? Doctors and scientists have known for a very long time that viruses mutate. It’s why there are different varieties of the flu vaccine and they haven’t yet been able to find one that will absolutely eradicate it, as they have with smallpox. The disease mutates too rapidly, so that as soon as an effective vaccine against one strain is found, a new variety, immune to it, emerges. It’s also why the world’s scientists are worried about the declining effectiveness of penicillin, as new strains of bacteria are emerging that are immune to it. I also believe that malaria is also changing so that quinine is becoming less effective.

This isn’t some deep medical secret, hidden by the scientific establishment for some nefarious purpose of its own, along with alien bases on the Moon, the Greys, the Face on Mars and the location of Atlantis. It’s widely known, well-publicised fact. One of the peeps on Twitter, Kit Yates, showed that it was actually taught in his seven year old’s science textbook. Which looks a lot more fun and exciting than some of the textbooks we used when I was at school. And scientific concerns about viral immunity to penicillin and quinine has been discussed on several programmes on Radio 4. This is the public service broadcaster the Tories want to defund and abolish in favour of something far more right-wing and owned by Rupert Murdoch or another millionaire like him. The fact that Tory official Harding doesn’t know a fairly basic fact about disease clearly demonstrates that if the Tories have their way, the abolition of the Beeb will leave Britain dumber and much less informed. But that’s obviously the only way the Tories feel they can win in the long term.

Fortunately for Britain, as Dr Julia Grace Patterson pointed out, doctors had been tracking different strains of Covid since last Spring. She also pointed out that viruses mutate, which was why the flu vaccine changed annually, and concluded that Harding’s remark was ‘awful’. This shows that we can count on our scientists diligently researching and doing everything they can to combat the disease. We just can’t count on their bosses knowing much about it.

If Harding was an ordinary member of the public, her ignorance would be excusable. You don’t expect ordinary people to know everything. They don’t have the time, the energy nor often the education. But Harding’s different. She’s in charge of the government body set to monitor and combat the spread of the disease from person to person. Her ignorance says much not just about her suitability for her position, but also about the cavalier attitude Boris’ government seemingly has to putting the right people in charge of such vital work. It has always looked as though Harding got the job, not through any real skill, knowledge or ability on her part, but because she was a friend of Boris and his wretched coterie. She was put in purely because of personal loyalty, as well as an attitude on Johnson’s part that no particular expertise was needed in this area. Anyone could do it, so it was important that that anyone was a personal friend or supporter of his.

This attitude seems to go back to the 90s. Private Eye in its literary column lamented the emergence of an attitude to bookselling and libraries, which saw them as just another product to be marketed. Managing directors were being appointed to publishers, booksellers and libraries, who had no experience of that sector, from industries like catering. One of them was the head of a sandwich firm. The attitude seemed to be that in the new commercial environment, industries, no matter how different, were somehow at some basic level identical. A man, who knew nothing about books or literature but made great sandwiches was just as good a choice as someone who had been in the book trade all his or her life, and appreciated that books were a social good with a distinct ethos and societal and ethical function far beyond their value as a material ‘product’.

And the same cavalier ignorance pertains here. BoJo and his fellow morons clearly regard NHS Test and Trace as just another business. Anyone from any business can therefore run it. They don’t have to have any personal expertise themselves, as they’ve got scientists below them to do that. But virology is not any kind of business, and while you wouldn’t expect Harding to have the same level of expertise as the scientists underneath, you do want her to have a basic understand of the nature of disease and the way its fought. Even if that comes from seven year old’s science text books.

Harding’s ignorance is amusing at one level, as the jokes about her on Twitter have shown. But it’s also dangerous. The Tories have absolute contempt for experts. Boris, Cummings and the rest of the ratbags supported ‘herd immunity’ against the advice of the overwhelming majority of doctors and scientists, because it fitted their prejudices of letting the poor die to protect the rich. I think it was one of them, rather than an American Republican, who said that people are sick of experts. Even if it was a Conservative from across the Pond rather than our own, homegrown rightists, the Tories certainly share that determined, anti-intellectual attitude.

Tory medical ignorance and negligence has cost something like 50,000 lives. And it’s still going on. Harding’s lack of a basic fact about viruses is symptomatic of a wider cavalier attitude to science and protecting people’s health and lives. They’re a disgrace. It’s time Harding was sacked and Johnson and his fellow cronies also forced out of office in favour of people better qualified to run the country and preserve its people.

Anyone got any ideas who that might be, as it surely isn’t Tory Starmer!

For further information, see: ANYBODY could have predicted that Dido Harding would be wrong on Covid-19 mutation. Here are some of the funniest responses | Vox Political (voxpoliticalonline.com)

Radio 4 on the Lunar Eclipse at Christ’s Crucifixion

January 1, 2021

Radio 4 yesterday morning had a piece about eclipses, with the host, who sounded like Melvin Bragg, talking to a group of astronomers, one of whom was a lady solar astronomer. They talked about how exciting eclipses were, how they were inspired in childhood to study them, and how important eclipses were in astronomy. They mostly talked about solar eclipses and how they were originally believed to be a supernatural being eating the Sun. The earliest records of solar eclipses were kept by the ancient Chinese, who believed they were omens from the gods. The Babylonians, however, began to realise that they occurred regularly, and passed this knowledge on to the Greeks. Aristotle realised that the Earth must be circular from watching the Earth’s shadow fall across the Moon during lunar eclipses. The Earth’s shadow was circular, therefore, he reasooned, the Earth itself must also be circular. The astronomers also made the extremely important point that you should never look directly at the Sun. If you were looking at it, you should use special lenses to protect your eyes. Alternatively, you could poke holes through a piece of card to act as a pinhole camera, which would project the Sun’s image.

But what I found really interesting was what they said about eclipses possibly being responsible for the darkness that fell at noon when Christ was crucified. One of the astronomers said that it has been suggested that this darkness was caused by a solar eclipse. However, solar eclipses occur regularly, and there would have been no such eclipse at the time Christ is believed to have been crucified. However, there was an eclipse of the Moon on Friday, 6th April, 33 AD. Which sounds very much like the date of Our Lord’s passion. The astronomers and the host described this as ‘spooky’. It is. If you’re a Christian, it does make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. It seems to corroborate somewhat the description of the events of Christ’s death in the Gospels, but it must be said that an eclipse of the Moon wouldn’t cause the darkness earlier in the day. Nevertheless, it does suggest a connection.

One Positive Feature of Black Lives Matter: It Doesn’t Include the Nation of Islam

July 21, 2020

Unlike Mike, I have grave reservations about the Black Lives Matter movement. It has excellent intentions, but I feel it is unintentionally divisive and open itself to criticism for its simplistic view of racial hatred. But flicking through some of the old newspaper cuttings I kept in my scrapbook, I really that it has made one positive step over the mass anti-racism protests following the murder of Stephen Lawrence over twenty years ago. No idiot has invited the National of Islam over here.

Stephen Lawrence, as older readers of this blog will remember, was a Black teenager murdered in a racist attack by a White gang. It became a national scandal due to the Met police’s complete lack of interest in prosecuting the crims responsible, who were all the sons of leading London gangsters. It was incompetence on a massive scale, with elements of corruption and showed the institutional racism in the capital’s police force. It resulted in mass anti-racism demonstrations across Britain.

And joining these demos were the racist extremists. Lawrence’s parents made appeals for their son’s death not to be exploited. The BNP were threatening to turn up at some these. They had been active spreading lies about the late teenager, falsely claiming that he had been a gang member, who terrorised his schoolmates in order to shake them down for their dinner and other money. And from the other side, ‘African radical’ Bernie Grant, the head of Brent council, took it upon himself to invite into the country the Rev. Louis Farrakhan and his legions from the Nation of Islam.

The Nation of Islam has precious little to do with genuine Islam, whether Sunni or Shi’a. It’s a weird mixture of Sudanese Sufism, Black Freemasonry, and UFO space brothers contact ufology. It’s based around the worship of W.D. Fard, a Syrian immigrant to the US, who on his immigration papers was listed as ‘White’. It was while he working in a car factory that Fard was worshipped as another incarnation of the Almighty. This is incredibly heretical to orthodox Muslims. While Mohammed described Christ as ‘the purest of the Prophets’, conceived through divine action in the Virgin Mary, and that God poured out his spirit upon Him when He was a child in the cradle, they differ from Christians in that they strongly reject the doctrine of the Incarnation. The Nation of Islam naturally believe that Christ was also Black, a belief not confined to them, of course.

But there’s a large SF element to the religion as well. They also belief that Black people are the original human race, and arrived here millions of years ago from the Moon. They are superior to everyone else biologically, intellectually and spiritually. Eons ago they created a super-scientific civilisation. White people are albinistic mutants created by the evil Mekkan scientist Shaitan to destroy Blacks and their achievements. You won’t be surprised to hear that they’re also viciously anti-Semitic, wrongly blaming Jews for slavery. Farrakhan himself believed that he was taken aboard a UFO while meditating on the top of a Mexican mountain. He was transported to a giant Mother Wheel orbiting the Earth, which they conveyed him to Venus, where Fard and Jesus now reside, directing the war against Whites. Although their manifesto states that they believe in the dignity of all races and their right to self-determination, the National of Islam was are racial separatists. They demand that Blacks be given a separate country of their own, comprised of four states taken from the southern USA.

The Nation of Islam is also very strongly opposed to the welfare state, which they believe takes away Black people’s self-reliance. This alone should have had Grant thrown out of the Labour party, as it’s clearly incompatible with the core Labour doctrines of supporting the welfare state. And their separatism should have been incompatible with Labour’s ideas of anti-racism. Grant defended his invitation by saying that he had his views, and Farrakhan had his, and they didn’t always agree, but he regarded Farrakhan as ‘an elder statesman’. Well, he was, but chiefly in spreading more racist friction and especially anti-Semitism. He was a political liability, and effectively killed Jesse Jackson’s campaign to become America’s first Black president 15 years before Obama when Jackson started cosying up to him. Al sharpton was also trying to get into Britain at the same time. He’s still around, and seems to have quietened down somewhat with age. But in the ’80s and ’90s one of his tactics was to try to call attention to the terrible living conditions for Blacks in America by leading marches through White areas with highly racially charged chants. He claimed that by referring to them as his ‘troops’ he was only being metaphorical. May be so, but many feared that they would turn violent and they were deliberately provocative.

Farrakhan’s proposed visit to Blighty was opposed by a number of organisations, including Jewish groups, who had every right to be concerned. Racial extremists like him should never have been invited in the first place. The Black Lives Matter protests, although not without faults – there have been violent confrontations with the police – are mostly peaceful multiracial, including Whites and Asians as well as Blacks. They have been at pains to point out that they aren’t against Whites or trying to start a race war, just against anti-Black racism.

And in that they’re a definite improvement over the Stephen Lawrence protests and the way that Bernie Grant and the National of Islam tried to exploit them.

 

Radio 4 Programme on Saturday on Apollo 13

July 2, 2020

Also according to next week’s Radio Times, this Saturday’s edition of the Radio 4 The Archive is on the Apollo 13 disaster. This was when an explosive malfunction meant the crew had to abandon their mission to the Moon and use the lunar module as a lifeboat as they made their way back to Earth. The air purification system was also damaged so they had to rig up a quick replacement for one of the damaged systems.

The blurb for the programme on page 115 reads

Kevin Fong explores the story of the aborted 1970 mission to the Moon, as told by the astronauts who flew it and the teams in mission control who saved the day after an explosion aboard the spacecraft. With archive clips of crew members Jim Lovell and Fred Haise, as well as a host of characters who worked round the clock to save Apollo 13 and Nasa from disaster. With contributions from the broadcaster James Burke, who covered the Apollo 13 mission live for the BBC.

Kevin Fong’s a doctor specialising in space medicine. He’s also appeared on several programmes himself, including one in which he, Dan Snow and a female presenter tried to retrace the steps of the prospective miners on the gold rush trail to the Yukon.

James Burke also has two-page piece about the disaster on page 110 of the Radio Times.

I think there’s been several programmes about Apollo 13 already, including the film of the same name that came out in the 1990s.

The programme’s titled Archive on 4: Apollo 13: The Rescue, and its on Radio 4 on Saturday, 4th July at 8.00 pm.

NASA Film Explaining Their Plan to Return to the Moon

June 25, 2020

Here’s a short film from NASA. Narrated by William Shatner, Star Trek’s original Captain Kirk, it explains that the space agency intends to return to the Moon after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first landed there fifty years ago. This time the agency intends to stay.

It discusses some of the problems that have to be overcome, like isolation, radiation, gravity and the harsh environment of space. To get there, NASA has produced the SLS -Space Launch System – rocket, the most powerful yet developed, to lift heavier payloads into space. The crew will be carried by a new space capsule specially developed for the mission, Orion. The film also states that they’re developing new instrument system for exploring the Moon with their commercial partners.

They want to create fully reusable lunar landers that can land anywhere on the Moon’s surface. The simplest way to enable them to do this is to create an orbiting platform – a space station – around the Moon. This will also contain experiments as well as humans, and has been called ‘Gateway’. Gateway has been designed so that it will move between orbits, and balance between the Earth’s and Moon’s gravity.

It was discovered in 2009 that the Moon contains millions of tons of water ice. This can be extracted and purified for use as drinking water, or separated to provide oxygen for breathing and hydrogen for fuel.

They also state that the Moon is uniquely placed to prepare and propel us to Mars and beyond. The film also declaims that humans are the most fragile part of the mission, but humans are at the heart of it. NASA is going back for all humanity, and this time the Moon isn’t a checkpoint, but a way station for everything that lies beyond. Shatner ends with ‘Our greatest adventure lies ahead of us. We are going.’ This last sentence is repeated as a slogan by the many engineers, technicians, astronauts and mission staff shown in the video. They are shown working on the instruments, rocket engines, launch infrastructure, training aircraft, mission control centre, and the huge swimming pool used to train prospective astronauts in zero G. NASA’s staff and crew are both men and women, and people of all races, Black, White and Asian. One of the ladies is Black, clearly following in the footsteps of the three Afro-American female mathematicians who helped put America’s first men in orbit.

It also includes footage of the first Apollo astronauts walking to their Saturn V rocket and landing on the Moon, with computer simulations of the planned missions, as well as Mars and Jupiter.

From the video, it looks like NASA has returned to its original strategy for reaching the Moon. This was to build a space station between the Earth and Moon at which the powerful rockets used for getting out of Earth’s gravity well would dock. Passengers to the Moon would then be transferred to the landers designed to take them down the Moon. These would be less powerful because of the Moon’s lower gravity.

This was the infrastructure of lunar missions that Wernher von Braun originally intended. It’s the plan shown in Floyd’s journey from Earth to Clavius base on the Moon in Stanley Kubrick’s classic 2001: A Space Odyssey. America, however, needed to beat the Russians to the Moon in the space race for geopolitical reasons, and so chose to go directly to the Moon instead of building the intermediate space station. As a result, after the cuts of the 1970s, America and humanity never returned.

There was talk of a commercial mission to the Moon in the 1990s, using Titan-Centaur rockets assembled into a lunar vessel in orbit. Just as there were also confident predictions that by this year, humanity would have put an astronaut on the Moon. Or perhaps a taikonaut, the Chinese term for it. Stephen Baxter in an article on possible Mars missions in this present century suggested that the first person to walk on the red planet would be a Chinese woman. Who knows? The Chinese are making great strides in their space programme, so I think that’s still a real possibility.

 

Ren Wicks’ painting for NASA of 2019 mission to Mars, from Peter Bond, Reaching For The Stars: The Illustrated History of Manned Spaceflight (London: Cassell 1993).

Fifty years is far too long for us to have stayed away from the Moon. I can remember all the books on space from the 1970s and early ’80s which predicted that by this time there’d be holidays in space, orbital colonies, a base on the Moon and expeditions to Mars and beyond. These haven’t materialised. The last section of Shatner’s voiceover for the video was a piece of oratory designed to evoke JFK’s classic speech, in which he declared America was going to the Moon. ‘We intend, before this decade is out, to put a man on the Moon. We do this, and the other thing, not because it is easy, but because it is hard.’

I wish NASA and all the other space agencies and companies around the world all the very best in realizing the ancient dream of taking people into space. Despite the economic and medical crises caused by the virus, I hope they are successful and in four years’ time put people on the Moon at last. And that this will be just the first in a series of further steps out onto the High Frontier.

As somebody whispered on that fateful day when the Saturn V rocket carrying Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins took off, ‘Godspeed’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elon Musk and Tom Cruise to Film Movie on International Space Station

June 23, 2020

Here’s another fascinating video that has absolutely nothing to do with politics. It’s from the YouTube channel Screen Rant, and reports the news that tech mogul Elon Musk and Tom Cruise are planning to film an action movie on location in space. They’re planning to use the International Space Station. Neil Lehmann, who was worked with Cruise before on previous movies, is going to be the director. And no, apparently it’s not a hoax or publicity stunt. NASA’s Jim Bridenstine has announced that the space agency is totally behind the idea, and hopes that it will inspire more people to be interested in space, and to become scientists and engineers.

There aren’t, however, any details yet regarding the movie’s title or what it will actually be about. It won’t be a sequel to Mission: Impossible nor to Top Gun: Maverick. Neither is it connected to another film set in space that starred, or was to star Cruise, Lunar Park. What is certain, however, is that it’s going to be expensive. It cost Musk $90 million to launch his $100,000 Tesla car into space. Another film-maker, Richard Garriott, also spent two weeks in space at the station, where he filmed a five minute short, Apogee Lost. NASA charged $30 million for those two weeks. The station is open to paying guests, who are charged $35,000 per night for their stay.

According to Garriott, the station isn’t the best place to shoot. Because of the weightlessness, anything not stuck down with velcro tends to float away, and he did have trouble with the sets and props he was using floating off the walls. It also gets hot up there, so the station has a multitude of ventilator fans going, whose noise may pose a problem when recording sound.

There’s also a problem in that Cruise, and everyone of the film crew who goes with him, must pass NASA’s stringent astronaut fitness tests. They also have to be proficient swimmers and pass the course on water survival as part of the rigorous astronaut training.

The film is being billed as the first to be shot in space. It isn’t that – that honour belong’s to Garriott’s, but it will be the first full-length movie shot in space. And Screen Rant says that it will be interesting to compare it with other SF films shot on Earth.

The video naturally includes clips from a number of Cruise’s movies, including Top Gun and Mission: Impossible.

I’m particularly interested in this news because I presented a paper at a meeting of the British Interplanetary Society recommending the same idea. 

It was at a symposium at the Society’s headquarters in London on the popular commercialisation space in September 2001. All of the talks presented were really fascinating, but the one that justly received the greatest interest and applause was on how space could be used for sport, especially Harry Potter’s school game, Quidditch. Some of the papers, including mine, were later published in the May/June 2002 issue of the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society (JBIS). The paper is quite long, so I’ll just put up the abstract:

Space exploration is the subject of intense media interest in a way unparalleled in any other branch of science. It is the subject of countless films and television programmes, both fact and fiction, many using original footage from space. Astronauts have broadcast live from the Moon, and TV journalists have travelled to Mir, similar to the use of exotic terrestrial locations for filming by professional film crews. Although prohibitively expensive at the moment, the next generation of spacecraft may lower launch costs to an affordable level, so that space locations become competitive against computer graphics and model work. The constructions of orbital hotels will create the demand for human interest stories similar to those set in holiday locations like the south of France and Italy made just after the Second World War, at a time when much tourism on foreign holidays was just beginning, aided by the development of large transport aircraft able to cater to the demand for mass flight.

Moreover, special effects and studio artificiality have been eschewed by a new generation of auteur directors in pursuit of cinema verite like the Danish Dogme ’94 group. These directors will prefer to travel to orbit to film, rather than use terrestrial studio locations and special effects. The construction of zero-gravity playrooms in orbital hotels may create new spectator sports which can only be played in low or zero gravity, necessitating sports journalists to travel into space to cover them. The lack of human-rated vehicles for the Moon and the great distance to Mars will rule these out as film locations for the foreseeable future, although journalists may well accompany colonists to Mars, and a native, Martian film industry may develop when that colony matures. (p.188).

I can’t claim that Musk and Cruise stole my idea, as I doubt Musk and Cruise are even aware my article exists, let alone have read it. When I wrote the paper, NASA was testing advanced spacecraft designs using aerospike engines, which they hoped would significantly reduce launch costs. These never materialised due to the repeated failures of the spacecraft leading to the programme’s cancellation. It may be, however, that the development of Musk’s SpaceX rocket, which has just successfully carried a crew to the ISS, may lead to the emergence of further spacecraft vehicles which may do this. NASA is also is also involved in the development of landers for a possible crewed mission to the Moon. Space hotels aren’t a reality yet, but a first step towards them was made in 2016 with the addition of an inflatable section, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) to the International Space Station. This was launched aboard the Spacex rocket, and was developed by the hotel magnate Robert Bigelow.

Despite the immense costs involved, I hope this movie does get made and that it inspires other film makers to use space as a location. And I also hope they do start building proper space tourist hotels and start playing and broadcasting sports in space. After all, one of the last Apollo crewmen played golf on the Moon.

And if there are other billionaire space entrepreneurs looking for a few ideas to develop, perhaps they might consider another I had, which I discussed in a previous post. I had a piece published in one of the British Interplanetary Society’s magazine’s looking forward to competitive, human-carrying hobby rocketry, similar to hang gliding and microlights in aviation. I’d be delighted to see someone start developing that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conspiracy Theories Spreading About Coronavirus

April 5, 2020

This morning, Zelo Street put up a disturbing piece about attacks on mobile phone masts, and the Scum’s response to them. According to the Beeb, 5G masts in Birmingham, Liverpool, Melling in Merseyside, and Aigburth, have been set alight. The motive for these attacks apparently is a bonkers conspiracy theory that the phone masts spread the Coronavirus. The Street has rightly described this bizarre idea as laughable, if it wasn’t resulting in this criminal damage.

The bonkers notion is spread by a number of celebs, including Amanda Holden, one of the judges on Britain’s Got Talent, Cheers actor Woody Harrelson, Lee Ryan of the band Blue, Michael Greco, a former star on Eastenders, and others. The Street quotes the reaction of Dr Michael Head, a senior research fellow at the University of Southampton, who according to Sky News condemned the conspiracy theorists and  celebrities as

‘a public health danger who once read a Facebook page … Here, we also see similar groups of people keen to show their ignorance on a topic where they have no helpful expertise, nor any inclination to post useful public health messages … The celebrities fanning the flames of these conspiracy theorists should be ashamed’.

Zelo Street also criticised the hypocritical attitude of the Scum, which was more than happy to attack the other celebrities for spreading this nonsense, but definitely not Holden. Why? They like her boobs, having posted comments like “Amanda Holden has to wear silicone nipple covers to hide her famous golden buzzers” … “AMANDA Holden’s gravity-defying chest is pretty spectacular” … “Amanda Holden says ‘there’s been lots of complaints about my t*ts’”. It’s another instance of hypocrisy and sexism at the Scum, which obviously won’t surprise anyone.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/04/5g-hoax-sun-and-amanda-holden.html

The idea that phone masts spread Coronavirus is not just grossly irresponsible, it’s scientific nonsense. There is a serious argument that phone masts are a threat to health because the radio frequencies they use may cause neurological damage. However, the Coronavirus isn’t caused by radiation of any kind. It’s a virus, a microbe, and so has nothing to do with radiation, whether spread by mobile masts or anything else. And among the various celebs spreading this bilge is another familiar name: David Icke. Very occasionally, the former footballer and self-declared messiah says something interesting, but it’s mixed in with a considerable amount of rubbish. Like the Reptoid aliens he has declared are secretly running the world, disguised as leading politicians and royalty. Or his claim that the Moon is artificial, and is really a giant alien transmitter which broadcasts the signals preventing us from waking up and realising that we are in the Matrix. There’s also a video on YouTube in which he’s interviewed by a journo from one of the Net news shows. Icke takes the fellow to an ancient standing stone on the Isle of Wight and tells him that Satanists are holding ceremonies there, including human sacrifice. I doubt that. I doubt that very much. There’s no evidence of such Satanic cults in Britain, and the myth about Satanic sects abusing and sacrificing children and babies was disproved long ago. There are, apparently, real Satanists around. According to a census there are about 4,000 of them. But I doubt very much they’re sacrificing people, on the Isle of Wight or anywhere else. It’s far more likely that any occult activity by the stone is kids going legend-tripping. That is, they’re going to the stone with their girlfriends, booze and possibly ouija boards in the hope of seeing something weird. But definitely not doing anything as serious as sacrificing humans.

I’m not surprised that there are conspiracy theories about the disease, however. It’s almost inevitable during this time of global fear. Thanks to the use of propaganda, misinformation and the existence of real conspiracies by governments across the world, some are absolutely paranoid about the authorities. They believe that they really are totally malign, conspiring with a terrible Other – evil space aliens, or Satan and his demons – to destroy and enslave humanity. Many people don’t feel that they have been given all the information about the disease and its spread, and it’s in what they feel is the absence of reliable information and the ingrained distrust of the government that these theories spread.

Back in the week, I noticed that a very old one had come back. It was on the BBC News, which had a piece about how the disease was affecting Russia. One of the people they spoke to was a Dr. Niklin, who blithely told the world that Coronavirus was an American germ warfare weapon. Well, it might be, but I very, very much doubt it. Because that’s what they said about AIDS when that appeared in the 80s and 90s. AIDS also definitely isn’t a bioweapon. I think it evolved from a strain of Green Monkey Disease that crossed the species boundary into humans. The story that it was an American germ warfare experiment that escaped from Fort Detrick was a lie put out by the KGB in retaliation for the Americans claiming that it was KGB who organised the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II.

These are scary times indeed without anyone pushing stupid and dangerous nonsense about mobile phone masts, germ warfare or anything else. Coronavirus is a threat, but it’s an entirely natural phenomenon. Of that I’m very certain. We need to believe and trust the real medical experts on this, like Dr. Head, and ignore anyone else telling us otherwise. And that includes celebs not named and shamed by the Scum.

 

Ad Astra: A Tale of Quest, Obsession and Disappointment

March 23, 2020

Directed by James Gray, starring Brad Pitt, Donald Sutherland, Tommy Lee Jones and Liv Tyler.

I wanted to catch this one at the cinema when it came out last year, based on the trailer I’d seen online. This showed Brad Pitt as clean-cut, square-jawed space captain racing across the lunar landscape in a rover, guns blazing away at the bad guys in theirs. It looked a very convincing depiction of a possible near future. A future when humanity is at last moving out to colonise and exploit the resources of the solar system, but still plagued by geopolitical intrigues and violence. From the trailer, I thought it might be about terrorism on the high frontier, just as the motive for sending the Robinson family into space in the ill-fated 90s version of Lost in Space was a global threat from an insurgency. But it isn’t. It’s instead about humanity’s quest to discover alien intelligence, and the dangerous consequences of one man’s refusal to face the fact that we haven’t found it.

Warning: this review contains spoilers. If you haven’t seen the film, and want to see it fresh, please don’t read on. I’ll put up something else in due course, which you can read without worrying that it’ll spoil your fun.

Brad Pitt plays Commander McBride, a hard-working, intensely focused career astronaut, whose devotion to his duty has led to his wife walking out on him. But because of his intense, single-minded concentration on his duty, he isn’t particularly affected by this. The film begins with a statement that humanity will expand into space, and will continue looking for extraterrestrial intelligence. Then the action begins with McBride in space, working with other astronauts on the outside of a giant space structure. This is hit by massive power surges, causing vital components to overload and explode, hurling pieces of the station and the astronauts desperately trying to fix them off into space. McBride is one of these, knocked off the station by falling debris. But he, and the other astronauts, fall downward to Earth, rather than off into space. Tumbling, Pitt eventually rights himself and parachutes back to the ground. The station is revealed to be no such thing. It’s a giant radio antenna, set up to receive possible signals from the ETs.

The power surge that hit the antenna was one of a series, each increasing in strength, that is causing blackouts and devastation across the world’s cities. Their source has been located near Neptune. It’s believed that their caused by an antimatter reaction, and a lost system commanded by McBride’s father, is believed to be the cause as it was powered by antimatter. The ship was sent out there on a 29 year mission to search for alien signals, far away from the interference of human telecommunications in the inner solar system. However, 16 years into the mission it disappeared. McBride’s father became a hero, and many astronauts tell McBride that it is thanks to him that they took up a career in space. This raises the question of whether McBride senior has indeed found aliens, who are hostile and using the station to disable Earth ready for conquest. This would be the plot in other movies, but not in this one.

Journey to the Moon

McBride is instructed to go to the Moon, from which he will be launched to Mars, to send a message to his father on Neptune, who is suspected of being alive. On his trip to the Moon, he’s joined by a Colonel Pruit (Donald Sutherland), who knew McBride’s father. The lunar base at which they land is a bustling town with a mall stuffed full of tourists and shops selling souvenir tat. McBride says to himself that it’s the kind of thing his father hated, and he would have tried to get as far away from it as possible. Pruitt is due to go with him, but is prevented from doing so at the last minute due to a heart problem. Finding a secluded spot away from the crowd, Pruitt gives him a memory stick, telling him that not everybody believes McBride senior to have been a hero. The stick contains suppressed information that they will do anything to prevent getting out. McBride then goes on to join the team that will take him to the launch site of the ship, that will take him to Mars. The Moon is being exploited by a number of different mining companies, but no territorial rights exist, so, as someone explains, ‘it’s like the Wild West out there.’ Hence the armed guards with McBride when he leaves the base. It’s this part of the programme that appears on the trailer for the movie, with McBride and team racing across the grey lunar landscape while under attack from what can only be described as space bandits. Various members of McBride’s team are killed, but he survives and succeeds in getting to the opposite base. He then joins the crew of the Cepheus, who will take him to Mars.

Space Rescue

On the way there, the crew receive a distress call, which they are obliged to answer. McBride tries to deter them because of the vital importance of the mission, but is unsuccessful as he is travelling incognito and so can’t reveal just how his mission overrides international space law. The SOS comes from a Norwegian scientific research station. McBride and the ship’s captain, Tailor, cross over to investigate. They don’ find any survivors, who have been killed by escaped baboons or some other ape used for research. These kill Taylor, and try to kill McBride, but he shuts them behind a door and decompresses that section, killing them. Crossing back to the Cepheus, the give Tailor a space burial.

McBride finally gets a chance to watch the video on the stick. It shows his father, (Tommy Lee Jones) announcing that the crew have mutinied. The mission has been unsuccessful, and so they wish to return to Earth. McBride as therefore suppressed it by putting them all in one section of the station and decompressing it, killing them all, innocent and guilty alike. This obviously leaves McBride shaken.

Mars and the Radio Call

On Mars, he’s taken from the launch complex to the base, where he is taken under great secrecy to a soundproof room, from which he reads out a scripted message to his father. This occurs several times, and are unsuccessful. On the next attempt, he goes off script and makes a personal appeal. He suspects that he has been successful, but the commanders won’t tell him. Throughout his journey, McBride is subjected to psychological testing before he is allowed to continue. He fails this for the first time, and is taken back to a comfort room – a room in which reassuring pictures of flowers are projected on the walls. He is told that he will not be continuing his journey. The crew of the Cepheus will instead go on alone to meet his father. They are equipping the ship with nuclear weapons to destroy the station before it can generate further power surges that will destroy civilisation. McBride is freed from his captivity by the station’s director of operations, a Black woman, whose parents were on board the station and murdered by McBride’s father. McBride has to rush through an underground tunnel to the launch complex, including swimming through a subterranean lake. He finally emerges in the system of tunnels, that will take the ship’s exhaust away from the ship itself when it launches. The countdown has begun, and it’s now a race against time for McBride to get aboard before he’s incinerated when the rocket fires its engines.

Encounter at Neptune

He succeeds in getting aboard and the ship launches. However, the crew are instructed to restrain him using any means necessary. In the ensuing struggle, he accidentally kills them. He then takes over the mission. He inserts the various tubes which will feed him intravenously during the 179-day mission, informs base what he intends to do and has done, and that he will now go dark.

He eventually arrives at the station, and comes aboard, moving through the decomposed section in which the bodies of the murdered crew are still floating. He brings one of the nuclear bombs on board with him. He meets his father, who blithely tells him what he did, and that he cared nothing for either his son or his mother. It is plain that he doesn’t want to come home, as although he hasn’t found alien life, he is convinced it’s out there. He just hasn’t found it yet. McBride sets the bomb, and tries to take his father back to Earth. But on the journey to the Cepheus, McBride senior pulls away from him, dragging him with him as the two are tethered together. The father tells McBride to let him go, McBride releases the tether, and his father floats off into space. McBride then jets back to the station, to rip off one of the panels so that he can use it as a shield against the icy particles and dust making up Neptune’s rings as he jets through that on his way back to the Cepheus. He then returns home, making a successful descent back to Earth, where friendly hands help him out of his capsule. Earth is safe, and his brought back all his father’s information on the countless alien worlds he discovered.

The film ends with McBride back in a military canteen, performing a kind of psychological evaluation on himself. He muses that his father was driven by his obsession to find alien life, and his disappointment at not finding it blinded him to the wonders of the worlds he had found. He is well-balanced, and focused on the tasks at hand, but not to the exclusion of the ability to love and be loved in return. There is a hint that this new attitude is bring his wife back to him.

Ad Astra as the Reply to 2001, Solaris, and Contact.

It’s a very good movie. The designs of the ships and rovers are very plausible and seem very much based on the old lunar rovers NASA used during the Moon landings on the one hand, and those on the drawing board for Mars on the other. It’s also a very quiet movie. It follows Gravity, and the masterpiece of SF cinema, 2001, in showing no sound in space except what can be heard through the characters’ space suits when they’re hit by the force of an explosion or some other event. It’s also at just under 2 hours a longer movie than most. This is gives it some of the quiet, epic quality of 2001 and Tarkovsky’s Solaris. The interrupted space journey of its hero, from Earth to the Moon and the Moon to Mars and thence Neptune, also recalls that of Floyd, Bowman and the other astronauts of 2001.

But there’s an important difference between Ad Astra and these flicks. 2001 and Solaris are about humanity’s encounter with powerful, but unknowable aliens. These encounters are transformative for the species and at an individual, personal level. In 2001, the aliens’ black monoliths raise humanity up from apes, and then transform Bowman into the Star Child at the film’s climax. In Solaris, the hero rekindles a relationship with his lost love through a simulacrum of her generated by the planet below. This allows him to medicate and discourse on the nature of humanity, honour and the need for humans to value each other. He is then able to descend to the planets surface, where he meets another simulacrum, this time of a dying friend he left on Earth, in a house where it’s actually raining inside. In both films, the aliens are genuinely alien, incomprehensible, but nevertheless interested in humanity and able to be reached out and contacted.

This is a reply to those movies, which is clearly informed by the fact that after decades of searching for alien intelligent alien, we still haven’t found it. Nor have we discovered any life elsewhere in the solar system. It’s possible that it exists on Mars, but if it is, it’s at the level of microbes. This makes the film a kind of anti-2001. It could have been called ‘The Stars My Disappointment’, as a pun on the title of Alfred Bester’s SF masterpiece, The Stars My Destination. McBride’s conclusion – that the scientific information about the myriad alien worlds his father discovered – is still immensely valuable, even if they are uninhabited and lifeless, but the obsession with finding alien life blinded his father to its value – is a good one. But I remember the SF writer and encyclopaedist John Clute saying something similar to Clive Anderson back in 1995. This was during the Beeb’s Weekend on Mars, a themed series of programmes on the Red Planet on the weekend that the NASA pathfinder probe landed. Of course, people are still fascinated by the question of whether Mars is, or has been, an abode of life. Anderson asked Clute if he would be disappointed if they discovered there was no life there. Clute responded by saying that if someone said they were disappointed at that, he would be disappointed in them, as we would still find out so much about the world, which should be sufficiently fascinating itself. Well, yes, but that’s very much the consolation prize. What people have always dreamed about is finding life in space, and particularly Mars. You can’t really blame them for being disappointed if we don’t. As for the message that it’s good to focus on your work, but not so much that it damages your personal relationships, it’s a good one, but hardly an earth-shattering revelation. And in the context of space travel, Tarkovsky says something similar in Solaris. There the hero says at one point that humanity doesn’t need space travel and alien worlds. There is 5 billion of us – a mere handful. What man needs is man. This shows the humanistic focus of Tarkovsky’s movie against its theme of space travel and alien encounters.

Conclusion

Ad Astra is an excellent movie, but ultimately somewhat of a disappointment. It’s to be applauded as an attempt to make an intelligent SF film with a grounding in established science. But ultimately its message that the search for alien life shouldn’t blind us to the possibility that it doesn’t exist, or that it may be extremely difficult to find requiring a search that lasts generations, perhaps centuries, before we find it, isn’t as emotionally satisfying as films in which the aliens are very definitely there. You could compare it to the Jodie Foster film, Contact, in which she played a female scientist convinced aliens exist, and finally succeeds in going out there and finding them. In the vast majority of such movies, the hero is nearly always a believer in the existence of the ETs, who is finally vindicated when they turn up. This is one of the few films to show the contrary. It’s a valuable, perhaps necessary message, but one less attractive to most audiences, who want there to be aliens, if only fictional and contained in the narrative of cinema.

Oh yes, and I have to differ with the comments about the presence of tourist malls in space. Yes, such places are full of tat and kitsch, but there are also the sign of a genuinely vital human culture. People aren’t all high-minded, serious creatures, and for genuine, living human communities to be established in space, they can’t all be left to scientists and engineers solemnly probing the secrets of the cosmos or working on the best way to extract and exploit their resources. They’ve also got to be where ordinary people visit, and enjoy the experience of being on an alien planet. And that means buying tat and kitschy souvenirs as well as indulging in deep philosophical meditations. As Babylon 5 also showed with its market, the Zocalo, and its tat. Though in that episode, the stores selling the tourist kitsch were all closed down. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Russian Rocket Engine Street Art in Cheltenham

January 18, 2020

One of the shops in Cheltenham has a very unusual piece of street art decorating its door. It’s of the rocket motor designed to power the Russian N1 spaceship to the Moon. The N1 was the Russian counterpart of the massive American Saturn V, and was similarly intended for a manned mission. Unlike the Americans, the Russian rocket would have a small crew of two, only one of whom would make the descent to the lunar surface in a module very much like the American. Unfortunately the project was a complete failure. Korolyov, the Soviet rocket designer, had died by the time it was being designed, and the head of the design bureau was his second-in-command, Mishin. Mishin was an excellent lieutenant, but this project was far beyond him. The N1 space vehicles kept exploding on the launch pad. These were powerful spacecraft, and the explosions destroyed everything within a radius of five miles. After three such explosions, one of which, I think, killed Mishin himself, the project was cancelled. The Russians never did send a man to the Moon, and instead had to satisfy themselves with the Lunakhod lunar rover.

I’d been meaning to take a photograph of the painting for sometime and finally got around to it yesterday. The full painting isn’t visible during the day, as much of it is on the cover that gets put over the door at night. This is the part of the painting shown in the top photograph. During the day only the bottom part of the engine, painted on the door itself, is visible.

The shop-owner himself was really helpful. He saw me crouching trying to photograph the bottom part of the engine, and asked if I knew what it was. When I told him it was a rocket motor, he proudly replied that it was TsK-33 for the N-1, and asked if I wanted to photograph the whole thing. I did, so he got down the door cover. Talking to him about the painting both then, and later on with a friend, who also has an interest in space, he told us a bit more about the rocket engine and his painting of it. Although the N-1 was scrapped, the Russians still retained the rocket engines. Someone from the American Pratt and Whitney rocket engine manufacturers met one of the engineers, designers or managers on the N-1 motors, who showed him 33 of the engines, which had been mothballed after the project’s cancellation. The Pratt and Whitney guy was impressed, as it turns out that these Russian motors are still the most efficient rocket engines yet created. He made a deal with the Russians to take them back to America, where they are now used on the Atlas rockets launching American military satellites. Or that’s the story.

My friend asked if the shopkeeper had painted it himself. He hadn’t. It had been done by a street artist. The shopkeeper had seen him coming along painting, and asked him if he would do an unusual request. And so the artist came to paint the Russian rocket engine.

There’s much great street art in Cheltenham, though as it’s an ephemeral genre you have to catch it while it’s there. Just before Christmas there was a great mural of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour logo in one of the town’s underpasses. I wanted to photograph that too. But when I tried yesterday, it had gone, replaced with another mural simply wishing everyone a happy Christmas.

But I hope the rocket engine, as it was done specifically for the shop, will be up for some time to come.

It also seems to me to bear out the impression I’ve had for a long time, that the real innovative art is being done outside of the official artistic establishment. The painting would have delighted the Futurists, who were into the aesthetics of the new machine age. And also the French avant-garde artist, Marcel Duchamps. Duchamps anticipated the Futurists concern with the depiction of movement in his painting, ‘Nude Descending a Staircase’. He also painted a picture of ‘The Star Dancer’, which isn’t of a human figure, but a ship’s engine, which also anticipates the Futurists’ machine aesthetic. Unfortunately, what he is best known for is nailing that urinal to a canvas and calling it ‘The Advance of the Broken Arm’ as a protest against the artistic establishment. This went on to inspire Dada, and other anti-art movements. It’s now in Tate Modern, although it no longer has the same urinal. As a work of art, I really don’t rate it at all. Neither do most people. But for some reason, the artistic establishment love it and still seem to think it’s a great joke.

The real artistic innovations and explorations are being done outside the academy, by artists exploring the new world opened up by science and the literature of Science Fiction. And it’s to that world that this mural belongs.