Why Russia is not our enemy in space

25 03 2014

I love space and I love learning more about spaceflight, especially when there are people doing the flying. I often get into discussions on the subject with people and the subject of being partners with Russia on the ISS invariably comes up. Most people seem horrified at the idea of America relying on Russian Soyuz spacecraft and rockets to get our astronauts to space and back. I’m not entirely comfortable with it, either, but it’s really not that bad.

CBC’s Janet Davison interviewed Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield about working with Russians in low-Earth orbit. In the interview, he explained well why tensions between the West and Russia are not likely to interfere with ISS operations.

AST display at US National Air and Space Museum

ASTP display at US National Air and Space Museum

The first joint international mission in space was between the Soviet Union and the United States. Flown in 1975, the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP) featured the docking of an Apollo CSM and a Soyuz spacecraft and laid the groundwork for future cooperation in space. It led to Americans visiting Mir and for a much larger international coalition coming together to build the International Space Station. Russia and the United States are both partners in this project and it could not go on without either one.

Space Shuttle Atlantis docked with Mir in 1995

Space Shuttle Atlantis docked with Mir in 1995

The Space Shuttles were retired after the programs 135th mission, STS-135. The Space Shuttle program extended from 1981 to 2011 and its duration is only exceeded by the Soyuz program, which began in 1967 and is still in operation today. The key difference is that the Shuttles were reused and the Soyuz is a single-use spacecraft. After 30 years and two lost orbiters, it was simply too expensive, difficult, and dangerous for NASA to continue the program. Next-generation spacecraft had been on the drawing boards for years and it seemed the time to give them a chance. Orion, Dragon, CST-100, and Dream Chaser are all beginning to come together to reduce the cost of going to space while allowing us to go much farther than we ever have before. There are some related videos for these vehicles below.

Space Shuttle Endeavour docked with ISS

Space Shuttle Endeavour docked with ISS in 2010

American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts are all professionals and know what their jobs are. They know that there is a time and place for politics and that neither the ISS, inside a spacecraft, nor while training are it. I wish that we had had a successor in place and ready to go before the Space Shuttles were retired. However, it is important to keep in mind that there was a period of six years between the last Apollo flight in 1975 and the first Space Shuttle flight in 1981. The Shuttles were grounded in 2011 and most of these new spacecraft are tracking for operational status in 2017. In just a few years, America will have the ability to launch its own astronauts and we can stop buying Soyuz seats from the Russians. Until then, we are still major partners on the ISS and will continue to be until at least 2024. Until then, we have to be patient. Space travel is a difficult, time-consuming thing.



Dream Chaser:


Why I now support the Green Party

8 11 2012

On Election Day of 2012, I did not repeat the vote that I cast for Barack Obama in 2008. Instead, I cast my vote for Jill Stein, the Green Party’s candidate. Dr. Stein was a write-in in the state of Indiana and was not likely to take more that 1% of the national popular vote. So, why? Why did I cast my vote for someone who I knew would lose?

Election Day

Green Party logo

Green Party

I initially decided to vote for Obama, but as the campaign season wore on, it became more and more important that Mitt Romney would capture Indiana’s 11 electoral votes and that voting for Obama would only be a token gesture. This freed me up to vote for who I really wanted, not vote for who I thought would do less damage.

After investigating the candidate from the Justice, Constitution, Libertarian, and Green Parties, I finally decided on the Green Party candidates, Dr. Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala. Their campaign was based around a Green New Deal, a set of commitments and goals that would improve access to and quality of education, higher investments in newer technologies, the fight against climate change, and ending unemployment.

Abandoning the Democrats

Since my first election in 2006, I have typically voted Democrat. I was aware of the third parties from high school but did not pay much attention. After witnessing the gridlock that just got worse and worse after the Democrats took Congress in 2006, I became wearier and wearier of the partisanship and bickering. I also grew tired of what I saw as a false choice: Republican or Democrat. That was when I started looking at third parties.

I voted for Obama in 2008, both in the Primary and General Elections, because I thought he was a new type of politician, one who could unite the factions and get things done. Unfortunately, many of the idea presented and argued by both Republicans and Democrats are typically tired and unimaginative. To make things worse, many of those ideas get attached to partisan debates, watered down, and twisted until they are mostly useless.

With the obstructionism of Congressional Republicans and their subsequent taking of the House of Representatives, I realized that the system that we have had so far has served us well for a long time, but no longer. We need alternative candidates.

Future elections

I will likely vote for Democrats in the future. They tend to be the more left-leaning politicians, even if they are mostly in the center now. Most races don’t have more than two options. Occasionally, a Libertarian will sneak in. I am not a huge fan of the Democrats but I normally like them better than their Republican rivals.

Jill Stein was a registered write-in candidate in Indiana. In fact, she was on the ballot in 39 states and a registered write-in candidate in an additional seven states, Indiana included. I can definitely say that writing in a candidate is not a straightforward process, especially with electronic voting systems. We need more third-party candidates on more ballots and not as write-ins.

We also need to include these candidates in the major Presidential debates, from which they are typically excluded. This year, Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala were arrested trying to enter the Hofstra debate. A candidate could be on the ballot in 80% of the country but be excluded from a major televised debate. This keeps the general population that these people exist and it perpetuates the erroneous notion that there are only two options for President.

I plan on connecting with the Green Party and trying to get their candidates on more ballots in any way I can. I am also planning on contacting the major news outlets and other organizations responsible for the Presidential debates and urging them to include more candidates. I urge you to do the same. The situation is not likely to change unless we work to change the system.

My issues with the Weather Channel

24 05 2012

The Weather Channel is just terrible. In the past, it served a useful purpose. I remember watching it as a kid in the 90s. (I was a weird kid.) It was fairly straightforward with its purpose and implementation. It was a 24/7 cable channel where people could go get weather information for their own area as well as the rest of the country. It had incredible utility and was very good at what it did.

Unfortunately, as television executives are prone to doing, they took a perfectly good thing and fucked it up, royally. They must have had some top-level executive meeting ten years ago where they talked about all the things they could do to remove all but the most subtle signs of utility from the Weather Channel.

First, they added programming. They started putting on shows like “Storm Stories,” where rednecks are interviewed about their impressions of the inside of a fucking hurricane. It is a show that showcases the stories of people either unlucky enough to be in the path of a tornado or stupid enough to sit through a Category 4 hurricane.

Second, they added advertising. Granted, ads were on the Weather Channel for a long, long time. Unfortunately, there are way too many and they get more screen time than the weather itself.

Third, they have a morning show. It has Al Roker, no less. The Weather Channel has a morning show. You might be thinking, “Oh, great! I will get some national news while I get my weather!” Nope. “Wake Up With Al” has as tenuous a grasp on news reporting as Roker’s last show, the horrendous “Today” show on NBC.

There is, however, still weather on the Weather Channel. “Local on the 8s” is the last remaining fragment of TWC’s focused and purposeful lineup. Local on the 8s gives a minute or so of actual weather information every ten minutes.

What really pisses me off about weather reporting in general is the lack of climate change coverage. On TWC and local news channels, they go on and on about how we are having record temperatures, record precipitation, and record drought but do not ever once suggest why these things are happening. I know, it’s the Weather Channel, not the Climate Channel. Still, these two are inextricably linked with one another and with virtually every other area of our lives, yet climate change gets virtually no coverage on a network that is dedicated to reporting the weather. I would not expect much, maybe something like, “Hey, you know it’s 120ºF in shade because…” It should not be a big deal.

In a television world where shows and news coverage is mediocre at best, one would think that we could get something as basic as weather reporting right. Unfortunately, due to focus groups and TV executives trying to appeal to a “broader audience,” we are left with another shitty, half-assed news channel like CNN, Fox, or MSNBC. Of course there alternatives to finding weather information, such as local news stations, NOAA, and the old standby, looking out the god damned window.

Obligatory Limbaugh post

8 03 2012

I fully realize that this post will be about as time-sensitive as anything, but I feel like it has to be said. Rush Limbaugh has made a name for himself by being an egotistical, overbearing loudmouth. Recently, he said some things that were unbelievably prejudiced against women. In response, there was an enormous public backlash and many of his radio show’s advertisers began backing away. Naturally, this led to Limbaugh’s supporters’ cries of foul play and censorship.

Read the rest of this entry »

Keep your bile to yourself

30 07 2011

I recently saw on an atheist blog that a Fox News story regarding a Christian monument at the World Trade Center site resulted in a torrent of hate mail and death threats directed at atheists in particular. While I certainly do not condone hate speech or death threats, I  can understand why people might say these things.

Times are tough. We all know that. Some people have been hit harder than others. Some people are not well-equipped to handle personal and national crisis simultaneously. They get scared. They look for an outlet. This is my theory about why there is so much vitriol in comment threads across the internet. People abuse their online anonymity to blow off steam, even if they do not necessarily mean the things they say.

I hold a rule of thumb about putting stuff on the internet. It goes something like, “If you would not say it in real life, do not say it online.” If you would not walk up to somebody’s face and say something to them in meatspace, then you do not have any business saying that in person. It keeps my online presence more civil. It also helps keep focus because the message or idea I am trying to convey is not drowned out by crazy bullshit.

I wish sites like Fox News Comments did not have so much material. I really do. If you catch yourself writing something hurtful or crazy online, stop yourself and ask, “Would I say this to someone in real life?” If the answer is no, delete the comment or post, push away from the desk, go for a walk, and cool off.

America is not exceptional

16 05 2011

Something that bothers me about the American political dialogue, especially on the right, is the idea of American exceptionalism. America might have been on the leading edge of a wave of European colonies breaking with their distant governments and declaring independence. Rather than submitting to a distant government, headed by a monarch, American colonists decided to rebel and form a new type of society, one governed by law that is determined by a representative democracy.

That sounds great, and it is, but you also have to consider that we are still working toward the ideals that were outlined in documents like the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Things did not turn out entirely as planned. It took 70 years before slavery was abolished. It was another century before the civil rights movement ensured equal voting rights for all citizens. Women were denied equal voting rights until 1920. It has only been 91 years since women in the United States were allowed to vote.

Even now, we are fighting about whether to grant equal rights to same-sex couples, among other things. We are second to none in debt. Our illiteracy rates and infant mortality rates are among the worst in the industrialized world. America is becoming scientifically illiterate and intellectually shallow. We are the only industrialized nation not to ensure all of its citizens can afford to see a doctor.

These are not things to be proud of. We might have had grounds, in the past, to say that America was the greatest nation on Earth, not anymore. We have fallen behind by not moving forward. “Exceptional” implies that there is nothing that we can learn by looking outside our borders when our friends and allies in Europe have done so many of the things we have not and they have done them successfully. Maybe if Americans got off their high horse and really considered how other nations have dealt with their problems, we could deal with ours and move on.

For some entertaining discussion on this topic:

More than a body of knowledge

28 12 2010

“Science is more than a body of knowledge; it is a way of thinking. I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grand children’s time … when awesome technologi­cal powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representi­ng the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgea­bly question those in authority; when clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes­, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguis­h between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstiti­ons and darkness.”

-Carl Sagan