SpaceX going around the moon

This is a big milestone. SpaceX has been launching rockets to the ISS, but they haven’t put a man in space yet. Now they will, and it will be a flight around the moon.

You probably know that already. Everybody else is talking about it. But I’ve got one more thing….

They’re not actually landing, but if this seems like been-there-done-that, consider these names and their missions:

  • Apollo 8: Frank Borman, James Lovell, William Anders
  • Apollo 10: Thomas Stafford, John Young, Eugene Cernan
  • Apollo 11: Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin
  • Apollo 12: C. “Pete” Conrad, Richard Gordon, Alan Bean
  • Apollo 13: James Lovell, Jack Swigert, Fred Haise
  • Apollo 14: Alan Shepard, Stuart Roosa, Edgar Mitchell
  • Apollo 15: David Scott, Alfred Worden, James Irwin
  • Apollo 16: John Young, T. Kenneth Mattingly, Charles Duke
  • Apollo 17: Eugene Cernan, Ronald Evans, Harrison Schmitt

This is a very small club of 24 men who’ve been out that far to see the other side of the moon. (Lovell, Cernan and Young made the trip twice.) Every other astronaut since then had to remain a lot closer to home.

Now, after what will be over 45 years — not since December 1972 — two more will join the list.

MIT Technology Review’s top 10 breakthrough technologies

Via NextBigFuture: The top ten breakthrough technologies for 2017 according to MIT Technology Review:

  1. Reversing Paralysis (in 10 to 15 years)
  2. Self-Driving Trucks (in 5 to 10 years)
  3. Paying with Your Face (available now)
  4. Practical Quantum Computing (in 4-5 years)
  5. The 360-Degree Selfie (available now)
  6. Hot Solar Cells (in 10 to 15 years)
  7. Gene Therapy 2.0 (available now)
  8. The Cell Atlas (in 5 years)
  9. Botnets of Things (available now)
  10. Reinforcement Learning (in 1 to 2 years)

NextBigFuture describes each item, and links to each individual article in MIT Technology Review, whose main article is here.

I’d rather that things like reversing paralysis were available now, with the 360-degree selfie being 10 to 15 years away. Perhaps the progress on items 4, 7, 8 and 10 can accelerate this timetable.

Free Speech Movement ends where it began

Actually, there never really was a “Free Speech Movement,” other than using that name. It was started in Berkeley in the ’60s by radicals. I’m sufficiently jaded that I can’t imagine them having supported Barry Goldwater’s freedom of speech. He may or may not have needed special protection to speak back then, but he certainly would today, and groups like this would be the reason.

In any case, it would be funny to think that it ends with Milo Yiannopoulos. His own Berkeley speech was cancelled last night due to a riot.

The linked article blames “black bloc” anarchists. That’s where a group wears masks and black clothing to make it more difficult for the police to identify and prosecute.

Here is such a group in 2007 Seattle: You obviously can’t say they oppose censorship. You can’t say they oppose torture. You can’t even say they oppose slavery.

You can’t buy this kind of publicity.

‘Loving Vincent’ van Gogh

Via art-site, here is the trailer for ‘Loving Vincent,’ a film animated by 62,450 oil paintings:

There’s a second video at the link that shows how they did it: First, using actors, then CGI for the background, and then 115 painters to actually put each frame on canvas.

The movie itself is about Vincent van Gogh, who I imagine would have appreciated this effort. They used 94 of his paintings to write the story.

They have a website here.

Axanar is Go

But it’s in pieces. Little pieces.

As I explained last year, Star Trek’s powers-that-be had decided that the fan film Axanar needed to be axed after more than a few warp-factors too many. Several unwritten lines had been crossed, forcing Paramount to write it all down in ink. As Engadget reports:

Although the full list of changes hasn’t been made public yet, it has been announced that the film will need to abide by at least some of the official fan film guidelines. Specifically, the production can only be 30 minutes long in total, and even then it has to be split into two parts. The Axanar film also can’t have “Star Trek” in the title, cannot use public crowd-funding and may not compensate any of the professional talent for their work.

The 30-minute length is a big loss for what was intended to be a feature-length movie. The only big break I see is that they’re allowing Gary Graham to appear as Soval the Vulcan, seen in this teaser:

My first post on Axanar is here. It links to the original promo, which was already longer than each section is to be permitted.

I always understood the reasons for these positions. Still, this is a major loss for the production, and for us fans. But it’s better than nothing.

Ike’s speech and the military-industrial complex

This is the chart for 2013 proposed discretionary spending. I found it on a third-party politician’s Twitter feed with some idle thought about how society could advance if we didn’t spend so much on the military. It shows defense spending at a whopping 57%.

Notice that Health, Housing & Community are only 5 and 6%. It sounds like General Jack D. Ripper (of Doctor Strangelove) was running the government.

The trouble is, it’s obviously deceptive. The chart lists discretionary spending, which is not the entire budget.

Here is actual federal spending for 2015 (different years, but the numbers are close enough). It puts defense spending at only 16%.

Use of the first chart is actually more deceptive than you’d think. These are federal budget numbers. The states and cities have their own budgets and taxes. That’s where most of the education spending is at, which distorts comparisons to the defense budget. The state healthcare budgets are massive as well.

That brings me to President Eisenhower’s 1961 speech on the military-industrial complex: Does this mean he was making a mountain out of a molehill? No, and here’s where it gets interesting:

For historical numbers, you need to compare to GDP for comparisons to mean anything. You can get the historical tables here. In particular, look at: Table 3.1—Outlays by Superfunction and Function: 1940–2021. (Note: This is an .XLS file.) National defense was a mere 1.7% of GDP in 1940.

It went to 5.5% of GDP in 1941 (when Woody Guthrie wrote the song, “C for Conscription“ before changing his tune), then 17.4, 36.1, 37.0 to 36.6% in 1945. It dropped back down to around 5% after the war, but then rose to 12.9% of GDP in 1952.

Defense spending was still at 9.1% in 1961, but dropping, when President Eisenhower left office. That’s the context of his famous speech on the military-industrial complex on this day in 1961. He wasn’t worried about a military take-over. It was about the focus of our money, resources and power becoming an end in and of itself. You could run into the same issues when another part of the government gets too much attention.

The numbers went down again as the Vietnam War came to its end. They were as low as 4.5% in 1979, then rising and peaking at 6.0 during the Reagan years, and then finally subsiding as the Cold War ended. Defense spending never saw those numbers again. Not even the War on Terror, Afghanistan and Iraq, brought them back. They didn’t rise above 4% until 2008. They were at 3.3% in 2015.

Along those lines, people fretted about bringing back the draft during the war in Iraq. But that was plainly fearmongering. We had a larger military during the Reagan years, and that was without a draft. I wouldn’t be surprised if that politician pushing the above discretionary spending chart had been among those trying to scare people about a draft.

Space launch trends

Robert Zimmerman posts stats and commentary on launch industry trends going back to 1998. I’m not going to swipe his chart but it is interesting. He breaks U.S. launches down to government, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, United Launch Alliance, Orbital ATK, SpaceX, and then leaves blanks for forthcoming Virgin Galactic, Rocket Lab and Neptune. Then he lists other countries’ steadily increasing numbers of launches.

(Note: United Launch Alliance (ULA) is Lockheed Martin’s and Boeing’s combined effort. Orbital ATK does the aircraft-launched satellites mentioned last month.)

The initial impression you get from the chart is that U.S. launches have dropped, but not just us. Even the Russians have had their issues lately, although theirs are temporary. Here, Zimmerman adds context:

Had there not been launch failures for both SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Russia’s Proton in 2016 we easily could have seen another two dozen launches, bringing the total above 100 for the year, the first time that would have happened since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Then, after a few caveats, he says:

And most important, the shift in the U.S. from a government-controlled space program to a wildly competitive and chaotic private sector launch industry is fueling this boom. There is now money to be made in space, and there is freedom to pursue those profits without waiting for NASA and the government to lay out a program.

Space could be a bit like the Kindle book-writing revolution, but for billionaires.

Christmas book deals

Merry Christmas! And Happy Hanukkah!

It’s Christmas time and author Christopher Nuttall is giving away the first book from two of his mil-SF series: The Empire’s Corps and Ark Royal.

They are free from December 24th through 26th. Details at his blog here.

And if you haven’t gotten my book yet: the Kindle edition of One Thousand Years (the first of my series) will be discounted to 99 cents through January 1st.