Dragon docks at ISS after Flawless Launch by Private Company SpaceX

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 3rd, 2012

Week in Review

Space.  The final frontier.  Once the purview of government space programs.  Now in the hands of the private sector (see ‘Feels a bit like a sci-fi film set’: ISS astronaut reacts to entering the SpaceX Dragon by Associated Press posted 5/29/2012 on the Daily Mail).

As the ISS crew floated into the Dragon on Saturday – a day after its heralded arrival as the world’s first commercial supply ship – one astronaut took to his blog to describe the historic milestone…

‘This is the first time that a commercial spacecraft has flown to the ISS and docked with the Station. You could say a new era of spaceflight has begun. Soon private companies will take people to and from space.’

Meanwhile, NASA astronaut Pettit said it reminded him of the cargo capability of his pickup truck back home in Houston.

‘The smell inside smells like a brand new car,’ Pettit reported. The compartment was brilliantly white and, he noted; clean, no dirt or other particles appeared to be floating around…

The California-based SpaceX – formally Space Exploration Technologies Corp. – is the first private company to send a vessel to the space station.

NASA is handing over orbital delivery work to American business in order to focus on bigger and better objectives, such as getting astronauts to asteroids and Mars.

The space agency hopes astronaut ferry trips will follow soon; SpaceX contends its Dragons could be carrying space station astronauts up and down within three or four years…

Until now, only major governments have launched cargo ships to the space station. Russia, Japan and Europe will keep providing supplies, and Russia will continue to sell rocket rides to U.S. astronauts until SpaceX or other companies are ready to take over. Several American companies are competing for the honor.

I guess the International Space Station (ISS) has lost that new car smell.  And based on his description of the Dragon commercial spacecraft I’m guessing the Russian supply spacecrafts are not quite reminiscent of opening the door on a new car.  Or very clean.

Yeah, that’s why NASA is handing over the mundane work of resupplying the ISS to American business.  So they can focus on bigger and better things.  Right.  Perhaps they should let American business handle that, too.  For as amazing as the Space Shuttle was it was an abject failure.  The reusable shuttle was supposed to earn money.  That’s why they made it reusable.  It was going to be like a truck on the highway.  Zipping all over the place and delivering revenue-earning cargo.  But they could never fly the thing enough in a year to turn a profit.  And it was just too costly per mission.  It was a black hole in the federal budget.  That’s why they retired it without having anything to replace it.  Relying on the Russians to keep the ISS in orbit.  Who were using the same rocket platform they were using when we were using the Saturn V to put men on the moon.  Because that technology still works.  And costs less to put them up into orbit than it did launching a Space Shuttle.

This is a testament to the power of capitalism.  Where a person can dream.  Pour money into that dream.  And reap the benefits of success.  The space program has now been handed off to capitalism.  And the private sector.  Thanks to the success of SpaceX.  Who may have a better chance than NASA these days of boldly going where no person has gone before.

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A Titanium Ball falls from a Failed Satellite Launch atop a Soyuz-2 Rocket and Plummets through Man’s Roof

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 31st, 2011

Week in Review

Man escapes death from being struck with by a piece of living history (see Man Miraculously Saves His Life As Satellite Fragment Crashes Into His House by Jesus Diaz posted 12/25/2011 on Gizmodo).

Andrei Krivorukov got a wonderful Christmas gift: his very own life. He saved it after a titanium ball from a Russian communication satellite crashed right into his house, escaping death by just a few feet.

The Russian satellite was a Meridian, which is used for civilian and military communications. It was destroyed when a Soyuz-2 rocket exploded in midair, just a few minutes after its launch from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome—a Russian spaceport, located 500 miles north of Moscow…

It’s a weird accident not only because of this Christmas miracle: the Soyuz has an excellent track record. It’s a tried-and-true vehicle with hundreds of successful missions since the 1960s, when it was designed by OKB-1 and manufactured at State Aviation Plant No. 1 in Samara, Russia. Its first flight was in 1966. The variant that launched today only has had one failure and one partial failure.

The Soyuz is tried and true.  From the days of putting the first man into space to shuttling people and supplies to the orbiting International Space Station.  It’s a true workhorse of the space program.  And the only one.  For the American Space Shuttle Program is now retired.  And it was shorter lived, more costly and suffered more failures than the Soyuz.  Never being able to live up to its initial design.  Not only to make space travel cheap but profitable.  Something it never did.  Being one of the most costly space systems of all time.

Yes, the Shuttle could retrieve satellites from space.  Something the Soyuz couldn’t do.  But it came at a cost.  And by cost I mean a big, heaping price tag.  It would have been cheaper and more cost effective to have continued with disposable booster systems.  Like the Soviets did.  And the Russians still are.  Sending new satellites in orbit to replace broken ones instead of trying to fix them.

Yes, the Shuttle was a magnificent piece of engineering.  But here we are.  Over 40 years have passed since Neil Armstrong first stepped onto the moon and we are still locked in Earth’s orbit.  One wonders where we might have gone had we not poured so much money into Space Shuttle.

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The Russians Flip Barack Obama the Bird

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 27th, 2011

Week in Review

When it comes to insulting world leaders what’s worse?  Someone throwing a shoe at George W. Bush?  Or this (see News woman shows her middle finger to President Obama on live TV posted 11/23/2011 on Your Jewish News)?

In the footage, Tatyana Limanova, an award-winning senior newsreader at the channel, can be seen briskly reading out an item about how Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has just assumed the rotating chairmanship of the Asia Pacific Cooperation organisation.

She is then heard to say that the post “has (previously) been held by Barack Obama” before mechanically and unambiguously raising her left arm and showing the camera her raised middle finger in an offensive gesture that is sometimes known as “flipping the bird.”

The channel, which goes out to 120 million people across Russia, has declined to comment. But sources close to it have tried to defuse the row by claiming that the newsreader had believed she was off camera at the time and merely providing a voice-over for a report. According to the same storyline, the rude gesture was intended for studio technicians who had been trying to put her off her stride.

REN TV has traditionally been perceived as a more liberal channel in a country where TV content is tightly controlled by the state. But it is now controlled by structures owned by a close ally of Vladimir Putin, the prime minister, and has been criticised for allegedly becoming more slavish to the Kremlin.

The scandal comes at a time when US-Russia relations appear to be getting worse after President Obama’s much-heralded attempt to “reset” them.

So much for that “reset.”  She, Putin and Russia made it perfectly clear what they think of President Barack Obama.  Which is probably worse than some lone shoe-thrower throwing a shoe at George W. Bush.  Because this ‘finger’ appears to have the full weight of the state behind it.

Perhaps the next President can ask George W. Bush to go to Russia to fix US-Russian relations.  If he only gets another shoe thrown at him at least it will show a warming trend in US-Russian relations.  Anything would be better than getting the full weight and force of the bird being thrown our way.

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LESSONS LEARNED #37: “The Decriminalization of Drugs. Damned if you do. Damned if you don’t.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 28th, 2010

Drugs are Killing Some of our Kids’ Cool Celebrity Role Models…and Some of Our Kids

Kids going through adolescence look up to role models.  Celebrity role models who look cool.  So they can aspire to that level of cool.  To have more friends.  Be popular.  To be popular with kids of the opposite sex.  And nothing does that like behaving like a celebrity.  Dressing like them.  Smoking like them (Joe Camel didn’t make kids smoke; movie stars and musicians did).  Having sex like them (in public like Alanis Morissette sings about in You Oughta Know).  And getting high like them.

Black Sabbath fired their front man Ozzy Osborne for his excessive drug use.  Steven Adler was fired from Guns n’ Roses for his excessive drug use.  Adler used the same drug cocktail that killed John Belushi, Chris Farley, River Phoenix and Jean-Michel Basquiat, to name a few.  One of Adler’s speedballs, though, gave him a stroke and left him with a speech impediment.  Osborne?  It’s hard to see or hear him and not think ‘drugs’.  Keith Richards, too.  (Some claim that it’s a miracle that either has lived so long.)  Amy Winehouse’ irregular heart beat resulted from a long use of cocaine.  John Entwistle died from a cocaine-induced heart attack.  Ol’ Dirty Bastard died from a cocaine & prescription drug induced heart attack.  Heath Ledger died from an accidental overdose of a prescription drug cocktail (oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam and doxylamine).  Bradley Nowell died from a heroin overdose just before Sublime’s major label album debut (which included three hits).  Danella Westbrooke lost the cartilage in her nose (and her profile) due to the massive amounts of cocaine she sniffed.  And there are a host of other celebrities whose past drug use is catching up to them in their old age.  Such as David Crosby’s liver disease.  His liver transplant resulted from his many years of drug abuse.

These are some expensive black market drugs.  But this isn’t a problem if you have a lot of money.  If these drugs were decriminalized, they would be cheaper.  And much more plentiful.  Meaning that they wouldn’t be limited to the rich and famous.  If they were less expensive, kids starting their drug exploration wouldn’t have to limit their exploration to the less expensive stuff (stealing from their parents’ medicine cabinet, sniffing butane, smoking marijuana, etc.).  They could broaden their horizon.  And why not?  They’re going to do it anyway.  And not everyone becomes an addict.  Or dies.

The British East Indian Company Used Indian Opium to Fix Their Balance of Trade with China

In the 19th century, mercantilism ruled.  It was all about balance of trade.  Nations wanted to export their goods.  And import gold and silver that paid for those goods.  Both Great Britain and China pursued these policies.  This became a problem for Great Britain whose people grew very fond of Chinese silk and porcelain and other Chinese exotic goods.  But the Chinese weren’t buying anything British.  Great Britain was importing more than she was exporting to China.  This meant there was a net silver flow from Great Britain to China.  And this wasn’t good mercantilism.  For the British.  It was very good mercantilism for the Chinese.  The British needed something to sell to the Chinese.  Something that only they could sell so the Chinese would have no choice but to buy from Great Britain.  And the British East India Company had just the thing.  Indian opium.

And it worked.  It reversed the balance of trade.  Silver was leaving China at an alarming rate.  But it was also turning the majority of Chinese males near the coastal cities into junkies.  Business suffered.  The civil service suffered.  With less available to buy the standard of living fell.  A dysfunctional civil service compounded that problem.  Rampant opium use was undermining Confucian values.  The Chinese begged the British to destroy the Indian poppy fields.  The British replied that, with the huge Chinese demand for opium, if they didn’t sell it, someone else would.  It would only cost the British their lucrative trade.  It wouldn’t solve the Chinese opium addiction problem.

Well, that led to war.  Two of them.  The Opium Wars.  Neither of which ended well for the Chinese.  They lost a lot.  Chinese coastal cities became virtually British.  Hong Kong became British.  Trade favored the British and other foreign nationals.  It led to much bitterness and resentment.  And to the Boxer Rebellion in 1898 to throw the imperialists out of China.  Which didn’t work all that well either.  But the British did help the Chinese to break their opium addiction.  If the Chinese worked from within to reduce consumption, the British would cut back on their opium importations.  Opium use declined in China.  As did opium imports.  With the decline in consumption, no new sources of opium rushed to fill an unmet demand.

The Americans and the Russians to Collaborate over Afghanistan’s Poppy Fields, The Netherlands Making their Legalized Marijuana less Legal

Well, there are still poppy fields in Southwest Asia.  And a high demand for heroin not too far away.  In Russia.  And it’s killing them.  Literally.   Some tens of thousands die each year from overdoses.  The collateral damage (broken families, lost jobs, the spread of AIDS from shared needles, neglected children, etc.) from drug addiction probably touches 10 times that number.  And the drug trade crime kills who knows how many more.  From the poppy fields in Afghanistan through the Central Asian states into Russia herself, there is an explosion of violence for this lucrative drug trade.  How bad is it?  Russia may return to Afghanistan to help the Americans in eradicating these poppy fields and shutting down the drug laboratories.  (For those who do not know, the Russian/Soviet war in Afghanistan was Russia’s Vietnam War.  And, let us not forget that both of these wars became proxy wars between America and the former Soviet Union.  So America and Russia working together in Afghanistan is a big thing).

Russia is even advising America against the ballot initiative in California to legalize marijuana.  Viktor Ivanov, Russia’s top drug official, went to Los Angeles to campaign against the ballot proposal.  He warned that legalizing marijuana will start a downward spiral into drug addiction.  We can understand heroin.  But marijuana?  A soft drug?  The Netherlands have long had legalized marijuana there.  It works there.  Why not in California?

Well, Netherland has had its problems with its marijuana coffee shops and cafes.  There’s been trouble in their border areas.  Tourists coming in just to get high.  And a lot of people have been going there.  Business is booming.  High demand.  Which have brought in crime as people vie to supply that demand.  There have been problems with school kids so they’ve banned these coffee shops/cafes within certain distances of schools.  And they’ve been selling a more potent cannabis, which is knocking the casual user on their ass.  Or impairing their motor skills.  And, with the rising amount of trouble from the drug tourists, they’re restricting sale to Dutch citizens only.  One other note.  Drug enforcement has been stepped up at Schiphol airport.  Why?  To counter a rising cocaine traffic coming in from the Caribbean. 

Drugs, Drug Wars and the War on Drugs Take their Toll as they Kill and Destroy

Kids are experimenting with drugs.  They’ll start with the softer stuff.  Like in the Netherlands.  But they’ll probably move on to something more potent.  Like in the Netherlands.  There appears to be a progression.  From less dangerous drugs to more dangerous drugs.  You can bet that John Belushi, Chris Farley, River Phoenix and Jean-Michel Basquiat, et al, started their drug use with something less dangerous than cocaine-heroin speedballs.  And look at them now.  Of course you can’t because their dead and buried.  But you get the point.

Epidemic use in China destroyed a millennium-old culture.  Ended a dynasty.  Caused multiple wars.  They finally kicked the habit.  With the help of the British (who helped give them the problem in the first place).  But the poppy fields just found new users.  In Russia.  And elsewhere.  It’s so bad that former enemies are joining forces on a former battleground to fight a new common enemy.  And the Russians are warning Californians not to legalize marijuana.  We’ve certainly come a long way from the days of the Cold War where the Soviets would have helped that initiative pass to help bring down their one-time enemy.

Drugs are a problem.  A big problem.  They kill and destroy.  Drug wars kill and destroy.  As does the war on drugs.  Damned if you do.  Damned if you don’t.  So what to do?  Well, imagine two worlds.  One where drugs are plentiful and cheap.  And one where no one uses drugs.  Which world you’d rather live in?  Which world do you want your children to live in?  I thought so.  And there’s your answer.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #18: “Man-given rights are only privileges allowed by the privileged elite.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 15th, 2010

JESUS CHRIST!  You’ll hear that in a foxhole.  When hunkered down as bullets and shrapnel fly thick overhead.  By theist and atheist alike.  Of course, one is most probably in prayer while the other in vain.  Considering the circumstances, though, the Lord would probably forgive the latter. As long as you’re fighting on the side of good, that is.

When emotions are running high, people tend to say things.  Sometimes bad things.  Sometimes, even philosophically inconsistent things.  What’s that joke?  At the height of confusion someone shouts out, “Thank God I’m an atheist!”

People tend to get more intimate with God when they are about to personally find out the answer to that age-old question – is there an afterlife?  Can’t blame them.  Your own mortality can be a scary thing.  And no one wants to rush that.  That’s why, in the age of the Enlightenment, people thought of government not as a force of coercion, but as protection from coercion.  People wanted to live as long as they could.  And as free as they could.  So people made governments that would function within the Rule of Law.  To better their lives.

England made great strides in protecting its citizens from the arbitrary use of force.  After some un-English-like treatment in the New World, the British America colonies broke from the mother country.  But they would build on the English ideals.  The Declaration of Independence stated:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed….

The key here is that rights are God-given.  That meant kings could be wrong.  As well as Parliament.  Even the Church.  Kings, aristocracies, bishops, etc., are positions created and held by men.  Nature/God did not grant them this power.  They granted it to themselves.  And once some have power, it’s not long before some use it to oppress those who don’t.

So when it comes to determining the origin of rights, the atheists should thank God he or she is an atheist.  For if God gives them that right (to be an atheist), no man can take it away.  But if rights are not God-given, then they must be man-given.  And whatever man giveth, he can taketh away.  Especially if you piss off the powers that be.

DRUNKEN FARMER JONES was oppressing the animals on Manor Farm.  Having had enough, the animals rose up and seized power.  They renamed the farm Animal Farm.  The pigs Snowball and Napoleon were the leaders of the revolution.  They created a new political doctrine called Animalism.  It rested on the following 7 commandments painted on the side of the barn:

  1. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
  2. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
  3. No animal shall wear clothes.
  4. No animal shall sleep in a bed.
  5. No animal shall drink alcohol.
  6. No animal shall kill any other animal.
  7. All animals are equal.

Snowball wanted to do good.  The new farm started out as an anarcho-syndicalist commune.  Sort of.  Then Napoleon seized power.  He and his pigs became the ruling elite for the benefit of animal kind on Animal Farm.  And life was good.  For the pigs.

Napoleon fabricated lies about Snowball.  With the animals turned against him as planned, Napoleon had his dogs chase him off of Animal Farm. 

The animals worked harder.  But there were setbacks.  And at every setback, Boxer, the old workhorse, lamented that he would have to work harder.  And he did.  Until his strength failed him and he collapsed while working.   The pigs then sent him to the vet.  Only the side of the vet’s wagon said ‘Horse Slaughterer and Glue Boiler’.  Most of the animals couldn’t read.  Benjamin could.  He told them what the van said.  But it was too late. 

Benjamin, Boxer’s friend, was an old donkey.  And wise.  He saw a lot in his long life.  Little good, though.  Life was no different under the pigs than it was under the humans.  But he wasn’t surprised.  For that was life.  “Life will go on as it has always gone on—that is, badly.”

The pigs started to act more humanlike.  They started to walk on two legs so they could carry riding crops.  They began wearing clothes.  Slept in beds.  Drank alcohol.  And sent off Boxer to his death for some whiskey money.  The pigs slowly revised the 7 Commandments to agree with their new behavior.  Until, one day, there was but a single commandment remaining.  “All animals are equal.  But some animals are more equal than others.”  And life was good.  For the pigs.

GEORGE ORWELL WAS a socialist who volunteered to fight for the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War.  He got shot in the throat and was declared medically unfit for further duty.  While healing, the political climate was deteriorating.  His socialist group, the Workers’ Party of Marxists Unification (or, in Spanish, Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM)) fell out of favor with the pro-Soviet Communists.  They accused the POUM of being affiliated with Joseph Stalin’s archenemy, Leon Trotsky.  So the Communists outlawed the POUM.  It’s complicated.  Suffice it to say that Orwell made it back to England.  And had no love for Stalin or Soviet Communism.

Then, of course, came World War II.  And the Hitler-Stalin Pact of Nonaggression, further increasing the love between Orwell and Stalin.  And by love I mean hate.  For Orwell hated totalitarianism.  And for all the Utopian talk, Communism had devolved into nothing more than an oppressive totalitarian regime. 

This is the story of Animal Farm.  Napoleon is Joseph Stalin.  Animal Farm becomes the police state of Soviet Communism.  At about a hundred pages, it’s the biggest little book you will ever read.  If you haven’t yet, do so.  And then pick up Orwell’s 1984.  It’s a little longer and a little darker but, wow, what a story.

SO THERE’RE TWO revolutions.  The American and the Russian.  Both ended up on ‘top ten’ lists.  One for liberty.  The other for genocide.  Can you guess which? 

As an ideology, Communism has killed more people than any other in history.  It killed more than the Nazis.  More than the Christian Crusades.  More than the Black Death even.  No other ideology (or plague) comes close. 

So why was one revolution so much bloodier than the other?  Well, the Americans were Christian.  The Russians were Orthodox Christians.  But the Soviets were atheists.  There were no God-given rights in the Soviet Union.  Only privileges allowed by the privileged elite.  And fear.  For people could disappear at someone’s slightest whim. 

That’s the down side of atheism.  And secularism.  It removes the fear of God from a people’s rulers.  And if they aren’t worrying about the afterlife, there’s not a whole lot to dissuade them from doing unspeakable things in the here and now.

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