The Sky At Night Looks at Britain in Space

I just managed to catch the weekday repeat a day or so ago of this month’s Sky at Night, in which presenters Maggie Aderin-Pocock and British astronaut Tim Peake looked at the history of Britain in space, and forward to the country’s future in the deep black. The programme’s changed a bit over the past few years in the case of its presenters. It was famously presented by Sir Patrick Moore from its beginning in the 1950s until he passed away a few years ago. This made the programme the longest-running show presented by the same person. Aderin-Pocock joined it before Moore’s departure. She’s a black woman scientist, with a background in programming missile trajectories. She’s obviously very intelligent, enthusiastic and very definitely deserves her place on the show. But I wish she’d done a job that didn’t involve the military use of rocket technology, however much this is needed as part of national defence.

Aderin-Pocock was speaking to one of the management officials from Orbex, a new, British company, which has developed a rocket launcher and intends to open a spaceport in one of the more deserted areas of Scotland. The rocket will stand about 17 meters tall, using propane and High Test Peroxide as fuel. High Test Peroxide is a highly concentrated version of the hydrogen peroxide used by hairdressers to bleach peoples’ hair. The use of propane is particularly important, as it’s lighter than conventional rocket fuels, meaning that the rocket doesn’t have to carry as much fuel to lift off into space. Advances in satellite design have also allowed the rocket to be smaller than other spacecraft used elsewhere. British universities have succeeded in developing microsatellites – satellites that are much, much smaller than some of the satellites put into orbit, but which can perform the same functions. As these satellites are smaller and lighter, they only need a relatively smaller, lighter rocket to launch them.

The Scottish launch complex also wasn’t going to be as big as other, larger, major launch complexes, such as those of NASA, for example. I think it would still contain a launch tower and control buildings. As well as the official from Orbex, the show also talked to a woman representing the rural community in the part of Scotland, where they were planning to build it. She admitted that there would be problems with building it in this part of the Scots countryside. However, the community was only going to lease the land, not sell it to Orbex, and care would be taken to protect the farms of the local crofters and the environment and wildlife. Like much of rural Britain, this was an area of few jobs, and the population was aging as the young people moved away in search of work. She looked forward to Orbex and its spaceport bringing work to the area, and creating apprenticeships for the local young people.

The programme went on to explain that this would be the first time for decades that a British company was going to build a British rocket to launch a British satellite. From what looked the British space museum in Manchester, Time Peake stood under the display of Britain’s Black Knight rocket and the Prospero satellite. He explained how the rocket launched the satellite into space from Australia in 1975. However, the project was then cancelled, which meant that Britain is the only country so far which has developed, and then discarded rocket technology.

But Black Knight wasn’t the only space rocket Britain developed. Peake then moved on to talk about Skylark, a massively successful sounding rocket. Developed for high altitude research, the rocket reached a maximum of altitude of 400 km in the few minutes it was in flight. At its apogee – its maximum distance from Earth – the vehicle briefly experienced a few minutes of zero gravity, during which experiments could be performed exploring this environment. The Skylark rocket was used for decades before it was finally cancelled.

Aderin-Pocock asked the official from Orbex how long it would be before the spaceport would be up and running. The manager replied that this was always an awkward question to answer, as there was always something that meant operations and flights would start later than expected. He said, however, that they were aiming at around the end of 2020 and perhaps the beginning of 2021.

Orbex are not, however, the only space company planning to open a spaceport in Britain. Virgin Galactic have their own plans to launch rockets in to space from Cornwall. Their vehicle will not, however, be launched from the ground like a conventional rocket, but will first be carried to a sufficiently high altitude by an airplane, which would then launch it. I’m not a betting man, but my guess is that of the two, Orbex is the far more likely to get off the ground, as it were, and begin launching its rocket on schedule. As I’ve blogged about previously, Branson has been telling everyone since the late 1990s at least, that Virgin Galactic are going to be flying tourists into space in just a few months from now. This fortnight’s Private Eye published a brief list of the number of times Branson had said that, with dates. It might be that Branson will at last send the first of his aspiring astronauts up in the next few months, as he claimed last week. But from his previous form, it seems far more likely that Orbex will start launches before him, as will Branson’s competitors over the pond, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos.

When asked about the company’s capability of perfecting their technology, Orbex’s manager not stressed the skill and competence of the scientists, technicians and engineers working on the project. This included not just conventional space scientists, but also people, who had personally tried and failed to build their own spacecraft. He said that it was extremely important to fail to build rockets. He’s obviously referring to the many non-professional, hobby rocketeers out there trying to build their own spacecraft. He didn’t mention them, but one example would be the people at Starchaser, who started out as a small group of enthusiasts in Yorkshire but have gone on to create their own space company, now based across the pond in America. I think it’s brilliant that amateurs and semi-professionals have developed skills that the professionals in the industry find valuable. And the failures are important, as they show what can go wrong, and give the experience and necessary information on how to avoid it. I don’t think the rocket will be wholly built in this country. The manager said that some of it was being constructed in Copenhagen. This sounds like Copenhagen Suborbitals, a Danish team of rocket scientists, who are trying to put a person into space. They’re ex-NASA, I believe, but it’s a small, private venture. They have a webpage and have posted videos on YouTube, some of which I’ve reblogged. They’ve also said they’re keen for people to join them, or start their own rocket projects.

I’d been looking forward to that edition of the Sky at Night for the past week, but when the time came, it slipped my mind that it was on. I’m very glad I was able to catch it. If Orbex are successful, it will be the first time that a British satellite will launch a British satellite from here in Britain. And it sounds really optimistic. Not only will Britain be returning to space rocket development, but the Scots spaceport sounds like it will, hopefully, bring work to a depressed area. I’m also confident that the local environment there will also be preserved. The launch complex around NASA is necessarily so remote from other buildings, that it’s actually become a wildlife haven. So much so that it’s now a location for birdwatching.

When it was announced that they were planning to build a new spaceport in Scotland, I assumed it would be for Skylon, the British spaceplane. There had been articles in the paper about the spacecraft, which stated that it would be launched either from Scotland or Cornwall. It seems I was wrong, and that it’s Orbex’s rocket which will be launched there instead. But nevertheless, I wish Orbex every success in their venture, and hope that sometime soon Skylon will also join them in flight out on the High Frontier.

Faculty Job Security & Academic Freedom

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 16/10/2018 - 12:48am in


employment, Jobs

Seventy-three percent of faculty at institutions of higher education in the United States are neither tenured nor on the tenure-track, according to a new report from the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).

Table from “Data Snapshot: Contingent Faculty in US Higher Ed” from AAUPAs you can see in the table, above (from their report), even at R1 universities, roughly 70% of the faculty are non-tenured or non-tenure-track (approximately 27% full-time non-tenure-track. 15% part-time, and 28% graduate student employees).

The report also notes that, of the full-time non-tenure track faculty, 38 percent are on annual contracts, 20 percent are on multi-year contracts, 38 percent are on  indefinite/at-will contracts (38 percent), and 4 percent work on contracts of less than a year.

The authors of the report remind us that “tenure protects academic freedom by insulating faculty from the whims and biases of administrators, legislators, and donors, and provides the security that enables faculty to speak truth to power and contribute to the common good through teaching, research, and service activities.”

(via Inside Higher Ed)

The post Faculty Job Security & Academic Freedom appeared first on Daily Nous.

The Factory That Ate Wisconsin

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 09/10/2018 - 3:00pm in

Touted by Republicans as a case study in reviving U.S. manufacturing, Foxconn’s new factory in Wisconsin only reveals the failings of the GOP agenda. To defeat Scott Walker in November, Democrats will have to show there’s a better way to create good jobs.

10 years after the financial crisis and its lasting effects on Americans

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 01/10/2018 - 2:00am in

By Breshay Moore.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the 2008 financial crisis. Although the crisis is remembered for foreclosures, bank failures and bailouts, many American citizens are still unaware of what caused it. Understanding this is important to prevent future crises and think about what kind of financial system we want to have: one that serves people and invests in communities, or one that enriches a handful of wealthy bankers and money managers while making our economy less fair and safe for the rest of us.

In simple terms, the financial crisis was a result of deregulation of the financial sector, and reckless and predatory practices by greedy financial players all across the board, from mortgage lenders to Wall Street traders to the largest credit rating agencies.

In the lead-up to the crisis, mortgage lenders were engaging in fraudulent and deceptive sales practices to make toxic mortgage loans to home buyers, which they knew the borrowers could not afford. Predatory lenders particularly targeted people of color, especially women of color, for these higher-rate loans. Meanwhile, these risky mortgages were packaged and sold to investors around the world, becoming implanted throughout the financial system. The economy went into a recession in late 2007, defaults on mortgage payments increased and housing prices plummeted, resulting in billions of dollars in mortgage losses. This had a chain reaction in the financial system because of the number of financial institutions that had stakes in the housing market. These string of events shook the entire economy, fueling the worst recession in the US since the Great Depression.

Millions of families lost their homes or jobs. Median wealth among households fell tremendously: From 2005 to 2009, median wealth among Hispanic households fell by 66 percent, by 53 percent among Black households, by 31 percent among Asian households, and by 16 percent among white households. Millions of people also suffered major drops in income, property values, retirement savings, and general economic well-being. The crisis produced lasting effects. Families are still struggling economically, especially in communities of color.

After all the damage was done, no one was held accountable. Financial players made billions of dollars in bonuses and profits. Instead of helping the communities that were most affected, Congress and The Federal Reserve began bailing out big banks with public money. We recently learned that 30 percent of the lawmakers and 40 percent of the top staffers involved in the congressional response to the crisis have since gone to work for Wall Street.

In 2010 President Barack Obama introduced legislation containing important reform measures in response to the crisis. The Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act created rules to protect consumers and regulate the financial industry. This law created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to promote transparency and fairness in the consumer-finance industry, and to holding financial institutions accountable for engaging in predatory and discriminatory practices. This independent agency has done a lot for consumers, and has returned more than $12 billion in relief to more than 29 million cheated consumers.

In return for all the money that Wall Street has poured into political campaigns and lobbying, President Trump and Congress have been working hard to undo rules that  regulate the financial sector. Countless bills have been introduced and passed in Congress to deregulate banks and lenders. One of these bills, S. 2155, which became law in May, not only increases the risk of future financial disasters and bank bailouts, but makes it easier for mortgage lenders to discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity and gender. Sixteen Democrats and an Independent supported the GOP in pushing this deregulatory bill. The vote did not go unnoticed and public sentiment is not on their side.  In fact, 88 percent of all likely voters — across party  lines — support holding financial companies accountable if they discriminate against people because of their race or ethnicity. And 64 percent of voters think big banks and finance companies continue to require tough oversight to avoid another financial crisis.  

The lack of restrictions on banks and other financial institutions put consumers and the economy at risk. The 10th anniversary of the financial crisis should encourage us to redouble our efforts to push for changes to our financial system so that it works for us not just for Wall Street.


Breshay Moore is a Senior at Towson University, studying Advertising and Public Relations. She was recently a Communications and Campaign intern for Americans for Financial Reform.

The post 10 years after the financial crisis and its lasting effects on Americans appeared first on Economic Questions .

Job Prospects for Philosophy Majors: Perception and Reality

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 05/09/2018 - 12:24am in

The number of philosophy majors in the U.S. is down 35% since its recent peak in 2007, and today, philosophy majors make up only around 0.137% of the student population.

These figures, based on data from Humanities Indicators, are among those discussed in a recent article in The Atlantic by Benjamin Schmidt, assistant professor of history at Northeastern University.

Over the past decade there has been a significant decline in the numbers of all humanities majors, as the following graph depicts.

Graph from The Atlantic, based on data from Humanities Indicators

And while the longer view (in the graph below) shows that the numbers in philosophy are less volatile than in some of the other humanities disciplines, there is the possibility that the recent steeper decline can be informative for those interested in the long term prospects of philosophy offerings in U.S. colleges and universities.

Graph from The Atlantic, based on data from Humanities Indicators

Professor Schmidt thinks that the culprit is not a general sudden decline in people being interested in the humanities, nor is it politics (“Do you think students are put off by liberal pieties in the classroom? It’s difficult to square that argument with the two decades of stability that followed the beginning of the culture wars in the late 1980s”).

Rather, he says: “In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, students seem to have shifted their view of what they should be studying—in a largely misguided effort to enhance their chances on the job market… Students fled the humanities after the financial crisis because they became more fearful of the job market.”

The students are misinformed, he argues. The “actual career prospects of humanities majors” don’t do the explanatory work:

Evidence does indicate that humanities majors are probably slightly worse off than average—maybe as much as one more point of unemployment and $5,000 to $10,000 a year in income. Finance and computer-science majors make more; biology and business majors make about the same. But most of the differences are slight—well within the margins of error of the surveys. One analysis actually found that humanities majors under the age of 35 are actually less likely to be unemployed than life-science or social-science majors. Other factors, like gender, matter more: Men with terminal humanities B.A.’s make more money than women in any field but engineering. Being the type of person inclined to view a college major in terms of return on investment will probably make a much bigger difference in your earnings than the actual major does.

In other areas of the economy, we view these kinds of differences with equanimity. The difference between humanities majors and science majors, in median income and unemployment, seems to be no more than the difference between residents of Virginia and North Carolina. If someone told to me not to move to Charlotte because no one there can make a living, I would never take them seriously. But worried relatives express the same concerns about classics majors every day, with no sounder evidence.

This suggests that efforts by philosophers, philosophy departments, and organizations such as the American Philosophical Association to provide more information about the employment prospects of philosophy majors could be an effective part of a strategy for increasing the number of students studying philosophy—especially since philosophy majors seem to do pretty well compared to other humanities majors.

The post Job Prospects for Philosophy Majors: Perception and Reality appeared first on Daily Nous.

Real US Wages Are Essentially Back At 1974 Levels, Pew Reports

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 27/08/2018 - 12:00am in


Jobs, wages

On the face of it, these should be heady times for American workers. U.S. unemployment is as low as it’s been in nearly two decades (3.9% as of July) and the nation’s private-sector employers have been adding jobs for 101 straight months – 19.5 million since the Great Recession-related cuts finally abated in early 2010, and 1.5 million just since the beginning of the year. But despite the strong labor market, wage growth has lagged economists’ expectations. In fact, despite some ups and downs over the past several decades, today’s real average wage (that is, the wage after accounting for inflation) has about the same purchasing power it did 40 years ago.

Booked: Imagining a World with No Bullshit Jobs

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 17/08/2018 - 2:28am in


Jobs, Labor

As many as half of the jobs we do could be considered pointless, estimates anthropologist David Graeber. How did so many of these jobs come to exist, and what does it mean for labor activists?

Imagining A World With Bo Bullshit Jobs

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 11/08/2018 - 6:00am in


Jobs, unions

In this interview about his latest book, David Graeber discusses the role of unions, the challenges posed by automation and “the revolt of the caring classes.” Is your job pointless? Do you feel that your position could be eliminated and everything would continue on just fine? Maybe, you think, society would even be a little better off if your job never existed? If your answer to these questions is “yes,” then take solace. You are not alone. As much as half the work that the working population engages in every day could be considered pointless, says David Graeber, Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics and author of Bullshit Jobs: A Theory.

Stagnation Nation

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 24/07/2018 - 5:00pm in

Real wages since 2006 are down - and getting much worse. But hey, look on the bright side!

Tahko from Helsinki to Bristol

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/06/2018 - 10:23pm in


Jobs, philosophy

Tuomas Tahko, currently University Lecturer in Theoretical Philosophy at the University of Helsinki, will be moving to the University of Bristol.

Dr. Tahko specializes in  metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of science, and philosophical logic. He will be taking up his new position, as Reader in Metaphysics of Science, in September, 2018.

This move also means that the 2-million euro European Research Council Consolidator Grant that Dr. Tahko won in 2017 (previously) to support a project on the metaphysical unity of science, will move to Bristol. The project will last for five years, also starting in September 2018 (for which three 4-year postdocs and a PhD student in the areas of metaphysics and philosophy of science will be brought on).

The post Tahko from Helsinki to Bristol appeared first on Daily Nous.