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Archaeology Recreates Bronze Age Welsh Round Barrow in ‘Minecraft’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/07/2020 - 7:43pm in

Here’s a piece of archaeology news from yesterday’s I for Monday, 6th July 2020. An archaeologist and his daughter have recreated a Bronze Age burial mound on Anglesey, Bryn Celli Ddu, in the computer game ‘Minecraft’. The article, ”Minecraft recreates Bronze Age landmark’, by Madeleine Cuff, runs

An archaeologist has recreated one of the UK’s most famous Bronze Age landmarks on the computer game Minecraft, in an attempt to entertain his 11-year-old daughter during lockdown.

Dr Ben Edwards and his daughter Bella have created a digital version of Bryn Celli Ddu, a 3,000-year-old burial mound on Anglesey.

The pair were assisted by Dr Seren Griffiths, a colleague of Dr Edwards at Manchester Metropolitan University, and Dr Ffion Reynolds of Cadw, the Welsh Government’s historic environment service.

Their digital invention is now being shared with classrooms around the world to help students learn more about ancient civilisations and cultures.

Minecraft is a compute game created by Microsoft, where players can explore a 3D world, discovering natural resources, craft tools and build houses or other structures. Dr Edwards had to draw on his daughter’s greater technical expertise to recreate the ancient site with modern-day technology.

“Bella had to show me how to do a lot of things, because she uses it more than me,” he told BBC News, adding that Bella said the final version was “very realistic”.

Bryn Celli Ddu, which loosely translates as “mound in the dark grove”, is thought to date back to the Bronze Age. The main burial mound is positioned so that during the summer solstice the dawn sunrise shines right through the main passageway.

This is interesting, as Minecraft has been used by its players for a long time to recreate structures and objects that have zilch to do with the game itself. There used to be a number of videos on YouTube put up by people, who had used the game to do this. I remember one fan of Dr. Who had even recreated the TARDIS.

While the reconstruction of Bryn Celli Ddu in Minecraft is clearly useful for getting schoolchildren interested in archaeology, I can also see adult archaeologists using it. There is professional software available for mapping archaeological sites and monuments, but this is so expensive only institutions like universities can really afford it. A friend of mine, who’s into role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons introduced me a few weeks ago to a piece of software that has been developed to enable players to create maps of the fictional landscapes of their games. While not exactly cheap, it’s definitely much cheaper than the academic software for archaeologists and geographers. I remarked then how useful the game software could be to serious archaeologists in their recreations of ancient landscapes.

Now it seems that Minecraft could be the same. I think it would be too crude for a finished recreation of a monument, but it might help archaeologists when they are beginning an analysis by allowing them to do so at rough, initial stage.

No, We Are (Probably) Not Going to See a Black Death Pandemic

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 06/07/2020 - 10:46pm in

Mike this morning has put up a piece on his blog reporting that the Chinese city of Bayannur in the Chinese region of Inner Mongolia, has sounded the alarm after a hospital reported a case of Bubonic Plague. This was the disease, spread by fleas on rodents, which was responsible for the Black Death in 14th century Europe. The disease is believed to have killed a half to two-thirds of the European population and China experienced an even higher number of deaths.

Coming after the Coronavirus pandemic, this all sounds really scary, right? Well, I don’t think there’s any need to panic. Bubonic Plague has still been around in parts of the Developing World, like India for years. There’s no question that it should be wiped out, but it’s now much, much less lethal than its medieval and early modern predecessor. So much so that some historians and microbiologists have wondered if it really is the same disease.

For example, way back in the 1990’s New Scientist carried a piece about an outbreak in India. It was extremely localized. While the people living in one house or set of houses fell ill with the disease, the folks a few doors down were left unscathed. The small scale of Bubonic plague outbreaks, which only mercifully affect a very few, have led some scientists to question whether the Black Death was actually another, far more contagious disease. Back when I was at secondary school, the Beeb’s history series, Timewatch, aired a programme which suggested that the Black Death may instead have been anthrax. I think the symptoms are similar, but anthrax can also be contracted from dead bodies, which Bubonic Plague cannot. This would explain why Medieval people believed even handling the bodies of the dead was dangerous.

There is another, related form of Bubonic Plague, Pneumonic Plague, which is rather more serious as its an airborne disease and so more contagious. But fortunately even the outbreaks of this disease have been far more restricted than the outbreaks of the plague in the Middle Ages and 16th/17th centuries.

Rather more worrying is the news, which was also reported by the Mirror as well as a number of other papers, that a new strain of Swine Flu has developed, which is resistant to current vaccines. I’d consider that a more serious risk, but I don’t think we’re quite in danger of seeing that become a world-wide pandemic just yet.

Obviously, these diseases need to be monitored and are of serious concern to organizations like the World Health Organization, but the chances of either of these becoming another global pandemic like the Coronavirus is probably remote. As for avoiding people who have visited the Far East, I can remember Dr Kevin Fong’s remarks at the Cheltenham Festival of Science during the Bird Flu epidemic. Fong was speaking about space medicine, of which he’s an expert. He was also suffering from a cold and had just come back from Beijing. As he appeared on stage blowing his nose into a handkerchief, he reassured the crowd by saying, ‘Don’t worry – it’s just a cold.’ He explained how he’d just come back from the Chinese capital, and said that it was amazing how much room you could get now on the London Underground as an Asian man. Which was his jokey way of allaying any suspicions.

It might still be best to avoid people, who have travelled to China and neighbouring countries, but that would only be because of the Coronavirus. I’m very sure we aren’t going to see a return of the Plague next.


US Air Force Planned Orbital Warplane 20 Years Ago

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 05/07/2020 - 3:07am in

I found this fascinating piece in the June 1999 issue of the popular science magazine Frontiers. Now 21 years old, it’s still acutely relevant now that Trump has said he’s going to set up a Space Force. The article has the headline Space Fighter Plane, with the subtitle ‘The US Air Force plans to become a Space Force.’ This states that the US air force was developing a fighter that could travel beyond the atmosphere into space. It runs

By the early 2010s US military pilots could be flying scramjet warplanes that can leave the atmosphere behind. Research by the US Air Force’s Air Vehicles Directorate suggests a trans-atmospheric vehicle (TAV) could be built as early as 2013. The intention would be to build a reconnaissance plane or bomber that could reach anywhere in the world within three hours. Flying at Mach 10 the TAV could piggyback a small spaceplane to the top of the atmosphere so it can fly the rest of its way into orbit.

The proposed vehicle is part of a shift in military thinking that will eventually see the US Air Force renamed the Aerospace Force. Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine reports that the Air Force is doubling its £100 million space-related research budget. One intention is to shift surveillance work carried out currently by aircraft such as AWACS to satellites equipped with advanced optics, space-based radar and hyperspectral imaging. To deliver such hardware into orbit the Air Force intends to build an unmanned reusable spaceplane called the Space Manoeuvre Vehicle (SMV).

The other thrust of Air Force research is to perfect space-based lasers that could in principle be used with space-based radar to target enemy ballistic missiles for ‘Star Wars’ operations, or even take out targets on the ground at the speed of light. The downside of such ‘space superiority’ tactics is that satellites will become a tempting target for other nations. Air force researchers aim to maximise satellite ‘survivability’ by flying clusters of satellites that work collectively and whose function can survive the destruction of individual units. (p. 37).

The article has two pictures of the projected space warplane, one of which is a computer simulation.

The caption reads: ‘The Air Force’s Space Manoeuvre Vehicle is the first in a series of planned military spaceplanes.’

As this image’s caption suggests, it appears to be a photo of the plane going through flight tests.

Trump doesn’t seem to be acting alone in demanding a US space force. It looks like he’s following a policy that was suggested at least twenty years, if not longer. I’ve got a couple of books dating from the 1980s about possible future wars in space. As for the space-based lasers, this was one of the projects in Reagan’s ‘Star Wars’ programme, or the Space Defence Initiative as it was officially called. Which means in one form or another, Trump’s space force has been floating around the Pentagon for about forty years. ‘Star Wars’ was cancelled due to its massive expense and the fact that it became irrelevant after Glasnost’ and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Now it seems that it’s been taken out of the cupboard of bad ideas and dusted out.

I see nothing wrong in transatmospheric spaceplanes, but let them be used for the peaceful exploration and colonisation of space. Trump’s Space Force violates international law and threatens to increase international tensions through the militarisation of space. In Arthur C. Clarke’sand Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, at the time the black monolith is found on the Moon, the Earth’s superpowers have ringed the planet with orbiting nuclear bomb platforms. The Cold War is becoming hot. Right at the end of Clarke’s book, the nuclear missiles are launched only to be stopped by the Star Child, the transformed astronaut Bowman, as he returns to the solar system from his journey to the home system of the monolith’s builders. The book ends with him pondering what to do about the crisis: ‘But he would think of something’.

Trump’s space force threatens a similar nuclear holocaust. But there will be no Star Child to rescue us.


































































Radio 4 Programme on Saturday on Apollo 13

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 02/07/2020 - 8:31pm in

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.

BBC 2 Programme Next Week on Possibility of Life on Pluto

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 02/07/2020 - 8:06pm in

Way back in the 1970s David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust asked if there was life on Mars. Things have advanced since then, and a new programme on BBC 2 next Monday, 6th July 2020, ponders the possibility that life might exist on the dwarf planet traditionally at the edge of our solar system: Pluto. From being a dead world, Pluto is geologically active and possesses organic chemistry, the building blocks of life. Which raises the question of whether life of some sort exists there.

The programme’s titled Pluto: Back from the Dead and the  blurb for it on page 62 on next week’s Radio Times for 4th – 10th July 2020 reads

New discoveries from the edge of the solar system are transforming what is known about Pluto, thanks to the New Horizons space probe that took the first-ever close up images of the dwarf planet. This Horizon documentary reveals that Pluto, once thought to be geologically dead, is an active world of stunning complexity, with mountains carved from ice, a nitrogen glacier that appears to be moving and a recently active volcano. The data sent back has led some scientists to speculate that there may even be life on Pluto today.

David Butcher’s piece about the programme on page 60 adds

There might be life on Pluto. It sounds far fetched, but that’s the conclusion some scientists have reached, and its one of the unexpected new angles explored in this intriguing edition of Horizon.

The insights come courtesy of New Horizons, a tiny spacecraft that travelled 3.26 billion miles to the edge of the solar system, and sent back amazingly detailed imagery.

It reveals a geologically fertile world with, among other features, a nitrogen glacier and a recently active volcano. Moreover, Pluto’s abundant supply of organic molecules and liquid water suggest some form of alien life might exist.

Pluto isn’t alone in possessing mountains of ice. They also exist on Titan and the other moons of the outer solar system. Titan also possesses organic chemistry, which is why scientists are particularly interested in it for clues about the origin of life on Earth. And it was also at one considered that it too may have life. Carl Sagan also suggested that it might even have volcanoes of frozen gas. There’s an illustration of Titan with one such volcano erupting by the astronomy/science Fiction artist David A. Hardy in his and Patrick Moore’s The New Challenge of the Stars. I don’t know if such volcanoes actually exist there. I haven’t seen anything about the Huygens probe to Saturn and its moons finding any.

Scientists also began speculating that life might also exist in the frozen wastes of the outer solar system after someone suggested that the difference of a few degrees’ temperature between light and shadow on them might be enough to provide the energy to drive life. The quantum physicist and SF author Stephen Baxter expanded this into a short story in his Xelee sequence, collected in the his short story anthology, Vacuum Diagrams. I think that story, however, was set further out in one of the dwarf planets of the Kuiper Belt.

After all this time searching the solar system, I think it’s extremely unlikely that there’s life on Pluto. But who knows, perhaps I’m wrong. It would be truly epoch-making if I was and Pluto did possess a biosphere, even if it was only simply microbial organisms.

The programme’s on BBC 2 at 9.00 pm on Monday, 6th July.


Jewish Board of Deputies Accuses Nigel Farage of Anti-Semitism

Zelo Street reported yesterday that the Board of Deputies of British Jews had taken a break from accusing the Labour party to turn their ire on another British politico. This was Nigel Farage, Fuhrer and CEO of the Brexit Party. According to the Graoniad, the Board had accused the man 2000AD’s Judge Dredd satirised as ‘Bilious Barrage’ because

“Farage’s airing of claims about plots to undermine national governments, and his references to Goldman Sachs and the financier George Soros, showed he was seeking to ‘trade in dog whistles’ … [he] was also condemned by the MPs who co-chair the all-party group against antisemitism”.

They then provide a series of examples from a recent tweet and interview with Newsweek magazine. In the tweet’s video message, the Fuhrage claimed that Britain was facing a wave of ‘cultural Marxism’. This is an idea that has its origins in Nazism, and their claim that Germany was being subverted by Jewish ‘Kulturbolschevismus’. Organisations funded by George Soros were also responsible for companies removing adverts for right-wing TV programmes. This was the trope of the ‘disloyal Jew’.

In the Newsweek article, Nige had ranted about ‘unelected globalists’ shaping the lives of the public based on recommendations from the big banks. ‘Globalists’ was a code word for ‘Jews’ or ‘Jewish bankers’. Goldman Sachs was the only bank he named, which followed another theme from the extreme right.

And Zelo Street also provided a few examples of his own to support the Board’s accusation. In another tweet, the Brexit Party’s Duce Faragissimo had praised Viktor Orban’s Hungary for standing up to the globalists, and wished we all did the same. He also talked about anti-Brexit plots backed by George Soros, including the campaign for a second referendum. Rants against the globalists featured regularly in his tweets. In one, he declared that we were all sick of threats from the globalists. This followed a statement that London was the world’s no. 1 financial centre, and Frankfurt only the 11th. We were, he also announced, heading toward a world where the democratic nation state had made a comeback against the globalists. Former US president Barack Obama, and Chancellor Merkel of Germany were ‘holding a losing party’ for the globalists. And then there was this series of comments about Goldman Sachs

“Goldman Sachs and big business lost the referendum … Congratulations to former EU Commission President [José Manuel Barroso], now over at Goldman Sachs. Global corporatism! … If Goldman Sachs are leaving London for the US, why aren’t they going to their beloved European Union? … Goldman Sachs Chairman thinks those who want border controls are ‘xenophobic’. Badly out of touch”.

The Street noted that these snippets showed the Fuhrage being promoted by the Beeb, Sky News and the Heil. By doing so, they were also promoting anti-Semitism. The Street concluded

Serious anti-Semitism always comes from the far right. Nigel Farage is living proof of that.


Farage’s rants and denunciations of the globalists, Goldman Sachs and George Soros are the latest forms of the anti-Semitic fears about Jewish bankers that first appeared in the Tsarist forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. They also have their roots in some of the conspiracy theories that emerged in the 1970s about the Bilderberg group and the Trilateral Commission. Many leading bankers, like Bernard Baruch, had backed the formation of the United Nations, Trilateral Commission and the elite Bilderberg group, which meets annually to discuss global politics. Thus the UN and the other organisations were seen as devices by which Jewish bankers sought world domination, culminating in a one-world dictatorship, the enslavement of gentiles and the extermination of the White race. Not all versions of this theory are necessarily quite so anti-Semitic. Some of them distinguish between Jewish bankers and the rest of the Jewish people, noting that some of the former, like the Rothschilds, advanced credit and loans to Nazi Germany even when the Nazis were persecuting the Jews. Other forms of the theory are more bonkers still. In one of them, the Trilateral Commission takes its name from the Trilateral ensign, the flag of the Grey aliens from Zeta Reticuli, with whom the US has made a Faustian pact. The aliens are allowed to abduct and experiment on humans in return for providing extraterrestrial technology like velcro.

I wouldn’t like to say that Farage is definitely an anti-Semite, but his rhetoric and beliefs about evil globalists comprising banks like Goldman Sachs and the Jewish financier George Soros are certainly part of a series of conspiracy theories, some of which are viciously anti-Semitic.

The Board is right to denounce Farage for spouting these theories. However, this hasn’t changed my mind about the Board as a whole. Most of its accusations of anti-Semitism, along with those of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, the Jewish Leadership Council, the Chief Rabbinate and their allies in the Labour Party, the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Friends of Israel, have been directed against Labour, its former leaders Jeremy Corbyn and Ed Miliband, and Corbyn’s followers. They have done so not out of concern about real anti-Semitism, but from a determination to defend Israel and its barbarous ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians from criticism. At the same time the Board denounced the Fuhrage yesterday, it was also attacking Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, Lisa Nandy, for demanding the government impose a block on the import of goods manufactured in the Occupied Territories if Israel begins its planned annexation of a third of the West Bank tomorrow.

It looks to me that the Board’s accusation of Farage for anti-Semitism is intended to soothe its left-wing critics by showing them that it doesn’t just attack the Labour Party. It really does attack other parties for anti-Semitism, really. But this doesn’t change the fact that the Board seems packed with Tories and Tory supporters. And it doesn’t change the fact that Board’s chief motivation for its attacks on the Labour Party is simply an attempt to excuse the inexcusable and defend entirely reasonable and proper criticism of Israel.

The Board is right to accuse Farage. But its accusations against the Labour Party are still wrong and politically motivated.



Trump’s Space Force Breaks International Law

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 29/06/2020 - 3:08am in

Remember when Trump announced a few months ago that he was setting up a space force to protect America from attack from that direction? He was immediately criticised because such a force would break the current international treaties governing the exploration and use of space. Mitchell R. Sharpe discusses these treaties in his book Satellites and Probes: The Development of Unmanned Spaceflight (London: Aldus Books 1970).

Sharpe writes

As the tempo of space exploration increases and more nations become involved through international agreements, it is obvious that problems in international law will ultimately arise. In this field, the UN took an early interest and is now the principal organization for studying and proposing space law. After manned space flight began in 1961, the General Assembly laid down some brief principles of a space code. On December 13, 1963, these were expanded; and an international treaty based upon them was signed in Washington, Moscow, and London on January 27, 1967. In brief, the treaty states that space exploration is available to all nations equally and that there will be no use of space for military purposes. Other international agreement provide that there will be no annexation of other planets by Earth powers and that astronauts are to be returned to their own nations in case they land by accident in other countries.

Pp. 30-1 (my emphasis).

The book notes that international relations in space have been strained, but nevertheless is optimistic about future cooperation between countries in the High Frontier.

The road to harmonious international cooperation in space research and exploration is not a smooth one. It has been strewn with obstacles of mutual suspicion, and distrust through conflicting political ideologies, outright chauvinism, cumbersome coordinating organizations, periodic temperature changes in the Cold War. However, the progression has been steadily forward despite these momentary checks…

As the second decade of the Space Age dawned, Man was beginning to realize the space, in its infinity, precludes all petty approaches to its exploration and eventual exploitation. International cooperation in both seemed an imperative for the ensuing decade, and the signs of a growing effort toward this were encouraging. (p. 31).

By the time of the publication of Michael Freeman’s Space Traveller’s Handbook (London: Hamlyn 1979), international relations had become much colder and the prospects for cooperation much less optimistic. The joint American-Soviet space mission of 1975, which saw astronauts from the two nations link up in orbit and exchange greetings was then four years in the past. The new Cold War that would dominate the global situation until the Gorbachev era and the fall of Communism was just beginning. The Space Traveller’s Handbook is a fictionalized treatment of rocketry and space exploration using the framework of a history book from 2061. The section on space law makes it plain that international legislation concerning space is extremely fragile and expects it to be broken. This is laid out in the section’s final two paragraphs.

International law is no law.

The most unsatisfactory aspect of the whole legal question in space is that the effectiveness of international legislation depends entirely on the good will of nations. Not all nations are signatory to all treaties, some elements of international space law are plainly at odds with the national law of some countries. and in the final analysis a nation can simply ignore the findings of the International Court of Space.

Basically, international law, on Earth as well as in space, is a conflict of law, the confrontation of two nations, each with its own set of internal laws. Legislation must be by treaty, and legal disputes tend to follow diplomatic channels in the first instance. The setting up of the International Court of Space by the ISA was an attempt to regulate disputes, but its only means of enforcing its judgements is to present its recommendations to the ISA. Essentially, the only punishment is sanction, [such as was applied to Rhodesia after UDI]. This is only effective if a sufficient number of nations agree to undertake it. Even criminal cases against individuals must in the end be referred to national courts. (p. 49).

The ISA and the International Court of Space, or at least the latter, are fictitious, and part of the book’s future history. It’s interesting, though, that the book predicted it would be set up ten years ago in 2010. I am not aware that any institution like it actually has.

Trump’s projected space force clearly is in breach of international law, and it seems to bear out Freeman’s prediction that it would eventually prove to be toothless. However, he hasn’t set it up just yet, and it remains to be seen whether it will actually become reality. If it does, I fear it will lead to a disastrous arms race in outer space, a race that may well bring us once again to the brink of nuclear armageddon as the Earth-based arms race did far too many times in the past.

For humanity’s sake, let us follow the vision of the late, great comedian Bill Hicks. Hicks used to end his show by stating that if the world spent what it does on armaments instead on peaceful projects, we could explore and colonize space and feed our world.

No one need starve, and we could go forth in peace forever.

Meanwhile, Trump’s announcement has provided yet more subject matter for the satirists. Netflix is launching a new comedy series, Space Force. Here’s the trailer from YouTube.

I think The Office mentioned in the title credits must be the American version of the show, rather than the British original made infamous by Ricky Gervaise. It stars Steve Carell and Lisa Kudrow, who older readers may remember as Phoebe in the ’90s comedy series, Friends.


Personal Hobby Rocket Based on NASA Mercury Capsule

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 27/06/2020 - 8:57pm in

A little while ago I put up a piece about a paper I had published several years ago in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society (JBIS). This argued that as flying enthusiasts now attempt to recreate the experience of the great pioneering age of aviation by flying hang-gliders and microlight aircraft, so there is an opportunity for developing personal leisure rockets to take space enthusiasts on very short rocket trips in order to recreate some of the experience of real spaceflight. The rockets and the capsules don’t have to be very large – just enough to carry a single person or so to a height of a few thousand feet.

The problem I found when I was going through the equations for just such a vehicle is that the amount of fuel needed would make a rocket that was actually smaller than the capsule for the hobby ‘astronaut’. It would simply be impossible to follow the conventional rocket design in which the capsule stands atop the rocket, as it would simply overbalance. A few years ago I found a couple of videos from the Danish company, Copenhagen Suborbitals, who were also trying to develop their own, private spacecraft. They seemed to be trying to solve the problem by placing the rocket in front of the personnel capsule, like the arrangement of the escape tower on the manned NASA rockets – Mercury, Gemini and Apollo, which preceded the spaceshuttle.

I think the Mercury rocket would actually make a fitting design for such a small hobby rocket. They were the first American rockets which took men into space, after a series of unmanned, automated tests and then using chimpanzees. The capsules were small, designed for only one man, measuring 2 meters in diameter at their widest point, and about 3 meters tall, not counting the escape tower. The rocket that was initially used for them was the Redstone, and it was a Mercury-Redstone combination that took John Glenn in Friendship 7 on his epoch flight into space. This was a suborbital flight from one side of America to the other.

Mercury Restone rocket from The Space Traveller’s Handbook, Michael Freeman (London: Hamlyn 1979) 54.

Obviously, you don’t want a rocket as powerful as a Redstone, as even a suborbital, transcontinental trip would be too far. You’d only need an arrangement like the Mercury capsule and its escape tower. The escape towers on all the NASA manned rockets supported small, solid fuel rocket motors. If there was a problem with launch rocket, they were designed to carry the capsule to safety. Thus they were developed to take crewed capsules on the kind of very short trips of the kind that a crewed hobby rocket may also make.

Mercury capsule from the above book, page 56.

As a hobby rocket would not actually travel beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, it would not need retro-rockets and heat shield. It would still obviously need to carry a parachute, which would also still need to be above the rest of the capsule for the safety and stability of the hobby astronaut. I’m thinking of short trips that go up and straight down, with the capsule landing on its base. From the above illustrations it looks like the escape tower rocket minus its aerodynamic spike was 172 cm long and 43 cm wide. Looked at closely, it also seems that it had three nozzles arranged at equal spaces around its base, angled away from the body of the capsule to provide thrust while maintaining stability.

In addition to the problem of stability, the escape tower arrangement also poses some difficulty in that in order for the parachutes to open, the escape rocket itself must be jettisoned. This complicates the design of capsule. It struck me, however, that this could be solved if the single escape rocket was replaced by three solid rockets 572 cm long at the rear of the capsule, spaced at equal distances around its circumference in order to provide stability as shown in my sketch below.

If the rockets and their exhaust nozzles aren’t able to support the weight of the capsule, perhaps landing legs somewhat like those of the lunar module the Apollo astronauts used to land on the Moon could be added.

I’m not a rocket scientist, just an ordinary person who has read some of the science and physics involved, so don’t take this as solid fact. But I think the three rockets together would provide the same amount of thrust as a single rocket of three times the length of one of them. However, as the three rockets would fire together, the actual burn time would be shorter and so imagine it would ascend with a greater acceleration than a single, larger rocket would. But the speed reached, and thus the height after the rockets stopped firing, should be the same.

I think the design’s practical, though it would obviously have to undergo extremely rigorous tests before any aspiring hobby astronaut got anywhere near it. However, there is already a large hobby rocketry milieu. They largely fire off models rockets, but these can be quite large. One group of enthusiasts, according to the magazine High Power Rocketry, sent up a Minuteman missile one year. And last year an American built his own steam rocket which successfully took him a mile up. The man was an eccentric – he wanted to make the journey as he really believed the world was flat and wanted to see if it was round. But his rocket worked, although he lost his life making a subsequent flight. And if one man wants to make an amateur, hobby rocket flight, there are probably others. This is an idea waiting to be developed by professional aerospace technicians and engineers.

But if successful, it would create a new age of personal rocketry and interest and enthusiasm for real spaceflight, just like those flying hang-gliders and microlights are enthusiastic about conventional aircraft.

























































































































































































































































NASA Film Explaining Their Plan to Return to the Moon

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 25/06/2020 - 11:47pm in

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’.
























Trailer for AppleTV’s ‘Foundation’ Series

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 25/06/2020 - 1:31am in

Here’s another video that has zilch to do with politics. Apparently, the computer giant Apple has, or is launching, their own TV channel. And one of the shows they’ve made for it is an adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s epic Foundation series of books. This is one of the works for which Asimov is best remembered, along with his Robot books – I, Robot, The Caves of Steel and others. I, Robot was filmed a few years ago with Will Smith playing a human detective investigating the suicide of a robotics scientist. Together with the chief suspect, a unique robot with free will and a mind of its own, Smith uncovers a conspiracy to take over the city with a new generation of robots. I haven’t read the books, so I don’t know how faithful the movie was to them. Something tells me that they took a few liberties, but I don’t know.

I haven’t read Foundation either, but I gather it’s an epic about an academic, Hari Seldon, who invents the science of psychohistory. Using its techniques, he predicts that the vast galactic empire that is so ancient, no-one actually knows where Earth is anymore, is about to fall into a new Dark Age. He prepares for this by setting up the eponymous Foundation on a barren planet with the intention of collecting all human knowledge in preparation for the restoration of civilization. It’s one of the major influences behind both Frank Herbert’s Dune and George Lucas’ Star Wars. The heart of the galactic empire is Trantor, a world that has become one vast, planet-wide city. This is the model for Coruscant, the city planet which is the capital of the Republic and then the Empire in Star Wars.

The video shows scenes from the new series along with clips of others as they were being shot. There’s also a comment from the director or one of the producers, who says that Asimov was keenly interested in technology, and so would have approved of Apple making the series. There have been attempts to adapt Foundation before, apparently, but they’ve all failed due to the complexity and immense time span covered by the books. I do remember way back in the ’70s there was an LP version, where it was read by William Shatner. Less reverently, back in the ’90s one of the Oxbridge theatre groups decided to stage a play which combined it and Dr. Strangelove, titled Fundament! This ended with a Nazi scientist shouting, ‘Mein Fuhrer, I can walk!’, just like the end of Kubrick’s movie.

Take a look at the trailer. It looks awesome, though unfortunately there have been movies where all the best bits were in the trailer, and the film itself actually dull. I hope this isn’t the case here. My problem with it at the moment is that it’s going to be on another streaming channel, which will mean having to subscribe to that, rather than getting it with a satellite/cable TV package.