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Comment: Re:No "observer effect" here (Score 1) 109

by Strange Quark Star (#48322273) Attached to: Why the Time Is Always Set To 9:41 In Apple Ads

Holy crap, this annoys me to no end! Why not insert the following to make sense:

If you have looked carefully, you might have noticed that the clock has[...]

It's the same with "for those who kept count" or any variation thereof. Yeah, the people who did keep a count are precisely the ones who don't need to hear it again.

Both these things are almost as wrong and infuriating as the new "literally".

Comment: Re:Second Space Mission?? (Score 1) 81

by Strange Quark Star (#48135283) Attached to: Secretive X-37B Military Space Plane Could Land On Tuesday

Yeah, on a second and longer reading it appears that there are three space missions flown by X-37 B's overall, but there were two space planes of that designation built. The first X-37 B built flew the first (2010) and this last, third (2012) mission while the second one built flew the second (2011) mission.

This space mission is one vehicle's second flight but the third overall mission. It could have been made a little clearer and less conflicting, I think.

Comment: Second Space Mission?? (Score 1) 81

by Strange Quark Star (#48134663) Attached to: Secretive X-37B Military Space Plane Could Land On Tuesday

After twenty-two months in orbit, on its second space mission, the Air Force plans to bring the X-37B back to Earth this coming Tuesday. [...] the Orbital Test Vehicle, blasted off for its second mission aboard an unmanned Atlas 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 11, 2012. [...] an experimental vehicle that first flew in April 2010. It returned after eight months. A second vehicle blasted off in March 2011 and stayed in orbit for 15 months."

So it first flew in April 2010, a second time in March 2011 and a second second time on Dec. 11, 2012?

I could forgive making that mistake once, but not twice inside one summary. The article itself only made the mistake once.

Or is it me who's making the mistake, along with Wikipedia? On its page it says that it's currently on its third space flight...

Comment: The NERVA Project (Score 5, Interesting) 125

by Strange Quark Star (#48065111) Attached to: How President Nixon Saved/Wrecked the American Space Program

Coincidentally, just today I've read about the NERVA (Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application) and related projects and their cancellation again. It really boggles the mind... They basically had a working and thoroughly tested nuclear engine design, ready for use in manned missions to Mars and beyond by the 1970s, which was, ironically, its own downfall:

The RIFT vehicle consisted of a Saturn S-IC first stage, an SII stage and an S-N (Saturn-Nuclear) third stage. The Space Nuclear Propulsion Office planned to build ten RIFT vehicles, six for ground tests and four for flight tests, but RIFT was delayed after 1966 as NERVA became a political proxy in the debate over a Mars mission. The nuclear Saturn C-5 would carry two to three times more payload into space than the chemical version, enough to easily loft 340,000 pound space stations and replenish orbital propellant depots. Wernher von Braun also proposed a manned Mars mission using NERVA and a spinning donut-shaped spacecraft to simulate gravity. Many of the NASA plans for Mars in the 1960s and early 1970s used the NERVA rocket specifically, see list of manned Mars mission plans in the 20th century.

The Mars mission became NERVA's downfall. Members of Congress in both political parties judged that a manned mission to Mars would be a tacit commitment for the United States to decades more of the expensive Space Race. Manned Mars missions were enabled by nuclear rockets; therefore, if NERVA could be discontinued the Space Race might wind down and the budget would be saved. Each year the RIFT was delayed and the goals for NERVA were set higher. Ultimately, RIFT was never authorized, and although NERVA had many successful tests and powerful Congressional backing, it never left the ground.

Comment: Re:It's not fair (Score 2) 144

From Wiki:

Dick wrote all of his books published before 1970 while on amphetamines. "A Scanner Darkly (1977) was the first complete novel I had written without speed", said Dick in the interview. He also experimented briefly with psychedelics, but wrote The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, which Rolling Stone dubs "the classic LSD novel of all time", before he had ever tried them. Despite his heavy amphetamine use, however, Dick later said that doctors had told him that the amphetamines never actually affected him, that his liver had processed them before they reached his brain.

He dedicated Scanner to all his friends and people close to him who suffered/died from drug addiction, even listing his own name among them.

What really pushed him into "craziness" was the episode he had in 1974, when he started having visions and revelations after receiving a dose of sodium pentothal at the dentist's. A good account of that can be read here: New York Times article

Comment: Re:Wrong way to end (Score 1) 144

[...]not the point at all. It's about something much deeper, the nature of reality as both objective and external, and as a collective, disjoint hallucination of multiple subjects.

Exactly, pretty much any novel or story of his deals with this exact subject to some large degree. If you're into that, PKD's writing is an absolute goldmine.

Comment: Re:Back then... (Score 2) 144

I think the 5 volumes of his collected short stories was a good book purchase.

After having read almost all of PKD's novels I started reading his short stories as collected in the 5-volume series. I really enjoyed the author's comments on a lot of these, some of which he's written decades after a story's publication.

Reading his novels -- first the well-known ones like Ubik, Androids, High Castle, etc., then going through all the rest of them, chronologically -- made PKD my "kind of" favorite SF author, along with Isaac Asimov, William Gibson and Kim Stanley Robinson. At first I was a bit skeptical of his writing style and recurring themes, but then it really grew on me. But when I read all his short fiction (again, chronologically as presented in the collection) over the course of the last year-and-a-half he became my absolute favorite author, period.
His short fiction is that much better than even his acclaimed novels, many of which are in fact merely expanded versions of his stories. His ideas are more suited to that format, where he is less bound by conventions and expectations, as he explained in the snippets provided in the short story collections.

Through his writing, PKD to me comes across as a very knowledgeable, educated and deeply philosophical person who lived through trauma and fear and yet does not take himself or anything else, really, too seriously. His style is as enjoyable to read as Hemingway and also close to that of Dostoevsky, who was Dick's favorite author.

If you've read any of his novels and like the style and story, do yourself a favor and start reading his stories! He really is a "consistently brilliant" SF writer, as John Brunner put it.

And if you're near Fullerton, CA you can check out his personal archive of manuscripts etc. which he donated to CSU Fullerton. I had the perfect opportunity while staying there for a week with a friend who was a student then, but did not know about this at the time... one of my greatest regrets.

Comment: Re:I wonder how long it would've taken NASA? (Score 1) 49

by Strange Quark Star (#47518893) Attached to: SpaceX Releases Video of Falcon Rocket's Splashdown

I was really astonished when I read about the old NERVA project.

NERVA demonstrated that nuclear thermal rocket engines were a feasible and reliable tool for space exploration, and at the end of 1968 SNPO certified that the latest NERVA engine, the NRX/XE, met the requirements for a manned Mars mission. Although NERVA engines were built and tested as much as possible with flight-certified components and the engine was deemed ready for integration into a spacecraft, much of the U.S. space program was cancelled by the Nixon Administration before a manned visit to Mars could take place.

They had planned to use this and other technologies to have several space stations, a permanent base on the Moon even a mission to Mars before the end of last century, possibly even as early as in the '80s. The NERVA project was specifically cancelled by the Nixon administration because it worked too well, as easy access to Mars would have lead to a more committed and therefore costly space program. I can hardly wrap my mind around this...

[...]culminating with a human Mars landing by 1983 at the earliest, and by the end of the twentieth century at the latest. The system's major components consisted of:
- a permanent space station module designed for 6 to 12 occupants, in a 270-nautical-mile (500 km) Earth orbit, and as a permanent lunar orbit station. Modules could be combined in Earth orbit to create a 50 to 100 person permanent station.
- a chemically fueled low-Earth orbit (100-to-270-nautical-mile (190 to 500 km)) shuttle
- a chemically fueled space tug to move crew and equipment between Earth orbits (including geosynchronous), and which could be adapted for use as a lunar orbit-to-surface shuttle
- a nuclear-powered vehicle using the NERVA engine to ferry crew, spacecraft and supplies between low Earth orbit and lunar orbit, geosynchronous orbit, or to other planets in the solar system.

The tug and ferry vehicles would be of a modular design, allowing them to be clustered and/or staged for large payloads or interplanetary missions. The system would be supported by permanent Earth and lunar orbital propellant depots.The Saturn V might still have been used as a heavy lift launch vehicle for the nuclear ferry and space station modules. A special "Mars Excursion Module" would be the only remaining vehicle necessary for a human Mars landing.

As Apollo accomplished its objective of landing the first men on the Moon, political support for further manned space activities began to wane, which was reflected in unwillingness of the Congress to provide funding for most of these extended activities. Based on this, Nixon rejected all parts of the program except the Space Shuttle which inherited the STS name. As funded, the Shuttle was greatly scaled back from its planned degree of reusabililty, and deferred in time.

I wonder why Musk can't use the NERVA technology for SpaceX. Is it because of the nuclear angle? Too expensive compared to his chemical rockets?

The confusion of a staff member is measured by the length of his memos. -- New York Times, Jan. 20, 1981