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Comment Re:Von Braun Screwed Up (Score 1) 214

Von Braun was a big proponent of Earth orbit rendezvous and had to be brought around to lunar orbit rendezvous, like almost all of the rest of NASA. But the engineering studies said that LOR was the only way to make it by the deadline which Kennedy had set. NASA was under orders from the politicians, the ones who were writing the checks. If Earth orbit rendezvous had been adopted and the possible lunar landing had slipped into the mid-late 70s, no one knows if the money for the lunar landing would have come along and the Apollo-Saturn hardware would have been abandoned in the 70's anyway. By 1969 interest among the politicians and citizens in spending the money it took to keep the Apollo-Saturn ecosystem going was already on the wane.

Comment Re:I thought the secondary payload (Score 1) 53

Your point that the SLS is a bad way to get back into space is a good one and I agree, especially given the low launch frequency. We may never build more than a couple of them, like the Soviet Energia. My optimism going forward is based on the Falcon9/Dragon and (less so) on the Atlas5/CST-100, and maybe that Atlas follow-on which ULA is working on as a competitor to the Falcons. My original discussion point with the OP is that the US has not abandoned crewed space, especially with (at least) three vehicle combinations available in the next few years. But, I'll close by completely seconding your point that the SLS is not the way to do it, especially with the heavy versions of the Falcon 9 in the works.

Comment Re:I thought the secondary payload (Score 3, Informative) 53

Well, in 1975 we abandoned our existing orbital (and deep space) capability and put all our leftover Apollo/Saturn vehicles in museums. Then we had a six year gap in crewed space capability until STS-1 in 1981. Now, the first crewed missions for the Boeing Atlas/CST-100 vehicle and the SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon vehicle are both scheduled for 2017, again giving a six year gap in US crewed orbital capability (SLS/Orion is a deep space capability to follow a few years later). But, I don't recall the enormous wailing and hand wringing about the USA losing its abilities in space back during the gap in the 70's like there is today.

Comment Re:I thought the secondary payload (Score 3, Informative) 53

Factually as related to the crewed space program I don't think your conclusion holds up.
After the Apollo 1 fatal accident in January 1967, the first crewed flight of Apollo was delayed from its scheduled February 1967 to October 1968, a delay of 20 months.
After the Challenger fatal accident in January 1986, the next STS launch was delayed until September 1988, a delay of 32 months.
After the Columbia fatal accident in January 2003, the next STS launch was delayed until July 2005, a delay of 30 months.

The difference between a 20 month program delay after a fatal accident and a 30 month delay doesn't seem to qualify as "lost its collective balls".

And as for the manned space program in the 1960's, Alan Shepard aboard Mercury-Redstone 3 would have beaten Yuri Gagarin and been the first human into space if the previous Mercury-Redstone 2 had not exhibited some anomalies (which the chimpanzee aboard survived fine) and influenced NASA to add another test flight before launching Shepard. So NASA was not quite as "ballsy" back then as the legends have it.

Comment And we still can't import prescription drugs (Score 3, Informative) 365

This is pretty bold (not really the right word) of Pfizer to move overseas, considering that they, along with the rest of big Pharma are the ones who lobbied to make it illegal for Americans to import cheaper prescription drugs. Maybe Pfizer should be required to sell their drugs in the USA for the price they charge in Ireland.

Comment Re:In other words... (Score 1) 387

I need to pile on here since as a hot rodder and muscle car aficionado this is a pet peeve. NASCAR used to be on the cutting edge of automotive technology as it applied to the modifications possible on factory built consumer cars, back in the 60's, and many of those mods found their way onto the street as factory products. The Chrysler 426 Hemi engine came directly out of NASCAR racing and so did (somewhat indirectly) the big-block Chevrolet V8 of the times (the 396, 427 and 454 CID big blocks). NASCAR cars were based on street cars and the mods allowed from the streetable versions were limited. Somewhere in the 70's NASCAR lost its way and NASCAR cars became tube-framed specially built race cars with only a passing familiarity to the street cars. At this time NASCAR also became inmeshed in rules which severely limited technical development on their cars -- a restriction to carburetors only is the prime example. The factory stock street cars then rapidly advanced beyond NASCAR with fuel injection, computer engine controls, traction control, etc. NASCAR became a backwater in automotive technology; they have a longs ways to go to catch back up, if they has any desire to.

Comment Re:Handwavium (Score 1) 274

OP here. And you are, of course, correct. My understanding is that the discovery of the first Iridium anomaly led to the Impact Hypothesis, which then led to the further predictions including worldwide Iridium deposits in the Cretaceous boundary. I was lucky enough to see Walter Alvarez talk about it at the university here in the early 90's. I was writing pretty fast this morning and hoped no one would call me on it:), guess I'll be more careful next time! Hopefully this inaccuracy didn't detract form my point that "observational" sciences make testable predictions, too and are not inferior to the "experimental" sciences.

Comment Re:Handwavium (Score 1) 274

"Observational science" has experiments too, they are predictions of future observations. For example when the theory came out that the meteorite killed the dinosaurs, it didn't stop with, "we observed this so this is the explanation". No, it allowed specific predictions such as, "If you look in this stratum in the rocks at the end of the Cretaceous period, you will find anomalous amounts of Iridium, shocked mineral grains, and other evidence of meteorite impact." Also when General Relativity was proposed there were no experiments which could be done to test it, but it did make predictions about observations -- GR predicted the bending of star light past the sun, which was subsequently verified. The ability to make predictions about future observations is very little different from any "experimental science".

Comment Re:Hooray. (Score 4, Informative) 65

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (, built, launched, and operated by NASA, is in orbit around the moon right now and doing science there. That makes it the only currently operating spacecraft in orbit around the moon. That is, the USA NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. NASA has so many operating space vehicles out there doing science that people tend to not notice after a while.

Comment Re:Gravity = spacetime curvature (Score 1) 134

I can't answer your question directly, but I can quote from my handy textbook on General Relativity which admittedly is 30 years old now ('General Relativity', Robert M. Wald, 1984). From Chapter 14, 'Quantum Effects in Strong Gravitational Fields', "As discussed in chapter 9, spacetime singularities occur in the solutions of classical general relativity relevant to gravitational collapse and cosmology. Thus, in these situations, the classical description of spacetime structure must break down. In particular, one cannot expect the homogeneous, isotropic models of chapter 5 to be an adequate description of our universe in the regime where they predict curvature of magnitude Ip^-2 or greater, i.e, t tp ~ 10^-43 s." Ok, I got lost in the definition of Ip there (actually much earlier in the book), but the textbook writers clearly believe that classical GR breaks down at some density/energy limit and gravity then needs a quantum description.
Also, physicists, for reasons I can't state, strongly believe that all physical phenomena are described by quantum theories.

Comment Re:China and US spending priorities (Score 1) 65

The US troops in Japan, Germany, and S. Korea (which you didn't mention) are there to provide the reassurance to those allies that they can depend on the USA for common defense and don't have to develop and deploy nuclear weapons of their own to deter their nearby not allies which do have nukes. If the US pulled out of Japan and S. Korea, both those nations would deploy nuclear weapons within a couple of years. Don't know what Germany would do, but Poland and the Baltic nations got into NATO as quick as they could when the opportunity arose so they must know something.

Comment Re:Bullshit ... (Score 1) 479

You don't think that the VW engineers know exactly what the loss in performance is while passing emissions? They surely do and they or someone else decided that the cars wouldn't sell with that level of performance. Otherwise, why cheat while testing, just sell the cars to be in emission-pass mode all the time.

Comment Re:Can we get back (Score 1) 94

It's been well known for a while. The wikipedia article ( has some scholarly references and states, "With the new figures added in, the discrepancies, and with them the need for a Planet X, vanished.[55] Today, the majority of scientists agree that Planet X, as Lowell defined it, does not exist.[56] Lowell had made a prediction of Planet X's orbit and position in 1915 that was fairly close to Pluto's actual orbit and its position at that time; Ernest W. Brown concluded soon after Pluto's discovery that this was a coincidence,[57] a view still held today.[55]"
And another popular reference:, which states, "Studies eventually showed that Pluto doesn't have the mass necessary to interfere with the orbits of Uranus and Neptune. The errors in calculation that helped lead to its discovery were later attributed to an incorrect mass estimate for Neptune, a value that was refined by NASA's Voyager 2 mission."

1000 pains = 1 Megahertz