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Submission + - The New Era in Space Access (

YIAAL writes: Writing in Popular Mechanics, Rand Simberg reports from the Space Access Society conference, and writes that the new era in space access is starting:

The era is being ushered in by a radical (at least to many) change in space policy by the Obama administration. It is not, as many in the media, and even in Congress have mistakenly and even hysterically characterized it, an "abandonment" of human spaceflight, or a "surrender" to the Chinese or Russians (pick your paranoia). Indeed, that is a bizarre interpretation of a plan that includes the extension of the International Space Station to 2020, and likely beyond; the acceleration and encouragement, with billions of dollars, of near-term commercial human spaceflight; and the development of the myriad technologies required to get humans to the moon, the asteroids and ultimately to Mars and its moons. Rather, it is a recognition that, half a century after the beginning of the space efforts, it has become a technologically mature (in performance and reliability, if not in cost) endeavor, and that NASA should shift its focus from the mundane task of getting people a couple hundred miles up into low Earth orbit, to the much more challenging issues of how to get them beyond, letting private industry pick up the slack, as they've done for the delivery of multi-hundred-million-dollar satellites for a couple of decades now.

Simberg says that there's much more enthusiasm from space activists and space entrepreneurs than most media coverage of the new Obama policy has recognized.


Submission + - Virgin Galactic Spaceship the Tip of The Iceberg (

YIAAL writes: The Virgin Galactic Spaceship Two rollout got a fair amount of attention, but Rand Simberg, writing in Popular Mechanics, says it's just the beginning:

Despite all of the Virgin-focused hoopla, there is a lot more going on in Mojave these days than just Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites. And even for those two companies, there is more to space going on in Mojave than suborbital tourism. . . . XCOR Aerospace, located next door to one of Scaled's hangars, continues to develop its own suborbital tourist vehicle, the Lynx. While it won't initially get all the way to the 62-mile altitude considered to be the threshold of space, it will still allow long weightless periods for its passenger and a smaller experiment, with the opportunity to go higher and longer with follow-on versions. Meanwhile, just a couple of blocks down the road, Masten Space Systems, fresh off its recent surprise win over Texas' Armadillo Aerospace in the Northrop Grumman Lunar Landing Challenge, plans to start flying to altitudes far beyond the meager few hundred feet needed to win that prize. According to business development manager Michael Mealling, "about half of next year's flights will be in the 1500- to 10,000-foot range. Toward the end of the year we'll be breaking through the 100,000-foot [about 20 miles, or about a third of the altitude needed for official spaceflight] barrier."

Are we seeing a critical mass of innovative space companies, something like the explosion of computer companies in the mid-1970s? Let's hope it's similarly fruitful.

Submission + - Budget Problems Produce Useful Ferment at NASA (

YIAAL writes: Writing on the Popular Mechanics website, Rand Simberg reports from the Space 2009 conference. While NASA's plans for a heavy lift vehicle are looking ever more tenuous, previously excluded players are coming forward with genuinely creative — and commercially oriented — ideas that will do more for less.

ULA's plan is to develop propellant depots, lunar injection stages, and lunar landers derived from the existing Delta IV and Atlas V launchers, and to launch all the pieces with those vehicles (or perhaps slightly larger versions of them). The proposed lunar lander has dual-axis thrusters, allowing it to use main propulsion vertically for most of the descent, and then rotate for a horizontal landing. This puts the astronauts much closer to the lunar surface for safer entry and exits. The depots are placed in low Earth orbit and in the Earth-moon Lagrange point L2. ULA claims that their plan will provide a robust launch architecture, with two human-rated vehicles (rather than depending on one, as NASA has with the shuttle, and with its plans for Ares I) . . . . These ideas, from "A Commercially Based Lunar Architecture," one of the ULA papers, would have been heretical a few months ago . . . These papers may well mark the final nails in the Ares and Constellation coffin, signaling that this fall could see yesterday's heresy become tomorrow's new conventional wisdom.

Will these new ideas catch on? Or will NASA defend existing rice bowls to the end?


Submission + - Interview: Hugo Award Winner John Scalzi (

YIAAL writes: "In this television interview, Hugo award winner John Scalzi, author of Old Man's War and Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded, talks about the state of science fiction, why Robert Heinlein's teenage protagonists are better than J.D. Salinger's, and the importance of apocalyptic fiction in encouraging people to retain some actual skills. Plus, Star Trek design critique. Money quote: "All Holden Caulfield did was bitch, bitch, bitch. Put him behind the controls of a starship and he'd implode from stress.""

Submission + - Bob Zubrin on Breaking OPEC with FlexFuels (

YIAAL writes: Bob Zubrin — probably better known to Slashdot readers for as President of the Mars Society and inventor of the Mars Direct mission architecture — has turned his sights to energy with a new book, Energy Victory: Winning the War on Terror by Breaking Free of Oil. Zubrin's plan isn't especially driven by new technology — instead he calls for a requirement that all new cars sold in the United States be flexfuel vehicles capable of running on gasoline, ethanol, or methanol in any combination. That technology already exists, and Zubrin says it would cost about $100 per vehicle to deploy. This would create competition among fuels and fuel producers, and allow alternative fuels to compete without having to set up a nationwide infrastructure of pumps and stations. (Plus, you can make methanol out of kudzu.) Zubrin is interviewed here on the book, and here's an article about his plan from The Register, and another item from MSNBC's Alan Boyle. Zubrin makes a strong argument, and it would be nice to see people asking the Presidential candidates about his plan.

Submission + - A Legal Analysis of the Sony BMG Rootkit Debacle

YIAAL writes: "Two lawyers from the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology look at the Sony BMG Rootkit debacle: "The Article first addresses the market-based rationales that likely influenced Sony BMG's deployment of these DRM systems and reveals that even the most charitable interpretation of Sony BMG's internal strategizing demonstrates a failure to adequately value security and privacy. After taking stock of the then-existing technological environment that both encouraged and enabled the distribution of these protection measures, the Article examines law, the third vector of influence on Sony BMG's decision to release flawed protection measures into the wild, and argues that existing doctrine in the fields of contract, intellectual property, and consumer protection law fails to adequately counter the technological and market forces that allowed a self-interested actor to inflict these harms on the public." Yes, under "even the most charitable interpretation" it was a lousy idea. The article also suggests some changes to the DMCA to protect consumers from this sort of intrusive, and security-undermining, technique in the future."

Submission + - U.N. Moving to Take Over the Internet? (

YIAAL writes: Claudia Rosett reports on the Internet Governance Forum in Rio de Janeiro to the effect that the United Nations is looking "to confiscate management of the World Wide Web and turn it over to the same grand conclave of UN potentates whose members include the web-censoring likes of dissident-jailing China, monk-murdering Burma, terrorist-sponsoring bomb-making Iran, and 2008 members-elect of the Security Council, Libya and Vietnam." Sounds bad. Proceedings are being webcast at this link, so you can watch and make up your own mind.

Submission + - Mandatory Keyloggers in Mumbai's Cyber Cafes

YIAAL writes: Indian journalist Amit Varma reports that Mumbai's police are requiring Internet cafes to install keystroke loggers, which will capture every keystroke by users and turn that information over to the government. Buy things online, and the underpaid Indian police will have your credit card number. "Will these end up getting sold in a black market somewhere? Not unlikely."
The Media

Submission + - James Lileks on Videogame Addiction (

YIAAL writes: We're hearing more talk about videogame addiction again, but Star-Tribune columnist James Lileks isn't having any of it: "If everyone who was addicted to games spent six hours in front of the TV every night, what would we call them? Right: normal. . . . Every kid has a misfit stage, unless they're a pearly-toothed Class President type. Every kid spends some time in a fantasy world. In the 50s they worried terribly about comic books, and the effect they had on tender minds; kids were getting hooked on the gore and horror. It's always something. The difference today: we develop names and syndromes and diagnoses, which somehow makes basic human behavior seem like a mechanism we can fine-tune back to perfection." How about less social-engineering and more leaving people alone?

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