Ken Gibson

Chris Hallquist intrigued me with a recent post about the number of crazy people who think an armed revolution will be needed in the US in the next few years. I’ll ignore the horrible infographic he used at the start of the post for now since I’m currently more interested in his attitude toward such an armed rebellion against the government.

Chris suggests that these people (supposedly 29 percent of Americans) would be too busy getting ready to avoid or run from such a rebellion if they really believed it was coming soon. And I see his point. There are, after all, currently more than a million refugees fleeing Syria’s rebellion.

I’m certainly not in that 29 percent who thinks we will need (or be in) an armed rebellion any time soon (or, indeed, in my lifetime), but I would be one who would take up arms if needed rather than try to hide from the rebellion. Maybe that’s just my age talking. Rebellions tend to involve the young and the old. Those in the middle often have too much to lose.

Hmm, I guess that makes me quite selfish. I’d be pushing the rebellion along, dragging the young with me, who don’t realize the value of their own lives, while putting everyone else who doesn’t want to be involved in mortal danger. All for my high-minded ideals.

And if we win, the surviving young would build statues to assholes like me.

Yeah, that sounds nice. Just be sure to get my beard right.

Seriously, though, that’s my point. I’ve always supported the Second Amendment on the principle that, someday, citizens may need it to defend themselves from the government. I don’t own a gun, nor do I want to own a gun. In case you didn’t know, those things are dangerous!

Still, if the situation arose where I thought we needed to rebel against our government, that danger is a useful trait.

Yet in every rebellion I’ve ever studied, the vast majority of the population just wants to get away, or simply survive. It’s a small minority of the people actually fighting on either side of such a conflict. Most are just like Chris Hallquist, simply looking for a way to lay low until the conflict blows over one way or another.

Studying the American Revolution has made me realize how few people carried the population along towards war and how they used questionable morality and ethics to do so. Nelson Mandela, on the other hand, turned away from violent rebellion and successfully overthrew a well established and armed government using peaceful methods.

Is defending the Second Amendment just the selfish act of a minority of old assholes like me with grand notions of a just armed rebellion? Have I now lost so much of my libertarian ideals that I can’t even muster the strength to defend the Second Amendment anymore?

Come on. The readers on this site should be able to reason some sense back into me. Give it a shot. Or maybe I just need to dig out some of the Heinlein books I read too often as a kid. I just have to avoid picking up that copy of Forever War from the same box.

I’ve read several articles about the Texas school district being sued for their policy of forcing students to use an ID card embedded with “tracking” technology. The religious freedom angle seems dubious at best (though in Texas you never can tell), but I was surprised by the number of people worried about technology to “track” school children and the supposed dangers of the technology. I’d like to demonstrate how such concerns are overstated with this particular system.

Most of the people discussing this issue seem to have little to no understanding of this technology, so I’m going to try to clear things up a little from the technical perspective and explain how this is a very poor tracking system at best.

The ID cards in question contain an RFID chip, which is an acronym for Radio Frequency ID. There are several different flavors of RFID, and most people have interacted with it in one of several forms for many years now. The most common use over recent decades has been for product theft detection using a simple passive one-bit RFID circuit.

OK, I’ll try to explain what a “passive one-bit RFID circuit” actually is. First let’s cover the “RFID” part.

It’s a simple (yet ingenious) electronic circuit which has a couple of capabilities. At a minimum an RFID chip must have circuitry to store some information in binary format (zeros and ones or possibly just a single “on/off” state), and contain a two-way radio of some kind, including an antenna.

There are active and passive RFID systems. An active RFID uses some sort of power source directly attached to the circuit (such as a battery) to power the circuitry. A passive RFID contains no local power source. Instead it uses the energy in the radio waves coming from the radio transceiver in the reader. That’s the ingenious part in my opinion. As you can imagine, that’s a very tiny amount of power to work with, so passive systems have extremely limited range.  The range of such passive systems can be from a few inches to several yards depending upon the size of the receiving antenna in the reader and the sensitivity of the receiving radio and its ability to discern signal from noise. But it’s mainly all about the size of the receiving antenna.

That’s why there is a large pair of antennae not too far apart near the exit doors of stores which use passive RFID systems for theft control. If the circuit is in an on state, the RFID circuit responds telling the alarm to sound. The circuit can be switched to an off state using the pad on the checkout counter.

By adding to the complexity (and cost) of the circuit, you can store and transmit more than just an on/off state. The more you store and transmit, the more complexity, so most systems just store enough binary information for a short unique ID number.

Most people use an active RFID system when traveling on tollways. The transceiver stuck to your windshield is an active RFID system. Because it uses a battery, it has a much longer range (dozens of yards when combined with large antennae around the toll plazas). That RFID contains a unique ID number which the tollway authority uses to associate with your car and payment information in a database.

Anyone who has been issued a company ID card with and RFID chip used as a key is familiar with the type of chip used in the school district. It’s a passive system (no battery in the card) and the range primarily depends upon the size of the antenna in the reader. If it’s a small antenna (like the one in the block next to the door you need to unlock), you need to get the card very close for the system to work. That’s why you need to do the Backwards Door Jump to get your card to work while it’s still in your back pocket. It stores an ID number which the database associates with your credentials (such as which doors you should be able to unlock).

If you increase the size of the antenna, you can get the system to work at longer ranges (in the several feet to several yard range before the size of the antenna becomes ridiculous).

So, what does this mean to our school children?

First of all, it’s not like a GPS tracker on your phone. The RFID chip has no clue where it is. The only way it can be used for tracking purposes is by setting up a series of readers and sorting through the data collected to find time stamps for when the chip passed near enough to a reader to communicate. In school I could see where you could place readers at every door to actually track students as they passed through them. If a student were, however, kidnapped, there would be no way to find them unless you managed to get within a few yards of them, and they still carried their ID card.

You wouldn’t even be able to ask the tollway system to look for them since they are only designed to work with the active RFID chips. You just couldn’t reasonably get a big enough antenna to be able to activate the passive chip and actually read the ID in a car passing at a high speed.

I haven’t found anywhere just how the system is being deployed at the schools in question, but I did see they implemented it so they could know when a student was in the building, but wasn’t recorded as being in attendance in a particular class for the purposes of getting federal money. (I guess they get money for the student being in the building no matter where the student is.) They don’t even need to track students within the building, so I suspect they didn’t go to the expense of setting up readers at every door to do so. Placing one at each entrance to the building would do the trick.

Secondly, the RFID chips contain no personal information themselves. If someone were to query that chip by using a portable reader, which they would need to do from a very close range (a few feet unless they carried around a huge antenna), they would simply get a number. To parlay that into a home address, for example, they would need to hack into the school database. Of course if someone did that, they would have every student’s home address and ID numbers. I’m not sure why anyone would first want to read the RFID or how that could be used by an Evil Person out to do evil to the student.

I suppose there could be some student hijinks by creating duplicate ID cards (you can order programmable RFID cards and the radios to read/program them for only a few hundred dollars), but I don’t see how a sexual predator, for example, could use RFIDs for tracking or identifying victims.

Do I like the idea of being tracked? No. I have often discussed the pros/cons of systems which can be combined to create tracking information (such as the tollway RFIDs) with my students. But that’s another topic for another time. I see no reasonable way such a system could be used to track students outside of the school.

For homework, I’d like you to think about the number of RFID chips you have. ID card from your employer? Library card? Tollway box in your car? Public transit card? Are you eager to have a Near Field Communication system in your next phone? (That’s just another RFID standard.)

Did you remember to add your car keys to that list? Most automotive keys have an RFID chip in them which your car talks to when you put it in the ignition. If you want to test that, wrap the top part of your key tightly in aluminum foil, sealing it as best you can around the base, then try to start your car.

I wonder if that student in Texas ever plans on owning a modern car…

Could we be seeing the start of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation?

A new space startup company, Planetary Resources, claims they “will overlay two critical sectors — space exploration and natural resources“. That sounds like space mining! And it’s not just a bunch of nuts I’ve never heard of backing this idea. The investors include Ross Perot Jr., Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page and Google chairman Eric Schmidt, James Cameron and Microsoft billionaire Charles Simonyi.
One of the classic memes in science fiction is the exploitation of resources beyond Earth, and in particular asteroid mining. We know there are valuable minerals to be mined just sitting around on rocks with orbits not too distant from Earth.
There is platinum, cobalt, gold, cobalt, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, osmium, palladium, platinum, rhenium, rhodium, ruthenium, tungsten, and more, just waiting to be picked up and flung back towards Earth.
And let’s not forget hydrogen and oxygen which is cheap on Earth, but expensive to put up into space. It would be much easier to fling those elements down into Earth orbit than to haul them up from the surface because of the deep gravity well we sit at the bottom of. Those two elements are very valuable as propulsion and already having them up in orbit would reduce the cost of rocket travel beyond Earth orbit enormously.
And I do mean “fling”. Asteroids don’t have a huge mass like a planet the size of Earth does, so it’s easy to get some of that mass away from them. In other words, the gravity well they sit at the bottom of isn’t very deep. In fact, it’s barely more than a rim. We would have more trouble keeping things on the surface of an asteroid than getting them off.
Since we are just talking about minerals or elements, and nothing that is living, a gentle change in velocity, called delta-v, will start any container slowly on its way down towards Earth, which sits at the bottom of a much larger gravity well. With a very precise push, you can expect the containers to either park themselves in Earth orbit, or even into a trajectory that would drop them down onto Earth for recovery, all with that initial push.
This is some very exciting news for space buffs and old kids like me who read all about such operations in science fiction novels. As a kid I just assumed that, by now, I would be working and living in space, yet commercialization of space has been nothing more than a pipe dream until recently.
But dream no more. Space-X corporation is scheduled to launch the first commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station on April 30th on a rocket they are designing to be man-certified. Spaceport America is a facility in New Mexico that is specifically designed for commercial space operations including facilities for the tourists Virgin Galactic will be flying into space (although not into orbit yet). Bigelow Aerospace is working on the old NASA inflatable space habitat concept, and expects to use the services of Space-X not only to launch the stations, but to supply crew and supplies. They plan on renting them out to nations or companies that can’t afford to build and launch their own stations.
Asteroid mining, however, is one of the great dreams of space commercialization. The potential for profit is huge, and so are the risks, but it represents a major milestone in man reaching for the stars. The reach this time is not just for exploration and knowledge, but for profit.
In Robert Heinlein’s classic story The Man Who Sold the Moon, the main character recognized that space travel would never become common until people could make money from the venture. He hid some diamonds on a flight to the moon so he could convince people it would be worth going back. In the case of asteroids, we already know the valuable materials to be harvested. It’s just a matter of having the technology to go out there so they can be tossed back to Earth.
If any space miners go along to repair the equipment, I just hope they remember to never, under any circumstances, look into a slimy alien egg as it it opening up. Even with a helmet on, that just never goes well in the end.

What a friggin’ waste of my time! It’s now 6:22 pm local time and still no Rapture. It was supposed to start at 6:00 pm and I was all ready for it. I had my camera with a basic theodolite setup, and pointing directly towards a local church. Being in a typical American city, there are churches every few blocks, of course, so I was ready to slew the camera towards at least one more church as well.

After all, there must be at least some of the pastors and priests or nuns who would get the final calling.
By getting a few directional and angle fixes, plus knowing the distances to the churches, I should have been able to calculate the precise direction of Heaven. At just before 6:04 local time I thought I saw something and took my first fix.
Rapture Photo_003.JPG
It turned out to be nothing but a bird landing in that tree on the left.
Talk about crappy luck. I had the equipment and procedure all setup and ready for a major discovery and nothing happens but a bird landing on a tree.
Update at 9:11 pm

In an effort to keep you up-to-date, Windypundit has sent its spy satellite (WindySat) to check out the Abbottabad compound in Pakistan to see if we could spot the downed Black Hawk helicopter. Sure enough! There it is. That black “X” shaped object to the left of the building.

OK, I admit it. WindySat is down for repairs so I had to get this from GeoEye.
Still, pretty cool…

Yes, the Wicked Witch is dead.

The world is certainly a better place without Osama Bin Laden in it.

I would have preferred that Bin Laden had been captured and put on trial, but I suppose he had no intention of allowing that to happen. A capture and trial would have highlighted the difference between vendetta and justice. It also would have softened the inevitable images of Americans celebrating.

I feel satisfaction, not joy, at Bin Laden’s death. Crowds of Americans exalting in celebration over the death of an enemy is predictable, and even understandable, on some level. Despite this, all I can think of when seeing such displays is the footage of extremists around the world celebrating like fools the death of thousands on 9/11. I despised them for celebrating death.

It would have been nice to think that Americans were better than that, but I suppose a mob is a mob, no matter how enlightened the individuals.

Update: Damn. Now I can’t get that blasted song out of my head…

It was produced in Area 51 by the aliens who are taking over the world by using the UN to destroy democracy in an evil plot that is being fought against by agents of the Pope who is using the Democratic Party to shift Papal agents into the United States as illegal Mexicans so he can surround Area 51 in Nevada and bring the green alien menace to an end using his Papal brown aliens in a coordinated plan which is itself being thwarted by Obama, who himself is one of these aliens, which is why all of his documents are false and why he spent $20 million to hide them, which are actually stored in Area 51 which Jan Brewer knows about, but she is afraid to do anything about, since she knows how powerful the green aliens are and is afraid of them, but has been duped into stopping the brown aliens being brought in by the Pope because she is just a pawn being used by both sides.

You are all sheeple because you can’t see something so obvious as this.

Now, where’s my goal-post shovel?

Here’s a fun fact:

The free market, combined with poorly written computer algorithms, means you might have to pay $23,698,655.93 (plus $3.99 shipping) for a book about flies at Amazon. Read all about it at Michael Eisen’s blog it is NOT junk.

For those of you not familiar with it, allow me to fill you in on the details about this annual event called “Easter”. Easter is a series of rituals celebrating the Great Jewish Zombie Uprising of 33 A.D. That uprising is described in one of the Holy Books of the followers of the Great Zombie Jesus. The Book called Mathew, chapter 27, verses 51-53 recounts:

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

The culminating event of this weekend uprising was their leader Jesus himself rising from his grave to lead his army into the city of Jerusalem in an effort to rebuild their ancient temple which had previously been destroyed. The followers of the Great Zombie Jesus refer to him as the “Messiah” which is an ancient Hebrew word for “Great Warrior” and “King of Kings”. He was believed to be a direct descendant of a previous warrior, credited with leading great bloody battle campaigns, called David.

The army of zombies, lead by this messianic zombie warrior Jesus, was driven back by the valiant Roman soldiers protecting the good people of Jerusalem. The Zombie Temple was not restored, and no one has heard from Jesus and his zombie army since that fateful weekend in Jerusalem.

Zombie cults, however, don’t die out easily, as is evidenced by the many incarnations of Resident Evil. Despite the defeat of Zombie Jesus and his Army of Zombies, his followers kept the idea alive that someday, he would rise again, leading a new army of two hundred million to destroy not just Jerusalem, but one third of the entire human population. From the Book Revelations, chapter 9, verses 13-17:

Then the sixth angel sounded: And I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released to kill a third of mankind. Now the number of the army of the horsemen was two hundred million; I heard the number of them. And thus I saw the horses in the vision: those who sat on them had breastplates of fiery red, hyacinth blue, and sulfur yellow; and the heads of the horses were like the heads of lions; and out of their mouths came fire, smoke, and brimstone.

The modern Zombie Worshipers of today are still hoping for this apocalypse, and pray for the day that the Great Zombie Jesus will wreak his vengeance upon the people of Earth. To this end, they practice a variety of strange rituals which are supposed to help bring this destruction about. It’s no surprise that one of these zombie rituals involves symbolic cannibalism, whereby they drink red wine and eat bread which they believe has been magically transformed into actual human blood and human flesh. If you sneak into one of their temples, you can actually see them stand in line, eager to rip into bits and pieces of what they believe to be the zombie leader Jesus.

Another disturbing ritual is the coloration of dead chicken embryos which are hidden all about by adults. Cult members think that these embryos will hatch into undead chickens, recreating the Great Jewish Zombie Uprising on a smaller scale. With chickens.

Undead chickens.

They send their children out to find and retrieve these dead embryos, counting them up. If the number of embryos retrieved is less than the number hidden, it’s proof that at least some undead chickens were hatched, and that the power of the zombie Jesus is still strong. Special clothing is often purchased just for these events.

Anthropologists believe this particular tradition was started when the zombie followers believed that rabbits were actually undead chickens. The rapid increase in the number of rabbits was credited to the hatching of the dead chicken embryos.

After the ritual of the Hidden Embryos, zombie worshipers usually hold a feast where they roast the largest short pig they can find, which is the closest they can legally get to roasting long pig and eating of their flesh. Since the quality isn’t as good, they make up for it in quantity, often roasting enough meat for several meals. Eventually, sated on short pig, they doze off dreaming of zombie uprisings.

The truly amazing thing is that, except when playing hide and seek with chicken embryos in the bushes, these cult members manage to fit in surprisingly well into modern society. Yes, it’s likely you may even know one of these cult members yourself! Perhaps you stood next to one in the grocery line. You may even work next to one without even realizing.

Just like the zombies they worship, zombie followers are harmless individually or even in small numbers. A small chainsaw, or a simple katana hiding behind a nearby drainpipe in your local shopping mall, will dispatch a few zombies, or zombie sympathizers, quickly and easily. They know this as well which is why you can safely have lunch with them in the cafeteria without being worried about their cannibalistic urges.

Zombie worshipers are only dangerous in large hordes. Once they are in large enough groups to form a voting bloc, they turn on you and try to eat the brains of your children. Fortunately for mankind, the cult, over the course of 2000 years, has split into smaller warring sects, limiting their ability to form into large hordes.

So, on this Easter Day in 2011, feel free to partake in some of these quaint customs of this unusual group. Maybe color and hide some embryos of your own, or steal some of the hidden embryos you find, throwing off the count of the zombie worshipers. Roast up a nice pig and stuff yourself to the gills (or whatever part of your throat is a remnant of when your ancestors had gills) and laze around for the afternoon.

Just make sure you keep an eye on how many zombie followers may be around you. The difference between a “group” and a “horde” is often not easy to discern. Have fun today, but remember to play it safe and always know where the nearest shopping mall is in your area.

Everyone is all aflutter about the news that Steve Jobs knows where you have been. Since that Earth-shattering bit of news, a lot of bloggers and reporters have pointed out how other software within the iPhone can do the same thing without the user realizing it, and how the Android devices do this as well. Greg Laden has a good summary of these articles in his post iKnowwhatyoudidlastsummer.

To be blunt, people being tracked in their everyday lives is nothing particularly new. I’m happy that this has made a splash in the mass media since it’s a situation that has been increasing in prevalence without major notice until now. When I teach IT security, I always spend some time covering privacy issues as well, and have discussed tracking issues regularly for fifteen years now.

A common thought problem I would often give to my students is to plan a cross country road trip in such a way that they could not be tracked. Fifteen years ago this was an interesting problem that forced people to think about how they interacted with a variety of databases. Today, it’s a more difficult proposition to even accomplish.

Even before the advent of modern smart phones, people have been automatically tracked. When you use your debit or credit card, the bank has a primitive tracking record of your movements. The more you use it, the better the tracking. So, before leaving on a hypothetical un-tracked trip, you need to remember to leave these cards at home. You will need to work with cash. If you don’t want to tip your bank off to your trip, you need to collect the cash in advance, a little at a time. It may also be a good idea to give your cards to a trusted friend so there is local activity on them while you are away, electronically geo-tagging you to your home town.

You can’t just leave your smart phone at home; you will need to leave any cell phone behind. Cell phones have been tracked since the very first cell phone. Cell phones work by having the towers (and thus cell companies) track the phones. When you first turn on your phone, it sends a message out. Any nearby towers receive that signal, which then talk to a computer at the company. The tower with the strongest signal (as well as reasonably bandwidth, consistent signal, and other factors) will be granted sole authority over your phone. This process is periodically repeated in case you move. The cell company must always know which tower to direct a call through to get to your phone.

Ten years ago the cell companies swore to us on a stack of their own quarterly reports that this tracking data was not stored in any reasonably permanent way due to the amount of data and cost of storage. I haven’t heard much about this as the cost of storage has plummeted, but I was always leery of the argument since it was based upon no compression of data that is easily compressed anyway. After 9/11 there was a lot of discussion about phone companies not destroying data that had been previously been destroyed. The problem now, of course, is finding out what data is actually stored today since that information is considered national security.

The difference with a modern smart phone is the introduction of a GPS chip that can provide better accuracy of your location. Still, accuracy of tower-only location services has gotten so good that several years ago governments began requiring cell phone companies to upgrade all of their towers so they can triangulate your position (using signals from multiple towers) to better coordinate emergency response when you call 911. While this works great when you get into an accident and want the government to find you, but it also means you can be tracked at all times to a surprising level of accuracy.

So, you will need to stop your phone from even communicating with a cell tower even if it’s not a smart GPS-enabled phone. You can turn it off, but I never trust computers that have to monitor for a key press to be truly “off”. You can remove the battery (assuming that’s an easy thing to do). You could tightly wrap the phone in aluminum foil, then drop it in a Mylar bag. Or, I suppose, you could drop it in a river and walk away, which is probably the most satisfying way to stop a cell phone from tracking you.

Now, ready for your trip? Not quite yet.

Does your car have a tracking device and cell phone secretly stashed away behind a door panel? If it does, it may not mean you have an enemy agent in a black helicopter tracking your every move, it may just mean you have OnStar, or a similar system, installed by the auto manufacturer. That system is, basically, a tracking device attached to a cell phone integrated with your car’s computer system. You should be able to locate the fuse which powers that module and remove it, or, if you are really paranoid, dismantle the panel it’s mounted under and chuck it into the same river as your cell phone.

Now it’s time to plan your route, and this is where things get complex.

If you live in a major city, especially Chicago or London, it can be difficult to find a route out of town where your license plate will not be recorded as you pass through an intersection. Many early red-light cameras would only take pictures when triggered by sensors, yet simple observation shows that such sensors are often triggered even when no one is running a light, such as when people turn right on red, or go over a sensor when turning left. In addition to that, many intersections now have cameras that simply record all traffic flow at all times. You need to avoid all such intersections.

The camera problem is made worse by projects such as the Chicago OEMC initiative which links private cameras into the Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications system for recording and monitoring. Even if you trust that your local 7-11 will destroy its security recordings, those same recordings may be saved by the government automatically.

On your trip toll roads, obviously, are a very bad idea. Even if you threw your toll authority Radio Frequency ID transceiver into the same river after your cell phone, cameras record every license plate passing through every toll plaza. By the way, if you ever want to prove your spouse was cheating on you, or they are a bad parent by working too late, you can subpoena their toll records for evidence.

Off the toll ways (and major expressways which may have traffic cameras, though the older systems don’t have the resolution for picking up license plates), you need to be careful about any city, town or county you pass through with cameras. They are now so prevalent, you most likely need to do scouting trips to find a clear route.

Once you have arrived, you may be able to walk around anonymously for now. If it’s in a big city, you can leave your car somewhere (Where? That’s another problem) and use taxis. At the moment you don’t really have to worry about automatic facial identification too much. While the technology is certainly impressive, unless someone has a good picture of your face and is specifically looking for you, such system won’t be a help. They can find matches for specific people, but, as of yet, can’t just identify all people passing in front of them.

One last piece of advice is to make sure you don’t use your supermarket loyalty card when buying an apple in your destination city. Of course loyalty cards are a whole new privacy problem in themselves.

Ready for the return trip or do you just want to follow your cell phone into the river?

Yesterday NASA awarded development grants to four corporations for development of human-rated space transportation systems (spaceships). Here are the big winners:

$22 million went to Blue Origin, best known for its intricately detailed corporate logo (as well as its founder, Jeff Bezos of fame) which has a creative vertical take-off and landing system which is very science-fictiony, called New Shepard, which they plan on ramping up from a sub-orbital launch vehicle into a full-scale orbital system.

$80 million goes to Sierra Nevada Corporation for their Dream Chaser vehicle, which is kind of a small space shuttle that doesn’t need a custom launch system.

$92.3 million is slated for Boeing, the company that a few short years ago was claiming that space transportation systems could never be privatized and could only work when on a cost-plus government contract. (To be fair, they blew a lot of money a decade or so ago when they did R&D on a system that never got off the ground, so management was understandable gun-shy.) They changed their mind when they found out they could get grants for developing a new system and saw that other companies were already taking the lead. They have an impressive 7-man crew capsule based on the concept of scaling up older, proven designs.

$75 million for SpaceX, which has been in the news a lot lately for their very cool and successful launches of their Falcon series of vehicles. Unlike the other firms, SpaceX is keeping their efforts very much in the public view, which is kid of gutsy. Brand new rocket systems fail on their debut launch 40% of the time, but the Falcon 9 had two successful launches in a row. That’s pretty exciting in itself. They plan on mating that to their Dragon 7-man capsule for a complete system. The other designs mentioned here will rely upon an existing launch system (such as a human-flight certified verson of the Atlas booster), but SpaceX is counting on having a totally new system which is engineered with efficiency and safety in mind from the start.

In September they plan on launching another Falcon 9 with test satellites which will approach the International Space Station, followed quickly a month later with their first actual cargo delivery to the station.

Notable in its absence is any money for the joint Liberty project from ATK (which makes the Space Shuttle solid rocket boosters) and Arianespace which would have placed the European Ariane 5 booster on top of an extended Shuttle SRB. The basic idea there was to take two very proven technologies and marry them into a vehicle that could launch humans into orbit. I had been figuring them as a shoe-in for some of this second round of financing from NASA because of that. Maybe they can still get some private financing to keep this interesting project going. They plan on proceeding with development even without NASA money.

Overall I’m please that this part of the Augustine Commission’s plan is coming along. When the Shuttle Transportation System was conceived it was pitched as a “space truck” idea. The Shuttle was meant to have a fast turn-around, and be cheap to operate. In reality it was just too complex to accomplish such goals. The reason NASA had to try was that no one else in the world was capable of attempting such a system. Much has been learned operating the system, and the knowledge has been passed into the marketplace.

The comparison used to support privatization of launch-to-orbit systems is that of the early days of aviation. To help spur the commercial aircraft industry, the US government guaranteed contracts in the form of air mail so that companies knew they would have a customer. In the same way, NASA is now guaranteeing future contracts to deliver supplies and crews to low Earth orbit.

I honestly think that private companies can now take up the reigns of operating a space trucking company. NASA can get back to focusing on what it is best at, which is doing things that have never been done before, like figuring out how to make CB radios work across interplanetary distances.

It’s a gray, rainy day in Chicago and somehow that’s fitting my mood right now. Elisabeth Sladen (aka Sarah Jane Smith) died after a battle with cancer today.

As a kid I had a crush on Sarah Jane. Heck, I had a crush on her as an adult when I saw her again in the new Doctor Who series just a few years back. I understand an actress is not the character she plays, yet I can’t help feeling a loss even though I know little about Elisabeth Sladen. The character she portrayed was an intelligent, energetic and outgoing woman who could hold her own with various incarnations of The Doctor. It was hard not to admire her.

Rounding out the day’s triple header of space related topics, I’d like to point you to the post MOON ARTS, PART ONE by Claire L. Evans. I’ve heard many, many little known anecdotes about the American space program, yet both of the stories there had managed to evade my notice until now.

(I suppose that link MAY be considered Not Safe for Work by some puritanical standards.)