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Report from SETIcon

by Brian Dunning, Jun 28 2012

Kepler orbiting observatory

Last weekend I had the great fortune to attend SETIcon II, probably the world’s foremost conference on space exploration. I met more astronauts than you can shake a stick at, top aerospace journalists, space entrepreneurs, astrobiologists and exobiologists doing cutting edge stuff, got all the latest news from the Kepler planet-finding satellite, slapped five with Bill Nye and Robert Picardo, and find out straight from the horse’s mouth what’s coming up next from the private sector that’s about to put people into orbit and onto Mars faster than any government space program. It was rocking. The panelists were terrific, and every single one of them had something new to share.

My overall impression of the conference? SETI has a branding problem. Continue reading…

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Why the US Can’t Get Astronauts Into Space

by Brian Dunning, Apr 19 2012

One thing that space enthusiasts keep hearing is frustration over why the Russians are the only ones able to launch people into space, forcing American and European astronauts to hitch rides.

Click to see full size

Attached is a chart I threw together showing the five major spacefaring powers (the US, Russia, ESA, Japan, and China) and their current heavy-lift capabilities, compared to the upcoming commercially developed Falcon Heavy from SpaceX. As you can see at a glance, the SpaceX craft has capabilities that far exceed those of anyone else. Continue reading…

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Four decades later: Failure is still not an option

by Phil Plait, Apr 14 2010

This week marks three related anniversaries.

April 12, 1961: Yuri Gagarin becomes the first man in space. That was 49 years ago.

April 14, 1970: An oxygen tank disrupts on Apollo 13, causing a series of catastrophic malfunctions that nearly leads to the deaths of the three astronauts. That was 40 years ago.

April 12, 1981: The first Space Shuttle, Columbia, launches into space. That was 29 years ago.

I wasn’t yet born when Gagarin flew, and I was still too young to appreciate what was happening on board Apollo as it flew helplessly around the Moon instead of landing on it. But I do remember breathlessly awaiting the Shuttle launch, and I remember thinking it would be the next phase in our exploration of space. I was still pretty young, and hadn’t thought it through, but I’m sure had you asked me I’d have said that this would lead to cheap, easy, and fast access to space, and by the time the 21st century rolled around we’d have space stations, more missions to the Moon, and maybe even to Mars.

Yeah, I hadn’t thought it through. Of all these anniversaries, that one is the least of the three we should celebrate.
Continue reading…

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Mall

by Phil Plait, Aug 05 2009

I wasn’t going to write about this, since it’s really just schadenfreude, but so many people have sent it to me via email I figure it’s touching on some level of skeptical consciousness.

sibrel_arrestedMoon hoax conspiracy promulgator, astronaut stalker, and Buzz Aldrin punching bag Bart Sibrel was recently arrested for vandalism. Apparently, someone took too long to get out of a parking space he wanted. He parked nearby, got out of his car, and then repeatedly jumped up and down on the offending car, doing over $1400 worth of damage.

Now, there is certainly a vast array of snark just quivering to be let loose here. Sibrel is largely responsible for the dumbosity of the Moon hoax still being around, and has used arguably slimy tactics to keep it so. He has lied about me, and still says things that are provably wrong even when I have told him to his face (well, over the radio) that they are factually wrong. Yet he keeps on saying them.

And, of course, there is the potentially huge ad hominem about a conspiracy theorist who goes ballistic over such a minor issue as a parking space. It’s certainly easy to assume he’s a nutsoid goofball who’s just a NASA photo away from losing it completely. But that should be avoided: I know I myself have daydreamed of what I would do to people who take too long to pull out of a parking space — generally at some point large electric shocks applied to delicate body parts are involved.

But the difference, of course, is in idly fantasizing about something versus actually doing it. The real irony here is that Sibrel’s Apollo claims are fantasy, and aimed against people who actually did do something.

So I won’t go out of my way to engage in beating this particular zombie horse. Instead I’ll let you idly daydream about it. Try not to write anything slanderous in the comments, but the best "parking space travel" joke will get the kudos of the Skepticblog community.

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Unidentified Frozen Objects

by Phil Plait, Jun 03 2009

Some UFO stories are sillier than others. Among the very silliest are claims that NASA not only has evidence that the Space Shuttle is buzzed by flying saucers, but that they have video of it and this video is commonly released by NASA.

OK, can we first screw our heads on straight here? If you’re claiming that astronauts routinely take video of alien spacecraft, and that NASA is desperately trying to cover them up, why in the frak would they release the video?

Hello, McFly? I mean, seriously?

Continue reading…

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From Distant Planets to the Deep Blue Sea

by Phil Plait, Mar 25 2009

I have long argued that not only should our government fund scientific research, we should demand it do so. I need not go into details — you can find my arguments here and here and here and especially here — but let me just say that science always pays off in the long run. Always. And many times in the short run as well.

Even in hard economic times, we have to fund research. If we don’t, we make things that much harder on ourselves later. Now please, don’t tell me we can’t afford anything for science, or that I’m asking too much. This argument is not so clearly black and white: I am not saying we can afford to fund everyone’s research at the levels we do during economic boom times, of course. But unless this country (and in fact the whole world) slides into a vast depression, then we certainly do need to keep some money flowing, even if only at a tighter level, into research. We don’t know what major advance will come out of some medical research, or engineering research, or even space research. So even if we restrict the flow, it’s important to keep at least some flow.

Continue reading…

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UK tabloids compete for fish wrappery

by Phil Plait, Feb 18 2009

Whenever I wonder if US news is the worst on the planet, I just need to look east, across the Atlantic, to be reassured that we have close competition. I swear, the UK newspaper The Mirror has a bet with The Sun to see which of them can have more ridiculous articles*.

The latest volley in this war is about (drum roll please): the Moon Hoax. Yes, The Mirror has discovered this 40 year old rotting piece of cabbage and is serving it up like a fine box wine. Breathlessly marked "EXCLUSIVE" — as if they are the first to have stumbled on this news — the article goes on and on about the usual tired and long, long-debunked claims of the Moon Hoax crowd.

Continue reading…

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