Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Martian BLT

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

A fish tank brimming with urine is the first thing you see when you enter Jens Hauslage’s cramped office at the German space agency, DLR, near Cologne. It sits on a shelf by his desk, surrounded by the usual academic clutter of books, charts and scientific papers.

Rising from the centre of the tank are two transparent plastic cylindrical columns – around a metre in height. Spreading from the top of each tube is a bushy, healthy-looking tomato plant with green leaves, flowers and even a few bright red tomatoes.


“Are they edible?” I ask, half expecting to be told to stay well clear.

“Sure,” says Hauslage, a plant physiologist, casually twisting one of the tomatoes from its stem and handing over the euro-sized fruit.

I put it in my mouth. To be brutally honest, it’s not the nicest tomato I have ever tried: the skin is a little tough and the taste is slightly bitter. But it is, nevertheless, a healthy, edible tomato.

Despite Jeffersonian’s observation that gowing potatoes on Mars, in addition to feeding the Space Pigs, will result in Martian Tater-Tots wrapped in bacon, we humans require other nutrients. I’ve grown lettuce, and it’s not at all hard, so Martian BLTs are now possible.


Besides, the only two things I know how to do with urine are to either pour it down the drain/toilet or to set it out in shallow pans to evaporate the water so you can use the remainder to make black powder. And I don’t think that there will be much call for 18th Century musketry on the Red Planet.

One More for Dinner

Monday, March 13th, 2017

On a clear evening this past June, in rural Collier County, Florida, an endangered panther crossed a street and was hit by a man driving home. The driver, making out a tawny, crumpled form, called a hotline. The job of retrieving the animal fell to Mark Lotz, a panther biologist with the state Fish and Wildlife Commission. Lotz called me to see if I wanted to come.

I had flown into Fort Lauderdale at the beginning of the week, renting a car and heading west across the state through what remains of primordial wetlands. Tall metal fences flanked the road, like a dull, gray hermetic seal meant to keep human traffic in and wildlife out. The fences are just one of many measures to protect fewer than 180 Florida panthers alive today, all of them in the state’s southern tip.

Many more people love these rare, elusive creatures than have ever seen one. Schoolchildren voted it Florida’s official state animal, and the Miami area’s NHL team is the Florida Panthers.

(ASIDE: The whole article is suffused with the sort of smug superiority that was one of the factors that drove my move to Florida. Along with the anti-gun attitudes of my soi-disant Betters. Pah on all of them.)

OK, first some reality: the panther’s current range is some 125 miles from where I’m sitting. Additionally, the area in which I live is “built up” (snerk) enough that rabbits and toads (to name just two critters) are rarely seen on the blocks around my house. They’re around to be sure, they just don’t cross several streets to get here on any ongoing basis.

Anyway, back to the Urban Superiority:

By the time Europeans arrived, the only big feline stalking most of North America was the puma, an animal that goes by many other regional names—panther, cougar, mountain lion, catamount. Pumas had emerged in the Brazilian highlands some 300,000 years ago, crossing northward through Central America. In that end-Pleistocene extinction, they were wiped out in North America, genetic evidence suggests. So they did it all over again, crossing back from South America and eventually colonizing 100 degrees of latitude from Patagonia to Yukon.

In ur woods, eeting ur cows.

Florida faces a challenge. It has already pulled panthers back from the brink of immediate extinction. But to really preserve them, it needs to knit together enough public and private territory to sustain their population, and it needs to keep them off the roads. And somehow, Floridians need to accept a large predator not just as a hockey team mascot but as something you might find on your back porch.

FOAD, you smug b@$t@rd. Not only are there creatures that one simply doesn’t find in Central Park, they tend to grow a lot bigger because it doesn’t get below freezing very often, and everyone keeps running around all-year ’round.

As it is, I ended up with Agent Orange because I was trying to feed and adopt a kitten that was hanging out in the back yard. She decided that this was a Good Thing and has become friendly such that she regards the place as hers, even though she wants no part of being inside (I’m sure that Deathwalker’s habit of sticking his nose up her butt almost to the shoulder blades has nothing to do with that, heh). Since then, I’ve acquired two more orange cats who have had some regular human contact at some point, so they don’t mind me petting them. They are also talkative, another sign of being with humans. Along with them, there are at least two other cats who wander through and scarf up whatever leftovers that the Orange Trio leave behind.

For those of you just tuning in, one of the markers of Felinidae is just how similar they all are. Some purr, others don’t. Some hang out in groups, others are solitary, but there are certain behaviors and habits that persist no matter where (or who) they happen to be. Since it only took about two months for the local cats to figure out that I have a giant sign set up that reads FREE EATS, as soon as the panthers get up here it’s a certainty that I will find one “on my back porch”. My only question is how much one eats at a sitting. I’ll let you know.

Ai can haz cheezburger?


Saturday, March 11th, 2017

If a squirrel tried that with Deathwalker, guess who’d be having skwrrlburgers for dinner?

PS: Chelsea? Chelsea? What kinda name is that for a cat?

The Pigs Will Need To Eat Something, After All

Thursday, March 9th, 2017

The International Potato Center (CIP) launched a series of experiments to discover if potatoes can grow under Mars atmospheric conditions and thereby prove they are also able to grow in extreme climates on Earth.

Excuse me? We’re right here, you know, on Earth. The place that’s mentioned in the article is based in Lima (Peru) which has some pretty inhospitable territory just on the other side of the Andes.


The Potatoes on Mars project was conceived by CIP to both understand how potatoes might grow in Mars conditions and also see how they survive in the extreme conditions similar to what parts of the world already suffering from climate change and weather shocks are already experiencing.

Oh, spare me the “climate change” blather, will you?

“Growing crops under Mars-like conditions is an important phase of this experiment,” says Julio Valdivia-Silva, a research associate with the SETI Institute who has worked at NASA’s Ames Research Center (NASA ARC) and now works at UTEC in Lima. “If the crops can tolerate the extreme conditions that we are exposing them to in our CubeSat, they have a good chance to grow on Mars. We will do several rounds of experiments to find out which potato varieties do best. “We want to know what the minimum conditions are that a potato needs to survive,” he said.

This is vitally important research. Without something to eat, pigs cannot survive on Mars. And without pigs, there won’t be any bacon. And without bacon, human occupation and development of Mars is doomed.

Charlie Brown and the Football?

Thursday, March 9th, 2017

You know, the recurring Peanuts cartoon, where Lucy offers to hold a football so Charlie Brown can kick it, yet yanks it away at the last second.

I wonder if this is the same thing writ large:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General Jeff Sessions suggested Thursday that he would be open to the appointment of an outside counsel to review actions taken by the Justice Department during the Obama administration.

Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt asked Sessions in an interview if the new attorney general would consider designating an outside counsel “not connected to politics” to take a second look at Justice Department actions that provoked Republican ire in the last eight years. Those include the Fast and Furious gun scandal and the decisions against bringing criminal charges over Hillary Clinton’s email practices or the Internal Revenue Service’s treatment of conservative groups.

I guess we’ll have to see if this amounts to anything. I wouldn’t hold my breath, but I’d sure be glad to be wrong.

Republicans Are Everywhere

Wednesday, March 8th, 2017

As you might know, President Trump (say it again: PRESIDENT TRUMP!!) amended and re-issued the temporary travel ban affecting six countries. The original Order specified seven countries; Iraq was removed from the new order.

Hawaii, of all places, intends to file a legal challenge:

The state of Hawaii will ask a federal judge to block President Trump’s revised executive order barring the issuance of new visas to citizens of six Muslim-majority countries, according to a court filing.

The action — which lawyers for the state hope to file Wednesday in Hawaii — would mark the first formal legal challenge to the order, which the president signed Monday. Hawaii also sued over Trump’s first travel ban, and lawyers for the state told a judge in a court filing that they want to resume that litigation to ask for a temporary restraining order on the new directive.

You needn’t worry about this, because the GOP-infiltrated North Koreans have the solution:

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announced in January during his New Year’s address that Pyongyang had “entered the final stage of preparations to test-launch” an ICBM that could reach parts of the United States.

The obvious inference here is that Republicans with spines are sent to Pyongyang. Who knew?

Hint, Hint

Friday, March 3rd, 2017

My birthday is coming up in April:

No, it’s not a snow leopard, but then again, it never gets cold enough here for one, either.

III Arms Show Booth

Monday, February 27th, 2017

The garrotes and the $900 AR build kits are on the next table.

Let’s See

Monday, February 27th, 2017

It’s a day of the week that ends in “y”, so it’s once again time to bash NA$A:

According to the Washington Post, Donald Trump wants to make a splash in space. And he apparently wants to make that splash by orbiting the Moon.

Orbiting the Moon? Merely circling it? What a comedown from America’s past high…landing twelve humans on the lunar surface. But there is a way to outdo America’s past achievements. And to accomplish this in a shorter time with a smaller budget than the Trump team imagines.

It’s a way to get to the Moon and to stay there permanently. A way to begin this process immediately and to achieve moon landings in less than four years.

This was the opening few paragraphs. The author was warming to his subject, and so am I:


Turn to private industry. Turn to two companies in particular—Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Robert Bigelow’s Bigelow Aerospace. Why? Because the approach that NASA’s acting administrator Robert Lightfoot is pushing won’t allow a Moon landing.

Private industry! HEAR, HEAR! (This guy must be a reader)

Lightfoot’s problem lies in the two pieces of NASA equipment he wants to work with: a rocket that’s too expensive to fly and is years from completion—the Space Launch System; and a capsule that’s far from ready to carry humans—the Orion. Neither the SLS nor the Orion are able to land on the Moon. Let me repeat that. Once these pieces of super-expensive equipment reach the moon’s vicinity, they cannot land.

Hideously expensive, single-use, taxpayer-funded equipment that isn’t suited to task? That’s gotta be Government, at your (dis)service.

Who is able to land on the lunar surface? Elon Musk and Robert Bigelow. Musk’s rockets—the Falcon and the soon-to-be-launched Falcon Heavy—are built to take off and land. So far their landing capabilities have been used to ease them down on earth. But the same technology, with a few tweaks, gives them the ability to land payloads on the surface of the Moon. Including humans. What’s more, SpaceX’s upcoming seven-passenger Dragon 2 capsule has already demonstrated its ability to gentle itself down to earth’s surface. In other words, with a few modifications and equipment additions, Falcon rockets and Dragon capsules could be made Moon-ready.

You know, stuff like this:

There’s more. Within the space community, there is a wide disenchantment with “flags and footprints” missions. Flags and footprints missions are those like the Apollo landings in which astronauts land, plant a flag, hit a golf ball, then disappear for 45 years. Major segments of the space community want every future landing to add to a permanent infrastructure in the sky. And that’s within our grasp thanks to Robert Bigelow.

In 2000, Bigelow purchased a technology that Congress had ordered NASA to abandon: inflatable habitats. For the last sixteen years Bigelow and his company, Bigelow Aerospace, have been advancing inflatable habitat technology. Inflatable technology lets you squeeze a housing unit into a small package, carry it by rocket to a space destination, then blow it up like a balloon. Since the spring of 2016, Bigelow, a real estate developer and founder of the Budget Suites of America hotel chain, has had an inflatable habitat acting as a spare room at the International Space Station 220 miles above your head and mine. And Bigelow’s been developing something far more ambitious—an inflatable Moon Base, that would use three of his 330-cubic-meter B330 modules. What’s more, Bigelow has been developing a landing vehicle to bring his modules gently down to the Moon’s surface.

OK, a bit of dissent here: the Lunar surface is not a warm and cuddly place. Besides all sorts of nasty radiation, there are bits of rock, down to a millimeter in size, that zip around at ridiculous speeds. An inflatable structure, cool as that is, doesn’t really protect from that stuff. Recall that I recently blogged about the discovery of lava tubes in the Lunar Northern Hemisphere. That’s where we need to set up shop, but Bigelow’s inflatables would certainly do as a temporary base.

If NASA ditched the Space Launch System and the Orion, it would free up three billion dollars a year. That budget could speed the Moon-readiness of Bigelow’s landing vehicles, not to mention SpaceX’s Falcon rockets and could pay for lunar enhancements to manned Dragon 2 capsules. In fact, three billion dollars a year is far greater than what Bigelow and Musk would need. That budget would also allow NASA to bring Jeff Bezos into the race. And it would let NASA refocus its energy on earth-orbit and lunar-surface refueling stations…plus rovers, lunar construction equipment, and devices to turn lunar ice into rocket fuel, drinkable water, and breathable oxygen. Not to mention machines to turn lunar dust and rock into building materials.

This new Moon program could be achieved within NASA’s current budget. In fact, members of the group I run—the Space Development Steering Committee—estimate the total cost of what I’ve described (Moon landings plus a permanent moon base) at ten billion dollars. That’s just three years’ worth of the money currently being funneled into the SLS and the Orion.

And here is the reason this plan is likely doomed: $3,000,000,000.00 covers not just the programs, but also a lot of kickbacks and graft, i.e., business as usual in DC. Expect this to be fought tooth-and-nail.

If NASA deep-sixed the Space Launch System and the Orion, then bought Moon-landing services from SpaceX, Bigelow, and, possibly, Blue Origin, America could land its citizens on the Moon in less than four years. But this time, thanks to Bigelow’s Moon Base, Americans [would] be there to stay.

And after a few years, the new citizens of Luna would be ready for Independence. Somebody should write a book about that…

Well, Well

Saturday, February 25th, 2017

More than 300 scientists have urged President Trump to withdraw from the U.N.’s climate change agency, warning that its push to curtail carbon dioxide threatens to exacerbate poverty without improving the environment.

In a Thursday letter to the president, MIT professor emeritus Richard Lindzen called on the United States and other nations to “change course on an outdated international agreement that targets minor greenhouse gases,” starting with carbon dioxide.

“Since 2009, the US and other governments have undertaken actions with respect to global climate that are not scientifically justified and that already have, and will continue to cause serious social and economic harm — with no environmental benefits,” said Mr. Lindzen, a prominent atmospheric physicist.

Signers of the attached petition include the U.S. and international atmospheric scientists, meteorologists, physicists, professors and others taking issue with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change [UNFCCC], which was formed in 1992 to combat “dangerous” climate change.

What happened to “the science is settled”?

What happened to “97% of scientists agree”?

You’d almost think that there was a change in the environment or something, such that people now feel free to dissent and discuss this sort of thing.

We see what you did there