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Mars has just been brought closer to Earth by Elon Musk

Spaceflight rendered new, exciting and attractive through a skillful marketing strategy that makes the Final Frontier the place many more of us want to go

Seraphim Hanisch

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On February 6th, 2018, the US got back into the Space Race in a huge way. The SpaceX Falcon Heavy completed its first test flight, and it did so with a great deal of flair and skillful marketing of space travel, through the use of excellent media coverage, the expression of honest-to-goodness excitement by a company that is freely seeking to conquer the challenge of interplanetary travel and colonization, and a simple and attractive way to show the world what can be done.

This was most notably symbolized in the sending of a Tesla Roadster, Elon’s Musk’s own car, with a dummy in a SpaceX astronaut suit.  The Roadster is supplemented by many cameras that allowed viewers several hours of live viewing in real time as the Roadster left Earth for possibly billions of years, in an orbit reaching well past that of Mars.  The final touch was the message on the dash screen, speaking to an incredibly wide audience:

Starman gets a reassuring message for his very long journey.

As of 10:30 am (Greenwich Mean Time, or UTC) on Friday February 9, the Roadster was already 449,808 miles away from Earth, traveling away from Earth at a speed of 8,081 miles per hour.  For reference, this distance is nearly twice that between the Earth and the Moon.

By comparison, the flight of Apollo 11 took about as long to get only from the Earth to the Moon. The Roadster is in an orbit whose aphelion (farthest point) from the Sun is approximately 1.7 times the distance of the Earth from the Sun, and the perihelion (closest point) is about 0.99 of that same distance.  Put in miles, this is an orbit between 92 million miles and 158.1 million miles from the sun.

The ability of Elon Musk and his company SpaceX to make space travel relevant to the everyday person is what will propel this next chapter of the Space Race. We even have to redefine the term “Space Race” itself. It is no longer the rivalry between two systems of government, as was the case in the 1960’s heyday between the US and the USSR.

It is now the province of entrepreneurs, dreamers, who want to create and live the vision of a spacefaring human race. And, like anything else that has espoused great technological innovations or inventions, the success was not based on the viability of the science, but on how well this viability could engage the public interest.

The space program in all spacefaring nations started with the government-run programs of the United States and the Soviet Union.  The American program featured open source information as a civilian program, where the Soviet program was mostly classified during its run.

To date there have been only three spacefaring nations: The USA, the Russian Federation (like the Soviet Union before it), and the People’s Republic of China.  At this time, though, only China and Russia have crewed spaceflight.  The USA has been without its own launch vehicle since the cancellation of the Space Shuttle program in 2011.

US national interest in the manned space program was at its height during the decade of the 1960’s as the race to the Moon was on.  Starting with the first manned lunar flyby in 1968, American astronauts either flew to the moon or landed on it a total of nine times.

The first moon landing was broadcast worldwide, and indeed, caught the attention of the whole world.  However, the Apollo program rapidly lost public interest, hence public funding dried up and the program’s originally intended 25 missions was terminated with Apollo 17 in December 1972. Since then not only has Man not gone back to the Moon, a slowly building consensus has progressed saying that the Moon landings never happened. While most people still do not accept such a conspiracy theory, some characteristics that led to its birth were the bane of NASA’s existence, and helped lead to the cancellation of these and further interplanetary exploration:

  • Overemphasis on technical jargon – Listening to the discussion of spaceflight and orbital mechanics for many people is very tiresome. The success of Apollo was in the televised broadcasts that showed the astronauts doing things on the Moon, such as jumping, skipping while singing songs, four-wheeling and playing golf.  The work of setting up scientific experiments is of interest to the scientist, but Joe Q. Public is easily lost on such discussion.
  • Routine without marketing – While early missions in all the US manned programs were of high general interest, once the technology was proven, spaceflight became accepted as “routine.”  This is not a bad thing necessarily, because spaceflight should become routine.  However, what we really saw was nothing new or interesting, so it became “boring.” The US Space Shuttle program suffered the same fate, with news items only consisting of launches and landings in normal situations, and the terrible tragedies of Challenger and Columbia flights that ended in the loss of all the crew and their spacecrafts.
  • Government-led programs create a sense of inaccessibility – During the heyday of the Space Race, every young boy wanted to be an astronaut or a space explorer.  Star Trek was the TV program that outlined this vision in the most mainstream and attractive way, by showing that life in space was a life of adventure.  While every spaceflight is an adventure in its own way, it is far from the tales of exploring other worlds, and so again, appeal to do more is easily lost.To fly among the stars, one has either had to have a tremendous amount of money to pay a foreign agency, or one has to be trained within the auspices of a government program.  While NASA is civilian, the culture of the astronaut is not so.

As we can see, the issues surrounding the success of space travel are not technical, they are psychological and cultural. Space has never been really marketed as the place to be, the place to explore, and the place anyone can go to.

In the recent decade, private enterprise has begun to fill the gap that NASA created when they closed the Space Shuttle program. SpaceX, Bigelow Aerospace, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and other companies have all made attempts to raise public interest in the conquest of space, and the biggest selling point up to now has been the idea of the regular civilian being able to take a ride into space.

Virgin Galactic has held the lead in this thus far, but their program is suborbital and still in development.  Bigelow has successfully pioneered the idea of inflatable spacecraft in hopes of building a hotel resort in orbit, but the modules, although interesting, appear both boring and potentially dangerous to the psyche, as the notion of floating around in a balloon, which could be easily punctured at any time, is not attractive to most of us.

Oddly enough, one very attractive way to attract interest is through a bit of comedy. Rather than conceal failure in the SpaceX development program, Musk’s company has capitalized on failures as “part of the road to success” as in this video compilation of the development of the now-famous booster flyback and landing capability.

One can see then ,that there are very non-technical approaches for appealing to the psyche, and it appears the Elon Musk and his people have tapped into this for the first time. Sending one of the coolest ever cars into space, a Tesla Roadster, which in its own right is one amazing automobile, with a suited-up astronaut “driving” with the top down and arm on the window, with the Earth visible behind, all shown in full HD… now that is marketing!

The allure of space-set sci-fi movies like Star Wars and Star Trek, is not exactly where one is, though space makes a marvelous backdrop.  The allure is what we do there, how fast we can go, what good (or bad) we can do along the way. Human beings have creative spirits, and we want to do things when we go places.

Sometimes this has worked out poorly, but most of the time it seems to work out very well.  We take pride in the beauty of our cities, our architecture and art forms, we love beauty, style, and yes, in all this is the huge need for knowing how to do it. But the average person in an art museum appreciates fine art because it is beautiful. They are not technophiles into how the painting or artwork was made. They enjoy the result, beauty made accessible to them.  In the same manner space exploration can be – and has been made – appealing to the everyman in a way never done before.

It will be of great interest to see what – and who – does the next cool thing in space, and even more, what that action inspires.

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BREAKING: Explosion in Crimea, Russia kills many, injuring dozens, terrorism suspected

According to preliminary information, the incident was caused by a gas explosion at a college facility in Kerch, Crimea.

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“We are clarifying the information at the moment. Preliminary figures are 50 injured and 10 dead. Eight ambulance crews are working at the site and air medical services are involved,” the press-service for the Crimean Ministry of Health stated.

Medics announced that at least 50 people were injured in the explosion in Kerch and 25 have already been taken to local hospital with moderate wounds, according to Sputnik.

Local news outlets reported that earlier in the day, students at the college heard a blast and windows of the building were shattered.

Putin Orders that Assistance Be Provided to Victims of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The president has instructed the Ministry of Health and the rescue services to take emergency measures to assist victims of this explosion, if necessary, to ensure the urgent transportation of seriously wounded patients to leading medical institutions of Russia, whether in Moscow or other cities,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitriy Peskov said.

The president also expressed his condolences to all those affected by the tragic incident.

Manhunt Underway in Kerch as FSB Specialists Investigate Site of Explosion – National Anti-Terrorist Committee

The site of the blast that rocked a city college in Kerch is being examined by FSB bomb disposal experts and law enforcement agencies are searching for clues that might lead to the arrest of the perpetrators, the National Anti Terrorism Committee said in a statement.

“Acting on orders from the head of the NAC’s local headquarters, FSB, Interior Ministry, Russian Guards and Emergency Ministry units have arrived at the site. The territory around the college has been cordoned off and the people inside the building evacuated… Mine-disposal experts are working at the site and law enforcement specialists are investigating,” the statement said.

Terrorist Act Considered as Possible Cause of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The tragic news that comes from Kerch. Explosion. The president was informed … The data on those killed and the number of injured is constantly updated,” Peskov told reporters.

“[The version of a terrorist attack] is being considered,” he said.

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10 percent of American F-22 fighter jets damaged by Hurricane Michael

Part of the reason the F-22’s were left in the path of the storm is that they were broken and too expensive to fix or fly.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Note to the wise: When a hurricane comes, move your planes out of the way. Especially your really expensive F-22 fighter planes. After all, those babies are $339 mil apiece. Got the message?

Apparently the US Air Force didn’t get this message. Or, did they find themselves unable to follow the message?

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The Washington Times reported Tuesday that between 17 and 20 of these top-of-the-line fighter jets were damaged, some beyond the point of repair, when Hurricane Michael slammed ashore on Mexico Beach, Florida, not far from the Tyndall Air Force Base in the same state. The Times reports that more than a dozen of the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets were damaged after being left in the path of the extremely fierce storm:

President Trump’s tour Monday of devastation wrought by Hurricane Michael took him close to Florida’s Tyndall Air Force Base, where more than a dozen F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets were damaged after being left in the path of the powerful storm.

The pricey fighter jets — some possibly damaged beyond repair — were caught in the widespread destruction that took at least 18 lives, flattened homes, downed trees and buckled roads from Florida to Virginia.

The decision to leave roughly $7.5 billion in aircraft in the path of a hurricane raised eyebrows, including among defense analysts who say the Pentagon’s entire high-tech strategy continues to make its fighter jets vulnerable to weather and other mishaps when they are grounded for repairs.

“This becomes sort of a self-defeating cycle where we have $400 million aircraft that can’t fly precisely because they are $400 million aircraft,” said Dan Grazier, a defense fellow at Project on Government Oversight. “If we were buying simpler aircraft then it would be a whole lot easier for the base commander to get these aircraft up and in working order, at least more of them.”

This is quite a statement. The F-22 is held to be the tip of the American air defense sword. A superb airplane (when it works), it can do things no other plane in the world can do. It boasts a radar profile the size of a marble, making it virtually undetectable by enemy radars. It is highly maneuverable with thrust-vectoring built into its engines.

However, to see a report like this is simply stunning. After all, one would expect that the best military equipment ought to be the most reliable as well. 

It appears that Hurricane Michael figuratively and physically blew the lid off any efforts to conceal a problem with these planes, and indeed with the hyper-technological basis for the US air fighting forcesThe Times continues:

Reports on the number of aircraft damaged ranged from 17 to 22 or about 10 percent of the Air Force’s F-22 fleet of 187.

The Air Force stopped buying F-22s, considered the world’s most advanced fighter jets, in 2012. The aircraft is being replaced by the F-35, another high-tech but slightly less-expensive aircraft.

Later in the tour, at an emergency command center in Georgia, Mr. Trump said the damage to the F-22s couldn’t be avoided because the aircraft were grounded and the storm moved quickly.

“We’re going to have a full report. There was some damage, not nearly as bad as we first heard,” he said when asked about the F-22s, which cost about $339 million each.

“I’m always concerned about cost. I don’t like it,” Mr. Trump said.

Still, the president remains a fan of the high-tech fighter jet.

“The F-22 is one of my all-time favorites. It is the most beautiful fighter jet in the world. One of the best,” he said.

The Air Force managed to fly 33 of the F-22s to safety, but maintenance and repair issues kept 22 of the notoriously finicky aircraft on the ground when the powerful storm hit the base.

About 49 percent of the F-22s are out of action at any given time, according to an Air Force report this year.

This is a stunning statistic. This means that of the 187 planes in existence, 90 of them are not working. At their cost, that means that over thirty billion dollars worth of military equipment is sitting around, broken, just in airplanes alone.

As a point of comparison, the entire Russian military budget for 2017 was $61 billion, with that budget producing hypersonic missiles, superb fighter aircraft and tanks. Russian fighter planes are known for being able to take harsh landing and take-off conditions that would cripple the most modern American flying machines.

It would seem that Hurricane Michael exposed a serious problem with the state of readiness of American armed forces. Thankfully that problem did not arise in combat, but it is no less serious.

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Saudi Arabia trying to squirm free of Khashoggi murder (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 2.

Alex Christoforou

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RT CrossTalk host Peter Lavelle and The Duran’s Alex Christoforou take a quick look at Saudi Arabia’s possible admission to killing journalist Jamal Khashoggi…accidentally, while they were torturing the man inside the consulate in Istanbul.

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Via Zerohedge

Even before the publication of last night’s Saudi trial balloon hinting that the kingdom would soon acknowledge that the extrajudicial killing of Jamal Khashoggi – the insider-turned dissident journalist who walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last week and never walked back out – was the result of a “botched” kidnapping attempt carried out by “rogue killers” (despite reports that the US intelligence community knew that Khashoggi was being “targeted”), two realities had become increasingly clear. One: That the Saudis would avoid responsibility for the killing by pinning it on some unfortunate underling, and two: that there would be few, if any, lasting diplomatic repercussions.

And as more media organizations confirmed reports about Saudi’s plans to spin Khashoggi’s murder as a botched interrogation (we can only imagine what was said in that room to justify the use of such extreme violence), CNN calculated the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Saudi King Salman in Riyadh for approximately 15 minutes early Tuesday, following his 12-hour-plus flight to the kingdom.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s meeting with King Salman of Saudi Arabia lasted no more than 15 minutes, CNN estimates based on the time the top US diplomat’s motorcade arrived at the royal court and departed.

The motorcade arrived at the royal court at 11:42 a.m. (4:42 a.m. ET) and left 26 minutes later. There is a fair distance to walk from where the motorcade dropped Pompeo off to where he met the king.

While Trump said on Monday that Pompeo would travel to Turkey “if necessary”, the Saudi’s decision to “come clean” about Khashoggi’s death pretty much rendered Pompeo’s fact-finding mission unnecessary.More important are developments in Turkey, where the joint Saudi-Turkish “investigation” is turning its attention toward the home of the Saudi consul, where a black diplomatic van that departed the Saudi consulate just under two hours after Khashoggi entered was captured on camera disappearing into a garage. Some speculate that this is where the killers finished disposing of Khashoggi’s body. This comes after a “nine-hour” search of the Saudi consulate building that, according to leaks published in Al-Jazeera, turned up “evidence of tampering” by the Saudis. On Tuesday, Turkey’s foreign minister clarified that Saudi had yet to admit its role in Khashoggi’s disappearance and probable death.

Turkish investigators will carry out a search of the Saudi Consul General’s residence on Tuesday as the probe into the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi continues, according to a Turkish diplomatic source.

CCTV footage released to the media from the day the Washington Post writer vanished show movement of vehicles from the consulate building to the Consul General’s residence nearby.

As speculation mounts that the incident could unseat the increasingly authoritarian Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (who has already marginalized or incapacitated nearly every threat to his rule), it’s looking more likely that neither the US nor the rest of the Western world will do much to punish the world’s most important oil exporter, which can “weaponize” the oil market seemingly on a whim.

Any punishment for this flagrant violation of human rights will need to come, therefore, from the private sector, which, according to Bloomberg, could sabotage MbS’s grand Vision 2030 plan, which aims to remake the Saudi economy via a flood of foreign direct investment:

The economic strategy of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, known as MBS, is to make investment the main engine of economic growth instead of government spending, but the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi could frustrate these ambitions. Foreign direct investment, a key part of the plan to reinvent Saudi Arabia’s economy, declined sharply in 2017 and is unlikely to return to previous levels, leaving the government’s target for 2020 beyond reach, according to analysis by Bloomberg Economics. Increased policy uncertainty and, after the Khashoggi incident, the risk of reputational damage to foreign companies working in Saudi Arabia won’t help.

 

 

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