Thursday, January 29, 2009

All About Labor Unions

It has been a while since I spoke up about politics. The politics part of my brain got kinda numb after the elections, and I haven't really felt like writing about it for some time. Time's up.

My good friend Geoff recently wrote a post on his website about labor unions, and I wrote him a response that is just awesome enough to repeat here. So here is what I think about unions:

On one hand, I'm generally in favor of unions. I would likely be in one if I could, but they don't really exist in my line of work, which is kind of sad considering how poorly we've been treated over the past six months or so. However, I don’t by any means see unions as bastions of awesomeness. On the contrary, many of them are led by bloodsucking crooks. However, I would rather have a bloodsucking crook on my side and a bloodsucking crook on the other side than just one on the other side.

On the flip side of the coin, part of what gives unions so much excessive political power is the fact that they have agreements with some employers requiring that low level workers be members of the union. This should be illegal. It can dissolve quickly to having two bloodsucking crooks against you. This happened to another friend of mine. One crook was keeping his wages low, and the other was demanding excessive membership dues and not really using it for any benefit to him. Just as I would be likely to join a union right now if I could, I would think twice about working anywhere that required me to be a member of a union.

What I’m getting at here is the legal framework surrounding unions needs to be changed. It should be easy for someone to join a union no matter where they work, but just as easy for someone to refuse union membership no matter where they work. If people could join or drop out on a whim, unions would have a lot more incentive to help members out and keep them paying dues. Also employers would have more incentive to treat people well and stave off their feeling of a need to organize. Maybe I'm being a bit simplistic here, but I think lot of this crap would change for the better on all sides, except maybe for the bloodsucking crooks, wherein lies the problem.

And yes, I'm totally allowed to profusely plagiarize myself.

Progress: 3.93%  Flight Time: 0:05:54

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Russia Announces No Joint Tourism After 2009

It seems they have made it official. The Russian Space Agency has announced that after 2009, they will not transport any more tourists to the International Space Station during their missions.

This is of no surprise, though, because the ISS will soon be operating with a crew of 6 instead of the current crew of 3. With the space shuttle out of service, the Russians are going to need all of the seating they can get to being up fresh crew members.

So what will this mean for Space Adventures, who has been arranging these visits? They will only be able to take two more tourists up before the deadline, but they have already planned for this. They arranged months ago for a private launch of a dedicated Soyuz vehicle after their usual access to the Soyuz missions has been terminated. So this is not the end of ISS tourism yet!

Progress: 3.93%  Flight Time: 0:05:54

Thursday, January 15, 2009

XCOR Tests Lynx Rocket


No, seriously, ROCKETS!

XCOR is testing theirs! They have announced that they have completed construction on the rocket engine that will take XCOR's Lynx craft to the brink of space. The rocket is currently undergoing its testing at the Mojave Air and Space Port, where several space tourism companies have worked to develop their technology. No word on when the testing will be complete and construction of the craft will continue, but they were helpful enough to provide a picture.

Progress: 3.93%  Flight Time: 0:05:54

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Falcon 9 Goes Vertical!

In another milestone for Spacex's Falcon 9 heavy lift spacecraft, the first model has been lifted vertically at Cape Canaveral.

This is quite a sight. And why? Well, It is a craft like this, launched from this location, that is likely to lift the Sundancer space hotel prototype from Bigelow Aerospace into orbit.

There are a few other launches to go before that happens, though, and this one will launch soon. A flight window has not yet been given, but it will likely be within the next few weeks.

And here's a picture! Credit SpaceX.
And no, this image has not been edited in any way. It just happens to be particularly awesome.

Progress: 3.93%  Flight Time: 0:05:54

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Economy is Falling! The Economy is Falling!

...Or so says Chicken Destitute. But the point was recently nailed home to me when I received my quarterly investment summary.

The first thing I noticed was they helpfully put it in yearly format instead of their usual quarterly format. "See? You still made money! Since 2007."

But yes, it turns out that even with my monthly contributions, my trip-to-space fund has been losing money. I'm going to have to shrink that little purple bar a bit. I'm not too concerned, though, because I'm still really just starting out, and this just means that I'm now buying stocks cheap.


Progress: 3.93%  Flight Time: 0:05:54

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Domain Name and Stupid Votes

A couple of pieces of website news today:

The first bit of news is I finally forked over the $10 to buy! will remain valid, but will be the primary website from here on out.

The second is that I've started up a whole new website to rant about politics! Remember my list of things I would do if I were president? Item number 4 on that list went sometiung like this:

4. I would urge congresspeople to abstain on ridiculous frivolous votes like what to rename this federal building and should we have a National Orphaned Amputee Leper Day. Do you realize that this kind of crap makes up 3/4 of what congress does these days? Those who do abstain will get to have lunch with me frequently, because they're my kind of people.

Well, I've been following the issue of frivolous votes more and more since I wrote that, and it's horrendous how much nothing these people do! So I'm starting a website about it. will document as many of these stupid resolutions and hearings that I can find, and I'll be encouraging members of our government to abstain from such things. The website isn't quite up yet, but it will show itself any time now. I'm 80% sure that all I'll accomplish with the site is getting all this off my chest, but that's good enough for me. And who knows? Maybe someone will take notice.

That's it for now!

Progress: 4.03%  Flight Time: 0:06:05

2008 Word Cloud

Well, I was dinking around on the internet (when I should have been working) when I found It's a neat site where you can make a word cloud out of any entered text. So of course, I made one out of all of my 2008 posts. I'm easily amused, so it's no surprise that a lot of this amused me. Space and Time are (appropriately) the biggest words. Years and Days are next to each other, with days (of course) being the smaller of the two. God is in there, but it's one of the teeniest tiniest words. NASA is bigger than God. People are bigger than God. Voting is bigger than God. Not sure what all that means. My political leanings come out, as Obama is much bigger than McCain. Also, some of my writing habits come out, such as my frequent use of the words Yeah and Well, which I have been trying to curb lately. And finally, the economic crisis makes an appearance. 0:05:35 and 0:06:05 are there. These were the listed flight times under the purple bar beneath my posts for much of the year. The fact that they appear here means they didn't change much, and therefore my investments didn't do well enough for me to warrant changing them frequently. Take a look!

Progress: 4.03%  Flight Time: 0:06:05

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Can a Space Elevator be Powered Mechanically?

Every once in a while, someone comes up with an idea so simple and obvious, yet so revolutionary, it's akin to inventing the wheel in 1950. Yesterday was one of those days.

One of the main problems with the creation of the space elevator is how to power the lifter. It would be impossible with current technology (or even with technologies under development) to give the lifter enough batteries or generator fuel to power its climb. The batteries or fuel simply wouldn't have enough power to lift their own weight 20,000 miles. So up until now, the main ideas have been to power the lifter with lasers or microwaves beamed from earth, which are technologies under development that could potentially work. However, those ideas come with various significant health and safety risks, and nobody is sure that either of the technologies will be there anytime soon.

Then this video came out yesterday. Age-Raymond Rice, a ground station engineer for the ESA, took a broomstick, an electric sander, and some hair brushes, and demonstrated a startlingly, disgustingly simple method to mechanically power a space elevator. You can view a video in the BBC article on this.

Basically, he strapped the hairbrushes to the broomstick with the bristles pointed down. This made it more difficult for the brushes to move down than up. Then he vibrated the broomstick using the sander. When the broomstick was jerked down, the brushes climbed up. When the broomstick was jerked up, the brushes stayed put. This caused the brushes to slowly rise along the broomstick using purely mechanical power.

A number of obstacles would need to be overcome to apply this technique to a space elevator. You would need a suspension system to keep the occupants and cargo inside the elevator from being shaken apart. You would need a way to ensure the jerking on the tether wouldn't tug the satellite off course. You would need to design a lifter that would remain balanced on either side of the tether (despite the movement of its occupants) to avoid rotational motion of the lifter caused by the jerking. Finally, you would need to design a system to ensure that the lifter's version of the hairbrush bristles and the constant jerking do not damage the tether.

However, these obstacles seem much simpler to overcome than designing lasers to power the lifter without the risk of kersploding it. Not that I'm against using lasers for anything and everything...


Progress: 4.03%  Flight Time: 0:06:05

Monday, January 5, 2009

Catch-Up: Spaceport America and Virgin Galactic Make It Official

After months of negotiations and planning, it has finally happened. On the last day of 2008, Spaceport America signed a twenty-year lease agreement with Virgin Galactic, providing them use of the spaceport for space tourism purposes.

Not only does this have the obvious significance, but this marks the last of three criteria that Spaceport America needed to meet to get federal funding for construction. The other two were to get a vehicle launch license from the FAA and the creation of a local tax district. Construction of Spaceport America will now begin soon.

And that's it. I am now caught up on all of the significant space tourism news. Done sucking that porcupine, NBC?

Progress: 4.03%  Flight Time: 0:06:05

Catch-Up: Armadillo Teams Up with the Rocket Racing League

While I've run across references to the Rocket Racing League several times through following space travel news, I haven't mentioned them because I hadn't found anything that connected them in a significant manner to the space tourism industry. That has now changed.

The Rocket Racing League, owned by Rocket Racing, Inc., started primarily as an entertainment company. They support the development of rocket-powered aerial vehicles, which then race against each other. The stated ambition of the league is to one day race spacecraft against each other. The development toward this goal has in recent years contributed to advances in the spaceflight industry, and it has been speculated that the group is a good candidate to get involved in the space tourism industry.

And now it's official. In late October, a joint venture was announced between Rocket Racing Inc., Armadillo Aerospace, and the government of New Mexico to develop a vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) spacecraft with the capability of sending two tourists into space at or below the price of $100,000 each. These spacecraft would take off from Spaceport America in New Mexico, and would allow tourists to float freely with a 360-degree view of their surroundings.

If this spacecraft actually gets built and used as stated, I may switch my personal ambitions from Virgin Galactic's offering to this one. Besides SpaceShipTwo, this is the only proposed space tourism craft that would allow people to float freely, and this one would have a much better view. And at half the price, that little purple bar at the bottom of my posts would get much bigger.

The spacecraft would basically be a modified and scaled-up version of that which Armadillo has slowly been planning for years. Here's a picture!

Progress: 4.03%  Flight Time: 0:06:05

Friday, January 2, 2009

Catch-Up: 2008 Lunar Lander Challenge

Last year's Lunar Lander Challenge was apparently quite the event! For those of you who aren't familiar with the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge, it's an annual event put on by the X-Prize Foundation challenging companies to create a viable lunar lander type vehicle that can perform certain tasks. This alone has little to do with space tourism. However, every year, one of the most viable entrants is Armadillo Aerospace, a small company dedicated to the advancement of technologies that could be of use in space tourism.

This was the third year of the challenge. In 2006 and 2007, there were no winners, because nobody was able to complete the required tasks. Specifically, there are two challenges. The level 1 challenge, for $350,000 requires a vehicle to lift off, travel laterally to a specified location, land, lift off again, make a return trip, and land, all within a specified amount of time. The level 2 challenge, for $1,000,000, requires additional tasks.

Well, the results are in, and this year, Armadillo Aerospace won the level 1 challenge! They also made an unsuccessful attempt at the level 2 challenge, but indicated they would try again this year. Congratulations to them and to Widget, their funny little armadillo mascot.

Hey, and I found this awesome picture of Armadillo's vehicle during the level 1 challenge:

Progress: 4.03%  Flight Time: 0:06:05

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Catch-Up: Sixth Space Tourist Launches

Okay, I admit that I knew about this story when it was happening, and I didn't post anything. Honestly, it was around the time that work started causing me headaches (it still is), and I was just too burnt-out and lazy to post it. If I hadn't been so lazy, I would have discovered early on that I was no longer getting my regular updates, but I still blame NBC. With that said:

On October 12th, Richard Garriott was launched aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule, thereby becoming the world's sixth space tourist. As all space tourists so far, Garriott achieved this feat through Space Adventures' agreement with the Russians to send tourists up to the space station for a tidy sum (currently about $35,000,000).

Garriott is actually on the board of Space Adventures, and shortly after returning from his week-long mission, he announced he was leaving his work as a developer for NCSoft (the makers of City of Heroes, among other games) to pursue interests related to his journey in space. So I have little doubt that we'll be hearing more from him.

Congratulations, Richard! As a successful video game developer and space tourist, you have lived the dreams of many a geek like me.

Progress: 4.03%  Flight Time: 0:06:05