International Space Station: Seven More Years

NASA's photo: 'Expedition 68 crew members participate in an evening conference with International Space Station mission controllers on the ground. From front to back, NASA astronaut Josh Cassada; JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata; ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti; and NASA astronauts Frank Rubio, Nicole Mann, and Bob Hines.' (October 2022)
ISS Expedition 68 conference with mission controllers. (October 2022)

Nations and organizations running the International Space Station agreed to keep supporting it until 2030.

That’s what I’ll be talking about this week. Along with why the ISS won’t last forever, plans for either ditching it in the South Pacific or starting an orbiting salvage yard, commercial space stations and something my oldest daughter and I thought of.

The (Comparatively) International Space Station

NASA's emblem of the ISS (International Space Station). (2008) via Wikipedia, used w/o permission.
Emblem of the International Space Station. (2008)

The International Space Station, ISS, isn’t the only one in Earth orbit.

Tiangong is China’s first long-term space station. They launched its first module in 2021. The third module was in place by the end of 2022. The last I heard, China’s station was a potentially international effort, with an all-China crew of three.

Meanwhile, the ISS has been in operation since November of 2001. Crew size started with three, and has been as low as two. At the moment, seven folks are living and working on the ISS. They’re from only three of the world’s 200-odd countries:

  • Sergey Prokopyev (Russia) (ISS Commander)
  • Andrey Fedyaev (Russia)
  • Dmitriy Petelin (Russia)
  • Francisco Rubio (United States)
  • Stephen Bowen (United States)
  • Sultan Al Neyadi (United Arab Emirates)
  • Warren Hoburg (United States)

Even so, that’s not doing too bad. The ISS really is international, run by five space agencies: CSA, ESA, JAXA, NASA and Roscosmos.

The agencies are from four nations — Canada, Japan, Russia and the United States — and one international organization: ESA, the European Space Agency. Which is not EUSPA, the European Union Agency for the Space Programme.

Putting it mildly, the situation’s complicated.

Cooperation, Complications, and Doing Science Anyway

NASA's photo: ESA astronaut Hans Schlegel, in the ISS Columbus module. (February 15, 2008) via Wikipedia, used w/o permission.
Hans Schlegel, ESA, in the ISS Columbus module. (February 2008)

In a way, ISS-style cooperation began back in 1972, with the USA/USSR Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. But the ISS itself didn’t get started until 1988.

That’s when Japan, Russia and the United States of America, along with eleven member states of the European Space Agency signed off of the SSIGA (Space Station Intergovernmental Agreement).

There’s another layer of agreements between NASA and ESA, CSA, RKA and JAXA; and yet more beyond that. You get the idea. ISS cooperation has been anything but simple from the get-go.

Then Russia invaded Ukrain, Roscosmos Director General Dmitry Rogozin hinted that the ISS would fall out of orbit without his help, and — like I said, complicated.

The good news is that the ISS is still in pretty good working order.

And that’s let scientists do research in fields like astrobiology, materials science and space weather that’s not possible on the ground. They’ve also been studying how life in microgravity has been affecting them.1

ISS Support Promised Through 2030

NASA photo: 'Tom Marshburn and Christopher Cassidy (left), both STS-127 Mission Specialists (MS) as they work to remove and replace (R and R) VCC and Integrated Equipment Assembly (IEA) batteries on the P6 Truss during STS-127 Extravehicular Activity 4 (EVA-4)'. (July 24, 2009)
Replacing batteries on the ISS P6 Truss. (July 2009)

Again, the ISS is in pretty good shape. For something that’s been orbiting for 24 years. And, like any other long-term installation, it needs routine maintenance.

But it wasn’t designed to last forever, and is starting to show its age. That’s why folks at NASA and elsewhere have been working out procedures for shutting down the ISS.

Having definite plans for making sure the ISS doesn’t crash onto someone’s roof is more than just being a good neighbor. It’s looking ahead and prudently deciding that getting sued — or worse — might be unpleasant.

The Outer Space Treaty (1967) says the United States and Russia are legally responsible for all modules they’ve launched. I have no idea how that will play out in real life.

At any rate, there have been plans in the works for how and when to bring the ISS down at least as early as 1999.

Back in 2012, for example, NASA proposed deorbiting the station in 2020. So I figure that having it still up and running in 2023 is good news.

And this is even better news:

Partners Extend International Space Station for Benefit of Humanity
Mark Garcia, NASA Space Station (April 27, 2023)

“The International Space Station partners have committed to extending the operations of this unique platform in low Earth orbit where, for more than 22 years, humans have lived and worked for the benefit of humanity, conducting cutting-edge science and research in microgravity. The United States, Japan, Canada, and the participating countries of ESA (European Space Agency) have confirmed they will support continued space station operations through 2030 and Russia has confirmed it will support continued station operations through 2028. NASA will continue to work with its partner agencies to ensure an uninterrupted presence in low Earth orbit, as well as a safe and orderly transition from the space station to commercial platforms in the future….”
[emphasis mine]

Getting that extension wasn’t easy.

The Space Frontier Act of 2018 was supposed to give the okay for a 2030 extension, but didn’t make it through the U.S. House of Representatives. But something called Leading Human Spaceflight did get approved. So did the CHIPS and Science Act, in 2022.2

There’s a joke about “do you want fish with your CHIPS” lurking in there, but never mind.

I’m also aware that politicos of assorted affiliations were involved, don’t see a point in deifying or demonizing them, am not looking forward to the looming election — and that’s another topic.

Best Structural Engineering of the 20th century

NASA's updated blowout diagram of the International Space Station. (January 3, 2023)
Blowout diagram of the ISS. (January 2023)

So, how come we aren’t keeping the ISS in orbit permanently?

Maybe it’s partly because of politics.

But I figure the main reasons are technology and cost.

Why can’t the ISS operate forever?
Max King, The Planetary Society (June 14, 2022)

“…Long-term installations like the ISS require regular maintenance. But just like the maintenance for a car or an old house, that maintenance continually grows more expensive.

“The systems the ISS needs to use for power, communication with Earth, and life support for the crew are all designed to be repairable in orbit by astronauts or robotic operations. While maintenance and upgrades to these systems happen all the time, the degradation of the station’s structure will limit its time in orbit.

“The structure of any spacecraft is exposed directly to the harsh environment of outer space can cause damage, but additionally — in the case of the ISS — stressful docking and undocking maneuvers from other spacecraft lead to wear….”

Orbiting Earth every 90 minutes, our planet’s magnetic field shields the ISS from some, but not all, radiation that fills the inner Solar System.

I figure a good reason for keeping the ISS up as long as we have is getting data on how the comparatively mild ‘climate’ of low Earth orbit affects materials.

Besides radiation, there’s heat and cold. During each 90 minute orbit, outside surfaces of the ISS go from -120 degrees Celsius (-184 degrees Fahrenheit) to 120 degrees Celsius (248 degrees Fahrenheit) and back again.

Here in central Minnesota, we don’t have it that bad. But our annual freeze-bake cycle does make us a land of four seasons: Autumn, Winter, Spring and Road Repair.

Part of our problem with potholes is water thawing and refreezing.

But materials exposed to hot-cold cycles get stressed when they expand and contract whether water seeps in or not. That’s why bridges and roads have expansion joints, and I’m drifting off-topic.

Folks designing the ISS knew about radiation and temperature extremes, but there’s only so much durability they could design into the system.

They planned for temperature fluctuations, designing with materials and coatings that’d reduce the stress. But two dozen years of UV radiation and atomic oxygen that’s around the ISS haven’t been kind to materials.3

Slow and Careful Docking at the ISS

SpaceX Demo-2 supply run to the ISS. (2020) via NASA TV and YouTube, used w/o permission.
SpaceX Crew Dragon docking at ISS. (2020)
SpaceX Demo-2 supply run to the ISS: inside the Dragon spacecraft. (2020) via NASA TV and YouTube, used w/o permission.
Inside the Crew Dragon. (2020)

Then there’s docking and undocking spacecraft at the ISS.

Pilots, including the AI that fly spacecraft like the SpaceX Dragon, are very gentle. Relative speed between the ISS and docking spacecraft are around a tenth of a foot per second, or 0.07 miles an hour.

That’s very slow. But a Dragon weighs several tons, so there’s a lot of energy involved.

Supply runs to the ISS come about every three months, so there will be something like 120 docking events and 120 undocking events between 2000 and 2030. Each one puts a little more strain on the ISS structures.

Engineers designed the ISS with adequate safety factors.

But they couldn’t design the docking systems and other structures to be as rugged as, say, the jet bridges folks walk through when boarding airliners.

Everything in orbit must be lifted off Earth’s surface and brought to orbital speed.

Since we’re only just now developing reusable launch vehicles, that’s expensive.4 So the ISS is built with equipment and structural components that are as lightweight as possible.

And that means they’re not as rugged as they could be.

Looking Ahead: Commercial Space Stations

NASA astronaut Robert Curbeam Jr. (U.S.A.), left; European Space Agency astronaut Christer Fuglesang (Sweden), right: helping assemble ISS parts like the truss segment. (December 12, 2006)
Attaching a new truss segment to the ISS. (December 12, 2006)

Bigelow Aerospace detail of image from a video, showing the Genesis 2 space station exterior. (image retrieved May 5, 2023)The International Space Station was designed and built with some of the best materials science and structural engineering know-how of the 20th century.

That knowledge was based on experience we’ve been accumulating since long before Imhotep got credit for designing Djoser’s step pyramid.

Central Minnesota’s environment isn’t like Egypt’s, and I’m drifting off-topic again.

The point is that we’ve been adapting existing design principles to new environments for a very long time. And now we’ve started learning how to build practical and durable structures on low Earth orbit and beyond.

Studies like the Materials International Space Station Experiment have been showing scientists what happens when assorted gadgets and materials get left outside. In orbit.

The idea’s basically simple. Researchers put samples into Passive Experiment Containers (PECs) — they look like high-tech briefcases — which folks on the ISS leave outside, photograph at intervals, and eventually take back in for more study.

The folks at Bigelow Aerospace had the same idea when they launched their Genesis II space station prototype. The last I heard, it’s still in orbit.

They’re not the only ones with commercial space stations in the works. Some, like Blue Origin/Sierra Space, have cool names like “Orbital Reef”. Others, like Northrup Grumman’s “Commercial Space Station”, not so much.

Whether the first ‘open for business’ space station is a (snug/cramped) luxury resort, a no-nonsense research lab or a specialty workshop: I’m quite sure there will be more.

Which apparently is another reason support for the ISS was extended to 2030. By then, transitioning to commercial space stations should be an option.5

And that brings me to an issue the ISS folks have been looking at: what does one do with an obsolete space station?

Point Nemo, the Spaceship Cemetery and “The Call of Cthulhu”

Gaianauta's map, showing great-circle distances from coastlines. Thin isolines at 250 kilometer intervals, thick isolines at 1,000 kilometer intervals. Mollweide projection. (2008) via Wikipedia, used w/o permission.
Distances from coastlines, including islands. Thin lines=250 kilometers, thick lines=1,000 kilometers.

Earth has quite a few poles of inaccessibility, places that are the most distant from some border, often a coastline.

“Inaccessibility” may be in the eye of the beholder, though. My home, for example, is about an eight-hour drive east and north of the North American Pole of Inaccessibility. That’s a fair distance, here in the Upper Midwest, but it’s not all that far.

Wrenching myself back on-topic, the easiest disposal method for a defunct spacecraft is to just let it coast. We’ve been doing that a lot, which is why space junk, mainly in low Earth and geosynchronous Earth orbit, is a growing problem.

Given time, stuff in low Earth orbit will fall back down.

The air’s thin up there, a vacuum by many standards, but it’s there.

So everything, from loose nuts and bolts to the ISS, will eventually get slowed down enough to drop into layers of the atmosphere that aren’t near-vacuum. That’s generally defined as the Kármán line, 100 kilometers up.

Diving into the thermosphere’s lower reaches at hypersonic speed, debris heats up. A lot. Small stuff may vaporize before reaching the surface.

The ISS would break apart into a smaller chunks. Many of those would be massive enough to hit the ground. Or water.

And that could be a big problem: for anyone who happened to be under the debris, and indirectly for whoever got blamed. And/or was responsible. And that’s yet another topic.

International law hasn’t quite caught up with falling spacecraft.

But countries, including the United States and Russia, have developed the habit of deliberately crashing their used spacecraft near “Point Nemo”, the spot in the South Pacific that’s farthest from any land. It’s centered on 48°52.6’S 123°23.6’W, more or less.6

Concerns, Reasonable and Otherwise

Tentotwo's Location map of Pacific Ocean, Lambert azimuthal equal-area projection. Spacecraft Cemetery in Pacific Ocean (47°24'42''S by 177°22′45''E) marked by a red circle. Via Wikipedia, used w/o permission.The formal name for that spacecraft cemetery is “South Pacific Ocean(ic) Uninhabited Area.”

It’s uninhabited by humans and, thanks to being in the Southern Pacific Gyre, about as devoid of life as part of an ocean can be on this planet.

Even so, some folks have said that dropping space junk into that part of the ocean is bad for the environment.

Folks with environmental concerns are probably right, at least in the long run, but for now I think dropping used spacecraft into a spacecraft cemetery makes more sense than letting their orbits decay: and hoping for the best.

Other folks see a decommissioned ISS as an opportunity. More specifically, as material for a salvage yard —

“…The ISS not only contains a lot of valuable equipment but also useful resources, such as the metal in its truss and its solar panels, that has been taken to space at great expense. ‘It’s a sunk cost,’ says John Klein, a space policy expert at George Washington University in the US. ‘Let’s reuse what we can.’

“In late 2022, a group of companies including CisLunar Industries and Astroscale in the US presented an idea to the White House to do just that. That could include melting some of the metal in the truss of the station to be re-used to build new structures or vehicles in space, or even detaching entire modules and repurposing them for other space stations’ We definitely think there’s an opportunity here,’ says Gary Calnan, CisLunar’s chief executive. ‘We want to build a salvage yard in space.’…”
(“A fiery end? How the ISS will end its life in orbit“, Jonathan O’Callaghan, BBC Future (May 2, 2023))

I think outfits like CisLunar Industries and Astroscale have the right idea. I also think they’ll probably call their operations “recycling”, for marketing purposes.

Whether they’ll work out technical issues, and unsnarl the legal and bureaucratic tangle of extraterrestrial salvage rights? That’s another question.

BenduKiwi's visual representation of the elder god Cthulu (2006) via Wikipedia, used w/o permission.My oldest daughter and I were discussing the spacecraft cemetery and works of H. P. Lovecraft the other day. Partly because Cthulhu’s home town is where we’re dumping used spacecraft.

She pointed out that dropping spaceships on Cthulhu’s roof might put the eldritch abomination in a bad mood.

That’s be a concern, if either of us saw “The Call of Cthulhu” as anything but fiction.

As it is, at this time of day there’s zero chance of folks traveling through the spacecraft cemetery seeing —

“…a great stone pillar sticking out of the sea, and in S. Latitude 47° 9′, W. Longitude 126° 43′ [and coming] upon a coast-line of mingled mud, ooze, and weedy Cyclopean masonry which can be nothing less than the tangible substance of earth’s supreme terror—the nightmare corpse-city of R’lyeh, that was built in measureless aeons behind history by the vast, loathsome shapes that seeped down from the dark stars….”
(“The Call of Cthulhu“, H. P. Lovecraft (1926))

— but it might make a good tale of cosmic horror.7 And that’s another topic.

More, mostly about space exploration:

1 Spaceflight international:

2 Agreements, legislation and a space station:

3 An allotrope and applied science:

4 Rocket science and new(ish) technologies:

5 The ISS: looking back and ahead:

6 Dealing with defunct spacecraft:

7 Wrapping it up for this week:

Posted in Discursive Detours, Science News | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Commercial Space Services and Changing Times

SpaceX Starbase in  Boca Chica, Texas, United States. 30 minutes before Starship test flight. (April 20, 2023)
SpaceX Starship, 30 minutes before test flight. (April 20, 2023)

This week I’ll talk about the SpaceX Starship and ispace test flights. Whether or not they were successful depends on who’s talking.

I’ll also look at the usual hand-wringing over threats to the status quo.

News and Views

SpaceX Falcon Heavy Demo Mission's image: Elon Musk's Tesla Roadster on the Falcon Heavy upper stage. (February 6, 2018) via Wikipedia, used w/o permission.The SpaceX Starship blew up.

I still don’t know what happened to ispace’s Hakuto-R lander.

Seeing both as failures is an option.

That may explain CNN’s “Starship’s explosion is not the failure it appears to be” headline.

And Elon Musk’s knack for getting attention, on top of being wealthier than most of us — is something I’ll get back to.

“We Will Keep Moving Forward”

ispace infographic, illustrating Mission 1 milestones. (April 2023))
Hakuto-R Mission 1 Milestones, ispace. (April 2023)

CNN’s experts weren’t named in the nine-paragraph article. But I think they’re right, and so are the folks at ispace.

Basically, ispace said that Hakuto-R Mission 1 was both a commercial and a test flight.

The lander carried the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre’s (MBRSC) Rashid Lunar rover; SORA-Q , a mini-rover designed by Tomy and JAXA; and Sakanaction’s “Sorato” song on a music disc.

NASA’s Lunar Flashlight mini-orbiter tagged along as a ride-on. It separated from Hakuto-R well before they reached the moon. The last I heard, the Lunar Flashlight mission was still in progress.

Carrying payloads for MBRSC, JAXA/Tomy, and Sakanaction was Hakuto-R Mission 1’s commercial mission.1 Odds are that MBRSC and the other folks won’t get as much out of their investment as they’d hoped.

As for ispace’s test flight of their Hakuto-R spacecraft, they had nine mission objectives.

They achieved eight.

I’d call that a mostly-successful test flight.

And I like the ispace CEO’s expressed attitude: “we will keep moving forward.”

Status Update on ispace HAKUTO-R Mission 1 Lunar Lander
Press Release, ispace (April 26, 2023)

“ispace, inc., (ispace) a global lunar exploration company, issued an update on the status of the HAKUTO-R Mission 1 Lunar Lander.

“The HAKUTO-R Mission 1 Lunar Lander was scheduled to touchdown on the surface of the Moon at approximately 1:40 a.m. JST. As of 8:00 a.m. JST, April 26, 2023, the communication between the lander and the Mission Control Center was lost, although it was expected even after the touchdown, and it has been determined that Success 9 of the Mission Milestones is not achievable.”Based on the currently available data, … the lander was in a vertical position as it carried out the final approach to the lunar surface. Shortly after the scheduled landing time, no data was received indicating a touchdown. ispace engineers monitored the estimated remaining propellant reached at the lower threshold and shortly afterward the descent speed rapidly increased. After that, the communication loss happened. Based on this, it has been determined that there is a high probability that the lander eventually made a hard landing on the Moon’s surface….

“…’Although we do not expect to complete the lunar landing at this time, we believe that we have fully accomplished the significance of this mission, having acquired a great deal of data and experience by being able to execute the landing phase. What is important is to feed this knowledge and learning back to Mission 2 and beyond so that we can make the most of this experience,’ said Takeshi Hakamada, Founder and CEO of ispace. ‘To this end, we are already developing Mission 2 and Mission 3 concurrently and have prepared a foundation that can maintain this continuity. I would like to thank once again all the employees who have contributed to this mission from its inception to the present, all the families who have continued to support it, and all the shareholders, HAKUTO-R partners, customers, suppliers, and many others who have continued to believe in ispace’s vision. We will keep moving forward.‘…”
[emphasis mine]

Fireball After Four Minutes: Starship’s Orbital Test Flight

SpaceX Starship on launchpad, before test flight. (April 20, 2023)
SpaceX Starship on the launchpad, Starbase, Boca Chita, Texas. (April 20, 2023)

I’m running short on time this week, so this bit will be more pictures than text.

Before Starship took off, folks at SpaceX had said that clearing the launchpad would be a successful flight.

SpaceX Starship test flight, at plus 12 seconds. (April 20, 2023)
SpaceX Starship, 12 seconds into the test flight. (April 20, 2023)

By that standard, Starship’s April 2o text flight was a resounding success. It did not explode on the launchpad.

SpaceX Starship in flight. (April 20, 2023)
One minute, 21 seconds, into Starship’s test flight. (April 20, 2023)

On the other hand, several of the Superheavy Booster’s engines weren’t working. I count six out in that screencapture, the display shows five, and either way it’s not a good thing.

SpaceX Starship, three minutes and 10 seconds after liftoff. (April 20, 2023)
SpaceX Super Heavy booster and Starship, after the upper stage should have separated. (April 20, 2023)

Three minutes and loose change after liftoff, something was obviously wrong. The lower and upper stages hadn’t separated properly, and the stack was tumbling. A bit later, the spacecraft exploded.

Starship’s “Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly”, RUD, was deliberate. Flight Termination Systems (FTS) in the Super Heavy Booster and Starship were triggered, since the vehicle had started tumbling and was falling toward the Gulf of Mexico.2

So, how come Elon Musk and folks at SpaceX have been calling a four-minute flight ending in a fireball a success?

It’s because Elon Musk apparently doesn’t enjoy wasting money. That’ll take some explaining, which is what an astronautical engineering professor did.

“…’Even though that rocket costs a lot of money, what really costs a lot of money are people’s salaries,‘ [University of Southern California astronautical engineering professor and former NASA astronaut, senior adviser to SpaceX Garrett] Reisman told Reuters in an interview hours after Thursday’s launch.

“Reisman said SpaceX saves more money in the long run, and takes less time to identify and correct engineering flaws by taking more risks in the development process rather than keeping ‘a large team working for years and years and years trying to get it perfect before you even try it.’

“‘I would say the timeline for transporting people (aboard Starship) is accelerated right now compared to what it was a couple of hours ago,’ Reisman said….”
(“SpaceX rocket explosion illustrates Elon Musk’s ‘successful failure’ formula“; Steve Gorman, Arlene Eiras; Reuters (April 20, 2023) [emphasis mine])

Starship Planned Mission Timelines: April 17 and 20, 2023

Starship’s test flight would, if everything had gone right, have lasted 90 minutes.

Although it ended about four minutes after takeoff, the Super Heavy Booster and Starship test flight successfully passed eight, nine or maybe nine and a half of 22 events. Depending on how you count “Fluid interfaces…” and “Max q“.

For the first test flight of the combined vehicle, that’s not bad.

TimeEventApril 17April 20
−02:00:00SpaceX Flight Director conducts a poll and verifies go for propellant loadingSuccessSuccess
−01:39:00Super Heavy booster propellant load (liquid oxygen and liquid methane) underwaySuccessSuccess
−01:22:00Starship fuel loading (liquid methane) underwaySuccessSuccess
−01:17:00Starship oxidizer loading (liquid oxygen) underwaySuccessSuccess
−00:16:40Booster engine chillSuccessSuccess
−00:00:40Fluid interfaces begin the venting sequenceNot passedResumed after hold
−00:00:08Booster ignition sequence beginsSuccess
−00:00:06First-stage engine ignitionSuccess
00:00:55Max q (moment of peak mechanical stress on the rocket)Success, yet later than planned
00:02:49Main engine cutoff (MECO)?
00:02:52Stage separation?
00:02:57Starship ignitionDid not take place
00:03:11Booster boostback burn startup
00:04:06Booster boostback burn shutdown
00:07:32Booster is transonic
00:07:40Booster landing burn startup
00:08:03Booster splashdown
00:09:20Starship engine cutoff (SECO)
01:17:21Starship atmospheric re-entry interface
01:28:43Starship is transonic
01:30:00Starship Pacific impact
From SpaceX Starship orbital test flight, Wikipedia. (April 28, 2023)

Now, before getting into some of the usual sound and fury, Overlook Horizon’s five-minute video discussing SpaceX and Starship.

Changing the Game, and Why That’s a Good Thing

(“6 Ways SpaceX Starship is Game Changing”, Overlook Horizon (December 1, 2020))

Neocolonization, Environmental Racism and Gentrification: EEK!

(Getty Images, via BBC News: protestors protesting against Donald Trump and climate change in Hamburg. (July 2017))Now I’ll get back to the dreadful and terribly serious threat of Elon Musk.

Elon Musk is rich. He’s got more money than most folks, certainly more than I do.

That might not be a problem, from a particular perspective, if he behaved as though he knew his place: supporting the correct causes and conducting himself as befits one of his station.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I suspect Elon Musk’s high profile and lack of proper decorum is behind this sort of denunciation:

“…Brownsville community member Josette Hinojosa, released the following statement:
“‘SpaceX continues to disrespect Brownsville by continuing to destroy our beach, limit access to it, and push out longtime residents at the same time. Our region has dealt with generations of poverty and exploitation, which it seems like SpaceX has arrived to take advantage of. The exacerbation of these issues by SpaceX’s creation and contributions to gentrification is nothing short of neocolonization. Applauding this experimental technology that has no immediate benefits for anyone besides the wealthy is a further contribution to environmental racism and how communities like my own get sold out to large corporations like SpaceX.’…

“…Gloria Thomas with DSA-RGV (Democratic Socialists of America – RioGrande Valley), released the following statement:
“‘SpaceX has brought nothing but gentrification, and environmental destruction to the Valley. The promises of ‘economic development’ and ‘technological innovation’ are false promises. The so-called economic development is only meant for elites and opportunists, who take advantage of our community, land and resources. SpaceX continues to show incompetency from the previous launch failures and explosions. The lack of oversight from federal and state agencies, and local government, has allowed SpaceX to get away with launch failures that have caused explosions. It shows that these agencies are willing to compromise the public’s safety, and the environment for a billionaire’s pet project.'”
(“Rio Grande Valley Community React Ahead of SpaceX Rocket Launch Blast on the South Texas Coastline 27 Organizations sign onto letter expressing community concern“,
Press Release, Sierra Club (April 19, 2023))

Can’t say that I blame folks who joined the Sierra Club in opposition “neocolonization” and “experimental technology”.

I think there’s a very real risk that the SpaceX Starship, or something like it, will make spaceflight a great deal less expensive than it is now.3 And that, in turn, will almost certainly trigger other changes.

Villainy Runs Rampant as Chaos Stalks the Streets!

'At the Sign of the UNHOLY THREE' cartoon, warning against fluoridated water, polio serum and mental hygiene. And 'communistic world government.' (1955)Change is scary.

I think seeing how fear affects folks is easier when it’s ‘those people over there’ whose prudence is skidding toward paranoia.

“…when we’re afraid of certain things in ourselves or we’re afraid of change, we project those fears on to other things, and a lot of very ugly social situations can develop….”
(Gary Ross, commenting on his film “Pleasantville” (1998), quoted in “Review of Pleasantville”, Edward Johnson-Ott. Via Wikiquote.)

I remember the ‘good old days’, when frighteningly fervent folks were stalwartly defending America from fluoridated water and other communist plots.

By the time I was in my teens, that flavor of craziness was wearing thin. And probably helped make reforms of the 1960s look like good ideas. Which many were, and that’s another topic.

Time passed. I worked as a flower delivery guy, sales clerk, radio disk jockey, beet chopper, computer operator, and a mess of other jobs.

Meanwhile, folks around my age with less interesting lives were pursuing successful careers: staying true, in many cases, to their youthful ideals. I suspect that many didn’t notice that their side had won. And that now they were The Establishment.

Small wonder that some, looking at threats to distilled and/or warped versions of their cherished beliefs, have gotten a tad die-hard in their never-ending battle against neocolonialism and gentrification.

Which I’ll grant is a change of pace from traditional slogans like ‘capitalistic oppressors of the proletariat’.4

I don’t know enough about the Boca Chica situation to have an informed opinion about the threat of new jobs.

On the other hand, I figure the SpaceX Starbase employs folks who aren’t rocket scientists.

Many jobs involve low-status skills: and fill vital functions. As my father told me, the first thing a boss with any sense does is get to know the janitor. And that’s yet another topic.

Defending the Status Quo: A Cautionary Tale

Google Street View: 15892 County Rd 11, Sauk Centre, Minnesota. (August 2009)
Somewhere in rural Minnesota. (2009)

I remember a neighbor’s cautionary tale about the town he came from. It had been a small place, with a very limited number of businesses.

The town’s leadership strove, and ultimately succeeded, in protecting their community from a company which had threatened their way of life with new jobs. And more to the point, I suspect, a change in the status quo.

The ‘not one of ours’ company eventually gave up and built elsewhere.

Then, as folks with get up and go got and went, the town faded.

It’s been a while since I heard about that situation. My guess is that there’s still a bar and maybe a gas station on the site. And not much else.

There’s a lesson here. Maybe it’s “be careful what you wish for”.

“My End of the Boat”, Obligations and Being Catholic

Carl Hassmann's 'The Almightier' illustration for Puck. (May 15, 1907)My life might be easier if I took the “my end of the boat isn’t sinking” approach. But that’s not an option.

Neither is putting my brain on hold and taking my cues from whichever party or action committee’s slogans trigger conditioned responses.

Since I’m a Catholic, using my brain isn’t an option: it’s an obligation. Thinking about whether something is right or not is a must. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1749-1756)

Good news, the rules I follow are simple.

They boil down to loving God and my neighbors, and seeing everyone as my neighbor. No exceptions. (Matthew 5:4344, 7:12, 22:3640, Mark 12:2831; 10:2527, 2937; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1789)

Not-so-comfortable news, acting as if loving God and neighbor matters is not easy. At all.

Getting back to sinking boats and cliches, part of my job is doing what I can in public life. That includes recognizing humanity’s solidarity, respecting our transcendent dignity, supporting social justice and honoring authority. Within reason. (Catechism, 1778, 1915, 1897-1917, 1928-1942, 2199, 2238-2243)

Social justice, in this context, is acknowledging that we’re not all the same. And that difference isn’t an excuse for mistreatment. (Catechism, 1934-1938)

(left) Homer Davenport's 'I am Confident the Workingmen are with Us' cartoon. New York Journal (1896) - (right)Karl Kae Knecht's 'A Teddy Speech' cartoon (October 1912)Then there’s patriotism, politics and dyspepsia. I am not looking forward to the upcoming presidential election’s brouhaha, and that’s yet again another topic.

The “politics” thing is a deplorable mess I’ll leave for another time. As for patriotism —

Loving my country is a good idea. Again, within reason. But letting love of country slop over into worship of country is idolatry. And a very bad idea. (Catechism, 2112-2114, 2199, 2239)

That’s all I’ve got for this week. Apart from the usual links:

1 East, west and looking up:

2 SpaceX Starship test flight, mostly:

3 On the Tamaulipas-Texas Border:

4 Slogans, ballyhoo and fearmongering; then and now:

Posted in Discursive Detours, Science News | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A Three-Day Visit: Time Well Spent

My oldest daughter hasn’t been down to visit in more than three years.

This week, she had an opportunity: and took it. She arrived Monday and left Wednesday.

Good news: we spent a great deal of those three days talking.

Potentially-frustrating news: I didn’t get much done on this week’s ‘Saturday’ post until she left. But I think they were three days well spent.

SpaceX Starbase in  Boca Chica, Texas, United States. 30 minutes before Starship test flight. (April 20, 2023)Back to good news: I’ll have something ready for Saturday: “Commercial Space Services and Changing Times”.

It’s about the ispace Lunar landing attempt, SpaceX Starship’s test flight and what I see as “the usual hand-wringing over threats to the status quo.”

It’s also not quite finished, so I’d better get back to work.

Posted in Journal | Tagged , , | Leave a comment