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Blog Series: Countering misconceptions in space journalism

As a lover of all things space I enjoy reading a wide variety of perspectives. The more different the origin, the more likely I am to learn something new! Even in articles which contain errors or elements of confusion, there’s still a good chance that I’ll encounter a new way of thinking about an issue. This is important. Space is hard, and it’s also hard to reason about. Humans often prefer reasoning by analogy, but with very few exceptions, reasoning by analogy in space is always wrong. So we need to find other ways to reason about space systems, architectures, … Continue reading Blog Series: Countering misconceptions in space journalism

Lunar water is not that exciting

Part of my series on countering misconceptions in space journalism. Water, the staff of life. What a shame, then, that the Earth’s Moon always seemed to be so dry! So dry, in fact, that in most places if there was concrete available it would be a better source of water than average moon dirt. Not everywhere, though. For decades now, permanently shadowed craters near the pole have been thought to trap volatiles, including water, in their intense cold. More recently a series of missions have confirmed the presence of some water. Scarcely a month goes by without some breathless headline … Continue reading Lunar water is not that exciting

Space-based solar power is not a thing

This post is part of a series on common misconceptions in space journalism. It’s also part of the sub-series on space resources, and why commercial exploitation of space resources is less inevitable than you might think. It is an expansion and update of a previous post on some of my unconventional space opinions, all of which will eventually be revisited in this series. In this blog we’re going to avoid reasoning by analogy which, in space, will lead us astray. Space is so different from the familiar here on Earth that the only way to be sure we’re on the right … Continue reading Space-based solar power is not a thing

Caltech astrophysics and harassment: Lessons learned

Caltech astrophysics and harassment: Lessons learned Casey Handmer 2019 What is this? In the wake of major catastrophes, it is common practice for organizations to publish a “Lessons Learned” report to help prevent future occurrences. The largest public catastrophe in which I’ve ever been involved occurred in the Caltech astrophysics department between 2010 and 2019. Former Caltech professor and internationally disgraced astrophysicist Christian Ott harmed, harassed, and abused numerous students, postdocs, and research fellows. Despite thousands of hours of investigation, no public “findings” or “lessons learned” report has ever been made available. This document is my attempt to fill this … Continue reading Caltech astrophysics and harassment: Lessons learned

Genealogy as a window to the past

At various points over the last two years I’ve conducted some research into my family’s history. I had always been aware of some family mysteries and I found the process of learning how to trawl through old records online quite meditative. My wife and I had a baby and I became interested in where we’d come from as well as where we’re going. Although some distant relatives had written family histories, the advent of online databases and DNA testing has drastically increased the reach of casual researchers and I was able to track down all known primary documents in a … Continue reading Genealogy as a window to the past

Notes on long distance relationships

One aspect of life in academia is that it is surprisingly common for couples to suffer from the “two body problem”. This play on the Three Body Problem of classical mechanics occurs when the generally tough academic job market forces a couple to live in separate cities and often separate countries, sometimes for their entire career. I don’t have any particularly deep wisdom in this regard, but my wife Christine and I spent most of our engagement apart while she wintered over in Antarctica in 2016. While spending something like 340 of the 380 days of our engagement apart might seem … Continue reading Notes on long distance relationships

Are modular space stations cost effective?

In my previous blog, Unpopular Opinions In Space, I wrote that while expensive, developing a bigger rocket is often a cheaper and easier solution to any given problem in space. In this post, I elaborate on this theme while trying to understand design constraints in space station construction. Humans have launched 16 space stations since the 1960s, of which 10 were functional enough, for long enough, to be occupied at least once. Following the cancellation of the Soviet N1 Moon rocket, the Soviet Union built a series of space stations for civilian and military purposes, exploiting their Proton medium lift … Continue reading Are modular space stations cost effective?