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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

What would it be like to work on Mars?

“[People and robots] wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.” Part of my series on common misconceptions in space journalism. In both science fiction and fact-based journalism there are a bewildering variety of future visions for human existence in space. Indeed, a primary function of science fiction is to examine the human condition by juxtaposing our evolutionary legacy with hypothetical future technology. For example, Kim Stanley Robinson used Mars as a rich palette to explore alternative sociopolitical structures in his epic Mars trilogy. My … Continue reading What would it be like to work on Mars?

Oh no, space capitalists are coming!

Part of the series on countering misconceptions in space journalism. A timely reminder that this blog features only my own lousy opinions, but presented in the spirit of asking useful questions, promoting fruitful dialog, and becoming less wrong over time. A surprisingly common trope in space journalism features a narrative with one or more of the following parts: Motivated by a base desire for yet more money, Evil billionaires from Silicon Valley are building Mines on asteroids/the Moon, or Post-apocalyptic bunkers on Mars, which will Ruin everything forever. While I freely acknowledge the excellent intentions of people who propagate these … Continue reading Oh no, space capitalists are coming!

Domes are over-rated

Part of my series on common misconceptions in space journalism. It is an unwritten rule of space journalism that any article about Moon or Mars bases needs to have a conceptual drawing of habitation domes. Little scintillating blisters of breathable air clustered between pointy antennas. Look, I get it. Domes are cool. I’ve built several. And while I don’t regard myself as an expert on Mars urban planning, I believe domes are not a very good solution for building cities on Mars. I’m going to motivate this post by describing constraints on “the mission”. There is a time and place … Continue reading Domes are over-rated

Comments on this blog

A quick note to outline my goals with community participation on this blog. Commenters are strongly encouraged to be overly nice, helpful, and positive. All first time posters are moderated. The following is fine: Compliments Encouragement Questions Suggestions Requests Criticism, especially when backed up by numerate analysis and references The following will likely result in swift deletion: Insults and abuse Personal attacks Blanket negativity Unintelligible nonsense Stuff that adds more noise than signal Stuff that attracts excessive garbage replies Let’s build a culture of productive information exchange. Continue reading Comments on this blog

Starlink is a very big deal

Part of my series countering misconceptions in space journalism. Starlink, SpaceX’s plan to serve internet via tens of thousands of satellites, is a staple in the space press, with articles appearing every week on the latest developments. The broad schema is clear and, thanks to filings with the FCC, a sufficiently well motivated individual (such as your humble servant) can deduce a great deal of detail. Despite this, there is still an unusually high degree of confusion around this new technology, even among expert commentators. It is not uncommon to read articles comparing Starlink to OneWeb and Kuiper (among others), … Continue reading Starlink is a very big deal

The SpaceX Starship is a very big deal

Part of my series on common misconceptions in space journalism. SpaceX has been working on some variant of the Big Falcon Rocket for almost a decade, with a publicly announced architecture for three years. The target performance figures are on the Starship website, endlessly dissected on Twitter, Reddit, and NASA spaceflight forums, and there’s even a livestream of construction. Yet none of the oft-published mainstream articles seem to capture the magnitude of the vision that Starship embodies. Starship prompts superlatives, but by the end of this post the reader will understand not only how big Starship is, but also that … Continue reading The SpaceX Starship is a very big deal

Space debris, probably not coming to a backyard near you

Part of my blog series on common misconceptions in space journalism. As far as popular riffs on space exploration go, “the sky is falling” is one of my all time favorites. Space is hard, and analogies are almost always wrong. Collisions between satellites do occur and they are a really big deal. It is hard to accurately convey just how energetic satellites are. When they re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere, they mostly burn up, as though they fell into a fire. But the atmosphere isn’t especially hot. Instead, the kinetic energy of the satellite is dissipated by¬†boiling the metal that the … Continue reading Space debris, probably not coming to a backyard near you