Sticky post

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

SLS: Is cancellation too good?

The SLS axiomatically cannot provide good value to the US taxpayer. In that regard it has already failed, regardless of whether it eventually manages to limp to orbit with a Falcon Heavy payload or two. The question here is whether it is allowed to inflict humiliation and tragedy on the US public, who so richly deserve an actual legitimate launch program run by and for actual technical experts. The best time to cancel SLS was 15 years ago. The second best time is now. Oh yeah, the disclaimer. I do not speak for my employer. This blog should not be … Continue reading SLS: Is cancellation too good?

How (not) to measure progress in science?

I’m a bit late to the party but I’ve been enjoying some Collison podcast backlog and realized I had more to say about the “diminishing returns of science” trope that does the rounds from time to time. Simply stated, the thesis suggests that a variety of metrics employed to measure progress of science all seemingly concur that despite increasing numbers of PhDs and the net accumulation of knowledge, major new discoveries are few and far between, at least compared to science in prior ages. For a process that’s devoted to discovering knowledge, science is poorly understood by nearly everyone, including … Continue reading How (not) to measure progress in science?

Biological data storage

Just a quick note on some probably unoriginal ideas I had about categorizing biological data storage methods. While it’s important to note that these are listed in roughly the order of their evolution and respective capacity, there’s nothing particularly deterministic about their evolution. Some of them are more-or-less necessary, invoking the anthropic principle, to write this blog, but plenty of microbes get on fine with the supposedly less sophisticated subset of them. This blog is inspired in part by the astonishing Pfizer/Moderna mRNA vaccines for COVID, which I just cannot wait to get shot into my immune system. It’s so … Continue reading Biological data storage

The future of electricity is local

I frequently read about proposals for new solar power developments where the resulting power is moved great distances to less sunny places, such as northern Europe from the Sahara, the US North East from the South West, or even Australia to Singapore. According to these proposals, the key to unlocking greener electricity is massive infrastructure to move renewable electricity across continents. Looking at a solar resource map, such as this one of the US, it certainly seems that if the solar resource was oil, Arizona would be the place to drill. On a global scale, it seems that solar potential … Continue reading The future of electricity is local

Supersonic electric flight

This post is inspired by the recent press release about the Rolls Royce Accel, an experimental electric aircraft being built to attempt the electric speed record. Close friends know I’ve been noodling in this area myself off and on since 2012 but I decided it was time to write a more comprehensive blog, partly in recognition of the growth of my technical audience, and partly because I don’t have any short term plans to resume work in this area. The usual disclaimers apply: I’m a physicist, pilot, and drone pilot with a variety of bizarre ideas. I am about to … Continue reading Supersonic electric flight

Projects in lock down

2020 has been a difficult and interesting year for many of us. I will preface this post by acknowledging my overwhelming good fortune and continuing good health, two blessings that I am well aware are shared by too few of my fellow humans. The challenges I have faced this year are relatively trivial in the grand scheme of things. That said, I found that without a steady stream of projects to keep me busy my idle mind would fixate on extrinsic frustrations, loneliness, homesickness, and other patterns of negative thought. Fortunately, my wife Christine and I had moved into a … Continue reading Projects in lock down

Post capitalism and post scarcity

Part of my series on countering common misconceptions in space journalism. The usual disclaimers apply: These blogs are my own lousy, misinformed opinions ineptly projected on a cheap website with the possibly vain hope of stimulating productive conversation and thus incrementally shaving off shards of my own ignorance. I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoy writing them! In some sense this post is inspired by the publication and promotion of Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest novel, “Ministry for the Future”. It’s a great read and I heartily recommend it. That said, it got me thinking once again about … Continue reading Post capitalism and post scarcity

The Case for Space Stations

Part of my series on countering common misconceptions in space journalism. Previously I’ve written about how practical space station size is limited due to non-obvious problems with modularity, and the economic challenges of O’Neill cylinders. However a recent conversation prompted me to re-examine my assumptions and so, in this blog, I will be making the case for space stations. First, the challenges. The ISS took the better part of 30 years and $300b to build, including related programmatic costs for the Shuttle. For 20 of those years, the station has been occupied by between 3 and 6 astronauts, who have … Continue reading The Case for Space Stations

Vision 2040: The first million on Mars

As the 2020 Mars Society Convention has just finished, I’m publishing here my entry in the Mars City State Design Competition. Also available as a pdf. Congratulations to the winners team Nexus Aurora and all the other 176 competitors! Vision 2040: The first million on Mars Casey Handmer Conceptual overview Twenty pages is hardly adequate to describe the totality of any city, let alone the first city on Mars. Too much is uncertain or unknowable for me to be prescriptive. And yet, to chart our course we need some idea of a destination. The tools of science and the talents … Continue reading Vision 2040: The first million on Mars

Starlink packet routing

Part of my series countering common misconceptions in space journalism. This blog is a follow on to my original post on Starlink. Starlink is an emerging high performance satellite-based internet routing network developed by SpaceX. Its ultimate purpose is to become the de-facto internet backbone provider, connect billions more people to the internet, and revolutionize access to space. The usual disclaimers apply. I have no relevant inside knowledge of Starlink operations. I’m not an expert in networking, and unlike Starlink’s staff I haven’t spent years working only on this problem. In fact, I’m usually deeply confused at the best of … Continue reading Starlink packet routing