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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

Don’t stage off Starship!

Part of my series on countering misconceptions in space journalism. The SpaceX Starship is a game changer for space exploration. It is intended to be far bigger, cheaper, versatile, and available than any other launch platform. In particular, it is designed to provide for a yearly orbital capacity measured in millions of tonnes. In SpaceX’s world, the days of parsimonious mass budgets and shoestring exploration plans are gone. The mission is to rapidly build a self-sufficient branch of civilization on another planet, and bombarding it with incredible quantities of cargo is a good start. As SpaceX Mars Development Engineer Paul … Continue reading Don’t stage off Starship!

Let’s breed space humans

Part of my series on countering misconceptions in space journalism. Space development advocates routinely envision cities in space or on other planets, which implies the eventual existence of humans born off the Earth. For some reason this topic is surprisingly divisive, so I feel compelled to add my voice to the noise. The concern is that humans may be unable to reproduce in a weightless, or reduced gravity environment. For example, the surface of the Moon is 1/6 g, while Mars is about 3/8 g. Both are a lot of fun if you can get time in a vomit comet! … Continue reading Let’s breed space humans

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