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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

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

OMG space is full of radiation, and why I’m not worried

Part of my series on common misconceptions in space journalism. “With no magnetic field, Mars has no defense against harsh solar radiation. If I were exposed to it, I’d get so much cancer, the cancer would have cancer.” ― Andy Weir, The Martian “The Martian” is one of the hardest science fiction novels ever written. In a previous post, I gave its technical accuracy an A+. Andy is a smart person who takes the trouble to do the research and get things right. That said, there is a common misconception that humans traveling in space will have their faces melted … Continue reading OMG space is full of radiation, and why I’m not worried

On reasoning backwards from architecture to implicit requirements

Part of my series on common misconceptions in space journalism. Rigor is the underpinning of success when designing any kind of technological application. Throughout my career I have found myself on the frontiers not only of my own knowledge, but human knowledge in general. There is no handy reference or list of answers to check my work, so I was forced to develop my intuition for detecting problematic reasoning. I routinely employ these skills both to defend my own work against errors and to constructively critique the work of others. In this vein, I have previously I discussed the dangers … Continue reading On reasoning backwards from architecture to implicit requirements