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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

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

Progression of space industrialization

Part of my series on common misconceptions in space journalism. Also, an update of sorts to my post on industrializing Mars. Ever since SpaceX publicly announced their overarching mission to build a self-sustaining city on Mars, countless articles have been written about all sorts of related things. In many ways, this whole blog series is a reflection of this explosion of common media interest. Relatively few articles go so far as to dive into (literally) the nuts and bolts, and fewer still give any useful insights into the process. Industrializing is really difficult. In August 2020 Starship SN5 has just … Continue reading Progression of space industrialization

Book reviews

Notes on some books I’ve read in the relatively recent past. I’m happy to hear recommendations for more books or views, but my “to read” list currently grows about twice as fast as it shrinks. Might contain spoilers. Mars “Voyage” Stephen Baxter (1996). Alternate history of Apollo hardware going to Mars. I found 80% of it great and 20% of it tough going, so I haven’t reread it. “Moving Mars” Greg Bear (1993). Great read. Lots of really beautiful ideas. “How We’ll Live on Mars” Stephen Petranek (2015). Far be it for me to criticize short books e-published on Amazon … Continue reading Book reviews

Case Study: Iceland

This is an excerpt from my book on Mars industrialization. It goes into a lot of detail on how we can think about the interaction between hostile environments and technological sustainability. Why Iceland? Iceland is an apt analogy for a potential Mars city, and a useful way to think about self-sufficiency. Today, Iceland enjoys a high standard of living and is a popular tourist destination famed for its natural beauty. It has a population of about 335,000 and a GDP per capita of about US$60,000. Naturally, it is highly dependent on a range of imports, exporting mainly aluminium and fish. … Continue reading Case Study: Iceland


I received a recent timely reminder that a long-planned blog, this one, I had yet to write. Many many blog spirits lurk in the great beyond waiting for inspiration or structure. Once I understand how they might go, I write them down. This blog is on failure, specifically, personal failure. It is inspired by this CV of failure. It may seem that by advertising my screw ups, I’m quietly projecting calm confidence in my non-failures, which can be reviewed on my LinkedIn. This is not the case. While I have enjoyed a modicum of success at times, my personal recollection … Continue reading Failure