Category Archives: Politics

Sorry Nerds, There’s No Warp Drive

It makes for a sensational headline but NASA didn’t even come close to discovering warp technology.

The mechanism behind their fuel-free propulsion has no clear link to warping space-time. In fact, space-time is not proven or understood to exist as a material substance able to warp. It’s all nonsense. So what really happened?

Richard Feynman once said: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.”

You should have been suspicious when the story made the rounds on social media. The headlines were claiming NASA successfully tested something called the EM Drive. The EM drive is awesome, and it’s real science. It’s a propulsion engine doesn’t use propellant, which seems to violate the laws of physics by creating a reaction with no initial action.

First, let’s examine the actual finding. NASA has developed a hollow device that can be  pumped full of electromagnetic radiation which reflects back-and-forth, tapped inside the chamber, generates thrust, causing the device to accelerate in a direction based onthe shape of the chamber. You might ahve seen the story or similar reports over the last year because iterations of it have been built by Roger Shawyer (the EM Drive), one from a Chinese group led by Juan Yang, and one from Guido Fetta (the Cannae Drive), all claiming successful thrust. The stories on science news sites claim the acceleration created is caused by warped space of an Alcubierre Drive, the completely fictional “Star Trek” design.

Here are some problems. First off, none of the tests showed results from gadations in power. If this is a viable prototype for an engine, the science behind it hasn’t proven why a tiny acceleration in relation to a huge amount of relative power is worth any sort of real consideration for space travel. It’s a weak engine with no sign of how it can be scaled.

Secondly, the thrust they created is so small it might just be a mistake in mathematics or caused by an unknown factor, unrelated to warp tech. A true test requires an isolated environment, with atmospheric, gravitational and electromagnetic effects removed from the equation.

Thirdly, good science is reproducible. These tests lack a transparent design so no one else can verify that this actually works.
Finally, a real report has to be created that can be peer-reviewed and understood before irresponsibly publishing the claims.

Optimism of this sort, claiming to be able to put people on mars with a warp engine, is not scientifically valid. This latest group declared they have broken the previously-held laws of physics. They assume we can scale up and implement this engine for space propulsion just because of some questionably positive results. They claim to be distorting space, they claim they might be causing light to go faster by approximately 10^-18 m/s. They made these claims without actually proving them, and told the general public, spreading misinfo.

Harold “Sonny” White at NASA, has made extraordinary claims about warp drive in the past. He is totally the kind of guy who would jump to warp drive as a conclusion. There is nothing in NASA’s report that shows they’ve created a warp drive. Sorry, Star Trek and Star Wars fans. Most likely this is a public relations move to get America and the world science communities more excited about space travel and science education.

Jonathan Howard
Jonathan is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn, NY

Did Climate Change Start A War?

Only a few years ago, reports about climate change driving people to commit crimes were the stuff of scorn – ridiculed by Tea Partiers like Herman Cain and the general public alike, even among those who would readily admit that people were the primary cause behind climate change and already anticipated the disastrous impact it would have on the weather and rising sea levels. Now, it might be time to take the warnings a bit more seriously. You might remember a story by Ray Bradbury about a particularly hot day – how more murders are committed at 92 degrees than at any other temperature, the peak of irritability.

It’s not quite what happened in Syria, but if you’ll consider the link between climate change and crop failures, it’s clear to see that climate change is inevitably impacting the economy for the worse – eroding coastal tourist attractions, cooking mollusks in the ocean’s increasing acidity and leading to prolonged droughts.

One of these droughts back in 2011 may have sparked the current civil war in Syria. As farms were overtaken with drought, the farmers fled to cities with their families, leading to crowding and gradual unrest, according to a recent study.

“Up until now we’ve understood and established that changes in climate may affect human conflict in the future. But everything until now has stopped short of saying climate change is already having an effect,” says Solomon Hsiang, a professor from University of California, Berkeley who has grown increasingly interested in the role climate change may have on violence. While there are a number of world leaders who have either denied climate science or remained largely apathetic about the problem, this new study could shed light on why they should pay attention – another complication that many people, scientists included, may have overlooked until now.

The authors of the new paper, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week does recognize a myriad of factors in the Syrian uprising. Among them were corrupt politcal leadership, inequality, massive population growth, and government incompetence in averting the crisis.

However, their main interest was a compilation of statistics which indicate that shortages of the water supply throughout the Middle East’s Fertile Crescent, an area that overlaps the borders of Syria, Iraq, and Turkey, was responsible for the deaths of livestock, hikes in food prices, sickened children, and also forced the migration of 1.5 million rural residents in Syria to the outskirts of their already crowded cities like Damascus. This massive exodus coincided with the end of the Second Iraq War — which also drove a number of Iraqi immigrants to urban areas throughout Syria.

After a careful examination of the meteorological data, these researchers concluded that the natural variability of drought season on its own failed to account for the trends in wind, rain, and heat which prolonged it. Along with high unemployment and bad government, the country was brought to violence.

“Being able to, in a specific region, draw this story line together we think is pretty significant,” said the study’s co-author Richard Seager, who works as a climate scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “The entire world needs to be planning for a drier future in that area. And there will be lots of global implications.”

Scientists as well as the U.S. military have been arguing for years that this increase in temperatures will eventually render tracts of land uninhabitable, as farms are built specifically according to their purposes. The result will be waves of refugees and continuous conflicts forming as natural resources become scarce. Until now, however, many scientists felt that the discussion was too politically charged, that these claims were based on speculation with little evidence to support them.

“There tends to be two points of view about this kind of research—either ‘that’s obvious’ or ‘that can’t be true,'” Hsiang says, praising the group’s efforts. “This paper is an important contribution. It’s building on a collection of results that has really gained a lot of momentum recently.”

The researchers decided to further investigate the outbreak of violence in a region already known for decades of conflict over scarce resources when it became apparent that the drought coincided with spiked violence in the region. “Then we looked at the fact that there had been this warming trend and drying trend, which takes moisture out of the soils at the same time,” Seager explained.

While the drought was normal for the season, Seager acknowledges, it was also one of the most severe on record, something that coincided with rising surface temperatures.

The research is not without its limits, something Seager is well aware of.

“All someone would have to say to criticize it is that all this would have occurred without the drought,” Seager says. “That may well be true. This regime was tremendously unpopular to begin with.”

Unfortunately, it is also a study that many researchers would not care to reproduce – waiting until there is another episode of siege and unrest somewhere else in the world before analyzing it. As unpopular or unstable as Syria’s government may be, however, its cities would not be dealing with massive migrations had there not been a drought, something that climate change definitely worsened.

James Sullivan
James Sullivan is the assistant editor of Brain World Magazine and a contributor to Truth Is Cool and OMNI Reboot. He can usually be found on TVTropes or RationalWiki when not exploiting life and science stories for another blog article.

Documents Link Leading Climate Denier to Corporate Funds

2015 succeeds what scientists had roundly labeled the hottest year on record – already we’ve made second warmest January on record in the new year. Although climate deniers continue to tout the data as skewed, misinterpreted, or merely controversial, the numbers are clear, while the refusal to act is looking more and more like a scam as each year passes.

Deniers take advantage of making climate change appear to be a matter of controversy. Don’t mention that 97 percent of the world’s scientists have made a consensus over the evidence – say instead that there are cycles, natural periods of warming and cooling, that at one point we thought we were in danger of an ice age (read: one year and misinterpreted data), there is no consistent warming and hasn’t been for decades, or – yes, the climate is changing, but we don’t know how fast or even if people are responsible for the pattern. Most of all, there’s money to be made in green energy – to say nothing of the oil industry. None of them really hold much water if carefully looked at, and even seem to conflict with one another. Yet, we fall right in line because in science nothing is absolute. There’s always room for debate. Winters are still happening, so maybe the polar ice caps are safe after all. Often, any person who’s made up their mind on global warming will have a set of statistics they are ready to jump to – many of which were made possible because of one man named Wei-Hock Soon.

Soon, who takes the “it’s not our fault” approach to the climate controversy, has received over 1.2 million from several energy companies over the last decade, according to The New York Times. In particular, these include oil and gas corporations, which tend to pay a bit more than solar energy – a tip for any scientists thinking they can get wealthy by investing in renewable energy. This is hardly the first time that Soon has been overwhelmingly compensated for his work. Back in 2011, he received $131,000 from ExxonMobil, funds allocated to study what role the sun had to play in climate change. Despite having minimal credentials in climate science, Soon argues that an increase in sunspots is the direct cause of climate change.

This is little more than a long recycled argument by deniers – sunspots emerging over the last 100 years have caused the Earth’s surface temperatures to increase. In case you were wondering, the opposite is true, with the past 35 years showing the sun on a cooling trend. The only way to make a correlation between the two would be to deliberately manipulate the data, only revealing a few years when slight increases in the sun’s energy coincided with high temperatures. The overwhelming consensus, in fact, is that changes in the sun can only account for ten percent of climate change at best. Soon’s research, however, is indicative of something else.

“What it shows is the continuation of a long-term campaign by specific fossil-fuel companies and interests to undermine the scientific consensus on climate change,” said Kert Davies, executive director at the Climate Investigations Center, in a statement to the Times. The journals in which Soon had published his work are currently investigating the matter deeper, as Soon had evidently failed to report conflicts of interest when his papers were in the stages of peer review, at least eleven times since 2008 – a breach of publication standards and ethical guidelines.

It’s become something of an irritating post-holiday tradition over the last few winters, to have a chorus of deniers accompany each gust of cold wind, on how the miserable weather proves them right all along. The delight over these blasts of Arctic wind has generally not been seen by deniers (not climate skeptics) since the so-called Climategate scandal of 2009, when right wing bloggers quote mined the hacked e-mails of several climatologists to imply that they cooked the data used in their graphs.

Among the companies that funneled money to Soon were API, Exxon Mobil, Southern Company and Koch Industries, many of which were sent in the form of anonymous donations through the organization DonorsTrust.

“I think that’s inappropriate behavior,” said Charles R. Alcock, director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center. “This frankly becomes a personnel matter, which we have to handle with Dr. Soon internally.” Soon is a part-time employee of the Smithsonian Institution and has sometimes been falsely represented as an astrophysicist. Greenpeace was able to request the release of the documents through the Freedom of Information Act because the Smithsonian is a government agency.

In the past, corporations have shelled out sizable sums of money, covering up the harmfulness of products like lead-based paint or tobacco. Climate change, however, has shown itself to affect just about every aspect of life as we know it, with the potential to cause an unprecedented amount of harm throughout the world, and we are already feeling the effects. It is time to approach cases of corporate financed climate denial with that in mind.

James Sullivan
James Sullivan is the assistant editor of Brain World Magazine and a contributor to Truth Is Cool and OMNI Reboot. He can usually be found on TVTropes or RationalWiki when not exploiting life and science stories for another blog article.

How Seriously Should We Take the Mars One Mission?

Parts of it might come off sounding like a napkin draft of an old Robert Heinlein novel – the daring mission by one Netherlands-based non-profit group to colonize Mars. 25 participants in all – chosen from all walks of life, across the world, out of a panel of 3,500 different applicants. Those chosen for this mission will never see Earth again, living out their lives on the Red Planet in what Mars One hopes to be a permanent settlement.

So how plausible is this scenario? Mars One is actually somewhat proud of the description “science fiction made real – as they narrow down their list from the top 100 finalists. They plan to send four people to Mars every two years, an endeavor they hope to finance by producing a reality show edited from tapes of the colonists’ day to day lives. Ultimately, it seems as though the mission is best suited for a reality show – the limitations of recording media are probably among the lesser concerns of the mission, which has had a great deal of difficulty gaining appreciation among scientists, and actually quite a few detractors.

Last fall, MIT did an analysis of the mission’s logistics. Provided that the organization is rightly equipped with effective technology and successful at their first launch in the year 2024, there are still a number of concerns – limited supplies, as colonists will only take what they can carry aboard the capsule, being confined to small spaces throughout the long voyage, as well as a lack of proper ventilation, making it unlikely that any settlement will last much longer than 68 days, as the planet is low on natural resources – even if vegetation were to grow, the amount of oxygen it gives off could lead to explosions, and there is currently no way to vent oxygen while also venting nitrogen.

The date of the mission is set for 2024, which if successful would reach the red planet almost a decade before NASA’s planned mission to Mars. The trouble is that Mars One wants to do it at a fraction of their budget. The project’s budget would likely have to be in the ball park of $100 billion, not the six billion that the non-profit has proposed, and that would be even with the rather impressive team assembled by Mars One CEO Bas Lansdorp which includes space architect Kristian von Bengtson and even Dr. Norbert Kraft, a former psychiatrist for NASA who has studied the psychological aspect of space travel.

Now, Anu Ojha OBE, who serves as director of the UK National Space Academy Programme and also at Britain’s National Space Centre, has added to the vocal opposition, warning the 100 finalists that Mars One may never actually leave the ground.

Ojha said: “Obviously this is something that has captured the public’s imagination, and Mars One obviously has a great PR team, but space engineering obeys the laws of physics not PR.”

So far, Mars One has received $759,816 this year through crowdfunding campaigns and other donations, and hope to reach more through private contracts with production companies such as Endemol, who produced the series Big Brother. Endemol later pulled out when they failed to negotiate a contract. Mars One hopes to send several unmanned rockets to Mars, beginning in 2018, ahead of the first passengers, in order to locate an ideal spot for a landing base.

“In terms of technology, it’s pushing the absolute boundaries and there seems to be a lot of technological naivety on the part of the people running it”, Ojha said. While such achievements as the moon landing were significant for the new doors they opened with technology and scientific discoveries, Mars One is not so much developing its own technology, but rather making use of the latest innovations from NASA, ESA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and SpaceX.

“There are some elements that seem reasonable, but overall it’s concerning, and the timescales are also questionable.”

In addition to spotting a base camp, the facility will already begin phases of construction by the time people first arrive on the Red Planet. Much of the equipment currently in Mars One’s possession has yet to be tested, something that has led physicist Todd Huffman, who advocates Martian exploration, to call the mission “scientifically irresponsible.”

Ojha said: “The business model has so many holes in it, it’s shaky to say the least. And when you ask them how much money they have raised, they say it’s still ongoing. The time scales and the business model – they’re completely unrealistic.”

Bas Lansdorp has acknowledged that there are challenges ahead, as when he refuted the MIT report, but said that what the organization has is an optimum schedule, saying that any major flaws with the launch would send it back two years in order to ensure the safety of all involved. One must wonder, however, if the real bellwether for Lansdorp’s project is safety and not public interest in the expedition.

James Sullivan
James Sullivan is the assistant editor of Brain World Magazine and a contributor to Truth Is Cool and OMNI Reboot. He can usually be found on TVTropes or RationalWiki when not exploiting life and science stories for another blog article.

How Astronauts Deal with the Mess Hall in Space

Freeze-dried probably doesn’t sound appetizing, neither does Tang, no matter how hard they try to market it as the Space Age drink. For all you might dream about traveling in space, food is probably one of the few things on your mind. Yet, for so many astronauts and cosmonauts, it seems inevitable that they would miss their favorite food while in orbit. So how do they cope with it? ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti from Italy brought an espresso with her aboard the International Space Station (ISS) when she began her mission in November of 2014. She was hardly setting any new records. John Young, an American astronaut, missed corned beef sandwiches so much that he stashed one along on a mission back in 1965, something that was problematic for NASA’s safety protocol.

In addition to the occupational hazards, cosmonauts and astronauts often spend their time in space restricted only to several foods. Earlier this week, Russian cosmonauts requested 15 packages of mayonnaise aboard the ISS for their next shipment of food, rather than lemons or tomatoes, much to the surprise of mission control. The Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield surprised us all with videos showing a space kitchen he runs aboard the ISS without benefit of running water, in which he not only makes a peanut butter sandwich with honey, a tortilla and peanut butter from the tube, but also a bean and steak burrito – where in space, the ingredients can’t fall out but just float around next to you, a feature that may make dining in space sound a bit more attractive. Astronomer Neil DeGrasse Tyson also had the pleasure of sampling a freeze-dry pizza with irradiated pepperoni, newly developed by the U.S. military and capable of lasting for up to two years.

So while the food in space may be improving, hopefully in time before the planned NASA mission to Mars and the permanent manned mission planned by the Netherlands based group Mars One, another important question is whether or not alcoholic beverages should be permitted in space – something that’s already been a bit of an issue for NASA protocol. The science of whether or not it’s possible to get “hammered” in a microgravity environment is still something left to a bit of debate. According to one of the lead researchers at the Institute of Biomedical Problems, which helped prepare cosmonauts for missions aboard the Soviet Salyut-7 space station in the 1980s, an unofficial part of their training protocol meant packing what they referred to as a “special sauce” meant to fight against the “psychological pressure” building up when three people are made to spend months living together within a confined environment, the Rossiskaya Gazeta reports. Yes, the special sauce was cognac, and the legitimacy of it in space was brought to the Ministry of Health at the time.

Cosmonaut Georgy Grechko elaborated a bit further:

“In orbit, people have a very difficult emotional state. If before sleep, the guys drink 5-7 grams of cognac, I support it.”… On board we had a tube with 125 grams of cognac which said “coffee.”

Cosmonaut Aleksandr Serebrov, a veteran who spent over 113 days in orbit aboard the Salyut-7 back in 1982, and retired with a total of over 373 days in orbit, and currently the holder of the world record for time spent conducting spacewalks, revealed to the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta back in 2000, that the impact of alcohol was significant in not just helping to release any personal tensions held by crew members, it also protects nucleotides, the ingredients of DNA, from exposure to harmful space radiation. However, the impact drinking has on the brain is a bit different than having a nightcap back home. For one thing, your college drinking records may not hold up in a microgravity environment. 30 grams of alcohol is reasonably enough dosage, because the low gravity increases the rate of blood flow to your brain, the result of your blood vessels expanding in zero gravity. Consuming 40 grams in orbit is roughly the same as consuming 100 grams back home.

When it comes to alcohol, their American counterparts have been a bit more reserved, even though they were the first to introduce hard beverages to the cosmos – bringing sherry along on the 1971 Skylab mission. French astronaut Patrick Baudry, smuggled a bottle of wine on his trip aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery back in 1985, and was allegedly forbidden from popping open the bottle by Commander Daniel Brandenstein. Are all astronauts willing to comply? The statistics are a bit less clear. Back in 2007, NASA conducted a comprehensive review of their pre-flight protocols, and learned that their astronauts drank before takeoff at least twice before missions.

James Sullivan
James Sullivan is the assistant editor of Brain World Magazine and a contributor to Truth Is Cool and OMNI Reboot. He can usually be found on TVTropes or RationalWiki when not exploiting life and science stories for another blog article.

NASA, we have a problem: why America is lost in space

By Brett Biddington

In its newly released budget request to Congress, the Obama Administration is seeking to reduce NASA’s funding by US$59m to US$17.7 billion – a reduction of just 0.03%, not that you would know that from the furore.

More tellingly, some important realignments of NASA’s spending priorities have been proposed.

In essence, funding is being cut for two proposed robotic missions to Mars which were being co-developed with planetary scientists from Europe. The money saved from these cuts will be used to pay for regeneration of the manned space program and completion of the long-delayed, and way-over-budget James Webb Space Telescope.

Predictably, there have been howls of protest from those constituencies whose favourite projects face the axe and a polite silence from those whose projects continue to attract support.

We need to recall that, in the US system, all the President can do is request funds. It’s now up to Congress to accept or modify the President’s requests. In this process, sectional interests (including members of Congress whose constituents fear for their jobs because of the proposed cuts) can be expected to lobby furiously for these old jobs to be protected across the US.

Some wiser heads may see beyond preservation of the status quo and seek to restore NASA as an institution which innovates, leads and inspires. Sadly, these elected representatives are likely to be in a minority.

Dr Case

The NASA budget tells us three things about America’s approach to space:

  1. The rhetoric of collaboration in the US national space policy notwithstanding, the US actually struggles to collaborate in space matters and values collaboration less than going alone.

  2. The US regards space as an environment over which it seeks to maintain its supreme reign. This is best demonstrated by having the best and brightest manned space program on Earth.

  3. This supremacy in space is the overriding political and strategic objective of the Obama administration, with astronomy and planetary science running a poor second.

Some commentators have already been fast to criticise the cuts, suggesting they are minimal relative to the buckets of money lavished on the US defence establishment (which include classified and unclassified space programs).

Others have raised the multiplier argument pointing out that for every dollar invested in NASA, many other dollars (some say seven, some say up to 23) are returned to the economy.

These arguments miss the point. For all the good that NASA may have done in the past, today it’s an agency that can’t explain in simple, clear and compelling terms, what it does, what it seeks to do and why.

NASA needs to explain to politicians and voters how its aims and aspirations relate to the life of the US as a nation and to each of its citizens. If it can’t, it will remain a relic of the Cold War, trying to re-discover its mojo through projects and programs that have little relevance to science, some relevance to complex engineering and considerable relevance to America’s view of itself as the traditional owner of space.

Is NASA drifting aimlessly toward irrelevance?

Such ambitions expose the agency to a slow and painful death.

If NASA is to restore its self-respect and, eventually, the faith of others in the Agency as an organisation which stretches boundaries and empowers innovators, it needs to make some serious changes.

For a start, NASA needs to embrace collaboration with China and other spacefaring nations – something that’s been limited thus far.

The agency also needs to approach Congress and the Obama Administration about the negative impacts on US science, technology and innovation created by the extremely strict laws which seek to prevent US space technologies from being available to others.

These laws stifle innovation and put a real brake on US industries and companies.

It’s also important for NASA to re-educate the American people about the its role in the modern era. The notion of the US’s supremacy as a nation-state – which was at the heart of NASA’s funding and success in the Cold War – is becoming unimportant, if not irrelevant. Such a view now serves to hamper not just NASA but the US as a whole.

The big challenges of the 20th century were technological, within the structure of a relatively stable nation states system. The big challenges of the 21st century relate to NASA’s complexity as an organisation and the changing structure of international space efforts.

In this there is a huge role for NASA, should it have the courage to take such a vision to the president, the Congress and the US taxpayer.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.