29 August, 2010

The next power in manned space flight: Denmark?

Or is it better thought of as an open-source space program?
A team of Danish volunteers has built a rocket capable of carrying a human into space, and will be launching it in a week's time. The project, which has been funded entirely by donations and sponsorship, is led by Kristian von Bengtson and Peter Madsen.

The rocket is named HEAT1X-TYCHO BRAHE, and its first test flight will carry a crash test dummy, rather than a human, so that the safety aspects of the design can be analysed. It'll launch from a floating platform that the team has also built, which will be towed into the middle of the Baltic sea by a submarine called Nautilus that the pair built as their last project.

The creators are members of the SomethingAwful web community, and have been posting pictures and answering questions there. In response to one question asking what the chances of the person inside dying are, they replied: "Unlike Columbia we're not moving at orbital speeds so 'dying a gruesome death burning up on re-entry' with our kit has a very low outcome probability."

Despite that, the rocket will still break the sound barrier, and subject the pilot (who is forced to stand inside the capsule) to considerable g-forces. As a result, the astronaut will only be able to move his arms, which will be able to operate a camera, the manual override functionality, the exit hatch, an additional oxygen mask and a vomit bag.

When the rocket hits the team's original target suborbital altitude of 150,000m (500,000 feet) and begins to descend again, parachutes will slow it and the team will track it with a GPS link and a "fast boat". The team said: "We should be able to receive a descent plot which can be used in projecting a splashdown ellipse pretty accurately, if we factor in wind speeds and so on."

The first test launch will be taking place on 31 August, 2010, and will set off from Denmark the previous day, as it takes about 36 hours of sailing to reach the site. The team's website is down at the time of writing, presumably due to the attention the launch is generating, but can be found at copenhagensuborbitals.com.

If successful, Denmark will be the fourth country to put one of its citizens into space, following the USA, Soviet Union and China, and the first in the world to do it without government funding.
Open source.  It's not like Denmark, the state, has much to do with it.  But that's even more amazing.

P.S.  I'd hate to be a standing passenger pulling 5g.

Bitter tea

Ron Paul does a pretty good job of spelling out the connection between a small government at home and empire abroad.  from A Tea Party Foreign Policy in Foreign Policy:
As one who is opposed to centralization, I am wary of attempts to turn a grassroots movement against big government like the Tea Party into an adjunct of the Republican Party. I find it even more worrisome when I see those who willingly participated in the most egregious excesses of the most recent Republican Congress push their way into leadership roles of this movement without batting an eye -- or changing their policies!

As many frustrated Americans who have joined the Tea Party realize, we cannot stand against big government at home while supporting it abroad. We cannot talk about fiscal responsibility while spending trillions on occupying and bullying the rest of the world. We cannot talk about the budget deficit and spiraling domestic spending without looking at the costs of maintaining an American empire of more than 700 military bases in more than 120 foreign countries. We cannot pat ourselves on the back for cutting a few thousand dollars from a nature preserve or an inner-city swimming pool at home while turning a blind eye to a Pentagon budget that nearly equals those of the rest of the world combined.
I can argue about particular policies and priorities, but it seems to me the basic point is unassailable: even if we want to have a traditional imperial engagement with the world--which I don't, for moral reasons and because of the distortions it imposes on domestic society--it is unsustainable and the attempts to sustain it as it is make the eventual failure all the more dangerous.

So why can't the politicians get the message? They subdivide the world into boxes that have little or no relation with one another. (I've noticed that cognitive dissonance is much less of a problem for career politicians than it would be for an average person in similar circumstances.) In the same issue:
Almost two dozen Tea Party-affiliated lawmakers cosponsored a new resolution late last week that expresses their support for Israel "to use all means necessary to confront and eliminate nuclear threats posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran, including the use of military force."
Note: Dr. Paul did not agree. He has also refused to join the new "tea party" caucus.

20 August, 2010

You don't need communism to have a cult of personality

Vladamir Putin's party will probably get most of what it wants in the next elections, but he's leaving little to chance.  In a country where almost nobody trusts the government or expects it to make things better, the only alternative is to trust in a man.  No--a superman:

Vladimir Putin is an amazing man. You may have seen him co-piloting an
recently and dumping 12 tons of water to extinguish two of the many wildfires raging across Western Russia. But did you know that in 2008 he used a tranquilizer gun to save a group of scientists and a television camera crew from a charging tiger?  In 2009, he saved
Russian shoppers
from high prices by ordering a grocery store executive to put sausages on sale, forced one of the world's richest men to restore laid off workers to their jobs by reopening a cement plant, taught judo to the Russian national judo team, and went to the bottom of the world's deepest lake in a submarine. In April, he hugged a polar bear. He swims Siberian rivers for exercise and enjoys bare-chested summer horseback rides. Without question, women
love him
. It's said that he will never have a heart attack, because his heart isn't foolish enough to attack him. Or maybe that's somebody else.   
What a guy.  Of course it's not a problem unique to Russia.  In North Korea, the "Dear Leader" is credited with the ability to control the weather.  On his first trip to a golf course. he shot 38 under par, including five holes-in-one.  And don't even get me started on his prowess at bowling.

It seems the less a government is able to deliver, the more it requires a superman at the top.  And in a totally unrelated story,

18 August, 2010

The future of Iraqi politics: Pakistan?

Foreign Policy talks about a conversation between an Iraqi general and a politician.  The politician thought he was joking--the general had already made plans.
The politician asked about the possibility of a coup. The general, he
said, deeming the talk serious, pulled out a map of the capital and
provided a disconcertingly elaborate plan to execute one: overturning
trucks to block the route from the main American base to the Green Zone,
seizing television stations, besieging Parliament, and so on.

“When you’re president,” he quoted the general as asking, in utter seriousness, “can you make me minister of defense?”

No real surprise, I suppose.

Gates' noble mission

Gates is trying to reform the Pentagon.  Lots of luck on that.  It's needed.  Of course, He's also announced he's leaving in 2011, so a lot of people are just going to try to wait him out.  The system is bigger than anyone--including the SECDEF.
Gates has proposed initial reforms that include dismantling one command and eliminating 50 generals. To put this in context, we have almost 1,000 generals and admirals, a number that has grown 13 percent in 15 years, even as the armed forces have shrunk. Every layer of Pentagon bureaucracy is much larger than it was at the height of the Cold War. Paul Light of New York University's Wagner School of Public Service notes that in 1960 we had 78 deputy assistant secretaries of defense. There are 530 today. Gates likes to point out that there are more musicians in U.S. military marching bands than members of the Foreign Service. In fact, the Pentagon has 10 times as many accountants as there are Foreign Service officers.

16 August, 2010

Cheap textbooks

Students:  Look here for an overview of ways to cut the price of your textbooks.