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Ed Driscoll

The Final Frontier

Insert midterm-themed metaphor of your choice here.

Update: Huh — I’m old enough to remember a NASA that not only bested the Russians, it didn’t rely on their technology. But as investment information entrepreneur Eric Scott Hunsader tweets, “Elon Musk nailed it about Antares rocket 2 years ago in Wired.” Musk told Wired, “One of our competitors, Orbital Sciences, has a contract to resupply the International Space Station, and their rocket honestly sounds like the punch line to a joke. It uses Russian rocket engines that were made in the ’60s. I don’t mean their design is from the ’60s—I mean they start with engines that were literally made in the ’60s and, like, packed away in Siberia somewhere.”

What could go wrong?

Filed under: The Final Frontier

Another Neil deGrasse Tyson bollocksed up science anecdote, as emailed to me by PJM’s own David Steinberg:

“During the heat of the space race in the 1960s, the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration decided it needed a ballpoint pen to write in the zero gravity confines of its space capsules. After considerable research and development, the Astronaut Pen was developed at a cost of approximately $1 million US. The pen worked and also enjoyed some modest success as a novelty item back here on earth. The Soviet Union, faced with the same problem, used a pencil.”

Neil deGrasse TysonSpace Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier

It certainly sounds like Tyson is implying that NASA put US taxpayers on the hook for [insert Dr. Evil voice] one meeeeeeelion dollars rather than using a cheap, simple pencil. Except that according to Tyson’s fellow leftists at, the Fisher company designed their famous Space Pen with a pressurized ink cartridge (that once found itself a running gag in a classic Seinfeld episode) entirely on their own, and then presented it to NASA, which the space agency then purchased from Fisher at a small fee per pen. And as Snopes notes, it’s not necessarily a good thing to be using a pencil in the confined space of a zero-G space capsule in the first place:

Both U.S. astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts initially used pencils on space flights, but those writing instruments were not ideal: pencil tips can flake and break off, and having such objects floating around space capsules in near-zero gravity posed a potential harm to astronauts and equipment. (As well, after the fatal Apollo 1 fire in 1967, NASA was anxious to avoid having astronauts carry flammable objects such as pencils onboard with them.)When the solution of providing astronauts with a ballpoint pen that would work under weightless conditions and extreme temperatures came about, though, it wasn’t because NASA had thrown hundreds of thousands of dollars (inflated to $12 billion in the latest iterations of this tale) in research and development money at the problem. The “space pen” that has since become famous through its use by astronauts was developed independently by Paul C. Fisher of the Fisher Pen Co., who spent his own money on the project and, once he perfected his AG-7 “Anti-Gravity” Space Pen, offered it to NASA. After that agency tested and approved the pen’s suitability for use in space flights, they purchased a number of the instruments from Fisher for a modest price.

Click over to Snopes for the Fisher company’s own telling of the story, which notes that it was Fisher who spent one million, not NASA. “In December 1967 he sold 400 Fisher Space Pens to NASA for $2.95 each,” equaling $1180 of taxpayer money, not a million.

(And yes, I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve purchased a few Space Pens myself over the years, mostly from the Museum of Modern Art gift store in New York. OK, I’m slightly ashamed. Don’t judge me!)

Earlier: ‘Another Day, Another Quote Fabricated By Neil deGrasse Tyson’

(Thumbnail on PJM homepage created using a modified image.)

Has Man Reached His Intellectual Peak?

August 22nd, 2014 - 3:38 pm

Well considering it’s Friday afternoon, for this week, probably. But as the London Daily Mail recently asked, “Are we becoming more STUPID? IQ scores are decreasing — and some experts argue it’s because humans have reached their intellectual peak:”

Evidence suggests that the IQs of people in the UK, Denmark and Australia have declined in the last decade.

Opinion is divided as to whether the trend is long-term, but some researchers believe that humans have already reached intellectual peak.

An IQ test used to determine whether Danish men are fit to serve in the military has revealed scores have fallen by 1.5 points since 1998.

And standard tests issued in the UK and Australia echo the results, according to journalist Bob Holmes, writing in New Scientist.

The most pessimistic explanation as to why humans seem to be becoming less intelligent is that we have effectively reached our intellectual peak.

Between the 1930s and 1980s, the average IQ score in the US rose by three points and in post-war Japan and Denmark, test scores also increased significantly — a trend known as the ‘Flynn effect’.

This increase in intelligence was due to improved nutrition and living conditions – as well as better education — says James Flynn of the University of Otago, after whom the effect is named.

Now some experts believe we are starting to see the end of the Flynn effect in developed countries – and that IQ scores are not just levelling out, but declining.

Scientists including Dr Flynn think better education can reverse the trend and point out the perceived decline could just be a blip. However, other scientists are not so optimistic.

Better education? Well, there’s certainly lots of room for improvement there, considering how political correctness has transformed history education into a grievance industry and dramatically dumbed-down textbooks in general, as Bill Whittle recently noted, comparing a century-old sixth-grade reader with today’s equivalents:

But the dumbing down and related coarsening of the culture is a trend that dates back to at least the 1960s, particularly in England, as Peter Hitchens noted in his bracing 1999 book, The Abolition of Britain. In his chapter on the collapse of Britain’s culture — both its highbrow and pop divisions — Hitchens wrote:

The novelist Kingsley Amis, deeply depressed by the collapse of knowledge and good judgement in the literary and  political worlds, wrote a withering satire on the decay of national culture at the end of the 1970s (Russian Hide and Seek, 1980). Just as Evelyn Waugh had once suggested that the Labour government of 1945 was similar to living under foreign occupation, Amis suggested that the trashing of our culture and literacy were so severe that only a ruthless foreign invader could possibly make them worse. [See also: collapse of American education system -- Ed] His book is a portrait of a nation without a memory, its ancient buildings demolished, its trees hacked down, its people barely educated and bottomlessly ignorant of their origins and past, living on stewed beets, pork bellies and windfall apples. A small and dwindling group of ‘pre-wars’ maintain the memories of what has been lost, but those memories are fading, and so all trace of them will die with this elderly generation. Amis describes an attempt to revive enthusiasm for Shakespeare after half a century of Soviet occupation, during which British history, literature and religion have been ruthlessly suppressed. A group of Soviet ‘liberals’ are trying to give the people their culture back, and are staging a performance of Romeo and Juliet in along-closed provincial theatre.

The actress playing Juliet, an English girl brought up long after the occupation, attempts to speak some lines from the play. She does not understand the rhythm of the verse, the classical allusions to Phoebus and Phaeton mean nothing to her, in fact she hasn’t a clue what she is saying. But nobody notices. [See also: MSM's lack of reaction to President Obama's weird ignorance of much of American history and culture -- Ed]

At this point, Hitchens quotes from a character in Amis’ novel, the “Armenian cultural commissar” who’s overseeing the play’s production, despite having absolutely no sense of the subjects of any of Shakespeare’s plays. He describes Romeo and Juliet as a play in which “a young man meets a girl at a party and feels her up in public, in front of her parents, in fact,” along with noting that “it’s so hard to understand these characters and to make out what’s one meant to think about them.” Still though, he thinks that the play’s violence will help sell it, “and the costumes and sets are going to be spectacular.” See also: mindset behind recent Hollywood comic book-style adaptation of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

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Space: 1966

August 5th, 2014 - 4:17 pm

“CNN calls this ‘The hackers who recovered NASA’s lost lunar photos,” James Lileks writes at his Minneapolis Star-Tribune blog. “No hacking seems to have been involved, at least in the sense of breaking into computers. More like “guys who were good at image enhancement are fixing some old pictures:”

Says one of the geeks:

“We’re reaching back to a capability that existed but couldn’t be touched back when it was created,” says Keith Cowing, co-lead and founding member at LOIRP. “It’s like having a DVD in 1966, you can’t play it. We had resolution of the Earth of about a kilometer [per pixel]. This is an image taken a quarter of a f***king million miles away in 1966. The Beatles were warming up to play Shea Stadium at the moment it was being taken.”

It’s the Effing that really drives it home, doesn’t it?

Though 1966 was bookended by horrors both approximately two years prior — and two years into the future, and like James, I’m quite happy living in a world with the Internet, rather than without it, but it must been quite remarkable to be in America that year, when both the moon landings and the Beatles were still going concerns, still with great moments ahead in their futures. (And TV wasn’t too bad, either.)

Alas, NASA has far more pressing priorities these days than sending men to the moon, and the Beatles’ influence on pop music left the building a long time ago.

Filed under: The Final Frontier


Well, you remember man landing on the moon in 1963 at least, don’t you? Obama’s ghost-tweeter apparently does. As Moe Lane writes, “If Barack Obama wants to do something about wage inequality, he should start with… the White House itself.” And then regarding when we actually landed on the moon, “Here, let me show the President how to check things like this.”

There’s a strange and recurring symptom with this administration that on the one hand keeps making these gaffes, and on the other, thinks of itself as being chockablock full with, much more so than Enron, “The Smartest Guys in the Room” — including Barry himself.

Especially, Barry himself:

“I think I could probably do every job on the campaign better than the people I’ll hire to do it,” he said. “It’s hard to give up control when that’s all I’ve known.” Obama said nearly the same thing to Patrick Gaspard, whom he hired to be the campaign’s political director. “I think I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters,” Obama told him. “I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.”

But these weird lapses in what should be easily understood American and world history keep occurring. Joe Biden — who definitely thinks of himself as the Smartest Guy in the Room — just ask him — had one of the first big whoppers. During the fall of 2008, his mouth once again failed to sync with the gearworks of his brain, and he praised Franklin Roosevelt’s TV performance in 1929 when the stock market crashed. Never mind that in 1929, Herbert Hoover was president, and the handful of Jurassic American TVs then in existence were running Felix the Cat test patterns — that’s how Joe remembers it. And apparently so does Obama booster Katie Couric, since she didn’t bother to correct him:

During a 2011 interview, Obama declared, “Texas has always been a pretty Republican state, you know, for historic reasons,” which would certainly be news to Lyndon Johnson, John Connally, and Ann Richards.

Perhaps one of Obama’s worst gaffes occurred during his second inauguration speech, when he mindlessly parroted the words of speechwriter (and War on Women posterboy) Jon Favreau, who inserted the phrase “peace in our time” into his boss’s Teleprompter. Nothing like getting your second term off to a flying start by inadvertently declaring yourself the successor to Neville Chamberlain at Munich.

This past March, Obama declared during a Democrat fundraiser, “In midterms, we get clobbered, either because we don’t think it’s important or because we get so discouraged about what’s happening in Washington that we think it’s not worth our while.” So much for the 2006 midterms, in which Rahm Emanuel, then chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, assembled what Kevin McCullough of Townhall dubbed Nancy Pelosi’s Crash Test Dummies, a group of seemingly non-threatening centrist-appearing Democrats who would go on to deliver up massive bailouts to banks and GM, and ultimately would become crash test dummies in November of 2010 after passing Obamacare.

Like Ron Burgandy, anything you put into Barry’s teleprompter or on the page in front of him, he’ll read. (Including how he ate a dog, with no reaction or remorse in his voice.) But it’s particularly amusing to watch someone once declared “the most powerful writer since Julius Caesar” at the apex of hopenchange by one his toadies to apparently have very little conception of basic American history.

…There really was a fair amount of it before Obama arrived in his manger, you know.


Rand Simberg, frequent contributor to PJ and a former project manager at Rockwell International Corporation, stops by today to discuss his recent book, Safe Is Not An Option: Overcoming The Futile Obsession With Getting Everyone Back Alive That Is Killing Our Expansion Into Space.

As Rand explains, the culture of NASA is much more sclerotic than its 1960s-vintage “Right Stuff” era, in which the feats that put Man on the Moon in the space of a decade could never be repeated today. These days, as Rand notes, instead of treating astronauts like the military test pilots being assigned to orbit the earth, NASA considers them as being akin to “national treasures,” as science fiction writer Jerry Pournelle once wrote.

Will commercial manned spaceflight pick up where NASA has left off? In contrast to moribund NASA, Simberg describes commercial spaceflight as “fairly vibrant.” And considering the saber rattling going on from Russia, who are threatening to cut off access to the International Space Station via their ancient Soyuz rockets, that’s a good thing.

In the meantime, as Rand notes at his book’s Website, “Safety Cannot Be The Highest Priority In NASA Spaceflight,” if you agree, visit his site and sign his petition “to send Congress a message and try to fix the NASA authorization bill.”

But first, check out our 11 minute interview, during which Rand will discuss:

● His forecast for the next decade of human spaceflight, from both the private and government sectors.

● The final post-mortem on the now-retired Space Shuttle.

● Is NASA making a mistake with its proposed successor?

● When did NASA win the Space Race? (Hint, it wasn’t Apollo 11.)

● Do today’s NASA staffers see the agency as being superior to current private space efforts?

● What’s going on with Michael Mann’s lawsuit against him?

● How will the public and U.S. government react when the first person is killed during a commercial spaceflight?

And much more. Click here to listen:

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Transcript of our interview begins on the following page; for our many previous podcasts, start here and keep scrolling.

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Mars Needs Muslims!

February 19th, 2014 - 2:18 pm

But they won’t be getting them anytime soon, as “Muslims ‘warned in Fatwa not to live on Mars.’” decries a London Telegraph headline that’s catnip to the Drudge Report:

Muslims have been warned in a Fatwa not to go and live on Mars because it would pose “a real risk to life”, according to a Dubai news organisation.

The General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowment (GAIAE) in the United Arab Emirates said that anyone making such a “hazardous trip” is likely to die for “no righteous reason”.

They would therefore be liable to a “punishment similar to that of suicide in the Hereafter”, the Khaleej Times reported.

The Fatwa was apparently issued in response to the proposal from the Dutch company Mars One last year to send four people on a one-way journey to the red planet in 2022.

“Such a one-way journey poses a real risk to life, and that can never be justified in Islam,” the committee said. “There is a possibility that an individual who travels to planet Mars may not be able to remain alive there, and is more vulnerable to death.”

According to the space-themed Universe Today, Iran is working on — or at least has fantasies of — building a manned spacecraft program. I guess for now, Mars is off the table.

But if Iran can’t get to Mars, how will it capture the high ground and beat back the Nazi Space Aliens that have been running America since 1945?

Not a how-to guide.

“Two-thirds of an ‘historic” collection of 80,000 books, purposely destroyed by fire,” as spotted by Steve Green:

“The library owner, Father Ebrahim Surouj, met with Islamic leaders in Tripoli. It became clear the priest had nothing to do with the pamphlet [insulting Islam], and a demonstration that had been planned in protest over the incident was called off,” the source said.

However, Ashraf Rifi, former head of the Internal Security Forces, told AP the attack had nothing to do with a pamphlet and was, in fact, triggered by speculation that Father Surouj had written a study on the internet that insulted Islam.

Click over to see the photo from the incident, which notes:

A man inspects burnt books on January 4, 2014 in north Lebanon’s majority Sunni city of Tripoli a day after a decades-old library owned by a Greek Orthodox priest was torched after “a pamphlet was discovered inside one of the books that was insulting to Islam and the prophet Mohammad” said a source, who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity.

“Any excuse to destroy anything not explicitly pro-Islam,” Steve adds. Of course, Muslims aren’t the only religious fanatics burning books for their heretical insights these days. Last year, the folks in the San Jose State University Meteorology Department web page posted this image briefly, until they realized that carbon footprint-obsessed warmists probably shouldn’t been seen burning books out of spite:

To paraphrase my aside in the previous post, curious how similar the destructive actions of radical Islam and the radical left often seem to run parallel, isn’t it?

But why burn books, when you can merely abandon them in place, as Detroit has done with its enormous Mark Twain branch of the city’s library system?


Click screencap to play video at PJTV.

And incidentally, if you are a global warming and carbon-obsessed environmentalist who wants to be responsible for igniting a serious conflagration, you need to start thinking a lot bigger than simply putting a match to a book. Or as the Wall Street Journal asked this week, “Why do Leonardo DiCaprio and Richard Branson lecture us about carbon consumption while plotting trips to space?”

Muggeridge’s Law, which posits that there is no way for any satirist to improve upon real life for its pure absurdity, strikes again:

Penny: I just thought I’d stop by and say hello.

Leonard: Oh, what a nice surprise. I don’t think you’ve ever seen my lab before.

Penny: No, I know. It’s long overdue. So, what ya doing? Better not be building a robot girlfriend.

Leonard: No. Although Howard was making some real strides in that area until he met Bernadette.

Penny: You’re kidding.

Leonard: Nope. Now the Lisatronic 3000 just sits in a box waiting for the phone to ring.

—The Big Bang Theory, “The Holographic Excitation,” October 25, 2012.

NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) has revealed its entry into the $2m DARPA Robotics Challenge, which will start later this month. The result is a robot dubbed Valkyrie that’s designed to look like a sexy superhero.

The 1.9-metre tall, 125kg droid has interchangeable arms that can be swapped out by removing a single bolt and connector, and three fingers and a thumb on each hand that exceed a human’s in strength. It also has an impressive cleavage, thanks to the linear actuators that allow it to swivel, and a glowing NASA icon that looks straight out of Iron Man.

* * * * * *

“Our robot is soft. If you brush against it while you’re working, you don’t want to feel this cold, hard metal,” JSC team leader Nicolaus Radford told IEEE Spectrum. “You want it to feel natural, like you’re working next to another human being. The soft goods, the clothes we put on the robot, give it that feel, that appearance of being more comfortable to be near.”

—”Meet NASA’s Valkyrie: A SILKY BUSTY ROBO-MINX that’ll save your life,” the London Register, December 11, 2013.

Hey, 2019 won’t arrive all by itself (and by the looks of things, has a long way to go).

NASA: The Now-Ancient Spacesuit Agency

December 24th, 2013 - 12:54 pm

“35-Year-Old Spacesuits Blamed for Spacewalk Problems,” ABC reports:

NASA’s Mission Control has revealed the problem that prompted the early end of the latest spacewalk: Water in one of the astronaut’s 35-year-old spacesuits.

Expedition 38 Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio and fellow astronaut Michael Hopkins ran into trouble while they were conducting an urgent repair outside the International Space Station during a spacewalk that lasted five hours and 28 minutes.

The spacewalk ended short of its anticipated six-and-a-half-hour time frame when Mastracchio, the lead spacewalker, began complaining about chilly temperatures in his space suit.

The seven-time spacewalker said his feet were cold during at least part of the nearly five-and-a-half-hour walk and at times had to re-adjust temperature controls in his suit.

Even before the emergency repair mission began, NASA acknowledged it was working with aging spacesuits, which were designed in the same era of the space shuttle.

“Because the suits are 35 years old we review the hazards every so often as a matter of course,” NASA’s ISS Program Manager, Mike Suffredini told ABC News Radio.

And you thought it was strange that the Air Force was still flying half-century-old B-52s. While I have neckties that date back to President Reagan’s second term, and at least one suit I know I purchased when Bush-41 was still in office in the early-1990s, it must be feel particularly nerve-racking to be in an oxygen-free environment knowing that the only thing between life and sudden death is a space suit that was built — if it really is 35 years old — during the Carter era.  (I’m half-surprised they don’t have bell-bottoms or built-in 8-track tape players.)

(Found via Rand Simberg.)

The Wrong Stuff

November 12th, 2013 - 12:44 pm

When the tech geeks raised concerns about their ability to deliver the website on time, they are reported to have been told “Failure is not an option.” Unfortunately, this is what happens when you say “failure is not an option”: You don’t develop backup plans, which means that your failure may turn into a disaster.

One more piece of follow-up on the above passage from Megan McArdle’s news of fresh Obamacare disaster — if the administration is going to use “Failure is not an option” riffs to describe Obamacare, and Obama himself is going to randomly blurt out “we need more moon shot!” to his writers, let’s compare its Website to the actual Apollo program, shall we?

CBS’s Sharyl Attkisson reported yesterday, “Memo warned of ‘limitless’ security risks for”

It was [Henry Chao,'s chief project manager at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] who recommended it was safe to launch the website Oct. 1. When shown the security risk memo, Chao said, “I just want to say that I haven’t seen this before.”

A Republican staff lawyer asked, “Do you find it surprising that you haven’t seen this before?”

Chao replied, “Yeah … I mean, wouldn’t you be surprised if you were me?” He later added: “It is disturbing. I mean, I don’t deny that this is … a fairly nonstandard way” to proceed.

Late Monday, Health and Human Services told CBS News the privacy and security of consumers’ personal information are at op priority, and consumers can trust their information is protected by stringent security standards. The author of the security memo, Tony Trenkle, retired from CMS last week; no reason was given.

As Moe Lane writes in response:

If this is true – and I can’t imagine how it’s not – then we are in a Madness Place. I don’t want to start throwing the word conspiracy around; but only because people get justifiably antsy when you start making that charge.  But this looks very much like somebody deciding to compartmentalize the people handling the rollout into those who would be spared, and those who would be deemed as being acceptable sacrifices to Moloch.  Guess which category Henry Chao ended up in?

Yeah, it was a surprise to him, too.

Contrast the above, along with the video making the rounds by James O’Keefe, which features ObamaCare exchange “navigators” lying and instructing the customer on the phone to lie, with this passage from Catherine Bly Cox and Charles Murray’s magisterial 1989 book, Apollo. That book focused not on the astronauts, but on the engineers, technicians, and the staffers who manned Mission Control and made Kennedy’s vision of landing a man on the moon before the 1960s were out a reality, not the least of which was NASA flight director Chris Kraft:

Give a lot, expect a lot: That was the credo Kraft left for the other flight directors. “Chris Kraft was the kind of guy who would leave you alone, and let you do your job,” FIDO Jerry Bostick said. “But without him ever saying anything, you knew you’d better not screw up. You’d better get it right. Don’t try to fake it. Because he didn’t give people a second chance.” The key was not so much being perfect—the nature of the controller’s job meant that sometimes he was going to make a mistake. The key was being smart enough to recognize the mistake, correct it, and then never repeat it. (“To err is human, but to do so more than once is contrary to Flight Operations Directorate policy,” was another of Kraft’s sayings.) And above all else, when you found out you had made a mistake you had to admit it immediately. “The flight director’s looking at a lot of data, and sometimes the information [to be inferred from the data] is not clear,” an EECOM once explained. “Your data are one thing, information is another. So if you were trying to tell Kraft something that he might use to make a critical decision, like reenter the spacecraft, you had to give him very tailored, specific information. One day I saw a guy actually give him some bad data. He just tried to bullshit his way around a problem. And Kraft knew. Kraft went down and put his hand on the back of this guy’s neck and told him to leave the Control Center. That was it, for that guy.”

You can argue with both “Progressive” (read: century-old) Moral Equivalent of War reasons behind the enormously expensive Apollo program of the 1960s, and certainly JFK himself was a plethora of character flaws. But the men who made the program work, as least as portrayed by Cox and Murray, demonstrate uniformly remarkable character, particularly when compared with our current administration. But then, a presidential administration is only as good as the people who elect it:


Update: Obama’s NASA can’t actually send anyone into space (they’ve got more important things to do these days, such as making Muslims and LGBT proponents simultaneously feel better, a combined task that makes the moon landing seem like child’s play). So in order to keep White House Chief Technology Officer Todd Park from testifying to Congress, the Obama administration is reduced to launching him on a mission to explore the ultimate final frontier instead — Detroit.

Oh, and while failure may not be an option, functioning at a “subeffective level” certainly is pretty cool from the administration’s perspective:

I’m tempted to joke that while Obama “needs more moon shot,” he’s wound up with Skylab instead, but that would be insult to America’s first space station, which while heavily damaged during launch, was repairable enough to actually work reasonably well for a time, before it performed the ultimate 404 error.

In April of 1961, JFK summoned two key NASA executives to the White House. They were James Webb, the administrator of NASA, and Hugh Dryden, his deputy. President Kennedy was not happy after all of the Soviets’ early victories in the space race. In fact, as Tom Wolfe wrote in the New York Times in July of 2009, “The president was in a terrible funk:”

He kept muttering: “If somebody can just tell me how to catch up. Let’s find somebody — anybody … There’s nothing more important.” He kept saying, “We’ve got to catch up.” Catching up had become his obsession. He never so much as mentioned the rockets.

Dryden said that, frankly, there was no way we could catch up with the Soviets when it came to orbital flights. A better idea would be to announce a crash program on the scale of the Manhattan Project, which had produced the atomic bomb. Only the aim this time would be to put a man on the Moon within the next 10 years.

Barely a month later Kennedy made his famous oration before Congress: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth.” He neglected to mention Dryden.

INTUITIVELY, not consciously, Kennedy had chosen another form of military contest, an oddly ancient and archaic one. It was called “single combat.”

The best known of all single combats was David versus Goliath. Before opposing armies clashed in all-out combat, each would send forth its “champion,” and the two would fight to the death, usually with swords. The victor would cut off the head of the loser and brandish it aloft by its hair.

The deadly duel didn’t take the place of the all-out battle. It was regarded as a sign of which way the gods were leaning. The two armies then had it out on the battlefield … unless one army fled in terror upon seeing its champion slaughtered. There you have the Philistines when Little David killed their giant, Goliath … and cut his head off and brandished it aloft by its hair (1 Samuel 17:1-58). They were overcome by a mad desire to be somewhere else. (The Israelites pursued and destroyed them.)

More than two millenniums later, the mental atmosphere of the space race was precisely that. The details of single combat were different. Cosmonauts and astronauts didn’t fight hand to hand and behead one another. Instead, each side’s brave champions, including one woman (Valentina Tereshkova), risked their lives by sitting on top of rockets and having their comrades on the ground light the fuse and fire them into space like the human cannonballs of yore.

The Soviets rocketed off to an early lead. They were the first to put an object into orbit around the Earth (Sputnik), the first to put an animal into orbit (a dog), the first to put a man in orbit (Yuri Gagarin). No sooner had NASA put two astronauts (Gus Grissom and Alan Shepard) into 15-minute suborbital flights to the Bahamas — the Bahamas! — 15 minutes! — two miserable little mortar lobs! — then the Soviets put a second cosmonaut (Gherman Titov) into orbit. He stayed up there for 25 hours and went around the globe 17 times. Three times he flew directly over the United States. The gods had shown which way they were leaning, all right!

You know what to do next.

“The decline of NASA and the senseless priorities of our government,” is the subject of P.J. O’Rourke’s latest article at the Weekly Standard, in which he drops by the 29th National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, and has rather mixed emotions about what he sees, including the pitiful current state of NASA:

The Space Foundation gave its Lifetime Space Achievement Award posthumously, this year, to Neil Armstrong, for one small step for man. Neil’s son Mark spoke briefly at a reception after the award ceremony. “I’m 50,” he said, “so I’ve just had time to see the U.S. space program go from its peak to what I hope is its nadir.”

Meanwhile other people have been taking one giant leap for mankind. Space turns out to be extremely valuable—a great new private enterprise. Commercial revenues from space services, products, support industries, and infrastructure totaled $225.87 billion in 2012. That’s almost three times the amount that governments around the world spent on space last year. And let us not forget, when governments spend money on space, much of it is spent on intercontinental ballistic missiles, spy satellites, military command and control, drone guidance, and—for all that those of us who have a “Bottom Gossip” security clearance know—orbiting death rays. (DoD’s space budget is 65 percent larger than NASA’s.) Governments get world domination. We get SiriusXM satellite radio. And we’re outspending governments in space anyway.

The words “Space Age” have a quaint, nostalgic tone—sitting on midcentury modern furniture watching The Jetsons. But get out of the butterfly chair and fold the rabbit ears on the Philco—you’re living in the Space Age.

Without the space industry all those dishes hanging off window sills, receiving HD television reception and providing high-speed Internet connection in even the most remote corners of the world, would be just so many woks gone wrong.

Without the space industry, the only way you could use your satellite phone to communicate with someone would be by bonking him on the head with it. And satellite phones aren’t even big enough anymore to be very useful for that.

Meteorological predictions would be Grandpa’s mutterings about how his joints ache. There would have been no forewarning of Superstorm Sandy, and former members of the Jersey Shore cast might have been blown all the way to Canandaigua. What a natural disaster that would have been for New York’s Finger Lakes region.

Your GPS would be an old coot perched on your dashboard, chewing a stalk of hay. “Git on over to Old Pike Road. ’Cept they call it County Route 738 nowadays. An’ turn left where the Hendersons’ barn burned down in ’63.”

Air traffic control is largely satellite dependent. Absent satellites, when you’re squeezed into the middle seat on a flight to Orlando, you might not just wish you were dead, you might get that way.

And you couldn’t go to Google Earth to find out whether your neighbors are raising pigs in a backyard pen. You’d have to take a stepladder and peek over the fence. Nope, just dirty kids and a very dilapidated swing set.

Read the whole thing.™

When Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the man died last August, as Jim Treacher wrote at the time, Obama paid tribute, the only way he knows how. “This is not a Photoshop. This was actually posted on Obama’s official Tumblr page,” Treacher wrote:

Bless his heart; Obama probably thought he was being modest by appearing in silhouette.

Edwin Eugene “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr. was the second man to walk on the moon, following Armstrong out the escape hatch of the lunar module in July of 1969. Four decades later, as with Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin was little more than a photo prop for our 44th president:

On April 15, 2010, President Obama delivered his central speech on space policy at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  Aldrin was given a ride on Air Force One to the speech.  Aldrin said tonight in front of a packed house in a National Geographic auditorium in Washington D.C. that he presumed he might have a chance to speak with the President about options for space during the flight to Kennedy.

But it didn’t happen. President Obama had nothing to say to the moonwalker and didn’t seem to want to hear anything from Aldrin on the long flight to Florida.  So Aldrin sat in the back of Air Force One and never saw Obama – until it landed.

When it landed, Aldrin said he was summoned to the front of the plane. But he found out it was not to talk about space policy.  Instead, President Obama wanted Aldrin to emerge from Air Force One next to Obama for a photo op.  The moonwalker was to be a mere prop.

Bryan Preston has the photos that emerged from the flight. Safe to say, Aldrin does not look happy.* As Bryan adds, “Aldrin believes that Obama’s current space priorities are a waste of the nation’s time, and after that flight, he knew that his own personal time had been wasted, too.”

But why would Obama need to talk to one of the few men still alive who had walked on the moon?

Obama had always had a high estimation of his ability to cast and run his operation. When David Plouffe, his campaign manager, first interviewed for a job with him in 2006, the senator gave him a warning: “I think I could probably do every job on the campaign better than the people I’ll hire to do it,” he said. “It’s hard to give up control when that’s all I’ve known.” Obama said nearly the same thing to Patrick Gaspard, whom he hired to be the campaign’s political director. “I think I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters,” Obama told him. “I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.”

And no doubt, Obama thinks he knows more about space than Buzz Aldrin.

* And you do not want to make Aldrin unhappy.

While the two-hour sixth season debut of Mad Men earlier this month played oddly coy about which year the series was set in, we now know that we’re witnessing Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce versus 1968.

Or perhaps it’s the other way around, given how the year of 1968 came close to tearing the country apart. In many ways, the events of that year shaped our current world in ways that are still playing themselves out, so it’s worth exploring just how badly the nation imploded. Apologies for the length of this post, but it’s merely a partial list of 1968′s horror stories.

Vietnam and the Cognitive Dissonance of the Liberal Elite

In the 1950s and 1960s, German émigrés such as Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius, the former leaders of the socialist Bauhaus school of design of the 1920s Weimar Republic ,were busy building skyscrapers to house America’s corporate elites. To this day, Mies’ Seagram Building and Gropius’ Pan Am Building are lasting tributes to Weimar aesthetics on Park Ave. So perhaps it’s no wonder that American liberal elites were themselves embracing a Weimar-esque sense of dissipation and fatalism. JFK’s optimistic New Frontier worldview was supplanted by a collective malaise by depressed American elites by the late 1960s.

The cognitive dissonance of liberals not being able to process that JFK was the world’s most prominent victim of the Cold War was one cause of this malaise. Another was the ambition of LBJ’s Great Society, which had attempted to build on Kennedy’s space program and his nascent efforts at fighting communism in Vietnam with a series of Texas-sized domestic programs. LBJ’s goal was to recreate FDR’s New Deal, and as Rand Simberg has written, Johnson embraced NASA’s moon missions as an extension of FDR’s TVA program. But LBJ’s Texas drawl could never replace JFK’s polished Brahmin accent and style in the eyes of American liberal elites, who would come to turn on Johnson, devouring him for his outsized sense of ambition, and his patriotism.

As Patrick Moynihan had said in the early 1970s, “Most liberals had ended the 1960s rather ashamed of the beliefs they had held at the beginning of the decade.” But it’s worth flashing back to the end of the 1950s just to see how dramatic the transformation was. As I mentioned when I interviewed David Gelernter last year, chapter one of his 2012 book America-Lite: How Imperial Academia Dismantled Our Culture (and Ushered In the Obamacrats) opens with a remarkable quote from William DeVane, the dean of Yale, in 1957:

Our national leaders for the most part are men of integrity, idealism, and skill; our literary and artistic people command an international respect such as they never had before; our scientists and engineers, especially the latter, are the wonder and envy of other nations; our teachers in our colleges and universities are learned and devoted.

By 1968, liberal elites in academia and the media were simply incapable of allowing such a sentence to pass from their lips, and their worldview would become ever more punitive in the years since: Former JFK/LBJ official turned public TV staple Bill Moyers recently denounced the Pledge of Allegiance on PBS:

Veteran journalist Bill Moyers told his viewers on March 29 that the next time they say the Pledge of Allegiance, they should “remember: it’s a lie. A whopper of a lie.” Bill Moyers’s “Moyers & Company,” which included the snippet, airs on taxpayer funded PBS.

“We coax it from the mouths of babes for the same reason our politicians wear those flag pins in their lapels – it makes the hypocrisy go down easier, the way aspirin helps a headache go away.”

It’s a cliché to write that the well was poisoned by Vietnam; as Gelernter wrote in America-Lite, the sixties peace movement preceded the escalation of our involvement there.  Early in America-Lite, Gelernter contrasts that 1957 quote from Yale’s William DeVane with mid-1970s quotes from liberal essayist E.B. White. “No one knows which way to turn and which way to go,” White believed in 1975. The following year, he would add, “Patriotism is unfashionable, having picked up the taint of chauvinism, jingoism, and demagoguery. A man is not expected to love his country, lest he make an ass of himself.” Almost 40 years later, Bill Moyers would take that sentiment to its punitive conclusion. In America-Lite, Gelernter notes:

The conventional view is that the civil rights movement and Vietnam and feminism are what changed the country. But the antiwar movement and modern feminism were consequences of the revolution. The civil rights movement sustained and expanded the revolution. For the thing itself, we have to look elsewhere.

* * * * *

Today, when Americans praise their own nation, they do it defiantly; that unselfconscious patriotic pleasure is gone. What caused the American mood to crumble between William DeVane’s statement and E. B. White’s? The civil rights struggle couldn’t be the answer; for one thing, it united rather than divided the country, except for the segregationist Old South. Maybe the bitter split over the war in Vietnam explains it. But that can’t be right; can’t be the whole truth. Antiwar protests were powered by the New Left and “the Movement,” which originated in Tom Hayden’s “Port Huron Statement” of 1962, before the nation had ever heard of Vietnam. And the New Left picked up speed at Berkeley in the Free Speech Movement of 1964 and early ’65, before the explosion of Vietnam. Bitterness toward America was an evil spirit shopping for a body when Vietnam started to throb during 1965.

1965 is when the sea change occurred in the writing of David Halberstam of the New York Times on the subject of Vietnam, which would set the tone for much of the rest of the MSM. As Roger Kimball wrote in the New Criterion after Halberstam died in 2007, Halberstam spent the first half of the 1960s, particularly while JFK was still alive, championing the importance of Vietnam as, in the words of Halberstam, “a strategic country in a key area, it is perhaps one of only five or six nations in the world that is truly vital to U.S. interests.” By 1968, he and much of the rest of the American news media would turn against the war.

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Profiles of the Future That Never Was

March 21st, 2013 - 2:37 pm

We’ll get to the image above in a just a moment. It was created to help promote the visionary space station proposals of scientist Gerard O’Neill in the mid-1970s, a glimpse of a hopeful, albeit technocratic future in the midst of an otherwise painfully long slog of a decade.

But first, let’s set the stage. In 1975, Pat Moynihan wrote, “Most liberals had ended the 1960s rather ashamed of the beliefs they had held at the beginning of the decade.” Their collective emotional depression — a malaise you might call it — was greatly exacerbated by the disparity between their dreams at the beginning of the 1960s, and the very different reality that emerged as they began to attempt to implement them.

As James Piereson noted at the beginning of “Lee Harvey Oswald and the Liberal Crack-Up,” the magnum opus 2006 Commentary article that served as the prototype for his book the following year, Camelot and the Cultural Revolution:

Liberalism entered the 1960′s as the vital force in American politics, riding a wave of accomplishment running from the Progressive era through the New Deal and beyond. A handsome young president, John F. Kennedy, had just been elected on the promise to extend the unfinished agenda of reform. Liberalism owned the future, as Orwell might have said. Yet by the end of the decade, liberal doctrine was in disarray, with some of its central assumptions broken by the experience of the immediately preceding years. It has yet to recover.

Along with the cognitive dissonance of the horrific death of JFK via a Marxist assassin, by 1968, liberalism was chastened by LBJ’s overreach. By 1966, he was attempting to simultaneously escalate JFK’s war in Vietnam and Kennedy’s small-scale anti-poverty programs to Texas-sized proportions. He also kept JFK’s vision of landing a man on the moon by the end of the decade on track. As Rand Simberg noted, LBJ was far from altruistic on this matter – he saw the space program as a sort of giant TVA project which would help modernize the south, and distribute plenty of money into his constituents’ coffers.

But even before Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, liberals of the era had begun to turn their back on Kennedy’s vision of the bold New Frontier – including JFK’s surviving brothers. Robert Kennedy’s 1968 campaign ads and campaign speeches had a very different tone that tacitly rebuked his brother’s optimism. The following year, Teddy Kennedy was more explicit. He was quoted in the New York Times on the day after Armstrong and Apollo 11 took off for the Moon, as saying, “The Apollo program is for landing a man on the moon and exploration and should take another one to two years. I think after that the space program ought to fit into our other national priorities.”

And that it would, quickly scaling back in the early 1970s. The moon missions concluded; followed by Skylab, which was perhaps best known for its disastrous launch in 1973 and its ignominious crash to earth six years later, rather than its actual manned missions, and the Apollo-Soyuz link-up, and then nothing. The Apollo technology was discarded, as NASA put all of its resources for manned spaceflight into the Space Shuttle, which Arthur C. Clarke would later write off as not even the DC-3 of space, but the “DC 1 and a half,” if I’m remembering correctly the phrase he used in an interview after the Challenger disaster.

Back on planet earth, by the beginning of the 1970s, what the Carter administration would describe at the end of the decade as a “malaise” that the 39th president and his fellow liberals suffered from was encapsulated in the 1972 book Limits to Growth, as Steve Hayward wrote in the first volume of The Age of Reagan:

["Limits to growth" was partly] an influence of the rapidly growing environmental movement, which, in its early days, was much taken with the 1972 Club of Rome book The Limits to Growth. The book offered a gloomy argument that natural resource depletion and rising pollution threatened mankind’s long-term future unless economic growth was slowed or stopped. The Limits to Growth had the benefit of fortuitously appearing at the same time that commodity shortages were becoming chronic. Newsweek magazine in 1973 ran a cover picture of an empty horn of plenty with the ominous headline RUNNING OUT OF EVERYTHING? Most of the commodity shortages of the early 1970s were the result of the Nixon price controls discussed in chapter 6, and by 1976 the Club of Rome repudiated its own argument, recognizing that conquering poverty and preserving world peace would require a lot of economic growth.

The idea of the limits to growth has remained a core concept of environmentalism nonetheless, and became the new visage of liberal guilt. For some varieties of the liberal mind, gloom is exhilarating, and the limits to growth offered a large-scale sequel to the Vietnam War. Carter embraced the limits to growth view in his inaugural address, noting that “We have learned that ‘more’ is not necessarily ‘better,’ that even our great Nation has its recognized limits.” Margaret Thatcher, among many others, noted the trouble with this, writing that Carter “had no large vision of America’s future so in the face of adversity, he was reduced to preaching the austere limits to growth that was unpalatable, even alien, to the American imagination.” Liberalism is historically an optimistic creed, and having open doubts about growth was a disaster for liberalism. In the space of a decade, the central governing challenge of liberalism had transformed from allocating abundance to rationing scarcity. National Review took note of this problem as the Carter administration unfolded: “The profound negativism of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party is alien to the American tradition. The Democratic coalition could be split like a coconut on these issues. The Republicans, if they presented themselves as the party of growth, optimism, and expanding possibility could surely seize the high ground from the presently deeply divided and artificial Democratic coalition.”

All in all, this was an awfully grim time for those who remembered the futuristic optimism of the early to mid-1960s. Until about 1977, when Star Wars, the first personal computers and the first video games reawakened a sliver of American technological optimism, other than Star Trek and reruns of Gerry Anderson’s sleek 1970 British series UFO, there weren’t many bright spots for those of us “who want to see doors slide open with a little ‘woosh’ sound,” as James Lileks once wrote on the 30th anniversary of the original Star Wars.

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“Sex in in outer space could be deadly, according to a new study from the University of Montreal,” the Daily Caller reports.

Particularly given that it’s a study that was completed in its star’s hometown, this doesn’t bode well for Star Trek ever becoming a reality, does it?

But Krugman Said It Would Be Easy

March 17th, 2013 - 2:25 pm

“Deflecting Killer Asteroid Could Be Geopolitical Nightmare,” reports:

Humanity has the technical know-how to deflect a killer asteroid away from Earth, but whether the world can come together to pull it off in time is another matter.

A looming asteroid strike would be a global problem demanding a complex and coordinated response, experts say. Not only would nations need to set aside their differences and work together, but some would have to put their citizens at increased risk for the good of the planet, agreeing to allow the space rock to be steered in their direction from the predicted impact site.

“There are a million geopolitical questions that are really, really, really tough,” said Rusty Schweickart, co-founder and chairman emeritus of the B612 Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping protect Earth from asteroid strikes.

Really? But Paul Krugman told me that this was just the sort of cosmic challenge America needed to jumpstart its moribund economy. And build high speed rail!

Back to the Future

January 27th, 2013 - 3:11 pm

“NASA testing vintage engine from Apollo 11 rocket,” AP reports:

Like vinyl records and skinny ties, good things eventually come back around. At NASA, that means looking to the Apollo program for ideas on how to develop the next generation of rockets for future missions to the moon and beyond.

Young engineers who weren’t even born when the last Saturn V rocket took off for the moon are testing a vintage engine from the program.

The engine, known to NASA engineers as No. F-6049, was supposed to help propel Apollo 11 into orbit in 1969, when NASA sent Neil Armstrong and two other astronauts to the moon for the first time. The flight went off without a hitch, but no thanks to the engine — it was grounded because of a glitch during a test in Mississippi and later sent to the Smithsonian Institution, where it sat for years.

Now engineers are learning to work with technical systems and propellants not used since before the start of the space shuttle program, which launched in 1981.

Of course, the worldview that made such engineering miracles possible a half century ago will remain firmly under lock and key at NASA.

Keep the Aspidistra Flying

December 5th, 2012 - 4:50 pm

When you come back to England from any foreign country, you have immediately the sensation of breathing a different air. Even in the first few minutes dozens of small things conspire to give you this feeling. The beer is bitterer, the coins are heavier, the grass is greener, the advertisements are more blatant. The crowds in the big towns, with their mild knobby faces, their bad teeth and gentle manners, are different from a European crowd. Then the vastness of England swallows you up, and you lose for a while your feeling that the whole nation has a single identifiable character. Are there really such things as nations? Are we not forty-six million individuals, all different? And the diversity of it, the chaos! The clatter of clogs in the Lancashire mill towns, the to-and-fro of the lorries on the Great North Road, the queues outside the Labour Exchanges, the rattle of pin-tables in the Soho pubs, the old maids hiking to Holy Communion through the mists of the autumn morning – all these are not only fragments, but characteristic fragments, of the English scene. How can one make a pattern out of this muddle?

But talk to foreigners, read foreign books or newspapers, and you are brought back to the same thought. Yes, there is something distinctive and recognizable in English civilization. It is a culture as individual as that of Spain. It is somehow bound up with solid breakfasts and gloomy Sundays, smoky towns and winding roads, green fields and red pillar-boxes. It has a flavour of its own. Moreover it is continuous, it stretches into the future and the past, there is something in it that persists, as in a living creature. What can the England of 1940 have in common with the England of 1840? But then, what have you in common with the child of five whose photograph your mother keeps on the mantelpiece? Nothing, except that you happen to be the same person.

And above all, it is your civilization, it is you. However much you hate it or laugh at it, you will never be happy away from it for any length of time. The suet puddings and the red pillar-boxes have entered into your soul. Good or evil, it is yours, you belong to it, and this side the grave you will never get away from the marks that it has given you.

Meanwhile England, together with the rest of the world, is changing. And like everything else it can change only in certain directions, which up to a point can be foreseen. That is not to say that the future is fixed, merely that certain alternatives are possible and others not. A seed may grow or not grow, but at any rate a turnip seed never grows into a parsnip. It is therefore of the deepest importance to try and determine what England is, before guessing what part England can play in the huge events that are happening.

– George Orwell, “England Your England,” 1941.

An essay written during the Battle of Britain, which began, “As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me.”

Today, highly uncivilized human beings live throughout England, trying to kill their fellow countrymen:

Britain’s violent crime record is worse than any other country in the European union, it has been revealed.

Official crime figures show the UK also has a worse rate for all types of violence than the U.S. and even South Africa – widely considered one of the world’s most dangerous countries.

The Tories said Labour had presided over a decade of spiralling violence.

In the decade following the party’s election in 1997, the number of recorded violent attacks soared by 77 per cent to 1.158million – or more than two every minute.

Entirely Unrelated: “For those unfamiliar with Mr. Young; he was mayor of Detroit from 1974 to 1993. In the beginning of his tenure Detroit was a mildly struggling Rust Belt city trying to deal with an economic slump; by its end Detroit was deemed to be the perfect setting for Robocop. It is a measure of just how bad things have gotten since that Mr. Young’s administration is seen as a Golden Age, but not as much as the one that Robocop now looks quaint.”