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Rest in peace, Gene Cernan, we will miss you

Feb. 21, 2017, under history

I originally wrote this blog post on the 24th of January, but it was lost when my blog was vandalized on the 11th of February. Fortunately, I was able to find resources that let me restore the article…


I stopped to read the space-related stuff in the latest issue of Aviation Week and Space Technology, and found some sad news: Gene Cernan died on January 16. This is the bio I added to the entry in the January 16 issue of the Space History Newsletter:

Eugene Andrew “Gene” Cernan (14 March 1934 – 16 January 2017) was the second American astronaut to “walk” in space, and the Last Man on the Moon for over 45 years.

Cernan was selected in 1963 as one of 14 in the third group of astronaut candidates. He became the second NASA astronaut to conduct a space walk during the Gemini 9 mission in June 1966, spending two hours and 10 minutes outside the cramped spacecraft. He then flew on the Apollo 10 mission to the Moon in May 1969, approaching to within 47,000 feet during the last test flight before the Apollo 11 landing two months later, in July. On his third and final space mission, Apollo 17, Cernan and geologist-astronaut Harrison Schmitt spent three days exploring the Moon’s surface, on foot and in a rover.

Apollo 17 lifted off at 12:33 a.m. EST on 7 December 1972, the only night launch of the giant Saturn V rocket ever conducted. On their way to the Moon, the crew snapped the iconic picture of the full Earth later dubbed “the Blue Marble,” which is probably the most widely distributed photograph in history, showing the blue-and-white planet floating serenely in the dark of space.

Leaving Command Module pilot John Young in orbit, Cernan and Schmitt touched down in the hilly Taurus-Littrow valley on 11 December 1972. They conducted three moonwalks, setting up experiments, collecting rock and soil samples, and photographing the barren landscape. Before following Schmitt up the ladder to the crew compartment at the end of the last excursion on 14 December, Cernan paused to read the plaque attached to the descent stage:

Here man completed his first explorations of the Moon, December 1972 A.D. May the spirit of peace in which we came be reflected in the lives of all mankind.

Cernan then continued: “This is our commemoration that will be here until someone like us, until some of you who are out there, who are the promise of the future, come back to read it again and to further the exploration and meaning of Apollo.

He later continued the message on his Web site: “Too many years have passed for me to still be the last man to have left his footprints on the Moon. I believe with all my heart that somewhere out there is a young boy or girl with indomitable will and courage who will lift that dubious distinction from my shoulders and take us back where we belong. Let us give that dream a chance.

After retiring from the Navy and NASA in 1976, Cernan went into business, and served as a TV commentator for early Shuttle flights. Politically conservative, he wrote a critically acclaimed book about his final Moon mission, appropriately titled The Last Man on the Moon, and starred in an award-winning documentary of the same name. He remained an eloquent and passionate advocate of space exploration long after he retired from NASA, testifying before Congress on many occasions, and frequently cited as an authority in print.

At the time of his death, Cernan was survived by six of the twelve men who had walked on the Moon during the six Apollo landing missions in 1969 through 1972.

The book, on Amazon:

The documentary, on Amazon:

The Blue Marble: The Blue Marble, a photograph taken by Apollo 17 astronauts, 7 December 1972
Image courtesy NASA Johnson Space Center

See also http://www.cbsnews.com/news/gene-cernan-last-astronaut-on-the-moon-dies-at-82/
See also The Official Website of Gene Cernan
See also The Last Man on the Moon Commemorative T-Shirt

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NASA’s plans, Sept. 11, 1969, and what they mean today

Sep. 11, 2014, under call to action, history, opinions, space t/e/d

In today’s Space History Newsletter, you will find this information:

Program information, NASA manned space flight after 1969

Two major directions were identified for NASA’s manned space flight in the next decade on 11 September 1969. These were further exploration of the Moon, with possibly the establishment of a permanent Lunar surface base, and the continued development of manned flight in Earth orbit, leading to a permanent manned space station supported by a low-cost shuttle system. To maintain direction, the following key milestones were proposed:

  • 1972 AAP operations using a Saturn V launched Workshop
  • 1973 Start of post-Apollo lunar exploration
  • 1974 Start of suborbital flight tests of Earth to orbit shuttle
  •   Launch of a second Saturn V Workshop
  • 1975 Initial space station operations
  •   Orbital shuttle flights
  • 1976 Lunar orbit station
  •   Full shuttle operations
  • 1977 Nuclear stage flight test
  • 1978 Nuclear shuttle operations-orbit to orbit
  • 1979 Space station in synchronous orbit

By 1990

  •   Earth orbit space base
  •   Lunar surface base
  •   Possible Mars landing

(The acronym “AAP” stands for the “Apollo Applications Program” established by NASA headquarters in 1968 to develop science-based manned space missions using surplus material from the Apollo program.)

Harvest Moon, 98% Illuminated, September 7, 2014, by Fred Koschara

Obviously, things didn’t work that way – in effect none of those objectives were achieved:

  • the Saturn V Workshop was downgraded to Skylab, with only one workshop launched, and which was later abandoned (see 11 July 1979 Skylab fell – and the American public was robbed)
  • Lunar exploration stopped after Apollo 17, never mind putting up a Lunar orbit station or surface base, foisting on Gene Cernan the dubious title of being the Last Man on the Moon
  • the “low-cost shuttle” turned into the “Space Transportation System” which proved to be one of the most expensive launch options whose first flight didn’t occur until 1982 and never achieved the number of flights per year that was predicted when the project was proposed, and now discontinued, leaving America without a way to send humans to orbit on our own
  • the space station in synchronous orbit never happened, and the Earth orbit space base that was supposed to be in place by 1990 devolved into the International Space Station now with a “permanent” crew of 3-6 occupants
  • NASA’s initial space station operations didn’t begin until the first ISS resident crew consisting of one American (commander) and two Russians arrived in November 2000 in the Russian Soyuz TM-31 capsule
  • the nuclear stage and nuclear shuttle for orbit to orbit operations have been completely abandoned
  • the first human Mars landing hadn’t occurred by 1990, current predictions are that the earliest it will happen is in the 2030’s

So, what went wrong? Essentially, it boils down to politics – President Richard Nixon decided that the American public wasn’t interested in space travel, and cut NASA’s budget drastically, putting the money into the military and social welfare programs. Rather than continuing the peaceful development of space exploration and travel which was driving innovation and economic growth at an amazing pace, America was turned to a weapons manufacturer where “need” is given higher precedence than ability or reason. Among other things, that led to the September 11, 2001 attacks which destroyed the World Trade Center in New York and the subsequent “war on terror” that has stripped American citizens of so many of their fundamental rights, and to an economy on the brink of collapse due to uncontrolled expansion of the “entitlement” mentality.

Can this be fixed?

I believe it can – but not if space travel and the economy are left in the hands of the government.

Historically, two things have led to growth of the American economy – expansion into new frontiers, and innovation – creation of new industries, and new methods for existing ones. Since there are no longer any frontiers available on the Earth, there’s only one option left: Innovation is what has to drive economic growth. While there have been bursts of development such as introduction of personal computers and the whole set of industries that grew out of that innovation, and there are many fields where incremental innovation can be seen today, the whole-economy blast of innovation painted in broad strokes that led to six pairs of astronauts landing on the Moon hasn’t been seen since the government-funded space program was castrated in the early 1970’s. Developing a strong space exploration and development program, one that can and will achieve the kind of plans laid out in NASA’s 1969 outline, will require a lot of innovation, in nearly every field of endeavor. That is how to solve the economic woes the country now finds itself mired under.

Does that mean the only way we can get back on track is through another expansion of the government-run space program, by pouring more dollars into NASA? No! For example, America’s transcontinental railroad system wasn’t built as a government project – it was built by investors who recognized a tremendous market opportunity and put their money into it. The “advantage” of using tax dollars to put money into space programs is everybody participates – whether they want to or not. Wouldn’t you rather make your own choices about how your money is being invested, and where future growth will come from? I know I would – which is why I think the government needs to get out of the space “business” and let private enterprise take over.

In order for a healthy space exploration and development business to come to reality, funding has to come from everywhere – from kids bagging groceries, from multinational corporations, and everywhere in between. People and institutions that want to invest into the project need to have a mechanism for doing so, with an understandable and believable way to get a return on their investment. The L5 National Bank bonds briefly outlined on the Space Power Now Development Plan page are a system I am trying to build to make that possible: The objective is to provide investors, large and small, with a good way to invest in the future, to build a space program that will open new frontiers, solve the world’s energy problems, and boost the American economy back into high gear. Building the space business will make the military-industrial complex obsolete, creating jobs that will reduce dependency on social welfare programs, the only realistic solution to their cancerous growth.

It’s going to take political action to stop the “war on terror” and its cohorts – unconstitutional domestic surveillance, militarization of police departments, etc., and people will find it a lot easier to focus on those issues if they don’t have a failing economy about to bury them.

Space – the next frontier – the cure for what ails you!


We are going to run out of oil. Before that happens, we MUST have a replacement source of energy, and feed stock for our civilization that has become so dependent on plastic. The time to act is NOW!! Please visit SpacePowerNow.org to help build a solution.

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Two particularly interesting photos in two days on PhotoByFred

Sep. 11, 2014, under art

I was really happy with the way the pictures came out for Tuesday and Wednesday:

Full Harvest Moon Rising Over Crystal Pond, Peabody, Mass.
Full Harvest Moon Rising Over Crystal Pond, Peabody, Mass., photo by Fred Koschara, displayed Sept. 9, 2014 on PhotoByFred.com
( Click the image for a larger view )

Gull Swooping In For The Kill, Marblehead, Massachusetts
Gull Swooping In For The Kill, Marblehead, Massachusetts, photo by Fred Koschara, displayed Sept. 10, 2014 on PhotoByFred.com
( Click the image for a larger view )

One of these days I will have time to implement a comment system so you can share your opinions about the photos. In the mean time, you can send me email…


I post a new picture each day on PhotoByFred.com. As of Sept. 11, 2014, there are 3608 daily pictures that have been displayed there since I first put the site online, on October 26, 2004. Limited edition printed copies of the photos can be purchased from LimitedEditionPhoto.com, and I’m writing a Kickstarter proposal to create a movie of the pictures that have been shown on Photo By Fred. (At 1/3 second per image, it’s going to be a 20 minute movie!) There’s a form on Photo By Fred where you can let me know if you’re interested in hearing about the movie’s progress, or comment on the idea.


We are going to run out of oil. Before that happens, we MUST have a replacement source of energy and feed stock for our civilization that has become so dependent on plastic. The time to act is NOW!! Please visit SpacePowerNow.org to help build a solution.

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SPAM tools in the wrong hands

Sep. 01, 2014, under opinions

At best, SPAM tools in the wrong hands are a nuisance. An example is the user failing to configure their program properly, resulting in noise emails with Subject lines containing strings such as [?var that are easily filtered out.

August 28th was a day where some truly incompetent SPAM wannabe launched their campaign without even bothering to include a “payload” (e.g., a link to a Web site they want you to visit). On that date, I received nearly 400 SPAM messages with unpatterned From addresses and plausible Subject lines, each containing two lines of random text selections, mostly at least semi-complete sentences – and nothing else. It made finding real messages nearly impossible, and setting up an automated filter to block the noise unfeasible.

There were a couple things I noticed in the noise that made me decide I wanted to save the lot for inspection and contemplation, tidbits of at least marginally useful or interesting information, such as “PLANC is a language in the PASCAL family” (a fact I’m sure I knew at one point but had forgotten) and “Therefore, it takes an average worker over one year to make as much money as his boss makes in one day” (I’m curious to know where that conclusion came from.) I copied the messages to a file whose contents you can find here if you’re interested.

By the time I’d gone through the lot, marked them as SPAM, then went through Thunderbird’s Trash folder to delete them again to make sure I hadn’t thrown a baby out with the bath water, I’d lost a couple of hours more than I usually do to the SPAM problem for the day.

All of which begs the question “what are the right hands for SPAM tools to be in?” I had some thoughts on the matter in my previous SPAMmers are *so* stupid – or are they? post…


We are going to run out of oil. Before that happens, we MUST have a replacement source of energy and feed stock for our civilization that has become so dependent on plastic. The time to act is NOW!! Please visit SpacePowerNow.org to help build a solution.

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“Gray skies blue” and “Wrong starting point” gigs on Fiverr

Aug. 24, 2014, under Web development

I’ve posted my first two gigs on Fiverr. For the bargain price of $5 each, you can get these services.

In my first gig, I’m offering to turn gray (or grey) skies blue:

I will take your cloudy day pictures and give them a nice cloudless blue sky in the background, lighter near the horizon as you will find in nature.

I'll turn your gray skies blue
( Click the image for a larger view )

In the second gig, I’m offering to create a “you don’t belong here” page for Web sites:

Every site has one or more directories where visitors should not go. For example, if you have a directory with nothing but images in it, or include scripts, you would not want someone rummaging around through them. Put this file in those directories, and if a browser finds their way into one, it will send them back to your home page without revealing the contents of the directory.

You will receive a ZIP file containing a stand-alone XHTML Strict compliant HTML page file with no external dependencies, fully customized for your site.

'You don't belong here' Web page screen capture
( Click the image for a larger view )

If you can think of any other services I could reasonably offer for $5 each, I’d be interested in hearing your ideas…


We are going to run out of oil. Before that happens, we MUST have a replacement source of energy and feed stock for our civilization that has become so dependent on plastic. The time to act is NOW!! Please visit SpacePowerNow.org to help build a solution.

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Effective use of a dark stage and wearable electronics

Aug. 23, 2014, under music, special effects

I found this “Japan Tron dance” video quite interesting. Even if you’re not a techno or pop fan, you should still watch it – it’s that good 🙂


We are going to run out of oil. Before that happens, we MUST have a replacement source of energy and feed stock for our civilization that has become so dependent on plastic. The time to act is NOW!! Please visit SpacePowerNow.org to help build a solution.

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WholesaleNewEngland and RetailNewEngland – domains for sale

Aug. 18, 2014, under Web development

I’ve listed WholesaleNewEngland.com for sale on Sedo in conjunction with RetailNewEngland.com. You can find the WNE offer page here and the RNE offer page here.

Note that Sedo sales are for domain names only – the domain name purchases do not include the UI technology demonstration sites at WholesaleNewEngland.com and RetailNewEngland.com. Please contact me to work out the necessary details if you would like to have me develop them into full Web sites.

Contact me directly for this or other Web development work. Depending on the project terms we agree to, I may work either at a per-hour rate or at a fixed price.

I have over 15 years of Web development experience using PHP, MySQL, JavaScript, CSS and other tools and languages. My resume can be viewed at http://wfredk.com/bio/resume.php illustrating this and the other diversified work in my background.


We are going to run out of oil. Before that happens, we MUST have a replacement source of energy and feed stock for our civilization that has become so dependent on plastic. The time to act is NOW!! Please visit SpacePowerNow.org to help build a solution.

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The face on Mars – and other questions

Aug. 07, 2014, under history, opinions, philosophy, puzzling, space t/e/d

As it circled Mars on the 25th of July 1976, NASA’s Viking 1 orbiter photographed the Cydonia region of Mars. One of the frames included an image of a 2 km (1.2 miles) long mesa, situated at 40.75 degrees north latitude and 9.46 degrees west longitude, with the appearance of a humanoid face.

The 'Face on Mars' photo captured by NASA's Viking 1 orbiter on 25 July 1976
The “Face on Mars” photo captured by NASA’s Viking 1 orbiter on 25 July 1976

When the image was originally acquired, Viking chief scientist Gerry Soffen dismissed the “Face on Mars” in image 035A72 as a “trick of light and shadow.” In a press release issued on 31 July 1976, NASA provided a caption for the picture stating “The picture shows eroded mesa-like landforms. The huge rock formation in the center, which resembles a human head, is formed by shadows giving the illusion of eyes, nose and mouth. …”

Since it was originally first imaged, the “face” has been nearly universally accepted as an optical illusion. On 8 April 2001 the Mars Global Surveyor turned so it was looking at the “face” 165 km to the side from a distance of about 450 km. The resulting image has a resolution of about 2 meters (6.6 feet) per pixel in its full-resolution (2400 x 2400 pixels) version. As noted on the Malin Space Science Systems page, “If present on Mars, objects the size of typical passenger jet airplanes would be distinguishable in an image of this scale.”

MGS view of the 'Face on Mars' mesa, MOC image E03-00824, 8 April 2001
MGS view of the “Face on Mars” mesa, MOC image E03-00824, 8 April 2001
Click the image to see the full-resolution frame (2400 x 2400 pixels)

The region was also studied by ESA’s Mars Express orbiter. Combining the MGS and Mars Express data, a three dimensional model of the “Face” was constructed.

3D computer-generated model of the 'Face on Mars' mesa
3D computer-generated model of the “Face on Mars” mesa

After examining the higher resolution Mars Express and Mars Global Surveyor data NASA stated that “a detailed analysis of multiple images of this feature reveals a natural looking Martian hill whose illusory face-like appearance depends on the viewing angle and angle of illumination.” That certainly seems a plausible conclusion, especially in a universe where humans are the only intelligent species in a solar system which has never been visited by extraterrestrials, and civilization spontaneously appeared in Mesopotamia around 4,000 B.C.

In the high Andes mountains in South America, the Nazca plateau is covered with drawings that are best seen from the air. Popular belief is that they can only be seen from the air, but “more reasoned” analysis asserts they can be seen from the surrounding hills.

Monkey image, part of the Nazca plateau lines, Peru
Monkey image, part of the Nazca plateau lines, Peru

The designs are shallow lines made by removing reddish pebbles from the surface to uncover the whitish/grayish ground beneath. Hundreds are simple lines or geometric shapes; more than seventy are zoomorphic designs of animals, or human figures. Other designs include phytomorphic shapes such as trees and flowers. The largest figures are over 200 metres (660 ft) across. Who made them, and why? Theories abound, but every one of them is just that – a theory. No one really knows.

How were Egypt’s pyramids built? I don’t know, I wasn’t there at the time. Opinions differ, but I have a hard time swallowing some of the “scientifically acceptable” ones. Those stones are just too big and there are too many of them for the technology level that was supposed to have built the pyramids. There are also assertions that the Sphynx was thousands of years old when the pyramids were built. If that is true, who made the Sphynx? While we’re on it, where did the technology come from that was used to build Machu Picchu, nearly 8000 feet above sea level? A lot of those stones are so big we’d have a hard time moving them today, let alone placing them well enough that you can’t fit a piece of paper between them – yet there they are, built up for us to look at. How did that happen? Again, I wasn’t there at the time, so I can’t express anything more than an opinion on the matter – and my opinion is that we don’t have all of the answers.

If humanity and its civilization were to disappear (e.g., through nuclear war at the end of the oil supply, a disaster I’m trying to avert through Space Power Now), the pyramids would most likely still be there on the Cairo plain, even though effectively all of the other signs of our existence would be gone. The pyramids would probably be eroded, but their form would be easily distinguishable from space if the lighting and viewing angle were right, even in a low resolution image. If, for some reason, Earth’s atmosphere leaked away in the mean time, as has apparently happened to Mars, the recognizable life expectency of the pyramids would grow rapidly.

When a bullet hits a ball, different outcomes will occur, depending on the speed and size of the bullet, and the composition of the ball. A high speed bullet hitting a solid, brittle ball will cause the ball to shatter, for example. A slower projectile, such as a BB, will make a crater and embed itself in a softer ball. Somewhere between those extremes there’s a class of collisions with bizarre results: If a bullet going just the right speed, fast enough to tear through but slow enough to not completely explode it, hits a ball with a relatively soft center and a tough skin (think of an orange), a “mountain” will form at the entry point, and the skin on the opposite site will be torn off. The center of mass will change, conceivably to the point where the now-rough side that lost its skin is farther from the center of mass – at a “higher elevation” even though it just had its face blown off. The surface of Mars is remarkably close to this description: Olympus Mons, the tallest known mountain in the solar system, is in the smooth northern hemisphere, nearly diametrically opposite the giant Hellas crater situated in the southern highlands that have some of the roughest terrain on any planet in orbit around the Sun. I haven’t done an extensive analysis, but I have to wonder – was Mars hit by a cosmic bullet some time in the past that almost destroyed it?

Let’s consider for a moment a situation where our astronomers found a comet whose orbit was going to intersect the Earth’s in, say, ten years, and that the nucleus of the comet was big enough so there’d be no way to divert it: The Earth was going to die in ten years, and there’s nothing we could do about it. What would we do, in that case? I, for one, would be pushing real hard to build spaceships to carry at least some people to another planet. When they got to their destination, it could be thousands of years before the refugees would be able to start exploring out into the universe again: Chances are that something critical would be missing at their new home, and although humanity would survive, civilization would collapse. Recognizing that, what would be the best thing for the rest of us to do, so that once the survivors did get back on their feet, they could find their way home to see if anything was left of the world they came from? Put up a sign they could recognize from a long ways away, something to say “Hey you – come look here!” A face looking out into space would do the trick, I think. If there was uncertainty about which direction the comet was going to hit from, I’d even go as far as building four faces at the apexes of a regular tetrahedron, 120 degrees from each other in any direction, to improve the chances at least one would survive the impact.

It would probably be tens or hundreds of thousands of years, millions even, before the expatriats might come back, looking for something they couldn’t define. Over that time, anything smaller than the great pyramid of Cheops would probably erode away – it would take carving a mountain into the shape of a face to have any real hope of keeping the sign up long enough for it to be found. Before actually landing on the planet, our distant relatives, while initially startled by finding the Face, would probably get a closer look then dismiss it as “a natural looking … hill whose illusory face-like appearance depends on the viewing angle and angle of illumination.”

Wait a minute. What was that the NASA analysis decided?

Maybe it’s time we went and took a closer look – time for humans to go and look, not just our robots.

An interesting coincidence is that in 1958, almost two decades prior to the first images of the Face from the Viking probes, comic book artist Jack Kirby wrote a story entitled “The Face on Mars” for Harvey Comics (Race for the Moon Number 2, September 1958), in which a large face served as a monument to an extinct humanoid race from Mars. While Mr. Kirby’s face was standing vertically, and much smaller than the one found by Viking 1, his tale is eerily prescient of the discovery – something to make you go “hmm…”


We are going to run out of oil. Before that happens, we MUST have a replacement source of energy and feed stock for our civilization that has become so dependent on plastic. The time to act is NOW!! Please visit SpacePowerNow.org to help build a solution.

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Nuclear vs. solar power for deep space probes

Aug. 05, 2014, under history, opinions, space t/e/d

While checking to see if Space Power Now has started appearing in search engines, I came across an article in which the author implied that nuclear power supplies for satellites are inherently evil and dangerous. I have to disagree.

The ESA’s Rosetta comet explorer is scheduled to arrive at its target (comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko) Wednesday, 6 August, 10:45-11:45 CEST – about 27-28 hours from now as I’m writing this. (See the rosetta blog for current information.) Among other things, Rosetta has two solar panels, with a combined area of 64 m², each 14 m in length. The total span from tip to tip is 32 m. The solar panels power a suite of 11 science instrument packages, guidance computers, and the radio system for transmitting data back to Earth. They were only generating about 395 W when Rosetta was 5.25 AU (Astronomical Unit, roughly the distance from Earth to the Sun) from the Sun. Power output is now up to 850 W at 3.4 AU as the probe is encountering the comet and comet operations begin. According to the ESA, “The solar cells in Rosetta’s solar panels are based on a completely new technology, so-called Low-intensity Low Temperature Cells. Thanks to them, Rosetta is the first space mission to journey beyond the main asteroid belt relying solely on solar cells for power generation. Previous deep-space missions used nuclear RTGs, radioisotope thermal generators. The new solar cells allow Rosetta to operate over 800 million kilometres from the Sun, where levels of sunlight are only 4% those on Earth.”

Rosetta is a fine example of using advanced technology solar cells to operate at a greater distance from the Sun than was previously possible. However, somewhere beyond the orbit of Jupiter, collecting enough solar energy to run a reasonable set of instruments and a radio transmitter will become “difficult” in addition to using an inordinate percentage of the weight of a probe.

Nuclear power has been invented, the only way it could be “disinvented” would be to destroy civilization and any memory of it being used. Personally, I’d rather keep the nuclear power, and use it like a hammer, screwdriver, or other tool for productive purposes: I enjoy civilized life, which is why I’m as anxious as I am to make Space Power Now work.

Since Henri Becquerel discovered uranium salts emitted rays that resembled X-rays in their penetrating power in 1896, our understanding – and fear – of radioactive materials and radiation has grown. Radioactive materials, and equipment that utilize the radiation they produce, are potentially very dangerous if they are not properly handled. With due caution, they can be utilized to achieve objectives that would otherwise be impossible – like sending probes to the outer planets with enough instrumentation and radio power to return useful scientific data.

Tools are not evil, and should not be condemned as such: It is only when they are wielded by evil-minded people that tools cause evil results.

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Building the Web, continuing work in progress

Jul. 29, 2014, under progress reports, Web development

I spent a lot of time getting the next iteration of Space Power Now into proper working order for the Apollo 11 anniversary on July 20 & 21. The Development Plan mentions several other sites. It wouldn’t have felt like the job was finished without live links leading to pages with some level of polish.

The worst offender was the Space Questions site that still had the hosting company’s default page from when I first registered the domain. At least now it’s got a blurb saying what it’s supposed to be about, with a “keep me posted when this site is updated” form.

The Space History Newsletter has had a banner image for a few years, but it wasn’t even shown on its home page. I had to fix that, and as I started working on the site, I wondered how difficult it would be to just move the newsletter over from the L5 Development Group page – I’ve got most of the code written, after all, so it shouldn’t be too hard, right? Oh, if life were that easy! When I wrote the SHN code in 2005, I built a template system that seemed like it was going to provide the flexibility for publishing in several formats. It works well for creating the email version and updating the page on the L5 Development Group site – but getting it to work on the SHN site is going to take figuring out the template system again, at a minimum – more work than I had time for just then. The first line item for SHN on the Space Power Now Development Plan page already was “move the space history newsletter from L5Develoment.com to its own site” – so that puts it off until there’s more funding to cover the cost of the development.

Next on the first-level links list was SpaceColonists.com – another one that’s had a banner of its own for quite some time, but still had an unstyled text page for its face. I gave it a quick touch up, but since I was running out of time, it didn’t get as much attention as it probably deserves. (Such is the life of projects that are waiting for funding to arrive…)

The L5 Development Group site is a bit of a thorn in my side: I started a complete rewrite a couple of years ago, and made a lot of progress (an incomplete development version is at the beta site) but got stuck when I couldn’t get the floating accordian menu to work right in both Firefox 3.6.28 and InternetExploiter 6. (Yes, I’ve been obsessed with backwards compatibility – but that’s another story.) Since then I’ve decided the menu needs to be rewritten using a better combination of CSS and JavaScript, but I haven’t had the time and resources to get back to it. As a result, L5Development.com is stuck in the past, with a somewhat clunky interface that’s really showing its age. Instead of being the showcase that ties everything together, it’s another project simmering on a back burner, waiting for the day when there’s enough money to bring it back to the front.

The last of the direct links from the Space Power Now Development Plan on July 20th was to the L5 National Bank site. The frames-based implementation of the site had not been touched since I first put it up in 2004, but it had the site’s banner displayed, the stub menu illustrated some of the features that are planned, and it had an appropriate disclaimer to be sure visitors understand it’s not a functioning bank yet. I wasn’t happy with leaving it like that, but I was up against my deadline, and let it stay the way it was.

I got my Remember the Moon – and Mars! post published on July 21, the 45th anniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the Moon, and told my world about it. I was hoping people would read it, and that at least a few would follow one of the links leading to Space Power Now, and that some would even push the buttons on the Invest page to help support its mission. That hasn’t happened yet, so I’m still scrambling to get the (back) rent paid by the end of the month – on Thursday.

Since the “High Holiday” (the anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing), I’ve been working on the network of sites linked to by the Space Power Now Development Plan. “Working” is a bit of a euphemism, I guess – I’ve been programming night and day, feeling like it was almost to the exclusion of everything else. I did have to take a break on Thursday for my “one day a week” day job, spent a few hours reading in a book store cafe, took a couple of days on some eBay business, and went to visit my cat over the weekend. Other than that, I’ve been tangled in the innards of the World Wide Web, building components of my development program. Oh, yeah, I did sleep a few times – but nowhere near 8 hours a night…

The first thing I had to fix was the L5 National Bank Web site: Not only are frames-based sites considered obsolete by much of the development world, but it took a long time to load. I’d recently done a frames-to-divs upgrade on another site, so I expected it would be a fairly short project. When I was done, I’d be right back to working on getting the rent paid. It wasn’t until I’d started editing the code that I realized it was “ten years after” that I’d returned to it from when I first put the site up. It could have been a real nightmare, but I’ve always tried to follow the best practices to avoid future problems. As it turns out, the conversion did go smoothly, and if I had stopped there, I would have been doing something else for the past few days.

Right before I got to work on the L5 National Bank site, I made the mistake of clicking a link, probably when I was looking at the banners displayed on the Fred Koschara Enterprises site. The link led me to the Interplanet Dating Service site where I found it was another one with an existing banner – and a favicon – neither of which were being used on the text-only existing page. I did postpone working on it until I’d finished the L5 National Bank upgrade, but once I saw the state InterplanetDating.com was in, fixing it was an itch I found I couldn’t ignore: I’d put a list on it some time ago of the types of affiliations with the space T/E/D field one could have with a suggestion for the “not interested” category: Go use another dating service. Besides not having the banner or favicon in use, I felt that list really needed to be addressed more fully. Again, if I had stuck to that bit of work, I wouldn’t have slipped further down the rabbit hole, but no, I couldn’t leave it alone. I had put a “Your Link Here” place holder as an action item under the “not interested” entry. Shouldn’t that be a link someone with another dating site could use to request their site be added to the list? (That’s what I had in mind in the first place.) I considered putting a mailto link there, but that could lead to long conversations before enough information came across to decide whether to add a link or not. What I needed was a link to a “simple” form with fields for all of the appropriate information. OK, build the form. Now, what to do with the collected data? Just email it, and “some day” add it to a database? That sounded like another unfinished project in the making, certainly not something I need. That meant building a database table to store the entries – but I didn’t have a database set up for the site. Since I was setting up the database, why not drop in the “stock” FAQ system, that code’s mostly complete, right? – except that the publicly accessible FAQ page was way out of date, and cleaning it up turned into a bit of a project, by itself. Eventually I did get the “submit your link” database code implemented, but I still had to write the email notification part of the form handler when I crashed for five hours. After my nap, I realized that if the email notification told me there was data in the database I’d need an Admin page to do something with it (as if I needed another project to work on) – so the email processing has to forward all of the entered information as well. A number of iterations later, I’d finished testing the page, and had the email formatted so the information would be readily understandable, even if the requestor wrote a small novel in submitting their link. Nineteen hours had elapsed (including the five hour nap and “some time” dealing with email, etc.) since I started on it, but in the end the Your Link Here page was operational, and I could set the Interplanet Dating Service site (including its newly functional FAQ system) aside feeling it was “done enough for now.”

I still wasn’t done: The site blurb at the top of the L5 National Bank page says it’s (going to be) “the premier banking institution at and for the L5 Nation” – and the L5 Nation Web site was in pretty bad shape: There was a banner, but it wasn’t being used on the site, and there wasn’t a favicon for the site, which was also just a crude text implementation. The site did include some minimal text and a couple of links that I’d want to preserve in a reimplementation, but not much. I’ve got a set of prototype files that I use to bring up a new site with minimal effort – but before I used them again, I needed to add some recent changes, or I’d have to repeat fixing the copied files over and again. Once I got the prototype file set updated, though, putting a new face on L5Nation.com went pretty smoothly. I still needed to create the favicon, but there was another diversion that had to be addressed first:

The L5 Nation site is only half the picture – and it’s got a link to the other side of the coin, the L5 Colony web site. L5Colony.com was in a similar state: There was a text site with minimal text and a couple of links, a banner not being used on the site, and no favicon. By the time I started on the L5 Colony site, I was really leery about looking for other links that could lead further down the rabbit hole, so this update went pretty quickly – just a few hours later, the L5Colony.com facelift was done, except for the favicon.

Creating the favicons for the L5 Nation and L5 Colony sites was a straight-forward task. I took care of it with minimal effort, but getting Firefox to display the newly created ones was a challenge, as usual. I found a Firefox addon that claims to make it possible to delete an existing favicon association. I installed it, which required restarting Firefox – and when the browser came up, it knew about the new favicons, so I didn’t have an opportunity to test the addon I’d just installed.

While I was writing this blog entry, I had occasion to go look at the Fred Koschara Enterprises site again, and noticed one of the “extra” places a page title could be displayed had been activated recently – changing server-global files can have unexpected consequences like that. I was certain I knew what the problem was, and how to fix it. The only thing is, it turns out the FKE site is one I’d done a lot of experimenting on when I was implementing the floating accordian menu. Some of the code is pretty old, and other parts aren’t implemented quite the way the more recent work has been done. Consequently, my simple fix proved to not be, and before I was done, I’d had to touch six files, some multiple times – and it was two hours later. So much for a quick solution!

I wanted to clean up a couple of things after getting my Apollo 11 post finished. I’ve done that, and now it’s eight days of a week later – and I’m not any closer to getting the rent paid. This could be a problem. I guess I’m going to have to reach pretty deeply into my hat to find the rabbit I’m supposed to be pulling out of it. Considering how far down the rabbit hole I’ve been in the past week, it seems like there must be an answer here somewhere – all I have to do is find it…

Go visit Space Power Now – I’ve been working on the projects described in the Development Plan this past week because I believe it’s a project that is really important for the healthy future of humanity. I wouldn’t be the evangelist I am if I didn’t think so.

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