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Fred Koschara

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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Comments are fixed, RSS is verified

Jul. 22, 2014, under bugfix

It seems there was a bug in the theme I adapted that made it impossible to leave comments. (Thanks to Joe Strout for bringing this to my attention!) I fixed that problem – and discovered two of the three anti-SPAM plugins I have installed weren’t working right, either. It’s all straightened out now.

I’ve also verified that the RSS subscription process works – I’m subscribed to my own blog 😉 If you are having trouble subscribing, make sure you’ve got an RSS reader installed. The one I use is FeedReader.
FeedReader button

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Remember the Moon – and Mars!

Jul. 21, 2014, under call to action, history, space t/e/d

It’s been forty five years since the Apollo 11 mission first landed humans on another planetary body – the Moon: At 20:17:40 UT (4:17:40 pm EDT) on 20 July 1969, astronauts Neil A. Armstrong (Apollo 11 Commander) and Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin Jr. (“Eagle” Lunar Module (LM) pilot) landed the LM in Mare Tranquilitatis (the Sea of Tranquility). Meanwhile, the “Columbia” Command and Service Module (CSM) continued in Lunar orbit with CM pilot Michael Collins aboard. During their stay on the Moon, the astronauts set up scientific experiments, took photographs, and collected Lunar samples. The LM took off from the Moon on 21 July for the astronauts’ return to Earth.

NASA photo ID S69-42583, picture taken by the Apollo Lunar surface camera as Neil Armstrong took humanity's first step onto another planetary body, the Moonn, 'One small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.'
NASA photo ID S69-42583, taken by the Apollo Lunar surface camera as Neil Armstrong took humanity’s first step onto another planetary body, the Moon
“One small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”
From http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/lunar/images/a11tvarm.jpg

Apollo 11 Lunar Module on the Moon, NASA photo by Neil Armstrong
Apollo 11 Lunar Module on the Moon, NASA photo by Neil Armstrong
From http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/nmc/masterCatalog.do?sc=1969-059C

NASA’s Viking 1 lander was originally planned to land on Mars coinciding with the US Bicentennial on 4 July 1976, but was delayed until a suitable landing site was located. As it worked out, the landing took place at Chryse Planitia at 11:56:06 UT on 20 July, roughly eight and a third hours less than exactly seven years after Apollo 11 had landed on the Moon. The robotic probe returned the first ever close-up pictures of the Martian surface, collected the first-ever samples taken from the surface Mars, and continued to communicate with ground controllers on Earth until 13 November 1982.

The first image taken by Viking 1 on the surface of Mars, minutes after it touched down. NASA photo
The first photograph ever taken on the surface of the planet Mars, obtained by Viking 1 just minutes after the spacecraft landed
From http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA00381

The Apollo missions continued through 14 December 1972 when Apollo 17 Mission Commander Gene Cernan returned to the LM “Challenger” ending the last Extravehicular Activity (EVA) of what would prove to be the final expedition of the program. As yet, No other humans have returned to set foot on the Lunar surface, foisting on Captain Cernan the dubious honor and title of being “The Last Man on the Moon.” As illustrated by the L5 Development GroupLast Man on the Moon” T-shirt, I think it’s (well past) time for us to go back: During the Apollo years, technology and science were advancing rapidly, the economy was booming, and it seemed as though anything was possible. We thought that within a few years there would be people living in space, and by the turn of the century, there would be hundreds, or even thousands, living on the Moon, with human exploration of Mars well under way.

“Somehow” the dreams got lost: President Nixon cut NASA’s budget because space exploration “wasn’t popular,” just as NBC had canceled Star Trek because of its “poor ratings.” Star Trek went on to become the most widely re-broadcast program in the history of television, and the general public still gets excited about space travel – when the news media lets them know something is going on. Look, for example, at the excitement that was stirred when NASA’s Spirit and Opportunity rovers landed on Mars, and the on-going popularity of the intrepid rover Opportunity as it continues to explore more than ten years later.

Since the six Apollo missions that landed men on the Moon, no one has gone anywhere beyond low Earth orbit. NASA’s Shuttle was supposed to be a “space truck” that would fly hundreds of times each year and drive the cost of access to space down. Instead, only 130 flights were made over the entire life of the program by the five spacecraft that went to orbit, two of which were destroyed in flight. Once they got done building the Shuttle, NASA had to find something to do with it, so they started working on a space station. Initially it was going to be a multi-disciplinary facility with a price tag of just a couple of billion dollars. By the time it was built, the International Space Station had lost most of the capabilities first envisioned. It had also ballooned into a hole in space that will have sucked in between $150 and $200 billion by the time it’s currently planned to be retired in 2028. The ISS is “permanently occupied” by a (constantly changing) crew of 6, but the U.S. doesn’t have a way of its own to get astronauts there now that the Shuttle has been taken out of service. In many ways, the question of “what is it there for?” is still unanswered.

The thing that’s missing from this picture is commercial development. Space programs have been the playthings of governments, subject to the whims of whoever is in power at the moment and their perception of what their subjects (the public) want. Until there’s a profit to be made, nothing else is going to happen. Witness the development of airplanes in the early twentieth century: The first ones were fragile machines cobbled together by experimenters trying out new gadgets, but they weren’t widely available until enterprising types found they could charge passengers for fast travel between distant points and the airline industry evolved. True, the U.S. government helped make those initial airlines more profitable by taking contracts for delivery of mail, but airplanes became ubiquitous by selling something valuable – fast transportation – to private individuals at a relatively low cost.

It’s true there are space business market segments that are already well established and profitable: Satellites in geostationary orbit provide television programming and communication around the globe. The U.S. GPS constellation enables drivers who would otherwise be lost to get to their destinations. Weather satellites let us plan picnics and find out when schools will be closed by snow, and Earth resource data from space is used in a broad range of industries. Robotic satallites have permanently changed the way we live, and the companies behind them are making solid profits, even though their entire staff is still on the ground.

The human space flight industry, however, basically doesn’t exist. There are companies such as SpaceX and Orbital Sciences making “commercial” cargo flights to the ISS, and SpaceX is well along toward developing their Dragon capsule for carrying crews there. Lockheed Martin and Astrium are building the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle for NASA and the ESA, assuming public funding continues throughout the program’s development. Bigelow Aerospace, while still proposing their own network of low-cost space habitats, is now building an inflatable module to be attached to the International Space Station. These are all government projects, though, technology looking for a market, not businesses selling something valuable to private individuals.

This is where Space Power Now fits in – the immediate commercial project of The L5 Development Group space program. Space Power Now is promulgating a constellation of solar power satellites in geostationary orbit. Those satellites will collect solar power in space where the Sun is always shining and cheaply beam it to the ground for consumption by everybody on the planet in lieu of fossil fuels that are both in limited supply and damaging the environment. Simply building those satellites is going to create millions of jobs; operating and maintaining them once they are installed will require a significant permanent human presence in space.

Visionaries in the space travel, exploration and development (space T/E/D) field know there are unimagineable benefits that will come from opening space and the resources “out there” to make them available for the benefit of humanity. We know there’s energy from the Sun that can eliminate our dependency on fossil fuels. There are more resources just within our Solar System than we could use in thousands of years. From the research that’s been done on the International Space Station, we know protein crystals can be grown in microgravity to help cure diseases that would otherwise be intractible. What we don’t – and can’t – know is how much more we’re going to find after we have actually started getting out and exploring a lot beyond Earth.

Once we get to where there’s a critical mass of infrastructure in space, it will be a lot easier for smaller businesses to get a piece of the space pie: Rather than having to figure out how to get to space in the first place, entrepreneurs will be able to focus on what they’re going to do once they are there. That’s another reason why Space Power Now is such an important project: By undertaking a project requiring thousands of launches, it will enable launch companies to develop capabilities that bring costs down, and make travel to space almost as mundane as a flight across the ocean.

Please visit the Space Power Now site, and become part of the project. I really believe our future depends on it!

BTW, I feel sorry for the “22% of Americans in 2009” who don’t believe we ever went to the Moon. I know better – and I am anxious to get us back there…

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My own blog theme – finally!

Jul. 18, 2014, under progress reports, Web development

Since I first installed WordPress and set up my blog on this site, it’s been using the pixeled theme, which was OK – but it made my blog look like something attached to my site with bubble gum, duct tape and baling wire – it didn’t fit in. Among other things, while it was easy to pick a menu item from my home page to get to my blog, there wasn’t a link in the reverse direction: Once you were in my blog, there was no going back to the rest of my site unless you used your browser’s button or re-entered the Web address. I’ve never really been happy with it, but I also had the impression it would take a significant investment of time and effort to build my own WordPress theme.

I read through a couple of tutorials Monday night (July 14) and got a rather different perspective: Between having delved into the workings of WordPress when I was contracting at MIT Sloan School last year, and the presentation in the tutorials, I thought it might not be too much work, after all, to create my own theme, to make my blog fit into my site smoothly.

I started working on creating my theme about 9:30 Monday evening. By 2AM I’d made a couple of slight changes, but most of the time had gone into cleaning up the ghastly code I was trying to adapt. Who was the VisualBasic idiot that came up with the if: endif type of conditionals for PHP? Brackets are much easier to follow – and to make sure you’ve got your blocks properly closed! I’ve got WordPress 3.8.1 running here, so there’s no need for pre-2.7 code – gack!

I had to take a break from 2AM until about 3:15 to post another picture on Photo By Fred, and to validate Tuesday’s entries for the Space History newsletter. After installing my barely changed theme on my blog, it took practically two hours just to get back to where it would display again: There’s something wrong with the PHP installation at eApps and syntax errors in nested function calls aren’t being recorded in the error_log, so I had to trace through WordPress to find out where there was an extraneous close-bracket in one of the theme modules where I’d been optimizing the code, and a missing close bracket in another module where I’d missed a VisualBasic PHP block being closed.

Once I got the theme to display, I started modifying it, an iterative process that kept going and going and …. Eventually it converged on a solution, and before 11:30 Tuesday morning I’d gotten to where I was happy with the way it looks: My blog now looks like an integral part of the site, and I’m pretty comfortable with the color scheme and layout (at least for the moment).

There are still HTML validation errors because the AddThis plugin uses the same ID for every element on the page and doesn’t escape ampersands the way it’s supposed to, but those problems are common enough that most browsers handle them without taking particular notice. I should probably submit bug reports to the plugin’s developers. I’ll get to it one of these days when I’ve got nothing to do and a staff to do it with…

In the mean time, my blog has a new look and feel, and I’m happy with the way it works – so the roughly 12.75 hours of work I put into it paid off nicely.

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11 July 1979 Skylab fell – and the American public was robbed

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

NASA’s Skylab, launched 14 May 1973, was an orbiting space station manned by crews arriving via separate launches. The orbital workshop (OWS) section was a refitted S-IVB second stage of a Saturn IB booster, a leftover from the Apollo program originally intended for one of the canceled Earth orbital missions, modified for long duration manned habitation in orbit. It contained provisions and crew quarters necessary to support three-person crews for periods of up to 84 days each.

Severe damage was sustained during launch, and the station underwent extensive repair during a spacewalk by the first crew; repairs by crews throughout the manned stays led to virtually all mission objectives being met.

The first Skylab crew was aboard from 25 May to 22 June 1973, the crew of the SL-2 mission (73-032A). Next, it was manned during the period 28 July to 25 September 1973, by the crew of the SL-3 mission (73-050A). The final manned period was from 16 November 1973 to 8 February 1974, when it was inhabited by the SL-4 mission (73-090A) crew.

Skylab orbited Earth 2,476 times during the 171 days and 13 hours of its occupation during the three manned missions; astronauts performed ten spacewalks totalling 42 hours 16 minutes. Skylab logged approximately 2,000 hours of scientific and medical experiments, including eight solar experiments (e.g., the Sun’s coronal holes were discovered); many medical experiments related to astronauts’ adaptation to extended periods of microgravity. Each successive Skylab mission set a duration record for the time the astronauts spent in space.

Following the final manned Skylab mission, ground controllers performed some engineering tests that ground personnel were reluctant to do while astronauts were aboard. Upon completion of those tests, Skylab was positioned into a stable attitude and systems were shut down. It was expected Skylab would remain in orbit an additional eight to ten years. It was to have been visited by an early shuttle mission, reboosted to a higher orbit, and used by space shuttle crews, but delays of the first shuttle flight made this impossible. At the same time, increased solar activity heating the outer layers of the Earth’s atmosphere caused more drag on the station, which led to an early reentry on 11 July 1979. Skylab disintegrated over the Indian Ocean and Western Australia after a worldwide scare over its pending crash, casting large pieces of debris in populated areas.

Of the premature reentry it has been said “Fortunately, the only casualty was a single Australian cow.” However, that quip doesn’t really express the real damage that was incurred by the loss of Skylab: How much further ahead would we have been when the shuttle started flying if there was still a space station in place to go visit?

The total budget for Skylab was approximately $2,147,100,000 in 1970’s dollars (NASA’s figures). The cost in today’s dollars would have been much higher. Skylab fell out of orbit because “an early shuttle mission” failed to get there to reboost it into a higher orbit. How much would it have cost to build an automated expendable launcher and send it to Skylab to take it into a higher orbit when it became obvious that the shuttle wouldn’t get there in time? 300 million dollars? Half a billion, maybe? Certainly a lot less than the US$ 2.15 billion loss NASA imposed on the American public by failing to protect the assets it had been entrusted with.

Skylab was not the first space station – the Soviet Union launched the first one, Salyut 1, in 1971 – but Skylab was one of the first, and the largest at the time. It hosted three crews before it was abandoned in 1974. Russia continued to focus on long-duration space missions and in 1986 launched the first modules of the Mir space station – which grew to be ultimately only 25% larger than Skylab. Meanwhile, NASA poured nearly all of its human space flight budget into the shuttle program.

In his State of the Union address on 25 January 1984, President Ronald Reagan directed NASA to build a space station within the next ten years. The Freedom design was predicted to have a total development cost (including construction in orbit) of US$ 1.5-2 billion dollars in early projections. Partly due to changing political winds, costs escalated, target dates were pushed back, and in 1993, the Clinton administration announced the transformation of Space Station Freedom into the International Space Station (ISS), bringing in Russia as a partner. In 1998, the first two modules were launched and joined together in orbit. Today, the ISS is approximately the size of a football field, a 460-ton platform orbiting fifteen and a half times a day between 205 and 270 miles above Earth. It is about four times as large as Mir and five times as large as Skylab. The ISS is “funded until 2024,” and may operate until 2028. By then the investment will have grown well into the US$ 150-200 billion range – and plans are to “deorbit” the station when funding runs out.

NASA has already set a precedent by letting a US$ 2.15 billion investment fall out of the sky when Skylab came crashing down. The Russians did much the same thing when they took the Mir space station out of orbit, throwing away an estimated US$ 4 billion in 2001 dollars when the project ended. It wouldn’t be any different, philosophically, for NASA and its partners to toss another $175 billion (+/- $25 billion) down the toilet by burning the ISS up in the atmosphere, so why not?

The reason “why not” is because doing so would be robbing taxpayers – now, all over the world – of their investment – AGAIN! It costs a LOT of money to put things into orbit. It’s far cheaper to keep things in orbit that are already there than to send up replacements. If the international partners and NASA want to abandon the ISS when “funding runs out” they should sell it in place for salvage – so that an industrious private enterprise can boost it into a higher, stable orbit for storage until they can get to it economically to recover the investment – even if that “recovery” is nothing more than tearing the thing down to use it for raw materials.

Governments, in general, and space agencies, in particular, need to stop acting like they’ve been given a blank check, and trying to spend every last penny of it.


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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More people need to listen to (and hear) _Public Transit_

Jul. 10, 2014, under music, opinions

Lucretia’s Daggers has a new video called Public Transit that you can find on YouTube. More people need to listen to it, and actually hear what Lucretia is saying!

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Let’s save America!

Jun. 30, 2014, under call to action, opinions, philosophy

When I was in grade school, I pledged allegiance to a nation with “liberty and justice for all.” I also learned to speak, read and write English well, since that is the language the citizens of the “melting pot” of America are supposed to communicate with.

In the time since, it seems both of those principles have been cast aside. I want to fix that, and I need your help to make it happen.


Over the past hundred years or so, our liberty has been chipped away, with the very concept of justice often falling victim in the process. As justification for taking our liberty, governments have promised us “safety” in return, with plausible seeming arguments and statistics to mask the true effects of their actions. However, as Ben Franklin is often quoted as saying, “those who would give up liberty to purchase a little (temporary) safety deserve neither, and will soon find they have lost both.” Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) also observed “there are three forms of lies – lies, damned lies, and statistics” – and it is frequently those most heinous forms of lies – statistics – that are used to “encourage” us to surrender our rights.

One of the cornerstones of the process that has eroded our liberty came in the form of the introduction of driver licensing: The argument was made that by requiring all motorists to obtain a driver license before being allowed to use the roads, the government could insure only safe drivers would be operating a vehicle on a public way. History has proven otherwise: There are far more accidents with a horrifically greater cost caused by licensed drivers all the time than those due to unlicensed ones.

Consider what happens when you buy a “driver license” from the government: In signing the application, you are agreeing to obey any and all laws in effect, whether you know about them or not – AND any and all that may be enacted in the future. Isn’t that rather absurd? It would be like telling a credit card company that they could add whatever they wanted to your bill, and you’d have to pay for it, even if it never showed up on your itemized statement. Would you put up with that from a commercial vendor? Why do you put up with it when the government does it?

The government has conditioned us into thinking we have to get a license – to get permission to travel in public in the peaceful conduct of our own affairs, even when we aren’t intruding on anyone else’s rights: We have been led to believe that a license is required to exercise THE RIGHT TO TRAVEL IN PUBLIC. That right, however, is such a fundamental part of freedom that it cannot be removed in a nation of free citizens. In effect, we have been told we need a license to be free. Are you happy with that?

Once we accepted the idea that a license is needed to travel in public, and we have to obey any rules attached to that license whether we know about them or not, it became a LOT easier to knock other large holes in our liberty: We are no longer the beneficiary of our own labors, the government can steal part of our wages – oh, sorry, that’s tax, not steal – and we have to pay because a law has been put forth telling us about it. We cannot raise our children as we see fit, because if we do something out of line with the government’s rules they will take our children away. It doesn’t matter if we disagree or not, if we don’t play the game their way, our children will be gone – and possibly our “driver license” as well, if they can figure a way to make that happen, too.

I wish I could say I’m making this up – but I’m not: I see it going on around me every day, and hear horror stories from all over the country with the same sort of tales. The situation is only going to get worse unless we start to fight back, to demand that the government return our rights to us.

Since this erosion of our liberty has a fundamental basis attached to driver licensing, that’s where one of the defensive attacks has to come from. I have set up StopHighwayRobbery.com as a focus point to build a community around. I want it to grow into a grass-roots efforts to RESTORE THE RIGHT TO TRAVEL IN PUBLIC IN THE PEACEFUL CONDUCT OF YOUR OWN AFFAIRS WITHOUT QUESTION. I can’t do it alone, though, so I’m asking for your help – contribute time and support if you can, and PLEASE tell people about it!

Here’s a quote from Sam Adams:

In a state of tranquillity, wealth, and luxury, our descendants would forget the arts of war and the noble activity and zeal which made their ancestors invincible. Every art of corruption would be employed to loosen the bond of union which renders our resistance formidable. When the spirit of liberty, which now animates our hearts and gives success to our arms, is extinct, our numbers will accelerate our ruin and render us easier victims to tyranny. If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquillity of servitude than the animating contest of freedom – go from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen!


For over two hundred years after it was founded, English was recognized as the language with which everyone in the United States of America was expected to be able to communicate. While visitors were given a degree of latitude when they could find someone to speak their foreign tongue, anyone planning to stay was expected to learn our language. This helped to insure a common basis was available for conveying information, wording contracts, and a host of other communication applications.

Some time in the 1970’s or ’80’s it suddenly became not “politically correct” to require everyone to speak English – and America’s Tower of Babel started to be built. Icons replaced text labels on control knobs, government agencies became expected to provide translators for immigrants demanding services, and voice prompts began telling us we have to “press one for English” with other prompts in other languages. Whereas human operators could usually tell if the person they were talking to understood them or not, voice menu systems don’t.

Part of what made America great was the fact its citizens COULD communicate with each other: If you could speak English, you could expect to find a job or a meal without undue effort anywhere you went. If you could read English, you could go to a library and learn just about anything you wanted to. With being able to write in English, you had the opportunity to get your message to anyone and everyone in the country. Learning English and becoming proficient with it provided a basis for measuring progress in our educational system, and gave students and teachers a common ground to work from.

Now we have fragmented communities where (often large) parts of the population don’t speak English – and have no intention of learning how to do so. Their expectation is that if anybody who doesn’t speak their language will have to provide a translator or just stay out of their clique. This behavior leads to misunderstandings, at best – and even to violent conflict. Meanwhile, those of us who do speak English, using it as our primary language, are expected to “be tolerant” of those who are willfully choosing to not be able to speak with us. To add insult to injury, rather than being able to walk up to an ATM and get access to our money, for example, we have to “press one for English” to tell the machine that we’re using the language that SHOULD be the one that IT is using.

I’m tired of this. There is NO REASON an American should ever have to “Press one for English” to communicate with anyone else in this country.

  • If you cannot communicate in English, learn the language!
  • If you do not want to learn the language, go back where you came from!
  • If you want to preserve your cultural heritage, you’re welcome to do so: Open a museum, and preserve as much as you want.
  • If you don’t want your cultural heritage preserved in a museum, go back where you came from, and preserve it there!

I have set up BoycottPressForEnglish.org in an effort to restore language unity within the United States of America. I think it’s a critical part of restoring some of the necessary standards that have fallen aside due to the laps of sanity that is resulting in so many “Americans” being unable to communicate with each other. I can’t do it alone, though, so I’m asking for your help – contribute time and support if you can, and PLEASE tell people about it!

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