Sunday, May 27, 2018

Eight down, four to go

        Al Bean's death yesterday at age 86 leaves only four Moonwalkers still alive. Here's the tally:

Apollo 11
Neil Armstrong: d. 25 August 2012 after coronary by-pass surgery (which should never have been attempted IMHO)
Buzz Aldrin: STILL WITH US, age 88

Apollo 12
Pete Conrad: d. 8 July 1999 after a motorcycle crash.
Al Bean:  d. 26 May 2018, cause uncertain

Apollo 14
Al Shepard: d. 21 July 1998 from complications of leukemia
Ed Mitchell: d. 4 February 2016 under hospice care

Apollo 15
Dave Scott: STILL WITH US, age 85
Jim Irwin: d. 8 August 1991 after a third heart attack, first of the Moonwalkers to die

Apollo 16
John Young: d. 5 January 2018, complications from pneumonia
Charlie Duke: STILL WITH US, age 82

Apollo 17
Gene Cernan: d. 16 January 2017
Harrison "Jack" Schmitt: STILL WITH US, age 82

        I met Al Bean in Houston in 1979. He graciously invited me into his home in a gated community and showed me his famous artwork. He was a gent and a hard worker in space. It's despicable that whippersnappers like Mike Bara are now writing that Bean deliberately ruined the color TV camera during his Moon mission. How the hell would Bara know?

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The short, short life of the EM drive

        The EM drive, a.k.a. the Resonant Cavity Thruster, made its début in 2001 as a theoretical design by Roger Shawyer. The device is a closed hollow metal frustrum within which resonant microwaves are generated by a magnetron. The difference between the areas of the two ends of the frustrum, according to the theory, gives rise to a net thrust toward the smaller end, without anything being ejected. So it is potentially a low-thrust rocket engine requiring no fuel.

        Positive test results from the Northwestern Polytechnical University in Xi'an, China, reported in 2008, were retracted in 2016 as experimental error. Nevertheless some people, including some at NASA's Advanced Propulsion Physics Laboratory, continued to report thrust in the 50 µN range.

        At the Technical University of Dresden, Martin Tajmar and G. Fiedler built a version of the EM drive inside a vacuum chamber evacuated to ~10-7 millibars. The device was rigidly attached to a torsion balance whose deflection was measured by a laser interferometer with sufficient sensitivity that a deflection produced by a thrust as low as 1 µN could be measured. Tajmar & Fiedler reported preliminary results at the 51st AIAA/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference, AIAA Propulsion and Energy Forum, in 2015. The paper was titled Direct Thrust Measurements of an EMDrive and Evaluation of Possible Side-Effects. From the Abstract:
"[W]e observed thrusts of +/- 20 µN however also in directions that should produce no thrust. ...Our test campaign can not confirm or refute the claims of the EMDrive but intends to independently assess possible side-effects in the measurement methods used so far."
        I, and many other commenters, knew there was something very dodgy about the device when we read that the control experiment—a run when the device was rotated so that thrust along its axis could not possibly deflect the torsion balance—produced better "thrust" than when the device was oriented optimally. Well, we knew that already because this thing cannot possibly work as claimed. It violates Newton's third law of motion. As I wrote at that time, if this works then sitting in your car and pushing on the dashboard will work, too.

The kibosh
        Now, the Dresden lab has put the almost-final kibosh on the EM thingy. On 16th May, at a Space Propulsion conference in Seville, Spain, they presented The SpaceDrive Project – First Results on EMDrive and Mach-Effect Thrusters by Martin Tajmar, Matthias Kößling, Marcel Weikert and Maxime Monette. Stripped down to telegram length, Tajmar et al. reported that they think they've found the source of the experimental error. They remembered from Electrical Engineering 101 that an electrical conductor carrying current in the presence of a magnetic field experiences a force orthogonal to both the electrical current and the magnetic field. This is the principle that makes my coffee grinder, and your vacuum cleaner, and every other electric motor in the whole world, go round and round.

        Is there an electric conductor carrying current in this experiment? Yes, the cable supplying the magnetron, which runs along the torsion arm. Is there a magnetic field present? Yes, the good old field from Mother Earth that makes compasses work. Back-of-an-envelope calculation confirms that forces in the same range as those observed could well be the result of that current (2 amps) and that magnetic field (~48 µTesla at an angle of 70°). Assuming the length of the cable is 15 cm.,
F = 2x48x0.15 sin 70 =13.52 µNnote 1

        I hope Sarah Knapton enjoyed her breakfast of words a few days ago. She's the Science Editor of the London Daily Telegraph who wrote, on 28th July 2015, 'Impossible' rocket drive works and could get to Moon in four hours.

Physics 1, Mike Bara 0
        Knapton isn't the only one eating words. Mike Bara, the world-famous denier of evolution, climate change, and the entirety of physics, loves the EM. So much so that he wrote a section about it in his book about "The Secret Space Program." Strange, because there's nothing secret about the device and its connection to space is limited to extravagant claims. Bara wrote of the original Xi'an announcement "the results were astounding," not realizing that the results had already been retracted. He also wrote that the device falsifies Einsteinian physics, not understanding that it's Newton, not Einstein, whose ideas would have to be wrong if this device works as claimed.

         In September 2010, in a promo interview for his appalling book The Choice, Bara said "I’m completely confident that I can prove there’s no such thing as the laws of physics." In the book itself, he wrote (page 67) "most mainstream physicists are blithering idiots." After the 2015 announcement by Tajmar & Fiedler, Bara tweeted  "Aaaaannnddd just like that the "laws" of physics go out the window.."

        Look around, Mike. I think you'll find that the laws of physics just flew right back in.

See also:
NASA’s EM-drive is a magnetic WTF-thruster. Test reveals that the magic space unicorns pushing the EM-drive are magnetic fields. --Chris Lee in Ars Technica, 5/21/2018.

Scott Manley reports on Youtube, with many of the key illustrations and diagrams from the new Dresden paper.

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[1] This is known in electrical theory as the Lorentz force, and it's partly responsible for vibration and "hum" in AC conductors carrying substantial current.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Kerry Cassidy—A second strike

"Your government is out to get you." --Kerry Cassidy, X-Zone, 2016 

        Here's what journalists do. They start with a blank notebook page and fill it with facts. They derive these facts from reading documents, looking around, and from various types of interview, asking the classic questions who-what-where-when-why-how and hopefully many others, if they can keep the interviewee's attention for long enough. There's nothing wrong with a journalist having a special interest—on the contrary, it's a benefit, since then that person has, or should have, the wisdom and insight to get facts that others might not. James Fallows, for example, contributes more than the average journalist on Foreign Affairs just because of his long experience in that field, and there are many more examples.

       In my opinion, Kerry Cassidy is not a journalist but a propagandist. She does not start with a blank notebook page. In commenting on modern tragedies involving death, her notebook page is already headed False Flag. She did it with the World Trade Center, she did it with the Charlie Hebdo massacre, and she has done it with every school and concert shooting since Sandy Hook. Her technique is the reverse of journalism in the sense that she starts with that assumption and looks exclusively for interviewees who support that prejudice.

        In Ole Dammegard and James Fetzer, she found her ideal pair. Both of them absolutely go along with her paranoid theories and will sit and talk conspiracy with her for as long as she likes. She ran a long video interview with Fetzer—who is the founder of Scholars for 9/11 Truth and editor of  Assassination Science—on 15th March this year. That piece specifically addressed the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida, speculating that the entire event was staged and that there were no actual victims. On 29th March Fetzer was back in the interviewee seat along with Dammergard, who she introduced as "an internationally recognized expert on assassinations, false flags and covert activities." He is also editor of The interview headline was False Flags: Diagnosing, Explaining and Predicting examples from Sandy Hook, the Boston bombing, Orlando, Las Vegas, Parkland and more. 

        Unfortunately for Kerry, and as I commented at the time, Youtube received complaints from people who did not take kindly to allegations that victims were nothing but crisis actors, and pulled the video. STRIKE ONE. Now the earlier interview has suffered the same fate. STRIKE TWO.

        Yesterday Kerry appeared on her own website (I notice that she has stopped referring to her "TV Network") in a passionate and at one moment tearful denunciation of Youtube and an appeal for support. A few excerpts:
"They are trying to shut me down altogether... YouTube has obviously been infiltrated by the Illuminati and Black Magicians.... I'm a journalist.. I do hope that I'm able to manage to sue Youtube... They're afraid of me... One more strike and I'm OUT, as they say. That means they'll delete the entire library of 750, or whatever it is, interviews that I have... "

This was the text of the complaint about the March 15th interview:
"This entire video promotes a fringe person who vehemently promotes the idea that no one was killed during school shooting and other events. By going through bogus 'analysis' and repeatedly claiming no one died, it targets vulnerable individuals, is bullying of those individuals  and anyone who supports them, and the interviewee through his statements has led to others' violence against school shooting victims and their supporters."
         I'm not in favor of shutting Kerry down entirely, but if she wants to claim the privileges of a journalist she's going to have to learn to act like one.

Update May 17th
        Kerry is now looking for a pro bono lawyer to sue Youtube for "an illegal 3-strikes LAW on their youtube website as well as illegal targeting by Youtube/Google in conjunction with advertisers against our rights of free speech and freedom of the press of independent broadcast journalists and their channels."

       So there she goes again, claiming to be a broadcast journalist. I think she ought to look up the definitions of both those words.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

A flattening curve

        Conspiracy theorists are fond of explaining to us all that nothing the US Government promulgates is true. The advantage of that belief is that it enables the believer to insist that secret things exist for which there is no evidence whatever. Michael Salla, for instance, claims that a select group of high US officials has regular diplomatic contact with extraterrestrials. We don't hear about it because it's classified—in which case, I have to wonder how Salla knows about it.

        As a self-described "born again conspiracy theorist," Mike Bara is, of course, no exception.The sub-title of his 2016 book Hidden Agenda was "NASA and the Secret Space Program." And just like other authors on the same topic, Bara has a prima facie credibility problem. Everybody knows that spaceflight makes a lot of noise and involves thousands of engineers and managers—so how could a whole segment of it be kept out of sight? Bara attempts to demonstrate that the SSP must exist by a piece of pseudo-logic that reveals how his tricky mind works. On page 147 of the book he displays this diagram:

The accompanying text reads, in part:
"For almost 2000 years, the fastest things on the planet were carts hauled by beasts of burden. Then in very rapid succession you go from the horse and buggy to the steam train, the automobile, the propellor airplane, the jet engine, and then by 1960, you have the chemical rocket.
But then suddenly, it cuts off and flatlines.If you believe what the military guys are telling us, there hasn't been a single breakthrough in propulsion in almost 60 years.... That's basically impossible.... There should have been another major propulsion breakthrough that took us to the next level—the flying saucer level—decades ago.
So if you look at this graph, the odds are that there had to be a breakthrough of some kind in the last 50 years. But if that's true, where is it? The answer is that it's been hidden."
        I have several problems with that thesis. First, the "trend curve" he has drawn, starting from zero around the year 1875 and abruptly flattening in the 1950s, is not a fair representation of the trend at all. In reality, the trend is stepwise: trains exceed horses in 1810, planes exceed trains in 1920, rockets exceed planes around 2000. There's nothing there that says we ought to have a whole new technology of transport by today.

        Secondly, there's absolutely no reason to assume that transportation speed should keep on increasing for ever. Plenty of phenomena have natural asymptotic limits, and fundamental limitations apply to transport just as to other areas of human endeavor. One is the marginal cost of increasing power beyond a certain limit, and another is the tolerance of the human body for g-forces.

Orbital velocity
        The vast majority of space missions go no further than Earth orbit. For those missions, an excess of speed is just as bad as a deficit. The velocity in a circular orbit is given by the formula v = √GM/r, where G is the gravitational constant, M is the mass of the Earth, and r is the radius of the orbit. A more complex formula is needed to describe the more general elliptical orbit, but it remains true that average orbital velocity is inversely proportional to the square root of the semi-major axis, and independent of the mass of the spacecraft. That's why a visiting Soyuz capsule has no problem keeping station with, and eventually docking with, the far larger mass of the ISS.

        To strip that down to its essentials, if you want to send a spacecraft into an orbit of a given radius, you are obliged to have it arrive there at a certain velocity. 7 km/sec gets you low Earth orbit: The ISS orbits at roughly 5 km/sec at an altitude of 400km, and at geosynchronous altitude 3 km/sec is all you need (but you have to get there first.) So to expect rocket speeds to keep growing over time is to expect something that's irrelevant for the vast majority of missions.

        So has rocket technology got stuck in the state it was in 50-60 years ago, as Bara implies? Not at all—but the improvement has been in thrust, not speed as such. This is hardly surprising, since the primary demand is to lift more and more mass into orbit, and nobody cares how long it takes to get there. The blogspot editor is not too good at tabulation, but here's the best I can do for the progression from 1958 to the present day:

Engine                                Thrust          Fuel                 Used on                       First flight
Rocketdyne 75–110 A-7     347 kN       Alcohol/LOX      Redstone                         1958
Rocketdyne  XLR-89-5      758 kN       Kero/LOX           Atlas LV-3B                      1960
RD-275                             1745 kN        N2O4/UDMH    Soyuz                              1965
Rocketdyne F-1               7020 kN         Kero/LOX          S-1C (SatV first stage)    1967
Rocketdyne J-2                1028 kN         LH2/LOX          S-II (SatV second stage)  1967
Rocketdyne RS-25           2279 kN         LH2/lLOX         SSME                              1981
Russian RD-180              4152 kN          Kero/LOX         Atlas V                             2002
Merlin 1D                        845 kNnote 1    Kero/LOX         Falcon 9                           2015

Interplanetary flight
        For trips to Mars and beyond, more speed obviously means shorter journey times, so there is indeed an impetus to develop faster rocketry. But it's a complicated calculation, since every increase of a km/sec at the start of a flight is a km/sec you're going to have to lose once you get there. The New Horizons explorer, launched on an Atlas V, went all the way to Pluto but was going so fast that dropping it into orbit was impossible.

        For a manned mission to Mars, round-trip time  is a vitally important consideration, since radiation dosage is directly proportional to exposure time. With current rocket technology, 500 days is about the best we could do, but that needs to improve. NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts program (NAIC) is now working on a reference mission that lasts a total of 210 days — 83 days for the flight out, 30 days on the Red Planet's surface and a 97-day journey back to Earth.

        The technology needed to achieve that isn't here yet, but when experimental nuclear rocketry comes of age, perhaps around 2030, Mike Bara may find he has to redraw his speed diagram.

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[1] Space-X prefers a cluster of small engines over a few large ones, so that Falcon can complete its mission even with some engine failures. The Falcon 9 first stage is powered by nine Merlin 1Ds. A 2018 version, the Merlin 1D vacuum, is rated at 934 kN.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Lies, damn lies, and Mike Bara

02:14:00 Gary Leggiere: "One more question. A person named James Concannon wanted to know—I guess expat asked the same question—why did..."
Mike Bara: "I think it's the same person."
Gary Leggiere: "OK. 'Why did he, meaning you Mike, take an LRO image of landslips down the wall of a crater on the Moon, turn it upside down, and claim that it shows jagged crystalline spires. Hidden Agenda, NASA and the Secret Space Program page 117. Isn't that totally dishonest?' I don't know the image, Mike, so that's why I asked you that question."
Mike Bara: "I do know the image in question and the answer to that is that I did not do that."
Gary Leggiere: "Oh, OK. All right. Again I haven't seen it so..."
02:14:58 Mike Bara: "That claim is completely false. I did not do that."
        The above exchange occurred on The Martian Revelation, an internet radio show narrowcast live last Saturday night and now archived at Neely Productions.

        Now rewind to June last year, to Bara's lecture at Contact in the Desert. Nearly 40 minutes in, Bara showed the image in question. It is part of an oblique strip of crater Marius, processed and released by Arizona State University.

37:33 Bara: "This is a picture of what they say is debris running down the side of a crater. What I love to do with NASA images, is I love to flip them upside down. Because.... just because they say that UP is that way doesn't mean that up IS that way. ... What happens when you flip it upside down? When you flip it upside down it becomes this."

It appeared in Hidden Agenda p. 117, without any indication that it had been flipped, with this caption:

The accompanying text is as follows:
"I believe the Moon, especially the front side, is mostly covered by towering crystalline, glass-like structures which acted as a makeshift meteor shield for the various alien basses [sic] operating on the surface below." 

James Concannon adds:
       I had a text exchange with Gary "The Mad Martian" Leggiere after I had reviewed his show yesterday. I will not quote from that exchange since it was private, but I think I convinced Gary that  the wool was over his eyes.  Both passages are linked above, so anyone who cannot believe Bara would be so flagrantly dishonest can check for themselves.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

How to write an instant book

        Do we really need another book about the assassination of JFK? Mike Bara and his publisher, David Hatcher Childress, seem to think so despite the hundreds of such books already on the shelves, and mostly by far better authors and publishers. You might think that the release of thousands of once classified documents on the tragedy over the last year would provide enough new material to justify JFK Assassination Book #4001, but the 18,731 documents released a week ago came too late for inclusion and Bara makes very scant use of this vast resource (53,604 documents since last July.)

        About a week ago, Bara delivered a 1 hour 40 minute Powerpoint version of his forthcoming book Ancient Aliens and JFK to an audience at the New Living Expo. Approximately the first third seems to be an absolutely standard Kennedy biography—another example of what this blog has called "Ctrl-C/Ctrl-V scholarship." Another long section reviews the pictorial evidence from Dealey Plaza: The Zapruder film, the Muchmore film, the Orville Mix film, the Mary Moorman still-frame. Bara thinks Dallas police officer Tippit is "badge man" in the latter photograph, but so do other Warren Commission truthers. No sign of anything original here.

"Badge man"—is this really Tippit?

        Bara makes much, as he did in his previous book, of Kennedy's surprising announcement, in 1963, that he favored a joint US/USSR expedition to the Moon, replacing the rivalry then in place and the basis of "The Space Race." He formalized this idea in a speech to the United Nations on 20th September. Bara dramatizes the moment by saying "Two months later, Kennedy was dead" as if the connection between the two events was obvious. Well, it isn't—you might with equal logic say "On November 21st, Kennedy had cornflakes for breakfast. A day later, he was dead."

        Supposing there were a connection, who might that implicate in a theoretical plot to whack Kennedy? The CIA is the likely answer, since there is documentary evidence (some of which Bara includes) that the Agency was implacably opposed to sharing America's space secrets with the Sovs. But Bara does not take that line. Instead he follows Jim Marrs and at least 11 other authors in fingering Lyndon Johnson as the likely culprit. In the context of Bara's argument, this doesn't really make much sense. As is well-known, Johnson and his buddy Albert Thomas were gung-ho on the Apollo program and passionately gung-ho on keeping NASA in Houston. Those interests were not particularly threatened by JFK's desire to get suddenly cuddly with Khruschev.

        Bara's "evidence" is notably weak. LBJ didn't much like the Kennedys—yes, OK, we knew that—and had enough influence in Texas to have created a conspiracy. Bara then presents the following image as if it's a deus ex machina:

        The image shows the Johnsons during the swearing-in ceremony aboard Air Force One at Love Field. Albert Thomas is in the background, and Bara claims that he is winking as LBJ smiles in his direction. If people can be accused of high crimes and misdemeanors on the basis of such flimsy evidence, I guess we'd all better watch our behavior.note 1

Aliens? What aliens?
        Considering the title of this book, there's not much material on aliens in Bara's presentation. He asserts, as he did in Hidden Agenda, that Kennedy knew the technology of the Anunnaki was on the Moon and Apollo was his personal mission to retrieve it for reverse engineering back on Earth. This idea seemed totally screwy when he wrote it in the previous book—it seems self-evidently ridiculous now. Last year my questions were "How did he know this?", "What was brought back?", "Where is it now?", and "What benefits did we derive from it?" Now I add the question "How does that jive with the proposal to go to the Moon along with the Sovs?" Bara did not answer any of these questions in his Powerpointery, and I'll be perusing the book when it appears in just a few weeks, looking for anything like answers. I'll report back at that time.

        So on the basis of one highy improbable and self-contradictory speculation about what JFK knew in 1961, Bara and Childress think it's OK to title this book as it is. Shamelessly cashing in on the popularity of a cable TV series—I think that's very, very tacky.

        The book is now published. My point by point critique is here.

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[1] Much of Bara's material is a straight recycle from the book he co-authored with Richard Hoagland in 2007, Dark Mission. The "wink" photo appears on p.182 (2nd edn.) with the caption "Is this the behavior of resolute leaders who have just experienced a national tragedy, or of two conspirators who just pulled off a coup?" To me, that's a case of wild over-interpretation.