Some miscellaneous items of interest:

** The Return of the Space Visionaries – Rand Simberg/The New Atlantis – An excellent overview of the history and status of US human spaceflight and how commercial companies such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin are taking the lead in the move to settle the solar system:

Musk talks about humanity being a multi-planet species, in part as an insurance policy against earthly disasters, whether natural or manmade; he is particularly concerned about the potential danger to humanity posed by artificial intelligence. But he seems to consider two — Earth and Mars — to be a sufficient number for “multi.” Musk could in fact be accused of an extension of what Carl Sagan called “planetary chauvinism” — the belief that life can thrive only on planets. But many analysts, I included, don’t understand the motivation, once having finally escaped the deep gravity well that has confined us to the planet on which we evolved, to dive down into another, albeit a shallower one.

By contrast, Bezos, as noted, aims for a massive human expansion, and not only to many other planets but to inhabitance of space itself. Wealthier than Musk — on some days he is the world’s richest person — Bezos is also more willing to spend his own money. Last November he sold a billion dollars’ worth of Amazon stock and claims to intend to do the same every year to provide the rocket company with its annual stipend, and he recently built a large facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to begin the manufacture of his large orbital rockets. Musk, on the other hand, always prefers, if he can find a way, to fund his dreams using OPM — Other Peoples’ Money. In the case of Tesla and its subsidiary SolarCity, which sells solar panels for home and commercial use, he’s done it with loans from Washington (which he has since paid off), various government subsidies for the production of electric cars, and tax credits offered to people buying electric cars or installing solar panels. In the case of SpaceX, extra funding has come, albeit in this case in exchange for providing a direct service, from NASA and U.S. Air Force contracts.

Over a decade and a half since both men launched their space companies, they have made significant progress in reducing the cost of getting to suborbital and orbital space. If their plans for large reusable launch systems come to fruition in the next few years, with SpaceX’s BFR and possibly Blue Origin’s New Armstrong offering larger payload capacities than NASA’s non-reusable Space Launch System, they may well render it obsolete before the full Block 2 version flies. (The planned first flight of the initial Block 1 configuration of SLS has slipped to the end of 2019.) Before its second flight — probably no sooner than a year after its first — it may well be canceled for good, not to be resurrected, perhaps finally putting a stake through the heart of Apolloism.

** Satellite imagery for journalism: Why a picture is worth a thousand words – Geospatial World – A nice overview of how journalists are learning to use images taken by by satellites to investigate war crimes, environmental destruction, illegal fishing and many other

In July 2018, a disturbing video began circulating on social media. It shows two women and two young children being led at gunpoint away from a village by a group of soldiers. The victims are blindfolded before they are shot point blank 22 times. The social media posts claimed them to be from Cameroon but the government of Cameroon initially dismissed the video as “fake news”.

The video showed a terrain that could be from anywhere in the world, and the people could be anywhere from Africa. But BBC Africa Eye did a thorough investigation through forensic analysis of the footage. Among other things, they poured through satellite imagery of many years trying to match them with the landmarks in the video to prove exactly where and when this incident took place and who were responsible. The Cameroon government was forced to issue a statement clarifying their earlier stand and announced that a number of soldiers have been arrested and are under investigation now.

Satellite imagery has become an indispensable tool in journalism. Be it fact-finding or gauging the impact of a particular situation, reporting on climate events or conflict zones, because of the unbiased insights they provide, they are being extensively used by professional journalists today.

** The Kepler space telescope has retired from exoplanet finding after running out of station-keeping fuel. Here Robert Picardo pays tribute to a very successful mission: Farewell, Kepler – The Planetary Post with Robert Picardo

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Telescopes and Binoculars at Amazon