Pentagon Studies Reveal Major Nuclear Problems

The high point: apparently it takes a special wrench to tighten the (presumably explosive) bolts that hold warheads onto the Minuteman ICBM. That’s not the problem. The problem is that there was only *one* of these wrenches, and the technicians FedExed this single wrench from site to site as needed.

That’s greeeeeeeaaaaaaaat.


Some years back, Glenn Beck was an interesting and useful radio political yammerer, doing some good work in pointing out the foibles and frauds of the Left. But in recent years he has become more and more odd and irrelevant. I stopped paying any sort of attention to him a few years back, when it seemed that he was beginning to transition to a radio evangelist.

Sadly, it seems he’s gone even further down the rabbit hole of nuttery:

Glenn Beck’s diagnosis and treatment are quackery, say medical experts

The illness, Beck said, baffled doctors all over the world, but has now been diagnosed as “adrenal fatigue” by maverick “chiropractic neurologist” Dr. Ted Carrick.

“Chiropractic neurologist?” Uh-oh…

Now, after a range of treatments by Carrick — including being strapped into and spun around in a giant gyroscope — and an intense regimen of spiritual work and fervent prayer, Beck claims to have a “clean bill of health.”


Why do I have the feeling that John Kellogg would have approved?


I you haven’t seen or read “The Road to Wellville,” I highly recommend both versions.

Tomorrow (Thursday) morning I go in to get a CAT scan of my lungs. This is so the pulmonary specialist can get a better look at something he saw on an X-ray a week ago; it apparently looked like a more or less harmless granuloma (scar tissue from a bacterial or fungal infection), but the fact that it deserves more attention is a little disturbing. From the limited information available so far (including the fact it took an entire week to get the CAT scan… you’d think if the doc thought it was important they’d've put a move on), it seems most likely that this will show nothing of any real health importance. Nevertheless, this ain’t free; insurance leaves a pretty substantial bill. And therefore… I’m having a sale on all my downloadables. Aerospace Projects Reviews, US Bomber Projects, drawings, documents. I’m offering 10% off orders of more than $25, 20% off orders more than $50 and 25% off orders over $100. The easiest way to do this, since PayPal doesn’t (so far as I know) seem to offer any such “sale” option, is you order stuff, and I refund the difference. I’ll leave this up and running for a day or three.


The most recent items I’ve published, USBP11 and USTP01, haven’t been added to the main catalog pages yet, but they’re here:

Of course, if the CAT scan finds something more interesting and energetic than a granuloma, I might have to have a somewhat more aggressive sale.

And if you’re of a mind to, there’s always the Tip Jar up over there…

No, really.

Muscovites Warned To Stay Indoors As Toxic Gas Shrouds City

Hydrogen sulfide. Stanky!

Here’s your happythought for the day:

Chlorovirus ATCV-1 is part of the human oropharyngeal virome and is associated with changes in cognitive functions in humans and mice

Short form: a virus known for infecting algae is now known to be able to infect humans and mice. The main effect of this infection seems to be that it makes you dumber. Not drastically, but measurably. I’m not a geneticist or biologist or biochemist or even a homeopathic practitioner, but the article seems to suggest that the virus actually tinkers on a genetic level.

Propeller Slices Through Airplane Window, Right at Passenger


I saw Interstellar today. It is visually stunning, in places, but on the whole… meh. I was disappointed.

Like prior Nolan flicks, “Interstellar” tries to be “mind blowing.” But in doing so, it comes across more as “tries too hard to be mind blowing.” Additionally, i am capable of the “willing suspension of disbelief” required to enjoy Hollywood’s idea of “science” fiction, but there is so much just plain wrongness in the science here that it’s really more of a fantasy movie. So… here’s the basic setup.

It is something like 50 years from now. The world isn’t getting ready for a collapse, as you might have gathered from the trailers; the collapse has already happened. The population has plummeted; things have fallen so far that there isn;t even war anymore. No more Marines, no more armies. At least partially responsible is “the blight,” which has already made wheat essentially extinct, has just taken out okra, and corn is about to be attacked by the blight. Dust storms sweep much of the planet.

That’s ok for a premise, I suppose. But here’s what bugged me:

1) The blight is a magical plague. Somehow or other it “breathes nitrogen,” but will also remove the oxygen from the atmosphere to the point that in a few generations people will suffocate.

2) So, Earth is doomed. The only possible option is to leave. And there is nowhere else in the solar system to go (somehow forgetting Mars, the asteroids, comets, moons of Jupiter…).

3) As seen in the trailers, a 3-engined two-stage Saturn V-like booster is used to launch a  goofy-looking wedge-shaped spaceplane into orbit. And that’s fine. But as it turns out, these spaceplanes have fantastic propulsion systems far superior to old F-1 rocket engines; they are capable of dropping from orbit over an alien world, landing vertically like a Harrier, then taking off all the way back to orbit again. If they are capable of this… why use the rocket booster? My WSoD gets especially shaky when movies are *internally* inconsistent.


The wormhole (which arrived near Saturn 48 years ago, apparently courtesy aliens or God or somebody) leads to a number of different place. Our Heroes go to the black hole system seen in the trailers. The system has three possible planets. Unmanned probes outside the wormhole have picked up minimal data on the three worlds, indicating they each may be promising. OK, sure, I guess. But the black hole system made me twitch. Yes, they clearly listened to Kip Thorne when he described what a black hole with an accretion disk would look like. But they must’ve kept pretty shoddy notes on how a black hole *works.*

The innermost world is deep in the black holes gravity well. Well outside the accretion disk, but far enough in so that time dilation is massive: one hour on the surface is seven years back home. Still, it looks promising, so they decide to go take a look.

4) The main ship stays well beyond, but the wedge-lander goes down and spends a few hours, leading to 23 years back home. The world has 1.3 G’s surface gravity, yet the spaceplane is still able to achieve orbit. So that’s really pretty good for only 50 years from now. But… the spaceplane not only leaves the surface of the planet, it also crawls up out of the black holes gravity well, back to where spacetime is fairly smooth and non-relativistic. I haven’t done the math, but I’m pretty sure that that would indicate that the spaceplane has a delta V of… what? More than 0.9 c? Yeah… no. A target that deep in that massive of a gravity well is attainable for a flyby probe or an impactor, but for rendezvous? Yeah… no.

5) The inner planet is the one with the massive waves seen in the trailers. The only logical source for these waves would be gravitational tides from the black hole. But tides that bad wouldn’t just make mountain-sized waves, they’d distort the planet as a whole. It’d be a ball of lava with an atmosphere of superheated water vapor. Not a promising home for humanity.

6) EXCESSIVE USE OF WORN-OUT SCI-FI TROPE: Once again, the astronaut who goes bugnuts and psychotic, causing a ruckus. Bah.

7) The next world they visit has frozen clouds. Not clouds of snow particles, but Avatar-esque floating glaciers. Solid, structurally unified masses just hanging in the sky. When you bump them with your ship, you break chunks off… chunks which, if memory serves, promptly fall downwards.  Ummm…. no. On so many, many levels.

8) When you bump your orbiting ship, it does not *immediately* begin plummeting out of orbit into the atmosphere.

9) To get to the third world, they need to slingshot around the black hole. And to do that they plunge inwards deeper than the first world. In fact, they skim the accretion disk. This… would be bad. Not only is that close enough to get roasted and nuked, the reason why accretion disks are glowing hot is because the tidal forces are so strong that shear in the gas in the disk causes aerothermal heating like a re-entering spacecraft. This means the tidal forces would be enough to tear the ship to bits. Probably very, very small bits.

10) OK, so the accretion disk is a plane that bisects the “sphere” of the black hole, much like the rings of Saturn. Now, imagine you were in orbit around Saturn at a radius smaller than the outer radius of the rings. There is no such thing as an orbit that wouldn’t actually take you *through* the rings. Yet the ship here somehow manages to stay on one side of the disk. Hmmmph.

11) You cannot survive entry into a black hole by careful piloting, proper trajectory planning or just going fast enough. If the hole is small enough to have an external accretion disk, then passing the event horizon will be an experience which will cause your *atoms* to get torn to bits.

12) Mystical personal revelations. Hrrrrmmmphgah.

13) Love is *not* some amazing force that can change the universe or whatever. Love ain’t even The Force.


All that said, it was a masterful movie. There were moments of greatness… the most heartbreaking “driving away scene” I can recall; just about the best parental response to idiotarian school authority figures; one really good use of “Do not go gentle into that good night” (and several “meh” uses); a number of spectacular scenes. It was clearly heavily influenced by “2001.” A lot of the musical cues were taken straight from “2001;” there are robots clearly modeled on the Monolith (thankfully, their personalities are not HAL clones); and the end… well, it’ll sure seem familiar. But I have to admit to being as let down as I was by Prometheus. The characters weren’t as mind-bogglingly stupid as those in Prometheus, but it was just as much of a letdown in the hype.


Behold what Hollywood thinks of as a hundred-million-dollar idea for a “science” fiction movie:

Scott Waugh Circles Sci-Fi ‘Inversion’

“Inversion,” unveiled at Cannes by Mark Damon’s Foresight Unlimited, follows a young Chinese scientist and a street-smart American expat in a race against the clock across the globe to save Earth from an apocalyptic threat — a reversal of gravity causing civilizations to uproot and plummet into the sky.


Look. No. Gravity is not going to suddenly invert, not, at least, unless and until the “Phantom Energy” that seems to be a slight antigravitational force gains in strength *billions* of years from now and results in the Big Rip. If the idea  behind “Inversion” is that the Big Rip is happening *now,* there WILL BE NO RESCUE. Unless someone builds a doorway to another universe (paging Dr. Bishop), the Big Rip will be a universally unsurvivable event.

And if gravity is beginning to invert for *whatever* reason, you won’t have “civilizations” popping off the planet and shooting into space. You’ll have the *atmosphere* saying “see ya” right quick, and then the whole planet will slow-motion explode. Not in big chunks, most likely, but more like an evaporation that occurs all at once. And shortly after the planet tears itself to bits, spacecraft that might have gotten away will also shortly tear themselves to bits as the increasing antigravitational force  overcomes structural strength. Then the bodies of the astronauts will disassemble, then their cells, the molecules, the electrons will shoot away from the nuclei, the nuclei themselves will explode and then the particles will go foom.

And unless the movie is positing some sort of Doctor Doom/Lex Luthor type supervillain with a cartoonish “anti-gravity weapon”, you won;t have localized gravity reversals. it’ll be everywhere, all at once.


So today I had a doctors appointment to yet again try and figure out just what’s wrong with my lungs such that I am susceptible to those damned bronchitis attacks.  The festivities began with a series of chest X-rays, and climaxed with the doctor coming in the examination room and announcing:

“We want to schedule you for a CAT scan. There’s a spot on your lung I want a better look at.”



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Virgin Galactic’s Spaceship Two exploded over the desert, killing one pilot injuring the other.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo crashes, at least one pilot killed

At this stage, it *seems* that there was an explosion right after the spaceplane ignited its hybrid rocket and that the vehicle tore apart, with one pilot coming down under a chute.

Coming so soon after OSC’s Antares blew itself to bits right off the pad, it’s expected that some eyebrows will be raised about whether something fishy might be going on. While that’s always possible, a simpler explanation is that both suffered from the deficiencies of their propulsion systems. NOTE: I have no special insight here, this is all speculation on my part.


The first stage of the Antares uses two Aerojet AJ26 rocket engines… which are refurbished Russian NK-33′s. More accurately: these are *Soviet* NK-33′s, built about 40 years ago, transferred to Aerojet, stripped and rebuilt. *Any* mechanism that old will need some careful looking-over. And while having them refurbished is good, they were refurbished by a different company that built them, with little to no tribal knowledge. All kinds of problems can be introduced here.


The SS2 uses a hybrid rocket motor that has been troublesome for *years.* Virgin Galactic has recently switched from the original nitrous oxide/rubber (hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene, commonly used as a binder in large rocket motors, and perhaps better known as tire rubber) propellant combo to one using “plastic” (polyamide, like nylon). This was due to the engine not providing the performance it was supposed to. Rumors I’ve heard held that the original engine fell *way* short, and shook really, really badly, to the point of worries about injuries or structural damage due to the harsh vibrations. This, sadly, is a not-uncommon problem with hybrids. And this new engine has not flown much (if at all) prior to this flight. It would not surprise me if there was a hard start (basically a small detonation on startup) and the plastic-based fuel cracked or shattered. This would eb all kinds of bad, especially if a chunk got caught in the motor throat. This would cause the chamber pressure to spike until it burst. Additionally, nitrous oxide is occasionally rather twitchy. While often considered fairly sedate by liquid oxidizer standards, there’s a problem: the triple point is just under 100 degrees F. This means a tank of compressed liquid N2O is happy forever with a pressure of 800 psi or so, but if the temperature rises to about 100 degrees, the liquid N2O will flash to gaseous N2O and the pressure will climb to 10,000 psi or so. This *probably* wasn’t what happened here, as the vehicle had been dragged to 50,000 feet or so by the White Knight carrier plane. But the air temp at 50,000 is really, *really* cold, so it may be that the plastic fuel was also very cold… and thus, perhaps, very brittle.

If Virgin Galactic pulls through this, they will have to do some serious redesign. Hundreds of rich folk have given them large sums of money for seats; I can see a whole lot of legal hijinks as various celebs or their legal counsels try to back out or start making demands. It seems to me that VG would be well advised to simply bail on the hybrid rocket. The system has been troublesome for a decade… and its not the first time it has killed people.

VG might do well to consider changing to a liquid bipropellant rocket system. Ironically, perhaps their best choice for such a system would be to contract for such a system from XCOR Aerospace. XCORs engines appear to be the most reliable around… perhaps not the most bleeding edge in terms of weight and performance, but if you don’t need the absolute maximum in performance (and a suborbital vehicle is far more tolerant of performance shortfalls than an orbital vehicle… how many passengers would even notice if the craft only attained 98% of predicted apogee?) and you *do* need the absolute maximum in terms of not-blowing-up, then XCOR seems the way to go.

The irony, of course, is that XCOR was just about the only competition VG had in the suborbital tourism market in the form of their Lynx rocketplane, which is under construction now.


Today is a bad day, have no doubt. A pilot was lost (and another seriously injured). A vehicle was lost. A whole program might well be lost. And perhaps worst of all, long term, is that something horrible has been gained: an excuse by regulators and bureaucrats to add yet more layers of laws on top of this, perhaps heading towards simply banning civilian manned rocket flight in the US. And with the wonders of ITAR regulations, it may well be that American rocket companies, banned from flying in the US, will be banned from transferring launches outside the US. And thus space tourism will belong to other nations, less risk averse.

An aside: I’ve got CNN running right now. Like a silly, naive person, I was hoping that they might have some useful information. But… no. Just the usual blather you get from talking heads who have to fill air time but who have minimal data to impart. Sadly – and inevitably -  they’re subtly smack-talking private industry, questioning whether there was insufficient regulation and government oversight

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