Beta

Slashdot: News for Nerds

×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Homer Hickam Speaks Out For Fission Rockets

michael posted more than 12 years ago | from the riding-the-torch dept.

Space 424

jonerik writes: "Former NASA engineer Homer Hickam (perhaps best known for his 1998 memoir "Rocket Boys," which was turned into the 1999 motion picture "October Sky") has this article in Technology Review in which he advocates that the U.S. revive its nuclear rocket program of the '50s and '60s, arguing that nuclear-powered rockets are the only realistic way of opening up the rest of the solar system - particularly Mars - to human exploration."

cancel ×

424 comments

fp faggots! (-1)

real_b0fh (557599) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154133)

this one for kristie alley!

Re:fp faggots! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3154137)

Do fp's help you get laid?

Re:fp faggots! (-1)

real_b0fh (557599) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154138)

haha

surely not fps on /.

;-)

Re:fp faggots! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3154139)

I claim your lousy FP for all AC's. Logged in FP's show you take the time. How noble.

Re:fp faggots! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3154202)

The page cannot be displayed

There is a problem with the page you are trying to reach and it cannot be displayed.

Please try the following:

  • Click the Refresh button, or try again later.
  • Open the ad.doubleclick.net [doubleclick.net] home page, and then look for links to the information you want.
  • If you believe you should be able to view this directory or page, please contact the Web site administrator by using the e-mail address or phone number listed on the ad.doubleclick.net [doubleclick.net]
403 Forbidden - The ISA Server denies the specified Uniform Resource Locator (URL). (12202)
Internet Security and Acceleration Server

I DO IT WRONG!!! (-1)

Big_Ass_Spork (446856) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154289)

I do it wrong

Laying here in the shadows of my room, I squint up at my love. My Ms. Portman. I am sore and tired after fucking her for eight solid hours. My chapped and aching dick is soaking in grits to relieve the pain. She gets on her knees and starts lapping the grits up out of the bowl. She places her beautiful hands on my penis and starts to lick the grits off my achy piece.

Massaging my nutsack she....

WAIT, I DO IT WRONG!!!!

Yanking my dick out of her mouth I throw her to the ground and shove it in to her gaping freshly fisted ass. [goatse.cx]

"OH BIG ASS SPORK!! Fuck my ass, fuck my ass good. DEEPER, my stallion, deeper!! Make a Beowulf cluster of sperm on my back!!"

"Imagine a Beowulf cluster of this baby!"

I DO IT WRONG!!!!

I continue to hump her alabaster form. Glistening with beads of sweat, she bites her lip in delight as I tear her ass open with my engorged dick.

"Queen Amidala!!" I shreik as I near climax.

She looks up at me and screams, "You are so alive in me, unlike *BSD or VA Software!!! Fill me with seed!! Yes, Yes, Yess!!!!"

"For me you are calling, hhhmmm?"

"YODA?!? What the fuck, can't you see I am using the force here?"

He savagely kicks my Natalie aside, he pulls out his large green penis and impales me...

I DO IT WRONG!!

All your sporkz are belong to the dead homiez!!

I keep the bible in a pool of blood so its lies won't effect me!
-Slayer

FUCKING BIG ASS ADS!!! Forgot to update my HOSTS file...

I TAKE ISSUE WITH WHAT YOU SAY. (-1)

L.Torvalds (548450) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154301)

I think that you indeed DO IT RIGHT, not wrong.

Re:I TAKE ISSUE WITH WHAT YOU SAY. (-1)

Big_Ass_Spork (446856) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154322)

*BLUSH* [yahoo.com]

It's almost time... (-1)

Big_Ass_Spork (446856) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154307)

...for the Osbourne show on Mtv... Gotta go watch, what will that kookie family do next?

fisson? bah (-1)

IAgreeWithThisPost (550896) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154140)

I created fusion on my table using a bowl of jello and a hair dryer.

Re:fisson? bah (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3154156)

I agree with this post.

Slashdot requires you to wait 2 minutes between each successful posting of a comment to allow everyone a fair chance at posting a comment.

It's been 1 minute since you last successfully posted a comment

If this error seems to be incorrect, please provide the following in your report to SourceForge.net:

Browser type
User ID/Nickname or AC
What steps caused this error
Whether or not you know your ISP to be using a proxy or some sort of service that gives you an IP that others are using simultaneously. How many posts to this form you successfully submitted during the day

* Please choose 'formkeys' for the category! Thank you.

Plasma/Laser Powered Rockets (1)

beninkster (519179) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154148)

The pulsed laser rockets that are currently being developed offer some serious promise as well. http://www.islandone.org/LEOBiblio/SPBI115.HTM

Re:Plasma/Laser Powered Rockets (5, Informative)

spike hay (534165) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154252)

Here is a link to that : here [islandone.org]

Anyway, nuclear rockets are a great idea. A better one, you may have heard me harp on this before, is VASIMR. It is a plama rocket with a nuke power source. It will be around ten times as efficient as the nuke rockers. However, the VASIMR, unlike the nuclear rocket, it does not have enough thrust to launch from earth. It is more a slow and steady engine that runs for weeks instead of minutes. But the burnout velocity of a VASIMR can be vastly higher than a chemical rocket.
The nuclear rocket can provide cheap, efficient space launches with not too much radioactive fallout. In fact, if a nuclear rocket using helium as a propelent will produce no fallout at all. Since a nuclear rocket is about twice or three times as efficient as a chemical rocket, the amount of fuel you'd need would be slashed dramatically. A nuke rocket launch might only use 10% or less of the fuel that a conventional booster would.

It's under R&D.

It ionizes hydrogen with microwaves an then accelerates them with magnetic fields. While it doen't provide thrust like a chemical rocket, it certainly has many, many times more thrust than a ion engine. It has some oomph to it. For cheap launches, you really need somthing like the x-42 scramjet spaceplane. That would cut costs of launching by a factor of 10 with no giant lasers.

VASIMR will get a specific impulse of 30,000 seconds compared to 500 seconds for the shuttle's engines. A specific impulse is the number of seconds 1 kg. of fuel could produce 1 kg. of thrust. The specific impulse of the VASIMR is 60 times better than the shuttle. That is many times better than the ~1500 seconds you'd get with the nuclear rockets.

That would allow cheap interplanetary voyages anywhere in the solar system, using very little fuel. Using these engines, you could get to Saturn in less than a year. It would also allow slow intersteller trips of around 1% the speed of light.
Also, VASIMRs could be easily, cheaply, and quickly refueled for more missions.Interplanetary travel could become cheap. I bet each ship would cost around 5 billion dollars initialy. After that, it's cheap. After each trip, an X-42 could come and restock the ship with fuel and supplies. That would only cost around 50 million. We could send tens of thousands to colonize Mars.

BTW: On this article, it says the VASIMR gets 10,000 seconds. It can reach 30,000 with further development.
Read about the VASIMR here [space.com]
--

Re:Plasma/Laser Powered Rockets (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3154257)

Try to ignore my glaring spelling errors. :)
nuke rockers

How else would you open up the solar system... (1)

kenthorvath (225950) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154149)

... besides with a Big Bang?

Re:How else would you open up the solar system... (2)

doooras (543177) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154155)

i'm not sure if by "Big Bang" you mean a fission explosion or the beginning of everything... either way, it's funny.

Re:How else would you open up the solar system... (2)

kenthorvath (225950) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154167)

I suppose it was meant to be ambiguous...

Unfortunately (2, Insightful)

scientology (565161) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154159)

To propose that we spend more money on NASA (with cutbacks already planned), the "nuclear fission" rocket may just be a pipe dream. It's hard to convince people that we need to explore space when the topic of the day is terrorism.

Good Idea, just won't happen anytime soon (5, Interesting)

sigep_ohio (115364) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154162)

He is 100% correct in his assessment that nuclear power is our only currently viable option to explore the rest of the solar system.

Unfortunately, people are so freaked out about anything with the word "nuclear" or "reaction" attached to it the only way they would ever put a dime in it is if it was called "The Wonder Drive" or "Warp Drive". The really sad part about that is nuclear powered rockets really wouldn't be that dangerous. The most dangerous part about them would be getting the fuel off planet, which is not as dangerous as it sounds.

Re:Good Idea, just won't happen anytime soon (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3154180)

I think it should be called "The Great Mushroom Shooting Rainbow Fun Machine".

Re:Good Idea, just won't happen anytime soon (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3154219)

Nucular.

It's pronounced 'nucular.'

Maybe... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3154224)

It's because all it takes is one crash and you've eliminated south florida. I know the beaches right next to the kennedy space center are real nice. Imagine having to wait 100k years before returning.

To sum up: The risk isn't worth the reward.

Besides haven't you seen Total Recall? All we need to do is get Arnold to push the button to make the planet habitable! lol...
I'll be back.

Re:Maybe... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3154290)

It's because all it takes is one crash and you've eliminated south florida.

What? Other than Kennedy, is that really a bad thing?

Re:Maybe... (3, Interesting)

Aglassis (10161) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154334)

Thats only assuming that you use the nuclear rocket part to take off. This is unlikely. A more likely case is it will be lifted by manual methods, piece by piece, assembled in orbit and then operated a safe distance from the earth. Even if these parts explode in takeoff it will not have any real radioactivity risk assuming that it uses normal fuel (ie uranium, not plutonium) since the half-life of U-235 is almost a billion years and U-238 is billions of years (longer half-life means less radioactive and billions of years means very, very small radioactivity). In newly built nuclear power plants you can walk around near the reactor without any radiation risk due to this fact. Of course once you start up, it has radioactive daughters and transuranics that make it radioactive.

Re:Good Idea, just won't happen anytime soon (4, Insightful)

Ian Bicking (980) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154233)

When someone first thinks about nuclear waste, one of the first reactions is, "why not just launch it into space?" I haven't happened to come upon the argument against it, but I imagine it goes like: sending stuff into space is far more expensive and polluting than people imagine.

But this would be perfect -- sure, you'd be making more nuclear waste, but you'd be sending it into space in the process! That's not hard to understand.

I think there is every reason to worry about dangers, though. Rockets do blow up (with current technology) and if they had radioactive materials onboard that would mean many, many deaths (mostly indirectly through increased cancer).

I imagine that nuclear rockets could be considerably safer than chemical rockets, since my vague impression is that they wouldn't be as explosive. But many of the standard ways that nuclear reactors are made safe -- mostly through containment of various sorts -- would be hard to do in a rocket.

Re:Good Idea, just won't happen anytime soon (1)

Fjandr (66656) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154293)

I imagine that nuclear rockets could be considerably safer than chemical rockets, since my vague impression is that they wouldn't be as explosive. But many of the standard ways that nuclear reactors are made safe -- mostly through containment of various sorts -- would be hard to do in a rocket.
Not in regards to being explosive. The fission is used to heat a propellant material, such a hydrogen, which is readily ignited, and can explode under many circumstances.

Re:Good Idea, just won't happen anytime soon (3, Insightful)

zerocool^ (112121) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154291)


Unfortunately, people are so freaked out about anything with the word "nuclear" or "reaction" attached to it ...

News flash, public: The Sun, our source of life and energy, is "Nuclear". In fact, it's just one big "Reaction".

To quote TMBG, "The sun is a mass of incadescent gas, a firey nuclear furnace, where hydrogen is built into helium at temperatures of millions of degrees."

~z

Re:Good Idea, just won't happen anytime soon (2)

abe ferlman (205607) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154354)

News flash, public: The Sun, our source of life and energy, is "Nuclear". In fact, it's just one big "Reaction".

SO as long as you don't launch the rocket until it's as far away as the sun, we've got nothing to fear but sunburn itself.

Re:Good Idea, just won't happen anytime soon (1)

zerocool^ (112121) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154390)

no +1 bonus, off topic:

I just wanted to say i really admire your quote. Very classy of you. I have read LOTR about 12 times now, and actually i have a test on the silmarillion tomorrow in my science fiction / fantasy class - it's an english class - heroic fantasy: beowulf thru tolkien. Anyway, good work, and I'm happy with myself that I know exactly where that quote comes from.

Re:Good Idea, just won't happen anytime soon (1)

eddy the lip (20794) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154295)

Unfortunately, people are so freaked out about anything with the word "nuclear" or "reaction" attached to it...

Nah, you just need to make sure you get the word "tactical" stuffed in there. It's safe if it's only tactical.

Re:Good Idea, just won't happen anytime soon (1)

Fjandr (66656) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154308)

Well, safe being relative. :)
Most tactical nukes use weapons-grade fuel, which radiates alpha particles. Now, the crude bombs tend to use the fuels that react easily, but those emit gamma radiation, which is the stuff that punches countless tiny holes in your cells. It just takes a while for your brain to realize you're dead.

Doh!!! (0, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3154163)

Doh!!!

Radiation (0)

zaffir (546764) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154165)

He makes a point about radiation being one of space's harmful effects. If we can't keep the sun's radiation away from our astronauts, how do we keep the reactor in the rocket from irradiating the crew?

Re:Radiation (2)

Laven (102436) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154177)

How do you keep the reactor of the submarine or the aircraft carrier from irradating the crew?

I'm sure they have figured that out long ago.

Re:Radiation (1)

zaffir (546764) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154218)

You missed my point. Sure, they can do it here on earth, but we don't have to haul that protection into space. It would make sense for NASA to line the ship with lead, but imagine having to carry all that into space. If i remember correctly, a good part of a sub's weight is protection from the reactor (i could be wrong on that, however). Having to lug all that into space would be very expensive, even compared to today's space flight costs.

Re:Radiation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3154285)

Actually, I beleive in a sub there is no penalty for the shielding; they would be carrying that weight in ballast anyway. Simular arguments may apply to a ship (you'd want the reactor as close as possible to the bottom of the ship). However, in a rocket where every pound costs you $10,000 to get into orbit, there is a substantial penalty. I think the real solution is to, instead of carrying reaction mass with you, find some way to gather up and accelerate the particles found in open space. Yes, beaming energy to the ship may help get you into orbit, but it doesn't help you much once you get any distance away from earth. Solar sails, anyone?

Re:Radiation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3154318)

You are forgetting your Astro-Physics.

The radiation coming off the reactor is negligible compared to the stellar and interstellar radiation we already need to shield humans against.

Space isn't a void like hollywood likes to glamorize. There's a whole lot of nastiness out there (solar wind, gamma rays, etc), and it only gets worse once you get out past Jupiter.

Re:Radiation (1)

doubleyou (89602) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154360)

Worse? I would think it gets better the further out you get. The most intense source of radiation in the solar system is at its center. Or am I missing something...

Re:Radiation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3154395)

True enough, but Jupiter has an enormous electro-magnetic field that does a good job of sucking in a lot of solar wind and cosmic radiation.

Once you get past its wake, all bets are off.

Re:Radiation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3154404)

Do a quick Google search on cosmic radiation, solar wind, or Jupiter's Magnetosphere.

Re:Radiation (1)

Aglassis (10161) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154361)

In space you could simply increase the distance from the reactor to the life support areas by use of a metal truss like structure. The radiation from the reactor will be minimized in the same way that light from a flashlight on your face is minimized the further you walk away from it. In this way only minimal shielding would be required. The truss-like structure would hold up to the forces even if it was a weak constuction since the thrust from the rocket will be small.

Re:Radiation (1)

doubleyou (89602) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154370)

Would the penatly be less for a fission rocket than it would be for a chemical rocket? I'm assuming that nuclear over chemical gets you more bang for your buck - more thrust with less fuel.

Re:Radiation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3154213)

Lead.

Re:Radiation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3154366)

Lead is actually only a small part of the shielding used in the Nuclear Navy. The lead is good at moderating (shielding) gamma and beta (electrons) particles but the real threat are the escaping neutrons. Since the neutrons have such a high energy (high mass, high speed) they rip through lead fairly easily.

Therefore, the Navy uses a water shield around the reactor vessel to slow down (moderate) the neutrons. Since a neutron is about the same mass as a proton, the water (H20, where H is a proton) provides the best transfer of energy in elastic collisions. This is also why neutrons are one of the worst types of radiation for humans. (Alpha's are really bad but easily shielded.)

The result is that the water heats up.

They also use borated polycarbonate but that's for viewing windows and such.

Energy needs, not exploration for its own sake (3, Insightful)

fetta (141344) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154166)

What sets this apart from most arguments for space exploration (at least in the popular media) is that he argues based on a need (energy) rather than talking about exploration and science for its own sake.

Dirty Words (3, Interesting)

Stigmata669 (517894) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154169)

Unfortunately, "nuclear" and "fission" have been dirty words in this country for the last three decades. This didn't stop nuclear submarines. I think it is more the idea of nuclear rockets that make people think of cold war times. We trust the lifes of many members of the navy to work around nuclear reactors, only PR would be necessary to gain back the confidence of the people in nuclear powered rockets too. Stig.

Re:Dirty Words (5, Interesting)

nurightshu (517038) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154221)

This didn't stop nuclear submarines.

If I remember correctly, the first group of nuclear submarines to actually enter the fleet put to sea in the early 60s, four decades ago, when our friend Mr. Atom was going to make the whole world a better place. Frankly, I still think that Mr. Atom and the power he provides are great things.

[...]only PR would be necessary to gain back the confidence of the people[...]

Except that for every "Nuclear-powered space vehicles are safe and effective" commercial NASA would produce, the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Federation, and the Judean People's Front would be producing five commercials that say, "These rockets are going to contaminate the whole world!" Unfortunately, some times I think that people want to be scared by fanatical claims of imminent {ecological|financial|terrorist-caused} disaster. By and large, humans seem to be more willing to listen to the Chicken Littles than to voices of reason.

Don't get me wrong; I would love to see us go back to the old plans for nuclear reactor-powered spacecraft. I just think that there will be gigantic and wide-spread resistance to the idea.

Re:Dirty Words (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3154280)

USS Nautilus, Launched 1954

You're right about the outrage this sort of thing would create. Do you remember the hubbub when they launched that "nuclear" powered satellite a few years ago ??

Ignorance will keep this from flying.

Re:Dirty Words (1)

Ironpoint (463916) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154329)


Some of the greenies may have a point. Sure nuclear submarines worked out, but everyone forgets about the half dozen or so nuclear reactors sitting on the ocean floor. If the Kursk had wrecked somewhere deep like the middle of the Atlantic, there would probably be one more nuclear reactor down there.

Accidents are not a possibility, they are a certainty. The only difference is that rockets explode and submarines sink.

that's nice (5, Insightful)

Syre (234917) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154170)

Nice to see an old-timer get a little coverage on /., but he really covers no new ground in that short article.

The major objections then, as now, are:

- What happens if fission powered rockets crash? Instant nuclear disaster, unless the containment vessel holds (and it might, but the public will not be convinced it would).

- Other countries fears that fission powererd rockets are actually orbiting nuclear weapons, able to be dropped on them at will. And again, even if they weren't bombs, orbiting fission rockets would be nuclear weapons: all you have to do is build the containment vessel so it can be blown apart on impact via conventional explosives, leaving a cloud of contamination.

I don't predict these space nukes are coming any time soon. Better to invest in laser propultion and linear magnetic launchers.

Re:that's nice (2, Insightful)

Stigmata669 (517894) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154223)

Other countries fears that fission powererd rockets are actually orbiting nuclear weapons, able to be dropped on them at will. And again, even if they weren't bombs, orbiting fission rockets would be nuclear weapons: all you have to do is build the containment vessel so it can be blown apart on impact via conventional explosives, leaving a cloud of contamination.

Why on earth would somebody use fission powered rockets for low orbit transit? The mass and $$$ savings are only worth the hassle on long distance space travel. The focus of the article was on sending missions across the solarsystem, not to the international spacestation.

Re:that's nice (1)

mcknation (217793) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154260)

"Nice to see an old-timer get a little coverage on /., but he really covers no new ground in that short article. "

This guy's brother tought history in my high school. He is also the football coach and an avid weightlifter. He is far from what I would call an old guy. For your sake I hope he dosen't read slashdot! Coach Hickam wow that brings back memories.

Re:that's nice (2)

dillon_rinker (17944) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154319)

Better to invest in laser propultion and linear magnetic launchers.
Lasers will be great for getting to Mars? Have you never heard of dispersion? As for magnetic launchers, did you not get the writer's point, that the goal is to accelerate all the way there?

Multiple spacecraft containing dangerously radioactive elements have already been launched. Danger exists, I don't deny it, but I'd suggest that those dangers can be overcome.

Re:that's nice (3, Funny)

zerocool^ (112121) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154350)


Better to invest in laser propultion and linear magnetic launchers.

Or time machines [techtv.com] =) Now, if we could just get the power equivilant of a supernova into something the size of... say... a VW bug...

~z

Oh my God, I'm so affraid! (5, Insightful)

Erris (531066) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154405)

- What happens if fission powered rockets crash? Instant nuclear disaster, unless the containment vessel holds (and it might, but the public will not be convinced it would).

Oh, you mean like Chernobyl? Not to make light of 100 or so deaths, but there are worse things in the world. It's hard to get worse than Chernobyl: Big core with high burn-up (that's lots of fision products from running), Zero containment, chemical explosions and fire at ground level.

Or perhaps you were thinking of all of the thousands of above ground nuclear bomb tests that the people have performed?

- Other countries fears that fission powererd rockets are actually orbiting nuclear weapons, able to be dropped on them at will. And again, even if they weren't bombs, orbiting fission rockets would be nuclear weapons: all you have to do is build the containment vessel so it can be blown apart on impact via conventional explosives, leaving a cloud of contamination.

Holy Armagedon, Batman! Do you think that this is a more practical means of nuking your friends than the tens of thousands of purpose built warheads lying around?! What shall we do?

I suggest we quit fooling around with bullshit fears and get some good use out of Nuclear technology. Projects Kiwi and NERVA were technical sucesses killed by ludite nonsense. We can go to Mars, we can exploit the solar system and we should do so. The sooner the beter, population expands geometricaly. We can use nukes to solve our problems peacefully, or we will use them the other way as we run out of exploitable resourses here. Chose your children's future.

Well, bring'em up dammit! (2, Interesting)

Kwelstr (114389) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154172)

I mean it, I wanna go to Mars and I was born too early! Let's get with the program people.

Re:Well, bring'em up dammit! (4, Funny)

doooras (543177) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154200)

forget mars... i wanna go to Ferenginar... all the women are required to be naked. they're ugly, yeah... but they're naked!

Re:Well, bring'em up dammit! (3, Funny)

marcsiry (38594) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154247)

News flash: Women here can be naked, too, if you do stuff like listen to what they say. Or at least pretend to, with an understanding look on your face, while you visualize them being naked.

Try it sometime :-)

Re:Well, bring'em up dammit! (0, Offtopic)

Jucius Maximus (229128) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154368)

"News flash: Women here can be naked, too, if you do stuff like listen to what they say. Or at least pretend to, with an understanding look on your face, while you visualize them being naked."

MOD PARENT [slashdot.org] UP AS TROLL!!

Yes, you heard me. That was not a typo.

Homer Hickam == Predatory Child Molestor (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3154175)

Rocket Boys? What does THAT title say about the author's propensity for nubile young boys?

Fission? He's GOT to be kidding! (4, Interesting)

meckardt (113120) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154186)

The reactor shielding required for a manned spacecraft is pretty large. There isn't any particular mass savings through using a nuclear power source... most of the mass for a deep space mission is reaction mass, and the specific impulse developed by a nuclear rocket is only about 2 times that of a chemical rocket... reaction mass savings ends up being on the order of 75%, but this is offset by the increased payload/structural mass.

Now, if someone could finally get fusion rockets to work, I think we could finally go someplace. But I am skeptical about using fission for manned missions.

Re:Fission? He's GOT to be kidding! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3154198)

What, you a rocket scientist or something, biotch?

Re:Fission? He's GOT to be kidding! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3154286)

That's why you build fsck-off big space ships, in orbital space factories. We might be able to go to the moon in an oversize metal toilet roll but if I'm going to Mars, I want something a little bit bigger. A ship to take stuff that far will undoubtedly be large anyway, so it's probably gonna need a big engine. Remember that 1/3rd of a car is engine regardless of how far you travel.

Anyway, a couple of questions:

Why do we not have a moonbase? Surely it's easier to stick something on a ball of rock than it is keep it propped up over the planet?
How come after 33 years, all we have to show is a bit of scaffolding with some solar panels attached?

It sucks! And it sucks because since the 1960s, the American establishment has been obsessed with warfare and the economy... and they're the only nation big enought to pull anything like this off.

So when all get pancaked by a global killer in 20xx, we'll know which country to blame...

Da Shuttle (2, Insightful)

Latent Heat (558884) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154362)

If it weren't for Da Shuttle, we could have had Moon bases by now. The Saturn V could take crews and payloads to the Moon -- Shuttle can barely make low-Earth orbit. Saturn launches probably run a billion dollars each, but each Shuttle launch runs a cool half billion, depending on who is doing your accounting. Besides, the Saturns were already designed while with the Shuttle they had to sink in several billion to get it going. Budgeting, say 3 billion a year, doing 3 launches a year to the Moon, by now you could have had over 30 years tons and tons of stuff delivered to the lunar surface. Instead, this same money was pissed away on the Shuttle and the stupid space station.

Perfectly Serious (5, Insightful)

jeff.paulsen (6195) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154299)

You're missing a couple of critical points:

  1. First, your reaction mass is your reactor shielding. There's a whole lot of water or liquid CO2 between the pile and the crew.
  2. Second, the craft only has to carry reaction mass for one way. You get to Mars, you turn on your compressor (powered by your atomic pile), and pump the local atmosphere into your tanks. This is a huge advantage. CO2 provides a lower specific impulse than, say liquid H2, but it's plenty to get back to Earth, or to push on to Titan.

In short, there are huge advantages to a nuclear rocket over a chemical rocket. Check out NERVA and NIMF, the two best treatments of the subject.

Re:Fission? He's GOT to be kidding! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3154324)

"Now, if someone could finally get fusion rockets to work"

Well, first lets find someone who'll get fusion to work period, let alone fusion rockets...

Re:Fission? He's GOT to be kidding! (1)

NonSequor (230139) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154401)

Take a look at this [slashdot.org] .

It works. Not well enough to be used for a power source since the costs would be so high. Eventually they should be able to get more energy out of it and reduce the cost to build the reactor.

Re:Fission? He's GOT to be kidding! (1)

martissimo (515886) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154335)

His suggestion of the moon as a source of Helium-3 is pretty interesting though. Would sure think that trying to discover if we can use the moon as a source of the world's energy needs would be better research than the the money being spent on the International Space Station, although i so suppose that a space station would be necessary to really get to work on the moon easily as well.

lots of great reads about H3 on the net, would love to see a little more research on the stuff.

Re:Fission? He's GOT to be kidding! (1)

SWTP (550956) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154337)

Basicaly the water tank will work but basically you stick the engine far in the back. Look at 2001 Discovery ship the engine is way in the back. Also with a pile generating juce it can also be used to create a field around the ship.

The real problem is not when you are out there but just getting up there when you want to for a cheep price.

An old statement goes like this:

When you get to orbit you are half way to everwhere.

Re:Fission? He's GOT to be kidding! (4, Insightful)

Rothfuss (47480) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154394)

Homer Hickman: [homerhickam.com]

"During his long NASA career, Mr. Hickam worked in propulsion, spacecraft design, and crew training, and won many awards including the Astronaut Office's coveted Silver Snoopy award for his outstanding support of the astronaut corps, and a special commendation for overall excellence from the Director of the Marshall Space Flight Center. His specialties at NASA included training astronauts on science payloads, and extravehicular activities (EVA). He also trained astronaut crews for many Spacelab and Space Shuttle missions, including the Hubble Space Telescope deployment mission, the first two Hubble repair missions, Spacelab-J (the first Japanese astronauts), and the Solar Max repair mission. Prior to his retirement in 1998, Mr. Hickam was the Payload Training Manager for the International Space Station Program."

Mike Eckardt: [orbitalhabitat.com]

"Like many of you, I wanted to be an astronaut when I was young. It wasn't the glamor of a high profile, high risk job. It was the adventure. I lost that dream sometime during my teen years, when I realized that I wasn't enough of a Superman to join America's astronaut corps. But hope springs eternal. With the increasing availability of space flight in the 21st century, and the advent of a commercial tourist industry in space, I may yet manager to make my way into the high frontier."

Thanks for your input Mike. We'll get back to you.

-Rothfuss

Robotic Mini-sub to Explore Michael's Anus (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3154192)

The HIV Giver [goatse.cx] writes: The Christopher Street AIDS Buttathon in conjunction with Wood's Hole Homographic Institute will be exploring Michael's rectum with a robotic mini-sub as part of their "Sick Queer" fund raiser for worthless faggots dying of AIDS. Buy your ticket to watch the live webcast of that festering open sewer known as Michael's Rectum. All homos and net censors are cordially invited.

NASA and responsiblity (0, Flamebait)

crystalplague (547876) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154197)

NASA can't even keep all of their measurements in SI, and we're going to let them accelerate nuclear reactors to 17,500+mph?!?! what happens when the self destruct code has to be issued because some retard messed up the entire launch because he read a comma as a decimal: nuclear fallout? yes, nuclear fission powered craft are one of the only ways to get to where we want to go, but there are other options such as ion propulsion and some other innovative ideas floating around. also, the weight of the shielding around a nuclear reactor would make the craft horribly inefficient because it would be using all of the energy just to overcome gravity, rather than accelerating to never before seen speeds.

For sure! (1)

sfrenchie (524076) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154215)

I agree 100%, someone should tell Mr. Burns to rethink his policies...Homer knows everything about n-u-c-u-lar rockets!

Re:For sure! (1)

Lakitu (136170) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154320)

C'mon frenchie, it doesn't take a foilage expert to spell nuculear

Get Yer Poster Boy Decal Now (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3154226)

I think Slim Pickens riding the nuke in Dr. Strangelove should become the Poster Boy Decal for the nuclear-powered rocket projects. That one scene said all there is to say about the cowboy in space.

make a penis with the euro symbol (-1, Troll)

BankofAmerica_ATM (537813) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154230)

===8

Anagrams (slightly OT) (4, Interesting)

dhovis (303725) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154234)

I read the book and I saw the movie. This is a case where the book is much better, though both are somewhat fictionallized.

Incidently, "October Sky" is an anagram for "Rocket Boys".

Re:Anagrams (slightly OT) (1)

Phosphor3k (542747) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154385)

Other anagrams for October Sky:

Bye Sock Rot
Be Coy Stork
Bot Rock Yes
Yo Bots Reck

I kinda agree, and kinda don't. (3, Interesting)

WolfWithoutAClause (162946) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154241)

Whilst nuclear is one option to get us out there, particularly to the furthest planets, I don't agree that this is necessarily the way to go.

Putting the supposed issues of launching nuclear rockets to one side, all of the issues we know of will be solved by using the existing resources of space, rather than trying to launch every little thing from the earth. Right now we are doing the space equivalent of driving from East to West coast America, whilst carrying all our gas with us for the whole trip. Ever heard of gas stations?

NEOs and the moon have plenty of fuel for us to use, and if you refuel in space, the maximum distances we can go are enormous.

The other issues also become non issues. Radiation? A few tonnes of shielding isn't a problem if you have enough fuel. Gravity? Spin your spacecraft on a tether, and simulated gravity is plenty good enough [the only reason that this isn't proposed right now is mass constraints, also they want zero-g in the ISS for example]. Again, use non terrestial sources for materials, and most issues are gone.

Nuclear is an entirely safe and reasonable approach. But it's not a necessary one. And politically there are huge issues; for what are mostly dumb reasons. But we have to deal with dumb reasons, held by misguided people in life.

Try to move beyond your provincial mindset buddy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3154246)

And when the vulcans see our depleted uranium trail on the way back from their survey mission they'll be so impressed! :)

Sure fission would get us where we need to go
but we'd end up polluting even more of our
surroundings.

I don't think we should be aiming for Mars when
we can't even travel to th moon in under a day
and when we still have people who think with
such a provincial mindset.

Until then I'll just keep clearing the bushes in
my backyard with that suplus C4 my buddy gave me.

GPL (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3154253)

Doesn't this violate the GPL??

He has a point (2, Insightful)

prizzznecious (551920) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154263)

Beneficent advances in nuclear fission are made all the time. Check this article [spacedaily.com] out.

I don't wanna go to Mars! (2, Interesting)

kamapuaa (555446) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154264)

This article doesn't really cover any new ground, and is lacking any real details...it's more of a generic endorsement from a celebrity scientist than anything.

I think the idea of going to Mars is wrong headed. I don't think an exploration of Mars will lead to great new developments for humanity. I don't think the idea of colonizing Mars is practical, and if it was, it certainly won't help humans on the Earth. I realize Apollo R&D helped lead the push towards creation of ICs, but I think any R&D budget would be better spent elsewhere...

Specifically, I hear about the idea of terraforming, which even with the most advanced technologies would take a ridiculous amount of time, even if it's possible to replicate the complex necessities of Earth conditions on a planet wide scale. Or the idea of releaving overpopulation through colonization, which is so silly it can be freely ignored.

Mr. Hickam seems to assume everybody shares the dream of having people live in a big plastic bubble far away...and the enormous cost, as well as the very real threat of putting nuclear reactors in ships that tend to blow up in the atmosphere, are insignificant. It's an odd viewpoint that he doesn't bother to justify. Will it make people's lives better? Should it just be done because it can? Manifest Destiny in space is so sci-fi.

Re:I don't wanna go to Mars! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3154305)

History shows us that fools like you do nothing to improve the human condition. Spineless and weak, your ilk would have us all still hiding in trees because the "ground" was just too far away and wasn't worth the effort. There is nothing wrong with the concept of Manifest Destiny in space.

Now return to your tree you shortsighted pussy!

Part of Kennedy's Dream (2, Interesting)

Aglassis (10161) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154265)

This was one of Kennedy's four goals during his Special Message to Congress on Urgent National Needs [umb.edu] (a.k.a. go to the moon speech). He said that it gives "promise of some day providing a means for even more exciting and ambitious exploration of space, perhaps beyond the moon, perhaps to the very end of the solar system itself".

The nuclear rocket is probably the best choice in large distance exploration that we have right now. Solar power becomes useless pretty much past the Earth and no other power source can pack the mass to power ratio that nuclear power can. If we want to go big, we have no choice but to use a nuclear rocket or take a long, long time. The weight issue in rockets is a big deal, so alternate propellants are out since they will take up to much weight for the same power.

For close distance exploration (i.e. the moon) I don't really see a nuclear rocket taking any part. While obviously it could achieve its goal, its a little overkill for the purpose (and considering the fact that if it were a direct exhuast type it would have a plume of activated radioactive materials, assuming it uses water as a propellant, it probably wouldn't be that popular).

I hope this happens, and I've been hoping for a long time. Its our only real chance to get off the earth permanently at the present time.

Re:Part of Kennedy's Dream (0)

andymoe (449502) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154363)

What about the nifty ion thrusters under development?

Slow down sonny (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3154281)

I'm not sure I'd want to pilot something that
can't even protect me from the sun's radiation
let alone radiation coming from 100 meters
behind me.

I've seen a lot of comments stating that Fission
is a safe and viable technology. Until the day
passes that there hasn't been a nuclear leak or
Chernobyl for at least 100 years I wouldn't say
that's the case. Clearly the experts really aren't.

Space will still be there 100 years from now when
we either get it right or we figure new and better
ways to get there.

Basic physics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3154298)

"To go to Mars or back to the moon with slow, low-powered chemical rocket systems is asking for trouble. The best a chemical rocket can do is get up to speed (burning up all its propellant in the process) and then drift to its destination, like a car coasting down the highway with its engine off. What's needed are space drives that will provide a constant velocity."

Anyone who has completed highschool physics should find something wrong with this statement immediatly. Since there is negligable friction in space any engine can provide a constant velocity, including fossil fuel based engines. What's actually needed are space drives that will provide a constant acceleration for long periods of time.

Sheesh, and this guy is a NASA astronaut. It really makes you wonder sometimes...

Re:Basic physics (0)

andymoe (449502) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154351)

hmm well if they want constant acceleration, they can just go in circles.

Ok bye now

Fission? (1)

Gaijinator (218180) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154306)

The only really useful purpose for fission engines is to escape a gravity well (e.g. Earth's). While this is obviously necessary, a fission engine is all but useless in space.

Once in space, minimal force is needed, and something like a solar sail [planetary.org] would be suitable. Contrary to the article, which says, "What's needed are space drives that will provide a constant velocity," practically zero force is required for constant velocity. Force is only needed for changing velocity, and for missions like this, a proper plan requires the craft to do almost none of this.

Of course, once the astronauts arrive at their destination, they'll want to go home, so they would need enough thrust to escape the gravity well again. Here is where a fission engine would be useful, since less fuel is required than a chemical engine, but finding sources of energy for use in space itself is at least as important.

Besides, fusion is a safer (i.e. more radiation-free) source of energy.

Re:Fission? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3154372)


He should have said, "constant acceleration." This is really what you want for a quick trip. High acceleration half-way there and then equal amounts of negative acceleration (deceleration).

This would also provide the artificial gravity that would benifit humans.

October Sky Rox! (1)

Kaypro (35263) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154323)

Can I get a w00t for October Sky! Great flick... highly reccomended!

OK I'm done... :)

Re:October Sky Rox! (1)

AndreAtlan (529906) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154388)

w00t, though I am downloading the movie right now and havent seen it.

A clean energy source? (4, Interesting)

robmered (178318) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154327)

Nuclear power is not a clean source of energy as alleged in this article. The mining, production and disposal of nuclear material makes it one of the more dangerous forms of energy production. The material used in reactors remains dangerous (ie. life threatening) for hundreds of thousands of years. How can anyone (apart from dubbya) define this as clean? Sure there are no smoke stacks, but come on!

As a uranium producing country, Australia has seen a number of 'mishaps' in relation to uranium mines. Admittedly, most of them have been relatively minor, but they demonstrate that no human activity is 100% failsafe, and the potential for massive disaster is huge when compared to other forms of energy production, fossil fuels included. Of course, this does not diminish the need to find alternatives to fossil fuel sources, they are dirty and finite (ie. unsustainable). Nuclear energy is not an appropriate response, though.

Also, beyond the production and disposal of nuclear material, what happens when something goes wrong with the rocket itself? Could you imagine a nuclear version of the Challenger disaster?

I'm as much of a technocratic utopian as any other /. reader, but even I realise that the use of technology, and its impact on society, is more important than any geek factor.

Slashdot Subscriptions and VA Software (-1, Offtopic)

Lethyos (408045) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154341)

Since VA Software (ticker: LNUX [yahoo.com] ) is now trading [yahoo.com] at a substantial premium to book value and cash (after writing down goodwill on a number of acquisitions made at optimistic dot com valuations), its cash generation or lack thereof is a much more important issue than it used to be in the days when the stock was available for less than the cash on its balance sheet. Which leaves us unsure of what to make of the latest developments.

Good results

First, we have the second quarter fiscal 2002 results, released last week. These were actually really quite good. VA has reduced its cash burn to $6.1m/quarter this is not only a massive fall from the hardware services days of a >$30m cash burn, but is substantially below the target of $8m/quarter which VA announced at the time of quitting the hardware business. Having left the hardware and consulting businesses, VA was concentrating on selling its main software product, Sourceforge 3.0, and had made a number of new sales to blue-chip customers such as Stanford Universty and Pfizer. We had a few problems with their statement in the conference call [on24.com] and the press release that they had "$61m in cash and marketable securities" which is true, but highly misleading as to their actual financial position as they also have current liabilities of $18m (ie; they need this much to pay bills falling due in the next six months, so the actual cash available to burn is more like $43m), and we regard their description of the redundancy payments and lease cancellation fees which make up their restructuring costs as "non cash items" as actively ludicrous, but this is nit-picking; the facts as of a couple of weeks ago appeared to be that VA Software was on the raspberry road to profitability.

But .

Then we got this little bombshell; Slashdot, jewel in the crown of VA Software's OSDN network of Open Source websites, is moving to a pay subscriptions model a la Salon. Well, perhaps that's being a little bit too harsh; Slashdot isn't doing the full reader reduction exercise of making you pay for the only content you came to read, but it is going to be having "more intrusive" ads (by which I think we mean expanded banners and skyscrapers surely Slashdot wouldn't dare to go down the route of pop-ups or interstitials, would they? WOULD THEY? AARRGH!), and you'll be able to view slashdot without these ads at the bargain subscription rate of $5 per thousand pages. Obviously, this caused much wailing and gnashing of teeth among the assorted slashbots (2275 comments so far, nearly a third as many as adequacy.org's most popular article), but we can't help thinking that they're missing the point. Nobody, least of all VA, thinks that there will be material revenue opportunities from the subscription model; all this is, is a figleaf designed to allow Slashdot to accept pop-up X10 ads while giving its editors hobbyists Rob Malda and Jeff Bates, a lightning conductor of "well, why don't you subscribe?" to deal with the floods of threatening email they are likely to receive.

So fair enough. But when we read the actual announcement on Slashdot, we at adequacy.org got worried. When we think we're looking at a company which is on the right track, we don't like to see senior staff at its only profitable business unit making statements like:

" The large ads that you see on many other sites are coming here. We really don't have an option: these are what advertisers want, and if we don't provide them, we won't be around much longer"

or

" We won't create subscriber only features that cost more to maintain than they generate. But we do need support from you if we are to continue."

What the hell? Slashdot was known to be profitable and cash positive when taken over by Andover.net in 1999. Andover.net was known to be profitable and cash-positive when taken over by VA Linux in 2000. The OSDN group of sites was, according to the 2Q02 results conference call, the source of more or less all the revenue generated by VA Software. And now we're being told that the ad market is so precarious that the VA cash pile is likely to be burnt up imminently? What gives? Quite apart from anything, statements like "we won't be around much longer" are Forward Looking Statements. Companies with publicly traded securities outstanding should not be making forward looking statements outside of the context of a scheduled conference call or an announcement to the general public under Regulation FD. It is, quite simply, not good enough for Rob Malda to be making this kind of wild assertion about the trading conditions faced by the key media property in the only profitable division of VA Software, ad hoc and without any kind of "safe harbor" statement. We don't know whether or not this announcement was technically in breach of Section 21 (E) of the Securities Exchange Act 1934, but we do know that well-managed companies with competently run press office and investor relations functions don't leak rumors in this kind of way.

Adequacy investigates

When we at adequacy.org witness an informational cluster-fuck like this in the making, we want to dig and delve, for the benefit of you our readers. We're about to make a few fairly controversial statements in this report, and we'd like you to take the following on trust: all the statements we make below which are in bold face can be sourced to a prominent (as in, you'd recognise the name if we told you) employee of Slashdot. We at adequacy don't want to cost anyone their job, so we'll make the following statement:

The statements sourced to an employee of Slashdot were acquired as the result of IRC conversation on an open channel. For this reason, adequacy.org does not feel bound to protect its source come what may. However, on general principles, we will only hand over the IRC logs which prove the veracity of our information on receipt of a subpoena from VA Software. In the event of our receiving such a subpoena, we will do our very best to publicise throughout the Internet the fact that VA Software issued such a subpoena to us in order to track down a critical employee, something which we would imagine would not generate good publicity with the core slashdot audience.
Ok, here's the dirt

Sourceforge is not profitable and looks like it never will be. According to our source, "it's a giant vacuum". And this seems about right to us. The recent conference call with VA Chief Executive Larry "Eleven Million Dollar Man" (that's how much VA stock he's sold for cash since the float) Augustin was full of the joys of Sourceforge "Enterprise Edition" 3.0, a "proprietary" version of the popular Open Source collaborative software development tool. Indeed, in response to a question, VA's Chairman and Chief Executive told the world that VA Software (a company which, according to its CFO made "substantially all" of its revenue from the online advertising of the OSDN) was "a company in the enterprise software market". Much was made of the fact that new sales had been made to Stanford and Pfizer, two new key clients. But when you try to pin down these sales to hard revenue numbers, it kind of drifts away. The hard fact is that Sourceforge charges $1000 per seat license (there are apparently issues relating to revenue recognition over the term of the long-term licensing contracts which VA is trying to sll, but $1K was the hard number given at the conference call). That means that, before VA Software can be considered to be mainly a software company, it needs to be selling 5000 seats worth of Sourceforge per quarter (generating $5m of revenue, roughly the same as OSDN's revenue). How close is it now to that goal?

Not close. Although the reference implementation of Sourceforge; the licensing level at which it starts to generate positive RoI for its customers, is estimated to be 120 seats, the vast majority of its current customer base are installing it on trial implementations of 30 seats to see if it's any good. Two or three big sales of Sourceforge might make a quarter of a million bucks at the outside; Sourceforge revenue for 2Q02 might possibly be as low as $60,000. Since Sourceforge 3.1, with better integration with other tools and added functionality is on the way, we can't see anyone springing for a full installation of 3.0, meaning that sales are at the mercy of the development schedule. In any case, we're not sure why anyone would buy 3.0; as far as we can tell, the main advantage over the Open Source version is that you get to use Oracle rather than PostGreSQL as a back end, which shouldn't be too terribly hard an alteration to make in-house given that the source code for the biggest existing implementation of Sourceforge (http://www.sourceforge.net) is available.

So, on the basis of publicly verifiable facts, our source appears to know what he's talking about.

OSDN is run tightly; VA as a whole is not. This is more or less a direct quote from our source, and we believe it. OSDN, for all its expensive branding and new name, is the business of Andover.net, which was always the poor man's CMG, or Ziff-Davis for the technologically literate. Which is to say, a bunch of guys who knew how to sell ads for computer stuff. They're still good. Let's consider the following:

Again from the conference call, we learn that in 2Q02, Intel accounted for 20% of total revenues. That's (cue drum roll, Dr Evil voice) one million dollars! Did they buy a thousand Sourceforge seats? To put it bluntly, no. They spent this on advertising

You can't spend one million dollars on advertising

At any reasonable CPM rate (or indeed, at OSDN's quoted rates for "selfserve [osdn.com] " ads recently posted, one million dollars would buy you 250 million ad impressions. According to the OSDN advertising screen [osdn.com] , they serve 120 million page views a month. So, by this standard, roughly two out of every three ads on OSDN during the second quarter of fiscal 2002 would have been ads for Intel. I have to tell you, and every regular viewer of Slashdot will agree, that they weren't.

Slashdot is notorious for running ads for thinkgeek tshirts, other OSDN sites and caffeinated mints, but surprisingly few ads for the high-end server gear which is the unique selling point of OSDN to its advertiser base. And slashdot accounts for an awful lot of those 120 million pages. Specifically, according to figures given in in Malda's statement, Slashdot has "one third of a million visitors per day", and the median visitor generates ten pageviews (we guesstimate this from the statement that, at a subscription rate of $5 per 1000 pages without ads, "82% of our readers could view slashdot for a year for $20", ie, 4000 pages per year). That means that over a quarter, just about 90 million of OSDN's 120 million pages are accounted for by Slashdot. So if Intel has spent One Million Dollars on OSDN advertising without making a material impact on slashdot, then something pretty strange has gone on.

Here's our guess. Intel is the sponsor of the "Large Linux Installation Foundry" on sourceforge.net. What's been going on here is "narrowcasting" Intel isn't so much interested in serving 250 million pages to random Slashbots, but is more interested in serving about 400 pages over the quarter to a group of people possibly as small as nine or ten, who were making the decision in 2Q02 about which technology provider they would be going for in a large Linux installation. It is not at all unknown for big ticket computer salesmen to drop a seven-figure check in promotions if they're hoping to land a nine-figure contract. It's also not impossible that the sponsorship of Sourceforge Large Linux Installations during 2Q02 was the subject of a bidding war between to rivals over the same large contract. We can't prove this, but we're pretty sure that something of this sort happened (if there are any more disgruntled VA employees out there, we'd love to know if we were right). In any case, it's not what you might call "high-quality income"; although VA hope to continue doing business with Intel, this is a big chunk of revenue to be dependent on one piece of marketing whim.

Slashdot could be sold to another media organisation. We had to read between the lines to get to this one, and it's probably not fair to pin it on our source, but he certainly entertained our speculation on the subject. And the interesting thing is that, with the information we were able to glean about the decomposition of 2Q earnings, Slashdot doesn't look like the cash cow for VA that we thought it might be. Out of the $5m revenue of VA Software, we can take out approximately $750K of interest income on the cash balance and maybe $200K for Sourceforge, meaning that the Intel contract accounts for roughly a quarter of the operating income of OSDN. From the pagecount, we know that Slashdot accounts for three quarters of the pageviews (and thus roughly three quarters of the bandwidth costs); to assume that it generates three quarters of the revenue would be tantamount to assuming that the other OSDN sites make next to zero revenue. Which is a crazy assumption, particularly given the intangible benefit to VA Software of having sourceforge.net as a promotional device for Sourceforge Enterprise Edition. And if Slashdot accounts for three quarters of the costs and less than three quarters of the revenues, it's a dog in the OSDN portfolio, not a star or a cash cow.

So, why not sell it? Although Slashdot may be a drain on the average profitability of OSDN, it probably breaks even, and in the world of magazine publishing, that's not bad. Publishing companies know that profitability has to be measured across a portfolio of magazines, not unit by unit, and it's often worth your while publishing a loss-making Talk Magazine for a while for the touch of stardust glamour it adds to a lucrative (but potentially rather prosaic) Conde Nast Traveller. Slashdot would be a perfect "hood ornament" for a profitable stable of computer magazines, dragging the kids in while they were in college and then cross-promoting them onto other titles by the time they had reached a saleable demographic. And all this could be done without compromising its "editorial integrity", which is something usually respected in the media world, though not so much in the software publishing world ("Andover.net had all sorts of evil plans for Slashdot", our source reveals).

Bottom line: If Larry Augustin wants to claim to be running a company in the enterprise software business, it's time for him to walk the talk. Let's see some divestment of non-core assets like Slashdot. Otherwise, we ought to be facing facts and reminding ourselves that the company which used to be "VA Linux" and is now "VA Software" has always been "VA Media". It's a publishing company, and ought to be managed as one. If that means getting rid of Eleven Million Dollar Larry and getting a graduate of the Si Mewhouse academy, then so be it.

Nerva + SEALAR (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3154348)

Nothing wrong with nuclear propulsion. For the weak of stomach, you can launch in the middle of the Pacific, if there's a boo-boo, it drops in the ocean. Tough for the sharks, tough for the islanders, but they're used to it.
Oh yeah, SEALAR means Sea Launch and Recovery, from Bob Truax.

Re:Nerva + SEALAR (1)

robmered (178318) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154407)

Right. Chernobyl style disaster, six miles up in the jet stream, and it's just the sharks who have to worry. Good one.

a constant velocity? (1, Offtopic)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154367)

To go to Mars or back to the moon with slow, low-powered chemical rocket systems is asking for trouble. The best a chemical rocket can do is get up to speed (burning up all its propellant in the process) and then drift to its destination, like a car coasting down the highway with its engine off. What's needed are space drives that will provide a constant velocity.

Err, excuse me. Maybe I'm not Mr Rocket Scientist but isn't "providing a constant velocity" exactly what chemical rockets do? Maybe you mean provide a constant acceleration. Sigh. When you have to correct NASA officials maybe it's time to lose faith in space exploration.

Good Luck (4, Funny)

BlackGriffen (521856) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154373)

Nuclear is practically a dirty word. Just stick your head out the door and say it, and in 5 minutes you'll have at least 5 hippies protesting outside. They won't know what or exactly why they're protesting, but it has the word "nuclear" attached to it, so it must be bad.

It's the same way with health nuts and the word "chemicals" though they don't protest it, they just condemn it. Just walk up to someone in a health club, and ask him, "Do you know how many chemicals you have floating around in your body?" and watch him get a disgusted look on his face like you accused him of having herpes. Or ask some clerk at a health food store, "How many chemicals does this have in it?" and laugh at his ignorant @ss when he tries to claim there aren't any.

BlackGriffen

Check your terms (2, Interesting)

Preston Pfarner (14687) | more than 12 years ago | (#3154402)

The best a chemical rocket can do is get up to speed (burning up all its propellant in the process) and then drift to its destination, like a car coasting down the highway with its engine off. What's needed are space drives that will provide a constant velocity.

So what's the difference between drifting and moving at a constant velocity? Spaceflight analysis really shouldn't be done by people who fail to distinguish between velocity and acceleration.

Load More Comments
Slashdot Account

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Don't worry, we never post anything without your permission.

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>
Create a Slashdot Account

Loading...