Ask Slashdot: How to stop trainwrecks?
Not using trains wouldn't give the desired result ("save many lives"), most likely quite the contrary - unless in preference to buses over the other option here, of cars, since buses turn out to have just as good or better (depending which metric you look at) safety record as trains; both being much safer than automobiles (also nice with being able to do something - read for example - during commute or travel, also ~social interactions ...and we know how much slashdotters need those ;P )
It's all about humans mostly just ignoring, say, constant stream of car crashes as "normal part of life" vs. how such isolated events as train crashes grab attention. While trains are damn safe even when the crash does happen - I mean, look at this one: seemingly a ~200 km/h closing speed, head-on collision, ~350 people involved, 16 fatalities, 58 injured - presumably some seriously, but the death toll is unlikely to go above 5% ...much better chances than in a similar road collision. Plus, most rail accidents are also minor - people don't even realize that even derailing (something they imagine as very serious, grimly sounding) almost always brings no harm to humans at all.
Oh well, we are not very rational creatures, we just like to think of ourselves like that... (go through a list of cognitive biases, this is our primary mode of operation; also, consider how 80+% of drivers think they are above average ones - while the highest proportion of good drivers actually tends to be in the few-% group self-declaring themselves to be below average)
Actually, more people died in road accidents in Poland just this weekend, just Saturday & Sunday, than in this presumably "great tragedy" train crash (well, at least statistically - almost 4k dead in a year, that gives over 10 daily) - so, why aren't we in a constant state of national mourning due to this massacre on the roads? (with causes behind majority of deaths very preventable - excessive speed, ignoring right of way, incorrect overtaking, alcohol)
And you know... railway lines in Poland, at least those which carry such trains ("hasty" or "hurried" or, well, "fast train" - kinda between commuter and express / Intercity, stopping at less stations than the former but at more than the latter), are almost universally 2-track, that is the standard practice for a long time (yes, there are exceptions - I know one mountain line going through tunnels, and one other which seemingly doesn't have any such explanation but also doesn't have a history of collisions; those are rare exceptions).
In fact, the collision here involved just such 2-track line, possibly due to some human frak up, maybe made somewhat easier by engineering works (which often do mean an alternating one track section usage; and yes, you want that, lack of maintenance would be much more devastating long-term; and no, closing whole lines is not a solution, people would whine & push for limited traffic) and/or equipment anomaly (I remember the last similarly large train crash, over a dozen years back, when a rail switch spuriously changed setting while a train was passing over it, technically over-speeding nearby some construction works; rear portion of the train switched tracks and collided with another, and it seems (gtranslate works bearably) to be still "accident from unknown causes", with some talk there about spurious resonance from many quite unlikely, "Swiss cheese model" causes)
Ask Slashdot: How to stop trainwrecks?
I guess a system similar in concept to TAWS, or automated car braking, would constantly generate way too many false positives. The thing with trains is that they are very, well, coupled to tracks - which not only brings the obvious benefits of using track-integrated systems.
It also means that trains very often "kinda look like they will crash" ...but then they don't - because, duh, track switches are set in a way (very hard to see by itself from a distance, when not relying on track-integrated systems) which made one train "miss" the other "at the last moment" or so it might seem. TAWS has it relatively easy by comparison, essentially sort of observing one friggin' big object (with the way out being in virtually all cases just "up"); and cars deal with a lot shorter braking distances.
Even more uncertain when there's some railway maintenance going on, when the trains often travel on "wrong" track - both of which were the case in this crash, it seems. And there even already are sort of independent systems of signaling such condition (a pattern of the 3 headlights, a specific bottom-side one switched off by the driver, when the train is traveling on "opposite" track) ...who knows what went wrong in this case (and if automated system would help - maybe one train changed tracks unexpectedly & almost just before the other, maybe the switch wasn't supposed to happen at that exact place, maybe the drivers didn't have a chance to slow down sufficiently anyway)
A bit uncanny, there are actually some construction works also nearby my railway station (yeah, PL). And BTW you can see quite often a train approaching another one, head on, on the same track, at few dozen km/h ...just to switch tracks maybe 50 m in front of it. How would an independent automated system know what is going on, without the feedback from track settings? (how much it would "pollute" the attention of the driver, possibly contributing to more crashes?) /me thinks it all needs to depend on the tracks to flow, in the end.
Oh well, it's still damn safe overall; just the same unfortunate effect as with airliners - when a rare crash happens, it grabs attention.
Small, Modular Nuclear Reactors — the Future of Energy?
Explain to them what a rem is, and how the sun gives you more radiation in a day than most people will experience, with the exception of medical imaging devices and flying on high-altitude airplanes, throughout their lives.
But that^ is still contrary to "above all, no lies. No propaganda. Just the truth, detailing what we do know, what we do not know, and where any potential problems may be." right after it (almost like you just can't help it, go in the direction of glorifying nuclear) - you can't have it both ways, it would provoke a justifiable backlash and ridicule (and probably reminding also, yeah, of a bit insane approach to nuclear in the past)
You mention how we receive radiation when stepping outside - actually, we receive radiation also when inside of course, many buildings have quite elevated levels of radon for example. But it's a baseline, it's insincere to essentially dismiss additional sources.
With the concern about small & distributed nuclear reactors that I voiced there, the point wasn't so much about the technology, but about the talent of people to frak things up - particularly at the level of small town utilities. Not about the technical side - but governance, delegation of responsibility, etc. ...municipalities can have problems with electricity, water, or sewerage infrastructure. I just don't trust them with anything nuclear, not in the landscapes dominated by "lowest bidder" and nepotism (typically rampant at the level of small communities).
And FFS, people have even a hard time of accepting that dumping millions of tons of CO2, that the planet kept in its lithosphere, can disrupt the balance; or, from a looser related field, with something having so much support, so much evidence, as biological evolution. We're not really close to the level of maturity which small reactors everywhere would demand, if we'll ever be.
Also, by which standards would we really judge such reactors to be safe safe, and their operators sufficiently (5yo level) smart? Those used with Fukushima / in Japan? (it also was essentially counted among "nothing can go wrong")
(also, you might be too optimistic about their potential impact - say, kinda like blanketing of an area with small explosives tends to be much more destructive than one gargantuan (that's also the case with MIRVs & their warheads); similar effects could manifest themselves, over long periods of time, for many small vs. few large power plants)
BTW, there's this fascinating, to me, phenomena with many of the devotees in the style of AC: this place is generally quite dismissive of Chinese or Indian technical prowess...
...except when glorifying the push for nuclear of those places. That is a WTH of truly massive proportions.
(well, at least I have an impression how the latter group is so large that it must include many from the former)
Heck, I've seen some people treating nuclear power plants as some kind of self-sustaining organism which should cover essentially as much of the planet as it can (supposedly everything needed for that goal coming from ...the energy released by already existing reactors); or cherishing lightweight reactor designs meant for space ...which don't have to worry about shielding, costs, waste disposal, or even refueling.
I see nuclear as likely (not certain ...we'll see what the German experiment gives in few decades - and it is good in the sense that one technologically and scientifically competent place tries other routes; just like the French quest to optimise nuclear) part of whole solution - probably one of more sensible ways to generate large part of base load.
But it won't do much as long people will just want more, more, more without restraint; without recognizing what's good enough, nuclear won't change much. There is no sane reason for the observed 2-3x differences in resource usage between places with very alike standards of living (I'd argue that some of the more frugal one of this graph are actually much nicer than the most wasteful)
In a comment nearby you express hope that the number of humans won't drop (and precisely bottlenecks are major evolutionary pressures BTW) ...that, in turn, I would call insane - for no entity, no system, the growth can go on forever in the real world(tm). We already trigger what will be, in geological record, one of few most rapid extinction events - half of all species gone by the end of this century (and it would be really "funny" if ending up like this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medea_hypothesis ). And most of the people live in very dire conditions, most births are precisely into such - but hey, good for you hoping for more of such suffering, from your most likely very comfy place.
Anyway, it's self regulating, first world has below-replacement fertility rates, which seems to be natural for our species once you hit level of reasonable prosperity.
Iceman's genome reveals health risks and relations
Interestingly, he also already carried the bacterium responsible for borreliosis - a disease classified fairly recently (but then, not much earlier we didn't even realize about microorganisms, so whatever; now that I think about it - how much such pathogens were behind languishing existence of most of populations ...heck, maybe "adaptive" in the sense of perpetrating ~feudal social order)
But, possibly, his biggest health risk on that day was being a member of riding party, making an incursion on the territory of another tribe (as some evidence apparently might suggest)
Most curious how the submissions (and its keywords, I guess... "health risks and relations [...] most famous frozen corpse [...] living relations [...] 5,300-year-old body [...] most studied cadavers in science [...] tooth cavities, bore tattoos [...] dying with an arrow lodged in his back* [...] blood [...] interbreeding with other groups everywhere"?) apparently triggered one peculiar and previously unseen by me ad & service.
White House Wants Devastating Cuts To NASA's Mars Exploration
But you miss the larger context, overlook that other approaches would also benefit from this, probably not making that much of an impact on relative competitiveness. What I'm also saying is they don't exist in isolation from the rest of the world (soooo... for example, yes, weapons; many more impactors - and you can't prove much with hypervelocity impacts - "oh well, another small asteroid hitting big target"; or: in-situ manufacturing tech would be viable at lower level of sophistication (more massive), while still probably ending up smaller and spawning colonies much faster than a ship which aims for providing comforts to largish crew)
Most importantly: even I think about "really powerful" lifting, I'm not thinking "magic" - but something which is still plausible ...so, it would need to be non-rocket based launch to LEO (which wouldn't bring quite the kind of changes), not strictly "engines" as imagined.
(and yes, when talking about the "magical nanotech" variant above, I treat it only as a possibility which doesn't appear to be contrary to what this universe really is - it's quite lonely in that among most scifi fantasies)
Mass driver of some kind looks like most plausible (other proposals tend to be too silly even as far as mega-structures go), launching pellets (likely still not entirely non-rocket based) carrying small parts (just to assemble one 10k in LEO?); maybe something like Startram (and probably only its smaller versions - meaning, passengers would still have to go up on, at most, a version of "pellet" which is very akin to present launch vehicles ...except embryos!).
Anyway, I think you're severely overstating what 10k would give. Nearest analogue is probably such submarine at best, ~= at the largest (but probably closer to Kilo class, type XXI u-boot, Kobben, or even VII) - considering, cargo, landers, propulsion and fuel (...oh yeah, it would need to have its own to take it out of LEO, and lots of it: direct Hohmann transfer orbit from Earth to Jupiter takes roughly as much delta-v as launch to LEO itself - I assume you don't like the idea of long trajectories via gravity assists).
So "low cost" is an understatement, probably an order of magnitude more expensive than most expensive subs (and they're... too expensive, there's plenty of efforts around to lower their costs while at best keeping the capabilities), imposed by the much harsher conditions and without the convenience of being able to surface to safety at moments notice; things are harder in space... lack of efficient cooling method for one. Propulsion is also much easier, no need to carry reaction mass (which would be likely a majority of the whole, together with the engine)
Typical subs also have way too large crews & little automation, we don't have the required tech here (it's again much harder when you can't just surface); "largish" crew variants would still be fairly small by necessity... travel time would still be long (so... somebody might take a stash of embryos after all, tens of thousands could be less massive than one crew member; then somebody might realize this crew member wasn't really needed after all, and maybe another, and so on)
And that's ignoring cost of operations ...which, really, boils down to "OK, but what would you be doing 'there'?" Well, all we do boils down to resource gathering and manufacturing.
And I assume fancy 10k would be meant to return ...but what for?
And the thing with radiation was how fiction badly influences our imagination - as depicted they offered virtually no protection (and BTW where were the radiators? At least Avatar does their size decently, as a starting point)
Bases on the Antarctic essentially have this model: 10k+ vessels, no problem with propulsion, everything carried there.
...but, after a century, our presence and activities are minimal (probably less than when we exploited the area, before we essentially exhausted the exploited resource ...all of them depending upon existence of life BTW). Few thousand people in best of times, 1k when worse.
And antarctic is insanely more hospitable than outer space - still, no native human population.
Yes, one can say that we self-imposed "hands off Antarctic" on ourselves by treaties ...but those treaties are a realistic option precisely because the conditions are so unfavourable. Our tech doesn't really work even there, our fairly expensive presence relies on constant stream of support.
I guess it will start with something like moon bases, probably largely / exclusively robotic for some time ...some scientists will want better things, more than they can get funds to supply, so they'll figure out a way to utilise local resources - for some telescope probably, at first structural and ~passive elements.
Over time, people will pick it up, and take it further. Organic and gradual (oh, and no need to worry about most of the pollution and such in those manufacturing processes, they will be more efficient).
At some point, we'll realize we don't really need enormous launch capability.
1. Unless, yes, we would build a mass driver in, say, one of Lagrange points around Earth ...BUT, AGAIN, ONLY SMALLISH SLUGS THEN (and it also gets into "what for?" vs. building things in-situ).
Oh, and so it wouldn't really solve the problem of landing... (except by wasting lots of fuel for deceleration - and on Mars nearly hovering before entering the atmo, which wouldn't scale the cargo that much)
But maybe we shouldn't want to all of this, consider some deeply disturbing and unavoidable effects - do you really want some large (multi-km, unfolded ~"metalised film" on light & redundant skeleton) advertisement ruining evening sky? ;)
Robert Boisjoly Dies At 73, the Engineer Who Tried To Stop the Challenger Launch
The failure mode on that cold day was hardly due to non-expandability: Ares V stack WOULD ALSO DISINTEGRATE in the event of SRB burning through one of its attachment points, and wrecking havoc...
The end result really had nothing to do with side-placement of the orbiter, TPS, or overall fragility.
Plus, part of the point was a side note how the Soviets apparently didn't think much about inaugural launch of their shuttle (also side-attached) in conditions when NASA probably would prefer to have its hw in hangars - but then, they worked since the beginning with reality of the Kazakh steppe (or even Plesetsk Cosmodrome, not far from Arctic Circle...), and didn't bothered with segmented SRBs; also their heat shield implementation - which BTW was launched through heavy cloud cover - was possibly somewhat better, reportedly suffering only marginal damage in its inaugural flight (again, through heavy cloud cover) ...of course, most likely, largely because it was done a decade later, with problems better understood.
And anyway, protecting TPS is not the only role of external tank thermal blanket, and the simplest demonstration of that is: the foam is sprayed also on parts of the ET which have no chance of shedding ice onto the orbiter. It also maintains the quality of cryogenic propellants; during launch, it keeps the structure within design temperature limits - and, by the same property, assures low altitude (predictable, within impact boundary limits) ET breakup.
Of course: yes, expendables are more sensible overall, you don't have to convince me of that - there was plenty more wrong than side-attachment with the concept of glorified Flash Gordon style glider contraption, riding on popular myths, (merely) appearing to the masses as something as sleek as, say, Concorde (but in space!!111); a spacecraft wasting most of its launched mass on airframe.
It was just a bit... pointless, and outright stupid with its treatment of safety. Pointless in how it was demonstrably a very suboptimal approach - all boiling down to how it didn't really deliver on any of its premises and promises, while eating the funds (both implementations). Stupid not only in the sense that over-complication impacted safety (~= costs!) for no real gain, also in how it was presented like just as safe as an airliner, using some very flawed metrics (which Feynman pointed out in his report).
And yeah, stupid ~politics... (also with both implementations)
(you can see in large part of my visible recent comments how I'm often frustrated at this, how the shuttles probably retarded progress for at least two decades; also at myself, sort of, for being so easily taken as a kid by "cool spaceplane")
PS. Sorry for late post, an old email client script reminded me the discussion expires; better late than never, I guess.
Space Team Reunites for John Glenn's Friendship 7
Generally speaking, it seems that sophisticated and elaborate approaches don't really work out here (STS being probably the flagship example - it didn't really deliver any of its promises and premises, its basic concept was probably obsolete even before it seriously got onto drawing boards - with, say, automatic rendezvous and docking performed already in the 60s - but it devoured the funds; and the whole "spaceplane" idea was, a short decade after Mercury, pushed largely by such then young people ...perhaps partly due to some peculiar reasons).
Maybe gradual refinements are a better approach... (and anyway, "rudimentary" doesn't really exclude ~"digital" - which can and is gradually incorporated into such)
R-7 rocket, the very first ICBM (not a very good ICBM, not very practical in this role - typically minimum day-long launch preparations after "go ahead" and likely longer, with their policy back then of storing warheads and rockets separately), turned out to be a fabulous launcher - notably of Sputnik, also early Luna, Venera & Mars probes. Or of Yuri Gagarin...
...and in fact, rockets from R-7 family launched every Soviet or Russian manned mission (and many other satellites - it is "the most reliable ... most frequently used launch vehicle in the world" & among least expensive ones; with a new launch complex just inaugurated in Guiana, a century of service seems well within its grasp).
Also an example of how NOT "everything is so digital now" - the still most commonly used versions of Soyuz (also those used in every manned mission) have old style, analogue guidance systems.
Yes, ~"but R-7 is from 'other' space agency" and such - well, maybe not quite: after all, US astronauts launch exclusively on Soyuz now... (plus "rudimentary" & as basic as possible approach has its revival, it will be what puts next humans into orbit on US-based launch)
Small, Modular Nuclear Reactors — the Future of Energy?
Show them how hard it is for something to undergo an uncontrolled nuclear fission reaction, show them how the danger of fallout and radioactivity is inversely related to time. Explain to them what a rem is, and how the sun gives you more radiation in a day than most people will experience, with the exception of medical imaging devices and flying on high-altitude airplanes, throughout their lives. And above all, no lies. No propaganda. Just the truth, detailing what we do know, what we do not know, and where any potential problems may be.
So just before "no lies. No propaganda" you essentially advocate... "supportive" disinformation, great. I mean, surely you must know there are different kinds of radiation - those reaching us from the Sun much easier to manage, not really comparable to what is at hand here, not even ionizing (even if UV might slightly resemble such, in its biologically damaging potential; still, much easier manageable).
Pretending like all kinds of radiation are the same can serve also nuclear devotees, it seems... really, perhaps the education should start with them.
Witness how their rhetoric unfolded during Fukushima: at the beginning, we had "so, we have a bit of a situation, X happened, but surely not X+1" - but wait few days or so, and suddenly it was "so, X+1 happened, but surely not X+2" ...and repeat few times.
Such things don't breed trust, not one bit. More - that is an evidence of issues (of whatever kind), justifying concerns (which can be also framed in a less dignified term "fear") about "environmentally sound operation" or "careful" - a very visible example of somewhat "uncontrolled nuclear fission reaction" despite major efforts of a place seen as among most technically adept ...AND, most importantly, despite Fukushima plant certainly being counted, before the incident, among the shining beacons of nuclear energy! (not specifically of course, just among many others)
The thing with "careful disposal of the waste" - it turned out to be much bigger problem than anticipated; not so much the technical side of it, but political and cost considerations, making the nuclear much less attractive than it seemed, justifiably blunting the early enthusiasm (seriously, look back at those early times, people had a bit insane approach ...and what ever happened to "electricity will be so cheap it won't make sense to meter it!!"?)
And the inverse relation of time vs. the danger of fallout and radioactivity isn't much of a consolation for those in the "wrong" place and time (which could be made somewhat more likely by massive adoption of many miniature reactors - I mean, we are talking here about the approach, costs & responsibility distribution more akin to water or sewerage, in how they are municipality services ...how much trust do you really have, in (many!) people at such levels, to not cut corners or be careless?)
Now, I'm generally the first to lament the colossal waste of one local abortive attempt, and I can seriously consider moving to the backyard of a nuclear power plant my place probably needs to build in a decade or two (well, not literal "backyard" if only because that would still be a noisy industrial plant; but many likely benefits all around of such neighborhood, among them possible voluntary expulsion of large part of stupid people)
But don't pretend the devotees (essentially a sort of "nuclear cargo cult") aren't a problem, too - an image one, at least, in the name of willingness to overlook issues.
Look at the first AC reply to your post - pretending like pebble bed reactors are proven tech; but for example ignoring how they share one major problem with RBMK (Czernobyl) reactors - they are essentially giant stakes of coal; how actual test reactors so far weren't entirely encouraging, anyway. Or: it's all because of anti-nuclear lobby (as if there weren't any powerful entities involved in nuclear industry, in turn pushing suboptimal solutions which benefit primarily them?). Also, the TMI is the only incident worth remembering it seems. And, obviously: thorium worship (as if actual research institutes, industrial entities and countries invested in nuclear weren't actively investigating this one for a long time now).
Oh, but he believes...
Felix Baumgartner Is Space Diving in Pursuit of Science
120k feet, less than 37 km, is (at least as agreed by most of the planet, the Karman line at 100 km) only ~1/3 of the way (and still less than 1/2 by the looser standard of ~80 km, sometimes used by very few places). Rounding it up - more on the surface than in space.
Unless I missed some new trend, say, of telling people they are near their destination after traveling only ~1/3 of the way there (and by far the easiest 1/3)
Furthermore, "for a short time inside his pressurized spacesuit, Baumgartner [...] will be the fastest man alive" (I assume in relation to Earth) can be also easily seen as going too far - he won't be faster than the crew of ISS (at over 7 km/s, over one order of magnitude faster, BTW also free-falling) for example; it's also quite possible that some supersonic fighter pilot might be faster at that moment.
Yeah, "in a spacesuit" ...which is, really, just a type of spacecraft (miniature one) - and I don't see why the specific type of spacecraft you're doing the skydive / free-fall in should matter that much (ISS crews doing much "purer" and longer one routinely; the record of 437 days done on Mir by Valeri Polyakov, quite a bit longer than a few minutes; either way, typical spacewalk lasts for several hours, obviously also in a spacesuit, and very clearly in a free-fall - that's what being in orbit is)
White House Wants Devastating Cuts To NASA's Mars Exploration
Well the point is: it's generally even more precautionary (and such) to be able to make the things or people you might need - while not depending on support & stream of resources from Earth (really, depending on local resources and locally-grown people is not just a good idea: it's an inevitability, and exactly how any long-term successful colonization came to pass even on this minuscule grain of sand we call Earth).
Furthermore, that is the best way to assure "the resources don't get spoiled (bored or damaged) on the way to wherever"...
"Today" is really not that relevant here; it's not only about launch capabilities, also overall costs - even of straightforward construction. Just the difference of powerful engine wouldn't really make the burden to construct "a 10,000 ton ship" or "a space station around Jupiter, 2001 style" non-astronomical - you can't really expect the people of Earth to finance such.
OTOH, in-situ approaches would make the burden minuscule, and they are quite likely to "organically" emerge within a very short few centuries or millennia (don't think about it in the scales of normal human lifetime - that's this influence of "scifi cargo cults" and popular culture uneasiness about what our universe & physics really are) - mass production, simplification, modularisation is what generally seems to do the trick in revving up large endeavors, setting up ~sustainable (if there even is such a thing with humans) industries; while few large, unique and overcomplicated artifacts generally accomplishes quite the contrary.
(1.) It's also about the odds of succeeding with few megaprojects (an approach which often gives white elephants) vs., say, ten to hundred times more (per the same cost) smaller & largely independent from the start efforts. I suspect the latter would simply utterly out-compete the former - by the time (which includes the time of construction!) the "big and glorious" gets anywhere, the place will tend to be already long taken (and again, "big and glorious" is primarily a nice, singular, big target - which, despite its scale, won't stand a chance against hypervelocity impacts), and already for some time sending its own waves of colonisation further out.
2. BTW fictional depictions: 2001 station would probably disintegrate, as depicted - any engineer will tell you that spinning an unfinished ~wheel is generally a very bad idea. Also, the radiation environment in Jupiter system is insane - its described severity during 2010 spacewalk didn't even come close, they would be all dead just from sitting inside the Discovery and Leonov for a small fraction of the time depicted in the movie. At most, better aim for a base on Callisto, it's bearable this far out.
Overall, hostile conditions are also why probes tend to be a good idea. Quite likely a better idea for now - for example together with occasional teleoperation (from Martian orbit for example - also because we don't have even a good idea how to approach landing a largish object on Mars, the planet has probably nearly the worst combination of gravity and atmosphere to do that) of one of the whole fleet of robotic explorers, some even including such torso. AI is also constantly improving (we depend on it more and more every day; but again, not the kinds of "AI" spewed out by works of fiction), it's not about being smarter than brightest humans (humans are on average pretty stupid, too - go through a list of cognitive biases), but about efficiently mass-producing & distributing suitable expertise where it's needed (and IMHO the sets of science instruments are already remarkably diverse, given the constraints)
Or, sure, we can escape into "what if" world of fantasy physics, geopolitics, or macro-economy... what those musings about 10k tons to LEO are largely about (but, BTW, you might find it interesting that one of our most prominent implemented space fantasies threw away almost as much LEO mass during its lifetime).
It's a retreat to early dreams about space, which naively extrapolated early rates of progress (also of airplanes from the 1940s IMHO, as linked in my post you replied to) - which, in that example, gave us an analogue of Catalina, at best (Spruce Goose, at worst), but something which looked very soothing and "inspiring" to the constrained public imagination (by... works of fiction; or too accustomed to airliners, Concorde).
But short spurts of progress is what's actually typical, in the Real World(tm), what tends to happen with everything (BTW, have you seen the ideas of Archimedes about floating improved? ...come on, his law is over 2k years old, surely we should be able to ignore it by now)
Oh well, it's all academic anyway, we both will be long dead before "serious" space presence takes hold, rest assured of that.
White House Wants Devastating Cuts To NASA's Mars Exploration
When it comes to "leave the planet in a hurry" - truth is, virtually all conceivable catastrophes would still leave the Earth much, much, much more hospitable than any other place in the system. And large part of extremely unlikely scenarios leveling the playing field across the system, would be also a major headache for the whole system...
BTW, the issues with launch capabilities might just become obsolete not too long time from now ...together with, most importantly (and disappointingly to many, I'm sure), obsoleting the grandiose styles of space travel - which I see as very much influenced by silly "scifi cargo cult" depictions in works of popular fiction; purpose of which is NOT to sensibly conceptualise space travel, their purpose is mass entertainment. If anything, they strive to be not too unfamiliar, not too different from earthly experiences and expectations (which are themselves quite distorted anyway - most people die close to where they were born), avoiding the discomfort from depicting the ABSOLUTELY WILD realities of actually existing universe and its physics - bonus: it's much, much easier to write that way, within the framework of stories known since ancient times, much easier to depict. Such fiction quite possibly already massively & negatively influenced some of our "space" goals)
While... how many people actually realize that we can already send at least vast majority of "colonists" when they are miniaturised and in deep hibernation, and that at least dozens of thousands on Earth are past the procedure? (it's fairly routine by now) Give me one medium launcher plus 100-200 million, and I can transport at least a thousand viable humans practically to anywhere in our system.
Add in-situ manufacturing, and it doesn't really matter anymore how much can we put into LEO (while we're possibly already not far from Kessler syndrome, and near Earth orbit is the ultimate asymmetric warfare battleground, really - perhaps it's best to not place there large targets for any space-capable entity which can have a whim of starting the cascade).
And if, lets say within a millennium or ten millenniums (a blink of an eye, in geological & galactic terms), in-situ manufacturing would advance to the level of ~"magical nanotech", it would also probably mean mind uploading and such at about the same moment (give or take few centuries) - making the "big & glorious" spaceships as silly as advancing the technology to the levels presently used in, say, nuclear submarines ...but utilizing that tech only to build "advanced" Viking longships (that's how inconsistent, that's what most scifi visions tend to be BTW).
With such "ultimate" advancements, launching billions of starwisp-like "seeds" towards stellar neighborhood, and simply ~transmitting ourselves, would rapidly (in geological terms) colonise the galaxy.
And here's the best part: even if such "ultimate" advancements turn out to be not feasible, even if we would be limited just to "plain" in-situ manufacturing, "traveling light" (embryos), and comet (and such) hopping (estimated billions of 20+ km, trillions of 1+ km comets just in our Oort Cloud, plenty to spread over thousands of years - and, inevitably, some groups would eventually hitch a ride with Oort Clouds of passing stars) ...it would still rapidly colonise the galaxy.
NASA Wants Green Rocket Fuel
It's quite frightening how straightforward (here: old, CFC-based foam piece killed Columbia*) the facts can be, and still not work with those people... but then, myths and their collections seem to also have a much stronger grasp on them, on average.
Here, I guess also the myths of glorious-looking (kinda feels like this damn French Concorde, but better / in space!) Flash Gordon style contraptions of a spacecraft which wastes most of its LEO mass on airframe ...possibly even with its designers and decision-makers being raised on & influenced by such works of fiction (FG and so on; which mostly just naively extrapolated rapid advances in airplane tech of the ~1940s; kinda like those airplanes (Wiki Unicode URL, tends to work weird on /.) from "our" times, as imagined ~130 years ago, were undoubtedly shaped by rapid advances in marine tech - and we can even build them, basically just take a Harrier & remove wings and canopy ...it's still a horrible idea vs. "boring" reality).
The STS was simply deeply flawed, foam-shedding (another fact: most severe - but lucky to spare critical impact points - in early flights, which used only CFC-based foams) being just one aspect of it ...not even the worst (other being also with the basic concept, its premises and promises - obsolete even before the Shuttle seriously got onto drawing boards, for example with automatic rendezvous & docking done since the 60s)
Oh yeah, but it looked and felt awesome, I'd be the first to give it that (hm, yeah, "emotional" as you say)
And with the news at hand... "green" fuels are also simply much easier & safer to work with; those are things which - contrary to the suggestion of (great?)grandparent poster - tend to save time and money in the longish & up time spans (so, for once aiming at thoughtful long-term choices)
*Columbia Accident Investigation Board Report, Volume 2, Appendix D, Section 11.3 and figure 11-1, p222
Australian Scientists Discover 'Oldest Living Thing On Earth'
Food for thought: your body, your cells constantly "recycle" large part of the matter used as their constituent parts - there are quite few of the atoms forming your body at birth remaining in you (also proportionally, accounting for later mass gains).
So... what is your age, are you the same human as at birth?
BTW, ponder in which ways what you thought as the precious part of your body gets disposed of... ;p
Or, more seriously, how it is quite universal for humans to believe in "really me" surviving death of all things, with their body essentially discarded - evidently we are quite open to accepting the idea of single entity, single being continuing its existence despite none of its verifiable original parts doing so (maybe/hopefully it means there won't be too much fuss about mind uploading)
Also: the ship of Theseus.
1. Even seems like not a bad pun here, in context.
2. TBH I would argue not quite (likewise me of course) - the "monolithic me" is largely a myth allowed also by our, really, quite poor memory and such; hiding from us the full realization of immense changes over life (we generally seem more similar to our peers than to ourselves at very different life stages), or how we generally function (go through the list of cognitive biases, this is our primary mode of operation; or, consider how split brain patients seem almost unchanged post-operation, basically just with few curious "glitches")
Robert Boisjoly Dies At 73, the Engineer Who Tried To Stop the Challenger Launch
Depends on what you mean by "a vehicle like that" - Russian launches for example routinely happen in (low) sub freezing temps (compounded by often strong wind of the steppe) - and in fact the only launch of Buran likely happened in such temperatures, too (middle of November, early morning; 60+ km/h wind 3+ hours & 2 orbits later at the nearby landing strip; too bad no snow yet, would be apt, with a name of the vehicle meaning "blizzard").
Fission power back on NASA's agenda
"Farther, faster" ...that would be probably only part of the story, not the biggest one; maybe even hardly existent (the "faster" bit; anything would be "farther")
Ultimately, over longish periods, it will probably just boil down to cheaper for given goals - via much smaller spacecraft for one, or from less redundancy allowed by more reliable electric propulsion; not necessarily faster (as "to reduce explorers' exposure to space radiation" ...we should really consider at which point out it makes no sense to bring them back* - with such realization, transit time would become less crucial, and besides: shielding against the radiation of the reactor itself would probably negate part of mass savings, and the "space radiation" would be similar at most of the destinations ...or much more severe (Jupiter system); OTOH: many chemical rocket fuels can be used as a very good radiation shelter)
And at least for relatively more immediate manned goals, solar might very well turn out cheaper and more straightforward, especially on the scale needed for large manned spacecraft (at least the Russians came to this conclusion already back in the 80s, with then-anticipated state of solar tech, in their Mars plans - which are, really, a distant lingering goal behind many of their efforts & developments over the last few decades)
* Or even: at which point it makes more sense to send almost all of them miniaturised and in deep hibernation, as "frozen" embryos.
Toronto Teens Launch Lego Man Into Near Space
80k ft is around 25 km. Space (at least as agreed by most of the planet, the Karman line; including Canada or Australia) starts from 100 km. Should we begin telling people they are, say, near some destination after traveling only 1/4th to it? (and by far the easiest 1/4th, at that)
Well, at least it's better than this submission - still, again "impressive" (while some really curious efforts, from a ~decade ago, went overlooked) ...and done by dozens, possibly hundreds (mass-produced / that's where all the really hard stuff in such ~amateur attempts always came from) meteo balloons every day.
Canadians bring Lego man ( nearly ) into space
Generally: when will this fad with balloons die out? Why now, why people ignored amateur flights made decade+ ago? (when they actually still demanded some effort in preparations; NVM such feats as dropping UAV glider at climax, a ~decade ago). And "not beyond the offical boundary of space" is and understatement, they're not anywhere near space, not even half way up (rounding it up - more on the surface; also: 24 km makes this one a rather low attempt)
Oh, and I somehow doubt "All of Canada is enthusiastic" about a video with 300 views...
New Mexico is stretching, GPS reveals
Virtually all comparably large (& usually arbitrarily designated) expanses of land are stretching or... contracting. With varying speeds, some "faster" some slower, but always changing.
Would be nicer if this^ was the main focus of such reporting, maybe also pointing out this essay from Asimov (in this instance, particularly the 5th to 7th section from the end).
Instead it too often goes into & feels like "whoa, man, come here and listen to this funny thing about [...] place, that those scientists now claim"
Slashdot joins SOPA protest in last minute decisio
If "Readers of the site overwhelmingly support the decision" then one might also wonder what impact this might have... (Wiki, Reddit, Wordpress, or Cheezburger otoh... and I wonder what will come out of mulling of Google, FB, Twitter, Yahoo, Amazon, or Ebay; if blackouts, then also possibly riots)
Android Smart Watch
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fossil_Wrist_PDA - decade old
http://pocketcalculatorshow.com/nerdwatch/fun2.html - quarter+ of a century...
And those were even quite inexpensive. Ultimately, after initial voices of wonder, people just don't care - it's a bad form factor & bad usability for such functionality.