Road Less Traveled: How Craig, CO Was Orphaned

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Craig, Colorado is a small town in Moffat County in the sagebrush of the high desert of northwestern Colorado. It is on U.S. 40, almost exactly halfway between Denver and Salt Lake. Up until the 1970s, its location made it a favored stopping point for travelers crossing the sometimes challenging roads over the Rocky Mountain passes.

However, like many developing towns across the country, Craig would become an orphan when one of the largest infrastructure Acts of the 20th century was passed in 1956.

Craig, Colorado

The First 60 Years

Moffat County opened up to homesteading in the early 1900s and became firmly established when the railroad reached the area in 1913. In less than a decade, Craig grew to over 5,000 people.

The first boom cycle for Moffat County was short-lived as average precipitation was too unpredictable to create a consistent living off farming. Most of the homesteaders eventually gave up and either moved into Craig or left the area completely.

However, Craig continued to survive and have moderate growth thanks to a few key industries. Cattle ranching and coal became the main revenue for the remote corner of Colorado. As roads improved, Craig was ideally located between Denver and Salt Lake City. That helped keep traffic flowing through the area and brought in tourist dollars from outside the county.

The Rollercoaster Population

Moffat County was carved out of Routt County in 1911. In 1910, only about 25% of Routt County’s population lived in the newly created county. There were about 2,000 people living in Moffat County when it was established.

By 1920, the population of Moffat County had more than doubled to 5,129. The population then dropped to 4,861 by the 1930 census but recovered in 1940 to a census of 5,086. It would continue to grow for the next twenty years to 7,061, only to decline in the 1970 census to 6,525.

A population boom in Moffat County’s first decade would seem to be linked to that inflow of homesteaders and the decline following that would be linked to homesteaders leaving the area. The steady growth from 1930 to 1960 would seem to be associated with the link that Craig had to Denver and Salt Lake as the halfway point between the two major cities on a major highway. That highway was U.S. 40 and was known as the Victory Highway and also the Main Street of America linking Delaware to the east to Salt Lake to the west.

The intersection of Colorado Street and Victory Way (U.S 40) in Craig, Colorado

The decline in the 1970 census seems to coincide with the impact of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956. This was the legislation that created the interstate highway system. Essentially, it shifted most of the cross-country traffic from roads like U.S. 40 to interstate highways like I-80 through Wyoming.

The Rocky Mountain Reputation

There were multiple competing goals in the design of the new interstate highway system. Among them were:

  • Maximizing interstate highway usage by avoiding duplication of service
  • Minimizing costs by avoiding difficult geographical construction challenges
  • Expedited construction timeline
  • Service public and military needs
  • Link key population centers

To understand what happened in Colorado regarding the creation of the system, it is important to note that the decision-makers apparently had a healthy fear of the Rocky Mountains. The initial routes for the interstate highways avoided crossing the formidable mountain range by sending traffic north across southern Wyoming (I-80) or south through the more moderate climates of New Mexico and Arizona (I-40).

The original interstate highway map of 1955

The plan was to have one interstate highway (I-70) in Colorado, but it would stop in Denver and not cross the mountain passes. That would serve the population center of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains and minimize the cost. It also would avoid slowing the completion of the interstate system by not taking on the task of building roads through the mountain passes.

Colorado Governor Johnson and I-70

One of Moffat County’s most famous citizens was Edwin Carl Johnson. Johnson and his spouse came to northwest Colorado on the advice of his physician who felt the climate would be more favorable after his recovery from tuberculosis.

He became involved in Colorado politics and twice, in 1933 and 1955, he served as Governor of the State. Eighteen months after Edwin Johnson took office for the second time, the massive highway Act was passed and he became a major advocate for Colorado’s interests in the interstate highway plan. He insisted that it would be unfair if the country’s major arteries were to be routed around Colorado.

Edwin Carl Johnson, former Moffat County resident and Colorado’s 26th and 34th Governor

The Interstate Sausage

Political compromise has been compared to making sausage. It is something that may be necessary but nobody should witness how it’s done. The alignment of the interstate highways is no exception. The interests and well-being of many small communities were sacrificed in an effort to accomplish the task. Craig was one of the casualties.

Although Governor Johnson had been a resident of Moffat County, his task was to convince the multiple stakeholders that Colorado must have an interstate highway that crossed it from east to west in order to not be isolated from the commerce that would be crossing the country. Had he been the decision-maker, I-70 would have likely followed the most direct route and Craig would have benefited.

Fortunately, Governor Johnson did have allies in Utah and they became key players in this effort. They wanted the I-70 extension to connect to Salt Lake City. This presented the opportunity for the new interstate to follow the U.S. 40 alignment through Craig or via the U.S. 6 route. Upon agreeing to this, Colorado and Utah presented a united proposal for bringing I-70 through Colorado and Utah.

Route options for the I-70 alignment from Denver to Salt Lake City

Sneaky Public Roads Commissioner

The Bureau of Public Roads (now the Federal Highway Administration) accepted the extension plan but the Department of the Army felt that it should be routed through southern Utah to connect to southern California. The route was changed and announced without any discussion with Governor Johnson or the Utah officials. The Commissioner of the Bureau admitted later that they intentionally did not inform anyone of the re-routing of I-70 in order to avoid any complaints.

This re-routing ended any opportunity for Craig to be a part of the economic benefit of the interstate highway system. While Craig remains on a more direct route between Denver and Salt Lake, it is slower than the longer routes that include travel on an interstate highway. It has had an economic impact and the lost revenue of the cross-country traveling public likely contributed to the decline in the population of Moffat County in the early 1970s.

Epilogue

It could be argued that Craig might have not gained much economically if I-70 had been routed near the town. Steamboat Springs is 42 miles east of Craig and would have been an option for interstate travelers to rest, eat, and/or refuel. It is likely that both towns would have benefited, but Craig needed the connection more than Steamboat Springs. Craig didn’t have the mountain town attractions that Steamboat Springs developed in the 20th century.

Because of Craig’s coal reserves, a boom cycle began in the 1970s when three coal-fired electrical power plants were built; however, after expending much of the readily available coal and because of the health and environmental threats, the units have been scheduled to be closed down over the next decade.

Today, Craig faces a bleak future with no reliable financial source for new employment and new tax revenue. Its situation is compounded by its remote location, hundreds of miles from the economic centers of major cities. Had I-70 been built along the U.S. 40 alignment, Craig’s future might be more hopeful than it is today.

GOP Political Syndicate Seizes CO School District

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Four people are all it takes. Four people can take over the control of a school district of 67,000 students and implement a political agenda that has nothing to do with educating young citizens. It also requires a small, well-financed political syndicate to put those four people into public office. That is what happened in Colorado’s Douglas County.

The Faces of the Conservative Political Syndicate. The recently elected Douglas County School (Colorado) Board Directors

Last November, four new members were swept into the non-partisan seats on a unified conservative platform. The candidates were united in opposing basic health precautions during a pandemic. They also opposed teaching facts about United States history that make some caucasian people uncomfortable. It was a clear, partisan agenda.

Once sworn into office, their first move was to elect themselves as the President and Vice President. The vote was 4 to 3 with the newly elected members banding together to control the vote. The following week they held a Special Meeting where, on another 4 to 3 vote, they then made pandemic health precautions for students and staff voluntary.

The new Board members exposed faces indicate who voted to end mask mandates.

Their next step was even bolder. In a possible violation of open meeting laws, the new President and Vice President of the board met with the Superintendent of Schools and told him to resign or be fired. He refused to resign, so on 4 February, they called a special meeting and fired the Superintendent without cause on a vote of 4 to 3.

These unilateral actions have injected chaos and anger into the school district. The new Board members have followed a ‘Shock and Awe’ strategy to replace educational-based leadership with a politically-motivated dictatorship.

Four People Elected By One Campaign 

In June of last year, Mike Peterson, Becky Myers, Kaylee Winegar, and Christy Williams all filed as candidates for School Director of the Board of Education in Douglas County, Colorado. What is unusual about their filing is that all four candidates filed on the same day, in consecutive order, and all used the same mother/daughter team as their Registered Agent (Marge Klein) and Designated Filing Agent (Tammy Klein). According to NBC News, all four candidates also shared Holly Osborne Horn as their joint Campaign Manager

The people behind the Political Syndicate curtain

Marge Klein is the President of SWS Polifi, and according to LinkedIn, Tammy Klein (aka Tammy Ann Scott) is the Director of Operations of the company. The company is located in the small town of Ft. Lupton, Colorado, in rural Weld County. According to the website, the purpose of the company is to handle the management, media, finances, and reporting for political campaigns. SWS Polifi has been contracted by several Republican campaigns including the 2020 Congressional campaign for Lauren Boebert. The company received over $20,000 from that campaign.

The campaigns for all four candidates were registered under different campaign committees but were, in fact, packaged under one political syndicate titled “KidsFirstDCSD“. The KidsFirstDCSD website only lists the candidates’ names and not who is managing or overseeing the organization.

As part of the campaigns, the syndicate created slick, professional videos featuring each candidate touting their support for parents, teachers, and students. The candidates also had equal access to other media and publicity material normally reserved for a State or Federal office.

Who is the Syndicate’s Leader?

The orchestrator of the political syndicate is not obvious. Horn, the campaign manager, has no obvious background in mounting a political campaign prior to becoming part of the KidsFirstDCSD syndicate. It would seem that she lacks the experience to organize and lead a single campaign, let alone manage four campaigns at once.

Horn’s role with the syndicate may have been as simple as being the correct person, in the correct place, at the correct time. In December 2020, she gained the attention of the Denver CBS news affiliate by leading a small protest in Castle Rock over business restrictions during the pandemic. This public exposure may have led to gaining the attention of the political syndicate, which benefited by having a campaign manager that actually lived in Douglas County. 

Holly Osborne Horn at a small protest against health precautions during the first year of the pandemic.

When is this going to end? When is this going to stop? The data and the science are there…

Holly Osborne Horn
December 2020

Marge and Tammy Klein both are more likely to be the driving force behind the syndicate. Both have more experience as political operatives and connections to donors and conservative leaders in Colorado. Of the two, Marge Klein is the matriarch of the business and no stranger to Douglas County School Board elections.

Lessons Learned From 2017

The 2017 election school board election served as a dress rehearsal for conservative forces in Douglas County. Republican political operative Marge Klein also served as the Registered Agent for all four of the 2017 conservative, anti-public school candidates. Klein’s candidates raised $147,586 but they were defeated by opponents that raised $64,000 less in campaign contributions.

In 2021, Klein returned with four new conservative candidates and a pipeline of donor cash that was over one and a half times greater than 2017. The combined campaigns of the KidsFirstDCSD political syndicate raised almost $390,000. Eighty percent of that money came from seven donors that were filed as giving the same amount to all four candidates. 

Four-Way Split of Campaign Donations

The Big Seven

Who are the seven big donors? The list is an unusual group.

Eric Garrett – Total donations:  $120,000

Eric Garrett

Major donor, Eric Garrett is not a resident of Douglas County…or of Colorado. He is a resident of Indiana with business interests in many states, including Colorado. He is the Founder and President of The Garrett Companies. The company was founded in 2014 with small apartment projects and now has expanded into multifamily property development, construction, and other real estate ventures.

His involvement in the political syndicate that elected the four members of the Douglas County school board seems to be ideological. His Facebook page indicates a strong dislike for Democrats and includes a post of a Covid19 conspiracy theory.  

Mike and Andrea Slattery – Total donations:  $120,000

Mike & Andrea Slattery

Both Mike and Andrea Slattery are residents of Douglas County. Their source of money is not obvious. Mike is associated with Sierra Aircraft Sales, LLC, Jmjk Managment, Inc., and the Slattery Family Foundation, all in Florida. They own a 1,400-acre equestrian center in Sedalia, near Castle Rock and they recently purchased The Emporium in Castle Rock. Both are in their mid-30s and they have children.

 

R. Stanton Dodge – Total donations:  $50,000

R. Stanton Dodge

Donor R. Stanton Dodge is not who one might expect to be a part of a conservative political syndicate. He is an attorney and a resident of Douglas County. Dodge serves as Chief Legal Officer for DraftKings, the world’s largest daily fantasy sports platform, with its headquarters in Boston, Massachusetts.

He also serves on the Board of Directors of National Jewish Health and the Colorado Supreme Court Nominating Committee. He has supported Republican candidates for public office. Of note, he contributed to moderate Republican, Mike Coffman during his successful campaign to be Mayor of Aurora.  

Roy Klein – Total donations:  $8,000

The filed campaign report of donors states that Roy Klein is employed by Western Development Group in Denver and gives an address for him in Lone Tree. The company website only has a contact page and doesn’t offer any other information. It is unclear if he is related to Marge Klein of the KidsFirstDCSD political syndicate.

George Solich – Total donations:  $6,000

George Solich is listed on the filed campaign report as connected with Energy IV, LLC in Greenwood Village in Arapahoe County. He is also associated with FourPoint Energy and LongPoint Minerals. Solich a significant figure in the energy and mining industry.

In 2019, he was named as President of the Castle Pines Golf Club; however, it is unclear if he actually lives in Douglas County.

Ralph Nagel – Total donations:  $4,000

Ralph Nagel is has an interesting background. He seems to have little or no connection to Douglas County. He is listed as ‘Retired’ on the campaign donor report but Nagel also is noted as a visual artist in Denver.

Ralph Nagel and his spouse, Trish, were the named donors for a 356 room residence hall on the campus of the University of Denver that was completed in 2008. 

In the past three decades, Nagle has been associated with multiple organizations in Denver including the Nagel Foundation, Top Rock Holdings, inc., Arvada Meridian, LLP, Cherry Hills Meridian, LLP, Lakewood Meridian, LLP, The Vista Meridian, Ltd., Englewood Meridian, LLP, Hillcrest Meridian, LLP, Temple Meridian, LLP, Meridian Retirement Communities, LLP, Seventy-Three, Ninety-Three Partners, LLP, Ciga, LLP, Amani, LLP, Legan (sh), LLP, and Lumberjack Hill Apartments, LLP.

The Meridian properties were a chain of retirement homes

Leo Stegman – Total donations:  $4,000

Leo Stegman is also listed as retired and living in Highlands Ranch in Douglas County. He serves on the Board of Directors of Step Denver, a program to help low-income men with addiction issues. Like Roy Klein, Stegman maintains a low profile on the Internet. A Google search reveals very little information on his background.

Questions That Remain

There seems to be no legal restriction on allowing the ‘packaging’ of candidates by a partisan political syndicate for election to non-partisan office. This election and the sweeping power being used by the newly elected Directors of the Douglas County School District raise many questions. 

  • It is legal, but is it the intent of the election rules for non-partisan offices to be packaged and campaigned by a clearly partisan political syndicate?
  • Should a handful of donors be able to pump massive amounts of money into a local non-partisan school board to take control of a partisan agenda?
  • Who is/are the people behind the political syndicate that actually managed the four campaigns as one?
  • Since the amount donated is almost identical for all four candidates under the KidsFirstDCSD political syndicate, and since eighty percent of the money came from only seven donors, was some or all of the money coming from another source and channeled through straw figures?
  • Should there be a full investigation of the KidsFirstDCSD political syndicate and an audit of all of its records and communications, including the campaign manager and the agents of record? 

[A reminder about comments. Please read RULES ON COMMENTS.]

DNA Shock +5 Years: What I Know & Lessons Learned

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Five years ago today I was in a condo on a beach in Panama. I was on an adventure and life was great. It was my seventh and final trip to that country in less than three years. I was enjoying the warm tropical air and didn’t know I was about to have a DNA shock that would transform my life by events that happened 59 years earlier. On the 23rd of January 2017, I received an email regarding a DNA match on Ancestry.com. In checking the match I realized that this was more than finding a new cousin. This match would prove that I had a different father than the man who raised me.

Sunset in Panama on 23 January 2017. When I took this image of the setting Sun, I had just learned that I wasn’t a Kiser by blood.

The news did not impact me immediately. It took me about an hour to understand what the DNA results meant, days to realize that I had no blood connection to my last name, months to realize that my birth certificate was wrong, and years to learn who knew and when they knew.

Everyone involved in this affair has passed away. Firsthand accounts are not possible, but I have pieced together enough information to understand how this situation played out.

The Trauma of My Conception and the Resolution at Birth 

In 1957, Vernon Kiser was 37 years old and had married Frances Barrick seventeen years earlier. He had worked in a coal mine, worked on road maintenance, and even started his own small construction company with a dozer he owned. At some time around 1957, he had given up his company and began work for another small town construction company.

Frances became pregnant in the Spring of that year. According to the account of a witness, after Vernon learned of her pregnancy, he became distraught and even moved out of his house for a week or so. He knew he was not the biological father and that the real father was his boss. Everything would appear to be heading to a life-altering crisis for all involved.

However, months later, I was born. Vernon Kiser officially claimed to be my Dad on my birth certificate and he continued to work for his boss, my biological Father. Among the evidence of the reconciliation is a picture of me sitting on my biological Father’s lap when I was about seven months old. This picture was most likely taken by my Dad as he had the only camera in our family. All of this indicates that a reconciliation had been in the best interest of everyone involved.

Me sitting on my biological Father’s lap. July 1958

DNA Shock and the Aftershock 

In 2017, the DNA news was a shock, but it was also transformative. Aspects of my life and my relationship with my parents that didn’t make sense suddenly were in a new light. Despite the resolution after my birth, I believe the trauma of the event rippled through my childhood.

I was the fourth and final child born to Frances. My birthplace, Craig, was and still is a small town located in the sagebrush of northwestern Colorado’s high desert. As I grew up I had friends but none that ever lasted for more than a few years. I was a loner most of the time probably because my interests were rarely the same as most other kids my age.

The Kiser family sans me. I would have been an infant when this picture was taken.

I was the ‘Caboose Child’ of my family and I was four years younger than my next oldest brother. By the time I was in Kindergarten, my oldest brother was heading off to Vietnam, the next oldest was in high school, and my closest brother was in four years ahead of me in elementary school.

Parenting Style: Apathy or Shame?

My parents were…parents. Vernon worked all the time and Frances kept the household functioning. It wasn’t a child-centered family. I did my homework and I had a few chores, but mostly I was left to do what I wanted to do.

I eventually noticed that while my parents always attended the sports events of all three of my older brothers and the plays of my next older brother, they rarely showed support of my school activities in public.  

After I left for college, I realized that my upbringing was slightly different than many other people my age. Others had parents that were strongly connected to their children whereas my parents had been largely uninvolved. For example, some parents were enthusiastic to have their children go to college. My parents didn’t stop me from going to college but they were apathetic about it. My mother did provide some money for college but I was expected to pay my own way.

I had no other models of parents to really compare my Mom and Dad to, but over time I began to question their parenting style.

College Days. First independence.

I was frustrated at times over what I considered a lack of interest, but I finally decided that they must have been tired of being a parent by the time I came along. My mother had raised children for twelve years before I was born. By the time I graduated from high school, she had been a parent for thirty years. When I did the math, it all made sense.

Small Town Gossip

What I hadn’t considered was the possible impact of shame and embarrassment in a small town where gossip is a natural part of life. It is now apparent that many people were aware of the circumstances of my conception. Whether that shame and embarrassment became a factor in my parent’s public support of me is impossible to know. Again, I was the last child of four in the family so simple parent fatigue could be the main factor in their parenting style.

Within months after I left for college, my Dad abruptly took a demotion from a senior position at the Moffat County Road Department to live in a remote location outside of Craig. At the time, I assumed that they had a secret longing to go back to country-style living; however, now I wonder. Did my departure from their daily lives give them permission to get away from the gossip of the small town? No one will ever know the truth.  

Seeing the Bigger Picture

There are many questions that I have about my childhood, but what is significant is that I now can respect the trauma they likely endured. The irony is that they made a major sacrifice in order to do what was best for everyone involved. I don’t know how I would have reacted if I had known the truth while my parents were still alive, but I would like to think I could have appreciated my Dad’s decision to raise me as his own.

My biological Father died in a dozer rollover accident when I was a small child. It would be interesting to know how my life might have been different if he had still been around as I grew up. Once again, no one will ever know the answer.

The past five years have allowed me to reexamine my life with the knowledge of how it began. Some of my revelations have been humorous. For example, my mother kept insisting that I must have Native American (she said, Indian) blood. She maintained that my paternal grandfather was half to three-quarters Native American. He was not. In addition, my Dad was blonde-haired and blue-eyed. It was an absurd idea. Now I know that she was attempting to throw me off the trail of my true family history by feeding me false information.

The Things That I Now Understand

  1. My parents were trying to ‘save’ or ‘protect’ me by keeping the truth from me. They were also trying to protect themselves.
  2. My parents believed that I would never know the truth.
  3. It was a time and place when the truth would have been devastating to both families.
  4. It was an affair, a small town, and it happened over 60 years ago. No one needs to be ashamed or needs to try to explain why it happened.
  5. The longer I wasn’t told the truth, the harder it became to do so.

After the DNA Shock: The Lessons

  1. The measure of a person is not what happens to him or her, but by how he or she responds to the situation.
  2. All relationships must be grounded in BOTH respect and love. Love doesn’t exist without respect as the foundation.
  3. Blood is less important than the heart but blood is not unimportant. Knowing your true ancestors is part of your history. The future remains to be created.
  4. A surname and a birth certificate shouldn’t be what identifies you as a person.
  5. Knowing a secret that impacts another person but not sharing that knowledge with that person defines your relationship or lack of it with that person.

[SEE:  Familius Inturruptus to read the article I wrote a week after I learned of the DNA match.]

Solstices and Sunshine In North America

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We know that solstices are different. It’s colder around the winter solstice and warmer around the summer solstice. We also know that the days are shorter and the Sun is lower in the sky during the winter¹ and that in the summer the days are longer and the Sun is higher in the sky.

[¹In higher latitudes both north and south.]

Afternoon Sun at the Winter Solstice (2019 Reno, Nevada)

People with a high school education probably know that the seasons have to do with the tilt of the Earth’s axis and its orbit around the Sun. And every year, people living north of 30° north latitude or south of 30° south latitude also experience the differences between the summer and winter solstice.

But what does it look like?

Solstices From the Sun’s Perspective

Most of humanity has experienced the solstices from one perspective: standing on the Earth. Astronauts have been able to see Earth from a different perspective, but even they don’t have an immediate comparison of the summer and winter solstices because there is a six-month time lag between them.

Fortunately, we can use a globe and a flashlight to help us visualize the difference between the summer and winter solstice from the Sun’s perspective. Using San Francisco, California, USA as our focal point, we can see how the angle of the Sun’s radiation differs between June and December in the northern hemisphere.

Solstices Sunrise

I’ve used my son’s Kylo Ren figurine standing on the San Francisco Bay area to mark the place on the globe. It should be noted that at this scale, Kylo Ren would be twice the height of the orbit of the International Space Station (ISS).

In Images 1a and 1b, it may not be obvious what is different between the winter and summer solstices; however, in the winter, the Sun is directly over South America as the Sun rises in San Francisco. In the summer, the Sun has yet to reach the South American coast.

What is apparent is that at sunrise in San Francisco, the Sun’s angle is from the east in the summer, and in the winter, the Sun’s angle is from the southeast. 

Image 1a –                       Winter Solstice Sunrise

Image 1b –                   Summer Solstice Sunrise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[NOTE:  A flashlight does not accurately demonstrate the Sun’s light on the Earth. The light of the Sun reaches farther around the curvature of the Earth. Also, the camera is slightly to the right of the light source in these images.]

High Noon

At the point when the Sun is highest in the sky, the difference in solstices is more apparent. In the summer, the Sun is nearly directly overhead but in the winter the Sun is low in the southern sky for North America. [SEE: Images 2a & 2b]

During the winter, people in the United States may find that the Sun is directly in their eyes when facing south. We tend to connect the wearing of sunglasses in the summer, but for people driving in a southerly direction during the winter, the glaring Sun may necessitate sunglasses.

Image 2a –                          Winter Solstice Noon PST

Image 2b –                     Summer Solstice 1 pm PDT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arc In Daylight

The visual that may be best at showing the difference in the solstices is the arc of daylight experienced by a person in winter and summer. The path a person follows in San Francisco during the winter is less than two-thirds the length of the path during summer.

Most of North America crosses the fringe of the solar exposure in the winter while the summer offers a day that is two to three hours longer than on the equator. All this may seem obvious but the differences in the solstices is something that is easier to see modeled than experienced as a passenger on Earth.

Image 3a-b                                                                                        Solstices Arc of Daylight for San Francisco, California

Blindsided: End of U.S. Solar Observation Capabilities?

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The United States currently has four primary solar observation satellites keeping vigil on the activity of the Sun. They are ready to observe and test dangerous solar flares that might cripple anything that would be at risk with an electromagnetic pulse. Without them, we are left to stand on the shore of space, watching every flicker of the Sun and hoping it isn’t signaling our doom.

These four satellites do more than observe the Sun. Their orbit is at the L1 Lagrange Point directly between the Earth and the Sun. A point where Earth’s gravitational influence equals the Sun’s. These satellites will experience anything the Sun throws at Earth, hours before we will receive it.

However, all four of these satellites are operating beyond their planned lifespan and most are using technology that predates smartphones. We risk being blindsided by solar storms at the same time we are about to enter another solar maximum.

NOAA Space Weather Program Manager William Murtagh made a sheepish attempt to warn a Congressional committee in February of 2020 by saying that they would be “hurting a little bit” if one of the key satellites failed.

Extreme ultraviolet image of the Sun by SOHO

Solar Observation Satellites Today

Currently, the United States has the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE), and the Wind solar wind observatory. All three are beyond their planned mission time. DSCOVR is approaching seven years of operation of a five-year planned mission. ACE has over 24 years of operation for a planned five-year lifespan. Finally, the Wind satellite has been operational for over 27 years of a three-year planned mission.

The U.S. teamed with the European Space Agency (ESA) for the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) satellite that offers near real-time imaging of the Sun in multiple wavelengths on its website to the public. That satellite was launched in 1995 for a planned two-year mission. It has been in operation for 26 years.

There is one additional mission that was intended on giving Earth a 360° view of the Sun using two satellites, one positioned ahead of Earth’s orbit and one behind. The Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO A & B) pair of satellites were launched in 2006. STEREO B was positioned to see the activity of the Sun prior to it rotating towards Earth. STEREO A was positioned to observe the activity after it moved beyond Earth’s view.

Imaging on the STEREO website reminds us of what we don’t have.

Of the two satellites, STEREO B was critical in giving scientists on Earth advance warning of hazardous solar activities; however, we lost contact with that satellite in 2016. Both satellites exceeded their two-year expected lifespan and STEREO A is still in operation.

20+ Year Old Technology

In 2001, Windows XP was released. That program is newer than three of the four primary solar observation satellites currently in service. Smartphones didn’t even exist in the late 1900s and yet, pre-2000 technology is what we currently depend on for early warning of hazardous solar activity.

NASA has been able to squeeze every byte of usability out of our aging satellites but we are at risk of losing most, if not all, of our current solar observation capabilities. Between simple deterioration and future solar storms, we are gambling the safety of our planet with nothing to replace our eyes on the Sun until 2024 at the earliest.

Cameras, communications, and satellite technology have dramatically changed since the end of the 20th century. Our need for updating and upgrading our space-based solar observation abilities has become critical.  

The Money Problem

Both liberal and conservative politicians have made their careers on defunding our key space programs. Conservatives have done the most damage in the aerospace field by slashing NASA programs that don’t blow up or ram something while also filling NASA with people who bend to their will.

At the same time, conservatives have drained the federal government of money for publically controlled space programs and given it to commercial space programs that shield their operations from public scrutiny. The result has been to create Soviet-like space programs that seek to profit off reinventing what we were already able to do decades ago with a government-run space program. 

A Perfect Storm

The risk of a severe coronal mass ejection (CME) that would overload our satellites, electrical transmission wires, cars, computers, phones, etc., increases during the solar maximum that occurs approximately every eleven years. Scientists have been surprised by the early start of the new solar cycle that will reach maximum activity around June of 2023.

Aging satellites, outdated technology, lack of funding for replacement satellites, and an increased risk of solar activity, all create the perfect storm of factors that could lead to the United States having a reduced capability to issue warnings of severe solar weather. In fact, we are probably already too late to do anything about it.  

Inspiration4: A Waste of Space Exploration

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I’m a supporter of space exploration. In fact, I believe that space exploration is the stimulus we need to advance our economy, our technology, and our educational systems. It’s an understatement to say I’m a fan of space exploration, but SpaceX’s latest public relations stunt, Inspiration4, is not space exploration. It’s a waste of space exploration.

A Soviet-style glorification campaign

Glorifying Them to Glorify SpaceX

One might have sympathy for the three passengers of the Inspiration4 crew that have been gifted the ride. They have had to endure countless posed photo sessions for SpaceX. They also have probably signed a confidentiality waiver that restricts them from making any statements without SpaceX’s approval.

However, they are getting a three-day joy ride in space. That is probably worth selling their souls for as a trade, but the winner in this bargain is SpaceX. 

Desperate For Attention

SpaceX has a major problem and it started in 2019. From 2012 to 2018, SpaceX was growing its customer payload business. In 2018, they had 21 launches for commercial or government customers. They also hadn’t had a failure in over two years. That changed in 2019 when they dropped to eleven customer payload launches.

SpaceX ramped up its Starlink program as customer contracts collapsed. Those launches were paid for by SpaceX but every booster landing kept them in the news. The next year they only had twelve customer-paid launches but SpaceX launched 14 Starlink missions. That gave them the appearance of being a successful for-profit company even though less than half of their launches were actually revenue-producing.

The Inspiration4 mission gives them three things they desperately need: 1) public attention, 2) another rocket launch to add to their tally and, 3) revenue.  SpaceX is playing out its role in a 70s-style movie as the dystopian corporation. It will do anything to look successful.   

Ah, Uhm,…Inspiration4 is…Ah, Important Because…

What the mission lacks is a reason to do it. Space.com writer Mike Wall wrote an article (Why SpaceX’s Inspiration4 Private Mission to Earth Orbit is so Important) this week attempting to explain the importance of the Inspiration4 mission. It was a hard sell.

Wall said that the mission hoped to raise $200 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The billionaire Inspiration4 crew member Jared Isaacman has promised to put up $100 million to the charity. The rest of the money was to be raised through the raffle of two of the seats on Inspiration4 and donations. The seat raffle fell well short of its goal.

The article points out that this will be the first mission without a professional astronaut chaperoning the crew. From launch to splashdown, SpaceX will control the flight. Wall suggests that this will open the door for space tourism and then later admits:

Orbital space tourism will almost certainly be the exclusive province of the extremely wealthy for a long time to come…

He also notes that SpaceX will gain new clout as a space tourism company but in 16 paragraphs, Wall fails to make a convincing argument for the need of the mission. He suggests that we should all have a feel-good moment because of Inspiration4 and then begins his closing with a shrug:

We don’t know what our current moment will lead to.

Wall was attempting to be positive about the mission but the reality is that this mission is all about what is going on behind the curtain at SpaceX. It is a waste of space exploration.

A Representative Democracy: It’s NOT All About You

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“You Represent ME, Dammit!!!!”

One of the most misunderstood and abused aspects about elected officials is that it is her or his job to represent the individual. The deeper you dig into that concept, the more absurd it becomes. Even under minimal consideration, the idea is ridiculous. How can one person represent the individual needs, wants, and hopes of every citizen?

A Representative Democracy:  Senators of the 117th Congress

Simple Explanations Fail a Representative Democracy

A representative democracy, or a republic, is a very complex idea, formed over thousands of years. It allows individuals to have a say in his or her laws, rules, and policies, but it does not mean that every individual will be satisfied with the outcome.

However, many people think that politicians are to represent only their point of view. That explanation fails to describe the actual responsibilities of an elected official.

Unfortunately, those with limited education may prefer simpler explanations of complex concepts. News media and public relations professionals often ‘dumb down’ information to a sixth-grade reading level. If they don’t, that person may not stay engaged and fail to grasp the information.

However, a simple explanation may pacify a person’s need to know, but fail to adequately inform. This gives a false feeling that one understands the full scope of the problem or idea; however, this is not the case

The Dunning-Kruger Effect on a Citizen’s Competence

Understanding the role of an elected official based on a citizen’s knowledge of a representative democracy

In 1995, a man spread lemon juice on his face and robbed two banks, believing that the lemon juice would make his face invisible to security cameras. He knew that lemon juice could be used as invisible ink on paper and he was confident it would work the same on his face. This is an example of illusory superiority studied by David Dunning and Justin Kruger. Their work led to the theory of the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect indicates that a person’s confidence in understanding a concept or problem leaps upon learning a little information. Confidence typically drops significantly with more information; however, confidence then improves as the person becomes more informed.

The common misunderstanding a representative democracy is a good example of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Most citizens have a simple understanding of the role of an elected official. They may believe that the role of a politician is to represent only his or her interests. This belief can result in dissatisfaction when a politician doesn’t appease their point of view. 

What IS the Role of an Elected Official in a Representative Democracy?

An elected official is to represent the best interests of all of the citizens in his/her district. Not only the ones that voted for her or him but all the citizens. It may be obvious, but not everyone holds the same values, nor has the same vision, so some may not agree with every choice a politician makes on their behalf.

But a representative democracy has further complications. If any of the citizens sought to create laws and policies that could potentially harm others, a politician should not assist them. For example, if a group of citizens sought a law to require three eyewitnesses to a rape, a politician would be wrong to represent that point of view. It would mean that almost every rape would be unprovable in court and all women would be at risk. Even if it is the view of the majority, a politician is duty-bound to act in the best interest of all citizens.

A politician’s role can be stated simply; however, it differs from common beliefs:

An elected official’s role is to serve the best interests of her or his constituency to the best of their ability, ignoring political ideologies, biases of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, or creed.

 

How to Spot and Stop a Russian Troll

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Who Is This Guy?

Last month I tweeted that a Nevada school district didn’t close schools unless the air quality index from wildfire smoke was over 400. It was noteworthy because the bottom limit of ‘Unhealthy Air Quality’ is 150. The 400 threshold is deep into what is considered hazardous to healthy adults, let alone to the small lungs of children. To my surprise, I had an odd response to my tweet. His/her tactics were interesting and exposed themself as likely a Russian Troll.

Russian Troll farms seek out the gullible in the United States

Signs of a Disinformation Agent

The response to my tweet was innocent enough. She/he asked me what was the difference between the air at home and the air at school. The question simplified the issue and ignored the complexities of children being exposed to hazardous air multiple times between home to school. I offered my response to the question and instantly he/she responded with another tweet that ignored my response and ask the same question but in different words. That was when I became suspicious.

The Priority of a Russian Troll

A Russian troll is not seeking to argue but rather to sow the seeds of doubt. Their primary goal is to establish a political division between people. They work subtly and use simple questions that ignore the complex realities of a problem. If someone counters the response with an answer that exposes the complex issues, they often counter by asking a similar question that ignores the response. They will then keep this strategy up. This tends to rally those that like simple solutions to problems, typically the uneducated social media cohort.

Another strategy Russian trolls use is to post a meme that is ‘uplifting‘ but leaves the audience with of feeling that someone or some group, typically a middle-class caucasian is struggling against an insensitive or arrogant government or liberal. They often highlight the little person waging against the oppression of ‘intellectuals.’ It’s a common theme in Soviet Russian history. 

How Did I Know It Was a Russian Troll? 

After researching his/her Twitter account it became apparent that this was likely a Russian Troll. Here are the indicators I use to identify a Russian troll:

  1. The response to a tweet or posting is out of the blue and the responder is a complete stranger. A hashtagged tweet can have unknown people respond, but a responder that is not a follower or friend is a red flag. 
  2. The responder will not seem like they are arguing but rather they ask questions that oversimplify a complex issue and might stimulate the emotions of an uneducated, middle-class white person.
  3. A near instant response. Trolls are paid to be watching and interacting.
  4. The responder’s account has no information about who they are or where they live.
  5. The responder’s social media account is less than a few months old, likely less than a few weeks but has lots of posts or tweets. In this case, he/she had over 200 tweets for an account that was only two weeks old. A major red flag.
  6. The responder’s posts and/or tweets on their account don’t indicate any type of personal life. Their post typically consists of memes and/or retweets published by others. Most of those memes or retweets will subtly promote fear or present a one-time example of unfairness that might provoke sympathy or anger about the situation.

How To Stop a Russian Troll

In my case, my next response to them was a reply that told them I suspected that they were a Russian Troll and then I reported the account to Twitter. By the time I went back to look at the account again, it was deleted. This all took place within a few minutes.

SpaceX COO Shotwell: It’s the Fault of Those Pesky Space Lasers

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Shotwell and Space Lasers

On Monday, 24 August, SpaceX’s President/Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell felt the need to explain why SpaceX hasn’t had a Starlink mission since late May. Her response seemed to be taken from the playbook of Georgia’s Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene in 2018 when she suggested the cause of the wildfires in the West: It’s the fault of space lasers.

Taking a page from Marjorie Tayor Greene

Methinks the SpaceX Lady Doth Protest Too Much

At the 36th Annual Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Shotwell participated in a panel discussion about the pros and cons of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) technology. She volunteered that SpaceX has ‘paused’ the Starlink program. She said that the company has been struggling to launch Starlink missions because “…we wanted the next set to have the laser terminals on them…” 

This panel discussion was not to discuss why SpaceX has not launched a Starlink mission in three months (the last Starlink launch was 26 May) and considering the pain that the company goes through to craft their message, the acknowledgment of the problem and its cause, was not accidental. SpaceX is aware that their lack of appearance on the launch pad is not going unnoticed. 

“…Better-Than-Nothing Beta Service…”

Shotwell spent a good portion of her time on the panel offering excuses for SpaceX’s underperforming Starlink internet service. She noted that the beta program has been nothing to brag about, stating for those that hadn’t tried it, “…we’ve rolled out better-than-nothing beta service…”

Lowering expectations while patting themselves on the back is a strategy that SpaceX has developed into a fine art. The occasional self-deprecating comment to disarm any question of overstating the capabilities of their programs in the past or shortfalls in what they promised has won over many who see SpaceX as the darlings of space exploration.

Facts Ignored By Shotwell

Shotwell could have given several reasons for the three-month lag in SpaceX launches; however, her comments raise several questions about what is really happening with the company and Starlink.

One:  Lack of Flight-Ready Boosters

As of 1 July, SpaceX had eight usable boosters (1049, 1051, 1058, 1060, 1061, 1062, 1063, and 1067.) One of those boosters (1051) had completed the design limit of ten flights, but SpaceX mastermind Elon Musk had stated that implied that they would not refurbish boosters beyond the ten flights and would fly them until they break.

All of those boosters had flown a mission in either May or June. The average turnaround time for a Block 5 booster in 2021 is 95 days or roughly three months. Twice SpaceX’s turnaround time for a booster was 27 days; however, occurred early in the year. The turnaround time in the May and June missions all exceeded 60 days.

In addition, two of the boosters (1049 and 1051) were moved to Vandenberg Space Force Base (VSFB) after their last flight. This added to the turnaround time.

Based on the turnaround history for SpaceX’s boosters, it would be extremely unlikely that they could have had any boosters ready for launch in July even though they tentatively scheduled booster 1049 to launch on a polar orbit launch for the Starlink satellite system.

Shotwell’s comment about the delay may be targeted toward that flight and the next polar orbit flight (Booster 1051?) from VSFB. It does not explain the total absence of all SpaceX launches in July and most of August.

Two:  Cheap Lasers Causing Problems?

In April of this year, Shotwell explained that the first prototype lasers had been too expensive and they were going with cheaper lasers for the next Starlink satellites.

The first ones that we flew were very expensive. The second round of technology that we flew was less expensive,” she said…A third generation of laser intersatellite links will start flying “in the next few months…being “much less expensive” than earlier versions.

Shotwell quoted in SpaceNews

Perhaps cheaper lasers are not a better solution?

Three:  Shotwell’s Credibility Gap

The Chief Operations Officer is either not always well informed or she is prone to exaggeration. In either case, she is not the most credible source of information on SpaceX. 

In May of 2019, she boasted that SpaceX would have three to seven Starlink missions and 18 to 21 other missions for 2019. For all of 2019, SpaceX had only two Starlink missions and eleven other missions for a total of thirteen. She projected twice the number of launches than SpaceX actually had in 2019…and she did it five months into the year.

Rocket launches are not a plan-on-a-Monday-launch-on-a-Friday type scenario. They involve years of planning and coordination with multiple players before the rocket engines ignite. Someone that is well informed should be able to know where each mission is in the process and how many of those missions will be ready for launch in the next few months. As Chief OPERATIONS Officer, it would seem her job would involve having a realistic idea of what was feasible in the current year.

In September of the same year, she said she hoped for 24 Starlink launches in 2020. SpaceX had only 14.

Four:  Starlink is a White Elephant Waiting to Die

While SpaceX continues to press the magic of Starlink’s future, the reality is that it is costing them big money to keep putting up satellites that can only be characterized as “better than nothing.”

Doing The Math

Currently, they have launched 28 missions resulting in about 1,700 Starlink satellites in orbit. The full constellation will be as many as 42,000 according to FCC documents. Each satellite has a lifespan of five years. That means that every five years SpaceX will have to replace all 42,000 satellites in the constellation.

Currently, the Falcon 9 can carry 60 satellites at a time. So, to replace the entire constellation every five years SpaceX will have to launch 700 Starlink missions every five years. That’s 140 launches every year or 11 launches per month to replace the expired satellites. 

SpaceX’s response to this is that they hope to launch as many as 400 satellites per mission on the Starship booster. That brings the numbers down but it is still will require 105 Starship missions every five years or 21 launches per year just to maintain the Starlink system. This doesn’t include the ongoing cost of the ground support systems.

The numbers just don’t add up. This is a system that will cost billions to operate and maintain even if they can improve the quality of the better than nothing service. 

To Be Fair

Shotwell didn’t necessarily lie about the reasons for the pause in Starlink launches. She mentioned lasers and a shortage of oxygen as the reasons for the three-month pause. Those excuses may be valid; however, Starlink’s problems are bigger than lasers or a lack of oxygen…but Shotwell doesn’t talk about that because it might end their flying Starlink circus.

SpaceX Ran Out of Block 5 Boosters

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The Barn Was Empty, SpaceX Ran Out of Block 5 Boosters

SpaceX activity has been quiet in July and August because they simply ran out of Falcon 9 Block 5 boosters. In June they successfully launched four of their seven pure revenue-producing flights of this year. That, combined with four launches in May for their white elephant Starlink program [SEE:  Must Sell Starlink], left them with nothing to put in the air. 

The Starship Stack Diversion

They did grab the attention of the SpaceX groupies by stacking a non-flightworthy Starship on a booster in Boca Chica. This allowed them to claim that they finally build a rocket taller than the Apollo Saturn Five rocket…of 50 years ago; however, SpaceX has still not launched a functioning rocket that can rival the Saturn Five.

Heavy lift Rockets and number of successful launches to date.

SpaceX Block Five Returns To Work?

Late this month, SpaceX has a launch scheduled to deliver a cargo ship to the International Space Station (ISS) if they have a booster ready. They currently have eight flyable boosters (1049, 1051, 1060, 1061, 1062, 1063, and 1067;) however, booster 1051 is beyond its ten flight limit¹ and both 1049 and 1051 are now in California awaiting Starlink polar launches from Vandenberg Space Force Base. The most likely candidate boosters for the ISS cargo ship are 1058 or 1063. Both were launched in May and have had three months be readied for flight.

[¹The Block 5 boosters were designed for ten launches without refurbishment. Recently, According to Spaceflight Now, Elon Musk stated that they would fly the boosters for the Starlink program beyond ten missions “…until they break…” indicating the risk of losing the payload is a low priority.]

2021 4th Quarter – What To Expect

There are 17 SpaceX missions rumored for the remainder of 2021. Some of these missions are definitely planned and a few actually have dates and/or boosters assigned. Here is a list of the missions:

August (yes, I know that it is not in the 4th Quarter)

28 August – ISS cargo ship from Kennedy Space Center (KSC) – Booster 1061

LIKELY – [NOTE:  At the time of publication, the booster had not been identified.] The only question on this launch is why the booster has not been determined. SpaceX has a policy of not offering details of missions to the public, but usually, the booster assignment is eventually revealed in public documents or by SpaceX unofficial sources. At this late date, it is assumed that the booster has been assigned and is ready to be mated with the cargo ship.

September

September (x2) – Starlink Polar from Vandenberg Space Force Base (VSFB) – Boosters 1049 and 1051.

LIKELY – This mission has been pushed back from July and August. Booster 1049 arrived at VSFB for this mission shortly after its last launch and recovery in May. If it doesn’t launch in September something is wrong. Booster 1051 arrived at VSFB a couple of weeks after 1049. It is possible both missions will be launched in September, but I wouldn’t be shocked if the 1051 mission didn’t happen until October.

15 September – Shift4 Joy Ride from KSC – Booster 1062

LIKELY – Although no booster has been assigned, several should be available for the public relations stunt. It will be a PR boost for SpaceX and they have every reason to make it happen as scheduled. 

September 2021, November 2021, & TBD 2021 – Starlink from KSC – Boosters unknown

QUESTIONABLE – SpaceX has launched 27 missions for their Starlink satellites in 2020 and 2021. That is 27 booster cycles that weren’t used for commercially viable launches. Three of those launches ended with the loss of the booster which cut short the revenue potential of additional launches with those boosters. SpaceX could reduce the risk of future booster losses by using Block 5 boosters that have finished their design lifespan of ten launches for the Starlink missions.

However, SpaceX has now moved their two Block 5 boosters with the most launches (Booster 1051 – 10 launches & Booster 1049 – 9 launches) to VSFB in California. It is unlikely they will move these boosters back to Florida this year. That means if a Starlink mission is launched, SpaceX will have to use a newer booster and risk its loss. It is unlikely that all three missions will be launched if any are launched.

October

31 October – ISS Crew from KSC – Booster 1067

LIKELY – The fact that this is a revenue-producing flight, that it involves the crew for the ISS, and that it is a NASA mission, is reflected by the fact that it already has a scheduled date and a booster assigned.

October – German spy satellite from VSFB – Booster unknown

QUESTIONABLE – Unless SpaceX is intending on risking a revenue-producing payload on the overextended 1051 booster, they don’t have a booster at Vandenberg for this mission. Certainly, they could move a booster to California or use the new 1069 booster, but this mission has no date, nor booster assigned. An October launch seems iffy.

October –  U.S. spy satellite from KSC – Boosters 1064, 1065, & 1066 (Falcon Heavy)

LIKELY – Boosters are tested and ready. It’s a classified mission and the core booster has to be expended to get the payload into a higher orbit. This is not one for a PR show but it is a mission that they need to show potential commercial and military customers that SpaceX is not just a flying circus.

November

17 November – IXPE satellite from KSC – Booster unknown

LIKELY – Since this mission has a launch date three months in advance it would seem that this is a serious mission. There should be several boosters that will be available.

23 November – DART satellite from VSFB – Booster unknown

LIKELY – This will be an interesting booster assignment. The payload has to go into a heliocentric orbit so it is possible, or even likely, that the booster will be expended. That might be a mission they would assign a booster like 1049 or 1051 as both will have had more launches than they were designed for originally.

December

4 December – ISS cargo ship from KSC – Booster unknown

LIKELY – The mission has a date and the ISS needs its cargo, so this is likely to happen but the date might slide by a few weeks, as in the past.

December – O3b mPower satellites from KSC – Booster unknown

QUESTIONABLE – SpaceX has a long history of putting missions on a tentative schedule and then pushing them back. SpaceX will have to divide its boosters up between Vandenberg and Kennedy Space Center to meet their launch schedule. It would seem that at least three boosters will have to be in California to meet the needs of their customers.

December – Transporter3 from VSFB – Booster unknown

QUESTIONABLE – This will depend upon how many boosters are committed to California. SpaceX seems to be making noises about going big at Vandenberg and the schedule indicates that intention. Unfortunately, SpaceX doesn’t have enough boosters to divide between two launch facilities, and moving them around costs money.

4th Quarter – Turksat 5B from KSC – Booster unknown

NOPE – The kiss of death on a SpaceX schedule is for it to be scheduled for ‘sometime in X quarter.’ It seems to be a schedule filler for SpaceX PR people to refer to when they discuss the number of launches planned for the year. 

4th Quarter – Maxar Technologies satellites from VSFB – Booster unknown

NOPE – Same as the Turksat mission. It probably won’t happen in 2021.

5 Reasons SpaceX Must Sell Starlink

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Since the start of 2019, slightly over half¹ of SpaceX’s launches have been for the Starlink satellite network. The idea of becoming a worldwide provider of Internet service with a constellation of flashy satellites that people can see crossing the sky after launch has been a welcome boost for the SpaceX fan club. The image of boosters coming back for a perfect touchdown has provided a great cover for the reality that may be lurking behind the SpaceX curtain…SpaceX must sell Starlink. 

¹[Starlink = 29 launches, Commercial and Government = 28 launches]

Starlink satellite rack ready to deploy

5 Reasons SpaceX Should Sell Starlink

1.  Cashflow

In a previous article, I argue that SpaceX is not doing what is required to keep a business viable, that is to make money. [SpaceX “Burning Through Cash” and Boosters] In 2018, all 21 of SpaceX launches were revenue-producing (100% for a paying customer) flights for either commercial or government customers. That dropped to 11 revenue-producing flights in 2019, and 12 in 2020. In the first six months of this year, SpaceX has only launched 5 revenue-producing flights. 

The drastic cut in revenue-producing flights in 2019 raises questions as to why SpaceX couldn’t find customers. Possibly in response, SpaceX ramped up their pet Starlink project in 2020 to maintain the public image of a busy private space enterprise.

However, that image does not come without its costs. Each Starlink launch is estimated to cost $111 million² [Morgan Stanley report Sept 2019.] That number is disputed [NextBigFuture article Dec 2019] by SpaceX; however, they don’t offer to disclose the real costs of the system. If the costs per launch were only $100 million, SpaceX will have spent $2.9 billion since 2019 on the Starlink launches. 

Revenue from the users of the Starlink system is not expected to break even with the costs for several years so SpaceX looks to be in a serious cashflow deficit.

²[$50 million for vehicle + ($1 million per satellite x 60) = $111 million]

2.  Weak Market Base

Despite the fact that the Internet has been around for over two decades, there is no significant use of satellite-based Internet services. Space allows greater access to users; however, the cost/benefit comparison makes ground-based systems a better option.

The target market is the rural user that can’t easily access a broadband connection and this market consists of users with the least spendable income. There is a great need for quality Internet service in rural areas; however, rural area economies don’t provide the financial resources to pay for it.

Starlink is a service that is like selling food to starving people. The need is there, but if the people could afford it, they wouldn’t be starving. 

What 1,500 Starlink satellites look like in orbit. There will be 30,000.

3.  Liability

Starlink has already run into controversy about the impact of the massive satellite system. Astronomers worldwide have voiced complaints about the network interfering with the scientific study of space from Earth-based telescopes. SpaceX has attempted to lessen the impact of the reflectivity of the satellites and they have become less obvious in orbit.

There has also been an incident in 2019, where a request was made by the European Space Agency (ESA) to alter the orbit of a Starlink satellite and the Starlink operator refused to comply. SpaceX claims they initially felt the threat was not a concern, then later realized that it was; however, because of a communications breakdown between SpaceX and the Starlink operator, they failed to act. [Forbes article Sept 2019]

With tens of thousands of satellites and scores of launches every year to build and maintain the constellation, the risk of a significant incident is high. The possibility of a collision would not only impact the satellites involved but would send debris out toward other satellites creating the nightmare scenario that was the plot of the 2013 movie Gravity.

Whoever operates the Starlink constellation takes on the liability of an accident that has global implications. 

4.  Risk of Failure

The Starlink satellite system is a long-term, high-risk gamble both financially and technologically. The logic of how such a system will be economically feasible seems to be flawed. It is a business venture that seems likely to leave someone holding the bag…and the bag may be filled with debt and public humiliation. 

The Starlink Constellation: 30,000 moving parts, traveling at 28,000 km/hr, operating 24/7/365. What could possibly go wrong?

5.  Cost of Maintenance

Based on the Morgan Stanley analysis, the initial cost of the full 30,000 Starlink satellite system will be somewhere between $40 and $50 billion but the cost doesn’t end there.

Each satellite’s lifespan is only five years according to SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell [CNBC.com article Nov 2019.] That would seem to indicate that SpaceX may be continuously launching satellites for the life of the constellation.

But SpaceX is Rolling In Money!

SpaceX has been successful in obtaining venture capital; however, the investors expect a return on their investment. If SpaceX can’t make a profit, there will be consequences.

What about the rumored IPO?

An Initial Public Offering (IPO) of Starlink has been talked about by Musk, Shotwell, and the financial community; however, an IPO means that SpaceX will still be responsible for the costs and risks of Starlink. Selling Starlink allows SpaceX to wash their hands of it and recoup the money they’ve already spent.

Starlink has done what it needed it to do. It has given SpaceX the image of a successful private space corporation. SpaceX will likely be in desperate need of money to keep operations functioning for all of the existing projects. Starlink will likely become a liability and finding someone to dump it on is the best-case scenario for SpaceX. 

SpaceX “Burning Through Cash” and Boosters

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Where You Spend Your Money…

There is an adage that suggests that where you spend your time and/or money indicates what is your priority. In 2021, SpaceX’s priorities have been on launching Starlink satellites, testing Starships, and developing a rocket launch facility in Texas. SpaceX is burning through money with a priority of spending, not making money.

SpaceX Starship Failure

That is a great plan if you have tax revenues to fund your expenses, but SpaceX isn’t a government operation. It is a private company…that isn’t making money.

SpaceX doesn’t share its financial situation so people have to look at what they are doing to get an idea of what is happening with their cash flow. What we can see is that in 2021, SpaceX:

  1. has had 17 launches this year, 13 of which are non-revenue producing (in the immediate future) Starlink launches.
  2. has had 4 Starship non-revenue test launches, 3 unsuccessful landings, and 1 landing that resulted in a fire that damaged the ship.
  3. is engaged in massive non-revenue infrastructure expenditures on developing Boca Chica launch facilities in Texas.
  4. has only had 4 revenue-producing commercial flights so far.

Regarding SpaceX’s spending on the Starlink buildup, Nicholas Rossolillo, said,

…it’s safe to say Starlink is burning through cash. 

The Motley Fool – 9 March 2021

A Lack of Customers Or Ignoring Customers?

Beyond the money issue, SpaceX is burning through boosters. At a time when SpaceX needs revenue, they have used their Block 5 booster inventory to send up Starlink satellites that will not have a financial return for years, if ever. Paying customers have to wonder if their payloads are a SpaceX priority.

22 Boosters * 10 Launches Each = 220 Launches

The selling point to the public about SpaceX’s launch system is the reusable Falcon 9 Block 5 booster; however, reusable doesn’t mean infinite. Since 2018, SpaceX has built (or in the process of building) 22 Block 5 boosters. These launch-and-return boosters are intended to be used ten times. That should result in 220 launches with this inventory of boosters.

Minus Seven For Falcon Heavy

Yet, seven of the 22 are for use in a configuration of three for the Falcon Heavy rocket. This means that three boosters are used for one launch. Since there have only been two Falcon Heavy launches for large payloads, (plus one more now scheduled for October,) SpaceX actually has only 15 boosters for normal payloads. This gives them the potential of 150 launches.

SpaceX Double Stick Landing of Falcon Heavy Side Boosters

Minus Another Seven That Are Now Unusable

Seven of the remaining 15 boosters have been destroyed or lost. Those seven completed only 24 launches of a potential 70, during their use. That leaves eight boosters that are currently available for active use. Those eight boosters have completed 41 launches of a potential of 80 launches. 

Four Boosters Have a Combined Total of Six Launches Left

However, of those eight active boosters, one has reached its ten launch maximum, one has nine launches, one has eight launches, and one has seven launches. That means four of the active boosters only have six launches before they reach their ten-launch maximum.

SpaceX has suggested that they will continue to use the boosters beyond the ten launches maximum; however, it is unclear whether the FAA will allow SpaceX to go beyond the maximum.

Only Four Boosters Available by the End of The Year

As the year winds down, SpaceX will be down to four Block 5 boosters that aren’t near their maximum launch limit and each takes a minimum of 30 to 40 days to turnaround for another launch. The launches in the last half of November will leave no boosters left for the rest of the 2021 launch schedule. The situation becomes worse if they fail to land a booster that has not reached its ten launch maximum.

More Boosters?

SpaceX’s situation would improve if they can put another booster in the inventory. The problem is that the Falcon Heavy core booster that is scheduled for launch in October will be expended to push the customer’s satellite into a higher orbit. Of the next two boosters in production, one is rumored to be a replacement core booster for the next Falcon Heavy launch in 2022.

In addition, the maximum number of boosters SpaceX has built in a calendar year is six, and last year they only produced five new boosters. Another standard Falcon 9 Block 5 booster seems unlikely. 

SkyFall For SpaceX?

SpaceX lovers tend to avoid taking a hard look at the money question. It is easy to be sucked in by the cool onboard videos, the booster landings, and the spectacular explosive failures, but at some point, the bills have to be paid and in 2021, SpaceX doesn’t have a visible income to pay for the fantasy they’ve created. 

NEXT:  Is SpaceX Looking To Sell Starlink?

By The Numbers

SpaceX Booster Inventory

Block 5 Booster:  Out of Service (9)

Booster      Launches     Reason         Date

  • B1046          4x              NLA        19 Jan 2020
  • B1047          3x               NLA         6 Aug 2019
  • B1048          5x                LF         18 Mar 2020
  • B1050          1x                 LF           5 Dec 2018
  • B1054          1x                 LF         23 Dec 2018
  • B1055          1x                PLF         11 Apr 2019 (FHC*)
  • B1056          4x                LF          17 Feb 2020
  • B1057          1x                 LF          25 Jun 2019 (FHC*)
  • B1059          6x                LF          16 Feb 2021

[Key:  NLA – no landing attempted   LF – Landing Failure  PLF – Post Landing Failure]

Block 5 Booster:  Unusable or MIA (2)

Booster    Launches    Reason     Last Launch

  • B1052        2x             FHS*        25 Jun 2019
  • B1053        2x             FHS*        25 Jun 2019

Block 5 Booster:  New (3)

Booster    Type    First Launch 

  • B1064     FHS       Oct 2021
  • B1065     FHS       Oct 2021
  • B1066     FHC       Oct 2021

Block 5 Booster Inventory:  Available? (8?)

Booster    Launches   Last LauncNext Launch  Next Possible Launch

  • B1049        9x          4 May 2021        July 2021(?)¹       Retired?²
  • B1051      10x           9 May 2021             UKN                    Retired?²
  • B1058        8x         15 May 2021             UKN                24 Jun 2021
  • B1060        7x         29 Apr 2021         24 Jun 2021         3 Aug 2021
  • B1061        3x            6 Jun 2021              UKN                  16 Jul 2021
  • B1062        1x          17 Jun 2021              UKN                  27 Jul 2021
  • B1063        2x         26 May 2021            UKN                    4 Jul 2021
  • B1067        1x            3 Jun 2021           23 Oct 2021          2 Dec 2021

*Booster Type

  • FHC – Falcon Heavy Core Booster
  • FHS – Falcon Heavy Side Booster
  • F9B5 – Falcon 9 Block 5

¹Must be moved to Vandenberg Air Force Base

²Has reached the maximum of 10 launches

SpaceX Remaining 2021 Launches

         Date       Booster   Poss. Booster  Location    Revenue?    Gov’t?

  1. 17 Jun 2021   B1062                                     FL               Yes             Yes
  2. 24 Jun 2021   B1060                                    FL                Yes             No
  3.  July 2021?    B1049                                     CA                No              No
  4.  July 2021?     UNK            B1058              UNK             No              No
  5. 18 Aug 2021   UNK            B1063                FL               Yes             Yes
  6.  Aug 2021?     UNK            B1061                 FL               No              No
  7. 15 Sep 2021   UNK            B1062                 FL               Yes             No
  8.   Sept 2021?   UNK            B1060                CA               Yes             Yes
  9.   Sept 2021?   UNK              ??                       CA               Yes             Yes
  10.   Sept 2021?   UNK            B1058                FL                No              No
  11.   Q3 2021?     UNK             B1063                 FL               Yes             No
  12. 23 Oct 2021   B1067                                      FL               Yes             Yes
  13.   Oct 2021?    B1064-66                               FL                Yes            Yes
  14.   Oct 2021?    UNK             B1061                 FL                Yes            Yes
  15. 17 Nov 2021  UNK             B1062                FL                Yes            Yes
  16. 24 Nov 2021  UNK             B1060                CA                Yes            Yes
  17.    Nov 2021?  UNK             B1063                 FL                 No             No
  18.  4 Dec 2021   UNK             B1061                 FL                 Yes            Yes
  19.   Dec 2021?   UNK             B1067                 CA                 Yes            No
  20.    Q4 2021?   UNK           None Avail.           FL                 Yes            No
  21.    Q4 2021?   UNK           None Avail.           CA                 Yes           No

Janet Devlin vs. Janet Devlin

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Album and Book REVIEW:  Confessional [album] and My Confessional [book] by Janet Devlin

The Case For and Against Janet Devlin

Your Honor, if it pleases the court, I would like to prove that Janet Devlin is highly intelligent and that she deliberately and systematically has used her intelligence to attack and humiliate Janet Devlin to cause both mental and physical harm.

Someone who produces both an album, titled Confessional and a corresponding book, titled My Confessional, as Ms. Devlin has done, is not of below-average nor even average intelligence. The feat itself proves my contention of higher than average intelligence, brilliant creativity, and an artistic skillset that exceeds the capabilities of most humans. 

In 2011, Ms. Devlin, at the age of 16, gained worldwide fame with a viral performance of Elton John’s, Your Song on Britain’s The X Factor television show. The official video of this performance has over 40 million views. Again, proof of her outstanding intelligence and abilities.

I contend that Ms. Devlin has used her intelligence against Janet. I contend that Ms. Devlin knows that Janet is so intelligent and talented that she perceives almost limitless possibilities and that Ms. Devlin has deceived Janet into believing that if she does not succeed at everything she might see as a possibility, then she has failed.

Further, Ms. Devlin has relentlessly humiliated and shamed Janet by degrading her, forcing her into addictive coping behaviors, and instilling a belief in failure.

The Evidence

Ms. Devlin has admitted to her acts against Janet. In her album, Ms. Devlin admits her sins against Janet. In her book, Janet details the acts that Ms. Devlin convinced her to do to herself.

Of the twelve songs in the album, almost all expose, in raw emotion, the savage cruelty beset upon a child and then a woman by Ms. Devlin. Her mind driven into depression by the belief of failure. In this album alone there is ample proof that Ms. Devlin has tortured Janet for most of her life.

In the twelve chapters of the book, Ms. Devlin writes of using self-doubt to cripple the efforts of Janet to the point that she took to seclusion and alcohol to cope with her feelings of inadequacy. One only has to listen to the music and read the words to know the truth.

The Defense For Janet Devlin

Your Honor, as I represent both the Plaintiff and the Defendant, I must admit that Ms. Devlin admits to her behavior. She has confessed in both word and song to her crimes. She, in fact, has used both the album and book to not only reveal the truth to all that will listen, but she has also gone so far as to bring awareness of how a highly intelligent and talented person can be lost in depression and self-abuse.

Though her actions are reprehensible, the final act of exposing the truth to the world may have a greater impact on Janet and anyone who faces the emotional and physical trauma caused by depression and addiction.

For this reason, I ask that the court grant a reconciliation between Ms. Devlin and Janet on the condition that any further acts of abuse, humiliation, or shame be dealt with quickly and severely. The Prosecution and Defense rest…so that we may listen to the album again. 

Review – Album:  Confessional, Book:  My Confessional

Release: 5 June 2020 Album:  Insomnia Music, Book by Omnibus Press 

Album Category:  Pop, some Gaelic influences

The raw truth of Janet Devlin’s life is disturbing; however, the album, Confessional, that lyrically exposes her internal battle is not a collection of morose songs. The listener might not realize that some songs deal with dark subjects of depression, self-harm, and addiction. This makes the album more than just a confessional, but a highly crafted artistic canvas of emotion and music.

The album begins with an anthem that announces the scope and purpose of the music collection. With one exception, the tracks lyrically stay true to the theme of the anthem. The exception is Big Wide World that is almost a giddy emotional outburst from the rest of the album. Musically, songs such as Cinema Screen, Away With The Fairies, and Holy Water, have an upbeat feel, while other songs carry a softer and/or somber tone. This gives the album a balanced feel that combats the serious, and sometimes disturbing, lyrics of many of the songs. 

Book Category:  Autobiography  [Book Format: Hardcover]

The twelve chapters of the book share the title and order of the songs on the album; however, this is not a “why-I-wrote-this-song” book. Each chapter seems to loosely relate to the album but not in a way that is overt. Ms. Devlin uses prose to tell the story of her life in the book and uses lyrical poetry and music on the album to give an emotional feel to that story. 

The blending of the album and book creates a deep connection to the hidden life of someone betrayed and shredded by a twisted reflection of herself. The book doesn’t allow the reader to be a casual participant. The experiences of depression, cutting, anorexia, isolation all are exposed, but not as the evil afflictions that we think of them. Ms. Devlin becomes the Siren that takes the reader into dangerous waters of mental oddities and self-destruction and gives us a glimpse of how our brains can twist self-harm into a release from self-loathing.

There is no clear explanation for the cause of the type of behavior that Ms. Devlin has lived with since she was a child; however, it is not just a reaction to external trauma, nor an issue of a ‘defective’ brain. What Ms. Devlin accomplishes with the blending of the album and book is an inside view of how a highly intelligent person can be mired in a world of self-loathing and addiction…and perhaps a map of how to get out of that world.   

BOOK:
Informative  ★★★★★
Relevancy  ★★★★★
Readability  ★★★★★
Visuals  ★★★☆☆

Colorado’s 17 Dying Counties

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From 2010 to 2019, Colorado has enjoyed a 14.5% growth in population. Urban areas, such as Denver, have had more significant growth than rural areas. The growth has led to more jobs, more paid taxes, and a general boost to the economy of the State.

However, Colorado consists of 64 counties and many of the rural counties struggle to maintain a viable economy. A declining economy means fewer jobs, fewer jobs means less income for residents, and less income means a decline in the tax base for essential county services. It is the death spiral that a rural county suffers, leading to a collapse of its economy. When the 2020 Census is complete, there are seventeen rural Colorado counties that will likely show a decline in population. 

Colorado counties with population declines (2010 to 2019 est.) Percentages indicate the amount of decline, other numbers indicate the population of counties under 10,000. [Number colors indicate the last 40 years of political party support. Red-Republican, Blue-Democrat, Purple-Split]

Typical Economic History

Colorado, like many other U.S. States, established an economy on agriculture and mining. Also like many other States, as businesses became more centralized and industrialized, rural areas became outpaced by the income potential of urban areas. This conversion of the foundation of our economy left rural areas isolated from the economic benefits of newer industries.

Rural Colorado is isolated from the economic power that exists in Denver and other urban areas.

Arteries of the Economy

Geographic location has played a major role in the economic fortunes for Colorado counties. Most pioneers heading west avoided the difficult mountain passes of Colorado and traveled through Wyoming. It wasn’t until the trains came to Colorado that significant growth began. In the 20th century, paved roads allowed smaller towns to emerge along highways that could provide services to the traveler.

The completion of Interstate 80 (I-80) through Wyoming, and Interstate 70 (I-70) through Colorado, siphoned off the traffic that fed the economy of many smaller communities. Even communities located on I-70 found that faster roads and improved gas mileage hurt their economy. The result was a loss of jobs and revenue in small towns outside of urban corridors. By the end of the 20th century, many of Colorado’s remote communities began seeing stagnation and decline in their population. 

Off The Path

The counties experiencing population decline since 2010, indicate that isolation from Colorado’s central urban core is continuing to impact communities in the State. Thirteen of the counties experiencing a population decline are located on the Colorado State border. The other four are adjacent to a county located on the border.

Colorado has 26 counties that have a population under 10,000 (2019 est.) Most of these counties are also located at or near the State border. Eleven of the seventeen counties experiencing a decline in population also have less than 10,000 residents. This means that many of the counties losing residents are exacerbating the crisis for the county.

But not every county on the fringes of Colorado’s borders is losing population. Are there common traits of dying counties? The answer is yes, and the attitudes of the residents may be a factor.

Five Common Characteristics of a Dying Colorado County

1.  Small Population

The total population of all 17 dying counties is just over 130,000 people. That means that the average population for the counties is well below 10,000 people.

2.  Large ‘White Only’ Population

The average ‘White Only’ demographic for Colorado is 68%. The 17 dying counties have an average ‘White Only’ demographic of 73%.

3.  Fewer College Degrees…by almost half

Over 40% of Colorado residents have college degrees. In the 17 dying counties, only 21% have college degrees.

4.  Average per Capita Income is Less…about one-third less

The average per capita income for a Colorado resident is $36,415. The average for the 17 dying counties is $24,735.

5.  Strong Republican Support

Rural counties tend to be more conservative, but these 17 dying counties are diehard Republican fanatics. All of the 17 dying counties voted for Donald Trump in 2016 by an average of 71% of the vote. In addition, almost all of the counties have voted for a Republican candidate for President in each election for the past 40 years.

Table 1.0 – Colorado Counties Decreasing in Population. [Source: U.S. Census Bureau and Wikipedia]

Not All Small Counties Vote Red

It is easy to assume that all rural counties with a small population are conservative and vote Republican. That is not true in Colorado. Most of the 26 smaller counties do vote Republican, but there are eight small counties that have voted for the Democratic Presidential candidate a majority of the time during the last 40 years.

Those eight Blue counties with populations under 10,000 have a ‘White Only’ demographic slightly less than Colorado’s average, an average population growth rate of 8.5%, have a college degree rate of about 50% greater than the dying counties, and have an average per capita income that is about halfway between the dying counties average and the State average.

Table 2.0 – Colorado Blue counties with a population of less than 10,000. [Source: U.S. Census Bureau and Wikipedia]

Does Political Ideology Determine the Fate of a County?

The correlation between a county’s fate and the political leanings of its citizens does seem to exist, but does ideology determine the fate of a county, or does the county’s situation determine the political ideology? There is no obvious answer to that question.

Still, the political ideology reflects the attitudes of its citizens in decision-making and the fact that all of the counties in Colorado that are losing population, voted for Trump in the last election, and that the long term history of those counties has been to vote Republican, it would seem that the traditional political leanings of a county have an impact on the success or failure of a Colorado county.

Dying Counties Don’t Die

The tragedy of dying counties is that they don’t die.

Colorado has three counties with a population under 900 people each. These three counties have their own county commissioners, their own county administrative offices, and their own county sheriff’s department. All three of these counties are adjacent to each other and yet they exist as separate entities.

It would be logical to fold a failed county into an adjacent county; however, that is not what happens to counties that no longer are viable. These counties become wards of the State, dependent on State tax revenues to exist.

In the end, dying counties become dependent on the rest of the citizens of Colorado.

Timid Democrats in Power Haunts the United States of America

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The decline of the United States of America under the conservative boot has occurred for almost 40 years. Unfortunately, during those few times when the Democratic party has managed to wrench back power for brief periods, timid Democrats have failed to move boldly. The result is that now Democrats are seen as weak and ineffective in power, giving conservatives the opportunity to quickly regain a majority.

Former Vice President Joe Biden: Running away from the left

Conservatives History of Economic Disaster

The United States was driven into the 1930’s Great Depression by a Republican party that had changed direction after the Civil War. Prior to the Civil War, Lincoln’s Republican party had championed the end to slavery. After the Civil War, the party, centered in the northeastern industrial States focused on using the government to promote business interests at any cost.

Prior to the Great Depression, business and the stock market ran amok with no government safeguards to protect individual citizens. In the months leading up to the October 1929 crash, the stock markets ramped up into a delirium of expansion when world markets were collapsing. 

Graphic 1.0 – The Dow Jones wild surge while the world economies were collapsing. [NOTE: Graph uses a logarithmic scale to magnify change.]

The Great Depression demonstrated that government regulation and protections were necessary for a healthy economy. The conservative’s economy based on greed resulted in temporary gains resulting in massive collapses of the world economy. By 1933, a decade of Republican control of the government ended with the loss of the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the office of the President.

The Golden Age of the United States

With the exception of four years, (1947 to 1949 and 1953 to 1955,) Democrats controlled Congress from 1933 to 1981. During this period the United States recovered from the Great Depression, developed into a major world power, became a major force in winning World War II, and created a technologically superior economy that landed humans on the Moon in only ten years.

Under Democratic control, individuals and corporations were protected by a government that balanced profit with societal obligations. It was our Golden Age.

End of Government For the People

In the late 1970s, inflation, the retreat from further space exploration, and rising terrorism in the Arab world combined to create an opportunity for conservatives to sow dissatisfaction in the country. The 444-day hostage crisis in Iran during the Presidential election weakened President Jimmy Carter and opened the door for Republicans to take control of our country. 

Ronald Reagan began a dynasty of conservative control of the government of the United States of America. He was bolstered by a friendly Republican-led Senate and a timid Democratic-led House that provided minimal resistance to conservative reforms.

Actor Ronald Reagan from The Bad Man

Prior to his election in 1981, this former ‘B’ movie actor-turned, rightwing conservative-turned, FBI informant-turned-politician, had declared to enact conservative initiatives aimed to dismantle the government and replace it with a Wild West-style society where ethics were secondary to profit. 

Reagan used a ploy of patriotism and tax breaks to mask the true nature of his plan to dismantle protections of individuals and move power from government to the corporations and the wealthy. His tax plan gave small tax breaks to the middle class, which were later rescinded and even increased; however, the wealthy enjoyed the top rate bracket being slashed from 70% down to 50%, followed by an additional cut down to 38.5%.

The result was to shift the tax burden on to the middle class and cut federal government revenues drastically. Changes in the tax structure and government protections was an abrupt 180° change in course for the nation. It ended a government for the people and replaced it with a government for corporations and the wealthy.

The Rise of Republican Bullies and Timid Democrats

House Democrats adopted a position of acquiescence to Reagan, possibly under the belief that the popularism that brought Reagan into power would falter after his policies led to economic failure. If so, it worked to some degree. Republicans lost control of the Senate in 1987, and in 1993, Bill Clinton became President.

For a brief moment, it seemed that the United States might return to the Golden Age. Clinton used Democratic control of the government to reverse several conservative policies put into place by Reagan and President George Bush (41st.) In his first term, Clinton pushed forward the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, cut taxes on the poorest citizens and raised taxes on the wealthiest, began work on a Universal Health Plan, passed gun reform legislation known as the Brady Bill, enacted the  North American Free Trade Agreement, and passed the Omnibus Crime Bill, that included a ten-year ban on assault weapons.

Bill Clinton Under Siege

At the same time, conservatives began a relentless campaign of attacks on the President and Hillary Clinton including smear campaigns regarding his time as Governor of Arkansas. These efforts were unprecedented in our country’s history. Arkansas State Troopers with ‘slimy motives’ claimed they had arranged private engagements with then-Governor Clinton and other women. The Clintons were accused of abuse of power in what became known as the Whitewater controversy.

In 1994, the Democrats lost control of both houses of Congress for the first time in forty years. Republicans, led by Newt Gingrich, ran on a united plan known as the Contract With America that put forward a mix of popular ideas (require Congress to abide by any new law, term limits, etc.) and proposals to dismantle government protections (deregulations, reducing government, etc.) In large part, the Contract With America was ineffective. Some issues were defeated, some were vetoed by President Clinton, and some were ignored. At least one item was enacted but was later ruled unconstitutional.

Picking up where Reagan left off

However, Republican control of Congress began a resurgence of conservative power that effectively beat Clinton into submission. Clinton did win a second term but even before the election he signaled his surrender to conservatism. During his 1996 State of the Union address, he announced that the “…era of Big Government is over.”

The era of the Timid Democrat had begun.

Florida Fiasco

In 2000, Republicans completed their coup of the government by retaining both houses of Congress and winning the Presidency. George W. Bush (43rd) was elected when the Supreme Court interceded in vote recounts that gave a micro margin lead to Bush over Vice President Al Gore. Bush was elected by the smallest number of popular votes in over 100 years and a subsequent State-wide recount indicated that Gore actually won.

Without a majority in Congress and a Republican President, Democrats essentially gave up. It would be six years until Democrats would win back Congress and that was only possible after Republicans had mismanaged the economy into a near second Great Depression. 

Change Undelivered

In 2007, the United States began a Recession that nearly destroyed the country. The cause of the financial crisis was unethical practices by the banking industry that placed greed over common sense. The lack of government regulation, forced by conservatives, resulted in massive packaged loans that were laced with bad debt. When the investors realized the depth of the deception, the value of the investments went into freefall.

The crisis led to the restoration of the Democrats to power. In 2008, Barack Obama, the first African American President, won over Senator John McCain. Focused on restoring the economy, Democrats, led by Obama, took bold actions that were chastised by rightwing conservatives and their media feeds, including Fox News. The action taken by the Democrats saved the country, but rightwing media worked diligently to underplay the role of liberals in restoring the economy.

Obama’s election was heralded as the great change to reverse the destruction of government. Democrats united to push for a massive new healthcare system during Obama’s first term. Unfortunately, saving the economy and implementing a new, heavily compromised healthcare plan would be the highlights of the first two years of Democratic control of the government. 

In 2010, Democrats lost the House and in 2014, they lost the Senate. Republicans adopted a strict ‘no-cooperation’ with President Obama and effectively stopped any effort to restore the country to a government for the people. The President did attempt to use his authority to effect change through executive action; however, the rightwing media severely criticized him for adopting any non-conservative approved policy.

By 2016, Democrats had completely settled into acquiescence and even Hillary Clinton adopted a conciliatory platform when she led the Democratic ticket for President. Clinton was blindsided by Donald Trump, who used his conman skills to consolidate the vote of the uneducated, religious Evangelicals, and racists. The results of the election left Democrats devastated. The party leadership had no response to a person who had no ethics, played by no rules, and was supported by people who were blind to his behavior and actions.

Lessons Unlearned

The current situation in the Democratic party reflects a continuation of the mistakes of the past 40 years. Former Vice President Joe Biden is a symbol of the Timid Democrats. His positions are to continue subservience to conservatives under the mask of a Democrat. His campaign is based solely on defeating Trump by moving farther right to collect more conservative moderates.

The party has a long list of candidates who are trying to carve out the moderate vote while ignoring the need to reverse the course. Only Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren seem to understand that the actions of conservatives are the problem.

Unfortunately, with Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klochubar dropping out, the moderate vote will now be more consolidated for Biden. In addition, Billionaire Mike Bloomberg is apparently setting himself up for an independent run for President. The long-standing moderate Republican suddenly declared himself as a Democrat in 2018, followed by a delayed entrance into the race for President. His late run virtually guarantees that he cannot win the nomination; however, he likely will lure Democrats to vote for him as an independent.

It may end up that people will have a choice of Biden or Bloomberg to oppose Trump. Both of them will be champions of continuing conservative ideals, and that will mean the era of the Timid Democrat is to live on.

The Betelgeuse Summer Problem

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The star Betelgeuse is doing something. Something important. No one is sure what it means, but it has our attention and we want to keep our telescopes focused on it. Except that this Summer, we can’t.

What’s next for Betelgeuse? [NOTE: Image distorted by minor camera movement.]

Whatever is happening with the soon-to-be supernova Betelgeuse currently, it is critical astronomers and astrophysicists maintain close observation of the progenitor star. It may be decades, centuries, or millennia before it collapses and explodes into a spectacular show for our planet nestled some 640 lightyears away, and yet, at this moment, it is displaying behavior that may give us the first opportunity to learn what a supernova does before it does its supernova thing.

Betelgeuse and its parent constellation, Orion, are victims of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. For two months in the Summer (approximately Cinco De Mayo to Independence Day in the U.S.) the constellation is on the opposite side of the Sun from Earth. Astronomers will not be able to see the star at a time that may be crucial to understanding pre-supernova behavior.

Betelgeuse is a variable star that is undergoing a historic expansion, cooling, and dimming (fainting) phase. That process is likely near the end. Next up should be a contraction, warming, and brightening phase. That process will take months…right into Summer. When the curtain drops on Betelgeuse in May, Earth-bound astronomers and astrophysicists will be an audience without a show to watch.

Graphic 1.0 – Betelgeuse variable star cycle (hypothetical 2020 brightening cycle in blue.)

There are multiple possibilities for what might happen. Betelgeuse might increase in brightness over several weeks or months as it has in the past, then resume a normal cycle. It might brighten, but not to the magnitude it has in past cycles. The star might keep brightening to a greater magnitude than it has in the past. Betelgeuse might also brighten suddenly and begin its short-lived supernova phase. No one knows.

What is known is that astronomers will be observing Betelgeuse as long as possible. We will know if something major happens this Summer through other electromagnetic observations and non-Earth bound observation sources, but for amateur astronomers, we will have to wait and not see.

Moffat County Coal: Why Ignorance is Not Bliss

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The Pity Party Regarding Moffat County Coal

A video about coal mining in northwestern Colorado suggests the people of Craig, in Moffat County, are having a pity party and they want everyone to join in on their self-inflicted suffering. Craig’s primary economic industries are coal mining, coal-fueled power generation, and tourism from primarily hunting and other seasonal outdoor sports. It is an economy that locals admit lacks diversity and resiliency.

Craig, Colorado:  Moffat County’s Only Significant Population Center

This month, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association announced that it would close all three coal-fired power units by 2030 and close down the Colowyo coal mine that supplies the three power plants south of Craig. Not surprisingly, local people are upset and many are turning their anger towards government regulations that they claim are killing their community.

This carefully crafted pity video published in 2015, by the American Energy Alliance, an energy industry-funded non-profit operated and directed by former House Republican staffers, is being used by at least one area resident¹ to use the news of the closings to renew anger at the government:

[SEE: The Perfect Storm Over Craig, Colorado]

The Ugly Reality of Coal Mining

Modern history lacks any examples of coal-mining dependent communities that have eventually gone on to become a great economic success. It just doesn’t happen. Mining companies have a reputation of ripping the coal out of the ground, shipping it away, selling it, reaping vast fortunes, and walking away from their mess. The coal industry has a legacy of broken workers, broken agreements, and always placing owner profits over every other consideration. In their wake is typically a shell of a community that is left in a cycle of poverty.

But history and context are typically not what local people care about or understand. They only see that a company is willing to come to their isolated community and offer them a Devil’s Bargain for jobs. Local communities are usually burned by the deal but rather than accept the consequences, many adopt the tactics of the tobacco farmers when the public became aware of the dangers of smoking. They scream, “It’s all the government’s fault.”

The Facts

Change Has Been Coming:  In the last decade, many aging coal-fired plants have been converted over to natural gas. The fuel is less expensive and cleaner than coal. Tri-State has stated that the decision to shut their Moffat County operations was a business decision based on operational costs.

The Road to Nowhere

The Craig Power Plants Units Already Slated For Closure:  Two of the three units were already slated to be retired. Unit One was to be closed in 2025 and Unit Two was to be retired in 2039. Unit Three was only four years younger than Unit One but no retirement date had been established. All three Units were facing decommissioning and the associated coal mine would become less relevant with each Unit closure.

Coal is More Expensive and Harmful:  The combined costs of building and operating coal-fired power plants, added to the cost of mining coal, the cost of restoring the damage (environmental, health, etc.) caused by mining coal, and the cost of the impact of the air, soil, and groundwater pollution of coal burning, makes the expense of coal-generated energy too high. With no mining, minimal pollution, and free fuel, solar and wind energy are less expensive and the green options don’t threaten the disastrous consequences of global warming caused by carbon-based fuels.

Alternative Energy is Becoming the Standard

Coal Generation Has Been On a 20 Year Decline:  In 1997, coal provided 52.8% of the energy generated at commercial sized units. By 2018, that had dropped down to 27.8%. No new coal-fired generating plants are being planned or built in the United States to replace old units scheduled to be closed. Coal is a dying industry and no one can say it’s a sudden death. [Source]

It’s the Mining Company, Stupid:  Mining has consistently replaced human workers with machines that are more productive, less expensive, and don’t complain or demand anything. The reduced size of the mining workforce in the United States has nothing to do with government regulation and everything to do with companies saving money by taking away mining jobs from their own workers.

The Person Standing On the Train Track

A person standing on an active train track has three choices. That person can, 1) step off the track before the train comes, 2) get up on the platform and hope the train stops to let him or her get on, or 3) continue to stand on the track and rant about the train until she or he is run over by it.

The video suggests that the people of Craig have chosen to take the third choice. There is no sudden change in the coal industry that is causing it to be phased out. Anyone who cared about their community would have known that coal was a bad bet in the economic sustainability game.

Moffat County, the Perfect Victims

Why is Craig the perfect platform to be showcased for a political agenda?

White Begats Red

Moffat County is Trump Country. It is 80% caucasian and overwhelmingly Republican. In the last 55 years, no Democratic Presidential candidate has obtained more than 40% of the vote in the county. Craig is happy to be the political tool of the white wing.

History of Being a Victim

Craig is located halfway between Denver and Salt Lake City. It used to be on the main route between the two major cities (US 40.) When Interstate 70 (I-70) was in the planning stages it was to terminate in Denver, but Governor Edwin Johnson, (a Moffat County native,) convinced the federal government to continue it through Colorado. The irony is that he ignored the existing US 40 route through his home town and proposed the interstate follow the US 6 route.

Signal Hill: The Faded Glory of Craig

That decision isolated Craig. Instead of being the perfect stopping point between Salt Lake and Denver, it became the town ninety miles south of Interstate 80 (I-80) and ninety miles north of I-70. The impact of that choice still affects Craig’s economy today.

Population Stagnation

While the population of every economically diverse community has been increasing over the last 30 years, Moffat County’s population hit a high of 14,541 in 1983 and today it has over 1,000 fewer people than 37 years ago. Every Spring, the high school graduates more students than the community has jobs. For decades, the need to diversify and expand Moffat County’s economy has been a topic of discussion…with no viable plan.

Imprisoned By Their Own Political Ideologies

One obvious opportunity is alternative energy. The transmission lines that connect Craig to the power infrastructure already exist with the terminus at the current power plants. A wind or solar farm in Moffat County wouldn’t have significant expenses in building transmission lines.

End of the Road in Craig

The problem is that alternate energy choices are exactly what many people from Craig have sworn to oppose. In their minds, solar and wind farms are a waste of time and resources. For a majority population of Trump supporters, accepting clean energy as a source of new jobs and revenue for the community is unthinkable. Better to fail and cry than admit their lack of foresight.

A Failure To Educate

Moffat County High School is one of the worst performing in the state. Those that graduate face the choice of few job opportunities in the community or leave and face difficult challenges in being competitive with better educated graduates. From the CollegeSimply website:

Moffat County High School has an academic rating well below the average for Colorado high schools based on its low test performance, average graduation rate and low AP course participation.

Moffat County High School students score less than a 9% proficiency in Math (State average is 33%,) and less than a 14% proficiency in Reading (State average is 42%.) Less than 9% of the students have passed one or more AP exams. [Source]

Whether Craig’s stagnated economy has led to poor education or poor education has led to a stagnated economy the result is the same, the future of the community is not in the hands of young people who can be expected to repair and build upon their parent’s lot in life.  

A Video For No Reason

All this may explain the attitudes and desperation of the people of Moffat County expressed in the video. They feel like victims and so rather than embrace new technologies and diversify the economy, they would rather hang on to the past.

This video is the perfect storm of ignorance, political game-playing, an attitude of defeat, and poor education. It exposes the city and county’s history of failing to be proactive. Instead of seeking a more diverse economy, a choice was made to seek pity. The community may never realize that a Devil’s Bargain has a price…and now they will pay.

[¹NOTE:  This video was posted on 29 January 2020 on the Facebook page of a former high school graduate of Moffat County High School who still lives in the region. The author of this article believed the video was published after the news of the closings; however, after this article was published the author became aware that the video was first published in 2015. Corrections to the text have been made accordingly. Also, the video embed link has since stopped working and has been replaced by a URL link. ]

Betelgeuse is NOT Collapsing, It’s Expanding [NOTE: THIS IS IN ERROR]

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[Author’s Note:  This article is in error. I somehow misread the information provided in the Astronomer’s Telegram post stating that the star was decreasing in size. I discovered the error a few days after I posted the article. Since the premise of the article is incorrect, the entire article can be disregarded. Rather than delete the article, I am posting this announcement and leaving the original article intact. I apologize for any confusion or misunderstanding this article may have caused.]

Betelgeuse Collapsing? Think Again

The buzz about Betelgeuse is about its sudden and historic fainting (dimming.) Those who have a knowledge of the star and of supernovas have received the news with anticipation. Is this the great moment of Betelgeuse going supernova? Many people already know that immediately before the supernova, the progenitor star (the original star before a supernova) collapses in on itself. Betelgeuse is dramatically dimming, so it must be collapsing. Not true. Betelgeuse is expanding.

Dimming and Expanding Betelgeuse on 22 January 2020

Expanding Betelgeuse

Betelgeuse is dimming, but it is also cooling. Down approximately 100°K (180°F) in the past four months. This is an issue of physics. Temperature increases with increased pressure and the temperature decreases as the pressure decreases. The collapsing mass of a star increases pressure and temperature [¹SEE:  Primer on Combined and Ideal Gas Laws below.] The expansion of a star would cause a decrease in temperature. Betelgeuse temperature is decreasing, therefore astronomers believe it is expanding, not collapsing.

…Betelgeuse is currently the coolest and least luminous yet observed. Since September 2019, the star’s temperature has decreased by ~100 K while its luminosity (inferred from the C-band/m-bol observations) has diminished by nearly 25%.

Edward F. Guinan and Richard J. Wasatonic
Posted in The Astronomer’s Telegram 20 January 2020

No Joy On A Neighborhood Supernova?

Does this mean that Betelgeuse is not about to go supernova? Nobody knows. This could be the last big push outward before the finale we’ve been anticipating. It could also be another step toward the end but not the last gasp of Betelgeuse.

Betelgeuse in the Orion constellation

It is unusual behavior and worthy of constant monitoring. This may be one part of the process that will help us understand the last days, weeks, months, and years of a supergiant red star. Stars don’t suddenly brighten or dim without reason and now we have the opportunity to discover something new and visibly intriguing about the process of a star’s death.

What’s happening? Something wonderful.

[¹Primer on Combined and Ideal Gas Laws ].]

Betelgeuse: Schrödinger’s Star

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Much Ado About Something

Some astronomers are taking a dim view of the fading light of Betelgeuse. Many are trying to dampen down reports of the star’s demise while not ruling out the possibility. The reality of science is that no one knows what is happening.

What are you doing, Betelgeuse?

A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to a Supernova

Betelgeuse is the hot topic in astronomy because it has been dramatically dimming or ‘fainting’ [SEE Graph 1.0.] In a period of three months, it has dropped from being the eleventh brightest star in the night sky to the twenty-third brightest. This fainting spell is significant because when a star goes supernova it rapidly collapses prior to the event.

Astronomers Edward Guinan, Richard Wasatonic (Villanova University,) and Thomas Calderwood (AAVSO) posted a notice on December 8th of the fainting of Betelgeuse that helped raise awareness of the event. The news media became aware of it and by late December the fainting of Betelgeuse was trending in public speculation of a spectacular doom for Betelgeuse.

Graph 1.0 – Betelgeuse fainting is historic (2018 to current)

A 645-Year-Old Notice

Because of the distance between Earth and Betelgeuse, we wouldn’t know of a supernova event until approximately 645 years after it happens. Our first indication would likely be through a sudden increase in neutrinos. The visual confirmation would occur a few hours later.

If Betelgeuse has gone supernova within the past ≈645 years, then an astronomer could say that Betelgeuse has both gone supernova and has not gone supernova. The delay creates a Schrödinger’s cat scenario. The truth is unknowable.

But astronomers remind us that it may be 100,000 years of more until Betelgeuse makes a stellar spectacle of itself and then abruptly ends its role of marking Orion’s armpit. Their impreciseness of the future of the star is due to a lack of observations of the behavior of progenitor stars (stars that end their life as a supernova) in the years, months, weeks, and days just prior to a supernova.

Betelgeuse is the armpit of Orion

Why Don’t Astronomers Know?

It’s been over 400 years since a star in the Milky Way was observed after it went supernova. That event, like almost every other supernova observation, occurred after the star exploded. Rarely have astronomers been forewarned of an impending explosion and in those cases, the warning has been a matter of hours prior to the event.

To make an accurate prediction of a supernova, we must have data to create a theoretical model of behavior preceding the collapse of the star. The model must be created by using mathematical formulas based on observable data. Without the math, a prediction is just an opinion.

In science, “We don’t know,” is the motivation to discover the truth, even if the truth contradicts the desires and opinions of the majority. At the core of every legitimate scientist is an unwavering desire to offer facts and not mislead others. Astronomers can’t, and shouldn’t, attempt to predict a supernova. “We don’t know,” is the correct answer and the general public has to accept that answer.

Unfortunately, most humans don’t like not knowing. Religions like to give absolute answers to questions even if the answer is unknown or even if it is 100% wrong. A scientist and/or scholar is governed by a higher power of truth. For scientists, not knowing the answer is what makes the process discovery so satisfying. 

The End of the Faint?

In the past week observations of the fainting of Betelgeuse have leveled off. This may indicate that Betelgeuse is about to begin increasing in brightness. It may also indicate the fainting is pausing, or it may indicate that there is no pause and next week astronomers will see a continued drop in brightness. No one knows. 

Graph 2.0 – Is the dimming leveling off in mid-January? (OCT 2019 to current)

My Answer To the Question

I am not a scholar in the field of astronomy so I can state my opinion about the situation. My opinion is that at some time in the past 645 years, Betelgeuse has gone supernova…and it hasn’t.

You have to love Schrödinger.

SpaceX Booster Crisis

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Missing SpaceX Boosters?

A rocket is required to achieve orbit. Without it, everything else is just talk. SpaceX is dependent on the Falcon 9 Block 5 SpaceX booster, but in 2019 their launch schedule decreased dramatically, in part, because of a lack of booster inventory. Nothing has changed for 2020 and, in fact, the situation may be worse.

The decline and fall of SpaceX’s launch schedule

SpaceX will have 13 (Space Flight Now,) 22+ (Space News,) or 33 (Wikipedia) launches in 2020 depending on what source is used. SpaceX’s President, CEO, and CIC (Cheerleader in Chief) Gwynne Shotwell claimed in September that her company will likely have two Starlink launches per month in 2020. This does not include the test launches required for human spaceflight, nor the paying customers already scheduled. 

The problem is that SpaceX doesn’t have enough boosters to come anywhere near the volume they brag about to the public.

In March of 2019, it was apparent that SpaceX was facing severe financial problems. A dramatic cut in SpaceX employees at their California rocket assembly plant in January of last year resulted in a drastic downsizing of booster production and launches for 2019.

SpaceX Booster Deficit:  It’s a Math Problem

SpaceX introduced the Block 5 Falcon 9 booster in May 2018. Six Block 5 boosters were used in ten launches in 2018 and five launches in 2019. Last year, after the layoffs, SpaceX put up seven new Block 5 boosters, four of which, (B1052, B1053, B1055, and B1057,) were specifically built for use in the Falcon Heavy configuration. The Falcon Heavy boosters have never been used on single booster launches. The three non-Falcon Heavy boosters were responsible for seven of the 13 SpaceX launches in 2019.

We’re almost through the hard math.

This means SpaceX has nine Block 5 boosters available. But they don’t.

Of the nine Block 5 boosters, 3 (B1047, B1050, and B1054) have been lost (sacrificed or destroyed.) Another booster (B1046) will be destroyed in the upcoming crew capsule abort test. One booster (B1051) hasn’t been seen since it left Vandenberg Airforce Base after its flight in June of last year. Two of the remaining boosters (B1048 and B1049) have been flown four times and one (B1056) three times.

This leaves one booster (B1059) with less than three flights use and one new booster (B1058) coming on online in 2020. SpaceX doesn’t have the inventory of boosters needed to accomplish even a moderate launch schedule this year.

SpaceX Exec:  Pay No Attention To Reality

In May of last year, the top executive of SpaceX either had no understanding of the company’s launch capabilities or publicly lied about the projected launch schedule. Shotwell said that SpaceX would have a total of 18 to 21 launches in 2019, not including the Starlink satellite launches. SpaceX had 13 total launches including two Starlink launches.

SpaceX CEO Gwynne Shotwell:  Doesn’t know how many rockets her company can launch

SpaceX had no major disasters or delays that would explain how Shotwell would overestimate the number of launches by over 150% with only seven months left in the year.

Fantasyland Scenarios

Elon Musk and SpaceX’s Shotwell have been known for their boasts of SpaceX’s future. In a conference call to the news media in 2018, Musk was quoted to say that the Block 5 Falcon 9 would be “…capable of at least 100 flights…” and they would be able to launch a Block 5 booster within 24 hours of recovery. He also said that all this would happen as early as 2019.

In July, Teslarati reported that SpaceX Vice President of Commercial Sales Jonathan Hofeller announced that by the end of 2019, they would launch a Block 5 booster for a fifth or sixth time. In the same article, the Musk fansite writer Eric Ralph calculated that SpaceX would launch an additional 12 to 19 times in the second half of 2019. 

Today, only two Block 5 boosters (B1048 and B1049) have been launched more than three times (B1046 is scheduled for its fourth launch on 18 January.) The ten-week turnaround time for the Block 5 boosters has also failed to meet Musk’s predictions of a 24-hour turnaround.

What is Possible For 2020?

In the short term, SpaceX has the booster capacity to launch six times in the first quarter if boosters B1048 and B1049 can be used a fifth time and if a new booster comes online before April. If not, then SpaceX would be hardpressed to launch four missions by the end of March.

Currently, only two missions have assigned boosters (B1046 for Dragon Inflight Abort test and B1058 for Dragon crewed test flight.) Without a booster assigned, it is unlikely that any other announced mission in January or February is feasible.

Musk has also claimed that the Block 5 booster can easily perform ten launches; however, as with his other claims, there is no reason to believe the Block 5 can survive the extreme temperatures and stress of ten launches and landings without a significant overhaul.

For the remainder of the year, SpaceX depends heavily on new boosters to keep flying as the current booster supply is almost exhausted.

Is SpaceX a Dead Program Walking?

Last year’s sudden layoff of 577 SpaceX employees indicated corporate financial trauma. That event was followed by an anemic 2019 launch schedule. Nine of those launches were for commercial customers, but one was a free launch because of a previous failed launch. Two launches were for test purposes and two were for the Starlink system that will not be revenue-producing until the satellite system is established and operational.

For 2020, the first five scheduled flights consist of two test flights and three non-revenue producing Starlink launches. SpaceX does have paying customer launches during 2020, but much of the schedule consists of Starlink or small customer satellites on RideShare launches.

In 2017, Musk confidently proclaimed that SpaceX would have 30 to 40 launches per year. That number was overstated and the company seems to be ‘filling in’ their launch schedule with straw customers that may not have the deep pockets SpaceX needs. They also seem to be offering deep discounts in order to attract customers.

The January 2019 layoff, the dramatic drop in launches in 2019, and the lack of Block 5 booster inventory would seem to indicate that SpaceX is in a desperate situation. 

Under Deconstruction: University of Nevada South Neighborhoods

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A Different Type of 20/20 Plan 

The neighborhoods of the University of Nevada in Reno start 2020 with 20 structures recently demolished or moved and 20 more standing vacant, waiting for their demise. Not all of it is directly connected to expansion by the University, but houses in some of Reno’s oldest subdivisions are vanishing for university-related business.

The end is near for neighborhoods on the U of Nevada southside

For the last few years, structures adjacent to the university, primarily houses, have been torn down. The neighborhood on the west side of Virginia Street has seen significant changes and now the southern neighborhood has become a part of the makeover.

Southern Loss:  Under the shovel of progress

Southeast – University of Nevada Engineering Building

In 2018, the University began tearing down nine houses on the west side of Evans Street. These homes adjacent to the southeast edge of the campus were part of the University Heights subdivision but most of them have been owned by the University for many years. A large new building for the College of Engineering is replacing the nine homes. A tenth home remains standing at the curve of Evans on the southeastern corner of the campus.

University Heights subdivision homes replaced by Pennington Engineering Building (Home marked with the yellow line remains standing but is owned by the university.)

The College of Engineering has grown significantly in the past decade (1,595 students) but that growth has slowed to an increase of only 170 students in the past four years (Fall 2015 to Fall 2019.) University administrators have stated that the new Pennington Engineering building is too accommodate the growth.

The New Pennington Engineering Building in University Heights 

Evans Northeast Addition – Abandoned and Boarded

CCC-Reno LLC purchase of Evans Northeast Addition subdivision

In 1906, Elizabeth Evans, widow of John ‘Newt’ Evans, filed for the Evans Northeast Addition subdivision. Most of the homes were not built until the 1930s; however, many were torn down in the early 1970s because of the construction of Interstate 80 (I-80.) Only one small block remains of the subdivision north of I-80 and west of the railroad tracks. That block is bounded by Record Street to the east, Evans Street to the north and west, and 9th Street to the south.

Homes of the Evans Northeast Addition neighborhood

On 5 March 2018, Capstone Collegiate Communities (CCC-Reno LLC,) a company located in Birmingham, Alabama, purchased all of the remaining properties. According to Washoe County Assessor data, the purchase for the homes (excluding the commercial property) was 180% of the current (Jan 2020) Zillow.com estimated value. The Alabama buyer paid over $5.5 million for all nine properties.

Acquisitions by Capstone Collegiate Communities, an Alabama corporation

After purchasing the properties, Capstone attempted to have several public roads abandoned by the city to expand the property. One of the proposed options was to close Evans Avenue. This would have effectively eliminated access to the eastern side of the University for those coming from I-80 and would have eliminated the most direct access to I-80 from the neighborhoods east of the university.

Fortunately, that plan never came to a vote by the Reno City Council; however, Capstone did secure more land by convincing the City Council to abandon a small right turn lane and its adjacent island.

Although Capstone Collegiate Communities have owned the properties for almost two years, it has been reported that they do not intend to begin construction until the Summer of 2021. It is unclear when the existing structures will be demolished. 

Evans North Addition – One of Reno’s Oldest Neighborhoods

For many years, the University has expressed frustration with the look of the motels and properties of the block between the campus and I-80. They expressed a desire to expand into that block and create a gateway to the University.

The house at 843 Lake Street was built in 1932. One of 23 properties now owned by U of NV

The irony is that this neighborhood was one of the first planned neighborhoods in Reno, and at one time it was known as one of the nicest neighborhoods. Known as ‘Professor’s Row,’ many homes were demolished in the 1970s to make way for I-80. This attracted the small hotels to fill in the block along Virginia Street that became unsightly as they aged.

One of the post-Interstate hotels on Virginia Street that is now slated to be destroyed.

It is also a twist of fate that the University is now seeking to eliminate the subdivision known as the Evans North Addition. This subdivision was established in 1879, by John ‘Newt’ Evans and his brother. John Evans was also the person who helped to convince the legislature to move the University of Nevada from Elko to Reno in 1885, and who also sold the land to the University.

U of NV Parking Garage and Business Building

Through purchases and donations, the University has acquired 23 properties to build a new parking garage and Business building. Construction is planned to begin later this year.

University of Nevada acquisitions for the parking structure and Business building

College of Business has also experienced significant student enrollment since 2009 (+1501 students;) however, the growth has slowed in the past four years with only 216 more students than in the Fall of 2015. The current building was built in 1982 and will be 40 years old in 2022.

RTC Steps in for the University

Virginia Street has been the focus of discussion as the motels in that area have been the source of crime and visual unattractiveness for the city and the University. Last Fall the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) announced that they had purchased three of the five properties along Virginia Street between the University and I-80. The intent of the purchases is to create a transit hub, primarily for the benefit of the University.

RTC has the power to use eminent domain; therefore, the other two properties will either have to negotiate a fair price or face a legal battle that they will likely lose. The motels on the east side of Virginia have been abandoned and a construction fence placed around them.

Unrelated to the RTC project, two additional structures have been demolished at 9th and Sierra Streets, including a vacant sorority house; however, there has been little, if any, public announcement of the future of these properties. 

The Death Blow

The loss of these neighborhoods was really initiated by the construction of Interstate 80 in the 1970s. Quiet historical homes nestled at the foot of the University were no match for a major interstate artery through the middle of their neighborhood. If the alignment of the Interstate had been along the same route as the existing Highway 40 it might have given the Evans’ subdivisions an opportunity to survive. We will never know.

But now the last evidence of some of Reno’s original neighborhoods will be swept away. Unfortunately, hindsight is always 20/20.

Winter Solstice and It’s Impact on Humans

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Winter Solstice:  Annual Test of Survival

The northern hemisphere’s Winter Solstice has had a major impact on civilizations in Europe, Asia, and North America. Early humans on these continents felt the fear and uncertainty as days became shorter and cold limited the availability of food and other life-sustaining resources. Each year the question had to be asked: “Will we survive?”

‘High Noon’ at 39° North latitude in mid-December

Every year, the Sun’s daily crossing sank lower and lower in the southern sky until it slowed and then stopped sinking. After a few weeks, the arc of the Sun began to slowly rise, bringing longer days followed by warmer temperatures. Spring returned and food and resources became more plentiful.

It is easy to understand so many pagan rituals and celebrations in northern cultures occurred near the shortest day of the year. It is also easy to understand why many religions adopted or adapted the solstice pagan rituals as their own. Most notably Christmas was conveniently established on or near the same day as the Roman observances of the season.

…around the time of the winter solstice, Romans observed Juvenalia, a feast honoring the children of Rome…In addition, members of the upper classes often celebrated the birthday of  Mithra, on December 25. Mithra was an ancient Persian [infant] god of light…

History.com 2017

December Winter Solstice: It’s a Upper North Thing

Winter Solstice of the northern hemisphere is a regional phenomenon. People who live between 25° north and 25° south latitude cannot be faulted for feeling that it is a non-event. Their length of day between Summer and Winter is relatively insignificant compared to the drastic changes experienced by people farther north.

For people in the southern hemisphere, our Winter Solstice is their Summer Solstice. In fact, the Earth is closest to the Sun in late December and early January so the dark, cold days of our Winter Solstice are completely contrary to everything they experience at that time of year.

Where the Winter Solstice Shaped Religion

Did the Winter Solstice Reinforce Religious Authority?

Europe and the Middle East civilizations would have felt the impact of the Winter season. Each year people would be faced with ever-worsening conditions, possibly creating life-threatening situations. People who had experienced many solstices may have become oracles of hope by predicting a return to longer days and warmer weather.

The wise predictors of the return of the longer days would have seemed mystical leading to dependence on their guidance in all matters of life. It would be understandable that people who had no concept of how Earth’s seasonal cycles might begin to see an older person as magical when they consistently predicted the end of the cold and shorter days.

Knowledge of the Winter Solstice, cycles of the Moon, and other astronomical cycles would give rise to religious followers who felt their lives might be dependent on the whims and good graces of deities. By the time these religious movements expanded to regions South of the 25th latitude, they were massive social organizations that offered meaning and explanations to life.

South American Cultures Largely Ignored the Solstices

It is noteworthy that Mayan, Incan, and Astec civilizations observed and followed the apparent movement of the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars; however, there was no corresponding celebration or significance to the Winter Solstice in either the northern or southern hemispheres. Astronomy was important in determining the best conditions for planting crops; however, that time was influenced by ideal weather conditions (rainy or dry seasons) rather than a time that would correspond to the Spring planting conditions in the northern hemisphere.

The Reason For the Season

Clearly the northern Winter Solstice does not have a worldwide impact; however, for cultures above 25° North latitude, it has been a vital observance. The Winter Solstice has provided hope and reassurance of better days to come. While northern religions largely ignore the Winter Solstice as having any connection to their winter traditions, there is no doubt that it is the origin of all religious rituals during this time of year.

Astrophysics Book Review – Space: 10 Things You Should Know

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Minding the Gap of Knowledge

Sharing the knowledge of scholars (e.g.; astrophysicists) with non-scholars is difficult. Astrophysics scholars have spent years obtain a foundational understanding of the dynamics of our universe that is not obviously known to the public. They also have a working knowledge of special terms, acronyms, and highly cited authors. This creates a chasm with scholars on one side, who are advancing human knowledge, and non-scholars on the other side, unaware of the progress and activities of those in the field.

As scholars tend to be focused on their work and the work of their peers, it is rare to have a scholar attempt to bridge the chasm and help non-scholars have access to the secrets that have been uncovered and the challenges to be overcome. 

Dr. Becky Smethurst, astrophysics researcher, educator, YouTuber, and author

Dr. Rebecca Smethurst, or Dr. Becky as she is known on her YouTube channel, is one of those rare scholars who is diligently immersed in sharing new knowledge and discoveries in astrophysics with the public as she actively participates in furthering our understanding of it. In her new book, Space:  10 Things You Should Know, (2019) Dr. Smethurst continues to inform and enlighten us about what humans know and don’t know about the development of galaxies and the stars within them.

Review – Space:  10 Things You Should Know

Category:  Nonfiction, Science, Non-Textbook

UK/Europe Release: 5 September 2019 by Seven Dials Publishing
North America Release:  Summer 2020 by Ten Speed Press

Informative  ★★★★★
Relevancy  ★★★★★
Readability  ★★★★☆
Half-Life  ★★★☆☆
Expertise  ★★★★★
Visuals  ★☆☆☆☆

[Formats: Hardcover, Audio]

Dr. Smethurst has written multiple scholarly articles; however, this is her first book. It is a short, easy to read work of 10 chapters. Each chapter reveals information about our universe that may not be part of public awareness. 

The book is written in conversational language, not scholar-speak. It provides a basic knowledge of what we know about the formation of the universe, galaxies, and planets (including the Earth.) Amateur astronomers likely know most of this information, but Dr. Smethurst provides nuggets of new information that make the book worthwhile to read.

She begins with a view of how gravity is critical to how the universe functions. Because her work deals with supermassive black holes, Dr. Smethurst discusses what we know about black holes and theories of how supermassive black holes impact the galaxy they’re located in.

Dr. Becky also discusses Dark Matter, why scientists believe it is real, and what it means in the grand scheme of the universe. Two other chapters talk about the hunt for planets outside of our solar system and the practicality and current limitations of human space travel.

This book could serve as a unit in a middle or high school science class, but it is just as functional as a broad-based survey of current astrophysics knowledge for adults who can read above a sixth-grade level. As a first book by a doctorate level scholar for consumption by the general public, it is brilliant.

As one might expect with a book of this nature, the subject matter is fleeting. As Dr. Smethurst states in her preface, “…science moves quickly…” Though this is not a textbook, it encounters the same problem of most textbooks in that research and discovery moves on while the printed book remains unchanged.

My projection is that the half-life of this is about seven to ten years. After that, about half of the information will become less relevant as new discoveries push astrophysics forward. That said, this book is certainly not a wasted effort and the need to persevere with updated information is critical.

If this book were a second or third book by this author I would expect to see a more expansive book and more visually stimulating. Both Carl Sagan and Brian Cox have used television and print to ignite a passion for science in the minds of the public. Their books are filled with images that help the reader to see science as a living entity filled with wonder and adventure.

Dr. Becky uses imagery extensively on her YouTube channel so it is likely that we can expect future books to have a greater visual element.

Still, as a first book, coupled with her YouTube work, Dr. Smethurst has built an impressive bridge to reach out to the public. As an active researcher, she offers a unique opportunity for non-scholars to access scientific information from a knowledgeable source rather than the entertainment-based news media.

Dr. Rebecca Smethurst is the one to keep a telescopic eye on.

Dr. Becky’s Astrophysics Work

Understanding The Life and Times of a Galaxy

In the last 100 years, our ability to visualize the stars has vastly improved but the galaxies we see today have changed very little in the past 10,000 years. Changes in the shape and location of a galaxy take millions of years to occur so what astronomers see today isn’t that much different than what they could have seen thousands of years ago.

What astrophysicists do know is the relative age of a galaxy. When we image a galaxy that is ten million light-years away we are seeing how it looked ten million years ago. By using the relative age of a galaxy and the characteristics of that galaxy, astrophysicists can identify group traits of similar galaxies and begin to understand how galaxies develop and eventually die.

The work of Dr. Smethurst has been to increase our understanding of the role of a galaxy’s core black hole (supermassive black hole) in the development of a galaxy and of its ability to establish new generations of stars. The current theory is that as the galaxy matures the core supermassive black hole sucks much of the free hydrogen out of the galaxy. Without an adequate source of hydrogen, the fuel for the formation of new stars is depleted and the galaxy becomes inactive. 

Dr. Smethurst’s Scholarly Astrophysics Linage

Dr. Smethurst’s advising faculty for her doctorate program was Dr. Chris Lintott. Since 2013, Dr. Lintott has been a co-presenter for the BBC’s enduring documentary astronomy television program, The Sky At Night and is a co-founder of Galaxy Zoo, an online crowdsourced project to engage the public in helping to categorize millions of galaxies for research purposes. Dr. Lintott’s advising faculty included the highly published and cited cosmologist Dr. Ofer Lahav.

Dr. Becky earned her Master’s degree in Physics with Astronomy at the University of Durham and her Doctorate degree in Astrophysics at the University of Oxford. Currently, she is a Junior Research Fellow at Christ Church College at Oxford University. Her focus is on studying galaxies and their interactions with their core supermassive black hole.

In 2014, [23 April 2014] Dr. Smethhurst was asked where she saw herself in five years. Her response was, “I’d look to reach the most amount of people as possible…to spread the word about the amazing things that people have no idea about.”

…to spread the word about the amazing things that people have no idea about…

Dr. Rebecca Smethurst – 23 April 2014

Now, five years later, Dr. Smethurst is achieving that goal through her new book, her YouTube channel, and her outreach work.  

Dr. Becky Smethurst

Dr. Becky on:

Sample of co-authored published work:

 

What About Marriage?

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I’ve been married twice. Eight years the first time and I am nearing 25 years in the second marriage. I look back at my marriage experiences and I consider young adults and the decisions they have to make in relationships. The question is whether or not marriage worth it? I believe that like most important life decisions, there is no perfect answer.

[Author’s NOTE:  For the purpose of this discussion, marriage is defined as a lifelong, intimate, and exclusive commitment to another person regardless of the genders of the couple (female/male, male/male, or female/female) involved in the relationship. It includes couples who have not officially married but have mutually agreed to have an exclusive, cohabitating relationship. This discussion assumes a monogamous relationship and does NOT include other types of multiple spousal relationships such as polygamy, polygyny, polyandry, or polyamory.]

A Case For Marriage

Despite all the challenges to maintaining a relationship over time, marriage usually has a positive effect on both partners that cannot be achieved as a single individual. Maybe it is sharing the burden of life with someone else that makes our existence more rewarding. Maybe it is the stability of the relationship that smooths out the manic aspects of life.

Regardless, there is almost always a reward in having a significant, loving relationship that is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve by living alone. Marriage typically makes us more focused, more rational, and more emotionally stable.

For some couples, marriage becomes the center of their lives. Decisions are made jointly and other people see the couple as a single entity. All things are shared, even an email address.

For other couples, marriage is a symbiotic relationship that enriches each other’s experiences. Each person maintains a separate identity but time spent together is the oasis of their lives.

It is interesting to note that research indicates that married men live longer than men who remain single, divorced, or are widowed, although there are disputing studies that suggest single men that stay single also live longer. Men who lose their spouse have an increased risk of dying within a short period afterward. Note that this data is on heterosexual couples. Same-gender marriages are relatively new and there has not been enough time to study longevity issues associated with single-sex marriages.

A Case Against Marriage

Any relationship is complicated because it involves the hopes, desires, and preconceptions of two people. The idea that two people will have attitudes about marriage that perfectly coincide is absurd. People who decide to get married typically are willing to compromise on their preconceptions of marriage in exchange for the hope that over time a compromise will be reached and their relationship will become perfect.

While compromises in a relationship are usually made, eventually one or both reach a point where they realize that they compromised on things that are important to them. It is at this point the Dissatisfaction Syndrome begins.

Dissatisfiers

Many years ago I realized that decisions are driven by dissatisfaction. A person becomes dissatisfied with something and ultimately decides to make a change. This usually happens over time and consists of multiple ‘dissatisfiers.’

An example would be a person’s employment. Initially, a person may be excited about a new job, but over time the employee will experience dissatisfiers (reaching top of the pay scale, unreasonable demands, poor management decisions, disagreeable co-workers, etc.) and that person will begin considering looking for a new job. Eventually, a final event (dissatisfier) will motivate an employee to take action.

This happens in marriages. Dissatisfiers can operate in the background of any relationship and build over time. A tipping point is reached when the person realizes that the marriage is no longer sufficiently satisfying and a change must be made. 

The Growth Problem

Another problem in any relationship is the Growth Problem. Human development occurs over a lifespan. A healthy, well-adjusted person needs to engage in a continuous process of learning and adapting. The problem is that humans learn and adopt new attitudes and priorities at different rates and usually in different directions.

A person at 25 is completely different than they are at 40, so what happens when the person you’ve been with for 15 years is now a stranger?

The Worst Marriage:  Codependency

There is a worst-case scenario in marriage. It is when one or both partners are codependent on each other. In this situation, all the normal things that breakdown a relationship occur but one or both partners stay in the relationship because the can’t imagine living independently.

This results in the marriage becoming a black hole of despair, anger, and mistrust that destroys the mental and emotional health of both partners.

Children and Marriage

I believe that children substantially impact a marriage, but that children tend to magnify the state of the relationship. In the case of a healthy relationship, the net impact is to enhance and deepen the relationship. In an unhealthy relationship, the net impact increases the existing problems and issues.  

“Till Death Do You Part?”

The concept of marriage has radically changed over the last two centuries, along with the human lifespan. Most advanced countries accept that the ‘wife’ is no longer the property of the male. Additionally, divorce has become more accepted.

The idea that marriage is for life is not practical for most people despite that many religions still cling to 18th-century concepts of marriage. There are some couples that defy the odds and maintain a loving relationship until death but in many cases, a relationship can become destructive to the emotional and mental health of one or both partners after a period of time.

The Need For a Different Marriage Model

I don’t believe that anyone can predict or accurately assess a couple’s relationship and know whether or not it will last. There are too many variables.

Still, there are benefits to monogamous relationships and marriage creates a framework for a couple to be committed to each other. The problem is that in many relationships, a point of no return is reached that signals the end. What is needed is a new model of marriage that requires couples to have an ongoing assessment of their relationship (e.g.; counseling,) a measure of the quality of the relationship (e.g.; is it working or not) and, if needed, an acceptable transition out of the relationship that keeps both people whole.

What isn’t accounted for in this model are the children. A child should be a planned event, as much as possible, with the understanding that a child creates a third, and equal party in the relationship. Sadly, too many people have children who do not have the appropriate skills to be a parent, let alone a parent in an unhealthy marriage.