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.

Sexuality and Teaching It

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I believe that we have a problem with educating children about sexuality. We ask public schools to teach children about sex and instantly the lessons focus on the physicality and the dangers. Then religious groups leap into the discussion and demand that their mythical taboos be incorporated into the education. In the end, the programs become so mechanical and fear-inducing that even an adult would laugh at the result.

What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate

My point of view about sexuality is probably off the norm. I don’t believe the function of sex to be about physicality, bonding, religious, or societal aspects of life. I believe sex is centrally about communication.

Bear with me.

In terms of understanding the meaning of the communication of a speaker or author, the lowest form of communication may be the written word. When I write an email, all aspects of vocal and physical clues of my communication are lost. Scholars in Speech Communication call it “impoverished communication.” It means that my words may fail to communicate my intent because the subtleties of my nonverbal cues cannot be conveyed in written form.

A phone conversation is an improvement over email because the other person can hear my intonation and rhythm of my words to understand my meaning. Still, a phone conversation lacks the nonverbal physical clues that help express what I’m trying to say.

Many scholars believe that face to face communication is the highest form of communication because the words and nonverbal cues offer a complete package of meaning that allows the listener to better understand the meaning of the person speaking.

Sex:  The Ultimate Communication

Despite the positive aspects of face to face communication, the meaning (or mind-to-mind transfer) of the speaker still may not be fully complete. There is a gap between what the person is thinking, and what the other person interprets from the words and nonverbal cues. 

I believe that the physicality of sex leads to the closest humans can come to mind-to-mind communication. Even ‘meaningless’ sex contains a significant communication between the two people that may be denied or discounted by one or both after the encounter but remains regardless.

Mentoring Sexual Communication

While there are differences in sexual encounters based on gender and there are health and procreation issues that must be understood, the unifying aspect of sexuality is communication and its impact on the individual.

A child needs to know that having a sexual relationship with someone will change their view of that person and of themselves. After a first sexual encounter, new aspects of their minds and bodies will be revealed and it likely will trigger a desire to experience that intense experience again.   

It doesn’t matter if it is a male/female, male/male, female/female, transgender, or any other type of sexual encounter, the communicative aspect of the sexual encounter will have the same impact. Just as friendship is bonded by discussions and sharing, sex creates a bond with another person that cannot be denied, nor ignored.

The Real Story of Sexuality

Some people seem to think that sex is something that is done after two people have achieved a milestone in their relationship (going steady, marriage, etc.,) but it is not a milestone. Sex is a conversation. I’m not trying to weigh in on the morality of affairs, or sex before marriage, but I do believe that when two people have a sexual encounter it is a sharing of minds that is not easily dismissed as insignificant.

If we could teach that to our children I think they might have a better idea of what they are getting into when they take that step into exploring their own sexuality.

You Shouldn’t Have Run Joe

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Joe Biden disqualifies himself to be President

An Open Letter to Joe Biden

Dear Joe Biden,

What the hell are you thinking? Seriously, you think you can begin a campaign to be President of the United States by quoting a document that was written angry white men who didn’t believe that slaves or women were equal, and no one is going to notice?

Don’t get me wrong, the Declaration of Independence is an important document in our country’s history, but if you’re trying to talk about equality you need to talk about the journey our country took to recognize that all are equal, not just what a group of wealthy white men wrote down about equality for wealthy white men.

You also apparently believe that you can make one call to an African American woman and apologize for your inappropriate behavior and that qualifies you to be President. When our son doesn’t do his homework, then later apologizes for not doing his homework, he still doesn’t get to do a sleepover.

If you were truly attempting to atone for your behavior you would have called Anita Hill, apologized, then told her that your behavior against her and other women is why you shouldn’t be President. That is what sincerity is about. That is atonement.

You shouldn’t have run Joe. This was a mistake before you made your announcement and your announcement itself proves why you should be President.

I don’t dislike you. You have worked hard in your life to try and correct the mistakes you have made, but you still don’t understand why old white men are not the people who should lead our country out of this mess created by old white men.

Nevada Education: The War On Children

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Nevada Schools Closed on April 9th

April 9th was the last day of school in Nevada. Teachers, students, and staff will continue to keep the schools active until June 7th, but they are essentially working for free. This is based on a simple assumption. The assumption is that Nevada children should have the same level of funding as the average student in the United States. It doesn’t because education in Nevada is under siege and being starved of the funds it needs.

Schools in the United States spent an average of $11,762 on each student in the 2015-16 school year (the latest data available.) Nevada only spent $8,615 per pupil. [Sources:  Governing.com/U.S. Census Bureau Update 1 June 2018] Nevada funds their student’s education at 76% less than the average U.S. student. That is down from 83% in 2007.

Downward Spiral: Nevada per pupil funding as a % of the U.S. Average

At 76% of U.S. average per pupil funding, and based on a 180-day school year, Nevada’s per pupil funding runs out on April 9th, while the average U.S. student is funded to the end of the school year.

Nevada Education:  The No Money Myth

According to Education Week’s Quality Counts 2018, only Idaho ranks lower in School Finance and Nevada’ Overall education score is the worst in the United States. [Source:  Education Week 17 Jan 2018, updated 10 Oct 2018] But why doesn’t Nevada adequately fund public schools?

Nevada’s school funding, or lack thereof, is based on the assumption that Nevada is a poor State. Many believe that Nevada’s industries are overtaxed and cannot pay more in taxes than they are currently. They are not overtaxed. In fact, they’re hardly taxed at all.

Nevada is Not California, But It’s Not Nothin’

Nevada sits next to the 5th largest economy in the world, California. California casts a long shadow over almost all the other states in the United States, and it is true, Nevada’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is less than six percent of the Golden State.

Nevada’s GDP increased by 3.8% in 2017. In 2018, Nevada’s GDP increased by 5.7% in Q1, 4.3% in Q2, and 4.1% in Q3. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis Table 1)

However, Nevada’s GDP is not minor. In the United States, Nevada’s GDP is ranked 33rd (2017.) If Nevada were a country its GDP would rank 55th in the world. [Sources:  Wikipedia GDP World GDP USA] Nevada’s growth in GDP in 2017 was the second largest in the country.

What We Got Here…Is a Failure to Tax

Nevada’s problem is an almost religious belief that corporations should not pay taxes. Almost every tax in Nevada impacts the consumer, not the business. The gaming industry contributes almost nothing in taxes. They collect taxes from the winnings of the customer and collect lodging and entertainment taxes from the guest, but they pay no State corporate tax on their profits. They are essentially a tax collector for the State of Nevada, but not a taxpayer.

Nevada Mining’s Dirty Truths

Mining is one of Nevada’s major industries with a real GDP of $4.3 billion. [Source:  US ReapProject.org] Richard Perry of the Nevada Division of Minerals stated that in 2017, gold mining alone produced over $7 billion. [Source:  Nevada Business 1 Aug 2018] Since 2014, gold production has been increasing every year. [Source:  Nevada Mining Association] In 2017, Nevada accounted for 72% of all U.S. gold production. [Source:  Nevada Mining Association] Mining also offers one of the highest average wage of any industry in Nevada at just over $90,000.

It’s the other truths that make the ethics of the Nevada mining industry disturbing. Despite being a major industry, taxes paid by mining activities will only account for 1.1% of the State’s tax revenue during the 2017-19 budget. Cigarette taxes will account for almost four times the tax paid by mining. [Source:  Nevada Revenue Reference Manual 2017] 

Nevada’s Current State Revenue: Smoking is almost four times better for Nevada’s budget than mining

In 2018, Nevada ranked second in the world. For what? The mining industry ranked Nevada as having an almost a perfect score for having the most favorable policies in the world. Nevada is also ranked number one in Investment Attractiveness. [Source:  Fraser Institute 2018 Annual Mining Survey] Mining loves Nevada, in large part, because of a lax environment of taxation, labor, and regulation. Simply put, Nevada lets mining walk away with its natural resources with little benefit to its citizens.

One thing the Nevada mining industry does best is to control the message. They boast of having the highest average salary in the State. What they don’t emphasize is that mining only employees about 14,000 employees. [Source:  Wikipedia]

Mining’s high salaries are a result of, 1) employing few unskilled workers, and 2) competitive issues. They are trying to recruit highly skilled professionals to live and work in a rural, isolated environment. The high salaries are due to a workforce that is heavily mechanized and uses few unskilled labors. One report explains the employment situation in the Nevada mining industry:

Support positions represent the minority and are low-paying jobs, but this sector pays and average of about $90,000, if you’re lucky to get one of the mining or administrative positions.

Newsmax 14 Apr 2015 M.A. Smith 

 At War:  Disinformation About Public Schools

The motivation behind the war on Nevada children is greed. Also, a certain element in Nevada opposes the public education concept. This element, largely led by Nevada’s major industries, seem to believe that education is a black hole that consumes money but has no financial benefit to them.

The strategy has been to demonize public schools. For decades, a disinformation program has promoted the idea that public schools are corrupt, wasteful, and evil. Nevada’s business community, especially mining and gaming, have used their money and resources to back candidates that work to prevent adequate funding of public education. 

In addition, certain politicians have resurrected the belief that education should be centered on the concept of a deity. In 2015, Nevada Republicans passed a measure that would give parents taxpayer money to send their children to religious-operated schools. Republican Governor Brian Sandoval, whose children had attended a Catholic elementary school, signed the bill into Nevada law.

In 2016, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled the law to be unconstitutional but left the option open for Republicans to write a new bill that would allow taxpayer money to be given to parents for private religious schools. [Source:  AP 29 Sep 2016 – M. Rindels]

The Teacher Salary Deception

Those who are waging war against Nevada’s schools will point to the average teacher salary in Nevada. At $57,366, Nevada’s average teacher salary ranks as the 18th highest in the nation. [Source:  Business Insider 11 Feb 2019 – M. Perino] It is one of the few bright spots in the education story of the State…until you look closer.

With Nevada’s relatively high average teacher salary, one would expect the amount of money spent on instruction in Silver State’s schools to also be high, or at least above average. It is not.

Nevada’s per pupil spending on instruction is even worse than its overall per pupil spending. Nevada is only spending 73% per pupil than the U.S. average. So if the average Nevada teacher is paid more, why is instructional per pupil spending less?

The answer lies in Nevada’s teacher to student ratio. A single Nevada teacher instructs the same number of students as 1.6 teachers in the nation’s typical classroom. At almost 26 students per teacher, Nevada ranked first in the United States in student/teacher ratio for both 2016 and 2017. [Source:  NEA Research Table B3 Apr 2018]

Nevada pays teachers more than average because they have fewer teachers to pay. 

At War:  Infiltrate and Subvert

Stacking the Deck

Another tactic by anti-public school forces has been to infiltrate both local and state public school institutions and subvert efforts to increase public school funding to appropriate levels. The President of the Nevada State Board of Education is Elaine Wynn, co-founder and Director of Wynn Resorts, one of Nevada’s largest gaming corporations.

Seven of the eleven State Board of Education members do not have a degree in education, nor have they been employed as a public school teacher. The only active teacher on the Board is a part-time music teacher. [Source:  DOE.NV.GOV] The State Board of Education is designed to allow people with a vested interest in keeping a tight reign on funding for education.

At the school district level, the demoralizing environment of underfunded schools has caused the loss of great educators leaving the profession. This has also allowed in people who have a sadistic pleasure in experimenting on children. In the Washoe County School District (WCSD,) Nevada’s second largest, the vacuum of qualified teachers has attracted a few administrators and teachers that have seized the opportunity to push for cruelty in the schools.

Ms. Ratched is in the Classroom

The primary agenda of these dysfunctional administrators and teachers seems to the establishment a strict disciplinary state in the schools using the term, ‘rigor,’ as a code word for mental and social abuse of children. Rigor is interpreted by some teachers as an excuse to require hours of studying at home every night. When students fall behind, the teacher and the school blame the student for being mentally and/or emotionally flawed. Like Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a passive-aggressive teacher thrives in an environment where they’ve been approved to be tough on the students. 

Nurse Ratched also applied rigor and strict discipline to the people in her charge

Student absences are seen as opportunities by some teachers to burden the student with hours of makeup work. This work is added to the hours of homework that these same teachers send home every day. This work is due within 48 hours of receiving it. [Source:  WCSD Website] Some teachers have interpreted this policy as beginning 48 hours of being posted online, meaning students are expected to retrieve their makeup work at home while they are sick.

Some teachers have opted to use homework as an alternative to classroom instruction. In one case, a math syllabus for 7th-grade students warns students that homework will include introducing concepts not discussed in the classroom. The student is expected to research the concept at home and teach themselves how to complete the math problem. A math teacher reportedly told her students, “I’m not here to teach you, I’m here to grade you.”

I’m not here to teach you, I’m here to grade you.

Washoe County School District Teacher

During the past school year, the district also attempted to implement a program requiring students to complete improvised curriculum from home during ‘Snow Days.’ This program, known as ‘Digital Snow Days,’ had no educational justification. [See previous article] It was implemented under the banner of rigor and even though it was considered unlawful by the State Board of Education, certain district administrators vowed to pursue the program.

A typical child will often say they hate school, That’s expected, however, the fallout from an excessively cruel school environment is that students learn to hate learning.

Nevada Education:  Everyone Loses

In Nevada’s War on Children, everyone loses. Children that hate learning may do well on tests and graduate, but their motive is to do what is necessary to get away from school, not move forward with their education.

Employers that need bright, eager, well-educated employees to be competitive find Nevada high school graduates lacking. Companies like the aerospace company, Sierra Nevada Corporation, has its headquarters in Nevada where it escapes corporate and personal income taxes, but most of the company’s workforce is in Colorado. The jobs go to where the qualified people live.

Schools lose because they can’t keep great teachers who are faced with impossible work conditions. When schools recruit new teachers they are beggars offering salaries that don’t reflect the degree of education, training, licensure, personal scrutiny and professionalism required. Often they get the person willing to work for the salary, not the person they want in their school.

Parents lose because they have to confront the reality of underfunded schools, but their words fall on deaf ears when they seek remedies to the situation.

Nevada Education:  In a Tunnel Going Nowhere

There is no light on the horizon for Nevada’s schools. The current legislative session that will set the budget for the next two years will once again close without any effort to correct Nevada’s underfunding. Each year, Nevada’s per pupil funding will fall farther behind the funding for the average student in the United States. Money that belongs to Nevada’s children will end up in the bonus for a corporate executive…and the politicians will just shrug their shoulders and go home.

[NOTE:  Additional historical data was obtained from the Public Education Finances Report from the U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Census Bureau for 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015]

How a Layoff in January Can Impact an April Launch

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SpaceX has taught us all a valuable lesson. If you need five new boosters in March and April, it’s probably best to not cut ten percent of your workers in January. Three of those boosters were needed for this week’s first Block 5 Falcon Heavy launch. At least three delays of the static fire test have now pushed the launch back to next week at the earliest.

What a January layoff looks like in April

Layoff:  Cut Their Nose Off

SpaceX announced that they were laying off ten percent of their workforce in California, primarily at the rocket manufacturing plant. This came at a time when they would also be using five new Block 5 boosters for March and April. From a strategic and logistical perspective, it was a dumb move. It also indicates how bad things are at SpaceX.

Layoffs have three primary effects. First, they demoralize the workforce. When layoffs are announced, everyone lives in fear that he or she will be the one losing their job. Low morale is not usually associated with quality work. 

Second, the survivors of a layoff typically have to take on additional responsibilities. They are expected to work harder and more efficiently to make up for the workforce lost in the layoff.

Finally, layoffs tend to reduce the knowledge and skill base of the workforce. A layoff rarely allows the opportunity for the worker to pass on her or his knowledge to the survivors. Usually, the worker is called to human resources, given the goodbye speech, handed their final check, and escorted out the door.

A layoff is a bad idea at any time, but in an industry where there is no margin for error, it’s a nightmare.

Booster Shortfall?

The first Block 5 Booster was launched eleven months ago (B 1046.) Since then only six more have been launched. Seven boosters in 13 launches. Two of those seven have been lost. SpaceX was debuting a new booster at a pace just slightly greater than one a month before the layoff.

After the layoff, they needed five new Block 5 boosters in March and April, three of them for this week’s launch. Has SpaceX has been rushing to build Block 5 boosters with a workforce injured by a recent layoff?

Enter the Falcon Heavy Static Fire Test

SpaceX is silent on the this week’s static fire delays but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to suspect something is wrong with the Falcon Heavy rocket. Knowledgable sources said that the test would occur on Monday, then Wednesday, then Thursday, Now it’s supposed to happen today (Friday.)

The delays suggest that this is why you don’t lay off your workers in January when you need new boosters in March and April.

SpaceX Public Relations: Secrecy is Modus Operandi

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[UPDATE:  Eric Ralph, a writer for Telsalarti, posted an article saying that the Falcon Heavy launch was likely to be delayed and that it was “OK.” Again, Ralph is a knowledgable source but not an official source, so SpaceX is not accountable for the speculation. Source:  Teslarati 4 Apr 2019.]

SpaceX is scheduled to launch the new Block 5 version of the Falcon Heavy on Sunday (7 April) sometime between 6:36 PM and 8:35 PM EDT. We know this from an official source of information that was made available on 22 March. That information was not provided by SpaceX to the directly to the public. SpaceX reported it as required; however, if not for that requirement, the public would have no information on the time or date of the launch. The public is given the silent treatment while SpaceX collects billions in taxpayer dollars.


This tweet by Michael Baylor, a managing editor for NASASpaceflight.com and considered a highly knowledgeable source, was wrong. SpaceX has remained silent.

SpaceX Public Relations:  Code of Secrecy

Because SpaceX is a private company, they’re not required to tell the public anything,…and they don’t. This leads to speculation through other sources and that speculation works to their favor. By not making announcements about time or dates, they can’t be held responsible for delays. SpaceX avoids negative publicity by not being accountable to the public. The new reality of public relations in space exploration is that everything is on a need to know basis…and the public doesn’t need to know.

Prep for Falcon Heavy Static Fire Test…in 2018

Falcon Heavy Problems?

This week’s Block 5 Falcon Heavy debut is a prime example of how SpaceX uses secrecy to their advantage. Instead of informing the public, the public relations people at SpaceX are taking a low profile prior to the launch. No announcements, no tweets.

Speculation has been made that the static fire test (a short test-firing of the engines) would occur on Monday (1 April,) Wednesday (3 April,) and now Thursday (4 April.) [Sources:  Teslarati 28 Mar 2019 – E. Ralph, Spaceflight Now 1-3 Apr 2019 – S. Clark] Again, not from official sources, but by knowledgeable sources. This type of teasing drives SpaceX fans into a feeding frenzy of speculation, but SpaceX isn’t accountable for any of the speculation, regardless of how knowledgable the source.

This allows SpaceX to miss a projected date or time for the static fire test because they never said when the test would occur. It is likely that the information in the above tweet by Michael Baylor was accurate and something has happened to cause SpaceX to push back the static fire test, but they don’t have to reveal that to the public. They can keep the public guessing until it becomes obvious that the launch date and time will not be met.

This also allows SpaceX to minimize failure while wildly pronouncing a success. If the launch is a success, SpaceX will make public announcements with video of every positive aspect of the launch. If the Falcon Heavy launch fails SpaceX will likely cut video feeds to the public and wait several hours to form a carefully crafted explanation that will suggest the failure was an expected risk of a rocket launch. Then they will go silent.

This is what SpaceX did on the first Falcon Heavy (Block 4) launch when the booster core failed to land on the drone ship. The video feed was cut when the booster crashed near the ship and damaged the engines. SpaceX then didn’t confirm or deny what happened until several hours later, even though they had a continuous video of the event. [Source:  The Verge 6 Feb 2018 – L. Grush]

Why Should the Public Know?

Roughly half of SpaceX’s revenue has come from the taxpayers pocket. According to Sam Dunkovich, $5.5 billion of SpaceX $12 billion in launch contracts are from NASA or the U.S. military [Source:  RealClear Policy 2 Feb 2018.] SpaceX wouldn’t be in the space industry if it were not for the financial revenue it gains from the U.S. taxpayer. The first launch of a Block 5 Falcon Heavy is a significant milestone of how our money is being spent by this private company.

Space exploration has been a public concern since Soviet Russia launched Sputnik on 4 October 1957. The conservatives desire to privatize space exploration is at best an experiment and certainly is a one-sided political agenda. By withholding information from the taxpayers, the effectiveness of that political agenda cannot be fairly determined.

Secrecy in public relations is a Soviet model and not acceptable in the United States. Withholding information from the public to hide the true situation is still a lie. This is why private business is incapable of overseeing themselves and should be required to inform the public of their true activities and problems.  

Musk New Plan: Space Bridge to Mars

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[1 April 2019 – Hawthorne, California] Forget rockets, Elon Musk announced a major change in his goal to colonize Mars: Build a space bridge with a 3D printer. Musk latest Tweet indicates he’s serious with a prototype by the end of this Summer.

Space Bridge Starts Twitter Storm

Reaction on Twitter was quick and enthusiastic.

But there were a few who had doubts:

But SpaceX fans quickly shot down the naysayers:

Another SpaceX fan quickly put up a professional artist’s rendering of what the space bridge and 3D printer might look like:

NASA All For Space Bridge

Coming out from an outdoor meeting with President Donald Trump at the Mar-a-Largo Club, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said,

This is exactly why we need business thinkers and wealthy people running NASA! This is the type of out-of-the-box thinking that scientists and engineers would reject before we’ve had a few billion tax dollars spent by private companies to try and make it work.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine

Bridenstine also indicated that Trump would declare a national emergency to get the funding for the space bridge. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders allegedly mumbled in the women’s bathroom at Mar-a-Largo Club that someone might, someday, issue a press briefing regarding the Space Bridge, maybe.

The online space news site, Space.com immediately posted an article praising Musk for his vision and wisdom. Space.com Senior Editor Ima Dunsel said, “We have no evidence of superior beings, but with Elon Musk, who needs them?” Other online space news sites voiced similar praises for Musk’s idea. 

It is as yet unclear as to what material would be used for the bridge, but as one SpaceX fan put it, “There is no doubt that SpaceX will get this done.” Another tweet suggested that other space corporations should, “…just die now and get it over with..,” as SpaceX has trumped them all.

No Pressure, But If the Falcon Heavy Fails, So Does SpaceX

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SpaceX has put themselves in a corner. Next week’s launch of the new Block 5 Falcon Heavy has to go almost flawlessly or much, if not all, of what they have will go down in flames with the rocket.

SpaceX 1 September 2016 Static Test Explosion – Ignition

SpaceX’s Financial State

SpaceX played a risky game last year focusing on making money in commercial launches. That should have been a big boost to their revenue stream, but in January they announced layoffs. SpaceX also announced a sudden cut in the number of launches in 2019. [Source:  Business Insider 21 Jan 2019 – Dave Mosher] That might indicate that SpaceX was offering bargain prices to its customers to land contracts but losing money in the process.

One line in a statement made to Business Insider by a SpaceX representative regarding the layoffs is telling:

This action is taken only due to the extraordinarily difficult challenges ahead and would not otherwise be necessary.

SpaceX Statement

Taken at face value, SpaceX’s rationale for the massive layoffs in its rocket manufacturing division sounds like a proactive business strategy, but why be so forceful in the justification? They insist that the “only” reason for the layoffs is for the “challenges ahead.” SpaceX then repeats itself at the end of the sentence by saying, “and would not otherwise be necessary.”

SpaceX 1 September 2016 Static Test Explosion – Upper Booster Engulfed

The Organization Doth Protest Too Much

The defensiveness of the statement indicates that the layoffs are necessary because SpaceX is already in trouble. By saying the layoffs were to prepare for a grim future, they may have confirmed that they were a reactionary, not proactive move. 

SpaceX 1 September 2016 Static Test Explosion – Entire Rocket/Pad Engulfed

The Falcon Heavey Gambit

Up to now, SpaceX has landed customers on bargain pricing, but it is likely that they desperately need to attract customers that can pay top dollar. Enter the U.S. military. SpaceX has yet to gain the full confidence of the U.S. Air Force for their military satellites. Elon Musk may have thought that one successful launch using the old Block 4 boosters would have the U.S. military eating out of their hand, but that didn’t happen.

Now SpaceX desperately needs another spectacular success of the Falcon Heavy to convince those with deep pockets that their bird is equal or better than the competition.

But what if the next Falcon Heavy launch is a failure?

SpaceX 1 September 2016 Static Test Explosion – Upper Stage with payload fall to the ground

What’s at Risk for SpaceX

It is unlikely that SpaceX will experience the worst-case scenario of the complete loss of the Falcon Heavy and its Arabsat 6A satellite, but what would happen if the nightmare happened?

No space cred for the Falcon Heavy. The Falcon Heavy would not be in consideration for heavy-lift payloads by the military, nor private customers at any price.

No human-rating cred for Block 5 redesign. NASA requires seven successful launches of the Block 5 booster without a significant redesign to gain a human rating. The 15 November 2018 launch of Booster 1047 was the first with newly designed tanks. Since then, SpaceX has had six launches with the new design. The Falcon Heavy would be the seventh launch. Failure would mean another delay in obtaining the human rating for the Block 5 booster.  

Loss of two Falcon 9 Block 5 boosters and one Block 5 core. The two side boosters would be the biggest loss. They are planned to be reused on the next Falcon Heavy flight in July. That flight would have to be delayed for months and SpaceX can’t afford that delay. Remember that layoff? That hit the rocket manufacturing plant the hardest.

More expense with no revenue. Insurance would cover most, if not all, of the loss of the vehicle, but it’s not going to provide more revenue. More cuts would have to follow, pushing back the launch schedule even farther.

Loss of pad, more delays. It would be bad if SpaceX lost the vehicle in flight, but in the worst-case scenario, the loss would occur on the pad. It could be a year or more to rebuild the launch pad. The destruction of the pad and the two side boosters would bring into question whether SpaceX could make the contracted cargo deliveries to the ISS.

Testing of the Dragon 2 crew capsule flights would be jeopardized. If the April launch of the Falcon Heavy fails, Boeing would probably be able to coast into NASA’s crew capsule contract.

Enough Pessimism, What If the Falcon Heavy Flies!

A win for SpaceX would be a successful launch and recovery of at least the two side boosters, but that only buys them three months. The April Falcon Heavy launch is Act I of a two-act play. Act II is a follow-up flight in July of the Falcon Heavy reusing the two side boosters from the April launch. Part of the show is to demonstrate that the boosters can be turned around and relaunched in a matter of weeks.

The U.S. Air Force may give SpaceX a heavy-lift contract even before the July flight of the Falcon Heavy; however, it is likely that they will negotiate a below market price and it may be contingent on both the April and July flights meeting all expectations.

False Bravado

Less than a year ago Elon Musk was boasting that in 2019, SpaceX would have a 24-hour turnaround on a Block 5 booster. [Source: NASASpaceflight.com 17 May 2018 – Michael Baylor] Eight months later SpaceX was cutting their labor force by ten percent. Rather than two launches of the same booster in 24 hours, this year SpaceX is struggling to have more than one launch per month. 

SpaceX fans worship Elon Musk’s great vision but there is a fine line between vision and false bravado. Musk is known to continually overstep that line. Now one misstep with next week’s Falcon Heavy launch and SpaceX is risking a lot more than the loss of one satellite.

Is Space.com a Soviet-Style News Agency for SpaceX

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Space.com is in love. They are head-over-heels in love with SpaceX. Reading the articles posted by Space.com writers one might think that SpaceX has already landed on Mars, colonized the Moon, and cured the common cold. It’s not that Space.com writers present false information about SpaceX, it’s just that they tend to overlook…well, almost everything negative.

This style of almost compulsory cheerleading of SpaceX by an alleged news source is reminiscent of the type of reporting from the Soviet days of TASS (Telegrafnoye agentstvo Sovetskogo Soyuza,) Russia’s official news source. From 1925 to 1992, Soviet intelligence agencies often used TASS to put out positive news and disinformation, including crafted stories praising the Soviet space program. For decades, TASS was the mouthpiece for the Soviet government reminding Soviet citizens that the Soviet government was always correct even when they were wrong.

A Fake Starship Prototype?

Space.com demonstrates the Soviet-like reporting in one of its latest articles on SpaceX. Writer Lee Cavendish published an article [Space.com 29 Mar 2019] that gushed about SpaceX’s Starship Hopper. He began his piece as follows:

SpaceX continues to amaze in popularizing space exploration. Not only is it doing fantastic work in reaching and exploring space…

Lee Cavendish for Space.com

For his article, he used this artist’s rendering of the Starship…

Artists rendering of SpaceX’s Starship used by Space.com

However, this is what the actual craft looked like at the test site in January before the top blew off in the wind…

…and this is what it looked like after it fall down, go boom….

…and finally, this is what it looked like for this week’s tests:

A test of a Starship, or a silo with legs?

It’s understandable why the artist’s rendering was used and not images of the real thing. SpaceX didn’t even bother to put the top half of the Starship back on for the test.

Not an expert, but doesn’t that seem to be a wimpy propulsion system?

Close-ups of the bottom of the Starship would indicate that almost no effort was put into making this ‘prototype’ anything but a show for the public. From top to bottom this doesn’t look like anything that can get off the ground, which is may be why Space.com used an artist’s rendering.

Is Space.com Ignoring the Problems?

SpaceX has glaring problems and yet, Space.com has nothing but praise for the company. This week I wrote two articles detailing their problems (SpaceX’s Implosion and SpaceX 2019 Launch Schedule Realities] and yet, space-focused media outlets like Space.com seem to have a blind eye regarding the issues that seem to be obvious.

Among the issues that seem to be ignored are:

  • Hidden costs of relanding the boosters (30% fuel reserved for relanding reducing lift capacity, cost of boosters built for reentry and landing, cost of maintaining an ocean landing pad, costs of launch delays because of weather conditions at the ocean landing pad, cost of transportation of reused booster, costs of refurbishment of a booster, etc.)
  • Reduction of 10% of their workers when they should be expanding
  • Failure to test a Block 5 version of the Falcon Heavy before launching for a paying customer
  • A lack of progress on Dragon 2 and Falcon Heavy testing for most of 2018
  • Drastic reduction in 2019 launch schedule
  • Significantly underpricing the cost of a mission while apparently in a financial crisis
  • A silly prototype test of the SpaceX Starship
  • Overhyping an unmanned test of the Dragon 2 crew capsule that was essentially a mimic of a cargo delivery to the International Space Station (ISS)

Space.com:  SpaceX’s Public Relations Team

Instead, Space.com publishes an unending series of articles that 1) sing praises of SpaceX, 2) seem to be expanded versions of a SpaceX public service announcement, and/or 3) are based on an Elon Musk Tweet. At times the articles cover the same topic as reported by another Space.com writer or sometimes the same writer will cover the same topic, only days apart.

Below is a list of articles that Space.com has published regarding SpaceX in the last 35 days:

  1. Meet SpaceX’s Starship Hopper [Space.com 29 Mar 2019 – Lee Cavendish]
  2. SpaceX’s Hexagon Tiles for Starship Heat Shield Pass Fiery Test [Space.com 22 Mar 2019 – Tariq Malik]
  3. You Can Watch SpaceX’s Starship Hopper Tests Live Via a South Texas Surf School [Space.com 22 Mar 2019 – Sarah Lewin]
  4. SpaceX Preparing to Begin Starship Hopper Tests [Space.com 18 Mar 2019 – Jeff Foust]
  5. SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy Megarocket to Fly 1st Commercial Mission in April: Report [Space.com 18 Mar 2019 – Mike Wall]
  6. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Demo-1 Test Flight in Pictures [Space.com 8 Mar 2019 – Hanneke Weitering]
  7. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Looks Just Like a Toasted Marshmallow After Fiery Re-Entry [Space.com 8 Mar 2019 – Tariq Malik]
  8. SpaceX Crew Dragon Splashes Down in Atlantic to Cap Historic Test Flight [Space.com 8 Mar 2019 – Mike Wall]
  9. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Success Heralds ‘New Era’ in Spaceflight [Space.com 8 Mar 2019 – Mike Wall]
  10. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Left Its ‘Little Earth’ Behind on Space Station [Space.com 8 Mar 2019 – Hanneke Weitering]
  11. SpaceX Crew Dragon Re-Entry May Be Visible Over Some of Eastern US [Space.com 7 Mar 2019 – Joe Rao]
  12. Astronauts Pack Up SpaceX’s Crew Dragon for Return to Earth [Space.com 7 Mar 2019 – Meghan Bartels]
  13. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Homecoming Friday May Be Toughest Part of Its Mission [Space.com 6 Mar 2019 – Mike Wall]
  14. VP Mike Pence Hails SpaceX Crew Dragon Success at Space Station [Space.com 6 Mar 2019 – Mike Wall]
  15. ‘Little Earth’ on SpaceX Crew Dragon Gives Boost to Celestial Buddies [Space.com 4 Mar 2019 – Robert Z. Pearlman]
  16. New ‘Celestial Buddies’ Earth Plush Is Even Cooler than SpaceX’s ‘Zero-G Indicator’ [Space.com 4 Mar 2019 – Kasandra Brabaw]
  17. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Docks at Space Station for First Time [Space.com 3 Mar 2019 – Mike Wall]
  18. Trump Hails SpaceX Crew Dragon Launch, Says NASA’s ‘Rocking Again’ [Space.com 3 Mar 2019 – Tariq Malik]
  19. SpaceX Adds Adorable ‘Zero-G Indicator’ Inside the Crew Dragon [Space.com 2 Mar 2019 – Hanneke Weitering]
  20. Elon Musk Was Emotionally Wrecked by SpaceX’s 1st Crew Dragon Launch Success — But In A Good Way [Space.com 2 Mar 2019 – Tariq Malik]
  21. SpaceX Crew Dragon Launch Heralds ‘New Era in Spaceflight,’ NASA Chief Says [Space.com 2 Mar 2019 – Mike Wall]
  22. With SpaceX and Boeing, Commercial Crew Launches Will Boost Space Station Science [Space.com 1 Mar 2019 – Meghan Bartels]
  23. It’s Just About ‘Go’ Time for SpaceX’s 1st Crew Dragon Spaceship [Space.com 28 Feb 2019 – Tariq Malik]
  24. SpaceX Is Launching a Spacesuit-Clad Dummy on 1st Crew Dragon [Space.com 27 Feb 2019 – Mike Wall]
  25. NASA, SpaceX ‘Go’ for 1st Crew Dragon Test Flight on March 2 [Space.com 23 Feb 2019 – Mike Wall]

Why?

The question is why? Why do Space.com writers seem like they are part of a Soviet-style news agency? One reason is that perhaps they are just fans of SpaceX and Space.com has become a SpaceX fansite. Another possibility is that their access to information regarding SpaceX is conditional on cooperation with the company. It may be as simple as an article that is critical of SpaceX will result in he or she being blacklisted. Maybe the writers are enamored with and afraid of SpaceX at the same time.

Regardless, it would seem that Space.com is not a reliable source of unbiased information. In 2003, Space.com won an award from the Online Journalism Association for coverage of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. That was over 15 years ago. Maybe they haven’t won another award because they actually have to do journalism to be considered.

SpaceX 2019 Launch Schedule Realities

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SpaceX Retreating Launch Schedule

SpaceX has had three successful launches so far this year. The problem is that one launch per month is a major retreat from the 21 launches it had in 2018. Looking forward, SpaceX next three quarters will not improve. Based on the available information they will only attempt ten more launches before the end of the year.

[NOTE:  This is a follow-up story to Tuesday’s article – SpaceX Implosion]

The One and Only: The 1st and last Falcon Heavy launch one year ago

Soviet Style Space Program…Everything is on a Need To Know Basis

Much like to old Soviet Space program, SpaceX avoids making public announcements regarding its launch plans. On its website, SpaceX lists the contracts it has by the customer or satellite name in alphabetical order but doesn’t give a date or time for the launch. Most of the information on SpaceX launches is derived from secondary sources and legally required filings. Here is a list of what is known about the rest of the 2019 SpaceX schedule:

ªNL – Launch not likely in 2019.
¹The original target date for launch.
²Author’s best estimate of the likelihood of launch on that day, or during that time period based on multiple sources.
³Launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

[Primary Source: Spaceflight Now Secondary Sources: Wikipedia, RocketLaunch.live, NASA, Brian Webb]

Based on multiple sources, four of these launches are unlikely to occur in 2019. The Starlink flight [14 May] has disappeared from most launch schedule websites. This is a program that would seem to be the lowest priority and would add more expense to SpaceX with little or no revenue in return.

There are some reports that the late June Dragon 2 abort test flight is being pushed back and that the 25 July Dragon 2 test flight with a crew will be no earlier than November at the earliest. This would make the first Dragon 2 delivery of a crew to ISS unlikely until 2020. [Source:  TASS 22 Mar 2019] Comments from the unnamed space representative said that the Dragon 2 parachute system would have to be replaced. If true, the launch abort test in June could be significantly delayed and the crew test would hang in the balance of a completely new parachute system, making the crew test unlikely even by November. 

Finally, the Sirius Radio Satellite schedule for the 4th quarter of 2019 would seem unlikely based on the flights being pushed back or already scheduled in the 4th quarter.

Falcon Heavy Headaches

Another major issue in the SpaceX schedule is the second Falcon Heavy flight now scheduled for June. Everything would have to go perfectly on the 7 April Falcon Heavy flight for any chance of meeting the planned June flight as two of the three boosters on the April flight are to be reused for June flight. Any issues with the two side boosters in April would require SpaceX to find a replacement booster(s.) It is questionable if SpaceX has any Block 5 boosters to spare.

In addition, the launch pad has to be configured for a Falcon Heavy launch and then reconfigured for a normal Falcon 9 launch. That means weeks of extra work between launches that render the pad useless.

Dragon 2 Human-Rating Race

SpaceX has had an advantage in the race to provide a human-rated space capsule. It already has a cargo capsule that is already operational for unmanned flights to and from the International Space Station (ISS.) Since the crewed Dragon 2 capsule will be under autopilot as its default, the basic spacecraft needed little conversion to fly its first test mission to ISS and back.

Dragon 2 Cargo Capsule – already flying

Many looked at this month’s [2 March 2019] Dragon 2 test flight as a major milestone; however, it really was a cargo flight with seats, a dummy, and an Earth-shaped plush toy. It really proved little about the human-rating of the capsule, but it was a big show for SpaceX.

Dragon 2 Crew Capsule – take out the cargo, add seats and touchscreens

The reason that it’s significant that Russia news agencies are reporting a major delay in Dragon 2 testing is that Russia would have to be contracted to provide ISS crew flights if the United States doesn’t have a human-rated capsule by the end of this year. Since SpaceX doesn’t usually report problems in their space program to the United States media, the first report of the schedule being significantly pushed back would likely come from Russia.

If it is true that SpaceX can’t launch the first crewed test until 2020, it would be devastating to its Dragon 2 program and open the door for Boeing’s Starliner to be tested and rated by the end of this year.

What’s SpaceX’s Problem?

SpaceX seems to be in financial trouble. The ten percent reduction in the staff indicates a severe cash flow problem. The 40% reduction in the launch schedule would indicate the financial issues are more severe than they would publicly acknowledge.

2018 was a year of primarily paying the bills with commercial launches. That may have actually cost SpaceX in the long term. Now they are in a heated race with Boeing to win the crew capsule business and because they only have one test launch of the Falcon Heavy they didn’t land the military contracts they desperately need. Now they are trying to prove that the Falcon Heavy is reliable with two launches in three months. SpaceX fans applaud the company on its brilliant strategy but this year their strategy isn’t working.

SpaceX’s Implosion

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SpaceX on Self Destruct

Elon Musk is the Wizard of Odd desperately telling the public to pay no attention to the SpaceX problems behind the curtain. Admittedly, the bad news at SpaceX is usually buried by Musk’s talent to distract attention by offering some new Tweet that causes his fan club and space mediaites to swoon, but even Musk is challenged by the train wreck in progress. 

SpaceX Starship Down – Image credit: Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo

Image credit: Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo

First, the Good News

SpaceX has successfully launched three rockets this year. The three bright spots of those launches are:

  • the 2 March the Dragon 2 capsule demo (no crew) flight to the International Space Station (ISS) and back
  • the 22 February, third launch of a reusable Falcon 9 (F9) Block 5 booster
  • three successful launches

Successful launches might seem to be a basic expectation but in the case of SpaceX, the lack of a launch failure is great news.

SpaceX Downsizing Nightmare

The most alarming news is that SpaceX has laid off about 10% of its employees. In an article in Business Insider, [21 Jan 2019] Dan Mosher reported the according to a notice required by California law, 93% of those jobs eliminated were front line workers and only 7% were managers or supervisors. This cuts into the core of SpaceX’s ability to put a product into space.

This also means that SpaceX’s effort to develop new technology will be impacted as experienced workers have now left the company taking their knowledge and skills with them.

2019 SpaceX Schedule in Retreat

In 2015, SpaceX had 7 attempted launches with one failure. In 2016, SpaceX had 8 attempted launches with no failures, but one rocket blew up on the pad during a static fire test. In 2017, they had 18 attempted launches and no failures. In 2018, they had 21 attempted launches and no failures. [Source:  Wikipedia – Launches]

This year SpaceX has only had three launches in the first quarter, and only 10 launches scheduled for the remainder of 2019. [Source:  Spaceflight Now 25 Mar 2019] This means that SpaceX will have no more than 13 launches this year which almost a 40% drop in launch attempts from last year. Another source lists 14 [See Wikipedia – Launches above] remaining launch attempts this year; however, SpaceX has some obvious launchpad [Source:  NASA Spaceflight.com 6 Mar 2019 – M. Baylor] and booster reuse conflicts that would make that schedule nearly impossible. 

Regardless, SpaceX 2019 launch schedule will be dramatically smaller than 2018. The reduction is because SpaceX doesn’t have the resources and/or customer orders to maintain or grow its business. Either way, SpaceX is in trouble. 

SpaceX Begging for Contracts?

The layoff notice came three months after it was reported [Source:  Space News 10 Oct 2018 – S. Erwin] that SpaceX was excluded from $2 billion worth of U.S. Air Force heavy-lift rocket contracts that went to three competitors. Within two weeks of that announcement, Eric Ralph of Musk’s fan site, Teslarati, [25 Oct 2018] reported that SpaceX had quickly landed two private satellite launches for the Falcon Heavy, but he didn’t report the value of the contracts.

Musk is known for offering below bargain prices and grand claims to his company’s customers to attract business and this sudden rebound of two heavy-lift private contracts of an undisclosed value had all the trappings of Musk offer-they-couldn’t-refuse. 

This was followed last month in a Forbes [20 Feb 2019] article by Elizabeth Howell, reporting that SpaceX and veteran military contractor United Launch Alliance (ULA) each won a three rocket contract from the Air Force. The ULA contract was for $442 million, but the SpaceX contract was essentially a buy-two-get-one-free contract of $297 million.

SpaceX can’t afford to lose money and still launch rockets. If that is what has happened it is a strategy that will eventually destroy the company from the inside out.

The Falcon Heavy Gap

SpaceX’s spectacular Falcon Heavy debut last February has been followed by a year of silence. This behavior was characteristic of Musk’s tendency to rely more on grandiosity and less on substance in his business ventures. The Falcon Heavy test flight buoyed the company’s public image, but the lack of a follow-up test left the question of whether the first Falcon Heavy was luck or skill.

Next month, SpaceX will be the second launch the Falcon Heavy, but this will be for a paying customer. Caleb Henry, reporting for Via Satellite, [18 Sep 2015] said that SpaceX won the contract for the Arabsat 6A satellite three and a half years ago. According to Spaceflight Now [25 Mar 2019], the launch was originally scheduled for the first half of 2018, then delayed multiple times to the 7 April 2019 date. Since this contract was agreed upon two and a half years before the first Falcon Heavy flew, the customer committed to SpaceX on blind trust. In business, you don’t do blind trust contracts unless you’re getting an exceptional deal.   

Sandra Erwin of Space News [25 Mar 2019] reports that the U.S. Air Force will be closely monitoring the second launch of a Falcon Heavy rocket to evaluate SpaceX’s ability to perform as promised. This indicates that customers are still not sold on the Falcon Heavy. 

Booster Hype

Emre Kelly of Florida Today [5 Aug 2018] wrote that Musk has boasted that the Falcon 9 Block 5 booster will be the ultimate in cost savings. He has said that SpaceX will be able to launch, land, and relaunch it quickly with minimal refurbishment and inspection. He also claims that each Block 5 booster will be reused a minimum of 10 times, and up to 100 with ‘moderate refurbishment.’

However, the reality of the Block 5 boosters seems to suggest they are not as reusable as stated. The next scheduled launch [7 April] will use two new Block 5 boosters and a new Block 5 core booster. After that, the launch currently scheduled for 25 April will use a new Block 5 booster. The subsequent scheduled 16 May launch will be a second-time use of a Block 5 booster first flown earlier this month. The reuse of the Block 5 boosters isn’t evident in the SpaceX schedule.

Three F9 Block boosters seem to be retired (1046, 1047, and 1049) after a handful of launches. One booster (1054) was intentionally destroyed, one booster is planned to be destroyed (1048), and another failed to reland (1050.) The question about cost savings from reuse and minimal refurbishment remain for a private space organization offering bargain prices and laying off workers.

F9 Block 5 Boosters History/Status [Source:  Wikipedia – Boosters]

      • 1046 – Successfully launched and recovered 3 times/not schedule for further service
      • 1047 – Successfully launched and recovered twice/not scheduled for further service
      • 1048 – Successfully launched and recovered 3 times/scheduled for June 2019 launch and destruction
      • 1049 – Successfully launched and recovered twice/not scheduled for further service
      • 1050 – Successfully launched once, failed to land
      • 1051 – Successfully launched and recovered once/planned for relaunch [May 2019]
      • 1052 – Planned for next two Falcon Heavy launches [April, June 2019]
      • 1053 – Planned for next two Falcon Heavy launches [April, June 2019]
      • 1054 – Successfully launched once, no recovery
      • 1055 – Planned as Falcon Heavy core launch [April 2019]
      • 1056 – Planned for launch [April 2019]
      • 1057 – Planned as Falcon Heavy core launch [June 2019]

Too Many Irons, Too Little Fire

SpaceX is a horse with many riders, each pulling in a different direction. Instead of focusing on innovative spacecraft engineering, or heavy-lift rockets, or human-rated capsules, or commercial and military satellites, or deep space exploration, SpaceX tries to have its hand in it all. The result is a chaotic mess of programs that wax and wane in priority to the management of the organization.

It is a rebirth of the Soviet-style space program of secrecy and public image stunts without the financial resources or management style that produces high quality, successful programs. Musk’s volatile leadership [Source:  Reuters 30 Oct 2018 – E. Johnson, J. Roulette] has led to a space organization coming apart at the seams.

Will SpaceX’s Implosion Cost Lives?

Elon Musk seems to follow a path of metaphorically pushing harder on the accelerator when the charge on his high tech lithium batteries are running low. Musk has a reputation of lashing out at employees, demanding long hours, and pushing for strict deadlines. [Source:  CNBC 18 Oct 2018 – R. Umoh] The problem is that Elon Musk doesn’t make the rockets, his workers do. Soviet Russia learned the hard way that high pressure in the space industry adds high risk for those depending on the workers on the ground.

After a two year delay, 2019 is the year that SpaceX is supposed to put humans in space. That is not a task for an organization in distress.

School Snow Days: Flaky Evidence of Educational Harm

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Snow Daze: The Law and Education

Schools in Reno, Nevada and the surrounding county of Washoe are in a tempest about Snow Days or days of school closures caused by inclement weather. The Washoe County School District (WCSD) is not alone in this issue. The Winter of 2018-19 has caused many schools to address their policies on school closure and the need to compensate for Snow Days with strategies to ‘make up’ the lost in-class time.

The concern is two-fold. One is a legal issue. Many States adopted boilerplate language in their Constitutions regarding the responsibility of establishing public schools. Most States have a requirement that public schools be in session for a minimum of six months each year

The legislature shall provide for a uniform system of common schools, by which a school shall be established and maintained in each school district at least six months in every year…. 

Nevada State Constitution 

While it may seem obvious that this six-month requirement was not meant to be a schedule of a seven day per week schedule for six months, Nevada has followed the example of many other States and reinterpreted the six-month requirement into 180 days of instruction. This has opened the legal issue of whether a school district that has a strict 180 school days schedule is violating the law if classes are canceled for even one day.

Except as otherwise provided in this section, boards of trustees of school districts shall schedule and provide a minimum of 180 days of free school in the districts under their charge.

Nevada Revised Statutes (NRS) 388.090

Snow Daze:  Educational Harm

The second issue with a Snow Day is a claim of educational harm. Traci Davis, the WCSD Superintendent, is claiming that making up a snow day is about meeting the educational need of the student. This Fall she implemented a controversial program to make up Snow Days by requiring that students work from home. Davis’ Master’s degree is in Educational Technology, and that may be the motivation of this year’s sudden establishment of a District-wide ‘Digital Snow Day’ plan to require students to work at home on improvised curriculum posted by their teachers online.

She explained that Digital Snow Days are an effort to find a way for students to keep learning even when school was canceled. Her plan abruptly ended when the Nevada State Board of Education was determined to not in compliance with State law. Davis vehemently denied that Digital Snow Days violated State law, but then admitted that the school district would have to work with the legislature to allow Digital Snow Days to comply with Nevada law.

Sketchy Evidence

In a search for evidence of school closures causing educational harm, only one published paper (Marcotte/Hemelt 2007) could be found. The paper was a discussion paper submitted to IZA of Bonn, Germany in July 2007 by Dave E. Marcotte and Steven W. Hemelt of the University of Maryland Baltimore County. The forward of the discussion paper warns,

Discussion Papers often represent preliminary work and are circulated to encourage discussion. Citation of such a paper should account for its provisional character.

The study presented in the discussion paper is of a review of school closures in Maryland from 1994 through 2005, and it compared each year with that year’s test scores. Specifically, it looked at the percentage of 3rd, 5th, and 8th grade students that performed satisfactorily on the Spring standardized reading and math tests.

This study did find that in years of higher unscheduled school closings there was an inverse relationship between the number of unscheduled school closings and the percent of 3rd grade students performing satisfactorily on the math and reading scores; however, 5th and 8th grade test scores did not have as significant of a relationship.

In addition, the data indicates that in years of five (5) or less unscheduled closures, 3rd grade math and reading test scores improve in almost every case. The exceptions were the 1997 reading scores and the 2002 math scores that were virtually unchanged.

Years with 5 or less unscheduled school closures improved 3rd grade test scores in Maryland (Marcotte 2007)

The paper also cites two other studies on the impact of teacher absences on student tests scores that indicate the significance of the teacher in student performance. These studies would contradict the idea that the replacement of the teacher with a digital or virtual lesson would help improve student performance.

Another Possible Reason For Lower Test Scores

The 2007 study also identifies a link between snowfall and unscheduled school closures. According to the study, there was a direct relationship between the amount of snowfall in Maryland and the number of unscheduled closures. It is reasonable to question whether or not that the relationship with lower 3rd grade test satisfactory test scores is related to unscheduled school closures or if the amount of snow in that year caused more absences resulting in lower satisfactory test scores.

Simply put, more snow may mean higher student and teacher absences leading to lower test scores. The Marcotte study did not compare teacher or student absences, which may play an even more important role in student performance than unscheduled school closings.

Snow Days and Educational Harm:  The Imaginary Storm

There may be a link between excessive (more than five) unscheduled school closings and a drop in student performance on end-of-year standardized tests; however, the impact, if any, may be in early elementary grades with a diminishing effect in later grades. There is little reason to believe that a handful of unscheduled closings has a negative impact on student performance, and the 2007 Marcotte/Hemelt discussion paper suggests that a few unscheduled closings may have a positive effect on end-of-year standardized tests.

Regardless, there is no solid, peer-reviewed research that concludes any link between unscheduled school closures and student performance. There have been studies that demonstrate a link between the absence of a teacher and student testing performance, but those studies would contradict the idea that temporary, improvised, online home-based schooling is an effective replacement for in-class instruction. 

The Digital Snow Day, such as the program being pushed by the Washoe County School District, is simply a gimmick that has no proven benefit to student performance.

Is Jupiter the Cause of the Solar Sunspot Cycle?

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A Strange Coincidence

About every eleven years the Sun completes a sunspot cycle. Every 11.9 years Jupiter completes its orbit of the Sun. Coincidence? Maybe, but there is compelling evidence to suggest that Jupiter and the sunspot cycle are linked.

Image 1.0  Sunspots at the beginning of the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse

The Solar Sunspot Cycle

The solar maximum (the period when the Sun has the maximum sunspot count) of last six cycles occurred in 2012, 2001, 1990, 1979, 1968, and 1957. In each case, the solar maximum extended over many months, but by selecting a common date within the period, (e.g.; June 1st,) the eleven year period becomes apparent (SEE Graphic 1.0)

Graphic 1.0 The Eleven-Year Solar Cycle using a Common Date (June 1st)

It is important to note that the eleven-year cycle applies to the maximum sunspot activity. Solar minimums tend to vary significantly from cycle to cycle; however, solar maximum activity is usually reliable within plus or minus six months.

Jupiter’s Solar Cycle Precession

The question is, where is Jupiter in relation to the Sun during the solar maximums? The answer is simple. For the last six solar maximum cycles, Jupiter has been approximately twenty-five degrees (25°) further back in its orbit than the previous solar maximum. 

Graphic 2.0 The position of Jupiter in its Orbit for the Recent Solar Maximum Cycles and the upcoming cycle (Planets reflect orbital positions for 25 FEB 2019)

The idea of a connection between Jupiter’s orbit and the solar cycle has been traditionally scoffed at by astrophysicists; however, as more is understood about the dynamics of the Sun’s influence beyond the visible solar atmosphere, scientists are less eager to ignore the possibility. A 2016 German study suggests Jupiter, Venus, and Earth may all play a role in sunspot activity.

If there is a connection between the position of Jupiter and the solar maximum, it raises the question of why? Is it a gravitational link, or is it an electromagnetic link? Why does the solar maximum occur when Jupiter is approximately 25° further behind its position of the last solar maximum? Answers to these questions will certainly lead to more questions.

The answers may come soon. In the meantime, Jupiter is raising some interesting questions. 

SpaceX 2018 Report Card: C+

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Last February I wrote that SpaceX had three “must do” things in 2018 to prove that all the self-promotion and bragging is justified. It’s time to look back and see how SpaceX did in achieving these critical milestones.

SpaceX Roadster in Space: A symbol of a company going nowhere fast

No. 1 – Consistency in SpaceX Payload Delivery:  B

SpaceX had 21 launches this year. All of them successful, meaning they didn’t blow up in the first few minutes. This was three more launches than the previous year. One of the launches was the test flight for the Falcon Heavy rocket, but the rest were largely for SpaceX customers.

There was only one payload that did not make it into orbit. The Zuma military satellite was shrouded in secrecy, which means no one had to take the blame or acknowledge the payload failure. A report indicates that SpaceX was not to blame, but there are discrepancies in the live reporting by the SpaceX Launch Announcer that indicate a failure of the SpaceX fairings to deploy on time.

That gives SpaceX a 95% success rate, which would seem to be great, but with billions of dollars invested in payloads, one failure is too many. SpaceX gets a B.

No. 2 – Prove Falcon Heavy is Reliable:  D+

SpaceX had a major publicity win with the first launch of Falcon Heavy rocket last February. The stunt of launching a Tesla Roadster was a stroke of public relations brilliance that overshadowed the fact that no additional Falcon Heavy launches followed the single success.

The next Falcon Heavy launch is scheduled for March of 2019. If all goes well, SpaceX will be one step closer to proving reliability, but SpaceX has not made its case to the people who can afford to pay SpaceX to launch their satellites.

Another Falcon Heavy rocket is scheduled to be launched in April, but those are the only two Falcon Heavy launches scheduled in 2019. The fact that the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) announced in late October that it awarded a Heavy Lift contract to SpaceX’s competitor, United Launch Alliance (ULA) indicates that SpaceX is not considered reliable and/or as economical in the heavy launch market.

If SpaceX has any issues with either of the 2019 Falcon Heavy launches, it may have to end its Falcon Heavy program for a lack of customers. SpaceX gets a D+.

No. 3 – Success of the F9 Block 5 Version:   C+

There are two primary missions of the Block 5 booster. First, it has to be proven to be safe for human flight. Second, the Block 5 booster is supposed to be the savior of space travel because of reusability and reliability. It is supposed to have a quick turnaround from launch to re-launch and it is touted as a booster that can easily be used ten times or more.

In 2018, SpaceX put up six Block 5 boosters in ten launches. One Block 5 booster has been used three times and two boosters have been used twice. Of the three Block 5 boosters that have been reused, the average turnaround time from launch to re-launch is 99 days.

SpaceX had to delay the December 2018 crewed mission back to June 2019. That means they failed to prove human rating in 2018.

The reusability and reliability of the Block 5 booster are also still in question. They have to be given credit for the ten successful launches, and the turnaround time is better than the Block 4 booster turnaround time (Average 177 days.)

Still, there is not enough information to determine if the Block 5 will achieve its primary goals. SpaceX gets a C+.

SpaceX gets an A+ in generating excitement and a polished public image that invites public support; however, the public image is not what counts in the commercial space business. SpaceX is practically giving away space on some of its rockets to stay in the public spotlight with its launches. The reality is that SpaceX maintained its ability to stay in business one more year, but that was not what it needed to do. Overall grade:  C+

White Racists: Always About Power Over Non-Whites

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Racism has always been about power. The power to dominate another group of people is at the core of white supremacist groups. When the South formed the Confederate State of America, they were provoking a civil war in order to maintain their power and control over African Americans. Historically, racism has been the tool of the Caucasian race to threaten and intimidate non-Caucasians.

But African Americans were not the only target of white racists. 

Nathan Meeker:  Tool of White Power

In 1878, Nathan Meeker was appointed as the Indian agent overseeing the Ute Indians of northwestern Colorado. Meeker was not qualified, nevertheless, he was appointed.  He needed the job to pay off loans to the daughters of Horace Greeley. Meeker took out those loans to establish a religious-based utopian colony at what is now Greeley, Colorado. Meeker’s colony was a failure and he found himself in a financial bind when his loan was called due.

Nathan Meeker: Indian agent, racist

As the Indian agent of the White River Agency, Meeker saw the Native Americans as lesser people. In an article published shortly before his appointment he said:

…They are savages, having no written language, no traditional history, no poetry, no literature . . . a race without ambition, and also a race deficient in the inherent elements of progress. Vermin abound on their persons,… 

Nathan Meeker

Shortly after Meeker assumed his job as Indian agent, Frederick Walker Pitkin became Governor, in part, on a slogan, “The Utes Must Go!” He and others exaggerated claims of ‘Indian problems’ in an effort to justify a forced relocation of the Utes off of land with valuable resources.

Meeker was the tip of the racist sword as the Indian agent. Meeker decided it was his job to pound the Utes tribes into submission. His goal was to force the Ute Indians to adopt his agricultural and religious values. The Utes were nomadic hunter-gatherers but Meeker wanted to make them farmers. This resulted in tension between the Utes and Meeker that led to an altercation.

The Utes had created a place for gathering and competing in horse races. Meeker objected to this and decided to plow under the area. It was a racist move to provoke a reaction. He got it. When confronted by the Utes, Meeker claimed he was attacked by the Ute chief and severely injured. More reliable versions of the story say he was push and fell to the ground.

Chain of Tragedies

Meeker wired for military support and used the incident as cause for immediate action. On 21 September 1879, Major Thomas T. Thornberg led a force of about 175 men from Fort Steele in South Central Wyoming. The Utes knew or suspected that Meeker had requested troops to be sent to the area.

On 29 September, a band of Ute Indians attacked the White River Agency and killed Meeker and ten male employees. They then took some of the women and children as hostages.

By accident or design, the Utes met the incoming army later that day about 30 km from the White River Agency. The Utes pinned Thornberg’s force down and killed the Major and 13 of his men. The troops held out several days until 35 of the all-African American Buffalo Soldiers arrived from southwestern Colorado.

After rescuing the remain Thornberg forces, negotiations took place to gain the release of the hostages.

Aftermath of a Provoked Attack

There is no doubt that Nathan Meeker’s incompetence and aggression provoked the attack. There is no doubt that many white people settling in Colorado wanted the Native Americans out. There is also no doubt that the Ute’s involved in the attacks were wrong in taking a drastic action against the agency and the U.S. Army. It was a mistake for which their people would pay dearly.

The attacks were the perfect excuse to move the Ute Indians out of Colorado. Initially a deal was struck for one tribe of Ute Indians to remain, but eventually, the government renigged on the deal and forced all Utes to a reservation in Utah. Within three years after the attack, all Native Americans had been relocated.

The white racists of Colorado got what they wanted. Ranchers and miners moved in quickly. Soon after the turn of the century, homesteading began and hundreds packed up everything they owned to claim a new life in Colorado.

Postscript

It is somewhat ironic that all this resulted in little benefit to the incoming white culture in the area. The current population of both Rio Blanco and Moffat Counties in northwestern Colorado is less than 20,000 people in an area that is about the size of Massachusetts (12,800 km.) The population is almost the same as it was for the 2000 census. The economy is almost completely dependent on coal mining, an electric generating plant, and hunting/fishing tourism.