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Category Archives: Humor and Observations

Elon Musk wants Giant SpaceX spaceship to fly people to Mars by 2024

SpaceX aims to launch its first cargo mission to Mars in 2022 and send people toward the Red Planet just two years after that.

Those are just two of the highlights of the company’s current Mars-colonization plan, which SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk unveiled early Friday morning EDT (Sept. 29) at the 68th International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Adelaide, Australia.

Musk’s talk — which took place Friday afternoon local Adelaide time — served to update the architecture the billionaire entrepreneur revealed at last year’s IAC, in Guadalajara, Mexico. That previous presentation introduced a huge, reusable rocket-spaceship combo called the Interplanetary Transport System (ITS), which Musk envisioned helping to establish a million-person city on Mars within the next 50 to 100 years. [The BFR: SpaceX’s Mars-Colonization Architecture in Images]

 As Musk described it last year, the roughly 40-foot-wide (12 meters) ITS booster would feature 42 Raptor engines. It would launch the spaceship to Earth orbit, then come back down to its pad for a pinpoint landing — and another flight in quick succession. The spaceship, meanwhile, would be fueled in orbit by a tanker (which would also be launched by an ITS booster).
The ITS spaceships would linger in orbit until the time was right to depart for Mars, when they would do so en masse. (Such windows come along once every 26 months.) Each ship would be capable of carrying about 100 people to the Red Planet; after landing there and offloading their cargo and passengers, the ships would top up their tanks on the Martian surface with locally produced propellant (methane and oxygen) and then launch back to Earth.

The new plan retains this same basic idea, but with some important tweaks. For example, the rocket has been scaled back a bit; it will now be about 30 feet (9 wide) and sport “just” 31 Raptor engines. (For comparison, the first stage of SpaceX’s in-service Falcon 9 rockethas nine Merlin engines.) And the name “ITS” seems to be out: During Friday’s talk, Musk repeatedly referred to the system by the “code name” BFR, which is short for Big F***ing Rocket.

But the most important change has to do with the system’s affordability, Musk said Friday.

“In last year’s presentation, we were really searching for what the right way — how do we pay for this thing?” he said. “We went through various ideas — do a Kickstarter, collecting underpants. These didn’t pan out. But now we think we’ve got a way to do it.”

The answer, he explained, lies in downsizing the system a bit and using it for everything that SpaceX does, from satellite launches to International Space Station resupply flights to crewed Mars missions. In other words, the company plans to put its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets — the latter of which hasn’t even flown yet — and its Dragon capsule out to pasture relatively soon.

“If we can do that, then all the resources that are used for Falcon 9, Heavy and Dragon can be applied to this system. That’s really fundamental,” Musk said. “We believe that we can do this with the revenue we receive for launching satellites and for servicing the space station.”

SpaceX will, however, “build ahead” and keep a stock of Falcon 9s and Dragons around for a while, in case customers wish to use those vehicles during the early days of BFR operation, Musk added.

Missions to Mars

As currently envisioned, the BFR system (the ship stacked atop the rocket) will stand 348 feet (106 m) tall — about 50 feet (15 m) shorter than the ITS concept vehicle.

The BFR booster will be capable of lofting 150 tons to low Earth orbit (LEO), making it more powerful than NASA’s famous Saturn V moon rocket, which could launch 135 tons to LEO, Musk said.

By itself, the BFR spaceship will stand 157.5 feet (48 meters) tall. It will feature 40 passenger cabins, each of which can theoretically fit five or six people but will more likely accommodate two to three, Musk said. So each ship will probably carry about 100 passengers on a typical Mars trip.

The ships sport six Raptor engines, which should allow them to get to Mars after a deep-space journey of three to six months. The vehicles will land via supersonic retropropulsion, slowing their descent through the Martian atmosphere using thrusters, as Falcon 9 first stages do when they come back to Earth during orbital launches.

SpaceX is currently riding a streak of 12 straight successful Falcon 9 landings, and that rocket’s first stage touches down using just a single engine. The BFR spaceship will be able to land with the aid of either of its two central engines, Musk said. [In Photos: SpaceX Launches X-37B Space Plane, Lands Falcon 9 Rocket]

“If you can get to a very high reliability with even a single engine, and then you can land with either of two engines, I think we can get to a landing reliability that is on par with the safest commercial airliners,” he said. “So you can essentially count on the landing.”

The BFR system will also be airliner-like in its reusability; each booster and spaceship will fly again and again and again, helping make Mars colonization economically feasible, Musk said.

“It’s really crazy that we build these sophisticated rockets and then crash them every time we fly. This is mad,” Musk said. “I can’t emphasize [enough] how profound this is, and how important reusability is.”

SpaceX is now beginning “serious development” of the BFR system, he added. The company aims to launch at least two uncrewed ships to Mars in 2022, primarily to confirm the existence of necessary resources and set up infrastructure for future missions — power, mining and life support systems, for example.

If all goes according to plan, two cargo ships and two crew ships will depart for the Red Planet in 2024 to set up the propellant-production plant and begin building a base in earnest. This city will keep growing and growing, as more and more BFR ships come in with settlers and supplies.

The long-term goal is “terraforming Mars and making it really a nice place to be,” Musk said. [Red Planet or Bust: 5 Crewed Mars Mission Ideas]

The moon and Earth, too

The BFR is not a Mars-specific system; the spaceship will be able to land anywhere in the solar system, Musk said. He envisions such ships helping to set up an outpost on the moon in the relatively near future. (BFR ships could even fly all the way from Earth orbit to the lunar surface and back without having to refuel, Musk said.)

“It’s 2017; we should have a lunar base by now,” he said. “What the hell is going on?”

SpaceX also plans to put the BFR to work closer to home; the rocket-spaceship system can be used to launch satellites, resupply the International Space Station and clean up space junk, Musk said. The BFR could even end up taking passengers from place to place here on Earth.

“Most of what people consider to be long-distance trips would be completed in less than half an hour,” Musk said.

Follow Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall and Google+ . Follow us @Spacedotcom ,Facebook or Google+ . Originally published on Space.com.

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50% of Millennials would give up their right to vote to get student loans erased

By   Personal Finance FOXBusinessOpens a New Window.

Statement for a Student Loan on a desktop. Loan is PAST DUE with a red rubber stamp. Props include reading glasses, coffee cup and pen. Horizontal photograph. PAST DUE is bright red against the white form. Shot from a high angle looking down. … (Kirby Hamilton)

As the staggering national student loan debt tally sits at an all-time high of $1.33 trillion, according to the Department of Education, many Millennials say they would go to extreme lengths to wipe their slate clean.

Other extremes include a willingness to ditch ride-sharing services like Uber or Lyft (44%) and giving up travel outside of the country for five years (42%) to have student loans forgiven.

Yet, only 27% said they would be willing to move in with their parents for five years or give up texting at 13%. Of the 500 Millennials surveyed, only 8.2% of them chose to keep paying off their debt and not give up anything.

The survey comes just as The Associated Press reports that tens of thousands of former students have been left in limbo as the Trump administration has delayed action on requests for loan forgiveness, according to court documents. The report says The Education Department is sitting on more than 65,000 unapproved claims as it rewrites Obama-era rules that sought to better protect students.

During his campaign, Trump proposed student loan forgiveness after 15 years of repayment. However since taking office, Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy Devos’ initial education budget have sought to eliminate current loan forgiveness programs.

More on this…

In July, FOX Business reported on a similar survey from MoneyTips.com that found that nearly 42% of Americans think President Trump’s administration should forgive all federal student debt in order to help stimulate the economy.

Michael Dubrow, co-founder of MoneyTips, told FOX Business that while the survey didn’t specifically focus on Millennials (ages 18-29) a majority of them were “especially passionate” about it, nearly twice as much as those 50 and older.

“Even if older people are still paying off their loans, younger people paid more and borrowed more for higher education,” Dubrow said in an interview in July.

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Where Did Weekends Come From?

It comes every five days, and people young and old are excited to see it.

They’re sad to see it go, but know that it’ll be back before long.

100 years ago it didn’t even exist. What is it?

The weekend!

So where did our beloved weekend actually come from?

It was the labor movement, it turns out, that gave us the weekend. Before that, we regulated our own days.

Many of our ancestors worked on farms, where, of course, the work goes on much the same every day of the week. Cows don’t take breaks from producing milk and chickens lay eggs no matter the day.

But with the Industrial Revolution, work lives changed dramatically. Before the 1800s, most people, including children, were working long days — sometimes 10 to 16 hours — and seven days a week.

It wasn’t so hard to get Sundays off, for religious observance. It was the second day that proved the tougher nut to crack.

But then came a huge influx of Jewish immigrants in the late 1800s — and the Jewish Sabbath is Saturday. That, eventually, helped lead to our having two days off in a row.

Henry Ford had a hand in the whole thing, too. He didn’t like labor unions, but he did like the idea of weekends.

In 1926, he began shutting down his automobile factories on Saturdays and Sundays and giving his workers those days off. And though he reduced his workers to a five-day work week instead of a six-day one, he did not reduce their pay.

Photo by Paul VanDerWerf / CC BY 2.0

At the same time, he published editorials promoting the idea of Model T weekend getaways and drives in the country — which, after all, people couldn’t pursue if they didn’t have the time to get away.

Three years later, the first union to demand a five-day work week — and get it — was the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America Union.

The rest of the country slowly followed suit, so to speak, but the two-day weekend didn’t go into effect nationwide until 1940; that’s also when the 40-hour work week was mandated.

How hard and long did your ancestors work?

Ancestry has collections of searchable employment records (UK railroad employment, California railroad employment, New South Wales Australia police employment, among others).

Census data also lists occupation information that will help you make deductions about your ancestors’ work life.

You can also view fascinating record collections like the UK Commissioners’ Report of Children’s Employment, 1842 that give you an unbelievably personal look at your relatives’ lives.

We’ve come a long way in the last few generations. Maybe our love of the weekend comes from our ancestors’ fight for it.

Who were your ancestors who lived before the two-day weekend became the norm? Will knowing what their lives were like inspire you?  Find out today!

— Leslie Lang

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Trove of ancient Roman letters unearthed near Hadrian’s Wall

Archaeologists are thrilled by the discovery of 25 tablets that could reveal fascinating details of everyday life on the northern frontier of the Roman Empire.

The wooden ink documents were found on June 22 at the Roman fort of Vindolanda just south of Hadrian’s Wall in Northern England. Archaeologists believe that the tablets date from between 85 and 92 A.D.

“It’s just an incredible discovery,” Dr. Andrew Birley, CEO of the Vindolanda Trust and director of excavations at the site, told Fox News. “It was 25 documents in one space, within a few meters – that, effectively, is a hoard.”

The rare pieces of wood, which are about the size of modern postcards, were found preserved in damp earth about 10 feet below  ground level.

Experts could clearly read one of the tablets – a letter from a soldier called Masclus to his commanding officer requesting leave.

Masclus also features prominently in a trove of 300 tablets found at Vindolanda in 1992. In that haul, which dates from 105 A.D., Masclus made a request for beer from his commanding officer. “If you do not send me more beer, I cannot answer for the men,” he wrote.

“Masclus was a real character,” Birley told Fox News, noting that the 12-year span between letters suggests he may have remained at Vindolanda despite a number of regiments rotating through the fort. “He’s obviously got a role that, potentially, we have never conceptualized,” he said. “We have learnt a lot, potentially, about how the Roman Army works.”

While experts do not know Masclus’ exact rank, he may be a centurion, according to Birley. “Bearing in mind that he’s responsible for a detachment of men, he’s an officer of some sort,” he explained. “It might be that he’s a regional centurion, we don’t know yet.”

The fragile tablets, some of which are only 2mm thick, are now undergoing a painstaking three-to-four-month conservation process to ensure that they can survive in an oxygenated environment. “They are so fragile, that if we leave them in the oxygen, in the air, and they go black,” explained Birley, noting that the tablets are being carefully cleaned with deionized water. The documents are then bathed in methylated spirits and dried out. Eventually, infra-red photography will be used to fully decipher their text.

“We want to try to conserve these things as long as possible so that people can go back to the primary texts and continue reading them,” Birley said. The archaeologist also noted that the current season of excavations at Vindolanda could unearth more surprises. “Our excavations have got another two-and-a-half months to go – this may not be the end of it,” he said.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

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Treasure hunters strike gold with ancient jewelry find

The Leek Frith Torcs (Staffordshire County Council).

The Leek Frith Torcs (Staffordshire County Council).

An incredible haul of ancient gold jewelry has been unearthed the U.K. by two treasure hunters using metal detectors.

Detectorists Mark Hambleton and Joe Kania found the four torcs, a form of ancient necklace or bracelet, on farmland in Staffordshire in December. The finds, which were handed over to the U.K. government-funded Portable Antiquities Scheme, were announced Tuesday.

Dubbed the Leek Frith Torcs, the finds may date as far back as 400 B.C. and could be the earliest examples of Iron Age gold ever discovered in Britain, experts say. The torcs, which include three neck torcs and one bracelet, are thought to be from continental Europe, possibly Germany or France.

HUGE 3,000-YEAR-OLD GOLD ‘BELT’ UNEARTHED IN THE UK

Dr. Julia Farley, curator of the British & European Iron Age Collections at the British Museum, assessed the items. “This unique find is of international importance. It dates to around 400–250 BC, and is probably the earliest Iron Age gold work ever discovered in Britain,” she said, in a statement. “The torcs were probably worn by wealthy and powerful women, perhaps people from the continent who had married into the local community. Piecing together how these objects came to be carefully buried in a Staffordshire field will give us an invaluable insight into life in Iron Age Britain.”

The site in the Staffordshire Moorlands area was investigated by archaeologists from Stoke-On-Trent City Council, who described the find as “complete” with no evidence of other pieces.

The BBC reports that the pieces will be on display at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke for the next three weeks.

ALTAR OF VIKING SAINT-KING DISCOVERED IN NORWAY

“This amazing find of gold torcs in the North of the county is quite simply magical and we look forward to sharing the secrets and story they hold in the years to come,” said Staffordshire County Council Leader Philip Atkins in the statement.

An inquest Tuesday declared that the find was treasure, the BBC reports, with the artifacts deemed the property of the Crown, or British state. The UK Government’s Treasure Valuation Committee will offer a value to the metal detectorists that found the haul, the landowner where the discovery was made, and any museum that wants to acquire the torcs, according to the BBC.

Once the parties agree on the valuation, the museum would have to raise the money to pay for the artifacts. The finders say they will share the proceeds with the landowner.

FARMER’S FIELD YIELDS HOARD OF ENGLISH CIVIL WAR COINS

This is the latest stunning ancient jewelry find in the U.K. In 2015 a huge 3,000-year-old gold belt, described as one of the largest ever discovered, was unearthed in Cambridgeshire.

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Long lost ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’ found buried under volcanic ash, New Zealand researchers say

Scientists in New Zealand say they have discovered the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” But there is a caveat.

It’s buried under hundreds of pounds of volcanic ash.

Using the forgotten 1859 New Zealand diaries of 19th century geologist Ferdinand von Hochstetter and maps he made during that time period, forensic cartographers Rex Bunn and Sascha Nolden were able to pinpoint the exact location of the famed and elusive pink and white terraces of Lake Rotomahana on New Zealand’s North Island.

“Forensic cartography is described as part science and part art,” the researchers wrote in the introduction to their academic paper.

The terraces, which were the largest deposits on silica on earth, were for years a global attraction – drawing tourists from around the world in the mid-19th century to gawk at the famed pools and bathe in the heated waters of their springs. But in 1886, before the exact location of the springs was properly described and mapped, the nearby Mount Tarawera volcano erupted and buried the terraces under 50 feet of ash and mud.

“They [the terraces] became the greatest tourist attraction in the southern hemisphere and the British Empire, and shiploads of tourists made the dangerous visit down from the U.K., Europe and America to see them,” Bunn told the Guardian last week. “But they were never surveyed by the government of the time, so there was no record of their latitude or longitude.”

The volcanic eruption also vastly altered the surrounding landscape and made it all but impossible for the exact location of the terraces to be marked.

Using von Hochstetter’s field notes – the German-Austrian geologist was the only person to have surveyed the landscape before the 1886 eruption – the Kiwi researchers, however, were able to determine the precise location of the buried terraces.

“Our research relied on the only survey ever made of that part of New Zealand and therefore we are confident the cartography is sound,” Bunn said. “Hochstetter was a very competent cartographer.”

Bunn is now in the process of getting funding to excavate the site of the terraces, which he believes may have only suffered minimal damage from the volcanic ash and could potentially be brought back to their former glory.

“We want to undertake this work in the public interest. And I have been closely liaising with the ancestral owners of the land, the Tuhourangi Tribal Authority, and they are supportive and delighted with the work,” he said.

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Air Force cadet creates bulletproof breakthrough

Air Force cadet Hayley Weir had an idea that turned out to be a game changer. “It was just the concept of going out there and stopping a bullet with something that we had made in a chemistry lab.”

The 21-year-old Weir approached Air Force Academy Assistant Professor Ryan Burke with the idea. He was skeptical.

“I said, ‘I’m not really sure this is going to work, the body armor industry is a billion-plus-dollar industry,” he noted.

Weir’s idea was to combine anti-ballistic fabric with what’s known as a shear thickening fluid to create a less heavy material to use in body armor. She demonstrated the principle to Burke by combining water and cornstarch in a container and asking the professor to jam his finger into the paste-like goo.

“I jam my finger right into this bowl, and I almost broke my finger! Hayley’s laughing because I’ve got this finger that I’m shaking and I’m saying, ‘You know, that’s pretty impressive stuff.'”

Convinced, Ryan worked with Weir for several months in a small lab at the Air Force Adacemy in Colorado Springs. They were helped and advised by Dr. Jeff Owens, Senior Research Chemist at the Air Force Civil Engineer Center at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida.

They tried combining several different ingredients to come up with the exact formula for the shear thickening fluid, and the correct way to layer it with ballistic fibers.

“The pieces are not new,” Weir explains, “everything that we’ve used in there has been researched (before) in some capacity for ballistics protection.”

They tested their combinations on the firing range, failing time and again, until one day their quarter-inch thick design repeatedly stopped a round fired from a 9mm handgun.

Weir and Ryan’s excitement was tempered by the range safety officer who pulled his .44 Magnum and told them bluntly, “This will fail.”

Ryan says, “We loaded it in and it stopped it. And it stopped it a second time, and then a third time.”

They realized they had hit on something special, that could potentially lighten the average 26-pound body armor kit worn by servicemen in the field by as much as two thirds.

“This is something that our competition doesn’t have right now,” Weir explained. “And with this advantage our soldiers, if they wear this body armor, will be able to move faster, run farther, jump higher.”

Body armor for the military and first responders may not be the only thing that can be improved by the new fabric. It could possibly be used to reduce or replace the thick metal plates that protect military aircraft, tanks and other vehicles.

“And there’s some significant gravity and weight behind that,” Ryan said. “And what it could mean for people like my friends who are still active duty in the military, that are going downrange, serving overseas.”

A patent for the as yet unnamed design is pending, and if money is ultimately made, the Air Force will share the profits with Weir, Ryan and Owens.

“It doesn’t feel like it’s that great of an achievement,” Weir muses, “just because it’s been something that we’ve enjoyed doing.”

The Air Force believes it is definitely a great achievement. They are providing the newly graduated 2d Lt Weir with a full-ride scholarship to Clemson University, where she will earn her Master of Materials Science and Engineering, before returning to the Air Force to continue her work.

Alicia Acuna joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in 1997 and currently serves as a general assignment reporter based in the network’s Denver bureau.

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