As ISS Enters Its Final Years, Politics Take Center Stage

There was a time when the idea of an international space station would have been seen as little more than fantasy. After all, the human spaceflight programs of the United States and the Soviet Union were started largely as a Cold War race to see which country would be the first to weaponize low Earth orbit and secure what military strategists believed would be the ultimate high ground. Those early rockets, not so far removed from intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), were fueled as much by competition as they were kerosene and liquid oxygen.

Space Shuttle docked to Mir space station in 1995.
Atlantis docked to Mir in 1995.

Luckily, cooler heads prevailed. The Soviet Almaz space stations might have carried a 23 mm cannon adapted from tail-gun of the Tu-22 bomber to ward off any American vehicles that got too close, but the weapon was never fired in anger. Eventually, the two countries even saw the advantage of working together. In 1975, a joint mission saw the final Apollo capsule dock with a Soyuz by way of a special adapter designed to make up for the dissimilar docking hardware used on the two spacecraft.

Relations further improved following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, with America’s Space Shuttle making nine trips to the Russian Mir space station between 1995 and 1997. A new era of cooperation had begun between the world’s preeminent space-fairing countries, and with the engineering lessons learned during the Shuttle-Mir program, engineers from both space agencies began laying the groundwork for what would eventually become the International Space Station.

Unfortunately after more than twenty years of continuous US and Russian occupation of the ISS, it seems like the cracks are finally starting to form in this tentative scientific alliance. With accusations flying over who should take the blame for a series of serious mishaps aboard the orbiting laboratory, the outlook for future international collaboration in Earth orbit and beyond hasn’t been this poor since the height of the Cold War.

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This Group Of Women Tried To Break Into Astronaut Program In 1960s; One Just Made It

When Mary Wallace “Wally” Funk reached the boundary of space aboard the first crewed flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard capsule earlier today, it marked the end of a journey she started 60 years ago. In 1961 she became the youngest member of what would later become known as the “Mercury 13”, a group of accomplished female aviators that volunteered to be put through the same physical and mental qualification tests that NASA’s Mercury astronauts went through. But the promising experiment was cut short by the space agency’s rigid requirements for potential astronauts, and what John Glenn referred to in his testimony to the Committee on Science and Astronautics as the “social order” of America at the time.

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Kipp Bradford Discusses The Entanglement Of Politics And Technology

Kipp Bradford wrapped up his keynote talk at the Hackaday Remoticon with a small piece of advice: don’t built bridges in the middle of the ocean. The point is that a bridge must connect two pieces of land to be useful and if technology isn’t useful to humanity, does it matter at all?

In reality we build bridges in the middle of the ocean all the time as each of us finds nonsensical reasons to learn new skills and try things out. But when it comes time to sit down and make an organized end goal, Kipp wisely asks us to consider the impact we’d like that work to have on the world. Equally importantly, how will we make sure completed work actually gets used? This is where the idea of politics in technology comes to play, in the sense that politics is a major mechanism for collective decision-making within a society.

Currently the CTO of Treau, and a Lecturer and Researcher at Yale, Kipp delivered this keynote live on November 7th. Kipp was an expert judge for the Hackaday Prize in 2017 and 2018. The video of his talk, and a deeper look at the topics, are found below.

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73 Computer Scientists Created A Neural Net And You Won’t Believe What Happened Next

The Internet is a strange place. The promise of cyberspace in the 1990s was nothing short of humanity’s next greatest achievement. For the first time in history, anyone could talk to anyone else in a vast, electronic communion of enlightened thought, and reasoned discourse. The Internet was intended to be the modern Library of Alexandria. It was beautiful, and it was the future. The Internet was the greatest invention of all time.

Somewhere, someone realized people have the capacity to be idiots. Turns out nobody wants to learn anything when you can gawk at the latest floundering of your most hated celebrity. Nobody wants to have a conversation, because your confirmation bias is inherently flawed and mine is much better. Politics, religion, evolution, weed, guns, abortions, Bernie Sanders and Kim Kardashian. Video games.

A funny thing happened since then. People started to complain they were being pandered to. They started to blame media bias and clickbait. People started to discover that headlines were designed to get clicks. You’ve read Moneyball, and know how the use of statistics changed baseball, right? Buzzfeed has done the same thing with journalism, and it’s working for their one goal of getting you to click that link.

Now, finally, the Buzzfeed editors may be out of a job. [Lars Eidnes] programmed a computer to generate clickbait. It’s all done using recurrent neural networks gathering millions of headlines from the likes of Buzzfeed and the Gawker network. These headlines are processed, and once every twenty minutes a new story is posted on Click-O-Tron, the only news website you won’t believe. There’s even voting, like reddit, so you know the results are populist dross.

I propose an experiment. Check out the comments below. If the majority of the comments are not about how Markov chains would be better suited in this case, clickbait works. Prove me wrong.

Palin Hacking Roundup

[David Kernell], the 20-year-old son of Democratic politician [Mike Kernell], turned himself in for hacking into Vice Presidential nominee Governor [Sarah Palin]’s Yahoo! email account. He was indicted on one felony count of violating the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Although the charge would normally be a misdemeanor, the indictment invokes another statute, the Stored Communications Act to beef up its claim. Some lawyers are of the opinion that the U.S. Department of Justice overreached in charging [Kernell] with a felony. They claim that the government’s justification is flawed and relies on “circuitous logic”. [Kernell] has been released without bond, and instructed not to have any contact with [Governor Palin], her family, or any witnesses to the case. If convicted fully, he faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. We also discovered that this isn’t [Kernell]’s first time in trouble. In high school, he received detention for guessing the password of the school server and obtaining access to some lesson plans.

Yahoo! Employee Accused Of Involvement With Terrorists

[Mohammed Mansoor Asghar Peerbhoy], a software engineer at Yahoo!’s Indian facility, has been accused of involvement with one of India’s most-wanted terrorist organizations, the Islamic Mujahideen. According to investigators, [Peerbhoy] wrote and sent emails just before and after terrorist attacks in Delhi, Ahmedabad in Gujarat, and Jaipur in Rajasthan. [Peerbhoy] makes an unlikely suspect; he visited the U.S. on several occasions for work without suspicion, but authorities claim that he was a “mastermind” who hacked into wireless internet sites to send hostile emails. The local community and his family have rallied around [Peerbhoy], calling the arrest an attempt to “defame the Muslim community”. There are also claims that his arrest, and other similar arrests, were made to soothe political pressures and not based on any factual evidence.

[photo: josemurilo]