Speaking of uncool: Blue Origin about to fly


It seems to me that the way to remove all the glamor and heroism of space travel is to hand out passes to corporate executives and hammy 90 year old actors, which is exactly what Blue Origin is about to do. It’s like a confession that all this is about is naked, blatant PR and pandering to capitalists.

Way to kill the dream, guys. Kids who want to become an astronaut now know the pathway is to get a marketing degree or make lots of money or pretend to be an astronaut on a TV show really hard. Aspire to be spam in a can, kids! You don’t need skills, just an insider angle.

Comments

  1. birgerjohansson says

    The important part – to an Apollo- era nerd like me -is that Blue Dildo is suborbital. Von Braun’s A4 did that back in 1942.

  2. Big Boppa says

    My friend’s mother’s neighbor’s son works at Amazon and he says he heard that they’re looking for an aging biology professor with a weird fascination for eight legged life forms for their next launch. Pass it on.

  3. Hoosier Bluegill says

    These billionaires and celebrities are NOT astronauts – they are just along for the ride. They have the same role that the first monkeys to fly into space had in the early 1950s.

  4. says

    The first time they kato one of the rockets, it’ll be over for space tourism. I hope Shatner and everyone make it OK, but I wish Bezos would ride on every flight. It’s a numbers game. I think with the space shuttle it had a failure rate hanging around 1% or something like that – not that good, in terms of commercial aviation or COVID-19.

  5. says

    Hoosier Bluegill:
    They have the same role that the first monkeys to fly into space had in the early 1950s.

    A lot of the monkey business was a cover for them sending up spy cameras, in a program coded CORONA. They weren’t sending up monkeys, at all. Although the soviets did actually send Laika the dog up, and they monitored her dying wails then told everyone she died peacefully. Anyhow, if you’re interested in the spy tech, CORONA was some pretty fascinating stuff (and it indicates that – surprise – the US was lying about the “missile gap”) [corona]

  6. mssusan2112 says

    Something tells me the bitterness would disappear if PZ got an invite.

    Seriously, do you have to sneer like a too cool for the room 15 year old goth kid at everything?

  7. hemidactylus says

    I preferred TNG to the original series and Picard was great but Deputy Director Avery Bullock is a much better character by far.

  8. consciousness razor says

    Did they at least unbuckle him and let him experience zero-G?

    If so, it wouldn’t have been for long. The entire flight took about 10 minutes.

    Apparently much more important for him, there was blue and then there was black. That’s the thing. The blueness of the blue followed by the blackness of the black was all very sudden and profound.

    I guess we can’t say it really left him speechless, since he was going on about it to Bezos for a few minutes.

  9. nomadiq says

    They are all back on tera firma after a ten minute flight. Shatner’s thoughts on his ten minutes can be boiled down to, ‘that was cool’. Mission seems a failure to me. Lots of expense so a few people can have a cool experience.

    To those who are upset about the cynicism PZ etc have about these flights, the cynicism comes from a ‘what’s the point?’ perspective. Ten minute flight is not even tourism, it’s voyeurism. It achieves nothing. In truth it could potentially do something, even in the non-science non-technology sphere. You don’t have to send up mice or sprout mung beans. How about we send up someone who will have something interesting to say about the experience? Bring it back for all of us. Hopefully make us understand our universe and our place in it a bit better. But no, we send up fossil actors and CEOs who don’t strike me as giving a shit about the experience beyond their own self-satisfaction. Nothing changed today. We learnt nothing today. So at best the mission is a big fat nothing. At worst, the resources could have been put to a better use.

  10. jack lecou says

    To those who are upset about the cynicism PZ etc have about these flights, the cynicism comes from a ‘what’s the point?’ perspective. Ten minute flight is not even tourism, it’s voyeurism. It achieves nothing.

    FWIW, I think you probably won’t hear too much disagreement from even the rabidest space fanboys. At least as far as these sub-orbital Blue Origin dick rocket flights go.

    Start dissing the orbital SpaceX ones too hard and you might get a different reaction. (Which is fair, I think. The SpaceX ones are obviously still just joy rides for billionaires, but they’re at least long enough that they really feel it. And you can in principle do some real science — even if it’s just things like testing out a new toilet design, or increasing the sample size of people exposed to micro gravity.)

  11. PaulBC says

    I was working at Google when Alan Eustace did his free fall stunt. To his credit, this required a lot more preparation and planning than a packaged space ride for rich people, and he did set a record, for people who care about that.

    It still struck me as asinine. We’d get to hear occasional updates from him at TGIF. Maybe some Google employees found it fun or inspiring. It seemed self-indulgent to me, and a big waste of money, though it was “his to spend” according to the rules of the capitalist game. Eustace himself seems like a nice enough guy on the surface, but I admit I never encountered him close up. From a corporate perspective, it’s an outrageous risk, considering he was a senior executive, not to mention a distraction from his real work, such as it was. He left a little later anyway.

  12. consciousness razor says

    Start dissing the orbital SpaceX ones too hard and you might get a different reaction.

    More specifically, a rabid fanboy reaction.

    And you can in principle do some real science — even if it’s just things like testing out a new toilet design, or increasing the sample size of people exposed to micro gravity.

    The effects of microgravity on health in the long term (weeks, months, years) are the big issue though. With much shorter durations like minutes or hours, you get no more samples about that. We already know you’ll feel weightlessness and maybe nausea, etc. This can also be done in the atmosphere with boring old airplanes, as people have been doing for over 60 years.

    But alright, if Musk wants to test out new ways for the rich to take a more luxurious dump in space, then who are we to stop him? And just imagine the kind of trickling down that we might experience, with all of that extra space between us and them. Why do we hate scientific progress so much anyway?

  13. jack lecou says

    With much shorter durations like minutes or hours, you get no more samples about that. We already know you’ll feel weightlessness and maybe nausea, etc. This can also be done in the atmosphere with boring old airplanes, as people have been doing for over 60 years.

    The SpaceX flight was three full days. That’s probably still pretty marginal as exposure data goes, but it’s a lot longer than you can achieve with a vomit comet. And that length is presumably mostly a matter of comfort in the tiny capsule — and maybe the capacity of the oxygen and sewage tanks. Ballistically, they could stay up there indefinitely.

    I expect we’re not far off from them throwing up some inflatable habitats or something. Future billionaire tourists could be up there for months at a time if they wanted to. Which, eventually, might lead to data even NASA doesn’t have: the very young, very old, out of shape. Sex and conception. Long term interactions of (relatively) untrained crews in confined spaces, etc. If you believe them about their long term goals, SpaceX has an interest in being halfway rigorous about that data collection and/or running new experiments.

    I don’t think any of this is the ideal way to go about space exploration, but at some point it’s not just entirely useless joy rides either.
    Being mediocre lab mice is more good than the billionaire jerkholes are doing down here, anyway.

  14. mssusan2112 says

    @16 you can say that about any technology at it’s beginning. I’m sure that even the wheel started off as a toy for rich cavemen with no apparent practical function.

  15. chigau (違う) says

    mssusan2112 #21
    I’m sure that even the wheel started off as a toy for rich cavemen with no apparent practical function.
    Really? You’re sure about that?

  16. PaulBC says

    chigau@22 Of course. Since their vast wealth was most likely held in the form of a giant stone coin, it stands to reason that they may have been carving it on a hillside and when it started to roll away they thought “Whoa! This is really cool. Now I have to get even richer so I can do that again.”

  17. John Morales says

    nomadiq @16,

    To those who are upset about the cynicism PZ etc have about these flights, the cynicism comes from a ‘what’s the point?’ perspective. Ten minute flight is not even tourism, it’s voyeurism. It achieves nothing.

    Well, it was always just PR for a business venture, nothing was hidden from the very beginning of the enterprise, even before the first flights.

    The business model is space tourism, and the point of including a 90-year old person should be pretty obvious: Pretty much anyone can go.

    As for whether it’s worth what they will charge for that joyride, that’s for the paying customers to determine, moreso than for bystanders. Lots of people pay lots of money for activities which I’d want to be paid to do.

  18. unclefrogy says

    if you start off with a hoop of woven grass you might use it as part of a snare. If you took that loop of grass and rolled it on the ground you would have a toy and many games made from a tool. If you then made it out of a piece of wood you would have a disk. If you took the disk and put a thin stick through the center you could use it with your fire drill or make a drill to make holes in shells. now you have the beginnings of the use of a wheel put two together on the shaft axle you can make a cart another tool from a toy from a tool. it is both.
    Is the space age in a time similar to what aviation was in post WWI with lots of excitement and many dilettantes and and promoters doing all kinds of stuff to get attention in search of fame and fortune?

  19. mssusan2112 says

    @22 Well, I’m oversimplifying a bit but I think the assertion mostly holds. Heck, the Ancient Greeks that we revere as great thinkers would be aghast at the notion that anything they came up with have a practical application.

  20. brightmoon says

    I thought Shatner’s flight was corny and kinda cool at the same time . I also thought it was a complete waste of money that could be used better than to put a billionaire’s penis in space

  21. birgerjohansson says

    OT
    Just in. Some nut with bow and arrows killed five strangers in Kongsberg, Norway. He has been arrested, the reason for the killing spree is unknown.
    Also, it turns out ‘convalescent blood plasma’ is useless against COVID.

  22. chigau (違う) says

    mssusan2112 #27
    That’s not oversimplifying a bit, that’s treating The Flintstones as history.

  23. says

    I think you’re totally missing the point and quite frankly I think you are jealous. These companies are commercializing space. If everybody has to have a PhD and know 50 ways to use duct tape to go into space, we will not make progress in colonizing space or other planets. We will not populate the Expanse so to speak. Now you may disagree on whether that should be a goal, but quite frankly I tired people poo pooing these trips. These projects make more progress than NASA is capable of – its that simple.
    And I’m sick of hearing about how we should be solving problems like world hunger instead of this. If governments wanted to solve world hunger they would have done it 50 years ago. All it takes is farm machinery, trucks and boats.
    Should billionaires pay their fair share of tax – absolutely. But that’s another issue.

  24. says

    @jensmith 32
    Maybe if they had put the effort into dealing with carbon dioxide, something currently useful and relevant to the commercialization of space. This is all about them and the tastes of the rich. I can have no personal respect for them, and use any tech/infrastructure they produce.

  25. consciousness razor says

    These projects make more progress than NASA is capable of – its that simple.

    You mean the NASA that sent people to the moon and helped make the space station and has several current Mars missions and still has two interstellar probes leaving the solar system as we speak…. That NASA?

    Congress could give them more money to do all kinds of other stuff, instead of insisting that we feed a bunch of parasitic corporations which waste time doing pointless missions like this one. Then what would you have said about what NASA is capable of?

    And I’m sick of hearing about how we should be solving problems like world hunger instead of this. If governments wanted to solve world hunger they would have done it 50 years ago. All it takes is farm machinery, trucks and boats.

    Should billionaires pay their fair share of tax – absolutely. But that’s another issue.

    Strange how in both cases the problem is the government not doing its job. (The problem is not a lack of boats.) Do you just not get how they’re related, or you don’t get why people are bringing it up?

  26. mssusan2112 says

    @31. Funny how your pedantry allows you to sidestep the issue at hand which is that game-changing technologies often start out as useless amusements.

    But if you wish to remain a nitpicking luddite demanding universal stagnation because someone somewhere may be unhappy, be my guest.

  27. says

    We will not populate the Expanse, so to speak

    We don’t need to be populating the Expanse. We need to be getting our machines up there so that we can be extracting the resources (mineral, energy, etc…) we’ll be needing to survive in the shorter term. Real colonies (*) won’t be happening for a long time.

    (What “The Expanse” gets wrong is the idea that it’s going to be actual humans in space suits maintaining all of the mining/solar-energy machinery via manual human labor — which is the absurdly stupid way to do it given the robotics tech that we already have — just the matter of solving the various AI problems (which, at the moment, are looking to be far easier — file under Making Self-Driving Cars Work in a Realm Where There Are No Pedestrians — than addressing all of the biological issues re keeping humans alive for years/decades in 0g environments with periodic blasts of hard radiation [things get much less fun once you’re outside of LEO]).

    (*) meaning we’ve learned enough about how the Earth biosphere works to know how much of it we need to take with us (and solve the various logistical problems of doing so) in order to create environments Elsewhere that are actually self-sustaining. I think we’re centuries away from this, at best. And probably more like a few thousand years before we really figure out how to terraform stuff.

  28. brucegee1962 says

    I want to know who thought sending Shatner up into space was a good idea. Way too much risk for the most likely scenario: an extraterrestrial threat, and what was supposed to be a fifteen minute jaunt turns into a prolonged excursion in which Shatner needs to whip a ragtag crew into shape before the Earth gets destroyed. It was a purely unnecessary risk.

  29. PaulBC says

    mssusan2112@35

    Funny how your pedantry allows you to sidestep the issue at hand which is that game-changing technologies often start out as useless amusements.

    I think you’ll need to do more work if you want to move that vague “often” to some kind of comparison with other causes of technological development.

    I can think of a few: weapon innovation during a war, refinements to existing tools such as the “world-changing” heavy plow developed in the middle ages, intentional R&D to lower costs or improve performance (e.g. “Moore’s Law” which was not a law or prediction as much as a long-term industrial plan by Gordon Moore of how semiconductors should develop), academic research: the AC motor/dynamo could not have been invented without an understanding of electromagnetic induction.

    I’m not say that invention never comes from rich people fooling around, but it is not only oversimplifying but probably false to suggest this is one of the most common modes of innovation.

  30. PaulBC says

    me@38 Correction. A dynamo is a DC generator, though it does use induction. I should have said “alternator”, which is the kind of AC generator you get by powering an AC motor.

  31. lochaber says

    srsly, NASA just chucked a robot with a piggyback helicopter drone, to Mars. A helicopter, that works at ~4 torr. That’s effectively a vacuum, for normal people’s concerns.

    Nasa has a robot crawling around mars, with a goddamned hellicopter drone, flying around in a near vacuum, but somehow that’s less of an achievement than some rich guy taking a few minutes to fly through the upper atmosphere? Also, that guy is rich because he cheated and stole.

    No matter how much free PR work you do for those billionaires, they are never going to like you, never let you visit their mansion, hang out on their yacht, or give you any money.

  32. John Morales says

    lochaber,

    No matter how much free PR work you do for those billionaires, they are never going to like you, never let you visit their mansion, hang out on their yacht, or give you any money.

    Um, I hear Bill Shatner got a joyride… and he was chaffeured to the launchpad by the rich dude himself.

  33. says

    And I’m sick of hearing about how we should be solving problems like world hunger instead of this. If governments wanted to solve world hunger they would have done it 50 years ago.
    The governments are too busy maintaining the power of the wealthy and getting campaign donations from them to care about distributing the surplus food.
    Meanwhile, I’m getting stories like this time Dunkin’ Donuts fired a guy for giving surplus food at the end of the day to poor people instead of throwing it in the garbage as instructed.

  34. says

    nomadiq #16

    How about we send up someone who will have something interesting to say about the experience?

    So you’re saying they should have sent a poet?

  35. John Morales says

    LykeX:

    So you’re saying they should have sent a poet?

    No; nomadiq was referring to someone who would have something interesting to say about the experience.

    A journalist, maybe.

  36. lennas says

    I agree to an extend with PZ here, but you still have to admire Shatner for doing this at his age! He is 90 years old FFS!

  37. cartomancer says

    The Blue Origin rocket doesn’t even go to space – it goes to the edge of it. Hot Air Balloons can do that. What, exactly, has this new brand of Space Capitalism achieved that the Montgolfier Brothers couldn’t at the end of the 18th Century?

    I am utterly fed up with all these space nerds and their stupid fantasies. In my opinion we don’t even need real space science very much, let alone plutocratic posturing.

  38. PaulBC says

    John Morales@46

    No; nomadiq was referring to someone who would have something interesting to say about the experience.

    I’m trying to figure out what you’re saying here.

    (1) nomadiq was referring to someone who could present a factual viewpoint to “make us understand our universe and our place in it a bit better” and taken in context did not mean a poet.

    (2) Or are you saying a poetic perspective is intrinsically uninteresting?

    (3) Or are you just being snarky for no reason at al?

    I read it as the middle choice, in which case I wonder why I ever take your comments seriously. (Note: I don’t think the experience itself was all that interesting, so I’m not sure what there is to say about it. Short suborbital flights are old news.)

  39. consciousness razor says

    “They should have sent a poet” is from the movie Contact.

    I read it as the middle choice, in which case I wonder why I ever take your comments seriously.

    It’s been a theme in John’s comments for as long as I can remember that he regards art as frivolous. He is, in a manner of speaking, A Serious Man.

  40. PaulBC says

    cr@50

    “They should have sent a poet” is from the movie Contact.

    Right. That rings a bell. Oddly, I kept thinking “It’s a shame they can’t send Carl Sagan into space.” so maybe it was burbling in my subconsciousness. Or more likely I just like Carl Sagan. But a suborbital flight isn’t worth anyone’s time in my view.

  41. Rob Grigjanis says

    cartomancer @48:
    Highest balloon flight: 70,000 ft
    Kármán line (generally accepted height at which outer space begins): 330,000 ft
    Blue Origin: 350,000 ft

  42. consciousness razor says

    Rob:
    Kind of funny how it works. It’s regarded as “suborbital,” more or less because it goes above the Kármán line. If something (else) were in orbit, then it would be relevant that it’s not relying substantially on lift to maintain flight, as one could, deeper in the atmosphere. That’s a pretty reasonable standard for saying it’s “in outer space” (and that it can act accordingly, doing as orbiting objects do), although it seems like the practical need to come up with such a standard is more legal or jurisdictional than anything else.

    But we’ve got the “suborbital” term for a sort of gerrymandered class of missions, when they fail to actually be “in outer space” in that sense. They did nonetheless get up high enough that something else which could actually maintain that altitude would’ve been “in outer space.”

    I think that’s roughly what cartomancer had in mind when he said “The Blue Origin rocket doesn’t even go to space – it goes to the edge of it.” It’s like saying that you’ve been to Mexico, when actually you’ve only taken a step over the border and then quickly came back to the other side.

  43. PaulBC says

    cr@53

    It’s like saying that you’ve been to Mexico, when actually you’ve only taken a step over the border and then quickly came back to the other side.

    It’s not the same, but I have been in Seoul, S. Korea on the way to Chengdu. It did get a view out the airport window for long enough to feel I have “seen” Korea, but honestly it is nothing like actually going to another country. Also, most of my visits to Texas have been limited to airports though I was in Austin a few days many years ago. How much does this count as travel? Maybe we should be selling trips to airports to not-so-rich people who want to claim they are very well traveled.

  44. John Morales says

    I don’t really care what the actual definition is; for me, outer space (sorry, Outer Space) is translunar; cislunar is too pathetic to dignify with that term.

    So, orbiting satellites are in space, but not in Outer Space.

  45. John Morales says

    PaulBC, you might not be impressed, but some obviously are:

    There’s nothing like a vacation to make you appreciate home.

    That seemed to be the sentiment behind William Shatner’s words as he returned from a brief journey to space on Wednesday. In remarks filmed after he landed, the actor described having had “the most profound experience I can imagine”.

    But his focus wasn’t on boldly going where few have gone before. What left him most in awe was viewing Earth – “this sheet, this blanket, this comforter of blue that we have around us” – from far away. Space, according to Shatner, was “black ugliness”, a bleak contrast with the beauty of our home planet. “You look down [at Earth], there’s the blue down there, and the black up there, it’s just – there is Mother Earth and comfort, and there is – is there … death? I don’t know.”

    (https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2021/oct/14/william-shatner-blue-origin-space-jeff-bezos)

    Redolent of Sagan’s famous penchant for the numinous, no?

  46. PaulBC says

    JM@56 I’m reminded of Anne Elk’s theory of the brontosaurus. Shatner’s theory of earth and its place in the universe:

    the blue down there, and the black up there

    Deep stuff!

    Carl Sagan appreciated the habitability of earth, but he had a more nuanced view.

  47. Rob Grigjanis says

    John @56: You say numinous, I say banal. Let’s call the whole thing off. Sagan and Shatner shoulda been shot one way into space decades ago.

    Actually Shatner was pretty good in Boston Legal…

  48. says

    I don’t get much out of poetry either. But then my language education was good at making language feel bad. I can see the patterns but I don’t get the impact others get. Similarly I’m good at math but don’t enjoy it courtesy of the military branch of public education.

  49. PaulBC says

    Poetry is a little hit or miss for me, to be clear, but I can tell when it hits. A phrase sticks in my head and has value simply as language, not as a conveyance of something else.

    On a more general level, I object to the suggestion that language has value primary insofar as it describes something coherent: an observation, a narrative, an abstract analysis. The play of language is a stimulation to the brain in its own right, and can be appreciated at that level. Often the objection to poetry comes down to “I don’t see the point.” Well, when you listen to music, do you see the point? When you admire non-representational visual art (not just “modern” but traditional patterns and symmetry) does it have to have a point? Words are a medium like anything else and don’t have to be used for one “correct” purpose.

  50. PaulBC says

    Seriously, if Shatner’s big take is that it’s great to be home after that scary 10 minutes in “black” space, I don’t see how that’s different from me going to Paris and summarizing the trip as “It’s great to be back. I couldn’t find anywhere that could make a decent Philly cheesesteak.” I mean you go into space on its own terms. I can already figure out that earth is habitable and the vacuum of space is not without relying on a billionaire sugardaddy to send me up in a rocket.

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