NASA's New Old Rocket

NASA press officials announced this week that the new heavy lifter for crewed missions will sport an unpainted main stage, giving the rocket a rust-orange look we've seen before in shuttle launches. From Space.com (emphases mine):

NASA's next-generation rocket has a new look.
The space agency has revealed a reworked color scheme for the Space Launch System heavy-lift booster, removing the paint from one major component . . .

Later the article states: 

Billed as the most powerful launch vehicle ever built, the SLS is NASA's first rocket to be specifically designed to support astronaut-crewed missions beyond low Earth orbit since the Saturn V that launched astronauts to the moon 45 years ago.
And it was with that iconic booster in mind that NASA first represented the SLS with a similar black-and-white motif when it announced the rocket in 2011. Now, the design is exposing its more colorful core.

An image published by NASA this week shows the 'new look'.

But how new is it? The image below, released by NASA in 2005, shows the Ares V, the heavy lifter planned for the deep-space missions of Project Constellation.

Look familiar? The SLS is the Ares V. The Ares V is the SLS.

We heard much from Washington DC in 2009 about Project Constellation being 'cancelled'. The reality turned out to be otherwise. What really happened was that the pace of the project was slowed while its main components continued with development. These components included the heavy lifter (Ares V/SLS), the crewed spacecraft (Orion). The goal, an international mission to Mars, likewise remained the same.

Project Constellation components were simply assigned new names and logos. Amnesiac press releases then pretended no important innovations for the future of human space flight got started between 2001 and 2009.

Press patter and politics aside, the heavy lifter now said to have been 'first announced in 2011' was first announced in 2005. As the artist's renderings above illustrate, the original concept endures and has been carried forward.

The Ares V/SLS concept is a heavy lifter for deep-space missions that that re-uses familiar technology from the shuttle launch system while configuring the stack so that payloads are mounted on the top rather than the side. The liquid-fuel main stage incorporates the same type of engines used on the shuttle orbiters. This is augmented by strapped-on solid-fuel rockets that are also familiar from the shuttle launch system. This main stage supports, as needed, a second liquid-fuel stage. Depending on the configuration, a crew-rated second stage can assist in lofting an Orion spacecraft with astronauts and support systems on a direct ascent mission into deep space (shown in the 2015 image), or loft a heavy payload without astronauts into earth orbit (as shown in the 2005 image) as part of a flight plan involving earth-orbit rendezvous. The vehicle is adaptable to a variety of other missions as well. Designs for the second stage would vary as needed.

The Ares V was so named to invoke the goal of reaching Mars (the Roman name Mars corresponds to the Greek name Ares) while the V pays homage to the Saturn V moon rocket. As NASA engineers fully anticipated in 2005, the Ares V / SLS heavy lifter will sport an unpainted main stage displaying the orange colour of its insulation material.

SLS is Ares V. Project Constellation endures. Just don't call it that.



Welcome to the Future, Marty

Marty McFly and Dr Emmett Brown are due to arrive from 1985 today at 04:29 USA Pacific time.

Added by edit: Ah, they got here!
And both appear to be as baffled by 2015 as the rest of us . . .



Taiwan Beauty Snakes

Just a quick logo for a fantasy team. Pay no heed. I had to post it somewhere so we could link to it.

Late Summer Song

Abschied vom Walde (Farewell to the Wood)
O Täler weit (O valleys wide)

poem by Joseph of Eichendorff
music by Felix Mendelssohn

O Täler weit, o Höhen, o schöner grüner Wald,
O valleys wide, O heights, O beautiful green forest,
du meiner Lust und Wehen andächtger Aufenthalt!
of my joys and sorrows the attentive keeper!
Da draussen, stets betrogen, saust die geschäftge Welt,
Outside, forever betrayed, rushes the busy world
schlag noch einmal die Bogen um mich, du grünes Zelt.
as again your boughs enfold me inside your green tent.

[ 2
Wenn es beginnt zu tagen, die Erde dampft und blinkt,
When dawn arrives, the earth erupts in soaring 
die Vögel lustig schlagen, dass dir dein Herz erklingt:
birds to sing the delights you hold in your heart:
da mag vorgehn, verwehen das trübe Erdenleid,
like them you drop the sad weight of earth
da sollst du auferstehen in junger Herrlichkeit!
and rise renewed in youthful glory! ]

Im Walde steht geschrieben ein stilles ernstes Wort
In the forest is forever inscribed a silent, solemn message
vom rechten Thun und Lieben und was des Menschen Hort.
about proper action, and love, and what is best for humanity.
Ich habe treu gelesen die Worte schlicht und Wahr,
I have read well this message so pure and true,
und durch mein ganzes Wesen ward’s unaussprechlich klar.
and now through my whole being it emerges unspeakably clear.

Bald werd’ich dich verlassen, fremd in die Fremde gehn,
Soon will I leave you, go as a stranger into a strange land,
auf bunt bewegten Gassen des Lebens Schauspiel stehn.
to stand in the alleyways of life’s strange stage play.
Und mitten in dem Leben wird deines Ernst’s Gewalt,
In the midst of that life will your solemn guidance
mich Einsamen erheben, so wird mein Herz nicht alt.
lift me from loneliness, so my heart will never grow old.




Bonjour mes amis. Bonne fête de la Bastille!


New Horizons

2015-07-11 22:23:21 UTC
3.1M km
Enjoy images from Pluto and its moons as they arrive, courtesy of NASA and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.



July 4

Here are the Andrews Sisters singing Irving Berlin.

Happy birthday, America. Stay young, keep swinging.


Welcome to History

From this moment forward, same-sex marriage is legal throughout the United States of America.
States where same-sex couples may now legally marry.
My home state, Florida, was ahead of the curve.

Congratulations to all, sea to shining sea.

Map courtesy of H3D Wallpapers.
Idea poached from the Washington Post.


Jiàn guài bù guài

The Taiwanese people have a proverb:

見怪不怪。Jiàn guài bù guài.

When everything
s odd, 
nothing is odd.

I love this saying. So many applications. A phenomenon you’ve observed all your life has been captured in four neat syllables.

A colleague takes this Taiwanese saying as advice to travelers. Exercise caution and keep your eyes open, she says. Newcomers to any environment are in the worst position to assess what is out of the ordinary.

Jiànguài bù guài.

Excellent advice. But I admit my first interpretation was a bit different.

I was reminded of surreal environments like Disney World. When you and your friends first arrive, you point at the castle, ogle the costumed characters, and snap photos of the monorail. By the end of the day, you’ve whirled in a teacup and dived to the ocean floor and joined a pirate invasion and rode a flying elephant and rocketed to Mars and cruised the Congo. Now all you want is to get off of your feet. So you buy an ice cream sandwich, find a bench near a lawn, and unwrap your ice cream. When a mushroom on the lawn starts singing Offenbach you don't even turn to look.

Jiànguài bù guài.



Endo, Scorsese, and the Early Globalists

As cinema lovers everywhere well know, Martin Scorsese has been shooting a film here in Taiwan based on Silence, the acclaimed novel by Shusaku Endo. In the film Taiwan will play the role of Japan, Macau and other world locales. In this post we will take a look at one one interesting facet of the historical situation described in the story.

The Society of Jesus was the youngest Catholic religious order as the 1500s gave way to the 1600s. Born not in medieval times but in an age of booming exploration and discovery, the order promoted missionary service. Its members didn’t take rooted posts as local parish priests. Not all of them were even priests. Brothers in this society trained themselves to provide any kind of Christian service anywhere, at any time, and if necessary to die as martyrs in foreign lands.

Catedral de São Paulo (Saint Paul’s Cathedral) in Macau illustrates the ideals of its builders. Built 1582-1602 with this façade added 1620-1627, the cathedral adjoined Asia
’s first comprehensive university. The architects were Jesuits from Portugal; the sculptors were their fellow Christians from Japan. The images include motifs imported from Europe, such as this Christogram, as well as motifs familiar in traditional Asian art.
2014 © Alton Thompson 唐博敦

These Jesuits, as they came to be called, moved in the vanguard of trends we today describe with the catch-all term globalism. The brothers valued learning, as they needed knowledge of foreign languages and cultures, navigation, agriculture, and engineering if they were to live successfully in far, unknown locales. The Jesuits wore no special uniforms, preferring instead clothes that reflected the culture in which they worked. They recognised a sharp distinction between the conversion of others to Christianity on the one hand and to European ways on the other, and they wanted nothing to do with the latter. All these things set them apart from older orders, whose members viewed with disapproval this modern fellowship’s tolerant approach to science, to secular scholarship, and to foreign practices such as ancestor reverence, ‘nature worship’ and polygamy.

Endo based his missionaries in Silence on actual historical figures. They leave their native lands far behind in a quest that eventually brings them up against the bleakest realities of suffering. They now face troubling questions about the universality of any religion and about the nature and meaning of sacrifice. Prepared to lay down their lives for what what they love, they findunder the enormous, cunningly devised pressures placed upon them in Japanthat ‘laying down one’s life’ can take many forms.





Naked Tea Party

It's so nice sometimes to let go of the burden of sanity.

I've been playing the March Hare in 'The Mad Tea Party', a radio-style production of the classic scene from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland developed by Ruth Landowne Giordano. The role certainly lets you drop the burden... but then, so do most roles in the story. My fellow cast members are Whitney Zahar (Alice), Pat Woods (Mad Hatter), Emmanuel Félix Lespron (Cheshire Cat), Taili Huang (Dormouse), and Sarah Brooks (Narrator).

Our first recorded performance took place at Red Room in Taipei and yielded some nice press attention from the Taipei Times. Do join us next at Naked Food, Taipei's acclaimed vegetarian restaurant.



Ancient Ocean on Mars

So what is the latest on the existence of water on Mars?

Mars had an ocean that once covered at least one-fifth of its surface. This ocean, as deep as the Mediterranean, existed over a billion and a half years—long enough for life to develop.

Thanks to the Nasa Goddard Flight Centre.


An Angel from Formosa

Taiwan lost a national treasure yesterday when composer Tyzen Hsiao was overtaken by cancer.

The video below documents the first time I had the honour of performing a piece by Hsiao; the players belong to a community orchestra in Hsinchu. Entitled An Angel from Formosa, the work expresses the composer’s gratitude to a friend. Today, it may serve to express the gratitude all of Taiwan’s musicians feel for the experience of a distinct native voice.

蕭泰然 Tyzen Hsiao (1938-2015)


Anne Tyler's Perfect Sentences

An interview with Anne Tyler appears this week in The Guardian UK. Time with this author is always time well spent and interviewer Tim Teeman uses his well.

Tyler resides in Baltimore, the city where the eccentric characters in her novels make their way. She's the local hero to those of us who have called the town home at some point, especially those of us who were writing diction.

Two aspects of Tyler's writing have always deserving more note than is usually taken.

The first is the vivid way she portrays the inner lives of her characters at different stages of their development. The novel Saint Maybe, for example, moves into the head of a different character with each chapter.  Whether the character is five years old or thirty-five, the voice and the reasoning at work are flawless. The author seems to have well availed herself of the professional resource in her own home; her longtime husband, Taghi Modarressi, was a child psychiatrist.

Another is the unassuming perfection of her sentences. Joan Didion once said of Hemingway that he taught her 'how sentences worked.... I mean they’re perfect sentences. Very direct sentences, smooth rivers, clear water over granite, no sinkholes.'

Readers learn the same from Tyler. They launch into unadorned, straightforward prose and within second find a vivid world taking shape around them. Only upon re-reading do most notice how little they have really been told. Tyler's words have been thoroughly combed through. Only the most telling details remain. From those points of launch readers' imaginations do the rest. 

Having admired this for years, I found it fascinating to get a glimpse of her methods in the opening words of Teeman's article:
In her second floor writing room in her Baltimore home, the novelist Anne Tyler likes to keep the windows open to hear ordinary life outside. She writes in longhand, then types her words out, then records her words, listens to them, and then adds to and edits the words on a computer.

As Tyler does this, she listens to parents and children, cars parking and daily chatter. She particularly likes to observe workmen, she says: the way they talk and work, their solid capability. 
Tyler's latest novel, A Spool of Blue Thread, is set in the Baltimore neighbourhood where Anne Tyler listens at her window.



The Other Interview

Here is the real interview North Korea’s leaders don’t want us to see.

The experiences of Jihyun Park, shared here in fifteen minutes by powerful but simple means, do not soon leave the memory.



Another birthday?

Oh, my. Time to step out in my suit...



Welcome to the Future

This is the year Marty McFly is due to arrive from 1985. He will be joining us on October 21 at 04:29 USA Pacific time.

Here is a convenient countdown clock.

Now where is my flying car...?