“Generation Ships: The Science and Fiction of Interstellar Travel”



Book Review: When the Devil Dances by John Ringo

When the Devil Dances is the third in the Posleen War or Legacy of the Aldenata series by John Ringo. The first two novels in the series are A Hymn before Battle and Gust Front. Devil is followed up by Hell’s Faire.

In this one earth has been invaded and largely occupied by the vicious Posleen. 90% of the human population has been literally eaten. The only parts of the Terra holding out are the high mountain regions of Europe and Asia, non-continental islands and the American heartland bordered by the Rockies and Appalachian mountains. Major Mike “Mighty Mite” O’Neal the hero and commander of the 555th Mobile Infantry fights the alien tide with everything he has, but he is blocked at many turns by the Galactics that are trying to “tame” the wild humans and reduce the whole human race to Janissary status.

Clearly part of a series of books, When the Devil Dances should not be read first. The reader should read the books in order, otherwise many of the events and characters will make little sense without having taken in the first two books in the series.

Ringo’s writing really shines in his intense details of the military operations and technology, some readers will no doubt say he is too detailed. The other high point in the writing are the battle scenes, full of blood, the strum and drang of warfare and the dark humor that often comes out of men in combat. In the battle scenes hyper velocity missile fly, anti-matter explodes, alien and humans die in big batches.

Ringo, an U. S. Army veteran, clearly pays homage to Heinlein’s Starship Troopers with his Armored Combat Suit (ACS) and the Mobile Infantry. But more importantly Ringo’s themes of military honor, service, self sacrifice and average men and women rising to circumstances are the same that Heinlein’s classic novel spoke too. Ringo’s characters fight and often die because it is the right and good thing to do. In the world of the novel, the bad guys are truly evil, the good guys are truly good and there are no grey areas.

If the reader is looking for a solid military science fiction action novel with stirring action scenes, good technology and no subtle philosophizing on the right and wrong of war, then they need look no further then When the Devil Dances and its companion books.

The Air Force’s secret robotic space plane

Officially it is the Boeing X-37B or Orbital Test Vehicle-1 (OTV-1) but it is better known as the Air Force’s Space Plane. The X-37B was first launched into orbit atop an Atlas V rocket on April 22, 2010.

According to Air Force sources the Space Plane is not armed and is unmanned. It is currently the world’s only reusable operational spacecraft and the only US spacecraft capable of autonomous re-entry.

The X-37B has a wingspan of 4.5 Meters, length of 8.9 meters, height of 2.9 meters and a loaded weight of 4990 kilograms. The X-37B has a small payload bay of 2.1 by 1.2 meters with a carrying weight of 227 kilograms. With integrated Gallium Arsenide Solar Cells with lithium-Ion batteries the Space Plane has an unclassified orbital endurance of 270 days.

The OTV-1 is the result of over ten years of design, research and development. The program was started in 1999 as part of the Department of Defense independent space program which was prompted by the 1986 Challenger disaster. The X-37B underwent drop testing in 2006. It was attached to the Scaled Composites White Knight, a carrier aircraft better known for launching the privately owned SpaceShipOne flights. The first flight was successful but some minor issues on landing caused the X-37B to go off the runway. It then underwent a long repair and improvement process. Subsequently, at least five more flights were performed. Originally designed to be carried into orbit by the Space Shuttle, this plan was changed after the 2003 Columbia Disaster and the shuttle program was scaled back. The X-37B was then transferred as a shrouded payload to the Delta V rocket launch program. A second OTV-1 is being built for flight testing in 2011.

Based on the Space Shuttle design, the X-37 has updated technology such as advance avionics and heat tiles. The OTV-1 has a Space Support mission and is designed to refuel and repair friendly satellites with a robotic arm. It could easily transition from a Space Support role to a Space Control role. This change in role would require a change in national space and military policy.

Representatives of the People’s Republic of China government and military have indicated that the development of the X-37B could start an arms race in space. They state that since the OTV-1 could have an Anti-satellite (ASAT) capability, China might have to prepare satellite defenses. The OTV-1 could be seen as a partial response to the Chinese’s own ASAT capability, which was demonstrated in 2007 when a Chinese missile destroyed an old weather satellite in orbit.

A Space Plane recently retruned to earth after more than a year in orbit.










Ibn Al Haytham’s Contributions to Astronomy

Abu Ali al-Asan ibn al-asan ibn al-Haytham, generally called Al-Hazen in Europe is known in the West as “Ptolemaeus Secundus” or “Ptolemy the Second” based on his main astronomical work Al-Shukuk ala  Batlamyus, generally translated as “Doubts Concerning Ptolemy”. He also wrote several important works concerning astrophysics and celestial mechanics as well.

Al-Hazen distinguished between astrology and astronomy. He rejected astrology as a science because it was not empirically based, but instead was mere guesswork. But also because it was antithetical to Islam.

In his most important work: “Doubts Concerning Ptolemy” Al-Hazen rejects Ptolemy because used conjecture, not observation to arrive at his theories. In this work as well as his other Al-Hazen promoted empirical, observational and experimental data as the only source of knowledge.  In an early attempt to define the scientific method and rejected authority, for Al-Hazen the truth is sought for its own sake, but such truths are not self evident and the authorities are not error free.

In his “Doubts” Al-Hazen makes the following point regarding Ptolemy:

“Ptolemy assumed an arrangement that cannot be, and the fact that this arrangement produces in his imagination the motions that belong to the planets does not free him from the error he committed in his assumed arrangement, for the existing motions of the planets cannot be the result of an arrangement that is impossible to exist. . .  For a man to imagine a circle in the heavens, and to imagine the planet moving in it does not bring about the planet’s motion.” (Ibn al-Haytham’s (Al-Hazen) doubts concerning Ptolemy”)

In his “The Model of the Motions of Each of the Seven Planets” Al-Hazen continued to accept the geocentric, or Earth centered solar system. But promoted an early version of what would later be called Occam’s Razor in the West and also suggested that the earth rotates on its axis. In this work Al-Hazen rejected cosmology and instead focused on planetary motion as an exercise in physical geometry.

In the astrophysical realm Al-Hazen determined that the planets must and did obey the laws of physics. 600 years before Newton, Al-Hazen also talked about a theory of attraction between physical masses, he seemed aware that the distances of the masses from each affected the acceleration of said bodies and also theorized that the weight of an object would vary depending on how far from the Earth’s center of mass it was.

Al-Hazen also determined that the so called celestial spheres were no solid matter and that “the heavens” were much less dense than the Earth atmosphere.


Duhem, Pierre, To Save the Phenomena: An Essay on the Idea of Physical theory from Plato to Galileo, University of Chicago Press, 1969.

Sabra, A. I. “An Eleventh-Century Refutation of Ptolemy’s Planetary Theory”, Science and History: Studies in Honor of Edward Rosen, 1978.

Voss Don L., translator, “Ibn al-Haytham’s (Al-Hazen) doubts concerning Ptolemy”, University of Chicago Press, 1989

http://www.yawiki.org/proc/Astronomy+in+medieval+Islam (accessed 29 Jan 2011)


Future Plans for NASA’s Discovery Program

NASA’s Discovery Program is a set of low-cost, focused scientific space missions that are designed to explore the Solar System, generally, but not solely, centered on planetary bodies. However, for example, other Discovery Program missions include “Genesis,” a mission to collect charged particles from the solar wind, or “Stardust,” a mission that collected dust particles from a comet.

The Discovery Program was implemented in 1992 to fulfill the goal of developing faster and better and cheaper unmanned missions to explore the Solar System. As the program’s website says: “NASA’s Discovery Program gives scientists the opportunity to dig deep into their imaginations and find innovative ways to unlock the mysteries of the solar system. . . For the first time, scientists and engineers were called on to assemble teams and design exciting, focused planetary science investigations . . .”  http://discovery.nasa.gov/program.cfml

The driving paradigm of the Discovery Program is to ask for plans for a mission from non-NASA sources. Then NASA puts together a team made up of representatives from academia, NASA, other federal agencies and private industry, all led by the principal investigator. The principal investigator initiates the mission by setting the scientific objectives and developing the instrument package. The various team members then bring their expertise to see the mission successfully accomplished on time and on budget.

The Discovery Program’s most famous missions have to be the Mars Pathfinder mission which explored the surface of Mars in the late nineties and the ongoing Kepler space telescope designed to find extra-solar planets. Another ongoing mission is Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging, also called “MESSENGER,” a robotic spacecraft currently orbiting Mercury and exploring that planet.  Also ongoing is the “DAWN” mission, a probe that is designed to explore the dwarf planets Vesta and Ceres.

One standalone mission is currently in development: the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, called “InSight.” This mission is designed to study the interior structure and composition of the planet Mars to advance the understanding of how terrestrial planets are formed.  Other missions that were under consideration but not accepted were the Comet Hopper, or “C-Hopper” which would have landed on a comet many times to study the changes of a comet as it orbited the Sun; and the Titan Mare Explorer, which would have landed a probe on the seas of Titan, a moon of Saturn.

Also in development is “Strofio,” a mass spectrometer which will be aboard the European Space Agency’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter.  “Strofio” is designed to study the atmosphere of Mercury.