Archive for February, 2011

After a long cold spell this winter that was reputed to be the coldest on record, a warm Saturday brought a feeling of spring in the air.

As I went out for a morning walk with the dogs, the sun was shining brightly and I could not resist the idea of breaking out the grill and cooking something up for lunch.

the dogs look longingly for some food from the bbq grill

My dogs Xingxing (l.) and Lexi (r.) look longingly for food from the barbecue grill

The weather was great, the vegetables were fresh and the dogs were excited, knowing how likely I am to drop some food. Though in China they just do not want to hear anyone say “Throw another dog on the grill,” since I have been told on good authority that Xingxing is a very tasty breed of dog.




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The Space Review: The case for international cooperation in space exploration.

IXO illustration

The International X-Ray Observatory is one of three large space science missions ESA is considering funding, with some degree of cooperation with other space agencies, such as NASA. (credit: NASA)

The case for international cooperation in space exploration

by Lou Friedman
Monday, February 21, 2011

Comments (2)
Bookmark and ShareI owned an American car built in Australia from an Italian design with Japanese parts. It is trite now to comment on globalization and interdependency of world industry. The International Space Station is an extraordinary testament to how globalization and international cooperation have permeated the space program. The United States and Europe have also merged their planning for future robotic space exploration ventures to Mars and the outer planets. If these plans materialize, they will enable much more to be accomplished than could be done in national programs.

International cooperation is enabling a golden era of robotic space exploration even in the face of budget cuts and increasing costs.

The interdependency of national space programs will play a part in the big space exploration decision that Europe has to make later this year: what to explore in the 2020s. Because of the complications of having over a dozen nations involved in decision-making and project implementation, the European Space Agency has to make decisions long in advance of their technical necessity. They will probably decide this year or next on their next big step in space exploration and choose a mission that will probably not launch until well into the 2020s.

They are considering their first outer planets mission: an orbiter of Jupiter and its giant moon Ganymede, to fly as a companion to NASA’s putative Europa orbiter. An International X-Ray Observatory is also being considered in cooperation with both NASA and JAXA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. It would be a large telescope companion to the James Webb Space Telescope at the Sun-Earth Lagrangian point, L2. The third candidate in the science competition is a gravity wave detector called LISA, Laser Interferometer Space Antenna. It would be a cooperative mission with NASA, utilizing three satellites.

The decision on which of these three large-class science missions to develop could come in the middle of this year. NASA and JAXA decisions will clearly affect European decision-making, and vice versa. I am concerned that the lack of funding in the president’s proposed budget for an outer planet flagship mission, expected to be a Europa orbiter, might lead ESA to give up on its Ganymede companion. But perhaps it will have the opposite effect, since it could be re-cast as an independent mission and allow Europe to take over from the US as the main outer planets explorer in the 2020s. LISA and IXO are more interdependent international missions, and LISA in particular will be affected by the proposed cuts in US space science. IXO could be done solely with Japan, but Japan is having its own space science budget problems and might be influenced by the cuts in other countries. The European Union is having its own furious debate about debt and budgets, and ESA budget cuts to their existing program are possible despite the fact that their planning tends to be more stable because of the long lead times.

For several years ESA has been developing a highly ambitious ExoMars astrobiology mission for Mars exploration. It was so ambitious that they had to step back and make it part of a cooperative plan with NASA, beginning with a 2016 entry, descent, and landing technology test vehicle that would fly as companion to the US Mars Trace Gas Orbiter. That latter mission was included in the President’s budget, but the follow-on cooperative NASA lander to fly in conjunction with ExoMars was not. How will that affect ESA planning?

In their budget rollout last week, NASA officials described how they have given up on a US dark energy astrophysics mission, and instead will focus on cooperating with the Europeans’ nascent Euclid mission. Euclid is one of three so-called medium class science missions competing for final selection this year to launch near the end of the current decade. The others are an exoplanet detection mission called PLATO and a solar orbiter to study the Sun. Two will be selected (we hope).

The world needs a positive, inspiring, outward-looking venture that can engage skilled personnel around the world in developing new technology. Let’s back off from the national-only planning and start planning internationally.

In short, international cooperation is enabling a golden era of robotic space exploration even in the face of budget cuts and increasing costs. It’s a touchy situation because interdependency not only builds up new capabilities but can, because of the dependency, undermine the planning. And the current focus on budget cutting in all countries could undermine everything, stopping space exploration just as Spain, Portugal, and Holland stopped ocean exploration centuries ago.

However, given the fact that globalization already dominates exploration of the solar system and observation of the universe, and that the International Space Station has now merged the human space flight programs of spacefaring nations, why don’t we strengthen human exploration planning with an international approach? Strengthening is badly needed. How much of a leap is it to combine robotic Mars landers with International Space Station missions to produce a program that takes humans into the solar system?

In my view it is time for the political leaders (not just the space agency heads) to get together on a new human space initiative. It is clear that the US and Russia are not going to do it alone despite the assertions by space enthusiasts in both countries that they can. Europe and Japan have shown themselves to be strong players with meaningful contributions. China and India are standing on the threshold.

As I have said many times, space agency folks alone can’t make it happen: only a geopolitical purpose will drive support for a major human space mission. The world needs a positive, inspiring, outward-looking venture that can engage skilled personnel around the world in developing new technology. Let’s back off from the national-only planning and start planning internationally. Budget realities, if nothing else, demand it. Maybe Europe, which has overcome many of the nationalistic inhibitions to cooperation, should step up and be a leader in making it happen.

Lou Friedman recently stepped down after 30 years as Executive Director of The Planetary Society. He continues as Director of the Society’s LightSail Program and remains involved in space programs and policy. Before co-founding the Society with Carl Sagan and Bruce Murray, Lou was a Navigation and Mission Analysis Engineer and Manager of Advanced Projects at JPL.


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Spring Airlines may be the cheapest darned way to get from Shanghai to Hong Kong – and a selection of other cities in China. But that is only if you can manage to cross all the hurdles put in your path by the customer (dis)satisfaction workers. It firmly gets my vote for worst airline customer service

Despite its tiny market share among airlines in China, privately-owned Spring Airlines making efforts to reach its cusotmers.


Spring Airline Chairman Wang Zhenghua

Admittedly, Wang Zheng Hua, has a blog on Spring Airlines’s less than helpful  website – but I give him credit since most Chinese execs would not be so brave as to face the public openly.

Wang’s blog gets feedback positive and negative from customers to express their opinions of the airline, and like mine, some of these opinions are pretty negative and describe some real bad travel experiences.

CHinese businesses in general have bad bad on social media but this small private airline does take the time to respond to each customer , positive or negative post.

It only had a 1.2% market share in 2009 while China’s big 3 state owned dominated the rest. but its attempts to address the customers and its much lower price fares is a positive that makes you think this private airline might beat out the big state owned enterprises.

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I’m not an actor but I play one on TV….

Many of the foreigners in Asia get the opportunity of being an actor in commercials, TV shows and films. Don’t get wide-eyed dreams of stardom. The rates are not exactly Hollywood.

Richard trombly

Richard Trombly on a film shoot

I went to a casting today in the morning for a TVC commercial as a businessman, I never get the sexy roles – for obvious reasons.

Later in the day I acted in another commercial video to help out a few filmmakers that were working on some show reel concepts. Gratis is frequently the rate when building the community, but my short films were fueled by volunteer efforts. Besides, a cup of coffee on the director and a smile makes it worth the while.

I do so much prefer the other end of the camera as DOP or better yet, behind the monitor as director.


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Rolling Back Home Fundraising Evening

With special guest speaker:

Peter Donnelly

Musical entertainment provided by singer / songwriter Michael Jones


Shanging Loft

739-1 Dingxi Lu


Saturday 19th February 7-10pm

Come down for an evening of entertainment to raise money for a great cause, see more at www.justgiving.com/rollingbackhome

About Peter Donnelly and Rolling Back Home

Four years ago I sustained a T6 spinal cord injury (paraplegia) following a motorbike accident, I don’t let using a wheelchair stop me doing anything and no one else should either. Right now I’m travelling back from Bangladesh to the UK over land by buses and trains to raise money for the Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed in Dhaka, Bangladesh and also to raise awareness of what is still possible through a disability.


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Today was Valnetine’s Day. While flower vendors across Shanghai got the marketing craze and hawked wilting roses to blossoming lasses or the men hoping to woo them, I had a better plan.


And what better than chocolate in this world, for those in love, or for those looking to forget that they are alone on this day? Go ahead and indulge!

chocolate fondue and fruit

chocolate fondue and fruit

I got some Kiwi fruit, a dragon fruit, a pear and an apple and 200 grams of dark  chocolate.  What else could one need in life?

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