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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Good advice....

Just Finished Reading: The Two Cultures by C P Snow (FP: 1959/1964/1993)

In 1959 C P Snow gave the Rede Lecture at Cambridge University. In it he stated that there are two cultures within the academy who not only barely communicate with each other but look on the other with hostility and derision. Those cultures are Science and what is known today as the Humanities. Snow contended that in recent years – from the 1930’s to the late 50’s in England in particular – the two main braches of knowledge and intellectual exploration had begun talking past each other with both sides increasingly ignoring the advances or pronouncements of its counterpart. Such things could be forgiven, or even ignored, if they had no effect. But such a divorce, and especially an acrimonious one, has consequences and potentially serious ones at that. From the 30’s onwards both science and technology had been advancing at increasing speed with each passing year having a greater impact on the world around us. This was never truer than after 1945 with the detonation of the first atomic bomb. It became obvious that every educated person should have at least an appreciation of science and technology – if not any great knowledge – but that politicians and world leaders should have much more. Without such a basic knowledge ill-educated electorates cannot vote sensibly on important issues of the day and national leaders cannot tell when scientific advisors are giving poor advice – which it must be appreciated is a possibility. Likewise the scientific community needs to resist an ‘ivory tower’ temptation to hold themselves above the fray and to look on the world dispassionately in other to make rational decisions that could lead to the deaths of millions. Without fellow feeling, without a connection to the human condition, without an understanding of life from the level of the street it is all too easy to make wrong and dangerous decisions far too casually. This is the danger of the split Snow recognised in 1959.

He had no idea that the publication of his lecture would have the effect it did. He received letters from across the world, many positive but a few critical and occasionally with much vitriol, so quickly realised he had touched a rather raw nerve. After much thought and reflection he gave a second lecture in 1963 to address some of the issues raised, to explain some of the misunderstandings and to modify his views where needed. This made up the second part of this slim volume. Preceding the whole thing – in my 1993 Canto Classics edition – was a long, detaile4d and very interesting introduction by Stefan Collini who set the context of both talks and critiqued some of Snow’s ideas and assertions.

Overall this was a very interesting (and seminal) discussion of what education is for, who the dominance of one school or culture over the other works to the detriment of both, and how important it is for everyone – not just the ultimate decision makers – to have at least a basic understanding of scientific fundamentals. As Collini says this has yet to happen fully but, largely because of television, is a great deal better than during the 1960’s. So, there is hope but as always it seems more, much more, needs to be done. The rise of technical education and the higher profile of science is helping but general scientific ignorance can no longer be shrugged off. With technology becoming daily more important it is vital that we understand what we have in our hands, where it’s going and what we can do to channel technological advances in a way that serves humanity. It’s time we all became more educated.   

Monday, May 28, 2018

"Outsiders tend to see uniformity in other groups and fine distinctions within their own."

Stefan Collini, 1998.

Just Finished Reading: Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey (FP: 1912)

Jane Withersteen has a whole host of problems. She’s young, rich and unmarried. Left her farm and ranch by her father she uses her wealth and position to help those around her. But that’s another problem to add to an already long list. Because some of those people are not Mormons and that doesn’t sit well with her wannabe future husband in the Mormon Church. But there’s one more problem that could be her undoing. Because she knows where Milly Erne is buried and she knows who’s responsible for her untimely death. Everything comes to a head when the gunman Lassiter finally tracks her down after years of searching. Lassiter wants to know who is responsible for Milly’s abduction and death. The rage built inside of him over the years needs an outlet and Jane knows where the rage needs directing. Lassiter, who’s very name strikes terror into the Mormon community, is going nowhere until he discovers the truth. No matter what the cost.

This is the first book in a set of ten 20th century classics. It’s also my first even western novel which is a bit surprising knowing how much I love the genre on the big screen. For that I can certainly lay the blame squarely at the feet of my father who was a huge fan of the western. He certainly transferred his love of the movie version to me but, despite having numerous western novels at home, I’d never read one of the books – classic or otherwise, till now. With this one I can see the attraction. I can see who it set the pattern for the modern western form. I laughed out loud when the hero arrived (on page 8) identified by how he got off his horse. I’d seen something similar on countless movies and knew that someone important had just entered the narrative. It was actually quite fun picking out the iconic ideas, language and other attributes – metaphors and architypes – from the text that must have been fresh and exciting (if not shocking) at the time but have since become a form of storytelling short hand. The actual story surprised me in a few ways – mostly with its heavily negative view of the Mormons – but largely because the plot of the book was actually two connected love stories. This was, to me, completely unexpected. I was fully expecting a Clint Eastwood/John Wayne style narrative flow of a short setting piece, hero/anti-hero arrival, meet and greet of bad guys, some grumbling and gun play followed by the big shoot out and final resolution. Almost nothing like that happened at all. Instead we had a double love story between Jane and Lassiter and another between one of Jane’s hired hands and a girl he accidentally shot (not giving too much away). That’s all very well but wasn’t exactly what I was looking for in my first experience of a western. If I read any more in this genre (nothing planned presently) maybe I need to look somewhat further afield… Interesting from a cultural point of view but only recommended to die-hard cowboy lovers.   

Saturday, May 26, 2018

The fun of being a *mature* student....
Star Wars weapons bid from Leeds Royal Armouries

From The BBC

26th May 2018

A campaign to raise thousands of pounds to bring two weapons used in the making of the original Star Wars films to the Royal Armouries has been launched. The Leeds museum wants the blasters - an Imperial Stormtrooper E-11 and Rebel trooper DH-17 - to be part of the UK's national collection of arms and armour. It has started a Crowdfunding campaign to raise the necessary funds and so far has raised £25,565 of a £47,000 target. The museum hopes to put the props on permanent display from 2019. They would be part of a "Collecting Cultures" feature which looks at the role of arms and armour in popular culture.

Visitors to the Clarence Dock museum can already see the iconic M-41A Pulse Rifle from the Aliens film franchise, a collection of swords made by Peter Lyon, swordsmith to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and even a "vampire killing kit". Royal Armouries experts believe the blasters were made for use in The Empire Strikes Back and may have also been used in A New Hope. Laura Bell, director of collections said: "Ancient weapons are a great match for a good blaster, as we seek new ways to tell the story of arms and armour through the ages. We are really excited about this acquisition and already have a number of pledges of support in place."

[I wonder what future anthropologists will think. It is funny though how fictional weapons can make it into a legit weapons and armour museum. I guess that it brings in the foot traffic, is a bit of fun and shows how weapons tech has migrated into popular culture. I think I might just have to plan a trip up there next year. As an aside I almost bought an M-41 Pulse Rifle prop from Aliens back in the early 90’s. I gave it some serious thought but couldn’t justify spending a month’s salary on what would essentially be a toy. A decision I still regret to this day…… I’m such a kid sometimes – LOL]

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Just Finished Reading: Days of Rage – America’s Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence by Bryan Burrough (FP: 2015)

Having already dipped into America’s age of radicalism I thought I was ready to appreciate the fascinating story the author laid out in just shy of 550 pages. Obviously I was aware of the Black Panthers and that was pretty much where the author started his narrative. I was pleased to see that I had remembered and understood how and why they arose and how they fell from grace with the authorities and will their followers. The shadows cast by both Malcolm X and Eldridge Clever are never, it seemed, far from events throughout the late 60’s and into the early 80’s as groups – both black and white – reinvented or rediscovered the driving force behind the radical movement and its deep roots within the underground made up of students, ex-criminals and Vietnam draft dodgers.

What very quickly came as a surprise was a combination of the number of groups involved – quite a few I had never heard of – for example the Black Liberation Army, the length of time they operated for (until the early 80’s) and the relentless regularity of their attacks. If something like that happened today – if it could! – it would surely feel like the world was coming to an end. Literally HUNDREDS of bombs were going off in New York, San Francisco, Washington, Chicago and many other towns and cities across America. Bombs went off in department stores, Army recruiting offices, Armouries, Police stations, power stations, Headquarters of major corporations and even the Pentagon. Looking back with the experience of later urban terrorism I was amazed at the almost complete lack of security measures in place in government buildings. I couldn’t help but think that in 40 years’ time our children would look back at today and wonder how we managed with so few adequate security measures in place. When it was possible to walk into a government building with a bomb, casually find the best place for it, hide it, walk out calmly and then phone in a warning without (seemingly) the slightest risk of detection I guess it wasn’t surprising that so many bathrooms in so many buildings exploded in the 70’s. When you could buy boxes of dynamite from a store with little more than money and fake ID it was hardly surprising that people tried their hands (and sometimes lost their hands) building bombs.

Initially without metal detectors, sniffer dogs, visitor searches and much more that we take for granted these days plus lack of joined up policing, lack of central databases (or any databases) it should come as no surprise that law enforcement struggled to understand these attacks never mind counter them. What arrests were eventually made happened, more often than not, by accident or radicals turning informant as groups experienced unamicable split ups and sort revenge on their previous partners in the revolution. Mostly, like Weatherman (later Weather Underground), they were idealistic young white students who had little knowledge of the real world and little experience in the radical business of revolution. Learning much of their craft from classic revolutionary texts their early mistakes were both comic and tragic. But eventually through trial, error and occasional ‘own goals’ Weatherman and other groups eventually became more active, more professional and much more effective. Although overall few people died – often by accident more than design – millions of dollars’ worth of damage was caused. Their effect on the government and on public opinion was, however, limited in the extreme. They wanted and expected that the people and oppressed minorities in particular would follow their lead but few did. The antics of the alphabet of radical gangs – the BLA, SLA, FALN and more besides – faded into the background for most people who became used to bombings and the murder of police officers that hardly made headlines never mind the first few pages of even local newspapers. As the years went by the Vietnam War fizzled out and with it much of the impetus for a radical response. The underground seemed more desperate, more disconnected and more irrelevant with each passing year. As more and more radicals made mistakes, got sloppy and got arrested the few remaining either faded forever into the background or gave themselves up. By the early 80’s it was all over.

This is a well-researched, well written and much needed review of a period in American political history that few remember and fewer seem to care about. It was a time of great passion and equally great delusion where a handful of people thought that they could save America by blowing parts of it up. A good part of the book is an attempt to understand why the radicals themselves thought they could achieve their aims through the use of dynamite and why they thought they failed. It was interesting to hear from the people themselves – interviewed many years after the events what they thought they were accomplishing in their youth. My knowledge of American radicalism is certainly more fleshed out than before reading this impressive tome. It will be interesting to contrast the American with the European experience of 70’s radicalism. But that’s for another time. Certainly recommended for anyone interested in the era or the politics of revolt.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Thinking About: (Super) Heroes

Like millions of other people over the last few weeks I saw Avengers: Infinity War (Part 1) recently. Unlike many of those millions I wasn’t that impressed by it. What’s more the movie has convinced me that I’m done with the whole Super Hero genre and that Infinity War would be the last such film I see (most probably).

Let me explain: I have to say that I have never been a fan of comic books and honestly can’t understand what people see in them. Some of the art work is pretty good but give me a decent novel any day of the week over comics. They just don’t do it for me. Despite seeing most of the current crop of superhero films over the last 10-15 years I’ve actually enjoyed very few of them. I rank movies (rather crudely) into Bronze, Silver & Gold. Gold movies are bought the day they come out on DVD. Silver will (generally) be bought once they hit the cheap section. Bronze movies will be watched on TV/Cable if they’re on and I have nothing better to do. To date only two of the superhero films made my Gold list. They were Captain America: Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy. I did actually (rather reluctantly) buy the Guardians sequel not long after it came out more for the characters and memory of the first movie rather than a great love of the sequel. After several watching’s I’m growing to like it more. The Silver list comprise of X-Men: First Class and Suicide Squad (mostly for Margot Robbie as Harlequin). I think that’s it.

My favourite super film – head and shoulders above the rest is Winter Soldier. That, I think, is simply a GOOD film rather than just a good superhero film. Great pacing, interesting characters, GREAT set pieces and a decent smattering of humour to lighten the moment. It didn’t hurt having Scarlett in tight leather – just saying. I didn’t mind the recent Thor film. Chris Hemsworth is a very creditable Thor and I like him as an actor. I also like Tom Hiddleston who played his half-brother Loki. Then there’s the lovely (and funny) Tessa Thompson playing Valkyrie and who can forget Cate Blanchett having FAR too much fun playing the ultra-baddie Hela. But still, after all that it might have (just) only edged it onto the Silver list. Fun, but disposable fun. Saw the first Thor film but none of the subsequent one’s before Ragnarok.

As to the others: Superman is just boring. He can defeat anyone who isn’t up on the whole Kryptonite thing. Batman is just a guy with lots of money and a deep need for revenge. Spiderman is just a kid with webs, the Hulk is just angry, Iron Man needs to get over himself, Captain America is OK if you like your bread white and rather old fashioned so I can deal with him. So I’ve stopped seeing Iron Man movies (first 2 I think I saw). Didn’t see the last Hulk film. Only saw the first two Spiderman movies – I lost count of the reboots – and wasn’t impressed with either of the Fantastic Four efforts. Didn’t see Ant Man and won’t be seeing the sequel. Thought Deadpool was OK in a rather crude way but haven’t seen the sequel (and won’t be). Was seriously underwhelmed by Black Panther that I was really looking forward to. So much wrong with that movie I hardly know where to start. Then we come to my super epiphany: Infinity War.

Despite my misgivings about ensemble movies I was quite looking forward to it. But after 2 hours and 40 minutes I left the theatre both bored and annoyed by the whole thing. SPOLIERS AHEAD!!! First the start was pretty slow and lumbering. Hiddleston in particular looking like he was phoning it in. For some reason Hemsworth, usually so good in these things, was both over and underacting in turn. Moving to Earth the ‘action’ was pretty average (have you ever wondered where the authorities are when superheroes battle super-baddies? I have. No police – that I saw – no military presence - IN NEW YORK! – where were the alert fighters???) and both Spiderman’s and Iron Man’s ever changeable suits just got silly real quick. As the action scattered across the Galaxy it all got rather messy and, to my mind, all rather pointless except to move the plot in a certain direction. It was disjointed and jerky. Any danger faced by the protagonists was minor at best and usually illusorily. Thanos wasn’t much of a super-baddie to be honest and actually got the Infinity stones (in the main) with little expended effort. I couldn’t help thinking why no one had accomplished it centuries earlier. Naturally the fight scenes got longer and more elaborate as the movie progressed and Thanos gained in power (yawn) and, as in so many other of these films the ‘action’ or plot was merely a vehicle to get from boss fight to boss fight. The final big battle in Wakanda was frankly a joke. Engage ALL defences? Oh, you mean the shield that living creatures can crawl through. That one? Pathetic. At this point I was pretty disgusted by the whole thing and then something happened that I didn’t think possible – it got worse. When Thanos won and clicked his fingers to eliminate half the galaxies population it included the ‘deaths’ of some of the superheroes previously fighting him including Spiderman and Black Panther. Of course the next Spiderman movie is already in pre-production. So, unless it’s in the time before Infinity War (and any subsequent movies are ‘flashbacks’) then Peter Parker isn’t actually dead. Likewise Black Panther is back in the next movie so he isn’t dead either which means one of two things – either there’s going to be some kind of Magic Reset Button in Part 2 or they’ll pull some bullshit about alternate timelines or some such. Essentially it’ll be some sleight of hand thing which most people will accept and move on. Not me though, I’m afraid. They way my mind works you can’t just kill off a major player, click your fingers, and carry on like nothing happened. When you pull shit like that just once then all bets are off. Nothing is ‘real’ nothing matters and there’s no threat, no tension, nothing. If you can make stuff up that simply negates what has gone before because it makes the writers lives easier – lazy script writing par excellence! – don’t expect me to keep buying it because I won’t. So that’s it. I’m stopping giving Marvel (and DC probably) any more money. They’ve fleeced me once too often and I’m sick of it, I’m done, it’s over. 

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Chinese university hosts 'grenade-throwing' contest

From The BBC

24 April 2018 (Yes, that’s right. NOT the 1st April).

A Chinese university has decided to liven up its annual sports day by hosting a grenade-tossing event, it's reported. According to the China Youth Daily newspaper, the North University of China in the city of Taiyuan, northern Shanxi province, has decided to introduce a "500-gram grenade toss" to its track and field event in May. One teacher, Li Jiangxi, told the paper that the school had noted the earlier reluctance of students to take part in annual javelin and discus contests. However, after the school decided to replace these contests with the grenade toss, Ms Li said that there had been a surge of interest. "Students rushed to sign up," she said. "Some came late and didn't qualify; they seemed really disappointed." The paper says that the idea originally came from a student called Wu Jianhang, who had written to the school headmaster, suggesting the new activity. "He told reporters that he liked throwing items; however, when he signed up for the sports event last year, he found that javelin and discus did not suit him," China Youth Daily says.

According to the Global Times daily, students will be throwing weighted replicas of a Type 23 projectile, a wood-handled grenade based on the distinctive German World War Two Stielhandgranate, or stick grenade. It was later adapted by the Chinese military. The university says that the event, which they are hoping to continue in future years, is not a publicity stunt, but rather a way to commemorate the school's history. When it was founded in 1941, the North University of China was originally named the Taihang Industrial School, and was a base for the People's Liberation Army to develop weaponry and train personnel.

[OK, at first I thought this has to be a joke – after checking the date. But no, apparently it’s real! Just when I thought the world couldn’t get weirder there’s news from China……]

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Just Finished Reading: The Other by Ryszard Kapuscinski (FP: 2006)

Since Man’s earliest existence we have encountered ‘the other’. People not of our tribe, not of our family, not like us. Since our earliest days there has been three responses to the encounter – fight, flight or mutual discovery, trade and with luck, time and effort, co-operation, cultural exchange, growth, friendship. Each and every encounter with strangers, foreigners, others is an echo of these early meetings between disparate tribes. Each is an opportunity to learn or an excuse for a fight. As the world grows smaller in time and more people travel further and more often such encounters proliferate beyond counting. Such a thing is a great opportunity to outgrow our fears in otherness as well as a great danger that we will retreat from the strange, hide behind our walls and reject the chance to grow in unison with people both like and unlike ourselves. Encounters with the other, the author maintains, holds up a cultural mirror so that we can see who we are by seeing how others see us. Only in such meetings can we become rounded individuals as we bump into the barriers that exist between us and between our myriad cultures. It is in the discovery of difference that we find out who we are, what we believe and how we can grow. This is the value of the other and the reason why we should meet them with open arms and not with closed minds.

The author began travelling the world from his native Poland during the Soviet era. Reporting back from countries and cultures steeped in poverty or exploitation, under tyrannies or occupations his travelogues feed into the Soviet idea of Capitalist failures. But the author saw much more than his propaganda value to his Communist masters. He saw the strength of the human spirit under adversity, he saw humour across the cultural divide, he saw the wonder and curiosity in the eyes of a plains tribesman who had never seen a white man before never mind a Pole, he saw the need to communicate despite the inevitable language barriers and he saw, above all, the value of humanities shared experience on this wonderful world. Otherness is everywhere. Never more so than in the present age. We can now live in a city where hundreds of languages are spoken around us. We can meet and form friendships with people who, in an earlier age, we would never have mixed with in a hundred lifetimes. We live in an ‘other’ age and we need more than ever to live well in such a challenging environment. Dealings with others is far from easy. Otherness by its very nature is frightening. Difference is frightening but it is also an opportunity encapsulated in the possibility of dialogue. This is, the author maintains, the driving force behind his and others wandering across the world. While most stay at home rarely travelling more than a few tens of miles away from the place of their births there are those, like the author himself, who travel off the beaten track in order to meet the other face to face and, importantly, bring the fruits of that meeting back to share with those unable or unwilling to make the journey themselves. A must read and a quick read (at a mere 92 pages) for those with itchy feet. 

Translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones

Monday, May 14, 2018

A Protection Racket....? Only for some it seems.......

Music is my First Second Love………………

My father must have been very tolerant of me as a child. Not only did he let me play his records but he didn’t lose his temper when I broke some of them. Back in the 1960’s when I was playing with his 78 collection I had no idea how fragile they were nor of their sentimentality to him. This was the time that he introduced me to Nat King Cole and 50’s Rock ‘n Roll that, no doubt, he had grown up with. There always seemed to be music playing in the house I was born into and others I grew up in. We only had a small, and growing smaller, collection of records but we had several radio sets and listened to classical music and show tunes on Sunday’s. Later, in my pre and early teens, I listened to pirate radio and Radio Luxemburg on Long Wave as it faded in and out with atmospheric conditions. I often fell asleep at weekends listening to the latest pop songs unavailable on British radio.

In the 70’s I was lucky enough to be tolerated by my older brother and his friends who took me on record buying trips. Of course I couldn’t afford to buy any but I could look, dream and listen to whatever the shop was playing at the time. While the rest of them were off somewhere I seemed to naturally gravitate to the Prog Rock section populated by Rick Wakeman, Pink Floyd and Yes. In a friend’s house we played pool and listened to Wishbone Ash. One of my all-time favourites in still Argus by that band. I even listened to it a few days ago. Of course the 70’s was an era of massive change musically. I still have strong memories of my brothers cassette collection in the early 70’s made up of disco and Motown with tape after tape of Sister Sledge and Diana Ross. Then, almost out of nowhere everything changed. Punk had arrived with Souixsie and the Banshees and Toya Wilcox. I loved the new sound, the rawness and energy after the rather staid and repetitive sounds previously. Within the space of a few years we had Bubblegum Pop, Glam Rock, Punk, New Wave, New Romantic and Electro-Pop. It was a music lover’s feast. Then came MY decade. The 80’s.

There seemed to be an almost inverse relationship between how awful the decade was and how amazing the music was. I don’t know if any of us could have survived the political and economic upheavals without Duran Duran, The Thompson Twins and the Buggles. We even had glimpses of MTV (usually shown late at night on the more ‘radical’ Channel 4 – yes, we had FOUR channels back then!). I have so many 80’s compilation CD’s I probably have every song produced in those great 10 years. It certainly feels that way. But time & music wait for no man. As much as I loved the 80’s (and still do) I started to fall in love with 90’s music too – indeed I have a 90’s compilation playing right now – most of the more pop stuff I could live without but still gets my feet taping. But there was really good stuff back then. Not as good as the 80’s but close, damned close.

Again I credit family and friends for introducing me to music I may not have heard or spent much time with. I learnt to love Joy Division and New Order, U2 and Pink. My brother introduced me to Black Rebel Motorcycle Gang and other friends introduced me to Stereophonics, Manic Street Preachers and Placebo. I was introduced to 30 Seconds to Mars and Train. Some music I stumbled upon myself in movies, adverts, in shops or various music channels on cable TV. There was Stained, Sneaker Pimps, Kidney Thieves, Avril Lavigne and Adelle. There’s First Aid Kit, Avenged Seven Fold and Alanis Morissette. About the only type of music that I’ve never managed to grow to love is Jazz. I’ve tried more than once but have never really ‘got’ it. Now Blues, that’s a whole other ball of wax. I truly LOVE the Blues. It’s CHILLS me completely no matter how I’m feeling. Listening to a few good Blues CDs and the world is right again.

Some people are amazed at how wide my taste in music is. I sometimes don’t know ‘technically’ what genre a bit of music falls into but I know, as they say, what I like – which is a LOT. I do like melody, the female voice, and words that you can actually hear. I don’t like much of the shouty stuff that passes for rock these days (Death Metal???) but even some of that is pretty good. I have a half dozen CDs of Avenged Seven Fold and Disturbed which can be pretty full on – at least in my world! I like old stuff (not even counting classical) and I like at least some of the modern stuff too. I experiment. I listen to what’s around. I take advice from friends. I keep my ear, as it where, to the ground. You never really know what you might turn up. Naturally I have hundreds and hundreds of CDs. I play music when I’m getting ready for work and turning on some music is one of the first things I do when I get home. From getting out of bed to going to bed over the weekend and holidays the house is full of music from multiple genres and multiple decades. I just couldn’t have it any other way. After all, music is my first second love……

Saturday, May 12, 2018

I've just had my 500,000th Blog page hit! I am doing the Snoopy Dance RIGHT.... THIS.... MINUTE!!!!!

Today in Movie History - 12th May 1984. Skynet's first attempt to kill Sarah Conner before she can give birth to John Conner, future leader of the Human Resistance and Savior of Mankind. Fortunately for all of us it fails..... 
Demonstration Proves Nuclear Fission System Can Provide Space Exploration Power


May 02, 2018

NASA and the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) have successfully demonstrated a new nuclear reactor power system that could enable long-duration crewed missions to the Moon, Mars and destinations beyond.

NASA announced the results of the demonstration, called the Kilopower Reactor Using Stirling Technology (KRUSTY) experiment,during a news conference Wednesday at its Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. The Kilopower experimentwas conducted at the NNSA’s Nevada National Security Site from November 2017 through March.  “Safe, efficient and plentiful energy will be the key to future robotic and human exploration,” said Jim Reuter, NASA’s acting associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) in Washington. “I expect the Kilopower project to be an essential part of lunar and Mars power architectures as they evolve.”

Kilopower is a small, lightweight fission power system capable of providing up to 10 kilowatts of electrical power - enough to run several average households - continuously for at least 10 years. Four Kilopower units would provide enough power to establish an outpost. According to Marc Gibson, lead Kilopower engineer at Glenn, the pioneering power system is ideal for the Moon, where power generation from sunlight is difficult because lunar nights are equivalent to 14 days on Earth. “Kilopower gives us the ability to do much higher power missions, and to explore the shadowed craters of the Moon,” said Gibson. “When we start sending astronauts for long stays on the Moon and to other planets, that’s going to require a new class of power that we’ve never needed before.”

The prototype power system uses a solid, cast uranium-235 reactor core, about the size of a paper towel roll. Passive sodium heat pipes transfer reactor heat to high-efficiency Stirling engines, which convert the heat to electricity.  According to David Poston, the chief reactor designer at NNSA’s Los Alamos National Laboratory, the purpose of the recent experiment in Nevada was two-fold: to demonstrate that the system can create electricity with fission power, and to show the system is stable and safe no matter what environment it encounters. “We threw everything we could at this reactor, in terms of nominal and off-normal operating scenarios and KRUSTY passed with flying colors,” said Poston.

The Kilopower team conducted the experiment in four phases. The first two phases, conducted without power, confirmed that each component of the system behaved as expected. During the third phase, the team increased power to heat the core incrementally before moving on to the final phase. The experiment culminated with a 28-hour, full-power test that simulated a mission, including reactor startup, ramp to full power, steady operation and shutdown. Throughout the experiment, the team simulated power reduction, failed engines and failed heat pipes, showing that the system could continue to operate and successfully handle multiple failures.

“We put the system through its paces,” said Gibson. “We understand the reactor very well, and this test proved that the system works the way we designed it to work. No matter what environment we expose it to, the reactor performs very well.”

The Kilopower project is developing mission concepts and performing additional risk reduction activities to prepare for a possible future flight demonstration. The project will remain a part of the STMD’s Game Changing Development program with the goal of transitioning to the Technology Demonstration Mission program in Fiscal Year 2020. Such a demonstration could pave the way for future Kilopower systems that power human outposts on the Moon and Mars, including missions that rely on In-situ Resource Utilizationto produce local propellants and other materials.

The Kilopower project is led by Glenn, in partnership with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama,and NNSA, including its Los Alamos National Laboratory, Nevada National Security Site and Y-12 National Security Complex.

[Well, that will be a big boost (pun intended) to any future off-world habitat construction and for long haul flights across the Solar System. Reliable power is vital to any kind of practical exploration. We are really going at this with baby steps though. Why aren’t we colonising the planets yet? I was *so* promised this in just about every SF novel I’ve read. OK, some of the exploratory trips did bring back bugs or bigger aliens which then ate us (or worse) but my point stands. Get out there and start mining the asteroids already!]