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SpaceX Moon mission extends Elon Musk’s ambitions

Elon Musk, it seems, loves nothing more than to spin plates. When most of us might be looking to lighten the load, he's piling on the ambition.

The serial entrepreneur's latest gambit is to fly people around the Moon. Two wealthy individuals have apparently lodged significant deposits with his SpaceX company to make this journey.

We have no idea who they are, just that these space tourists include "nobody from Hollywood".

That Mr Musk should announce his intention to carry out an Apollo 8-like Moon loop should not really be a surprise; such a venture is on the natural path to deep-space exploration and colonisation – his stated end goals.

What does take the breath away is the timeline.

He's talking about doing this journey in late 2018, in hardware that has not yet even flown. That's Elon for you.

For sure, his Falcon rockets have been working for some time now and the Dragon capsule has become something of an old hand at shuttling back and forth to the International Space Station (ISS). But the circumlunar project is another step on from robotic cargo runs to low-Earth orbit.

The Falcon Heavy, the much bigger rocket that will be needed, should make its debut this summer.

The crew version of Dragon, with its all-important life-support equipment, is targeted to make its maiden voyage at the end of 2017.

This will be an unmanned test outing; the first flight to the ISS with people aboard is slated for the spring of 2018.

That does not leave much time to configure and adapt systems for the longer, more arduous Moon mission.

The Dragon will need some sort of propulsion and service module (with extra propellants, oxygen, water, etc) to help sustain the required trajectory and the tourists for what will be at minimum a 6-to-7-day journey.

"Back in the Apollo days the outbound journey would usually take between two and three days and the same for the return journey, maybe about a one-week round trip once they leave the Earth," commented Jason Davis from the space advocacy group the Planetary Society.

"It is a little bit different than say putting an astronaut in low-Earth orbit on the International Space Station because your quick return to Earth is no longer an option.

"Once you fire that rocket and head towards the Moon, you can't turn around and go home so you are really kind of on your own for about a week with no-one to come and save you if there is a problem."

Mr Musk says his tourists understand the risks, and that they will receive "extensive training before going on the mission."

The entrepreneur hasn't yet confirmed it, but it's hard to imagine the ticketed passengers would fly without also being accompanied by an astronaut of experience. If there is a problem, having someone aboard with intimate knowledge of the Dragon's workings could make all the difference

Of course, history tells us that everything in space "moves to the right". Timelines are rarely fixed. And SpaceX is not immune in this respect.

The Falcon Heavy is behind on its original schedule; like Musk, we all thought he’d be flying people to the ISS regularly by now; and his recently promised robotic Mars landing has just been pushed back two years. And don't forget the long list of satellite operators who've seen their launches delayed in the aftermath of two Falcon mishaps.

So, don't be surprised if this Moon loop also extends into the future. The really interesting sub-plot, however, is what this all means for the US space agency (Nasa).

It can be no coincidence that its leadership has announced that it will be looking to put people on the maiden flight of the agency’s huge new rocket, the Space Launch System, and its associated crew capsule, Orion.

These systems are currently due to fly in an unmanned test configuration late next year. A Nasa inquiry could now see a way to slip the mission to 2019 and make it a manned outing instead.

This would make for an intriguing comparison. You would have two missions launching almost at the same time, to do essentially the same mission profile around the Moon, except one (SLS/Orion) would have cost billions to get to the launch pad while the other (Falcon Heavy/Dragon) would have cost in the hundreds of millions. Certainly there would be an order of magnitude difference in price.

It is said that President Trump is looking very hard at how to expand commercial space activity during his administration. The Moon missions would give him considerable food for thought.

Publicly, both Musk and Nasa are on the same page. The agency, which has invested considerable sums in SpaceX, released a statement late on Monday saying that it commended "its industry partners for reaching higher".

Musk tweeted: “SpaceX could not do this without Nasa. Can't express enough appreciation”.

But the comparisons are inescapable. And this is a wave we are witnessing.

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, has been quietly acquiring space credentials through his impressive Blue Origin company. He is building a rocket to rival the Falcon Heavy that he calls New Glenn. He’s even got one on the drawing board that’s bigger still called New Armstrong.

The ambition is the same as SpaceX. So is the cost model. That is, to create something that is considerably cheaper than the public sector can deliver with its burdensome oversight and its (politically driven) distributed manufacturing methods.

After all, it is in part the cost of access to space that has slowed the pace of exploration since the Apollo era.

 

BBC

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Khan: Boko, Masisi are fake politicians

18th January 2021
Masisi & Boko

While there is no hard-and-fast rule in politics, former Molepolole North Member of Parliament, Mohamed Khan says populism acts in the body politic have forced him to quit active partisan politics. He brands this ancient ascription of politics as fake and says it lowers the moral compass of the society.

Khan who finally tasted political victory in the 2014 elections after numerous failed attempts, has decided to leave the ‘dirty game’, and on his way out he characteristically lashed at the current political leaders; including his own party president, Advocate Duma Boko. “I arrived at this decision because I have noticed that there are no genuine politics and politicians. The current leaders, Boko and President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi are fake politicians who are just practicing populist politics to feed their egos,” he said.

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Ookeditse rejects lobby for BPF top post

18th January 2021
LAWRENCE-OOKEDITSE

Former Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) parliamentary hopeful, Lawrence Ookeditse has rejected the idea of taking up a crucial role in the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) Central Committee following his arrival in the party this week. According to sources close to development, BPF power brokers are coaxing Ookeditse to take up the secretary general position, left vacant by death of Roseline Panzirah-Matshome in November 2020.

Ookeditse’s arrival at BPF is projected to cause conflicts, as some believe they are being overlooked, in favour of a new arrival. The former ruling party strategist has however ruled out the possibility of serving in the party central committee as secretary general, and committed that he will turn down the overture if availed to him by party leadership.

Ookeditse, nevertheless, has indicated that if offered another opportunity to serve in a different capacity, he will gladly accept. “I still need to learn the party, how it functions and all its structures; I must be guided, but given any responsibility I will serve the party as long as it is not the SG position.”

“I joined the BPF with a clear conscious, to further advance my voice and the interests of the constituents of Nata/Gweta which I believe the BDP is no longer capable to execute.” Ookeditse speaks of abject poverty in his constituency and prevalent unemployment among the youth, issues he hopes his new home will prioritise.

He dismissed further allegations that he resigned from the BDP because he was not rewarded for his efforts towards the 2019 general elections. After losing in the BDP primaries in 2018, Ookeditse said, he was offered a job in government but declined to take the post due to his political ambitions. Ookeditse stated that he rejected the offer because, working for government clashed with his political journey.

He insists there are many activists who are more deserving than him; he could have chosen to take up the opportunity that was before him but his conscious for the entire populace’s wellbeing held him back. Ookeditse said there many people in the party who also contributed towards party success, asserting that he only left the BDP because he was concerned about the greater good of the majority not individualism purposes.

According to observers, Ookeditse has been enticed by the prospects of contesting Nata/Gweta constituency in the 2024 general election, following the party’s impressive performance in the last general elections. Nata/Gweta which is a traditional BDP stronghold saw its numbers shrinking to a margin of 1568. BDP represented by Polson Majaga garnered 4754, while BPF which had fielded Joe Linga received 3186 with UDC coming a distant with 1442 votes.

There are reports that Linga will pave way for Ookeditse to contest the constituency in 2024 and the latter is upbeat about the prospects of being elected to parliament. Despite Ookeditse dismissing reports that he is eying the secretary general position, insiders argue that the position will be availed to him nevertheless.

Alternative favourite for the position is Vuyo Notha who is the party Deputy Secretary General. Notha has since assumed duties of the secretariat office on the interim basis. BPF politburo is expected to meet on 25th of January 2020, where the vacancy will be filled.

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BDP cancels MPs retreat

18th January 2021
President Masisi

Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) big wigs have decided to cancel a retreat with the party legislators this weekend owing to increasing numbers of Covid-19 cases. The meeting was billed for this weekend at a place that was to be confirmed, however a communique from the party this past Tuesday reversed the highly anticipated meeting.

“We received a communication this week that the meeting will not go as planned because of rapid spread of Covid-19,” one member of the party Central Committee confirmed to this publication.
The gathering was to follow the first of its kind held late last year at party Treasurer Satar Dada’s place.

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