Physics, Astronomy and Space

The Saudi prince who took a joyride on the space shuttle
and other space misadventures
30 March 2017

International Collaborations in Space Always
Reflect Politics on Earth

A brief history of the countries that send people to space, and why..
[Slate]

Cosmic Certainties 19 September 2016

More trouble with string theory, an attempt to do away with inflation, and a novel theory of dark matter, critiqued.
A review of “Fashion, Faith and Fantasy in the New Physics of the Universe” by Roger Penrose.
[Wall Street Journal]

What Justin Trudeau got wrong about Quantum Computing 18 April 2016

A video of the Canadian Prime Minister giving an apparently impromptu riff on quantum computing had a few mistakes in it.
This is a critique not so much of his minor errors, but of the media storm which treated his lecture as a sign of genius.
[Washington Post]

A small step backward for mankind 5 November 2014

Why America needs to embrace a culture of risk in order to build the next-generation space program.
How and why to be resilient in the face of failed spacecraft, and the loss of life.
[Foreign Policy]

Chang’e 3 5 December 2013

The Second Space Race
Short voiceover of a photograph of China’s lunar rover.
[The Weekly Wonk]

How High the Moon? 4 October 2013

Book Review: ‘Dreams of Other Worlds’ by Chris Impey and Holly Henry
Where the Milky Way’s missing arms went and other tales of astronomical discovery.
[Wall Street Journal]

Voyager, the Pioneer anomaly, and NASA’s good old days 15 July 2013

The modest, mighty Voyager and Pioneer probes are still generating news today.
An essay on what made the Voyager and Pioneer spacecraft great, with special emphasis on the Pioneer Anomaly, treated in more detail in my new book, The Pioneer Detectives.
[Slate]

Warp Factor 1 April 2013

An investigation
The saga of a NASA scientist who claims to be on the verge of faster-than-light travel.
[Popular Science]

Why Didn’t We Know the Russian Meteor Was Coming? 15 February 2013
Baumgartner’s leap 4 October 2012
Why Johnny Can’t Add Without a Calculator 25 June 2012

Technology is doing to math education what industrial agriculture did to food: making it efficient, monotonous, and low-quality.
How and why graphing calculators, educational software, interactive whiteboards and the like undermine actual learning in elementary, middle and high schools.
[Slate]

“Privatizing” Space 16 May 2012

Companies Shoot for the Stars, but Uncle Sam Still Pays the Bills
Why the false dichotomy of public versus private isn’t the real story with SpaceX’s launch. What really matters is competition.
[Zocalo Public Square]

NASA needs one “highest priority” not 16 of them 1 February 2012

More numbers, more problems
The flaws of a new National Research Council report on what direction NASA should take
[Slate]

Promise me the moon 31 January 2012

The emotional appeal of Gingrich’s space policy
The Republican presidential candidate wants to build a base on the moon. So do I.
[Huffington Post]

Phobos-Grunt, grunt. 11 January 2012

The U.S. Didn’t Shoot Down Russia’s Mars Probe. But It Could Have.
Strange accusations from the head of Russia’s space programme, and why they matter.
[Slate]

String theory 5 January 2012

The art and science of making violins
I spent some time with Tom King, a violinmaker in Fayetteville, Arkansas. He uses a combination of craftsmanship and technical analysis to make great-sounding, and beautiful, instruments. He once took several million dollars worth of violins to the hospital to get CAT-scanned.
[Stanford Magazine]

The 40-year itch 5 October 2011

How to build a really awesome spaceship, maybe
Would-be space explorers, scientists, and a couple of crackpots gather at DARPA’s 100-Year Starship Symposium to try to get interstellar travel unstuck.
[Slate]

Salvaging space 1 September 2011

Cleaning up low-Earth-orbit debris might lead to new space technologies.
Why problems are sometimes useful to have.
[Slate]

Weapons in space 16 August 2011
Looking for ET 25 February 2010

Signs of life
As the search for alien life turns 50, its practitioners find new methods