It’s mid-afternoon on a Friday at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, and three of Elon Musk’s children are gathered around him – one of his triplets, both of his twins.
Musk is wearing a gray T-shirt and sitting in a swivel chair at his desk, which is not in a private office behind a closed door, but in an accessible corner cubicle festooned with outer-space novelty items, photos of his rockets, and mementos from Tesla and his other companies.
Most tellingly, there’s a framed poster of a shooting star with a caption underneath it that reads, “When you wish upon a falling star, your dreams can come true. Unless it’s really a meteor hurtling to the Earth which will destroy all life. Then you’re pretty much hosed, no matter what you wish for. Unless it’s death by meteorite.” To most people, this would be mere dark humor, but in this setting, it’s also a reminder of Musk’s master plan: to create habitats for humanity on other planets and moons. If we don’t send our civilization into another Dark Ages before Musk or one of his dream’s inheritors pull it off, then Musk will likely be remembered as one of the most seminal figures of this millennium. Kids on all the terraformed planets of the universe will look forward to Musk Day, when they get the day off to commemorate the birth of the Earthling who single-handedly ushered in the era of space colonization.
And that’s just one of Musk’s ambitions. Others include converting automobiles, households and as much industry as possible from fossil fuels to sustainable energy; implementing a new form of high-speed city-to-city transportation via vacuum tube; relieving traffic congestion with a honeycomb of underground tunnels fitted with electric skates for cars and commuters; creating a mind-computer interface to enhance human health and brainpower; and saving humanity from the future threat of an artificial intelligence that may one day run amok and decide, quite rationally, to eliminate the irrational human species.
So far, Musk, 46, has accomplished none of these goals.
But what he has done is something that very few living people can claim: Painstakingly bulldozed, with no experience whatsoever, into two fields with ridiculously high barriers to entry – car manufacturing (Tesla) and rocketry (SpaceX) – and created the best products in those industries, as measured by just about any meaningful metric you can think of. In the process, he’s managed to sell the world on his capability to achieve objectives so lofty that from the mouth of anyone else, they’d be called fantasies.
Read more at Rolling Stone.
From the window of a NASA aircraft flying over the Arctic, looking down on the ice sheet that covers most of Greenland, it’s easy to see why it is so hard to describe climate change. The scale of polar ice, so dramatic and so clear from a plane flying at 450 metres (1,500ft) – high enough to appreciate the scope of the ice and low enough to sense its mass – is nearly impossible to fathom when you aren’t sitting at that particular vantage point.
But it’s different when you are there, cruising over the ice for hours, with NASA’s monitors all over the cabin streaming data output, documenting in real time – dramatising, in a sense – the depth of the ice beneath. You get it, because you can see it all there in front of you, in three dimensions.
Imagine a thousand centuries of heavy snowfall, piled up and compacted into stone-like ice atop the bedrock of Greenland, an Arctic island almost a quarter the size of the US. Imagine all of modern human history, from the Neolithic revolution 12,000 years ago – when humans moved from hunting and gathering to agriculture, and from there, eventually, to urban societies – until today. All of the snow that fell on the Arctic during that entire history is gathered up in just the top layers of the ice sheet.
Imagine the dimensions of that ice: 1.71m sq km (656,000 sq miles), three times the size of Texas. At its belly – from the top layer, yesterday’s snowfall, to the bottom layer, which is made of snow that fell out of the sky 115,000-130,000 years ago – it reaches 3,200 metres (10,500ft) thick, nearly four times taller than the world’s highest skyscraper.
Imagine the weight of this thing: at the centre of Greenland, the ice is so heavy that it warps the land itself, pushing bedrock 359 metres (1,180ft) below sea level. Under its own immense weight, the ice comes alive, folding and rolling in solid streams, in glaciers that slowly push outward. This is a head-spinningly dynamic system that we still don’t fully understand – and that we really ought to learn far more about, and quickly. In theory, if this massive thing were fully drained, and melted into the sea, the water contained in it would make the world’s oceans rise by 7 metres (23ft).
When you fly over entire mountain ranges whose tips barely peek out from under the ice – and these are just the visible ones – it’s possible to imagine what would happen if even a fraction of this quantity of pent-up freshwater were unleashed. You can plainly see how this thing would flood the coasts of the world, from Brooklyn to Bangladesh.
Read more at The Guardian.
On the first day of school—it was going to be a ninety-degree scorcher—Eddie Williams jogged up the four stone steps at the main entrance to South High School in Denver, Colorado, half an hour before the first bell rang, eager to meet his new students. The teacher was a tall man, six foot four inches in his socks. He was thirty-eight years old, but could have passed for twenty-eight, and he was wearing a short-sleeved purple South High polo shirt. All the teachers had put on purple shirts, that being the school color, so that the students could easily see whom they should turn to if they had a question about how to find a particular classroom, or how to read the confusing schedules they carried. Mr. Williams usually avoided short-sleeved shirts, because they revealed the dark blue tattoo that circled one of his biceps, and he feared his students might misinterpret the inked designs as macabre, given their backgrounds. He worked diligently to communicate in all sorts of ways that he was a person they could trust.
Mr. Williams had inherited his Anglo father’s rangy height and propensity to freckle, along with his Latina mother’s dark eyes and hair. Fluent in both Spanish and English, he was the sort of teacher who devoted an enormous portion of his kindness, vitality, and intellect to his students. Most of the classrooms in the school were crowded with noisy, chattering teenagers. That morning, however, as he looked around his room, Mr. Williams saw many empty chairs and only seven students. The teenagers assigned to him wore shut-door expressions on their faces. Nobody in the room was talking, not even to one another. The teacher had expected. His room always got off to a quiet start.
“Welcome to newcomer class!” he said, in a deliberately warm tone of voice. “My name is Mr. Williams. What is your name? Where are you from?”
The seven teenagers who had reported to Room 142 said nothing. Just the act of showing up by 7:45 in the morning had required enormous fortitude. It was August 24, 2015, and the students assigned to Mr. Williams had spent on average more than an hour negotiating the local public transit system to get here. They lived crammed with other relatives into small houses or apartments located in parts of the city where a dollar could be stretched. Getting from the patchwork zones of cheap housing located on the farthest edges of the city to South via the public transit system took dogged commitment, but that was a quality that Mr. Williams’s students typically possessed in abundance. What they did not possess, for the most part, was the ability to understand what he was now saying.
“Welcome to newcomer class!” the teacher repeated, taking care to enunciate each word even more deliberately. “My name is Mr. Williams. What is your name?”
The students continued to stare back at the teacher without speaking. The technical description for what was happening is “preproduction,” which in the academic literature about language acquisition is also known as “the silent period.” The vast majority of second-language learners begin in a quiet receptive phase, able to produce hardly any English themselves, even as their brains furiously absorb everything being said. That year, about sixteen hundred teenagers attended South High School, and roughly one-third of them had been born in another country. South served as a regular neighborhood school and also the designated destination for students who spoke foreign languages other than Spanish and whose education had been interrupted. This meant South handled the bulk of the city’s teenage refugees, for it was primarily children in refugee families who had significant gaps in their education. War—that was what generally caused children to be unable to attend school for long periods.
Read more at Longreads.
Chinese engineers are testing techniques that could be used to build a 1,000km tunnel – the world’s longest – to carry water from Tibet to Xinjiang, experts involved in the project say.
The proposed tunnel, which would drop down from the world’s highest plateau in multiple sections connected by waterfalls, would “turn Xinjiang into California”, one geotechnical engineer said.
China’s longest tunnel is the eight-year-old 85km Dahuofang water project in Liaoning province, while the world’s longest tunnel is the 137km main water supply pipe beneath the city of New York.
However, the Chinese government started building a tunnel in the centre of Yunnan province in August that will be more than 600km long, local media reported. Comprising more than 60 sections, each wide enough to accommodate two high-speed trains, it will pass through mountains several thousand metres above sea level in an area plagued by unstable geological conditions.
Researchers said building the Yunnan tunnel would be a “rehearsal” of the new technology, engineering methods and equipment needed for the Tibet-Xinjiang tunnel, which would divert the Yarlung Tsangpo River in southern Tibet to the Taklimakan Desert in Xinjiang. Downstream, in India, the river becomes the Brahmaputra, which joins the Ganges in Bangladesh.
Read more at South China Morning Post.
Elizabeth “Liz” Logelin was a young, fit woman with a promising career in operations management at Disney. On March 24, 2008, after a complicated pregnancy that saw her bedridden for nearly two months (three weeks of which were in the hospital), she delivered her daughter Madeline (“Maddy”) through an emergency cesarean section. Two and a half months early, Maddy was healthy, if tiny. Twenty seven hours after the delivery, Liz was finally cleared to hold her firstborn. Her husband Matt Logelin already was, he teased her, several diaper changes ahead of her. She got up from the bed, ready to make her way to the nursery, and stopped in front of the mirror. “My hair looks like shit,” she said, of her long tresses. She laughed, Matt laughed, the nurses laughed. He thought her hair looked great.
She walked towards the wheelchair that was going to take her to the nursery, and suddenly didn’t feel well. “I feel lightheaded,” she complained. Moments later, at age 30, Liz was dead.
The cause was a pulmonary embolism—a blood clot that travelled from her leg to her lungs, and killed her instantaneously.
Though she had a family history of blood clots, suggesting a genetic predisposition, and her risk was increased by the prolonged bed rest and the subsequent c-section surgery, to Matt’s knowledge Liz wasn’t given anticoagulant medications, or advised to exercise to help stimulate her blood flow. Everyone’s attention, hers included, was turned elsewhere, to baby Maddy—so precious, so perfect.
Read more at Quartz.
For a soft-spoken man, Ted Sarandos makes a lot of thunderous news. Just consider the headlines he’s generated over the last week alone with a succession of game-changing deals. The chief content officer for Netflix stole Shonda Rhimes from ABC, lured retiree David Letterman back into talk-show mode, prodded the reclusive Coen brothers into TV production and snapped up Millarworld, a comic-book empire with buzzy titles like “Jupiter’s Legacy” and “Huck.”
Netflix could conceivably rival Disney and Marvel by assembling its own superhero universe. On Aug. 8, a day after the announcement of the Millarworld purchase, Disney dropped a bombshell when it unveiled plans to launch a streaming service and yank its branded family and Pixar films from Netflix beginning in 2019.
Over the weekend, Netflix fired back by announcing it had poached TV’s most powerful showrunner from her longtime home at Disney’s ABC. “Shonda and I have gotten to know each other over the years and I have always had a tremendous amount of respect,” says Sarandos, who lives blocks away from Rhimes in Hancock Park. “I have sought her feedback and even delivered DVDs to her house myself of our upcoming projects.”
The dramatic events of the last few days suggest that Netflix is in an escalating arms race with Disney. It also ratchets up the blood sport between Netflix and all the major studios and TV networks as Hollywood grapples with how to adapt to the seismic shifts in technology and consumer habits.
“I would say that the relationship between studios and networks has always been that of a frenemy,” says Sarandos. The Netflix boss downplays Disney’s move to establish itself as a streaming rival. “Everyone is doing some version of it already,” he says. “They just have to make a decision for their companies, their brands and their shareholders on how to best optimize the content.” Netflix, suggests Sarandos, has long been preparing for that inevitability. “We started making original content five years ago, betting this would happen,” he says.
These days, where there’s smoke or fire in the media business, there’s usually one revolutionary holding the match. At the center of most industry angst — or, often, bewilderment and excitement — is Sarandos, who engineered the company’s stunning transformation from a mail-order DVD-rental company in the early aughts to a full-fledged studio that is competing dollar for dollar with a crowded field of rivals for Hollywood’s top stars, directors, showrunners and writers.
In a wide-ranging interview at a downtown Manhattan hotel, Sarandos, 53, who is Variety’s 2017 Showman of the Year, revealed that he anticipates spending a whopping $7 billion on content next year — up from more than $6 billion over the past year and $5 billion in 2016. “The vast majority is still licensed content,” he says. “We’re still a couple years from seeing it go 50-50.”
Read more at Variety.
(CNN) — The world’s first “space nation” has taken flight.
On November 12, Asgardia cemented its presence in outer space by launching the Asgardia-1 satellite.
The “nanosat” — it is roughly the size of a loaf of bread — undertook a two-day journey from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, the United States, to the International Space Station (ISS).
It contains 0.5 TB of data belonging to 18,000 of Asgardia’s citizens, such as family photographs, as well as digital representations of the space nation’s flag, coat of arms and constitution.
Russian scientist Dr Igor Ashurbeyli founded the world’s first independent nation to operate in outer space in October 2016.
Named after a Norse mythological city of the skies, Asgardia is free to join and so far, about 114,000 people have signed up.
Ashurbeyli says the project’s mission is to provide a “peaceful society”, offer easier access to space technologies, and protect Earth from space threats, such as asteroids and man-made debris in space.
While Asgardia’s citizens will — for the time being –remain based on earth, the satellite launch brings the nation one step closer to space.
The satellite’s mission
Asgardia-1 made its journey to the ISS aboard the OA-8 Antares-Cygnus, a NASA commercial cargo vehicle.
Now it must wait for about three weeks as vital supplies and scientific equipment are transferred from the NASA ship to the six people currently living at the ISS.
The nanosat will then be detached from the NASA vehicle and begin its own orbital journey around the earth. Citizens’ data will remain in orbit for between five and 18 months, the typical lifespan of this type of satellite. It will then burn out and disappear.
For Ashurbeyli, the launch fulfills a pledge he made when establishing the “space nation” to take its citizens to space via their data.
“I promised there would be a launch,” he says. “We selected NASA as a reliable partner … because we have to meet the commitments that I made 13 months ago.”
Getting it off the ground
Within 40 hours of the project being announced in 2016, over 100,000 people had applied for citizenship on Asgardia’s website. After three weeks, Asgardia had 500,000 applicants.
Anyone over 18 years old, with an email address, regardless of gender, nationality, race, religion, and financial standing, can apply for citizenship — including ex-convicts, provided they are clear of charges at the time of application.
Read more at CNN.
TRENTON—Chris Christie had some thoughts on how I should write this article.
“You should break out of leading with ‘the most unpopular governor in galactic history’ and all this other shit that everybody hits F2, F3, F4 [on and] bang, bang, bang, the paragraphs flip in,” the outgoing New Jersey governor said on a recent afternoon, tapping his conference room table like a keyboard. “You should do something different.”
Christie had spent almost three hours reminiscing on his meteoric political rise, the bridge saga, his failed 2016 campaign and his controversial Donald Trump endorsement, his subsequent White House adventures and some of his more infamous misadventures, like sitting on a beach he had ordered closed and being caught by a photographer’s long-lens camera.
So, with 68 days left in his governorship and the interview winding down, he urged me to forget all that and focus on the good things he had done for his state—and perhaps memorialize him as the pragmatic Republican governor who had cleaned up New Jersey and won a second term in hostile territory. He essentially wanted the story to ignore much of what happened afterward.
And yet, any fair assessment of Christie’s legacy has to reckon with the highs and the lows. For four years, from 2009 until 2013, he was a political rock star. Iowa activists wooed him to run for president in 2012, even flying to New Jersey to make their case. Magazine covers hailed his brilliance. (“THE BOSS,” blared one TIME cover he loves to read.) He screamed at people on the boardwalk while carrying an ice cream cone. It didn’t matter. His approval rating soared above 75 percent in a reliably blue state. After two stinging defeats to Barack Obama, some in the GOP saw a potential winner in Christie’s combination of raw talent, fundraising prowess and ability to woo minorities and Democrats. Many on his team thought him a shoo-in GOP nominee. But he passed up a run in 2012, figuring he wasn’t ready.
Then, for the next four years, Christie became something of a national punching bag. Everything people loved about him seemed to become what they hated. The bridge lanes closed. Investigations mushroomed around his office. Allies and aides were convicted in the closings. His presidential ambitions cratered. Christie, who prides himself a prodigious fundraiser, couldn’t attract donors to his campaign. He was beaten by Trump, a political novice, and then mocked for fetching Trump McDonald’s—even though he didn’t do that—and for looking like a hostage during his endorsement of Trump, even though he says he wasn’t. His musical hero, New Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen, even sang a duet mocking him with Jimmy Fallon, his favorite late-show host.
“They shut down the toll booths of glory because we didn’t endorse Christie,” the two men sang to the tune of “Born to Run.” “We’re stuck in Gov. Chris Christie’s Fort Lee, New Jersey traffic jam.”
In the longest interview Christie has given in years, as he dropped oyster crackers into a large vat of chili, he said the story of his rise and fall had not been told accurately. He was never as good as depicted—nor as bad.
“I never felt 78, and I don’t feel the 22,” he said of his approval ratings. “What I hope at the end of the day is that this really is about my eight years, and the bridge stuff is part of that, and the Trump stuff is part of that, but it’s only a part.”
Read more at Politico.