News From Space: NASA Severs Ties to Russia

ISS_crewYesterday, NASA officially announced that it intends to cease most work with the Russian Federal Space Agency amid growing tensions concerning the Ukrainian crisis. The statement came from Bob Jacobs, NASA’s deputy associate administrator of communications, who formalized the space agency’s position with a message sent to Universe Today, a copy of which was then posted on it’s Google+ message board on Wednesday, April 2nd.

In the statement, they indicate that while the International Space Station will still see work to “maintain safe and continuous operation”, most work with Roscosmos (Russia’s federal space agency) will cease. In addition, they were sure to include a reminder to Congress, saying that they now face a choice between fully funding human U.S. launches again in 2017, or facing years more of sending money to the Russians for Soyuz launches from Kazakhstan.

Soyuz_capsuleThe full text of the statement appears as follows:

Given Russia’s ongoing violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, NASA is suspending the majority of its ongoing engagements with the Russian Federation.  NASA and Roscosmos will, however, continue to work together to maintain safe and continuous operation of the International Space Station.

NASA is laser focused on a plan to return human spaceflight launches to American soil, and end our reliance on Russia to get into space.  This has been a top priority of the Obama Administration’s for the past five years, and had our plan been fully funded, we would have returned American human spaceflight launches – and the jobs they support – back to the United States next year.  

With the reduced level of funding approved by Congress, we’re now looking at launching from U.S. soil in 2017.  The choice here is between fully funding the plan to bring space launches back to America or continuing to send millions of dollars to the Russians.  It’s that simple.  The Obama Administration chooses to invest in America – and we are hopeful that Congress will do the same.

So far, it’s not exactly clear what activities would constitute “safe and continuous operation” of the station. So, for example, whether or not NASA will continue to send photographers to cover launches and landing in Russia, or to what extent NASA TV broadcasts of Russian spacewalks would be affected, remains to be seen. And in the meantime, missions already scheduled for launch – such as Expedition 40, which will launch aboard a Soyuz spacecraft in May – are still expected to go ahead.

ISS_exp40Since the Space Shuttle Program was retired in 2011, NASA and other space agencies such as the European Space Agency have relied on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to bring astronauts to the International Space Station. Crews are generally made up of large proportions of Russian cosmonauts and American astronauts, as well as a few astronauts from other agencies. The current Expedition 39 crew has has three Russians, two Americans and a Japanese commander, Koichi Wakata.

The relationship between NASA and Russia stretches back to the 1970s when Russia was still the Soviet Union, with their first joint mission (the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project) taking place in 1975. The relationship expanded when several NASA shuttles visited the Russian space station Mir in the 1990s, laying the groundwork for the International Space Station agreement today. And 2011, that relationship expanded considerably, with Russian rockets not only transporting ISS crews, but also US and European satellites into orbit.

Earth_&_Mir_(STS-71)NASA is working on a commercial crew program that right now is slated to bring U.S. astronauts back into space from American soil by 2017. There are several proposals being considered: a human-rated version of SpaceX’s Dragon, Blue Origin’s New Shepard, Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser and the Boeing CST-100. However, these depend upon continued funding and it is currently unclear how much money the CCP program will receive in the upcoming fiscal 2015 budget request before Congress.

Historically, NASA has repeatedly received less funding than what it has requested, which has resulted in missions being delayed – sometimes by years. But the new tensions with Russia may alter that situation somewhat, and judging from their statement, NASA is counting on this very thing. In the meantime, International Space Station operations were extended to at least 2024, and NASA officials have pointed out that it and similar agreements have weathered other world crises.

Source: universetoday.com

News from Space: Chang’e-3’s Landing and 1st Panorama

Change-3-landing-site_1_ken-kremer-580x344China accomplished a rather major technological and scientific feat recently with the recent soft landing of its Chang’e-3 robotic spacecraft on Dec.14th. This was the nation’s first attempt at landing a spacecraft on an extra-terrestrial body, and firmly established them as a competitor in the ongoing space race. What’s more, the event has been followed by a slew of fascinating and intriguing pictures.

The first were taken by the descent imaging camera aboard the Chang’e-3 lander, which began furiously snapping photos during the last minutes of the computer guided landing. The Chinese space agency then combined the photos to create a lovely compilation video, with the point of view rotated 180 degrees, to recreate what the descent looked like.

Change-3_lunar_landing_site-580x470The dramatic soft landing took place at 8:11 am EST (9:11 p.m Beijing local time) with the lander arriving at Mare Imbrium (Latin for “Sea of Rains”) – one of the larger craters in the Solar System that is between 3 and 4.5 billion years old. The precise landing coordinates were 44.1260°N and 19.5014°W – located below the Montes Recti mountain ridge.

The video begins by showing the Chang’e-3 lander approaching the Montes Recti mountain ridge. At an altitude of 15 km (9 miles), the Chang’e-3 carried out the rocket powered descent to the Moon’s surface by firing the landing thrusters starting at the altitude of 15 km (9 mi) for a soft landing targeted to a preselected area in Mare Imbrium.

chang'e3_landingThe vehicles thrusters then fired to pivot the lander towards the surface at about the 2:40 minute mark when it was at an altitude of roughly 3 km (1.8 miles). The powered descent was autonomous, preprogrammed and controlled by the probe itself, not by mission controllers on Earth stationed at the Beijing. Altogether, it took about 12 minutes to bring the lander onto the surface.

Roughly 7 hours later, on Sunday, Dec. 15 at 4:35 a.m. Beijing local time, China’s first ever lunar rover ‘Yutu’ (or Jade Rabbit) rolled down a pair of ramps and onto the Moon’s soil. The six wheeled ‘Yutu’ rover drove straight off the ramps and sped right into the history books as it left a noticeably deep pair of tire tracks behind in the loose lunar dirt. This too was captured by the lander’s camera and broadcast on China’s state run CCTV.

chang'e3_egressThe next bundle of footage came from the rover itself, as the Jade Rabbit took in its inaugural photographs of the landing site in Mare Imbrium. The photos were released by Chinese state TV on Dec. 15th, not long after the rover disembarked from the lander, and were then pieced together to form the lander’s first panoramic view of the lunar surface.

Marco Di Lorenzo and Ken Kremer – an amateur photo-astronomer and a science journalist who have composed panoramas from the Curiosity mission in the past – also composed the images together to create a series of mosaics. A sample of the 1st panorama is pictured below, with the Yutu rover in the center and tire tracks off to the left.. Click here to the see the full-size image.

Change-3-1st-Pano_1b_Ken-Kremer--580x203The individual images were taken by three cameras positioned around the robotic lander and captured the stark lunar terrain surrounding the spacecraft. The panoramic view shows ‘Yutu’ and its wheel tracks cutting a semi circular path at least several centimeters deep into the loose lunar regolith at the landing site at Mare Imbrium, located near the Bay of Rainbows.

Liu Enhai, Designer in Chief, Chang’E-3 Probe System, has this say about the images in a recent CCTV interview:

This picture is made of 60 pictures taken 3 times by the rover. The rover used three angles: vertical, 15 degrees tilted up, and 15 degrees down…so that we get an even farther view

chang'e3_portraitThe 140 kilogram Yutu rover then turned around so that the lander and rover could obtain their first portraits of one another. The first is visible above, showing the Jade Rabbit rover (in better resolution), with the image of the Chang’e 3 lander below. Liu Jianjun, Deputy Chief Designer of the Chang’E-3 Ground System, was also interviewed by CCTV, and had this to about that part of the mission:

The rover reached the point of X after it went down from the lander, then it established contact with the ground. Then it went to point A, where the rover and lander took pictures of each other. Then it reached point B, where it’s standing now.

These are just the first of what is expected to be a torrent of pictures produced by the rover, which according to Chinese officials, will spend the next year conducting in-situ exploration at the landing site. Beyond that, the rover will use its instruments to survey the moon’s geological structure and composition on a minimum three month mission to locate the moon’s natural resources for use by future missions.

chang'e3_lander_portIn addition to accomplishing a great scientific feat, China has now joined a very exclusive club, being only one of three nations that has successfully conducted a soft landing on the Moon. The United States was the first, reaching the Moon with its Apollo 11 mission on July 20th, 1969. The Soviet Union followed less than a decade later, having reached the Moon with its unmanned Lunik 24 spacecraft in 1976.

And now, almost forty years later, the space race is joined by one of the world’s emerging super powers. Soon, we can expect the European Space Agency, India, Pakistan, and possibly Iran to be reaching the Moon as well. And by that time, its likely the spaceships will be carrying colonists. Hopefully we’ll have some infrastructure set up to receive them!

In the meantime, be sure to check out the Chang’e 3 descent video, and stay tuned for more updates from the Jade Rabbit and it begins its exploration of the Lunar surface.


Source:
universetoday.com, (2)

News From Space: Olympic Torch gets a Spacewalk

sochi_torch_ISS1Yesterday, for the first time ever, the Olympic torch was taken into space as two Russian cosmonauts took it on a spacewalk outside of  the International Space Station. NASA streamed video of the event as two cosmonauts, Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazanskiy, conducted their walk while the torch bobbed weightlessly from the end of a tether.

The two cosmonauts took several photos with the torch hovering with planet Earth in the background, the orb’s edge capturing the sunrise and emitting a bright glow. After two hours, they returned it to the space station and got to other tasks on their itinerary, which included attaching a footrest and a camera platform to the exterior of the orbiting laboratory.

The Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft rests on its launch pad at the Baikonur cosmodromeThe walk was just latest leg in the torch’s journey, which began on October 7th when the torch was delivered from Greece to Moscow. After touring the country, a journey which took it from Moscow, to St. Petersburg, and even to the North Pole (another first) aboard an atomic-powered icebreaker, the torch was launched last Thursday aboard a Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

Inspired by the Firebird of Russian folklore, a magical glowing birdt hat can be both a blessing and a curse to its owner, the metre-long torch – which weighs roughly 2 kg (4.4 lbs) on Earth – accompanied a three-man crew into space. This consisted of a Russian cosmonaut and an American and Japanese astronaut, bringing the total number of crew aboard the station to nine.

Space-Shuttle-Atlantis-STS-101-031.previewGranted, this is not the first time an Olympic torch has been taken into space. In 1996 and again in 2000, the Atlanta and Sydney Olympic torches were flown into space aboard the U.S. Space Shuttle Atlantis, in preparation for the Atlanta Summer Olympics. However, in that case, the torch was not taken outside of the spacecraft, which makes this a true first.

Much like on that occasion, the torch remained unlit while it was in space, as lighting it would have consumed precious oxygen. Still, the ISS crew managed to carry the unlit torch with them on a tour through several of the station’s modules and snapped pictures of it all. This took place over the course of several days before it stepped into space on Saturday.

sochi_torch_ISS4The torch is set to return to Earth tomorrow along with Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin, U.S. astronaut Karen Nyberg and Italian Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency. Once home, it will be handed off to Sochi 2014 officials and continue on its 65,000 kilometer (44,000 mile) journey, which just happens to be the longest Olympic torch relay in history.

The torch is also planned to reach such destinations as Mount Elbrus (Europe’s highest peak) in the Caucasus mountain range before arriving in Sochi on February 7th, where it will kick of the 22nd Winter Games. In another interesting first, this will be the first time that an Olympic Games has been held by the Russian Federation, whereas the 1980 Summer Olympics that were held in Moscow took place during the era of the Soviet Union.

Olympic torch launched into spaceAccording to Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, who has been in charge of planning the Olympics, transporting the Olympic torch to the ISS and bringing it into space is seen as “[A] way to show the world what Russia is made of.” He said it would display Russia’s “might” and its economic achievements, not unlike China did with the Tiangong space station.

Though the upcoming games are still a source of controversy to many – due to the recent passage of several laws that criminalize what officials call “gay propaganda” – this latest part of the Sochi Olympic torch relay showcases what is truly great about the Olympics. Not only was it an historic first, it also reminds us what the Olympics are all about.

sochi_torch_ISS5Originally conceived as a way of fostering goodwill between Greece’s city-states, and resurrected in 1894 to foster goodwill between nation-states, bringing the torch on board the ISS amidst a crew of international scientists helps to celebrate the spirit of diversity and tolerance which can and must define our modern world.

One can only hope that the symbolic value of this has not been lost on Russian lawmakers. Take it from us, Putin and the State Duma of Russia. It’s not too late to rethink your country’s political stances. If you really want to show how far your country has come, why not do some incredibly rational, like back away from an incredibly antiquated legal stance? I know for a fact it would make the Olympics go more smoothly this coming February…

And of course, be sure enjoy this video that NASA captured during the spacewalk:


Sources:
cbc.ca, (2), ctvnews.ca, abcnews.go.com, in.reuters.com

Hacker Wars: The Invasion Continues!

cyber-war-1024x843State-sponsored hacking has been a major concern lately. From Russia’s “Red October” virus, which spied on embassies and diplomats in multiple countries, to China’s ongoing intrusion into government and corporate databases in the US, it seems as though private hackers are no longer the only ones we need to worry about.

The latest incident in this invasion of privacy and airing of personal information comes again from Russia, where a mysterious website has been posting personal information about some rather high-profile American figures. These include First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice-President Joe Biden, Jay-Z, Britney Spears, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Sarah Palin, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the head of the FBI.

michelle-obama_fullIn addition to taunting messages and unflattering pictures, the site includes Social Security numbers, credit reports, addresses and phone numbers. No reasons are listed on the site as to why these particular people were selected, but it seems clear at this point that they were chosen due to their high-profile nature and/or positions of importance within the US government. As of last Tuesday, both the FBI and Secret Service announced that they were investigating the website.

Though it is not definitively clear where the hackers are operating from, all indications point to Russia. The first clue came when it was revealed that site bore the internet suffix originally assigned to the Soviet Union (.su), a practice which is not uncommon with Russian hackers these days. In addition, it is also connected to a Twitter account, which carried an an anti-police message posted in Russian.

hackers_securityAt the moment, neither the White House or the Secret Service is offering assessments or comments on the matter. But some thoughts have been offered by Los Angeles Police Commander Andrew Smith, who spoke on behalf of Chief Charlie Beck, who’s information was also posted. According to Beck, this is not the first time that top police officials have had their private information posted online:

“People get mad at us, go on the Internet and try to find information about us, and post it all on one site. The best word I can use to describe it is creepy. It’s a creepy thing to do.”

Frank Preciado, assistant officer in charge of the LAPDs online division, added that the information on the police chief was likely taken from what is supposed to be a secure database of city employees. And it might just offer some insight into this latest, sweeping act of inforpiracy. When all is said and done, it appears that this may simply be a case of a small but qualified group of misfits engaging in public mischief.

internetHowever, of greater concern is the fact that with this latest act of high-profile hacking, a trend that citizens were forewarned might be coming true. In December of 2012, internet security company McAfee warned of an impending attack by Russian hackers against American banks. Dubbed “Project Blitzkrieg”, the threat of the attack surfaced on a Russian hacking forum in the previous September, and McAfee was quick to advised that it was a credible one.

As of December 2012, Russian hackers had effectively infected 500 databases in the US with the promise of more to come. The cybercriminal known as vorVzakone – whose name means ‘thief in law’ – was identified as the head of the operation, whose plans called for the release of a Trojan horse virus that would allow him and his accomplices to seize control of banks’ computers to steal information and money.

cold_war

Clearly, all of these incidents amount to a major public concern. But of greater concern to me is the fact the lines being drawn in this new era of cyber-warfare are eerily familiar. Not long ago, China and Russia were locked in an ongoing feud with the US and its allies, a war fueled by ideology but based on the cultivation of technology and espionage networks.

Granted, only China’s case of cyberwarfare against the US appears to be government-backed. But between the “Red October” virus,  “Project Blitzkrieg”, and the fact that Russian hackers are in the habit of using a Soviet-era suffix to designate their activities, it seems that Russia is fertile ground for a renewed standoff with the West as well. And given that the targets have been western governments and financial institutions, would it be so farfetched to assume the government might be marginally involved?

The means may have changed, but the overall purpose remains the same. Infiltrate, destabilize, and steal information from the enemy. Are we looking at a renewed Cold War, or just the last gasps of an ideological confrontation that was supposed to have died years ago? Only time will tell…

Sources: cbc.ca, dailymail.co.uk

Remembering Neil Armstrong

“That’s one small step for man… one giant leap for mankind.”

-Neil Armstrong, July 20th, 1969

This iconic statement is the most famous to ever be uttered by a human being and still serve to inspire hope and fire the imagination, even after 43 years. Today, the world has lost one of the greatest historical figures of the 20th century, the man who was the first to walk on the moon and speak the words that signaled the beginning of a new era.

Yes, after decades of living large and inspiring countless people all over the world, Neil Armstrong passed away at the age of 82. According to statements made by the Armstrong family earlier today, Neil died following complications from heart-bypass surgery he underwent earlier this month, just two days after his 82nd birthday on August 5.

Best known for being the commander of Apollo 11, the NASA mission that sent a manned spacecraft to the moon, Neil will forever be remembered for doing what countless people have dreamed of doing since the dawn of time. After years of training, planning, development and testing, he and astronaut Edward “Buzz” Aldrin became the first to not only slip the bonds of Earth’s gravity, but the first to walk on a celestial body that was not Earth.

This achievement, great in its own right, was also of extreme historical significance. Taking place during the height of the Cold War, only six years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, Armstrong’s first steps on the moon provided a generation beguiled by arms races and fear with a sense of accomplishment and pride. His words, which were spoken on behalf of, and directed to, all of mankind even helped bridge the gap between East and West. Though there was a race on to see who could reach the Moon first, all of humanity shared in the celebration that a man, any man, had actually attained what many thought was unattainable.

And although he never retired from the public eye after that momentous achievement, Neil was nevertheless a very private man compared to his peers. Whereas Edward Aldrin and astronauts like John Glenn and Harrison Schmitt went on to become public figures, doing guest appearances on TV shows and running for political office, Neil did very little to draw attention to himself. This was, according to his closest friends and family, because of his intensely private nature.

In fact, according to James Hansen, author of “First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong,” Neil was often confounded by all the attention and accolades he received as a result of his historic accomplishments. As Hansen stated in an interview with CBS, “All of the attention that … the public put on stepping down that ladder onto the surface itself, Neil never could really understand why there was so much focus on that.” Wow. Humility on top of everything else, that’s the way to go!

Apparently, attempts were even made to try and coax Armstrong into running for public, but he repeatedly refused. Instead, Neil spent his post-Apollo 11 career committed to furthering the fields of aviation and space explorations from behind the scenes and never once tried to exploit his fame. In fact, his last known public appearance was in November of 2011 when he appeared before Congress to received the the Congressional Gold Medal (pictured above).

I think I speak for us all when I say he will be missed, and definitely not forgotten. I think I speak for us all when I say that the remembrance ceremonies and honors conferred on his name will be tremendous! Ironic, considering Neil probably would have refused them all 😉 RIP Neil Armstrong. May you forever walk amongst the stars!

***As a side note, I would also like to say that I hope the various conspiracy theorist of the world, the people who insist that this historic achievement was a hoax, or that it was actually filmed in a studio, take the time to bow their heads and hold their tongues. We are all entitled to our opinions, but such conspiracy theories are not only an insult to history and the intelligence of people who witnessed the event, its also an insult to this man’s memory. Please take this day to focus on something else, like the conspiracy behind putting fluoride in the water, Area 51, or 9/11 being an inside job, k? Many thanks, weirdos!***

The 70th Anniversary of the Dieppe Raid

Here in Canada, few historical events from World War II inspire as much anger, sadness, and remembrance than the anniversary of the Dieppe Raid. It was 70 years ago today that Canadian Forces, in what was to be the first offensive of the war, attacked the European coastline near the small French town of Dieppe. The raid, as it was classified, was a total failure, resulting in 913 dead, almost 3000 captured, and countless more wounded. Out of the nearly 5000 men who went in, less than half made it home.

Earlier today, I read some articles that spoke of the surviving veterans, the youngest of whom is 90, as they arrived at Dieppe to take part in the commemorative ceremonies.

Countless French people welcomed them by hanging Canadian flags from their balconies and volunteering to show them about town. For the locals, honoring the veterans who fell while trying to liberate their town has become a way of life, similar to the Belgian people of Ypres and the Dutch who honor how Canadian forces liberated their country in 1944.

Naturally, when these veterans tell their stories again to reporters or the many who wabted to hear them, they conveyed some rather mixed emotions. There were moments of anger and pride intermixed with a general tone of lament, and in that respect, they are joined by all Canadians who remember. Even now, 70 years later, there is still ample speculation about the Dieppe raid.

Taking place in 1942, during the height of the war when the Allies were still on the losing end, the planned raid on Dieppe represented the culmination of many hopes, fears, and political considerations. For over a year, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin had been asking – in fact, pleading – with the Allies for a Second Front in Europe that would take pressure off the Russian forces. Ever since the Germans moved into his country roughly a year before, Russians were dying by the millions and the Red Army was struggling to hold them back.

At the same time, the Allies had been contemplating plans for the liberation of France ever since it had been overrun two years earlier. For the British and French, the memories of the summer of 1940, beginning with the invasion of Belgium, the outflanking maneuver through the Ardennes Forest, the fall of Paris and the evacuation of Dunkirk, were still phantoms they wanted to dispel. With Germany pushed out of France, the Allies would have a major ally back in the fight and put an end to Germany’s expansion, which had continued unabated since the war began.

And last, the Canadian Armed Forces were desperate to get into battle, hoping to demonstrate some of the same zeal that had popularized their forces in World War I. And with the US finally entering the war on the Allied side, there was an added push to score a victory before the Yanks got in and claimed all the glory 😉 A commando-style raid against a section of the Atlantic Wall seemed like just the thing to bolster morale and show the world that the Canadian Expeditionary Force was still a force to be feared!

Ultimately, the raid was a failure for numerous reasons, all of which proved intrinsic to helping the Allies draft Operation Overlord – the invasion of Normandy – roughly two years later. First off, the raid had little support to speak of. Aside from the 5000 men and tanks heading onto the coastline, their were very ships ships and aircraft standing by to blast German positions and take on the coastal defenses.

Second, the planners did not take into account the challenging terrain along the beaches. Rather than being sandy shores, they were composed of tiny little rocks which played havoc with tank treads, making them virtually useless. As a result, the Canadian soldiers found themselves running into German machine guns and mortar positions with no cover or support.

Third, the plan was changed over and over again so that less and less forces would be committed to the fold. This led many to question whether the raid would even have enough men or firepower to achieve their mission. However, Allied planners dismissed these objections by emphasizing that the attackers would have the element of surprise. That was not the case though, since Allied Command had been publicizing the attack for some time before it happened.

In short, the mission was the perfect recipe for failure, leading some to speculate that that had been the goal all along. With Stalin pleading for a Second Front and the Allies unable to convince him that they were not ready, some claimed that Dieppe was meant to fail as a way of illustrating their point.

In addition, new evidence is being brought to light that suggests that the raid was a diversion for a covert operation that involved commandos attacking the secret German naval headquarters in the town in order to capture a working model Germany’s new four-rotor Enigma machine and their most recent code books. At the head of this operation, so the argument runs, was Mr. Ian Fleming himself, the man who would later create James Bond.

A very interesting interpretation, and which explains quite clearly why the raid was so publicized. In keeping with Allied counterintelligence plays, it was customary to let the Germans know exactly what they were doing in the hopes that they would chomp at the bit and not realize it was a feint to cover their true aims.

What’s more, if this latter interpretation should prove to be true, it would mean that politics and incompetence was not the reason for the Dieppe Raid. Instead, it would have been a vital intelligence mission which went wrong for a number of reasons. However, this still would not change the fact that the operational planning suffered from the fact that the raid failed to take into accounts some key problems. Nor would it change the outcome.

In any case, some good did come out of the operation. Four months after the raid, the Allies managed to crack the 4-wheel Enigma code and went back to winning the intelligence war. In addition, Soviet Forces began to defeat the Germans on all fronts and initiated the slow process of pushing them back into their old stomping grounds. And in the Mediterrenean and North Africa, the German Navy and Afrika Corps began to get their asses kicked.

But most importantly of all was the operation that would succeed where Dieppe had failed. Taking on June 6th of 1944 in the Normandy region of France, Operation Overlord was the largest invasion in history, and several key factors had been adapted from the Dieppe Raid. In addition to committing all kinds of men, materiel, ships, and planes to a cohesive, multi-phased invasion plan, the Allies also conducted a vast counter-intelligence operation well in advance to trick the Germans into thinking that their real invasion force would be coming in the Pas de Calais region.

So today, like all good Canadians, I wish to honor the veterans who are currently overseas, receiving their well-deserved honors and recounting the historic Dieppe Raid that they took part in so many years later. I’d also like to salute those soldiers who are no longer with us, many of whom were wounded, captured and forced to spend the rest of the war in army hospitals and German POW camps. And I would especially like to pay tribute to those who didn’t make it back, who died on those rocky shores as the result of either politics and ineptitude, or desperation and intrigue.

Even after 70 years, surely we must be learning something from all this…

Sickness, more Alternate History, and some coming reviews…

Sickness, more Alternate History, and some coming reviews…

I hate being sick! Whenever the seasons change for me, I tend to come down with one of those colds that comes on hard and takes forever to leave. Well, this Fall season has been a double whammy, seems I’ve gotten sick twice in the last four weeks, which has meant a month of convalescing I could totally do without! But at least its given me time to ponder future writing projects.

For starters, I had an idea for an alternate history novel of my own. Its been something I’ve been interested in of late, as my reviews of Man in the High Castle, Fatherland and Guns of the South will attest. Reviewing Rabbletown by Mr. Attwood also gave me another push; somehow reading other people’s work always inspires me to write more of my own. And if there’s one thing I learned from reading other works of historical fiction, it is that there are two basic trends to every story.

1. History diverges due to key events happening just a little bit differently.
2. Ultimately, things converge again and familiar patterns reassert themselves.

Or, to put it mathematically, H = (Ce + Ha) / Env, where H is history, Ce is the Confluence of Events, Ha is human agency and Env is environmental (i.e. external) mitigating factors. Alteration of one (i.e. human agency) is what allows for divergence, but in the end, the other factors assert themselves and balance is restored. Okay, I totally made that up and it was unbelievably geeky! But also kinda cool, right? Ah whatever, my idea:

Red Sky At Night:

A working title, but one which was suggested to me by the maestra of title work (hi Katrina!) And given the title, one might suspect that Communism and/or Communists are the focus. They would be right! My story deals with a question that I’ve been pondering for a long time and with all the fiction I’ve read of late, stuff that deals with similar questions and “what ifs”, I began to turn it into an idea. In short, my story is based on the question of what would have happened had Leon Trotsky come to be leader of the Soviet Union instead of Stalin?

To be fair, this question has been asked by generations of historians and communists alike, particularly the latter group who wanted to distance themselves from Stalin after the full weight of his crimes and megalomania had been exposed. But for historians, the question is more academic, motivating by genuine interest instead of personal beliefs. Overall, they are simply interested in whether or not Trotsky would have been any gentler, or the course of Soviet history any different, had he been in charge.

But first, a little preamble. You see, it is one of the great questions of history why Trotsky did not disavow Stalin when he had the chance. Before his death, Vladimir Ilyich Ilyanov (aka. Lenin) wrote in his “Final Will and Testament” that Stalin was a rude, ruthless man who should never be allowed to have power. Trotsky was seen as the natural successor, and this Will could have shattered Stalin’s support. Stalin’s allies helped him to prevent the Will from being revealed at the 12th Party Congress; however, at the 13th, Trotsky could have revealed it to the Party and done irreperable harm to Stalin’s reputation. Instead, he made conciliatory speech that was intended to heal the rift between himself and Stalin’s followers.

However, this did not prevent Trotsky from being ejected from the Party, put into exile and murdered some years later. So the question of why – why DIDN’T Trotsky denounce Stalin when he had the chance? – has never been successfully answered. We can assume any number of things, but it is at this point irrelevant. The real question, as far as my idea is concerned, is what would have happened had he gone through with it? And that’s where things get fun… if you’re a history geek anyway!

For one, Trotsky wouldn’t have launched Stalin’s crash industrialization programs (aka. the Five Year Plans) in the later 20’s. In all likelihood, he would have continued Lenin’s New Economic Policy (NEP, which allowed for a degree of privatization) and when the big economic crisis loomed, have appointed Bukharin to deal with it (as opposed to purging him as Stalin did). This would have led to the slow recovery of the Soviet economy, and when the Great Depression hit in 1929, Russia would have continued to be spared the worst ravages of it while similarly showing signs of growth.

In addition, the Communists in China would not have been cut off as they had been by Stalin in the 1920’s. Chiang Kai-shek would have continued to fight them, but there would have been no massacre, meaning the Chinese communists would have been stronger and in a better position to dictate terms to Chiang when the Japanese invaded in the late 20’s. As a result, the Japanese army would have encountered stiffer, unified resistance as it fought its way south years later.

Similarly, in Europe, when the Nazi’s come to power in 33, Trotsky would have thrown his country’s support behind the German Social Democrats and would have committed the Comintern (Communist International Organization) to fighting Hitler once he seized power. Over the course of the next few years, during the re-militarizing of the Rhineland, the Anschluss, the Spanish Civil War, and the Sudenten crisis, Russia would have been the most outspoken advocate for resistance.

This had the effect of inspiring people from other nations, particularly France, England and Czechoslovakia, into doing the same, often in defiance of their own governments who sought accommodation. Combined with the fact that Russia’s heavily regulated economy had avoided the scourges of the Depression, these acts of support would convince many foreign nationals of the need to stand with Russia. And without Stalin’s own paranoia and megalomania to discredit and embarrass the Soviet Union and its supporters, these efforts were far more successful.

Finally, after years of advocating Collective Security through the United Nations, Trotsky’s Foreign Commissar – Maxim Litvinov – saw his efforts to create an anti-fascist alliance comes together. During the Sudeten Crisis of 38, Hitler found himself being resisted on all sides. France declared that it would mobilize to help the Czechs since Russia was promising the same. Britain, fearing a Communist victory in the next election, mobilized to pressure Poland and Romania to come to a right of passage agreement with Russia, rather than pressuring Czech president Benes to concede the Sudetenland to Germany. As a result, Hitler was overruled by his own commanders and forced to stand down.

Hilter was unable to recover from this political setback, and when Germany similarly suffered an economic recession a year later, his support dwindled further. By the end of 1939, he found himself ousted from power and the SPD was restored. Mussolini and Franco, one-time allies of Hitler’s, were also brought to heal, the Italian dictator going as far as to relinquish his countries control of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) and remove all his troops from the Balkans. In Asia, Japan also found itself without a friend and was forced to withdraw from the Chinese mainland. Europe and the world celebrated as it seemed that the aggressors had been contained and another world war had been averted.

But this jubilant mood did not last long. Without World War II and the post-war reconstruction to stimulate the economies of the western nations, the Depression continued for several more years. The post-war population boom similarly did not take place. Instead, Europe and the Anglosphere witnessed slow recovery as nations on the continent resorted to increasingly socialist measures to address their economic woes and closer trade ties were established with Russia. Russia, now enjoying cordial ties to most European nations, similarly began to open its economy and its borders to foreign investment and tourism. By the late 40’s, most economies had pulled out of the Depression through a combination of social programs and regulated trade.

This had the added effect of creating a rift between the Continent and Britain, a country that prided itself on its free markets and traditional liberal approach. As socialism began to take root from Lisbon to Vladivostok, Britain sought new alliances to protect its way of life. They found it in the US, which was once again experiencing a Red Scare and cracking down on communists, labor leaders and protesters. Together, they created a secret alliance to protect their mutual interests and continued to eye the Continent with suspicion.

Relations were further strained when in the 1950’s, India began to demand independence. Without the threat of Hitler, the British government had never come to an agreement with Ghandi for the sake of independence. What’s more, agitation on behalf of Europe’s new socialist organizations became a constant source of irritation. Though France was loath to give up its own Empire, pressure from the League and its own populace was mounting. In time, France gave up trying to work with Britain to find a common solution, began disbanding its own empire and urged Britain to do the same. Britain refused and held on to its possessions, but by the early 60’s, virtually every French speaking colony was free and joined the League of Nations.

Which brings me to the opening of my story. It is the early 60’s, the world is divided between two major blocs – the League of Nations and the Anglo-American Alliance – and in between are dozens of nations that are either neutral or part of one or the others sphere of influence. Relations between the two sides are strained as competition for markets, alliances and weapons have reached a tipping point, and some are beginning to fear the possibility of open war. Within this talk of war are even more frightening rumors that both sides are researching advanced technologies – rockets, jet engines, super computers, and even (God forbid!) atomic weapons…

So as you can see, history unfolded quite differently due to the presence of one man instead of another. However, in time, the familiar patterns reasserted themselves. While World War II did not take place from 39-45, it does appear on the horizon by 1960. While there was no Cold War to speak of after 45′ between two nuclear-armed superpowers, a state of detente exists between two similar global powers by the late 50’s with the prospect of a nuclear war by the early 60’s.

That’s all I got for now. More to follow just as soon as Data Miners is complete and my others ideas have panned out. That’s the fun thing about alternate histories though isn’t it? Since they have to do with past events, no one can ever accuse you of not being “current”, right? Who knows? If its successful, I might even write a sequel, Red Sky At Morning, about the aftermath. Thank you honey (my wife) for THAT title idea!

Coming Reviews:

On top of that, tackling “McDune” franchise in a more comprehensive way inspired me to do a more in-depth review of both the Legends and Hunters/Sandworms of Dune series. I’ve shellacked the latter ones before, but I’d like nothing better than giving them a good, specific thrashing! Fans of the elder Herbert, unite and hear me shellack! So, in the coming weeks, I hope to do a review of Hunters, the Machine Crusade, and possibly the Battle of Corrin and Sandworms as well. And since I’m almost finished with the A Song of Fire and Ice series (i.e. Game of Thrones, etc) I might publish some thoughts on them too. Can’t wait for season two of the miniseries! Go Starks! Screw the Lannisters!

P.S. for those who don’t know, Katrina runs a fun and fascinating website named Were You Wondering? She even lets me contribute for some reason… Here’s the link:
wereyouwondering.com

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