Weekly output: SLS explained, skepticism for Warner Bros. Discovery, wireless carrier cell-site location data retention, security-patch severity, Twitter opens Circle feature, Samsung’s 8K pitch at IFA, electronic eccentricities at IFA

This week’s trip to Berlin and back to cover the IFA trade show (reminder, with the event organizers covering most of my travel costs) finally allowed me to experience Berlin Brandenburg Airport as a passenger instead of as a zombie-airport tourist. I can’t say I miss Tegel Airport’s weird system of having separate security screenings at every gate.

Fast Company SLS explainer8/29/2022: NASA’s Space Launch System—whenever it comes—will mark the end of an era for U.S. spaceflight, Fast Company

This post needed a quick rewrite before posting to cover Monday’s scrub of the planned Artemis I launch of the SLS. After a second scrub Saturday, this headline remains current. And it appears that I have a renewed opportunity to see this giant rocket fly in person

8/29/2022: Bloomberg Intelligence raises flags about Warner Bros. Discovery, Fierce Video

I wrote this post during last week’s flurry of filling in at my trade-pub client, but it didn’t get published until Monday.

8/29/2022: Here’s How Long Your Wireless Carrier Holds on to Your Location Data, PCMag

I wrote this from a lounge at Dulles Airport before my departure for Berlin, but it helped that I’ve covered this topic before.

8/31/2022: Security patches for your iPhone come all the time. But should you be told which are important?, USA Today

This isn’t the first time a column for USAT started with a tech-support query from a relative.

9/1/2022: Twitter opens Circle to all users, Al Jazeera

The Arabic-language news channel asked if I could cover Twitter’s introduction of this new audience-selection tool. It’s an interesting topic (in part because Twitter has basically reinvented the Circles feature of Google+), but doing this TV hit from IFA required me to find a quiet spot with bandwidth. I found that spot in the landscaped Sommergarten in the middle of the Berlin Messe.

9/2/2022: Samsung Shows Off a Video Unicorn at IFA: A TV Series in 8K, PCMag

The dismal 8K sales stats I reference in the closing paragraphs are really something, and I’m saying that as a longtime skeptic of the 8K value proposition.

9/3/2022: Ovens with eyes, a chameleon of a fridge, and other electronic eccentricities at IFA, Fierce Electronics

I wrote this recap of IFA oddities–a staple of my coverage of the show over the last 10 years–for this sibling publication of Fierce Video.

KSC FOMO is real

This weekend is treating me to the first-world problem of having travel booked to a place I haven’t visited in three years–at the cost of not being able to visit another place I haven’t visited in four years.

The Kennedy Space Center's Vehicle Assembly Building, Shuttle Landing Facility Runway, and launch complexes 39A and 39B as seen from an American Airlines jet on the way to Miami.

While I will be packing Sunday to fly to Berlin for the IFA electronics show for the first time since 2019 (disclosure: the organizers are covering most of the travel costs for an invited group of U.S. journalists and analysts, myself included), NASA’s massive Space Launch System rocket will be enjoying what I trust is its last night of slumber on Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center before starting a journey to the Moon Monday morning.

Before everybody gets on my case for the subpar judgment I’ve just confessed, I booked the IFA travel in early July, weeks before NASA set tentative launch dates for this uncrewed Artemis I mission. At least I’ve got Monday morning mostly free to glue myself to a screen and see if SLS lifts off in the two-hour window that opens at 8:33 a.m.

Meanwhile, journalists I know are arriving at Cape Canaveral and tweeting photos from KSC’s press site, something I last got to do in 2018. The Artemis 1 countdown began Saturday morning. And if no technical glitches surface and all the other launch-commit criteria line up green Monday, everybody close enough will get to see NASA’s largest rocket since the Saturn V take to the skies–then hear and feel the crackling thunder of its engines, which apparently will be a lot louder than the shuttle’s.

I’ll only get to watch the proceedings from my living room. The closest I’ve gotten to the Cape since that February 2018 trip to cover Falcon Heavy’s debut is seeing KSC from a plane–which, don’t get me wrong, is a real window-seat treat.

But while I may have to wait two more years for a chance to see the next SLS launch, the launch calendar is now so busy at the Space Coast that even a randomly scheduled trip to central Florida allows decent odds of seeing a liftoff. So, yes, I will return to KSC even if it’s just for fun–and in that case, I’m bringing my family so they can see firsthand why I’m so crazy about this.

A sort of homecoming for Discovery

The space shuttle Discovery completed her last journey a week ago. An airport tug towed the shuttle, with tiles and insulating fabic looking toasted or outright torched from 39 re-entries, into a display hall at the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center.

It was not an altogether joyous occasion. The proper home for a spacecraft is space, not a museum. Discovery might have kept flying for years longer–had the Bush administration not acted on the recommendations of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board to retire the shuttle, after which the Obama administration reaffirmed that decision while adding two last flights to the schedule.

During the handover ceremony itself, former senator and two-time astronaut John Glenn said the shuttle was “prematurely grounded.”

But there are reasons why we only have three space-flown shuttles to retire to museums after building five. Challenger’s remains sleep in a missile silo at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station; Columbia’s occupy part of the 16th floor of the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center. Neither spot is open for tourist visits, although anybody designing a manned spacecraft should find a way to pay their respects there.

What makes me mad, not just sad, is seeing people use this occasion to break out a “The End” stamp for the space program.

Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, for instance, pronounced Discovery’s final trip “a funeral march”–apparently unaware that the shuttle’s would-be successor, the behind-schedule and over-budget Constellation program, had been fired for cause. CBS’s 60 Minutes aired a “Hard Landing” episode that suggested the battered Space Coast economy will never recover. (For all of of that episode’s neglected angles, I hated seeing that the bar I stopped in for lunch after STS-134’s launch had closed.) Editorial cartoons have proclaimed that manned space flight has reached the end of its road and now amounts to a museum piece.

But like many people of a certain age, I know the difference between today and the last extended interregnum in American spaceflight. One of my first memories of television was watching a rocket launch that must have been the U.S. half of 1975’s sole Apollo-Soyuz Test Program mission. I had to wait almost six years to see another liftoff live on TV. No American got close to orbit until the Sunday morning in 1981 when I woke up early and excitedly to watch Columbia take us back.

We are not witnessing a re-run of that era. If you want to see an American spacecraft, you don’t need to go to a museum. Step outside on a clear night, when the timing lines up, and you can’t miss a light brighter than any star gliding in front of all of them–the International Space Station, occupied nonstop by U.S. astronauts since November of 2000.

Back on the ground, NASA is designing the biggest rocket the U.S. has flown since the ’70s–although the Space Launch System’s projected expense and limited utility alarms me.

But unlike the ’70s, we don’t have to hope that the government does everything right. In Florida and Virginia, SpaceX and Orbital Sciences are getting ready to run cargo to the ISS in privately-developed spacecraft. SpaceX and three other firms are also competing to bring up crew next and free us from having to pay Russia for transportation to the station. (Note to Congress: Reducing the funding for this project is one of the most foolish and shortsighted things you’ve done lately.) In a year or two, the rich should be taking their own suborbital flights, no NASA contract needed. (Note to Virgin Galactic PR: call me.) And in Seattle, some well-heeled tech entrepreneurs think they can make a business out of mining asteroids.

The dream is alive.

Damnit, I hope I’m right about that.

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