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  • The Big Picture shares shocking photos of the Portuguese forest fires.

  • blogTO notes that, happily, Seaton Village's Fiesta Farms is apparently not at risk of being turned into a condo development site.

  • Centauri Dreams notes a new starship discussion group in Delft. Shades of the British Interplanetary Society and the Daedalus?

  • D-Brief considers a new theory explaining why different birds' eggs have different shapes.

  • The Frailest Thing's Michael Sacasas commits himself to a new regimen of blogging about technology and its imports. (There is a Patreon.)

  • Language Hat notes the current Turkish government's interest in purging Turkish of Western loanwords.

  • Language Log's Victor Mair sums up the evidence for the diffusion of Indo-European languages, and their speakers, into India.

  • The LRB Blog notes the Theresa May government's inability post-Grenfell to communicate with any sense of emotion.

  • Marginal Revolution's Tyler Cowen wonders if the alt-right more prominent in the Anglophone world because it is more prone to the appeal of the new.

  • Personal Reflections' Jim Belshaw wonders if Brexit will result in a stronger European Union and a weaker United Kingdom.

  • Seriously Science reports a study suggesting that shiny new headphones are not better than less flashy brands.

  • Torontoist reports on the anti-Muslim hate groups set to march in Toronto Pride.

  • Understanding Society considers the subject of critical realism in sociological analyses.

  • Window on Eurasia notes how Russia's call to promote Cyrillic across the former Soviet Union has gone badly in Armenia, with its own script.

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  • Apostrophen's 'Nathan Smith talks about "cis", "trans", and the non-obvious meaning of this classification.
  • The Big Picture shares photos of a recent sailing festival in Boston.

  • blogTO reports on the trendy charcoal-black ice cream of a store across from Trinity Bellwoods.
  • Centauri Dreams considers the idea of a "runaway fusion" drive.Crooked Timber wonders how a bad Brexit agreement could possibly be worse than no Brexit agreement for the United Kingdom.
  • D-Brief warns of the possibility of sustained life-threatening heat waves in the tropics with global warming.
  • The Everyday Sociology Blog considers how sociology majors are prepared, or not, for the workforce.

  • Language Hat links to a wonderful examination of the textual complexities of James Joyce's Ulysses.

  • The LRB Blog looks at how British big business is indebted to the Conservatives.

  • Marginal Revolution reports on China's emergent pop music machine.

  • Steve Munro reports on the latest on noise from the 514 Cherry streetcar.

  • The NYRB Daily has a fascinating exchange on consciousness and free will and where it all lies.
  • The Planetary Society Blog reports on a successful expedition to Argentina to examine Kuiper Belt object MU69 via occultation.

  • Peter Rukavina celebrates Charlottetown school crossing guard Dana Doyle.

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  • The New York Times' Michael Wilson tells the sad story of how a woman murdered in Harlem was only identified 47 years later.

  • In NOW Toronto, Gelek Badheytsang writes about the complexities surrounding the visit of the 17th Karmapa to Tibetan-heavy Parkdale.

  • Novak Jankovic writes in MacLean's that there are real declines in the Toronto real estate market, but not enough to set a trend.

  • The Toronto Star's Jackie Hong reports that protecting Bluffer's Park from the waves of Lake Ontario could also wreck an east-end surfing haunt.

  • The National Post reports on how the Ontario NDP claims, probably correctly, that the Wynne Liberals are stealing their ideas. Good for them, I say.

  • Universe Today's Matt Williams notes a study reporting that life on Mars' surface is a much greater risk factor for cancer than previously thought.

  • Seth Miller argues that efficient electric cars will push Big Oil through the trauma of Big Coal in the 2020s.

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  • Lawyers, Guns and Money looks at the surprisingly exciting British elections. What will come of them?

  • The LRB Blog considers the question of the underlying motivations of pollsters.

  • Marginal Revolution's Tyler Cowen reshares an old column noting the destabilizing effects of Trump on American alliances.

  • The Planetary Society Blog looks at India's new heavy-lift rocket, the GSLV-MK3.

  • Torontoist looks at the City of Toronto's response to the overdose crisis.

  • Towleroad notes that the Japanese city of Sapporo has recognized same-sex relationships.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy argues that the constitutionality of Trump's edicts should not be defined by their being issued by Trump.

  • Window on Eurasia argues that Russian policy towards Ukraine since 1991 has been marked by consistent disinterest in Ukraine going its own way.

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  • blogTO suggests the Port Lands might become an artists' hu8b.

  • The Broadside Blog's Caitlin Kelly talks about the complexities involved with managing feelings.

  • Centauri Dreams talks about different methods of near-term interstellar travel.

  • Joe. My. God. notes that Nordic prime ministers have just trolled Trump's bizarre orb-based photo op.

  • Language Hat shares some interesting claims about standard Finnish as a neutral dialect.
  • The Planetary Society Blog talks about the latest stages of the Dawn mission to Ceres.

  • Peter Rukavina looks at the end of Charlottetown's Founders' Hall.

  • Torontoist examines Ontario's impending $15 an hour minimum wage.

  • Window on Eurasia reports on the latest disputes between Russia and Ukraine on their shared history.

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  • Anthropology.net reports on new evidence that Homo naledi may have used tools, buried their dead, and lived alongside Homo sapiens.
  • Centauri Dreams remembers an abortive solar sail mission to Halley's Comet.

  • Dangerous Minds shares photos of the "Apache" dancers of France.

  • Cody Delistraty writes about Swedish futurist Anders Sandberg and his efforts to plan for humanity's future.

  • At the Everyday Sociology Blog, Karen Sternheimer talks about her day as a sociologist.

  • Joe. My. God. notes the good news that normal young HIV patients can now expect near-normal life expectancies.

  • Language Hat looks at a recent surge of interest in Italian dialects.

  • Language Log looks at the phenomenon of East Asians taking English-language names.

  • The LRB Blog considers the dynamics of the United Kingdom's own UDI.

  • Marginal Revolution looks at the existential issues of a growing Kinshasa still disconnected from the wider world.

  • Steve Munro notes that Metrolinx will now buy vehicles from France's Alstom.

  • The New APPS Blog uses Foucault to look at the "thanatopolitics" of the Republicans.

  • The NYRB Daily looks at Trump's constitutional crisis.

  • Out There considers the issues surrounding the detection of an alien civilization less advanced than ours.

  • The Planetary Society Blog looks at the United States' planetary science exploration budget.

  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer looks at Argentina's underrated reputation as a destination for foreign investment.

  • Progressive Download shares some thinking about sexual orientation in the context of evolution.

  • Peter Rukavina looks at the success of wind energy generation on the Island.

  • Understanding Society takes a look at the dynamics of Rome.

  • Window on Eurasia shares a lunatic Russian scheme for a partition of eastern Europe between Russia and Germany.

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  • Anthropology.net reports on the recent discovery in China of two skulls a hundred thousand years old, possible remnants of a hitherto-unknown hominid species.

  • blogTO reports on the boom in the Toronto tech community.

  • Language Log breaks down the linguistics, specifically word lengths, of audiobooks.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money reports on the difficult position of indigenous peoples in Nicaragua.

  • Marginal Revolution reports on the potential health benefits of substances in the blood of the Komodo dragon.

  • The NYRB Daily reports on the modernist photography of Berenice Abbott.

  • The Planetary Society Blog reports on the adventures of the Mars rovers.

  • Supernova Condensate takes a quick look at Jupiter's moon, Io.

  • Window on Eurasia looks at a new Russian film that transposes the superhero genre with the Soviet era, and argues that Russia is acting these days not as a constructive power but as a spoiler.

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  • James Bow calls for an end to the US-Canada Safe Third Country agreement prohibiting people coming from American soil from claiming refugee status in Canada.

  • D-Brief reports on the vast array of man-made minerals appearing in what is now being called the Anthropocene Era of Earth.

  • Dangerous Minds notes the efforts of the Disco Preservation Society to preserve DJ mixes from 1980s San Francisco.

  • Language Log takes issue with Neil DeGrasse Tyson's argument that cryptographers, not linguists, would be needed in Arrival.

  • The LRB Blog notes impunity for murderers of civil society activists in Honduras.

  • Marginal Revolution's Tyler Cowen talks about Joyce Gladwell's autobiography Brown Face, Big Master.

  • The NYRB Daily celebrates the work of Hercules Segers.

  • The Planetary Society Blog is skeptical of the Space X plan to send tourists past the Moon by 2018.

  • Supernova Condensate lists 8 things we know about Proxima Centauri b.

  • Towleroad reports on new walking tours being offered of gay London.

  • Arnold Zwicky engages with a California exhibition comparing paintings with movies.

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  • blogTO notes a threat to some of Liberty Village's historic buildings through development.

  • Centauri Dreams looks at planetary formation around close binary SDSS 1557, which includes a white dwarf.

  • False Steps' Paul Drye announces a new book project, They Played the Game, which looks at how different baseball players overlooked in our history might have become stars had things gone differently.

  • Language Hat looks at the linguistic differences between the two Koreas.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes the exploitation of Syrian refugees by Turkish garment manufacturers.

  • The LRB Blog examines the phenomenon of myth-making regarding Sweden.
  • The Map Room Blog links to a website sharing the stories of cartographers.

  • The NYRB Daily notes the chaos that Trump will be bringing to American immigration law.

  • Peter Rukavina talks about his experience as a library hacker.

  • Supernova Condensate is optimistic about the potential of Space X to actually inaugurate an era of space tourism.

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News of the remarkable density of planets, including potentially Earth-like planets, in the system of nearby ultra-cool dwarf TRAPPIST-1 spread across the blogosphere. This NASA JPL illustration comparing the TRAPPIST-1 worlds with the four rocky worlds of our own solar system, underlining the potential similarity of some worlds to the worlds we know like Venus and Mars and even Earth, went viral.



Supernova Condensate provided a good outline of this system in the post "A tiny red sun with a sky full of planets!".

One interesting thing is that TRAPPIST-1 is tiny. Really tiny! It’s a class M8V ultracool red dwarf, which really is about as small as a star can get while still being a star. Much smaller and it wouldn’t be able to even fuse hydrogen. I’ve put it side by side with a few other familiar celestial objects in this image. As you can see, it’s a little bigger than Jupiter. It’s actually roughly the same size as HD189733b, a much studied hot jupiter, and noticeably smaller than Proxima, our friendly neighbourhood red dwarf. Lalande 21185 is on the larger end of the scale of red dwarfs, and is also one of the few you can actually see in the night sky (though you’ll need a dark sky to find it).

Ultracool red dwarfs really are tiny, but they’re also extremely long lived. Quietly burning stellar embers which exemplify the old saying that slow and steady wins the race. Because these little stars don’t burn their fuel too quickly, and because they’re low enough in mass to be fully convective, they can burn for trillions of years. Long after the Sun exhausts the fuel in its core, flares into a red giant and then cools silently in the darkness, TRAPPIST-1 will still be burning, providing warmth for it’s little planetary entourage.

Not much warmth, mind you. TRAPPIST-1’s handful of planets are huddling around their parent star as if it were campfire on a cold night. The entire star system would fit inside Mercury’s orbit and still have cavernous amounts of room to spare. So close are those planets, that they have years which pass by in mere Earth days. The shortest has a year which is just 1.5 Earth days long. The longest year length in the system is still less than a month.

aureliaOf course, I say Earth days, because these planets don’t have days as such. They’re so close to their parent star that they’re certain to be tidally locked. The gravitational forces are sufficiently different that they cannot rotate at all. One side constantly faces the tiny red sun in the sky, and the other side constantly faces outwards towards the cold night. It’s quite likely that the night sides of these planets may be frozen in a permanent winter night, never gaining enough warmth to thaw. Half a planet of permanent Antarctica.


Supernova Condensate was kind enough to produce an illuminating graphic, hosted at "Model Planets", comparing the TRAPPIST-1 system to (among others) the Earth-Moon system and to Jupiter and its moons. The TRAPPIST-1 system is tiny.



The Planetary Society Blog's Franck Marchis wrote a nice essay outlining what is and is not known, perhaps most importantly pointing out that while several of the TRAPPIST-1 worlds are in roughly the right position in their solar system to support life, we do not actually know if they do support life. Further research is called for, clearly.

Centauri Dreams' "Seven Planets Around TRAPPIST-1" has great discussion in the comments, concentrating on the potential for life on these worlds and on the possibility of actually travelling to the TRAPPIST-1 solar system. The later post "Further Thoughts on TRAPPIST-1" notes that these worlds, which presumably migrated inwards from the outer fringes of their solar system, might well have arrived with substantial stocks of volatiles like water. If this survived the radiation of their young and active sun, they could be watery worlds.

The cultural implication of these discoveries, meanwhile, has also come up. Jonathan Edelstein has written in "We Just Got Our ’30s Sci-Fi Plots Back" about how TRAPPIST-1, by providing so many potentially habitable planets so close to each other, would be an ideal setting for an early spacefaring civilization, and for imaginings of said. If a sister world is scarcely further than the moon, why not head there? Savage Minds, meanwhile, in "The Resonance of Earth, Other Worlds, and Exoplanets", hosts a discussion between Michael P. Oman-Reagan and Lisa Messeri talking about the cultural significance of these and other discoveries, particularly exploring how they create points of perceived similarity used as markers of cultural import.
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  • blogTO notes an Instagram user from Toronto, @brxson, who takes stunning photos of the city from on high.

  • The Dragon's Gaze links to a paper examining the limits of exoplanet J1407b's massive ring system.

  • The Dragon's Tales notes evidence that the primordial Martian atmosphere apparently did not have carbon dioxide.

  • Imageo notes that the California rivers swollen by flooding can be seen from space.

  • Joe. My. God. notes that American intelligence agencies are withholding sensitive information from a White House seen as compromised by Russian intelligence.

  • Language Hat talks about the best ways to learn Latin.

  • Marginal Revolution links to a paper observing a decline in inter-state migration in the United States.

  • The NYRB Daily looks at the interesting failure of a public sculpture program in the United Kingdom in the 1970s.

  • Personal Reflections' Jim Belshaw notes the remarkable heat that has hit Australia in recent days.

  • The Planetary Society Blog reports on the intersection between space technology and high-tech fashion.

  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer looks at how Argentina gave the Falkland Islands tariff-free access to Mercosur.

  • The Russian Demographics Blog looks at the countries likely to be vulnerable to rapid aging.

  • Transit Toronto notes the Bombardier lawsuit against Metrolinx.

  • Window on Eurasia argues that poor Russian statistical data is leading directly to bad policy.

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  • blogTO tries to pit the west side of Toronto against the east side.

  • Centauri Dreams describes an inventive plan to launch a probe to rendezvous with Proxima Centauri.

  • Crooked Timber looks at the idea of civil society in the age of Trump.

  • The Dragon's Gaze links to a paper that aims to explore why Neptune-class exoplanets are so common.

  • Marginal Revolution notes an interesting history of Singapore.

  • The New APPS Blog links to a report suggesting that big data may have created President Trump.

  • The Planetary Society Blog reports on the latest plans for exploring Ceres.

  • Towleroad notes a rumoured plan to legalize anti-LGBT discrimination under Trump.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy has one take on Supreme Court obstructionism.

  • Window on Eurasia suggests Russians may accept pension reforms which will place the minimum age for qualifying for a pension for men above the average male life expectancy, and reports from St. Petersburg about a dispute over the ownership of a church.

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This news comes from the end of 2016, but it's still quite good. May China continue to progress in space travel, for the benefit of us all.

China vowed Tuesday to speed up the development of its space industry as it set out its plans to become the first country to soft land a probe on the far side of the moon, around 2018, and launch its first Mars probe by 2020.

"To explore the vast cosmos, develop the space industry and build China into a space power is a dream we pursue unremittingly," read a white paper setting out the country's space strategy for the next five years. It says China aims to use space for peaceful purposes and to guarantee national security, and to carry out cutting edge scientific research.

The white paper released by the information office of China's Cabinet points to the growing ambitions of China's already rapidly advancing space program. Although the white paper doesn't mention it, China's eventual goal is the symbolic feat of landing an astronaut on the moon.

While Russia and the United States have more experience in manned space travel, China's military-backed program has made steady progress in a comparatively short time.

Since China conducted its first crewed space mission in 2003, it has staged a spacewalk and landed a rover on the moon in 2013 -- the first time humans had soft landed anything on the moon since the 1970s.
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  • Bad Astronomy's Phil Plait shares a video showing how tacos are made in space.

  • blogTO shares some classic photos of the TTC in the 1960s and 1970s.

  • The Crux goes into more detail about the mesentery.

  • D-Brief notes how the binary star KIC 9832227 is projected to experience a stellar merger in 2022.

  • The Dragon's Gaze links to one paper suggesting that exoplanets and brown dwarfs are as common around A and F stars as around dimmer Sun-like stars, and links to another paper examining the potential of detecting transits of exoplanets orbiting brown dwarfs.

  • The Dragon's Tales links to an article wondering if China's seizure of a US navy drone could set a precedent for satellite seizures.

  • Language Log links to Yiyun Lee's article about abandoning Chinese for English.

  • The LRB Blog remembers philosopher Derek Parfit.

  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer looks at the recent riots in Mexico, caused by rising gas prices.

  • Strange Maps shares informative maps exploring the Netherlands' internal distinctions.

  • Window on Eurasia looks at how the Russian language has multiple standards despite Russian official claims, and shares complaints about Kaliningrad's vulnerability.

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  • The Broadside Blog's Caitlin Kelly writes about the need for opponents of Trump to fight, not just the man but the root causes.

  • Centauri Dreams notes a study suggesting Proxima Centauri is gravitationally bound to Alpha Centauri A and B.

  • Dangerous Minds shares photos depicting the devastation of Gatlinburg by fire.

  • The Dragon's Gaze notes that stars with close-orbiting rocky worlds seem to have above-solar metallicity, and considers the albedos of exoplanets.

  • Far Outliers looks at how Poland's Communist government tried to undermine Pope John Paul II in 1979.

  • Joe. My. God. notes a lawsuit lodged against the American government demanding the release of information regarding the Russian information hack.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes poor working conditions in Bangladesh.

  • Marginal Revolution notes a Yoruba tongue twister.

  • The Planetary Society Blog links to China's planned program of space exploration.

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  • Bad Astronomy shares a video imagining of how Cassini will meet its end with Saturn.

  • Cody Delistraty shares an interview with Rebecca Solnit.

  • Far Outliers reports on Margaret Thatcher's unorthodox campaign in 1979.

  • Joe. My. God. shares Hillary Clinton's thanks to her 66 million voters.

  • Marginal Revolution looks at gender stereotypes among scientists.

  • The NYRB Daily talks about the visual art of Pipilotti Rist.

  • Otto Pohl commemorates the 73rd anniversary of the deportation of the Kalmyks.

  • Window on Eurasia suggests China might follow Russia's Crimea strategy in invading Taiwan, and looks at the latest on controversies about Tatar identity and genetics.

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  • Centauri Dreams looks at the advanced microelectronics that might last a space probe the two decades it would take to get to Proxima Centauri.

  • Dangerous Minds links to a 1980 filmed concert performance by Queen.

  • The Dragon's Gaze reports on the discovery of potassium in the atmosphere of WASP-17b.

  • Language Hat looks at the Carmina of Optatianus, an interesting piece of Latin literature.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money reports on the shameless anti-democratic maneuvering of the Republicans in North Carolina.

  • The LRB Blog reflects on the shamelessness of the perpetrators of the Aleppo massacres.

  • Marginal Revolution looks at what Charles Darwin's reading habits have to say about the man's process of research.

  • North!'s Justin Petrone looks at the elves of Estonia.

  • The NYRB Daily praises the new movie Manchester by the Sea.

  • The Planetary Society Blog shares a recent photo of Phobos.

  • Peter Rukavina argues that the Island's low PISA scores do not necessarily reflect on what Islanders have learned.

  • Savage Minds shares an essay by someone who combines academic work with library work.

  • Torontoist notes the city's subsidies to some major water polluters.

  • Window on Eurasia notes the anniversary of some important riots in Kazakhstan.

  • Arnold Zwicky reflects on the penguin-related caption of a photo on Wikipedia that has made the world laugh.

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  • blogTO notes that Toronto's housing market is now hotter than Vancouver's.

  • The Crux looks at progress in human reproductive technology, including in ectogenesis.

  • D-Brief looks at a new simulation of an asteroid impacting the ocean.

  • Dangerous Minds reports on a French cement truck made into a giant mirrored disco ball.

  • In Media Res' Russell Arben Fox writes about the benefits of reading the Old Testament.

  • Language Hat considers the experiences of one man trying to learn Avar.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money suggests Obama's evaluation of his historical touchstone personalities is off.

  • The Map Room Blog looks at Soviet spy maps.

  • The Planetary Society Blog tries to figure out space policy under the Trump Administration.

  • Window on Eurasia notes Russia's loss of sporting events and argues that Circassian language and culture are threatened with extinction.

  • Arnold Zwicky talks about two unusual flowers.

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Wired's Emma Grey Ellis notes Russia's ongoing problems with its exploding rockets. What's up?

Last week, a Russian Progress cargo ship carrying supplies to the International Space Station burned up in the atmosphere when the Soyuz rocket carrying it failed just a few seconds after lift off. Surprising, because the Soyuz has been a spacefaring standard since the 1960s. But also not, because 15 Russian rockets have failed since 2011, and five of them have been Soyuz.

Russian rockets give the US space program a considerable lift. Orbital ATK uses Russian RD-181s in their Antares rockets, and at the moment, Soyuz are the only rockets capable of carrying astronauts to the ISS. And while the Soyuz problem may only be a matter of a few nuts and bolts, it reflects Roscosmos’ withering workforce, dwindling funds, and systemic corruption—all of which have left the one-time space superpower in a precarious position.

The Soyuz rocket is old-school Soviet space engineering at its zenith. “Soyuz are extremely reliable,” says Asif Siddiqi, a space historian at Fordham University. But lately Russian engineers have been tinkering with the design. Most of the Soyuz failures in the last few years been traced back to funkiness in the rocket’s revamped upper stages. “They’re sort of fudging with the basic technology,” Siddiqi says. “Any time they change something, it’s very risky.” Early reports on last week’s failure point to the rocket’s third stage, but are murky on specifics.

The origin of the failure might not be in Russia. “Previous failures have involved upper stages being replaced with components built in Ukraine,” says John Logsdon, founder of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University. “They may not be Russian problems at all, except in making sure the system works properly.” (We asked Logsdon if he thought political tensions between Russia and Ukraine might be a factor, and he didn’t “even want to go there.”)

The troubles in the Russian space program’s supply chain are symptoms of systemic problems. The Russian space program barely survived the fall of the Soviet Union, and has been flagging since. That’s showing itself in poor quality control and brain-drain. “The Russian program is actually suffering the same problem as the US,” Logsdon says. “Their core engineers are retiring, and the young ones are attracted to more lucrative employment, or emigrating.”

You can hardly blame the young, would-be spacecraft engineers. According to Pavel Luzin, an international relations lecturer at Russia’s Perm University, the starting salary for someone doing quality checks on the production of the Progress cargo spacecraft starts at $200 per month. Engineers don’t do much better: about $270 per month. “How can good spacecrafts be produced within such a system?” Luzin says. He also notes the low wages smart more because Roscosmos higher ups like Igor Komarov and Dmitry Rogozin rake in millions. Remember, income disparity led to revolution in Russia. It’s not something they just shrug off.

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