Contemplating the future


in Daily updates, Oxford, Science, Space and flight

Shadows of me and Emily Paddon

The Stardust Mission

One piece of exciting news today is the safe return of the NASA Stardust capsule, after a seven-year mission intended to collect dust from the tail of a comet. If the aerogel-filled compartments are, as expected, saturated with this material, it will be the first time such a thing has ever been collected and it may contribute important information to understanding the early solar system.

This is also the first mission since 1976 to return solid material from an extraterrestrial body: a measure both of diminished interest in the moon and the exceptionally longer distances involved in reaching other planets and asteroids.

Whereas there is a great deal of controversy about the usefulness and safety of manned space travel – especially the Shuttle Program – there are few people who contest the scientific usefulness of robotic exploratory missions. Indeed, there is a very satisfying record in the past few years of improved understanding of cosmic phenomena, both within and outside our solar system.

The really exciting prospect is the possibility of seeing new developments in particle and theoretical physics start to match up better with improved cosmological models. The biggest questions in physics today are probably the questions related to dark matter and energy, the explanation behind the profusion of subatomic particles that have been discovered, and the generation of a theory that is able to deal with the contradictions between quantum mechanics and relativity. While this mission doesn’t necessarily speak directly to any of those goals, it’s part of a process of improved data collection that feeds the development and testing of explanations. It seems likely that interesting times are ahead.

The second term schedule

On Tuesday, the second core seminar begins: Contemporary Debates in International Relations Theory. While the subject matter is inherently somewhat less interesting than the historical analysis of the first and third term, I am excited about the course. Partly, that is because of the instructors: David Williams and Jennifer Welsh. Partly, that is because of my fellow seminar members. If I recall correctly, I am in the same group as Roham, Sheena, Andy Kim, Bryony, Claire, Robert Moore, Emily, Matt Pennycook, Shohei, Alex, and Robert Wood. Collectively, I think this will make for interesting discussions.

Just like last term, I have a one in seven chance of being called upon to give a fifteen minute presentation on one of the week’s two topics. This week, mine would be:

‘For classical realists conflict stems from human nature, while for neo-realists conflict stems from the nature of the international system’. Is this an accurate assessment of the differences between classical and neo-realists?

Thankfully, I have some recollection of Robert Crawford’s IR Theory course at UBC to fall back upon. The sensible approach seems to be to quickly summarize and contrast some of the biggest names in realist theory: E.H. Carr, Hans Morgenthau, and Kenneth Waltz, in particular. Tomorrow, I will be in the SSL formulating some speaking notes.

Aside from the core seminar and qualitative methods, I am not entirely certain what we are meant to be attending this term. I’m not sure if the ‘Advanced Study of IR’ course is persisting into the second term; nor am I certain about whether the ‘Philosophy of the Social Sciences’ course that was delayed in Michaelmas will be happening now. Then there are things like the undergrad IR lecture and the ‘Professional Training in the Social Sciences’ course that were poorly attended and never discussed last term. I am sure it will all become clear in the first week or so, and I can ask Dr. Hurrell about it in our first supervision.

One thing I am scrambling over is the ORS application. For some reason, I thought it was due months from now. As such, I am having a real struggle coming up with two letters of reference before the due date on the 20th. That is particularly true since Dr. Hurrell is not supposed to provide one, since the department will be making the selection of which ORS applicants in the program get passed along to the university. It’s frustrating to have to do all of this for a scholarship we’ve told we have almost no chance of actually receiving. I am personally more hopeful about the Chevening, for which all applications were due in Ottawa today, and a few others that are coming up in the next few months. Suffice it to say that having some funding for next year would be exceedingly welcome.

Housing for next year and a job for the summer

Both at the back of my mind for the whole break, neither of these problems has found a solution yet. I am increasingly inclined to staying in Oxford: partly because of the availability of research materials for my thesis and partly due to the lower cost of living and the correspondingly increased probability that I will be able to find a job that will at least cover them. I would be happiest with a job doing academic research or working as a writer or editor in an academic, journalistic, or publishing context. Anyone with ideas is very much encouraged to contact me.

I have preferences but no possibilities regarding housing as well. I’d like to have a room in a house shared among some of my friends (ideally, at least a few of them members of the M.Phil in IR program). The Jericho and the Cowley Road areas seem to be the desirable ones for students. Jericho is closer to university stuff, but is less of a low-cost residential environment. The existence of the Tesco on Cowley Road could single-handedly account for a somewhat lower cost of living there. As for the building itself, my critical requirements are:

  1. High speed internet access.
  2. Decent security – I really can’t afford to have my laptop stolen
  3. A clean and effective kitchen
  4. Tolerable proximity to classes and services
  5. Affordability

Of course, a big part of the quality of any living arrangement has to do with the people with whom you are living. My thuggish former roommates from my first year in Fairview may be the ultimate example of how bad roommates can ruin a residence experience. While I don’t think I could possibly do that badly again, I’d really like for my first experience in private accommodation to be with people whose company I enjoy. This will be the first time I’ve ever rented a private room. At UBC, at L’Universite de Montreal, and at Oxford, so far, I have always lived in university housing.

I may well apply for a space in Merifield, just so that the option of living there remains open.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Ben January 15, 2006 at 11:10 pm

Thanks for summarising that comet/probe thing, I hadn’t quite got round to checking what was behind the headline.

You’re right, space exploration has been a bit neglected lately. Surely by now we should all be living on Mars or something? Speaking of which, over Christmas I heard something about Beagle. Aren’t they launching another of those this year??

Milan January 15, 2006 at 11:28 pm

The BBC has a summary page on Mars exploration missions.

As for the Beagle 2: that didn’t go so well. The lander crashed into the Martian surface on Christmas Day. To quote the BBC:

“The official investigation into the loss of Beagle 2 can point to no single technical problem that might have led to failure.

Instead, it has focussed on the way the mission was organised and funded, recommending improvements for any future landing efforts.

European space officials say the Beagle model will not be repeated.”

B January 15, 2006 at 11:32 pm

Given the contribution it has made to improved understanding of both solar and extrasolar space, it strikes me as a real shame that NASA has opted to discontinue maintenance on the Hubble Space Telescope. Given the exceptional success of the first repair mission (correcting the initial mirror problem), it does seem possible that a cost-effective upkeep program could have been developed, if it had been made a priority.

Admittedly, the grounding of the shuttle fleet has made things more difficult, but there are always those reliable Soyez boosters…

Milan January 15, 2006 at 11:35 pm

Agreed. I also though abandoning Hubble was a bad move, even if superior telescopes will eventually be launched. When you’ve gone to all the trouble of putting such a huge piece of equipment in orbit, it just seems sensible to keep it working if you possibly can.

RocketMan January 15, 2006 at 11:50 pm

You’re right about those Soyez boosters: they are an exceptional piece of hardware:

“The Soviet A-booster, alternatively referred to as the SS-6 (an American designation), the Sapwood (a NATO term), and the Vostok was both the workhorse of the Soviet manned and unmanned space program and their first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The A-2 variant of the same design continues to launch both American and Russians into orbit in the venerable, yet highly reliable, Soyez A capsule: itself a relic of the Soviet Union’s manned lunar exploration project.”

Milan January 15, 2006 at 11:58 pm


That’s an awfully familiar sounding passage. It could even have come from the same article as this one:

“At the end of August, 1955, the Central Committee of the Communist Party approved the Soviet satellite program that would lead to Sputnik and authorized the construction of the Baikonour Cosmodrone. This facility, the largest of three Soviet launch sites that would eventually built, was the launching place of Sputnik I (and subsequent Sputniks), and the launch site for all Soviet manned missions. From this site, over 600 A-1 boosters were successfully launched and it was to this ostensibly secret facility that French President Charles de Gaulle was allowed to visit in 1966, partly as a reward for France’s “incremental disengagement from NATO activities” under his leadership. This former stretch of Kazakhstani desert was also, fatefully, the place to which Nikifor Nikitin was exiled by the Czar in 1830 for “making seditious speeches about flying to the moon.” He might have taken cold comfort in the fact that in 1955, the Central Committee gave control of the site to the new Soviet ‘Permanent Commission for Interplanetary Travel.’” [1]

[1] Ilnyckyj, Milan. “The Space Race as ‘Primitive’ Warfare.” UBC Journal of International Affairs. 2005. p. 19-28.

M.Phileas Fogg January 16, 2006 at 2:35 pm

Re: Term Two Lectures

“As in other terms, there are various lecture series that may be useful for those taking the course, including the continuation of the introductory lecture series on International Relations that is held on Wednesdays at 12.00 in the Examination Schools.”

B January 16, 2006 at 2:54 pm

M.Phileas Fogg?

What an appropriate alias for a member of Milan’s program.

Anonymous February 5, 2006 at 4:43 pm

“On April 12, a Vostok spacecraft with Major Yuri Gagarin onboard took off from Pad 1, opening the era of manned space flight. Along with enormous propaganda victory, Gagarin’s mission brought a headache to Kremlin leaders. In order to register Vostok’s flight as a world record with the International Aviation Federation, the USSR was required to name the launch site. Despite earlier U-2 flights over Tyuratam, identifying NIIP-5, a top-secret defense facility, was out of the question.

The official policy developed over the years by the Soviet ideologists was not to confirm any unwelcome information on the Soviet affairs, no matter how widely known and well proven, if this information originated in the West. Instead, in the official telegram to the Federation, Aviation Sport Commission of the Central Aero-club of the USSR claimed that Vostok was launched from the “Cosmodrome” located near Baikonur. So, it was registered on July 18, 1961. (51)

In the post-Soviet period, several Russian officials claimed the credit for choosing the village of Baikonur, as the “cover-up site” for the first manned space launch. Among them was Vladimir Barmin, the designer of the launch complex for the R-7 missile.

The “real” town of Baikonur, which in Kazakh means “the master with the light brown hair,” (115) was located 300 km northeast from Tyuratam and could be found on the Soviet maps of the period. The town was picked because it was the first identifiable location downrange from the launch site.”


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