The James Webb Telescope: Delayed Again

A few weeks ago it was announced that NASA’s James Webb space telescope would see its launch delayed again. The successor to the Hubble telescope was originally supposed to launch several years ago, but now it won’t fly until at least 2021. Thankfully xkcd covered this slipping launch date.

Sad trombone
Sad trombone

Credit for the piece goes to Randall Munroe.

Onwards and Upwards

Yesterday SpaceX launched the Falcon Heavy rocket on its maiden voyage, and then recaptured several, though not all, of its reusable rockets. The Falcon Heavy represents the most powerful rocket available to mankind today, though NASA’s Saturn V of the Apollo programme era was considerably more powerful. That was all the stuff you could read in the news yesterday and today.

But how much more powerful? Thankfully we have the Economist who put together a nice graphic detailing not just the standard size comparisons of the Falcon series to the Saturn V and other famous rocket systems, e.g. the Space Shuttle and its boosters. The Economist graphic also adds information about the payload capabilities and timeframes for either historical operation or expected service dates.

It's big and powerful, but SpaceX still has a long way to go…
It’s big and powerful, but SpaceX still has a long way to go…

From the illustrative side, there were three really nice touches. First, the faint Statue of Liberty to give the rocket height context to famous landmark buildings. Two, the little human figure on the left-hand side to give context to ourselves, these things are big. Three, the ridiculousness of the Saturn V is captured by having its peak break the top frame of the chrome or graphic device, i.e. the red bar, standard on Economist graphics.

Overall a solid piece. (Yes, I know these are liquid fueled.)

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist’s graphics team.

All Your Base Are Belong to Internets

Over the weekend news broke that since November, plans for military bases around the world were available to anyone and everyone on the internets. How? Why?

Well, it turns out that soldiers using wearable tech to track their rides or cycling routes had forgotten to disable that feature whilst on military installations. And so when the company collecting the data published a global heatmap of activities, well, this happened.

You can even make out the perimeter of the former British airfield.
You can even make out the perimeter of the former British airfield.

This is not one of the worst offenders, because this is the site of what was formerly Camps Leatherneck and Bastion, the American and British, respectively, military bases in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. But we all know those bases exist and where they are. But, what is interesting and perhaps worrying for military planners is that sites like this do not show up on publicly available sites like Google Maps, for example. Take the same heatmap and look at it on satellite view and you get…a whole lot of nothing.

A view of the two military bases from well before they were constructed.
A view of the two military bases from well before they were constructed.

The problem is that when this technology is applied to places like, say, Syria. Given the civil war there, it is far more likely that users of wearable tech belong to or are working with one of the western military forces operating in the country. After all, the rest of the country is dark. So what is this set of rectangles and a grid-like pattern?

A bunch of rectangles and squares. It looks like a built up area, if not base.
A bunch of rectangles and squares. It looks like a built up area, if not base.

Well, by looking at the satellite photography, it is clearly a field situated between two small hamlets.

Nothing to see…I just run very straight routes through the middle of Syrian fields…
Nothing to see…I just run very straight routes through the middle of Syrian fields…

Most likely it is an American base. Could be Russian, though. But now we know where it is and have a rough understanding of its layout. You can see why military planners are concerned.

And it all owes to the ubiquity of tracking data on wearables, mobiles, vehicles, &c. And as we continue to generate data and want to see it visualised, are there or should there be boundaries? Alas, not a conversation for this blog to solve, but a conversation we should all continue to have.

Credit for the piece goes to the Strava design team.

The Sinking of the Vasa

In 1628, Sweden launched one of its largest and most powerful warships not just in Sweden, but in all of Europe. She was to participate in the wars with Poland and Lithuania as Sweden sought to expand her growing empire. After two years of construction in Stockholm’s naval yard she set sail into a calm day with a light breeze.

After a strong gust pushed her hard to port, she righted herself and continued to set sail to a fortress to load 300 troops for the war. But only 20 minutes into her maiden voyage, a second gust of wind pushed her again hard to port so much so that water began to flood in via her open lower gunports. As the continued to rush in, she never righted herself and sank, not to be recovered for 300 years.

The recovery itself is a great story, but the question was why did she sink? This model in the large Vasa museum, built to host the recovered and preserved ship, shows just how dangerously she was designed. Take careful note of the faint blue waves signifying the waterline of the ship and how close they are to the lower gunports.

Note the waterline on the lower crossbeam of the barrel to which the model is connected
Note the waterline on the lower crossbeam of the barrel to which the model is connected

The short takeaway is that the ship was top-heavy and she needed to be both wider and deeper to support her displacement. I like the model here, but my one complaint with it is the waterline. Even when I was standing in front of it, I did not notice the waves at first. A little bit more emphasis or paint, perhaps to show the water beneath the ship, would really help to convey just how little of the ship was below the waterline.

Credit for the piece goes to the Vasa Museum design staff.

Farewell, Cassini

Today’s post is a sad post, hence why I did not run with it on Friday. But on Friday, we bid adieu to the little space probe that could, Cassini. This piece is not terribly heavy on the information design, but it does include one diagram—so it counts.

The BBC put together a piece reflecting on the Cassini mission, including its little lander Huygens. If you, like your author, are interested in space-y things, this article is worth the read.

Oh the photos we've enjoyed…
Oh the photos we’ve enjoyed…

Credit for the piece goes to Sue Bridge.

The World’s Fighter Jets

As you know, I am a sucker for military-related things. So here we have a piece from the Wall Street Journal on the leading fighter jets of the world. If you have a bone to pick on which jets were included, please take that up with them and not me.

Of course, speed isn't everything…
Of course, speed isn’t everything…

The screenshot is from the end of an animation where they depict the maximum range and the relative speed of each aircraft against each other.

Credit for the piece goes to Andrew Barnett, Jason French, and Robert Wall.

The Mother Of All Bombs

Yesterday the United States dropped a GBU.43 on a cave complex in eastern Afghanistan. The bomb is better known by its nickname MOAB, Mother Of All Bombs. But just how does the GBU.43 compare to some of the more common—and not so common—weapons in the US arsenal?

What we do know is that yesterday was the detonation of the largest non-nuclear bomb in warfare. We do have an even larger conventional weapon called the Massive Ordnance Penetrator—phrasing?—but its size and warhead are not as large as the MOAB. MOP is instead intended to be used as a super bunker buster.

I'm not even going to try to put Tsar Bomba on here
I’m not even going to try to put Tsar Bomba on here

Credit for the piece is mine.

Building New Railways in America

I wasn’t expecting this piece to fall into the queue for today, but you all know me as a sucker for trains. So today we have this nice set of small multiples from the Guardian. It looks at…I guess we could call it train deserts. They’re like food deserts, except we’re talking about trains.

Some of the US train deserts
Some of the US train deserts

What strikes me is that in a perfect world at least three of these could be on one direct line. You can almost draw a straight line from Columbus, Ohio to Nashville, Tennessee and hit Louisville, Kentucky. Obviously things like property get in the way, but it is something to note.

Credit for the piece goes to Jan Diehm.

Get to Dam Work

Sorry, not sorry.

But also, sorry. This piece was supposed to go up Wednesday after President Trump’s speech where he announced he’d like to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure. But it didn’t post, so you will get two today.

This article from the New York Times dates from about a week or so ago at the height of the flooding out in California. During that deluge, the Oroville Dam emergency spillway partially failed. And a week prior to that, the Twentyone Mile Dam in Nevada burst.

Dams require investment and maintenance along with roads, railways, airports, and well practically all infrastructure. The article leads in with a map locating all those dam locations across the United States and colour codes them by age.

Where are the dam locations?
Where are the dam locations?

The article outlines the potential costs and risks associated with all this dam stuff and is worth a quick read. It also includes some nice secondary graphics about the dam hazard potential in Nevada.

Sorry, not sorry.

Credit for the piece goes to Troy Griggs, Gregor Aisch, and Sarah Almukhtar.

Capturing a US Navy Drone Submersible

Last Friday China seized a US Navy submersible drone—like the drones the Air Force uses but for underwater purposes—in international waters off the coast of the Philippines. This graphic from the Washington Post shows how, while in international waters, the seizure occurred not far outside China’s Nine-dash Line, which they claim as territorial waters.

Where we lost our drone (to China)
Where we lost our drone (to China)

Credit for the piece goes to the Washington Post graphics department.