SGU Episode 433

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SGU Episode 433
November 2nd 2013
SGU 432 SGU 434
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
R: Rebecca Watson
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week
Seeking what it true is not seeking what is desirable.
Albert Camus
Download Podcast
Show Notes
Forum Topic


You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, your escape to reality.

This Day in Skepticism ()[edit]

  • November 2, 1959: Quiz show scandals: Twenty One game show contestant Charles Van Doren admits to a Congressional committee that he had been given questions and answers in advance.

News Items[edit]

Ghost Story ()[edit]

Lorenzo's Oil ()[edit]

Li Fi ()[edit]

Space Ports (27:10)[edit]

S: Alright so Jay, you're going to tell us why cities are clamouring to build spaceports.

J: Well yeah, this is really cool I stumbled on an article recently that showed a map of the United States and all of the existing spaceports that are in the United States. And I was shocked, I really didn't realise, I didn't know that we had as many as we do and I didn't realise that there are a lot of states out there that are also applying with the FAA using the Federal Aviation Administration's Office of Commercial Space Transportation to get a license to build a spaceport. So this, in 2011 the US Commercial Space Transportation Developments and Concepts, Vehicles Technologies and Spaceports, it was a booklet that instructs states on how to apply for licensure to actually start a commercial spaceport. That's really cool, right? The government actually did something before it was even needed but I think that the trend has become pretty obvious, we're seeing a lot of countries dump a ton of money into developing the technology. So what we found was that Alabama, Colorado, multiple places in Florida and Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming, these are all states in the United States, have all applied for this license, and I'll give you an idea of what spaceports we have today in the United States. There's two launch sites in the Pacific Ocean, there's a sea platform which is called Sea Launch Platform, they really got creative on that name. And that site is owned by a Russian company called Energia and the US uses that site also to launch commercial satellites. Alaska has two spaceports, the Kodiak Launch Complex and the Poker Flat Research Range. California houses two spaceports and they're called the California Spaceport and the Mojave Air and Spaceport. New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma also have spaceports. Now the biggest and coolest one, that is built or almost ready to be used is in New Mexico and their spaceport is called Spaceport America and it's called the "world's first commercial spaceport" and they hope to deliver affordable services to help usher in the coming age of the low-cost space travel that everyone is anticipating. The facility cost 209 million dollars and it's home to Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic. Like I said, the facility is nearing completion and seems to live up to what we would want a fully-functional private spaceport to be, and that is, it looks pretty damn cool. It actually is, when I first saw a picture of it, I didn't really know what I was looking at because just by the shape of the building and everything, I kind of had a different expectation of what a spaceport should look like, but...

E: It looks more like a modern museum or something like that.

J: Yeah, it does. It has a very modern museum-like look to it but they hav ea ton of land, and they have a lot of paved areas and I guess there's a lot of things that go into this, not just the big building where they're going to house the facility to, I would imagine to repair spacecraft and prepare spacecraft for launch and re-entry and everything, whatever, there's all that stuff going on but they just need a lot of different areas to do the things that they need to do. They're going to be able to support vertical take-off and landing and also traditional aircraft take-off and landing which I thought was cool because that's definitely a technology that people are working on. Virginia has two spaceports, to continue down my list, the mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport and the NASA Wallops Flight Facility and Florida of course has Cape Canaveral Spaceport and NASA's Kennedy Space Centre.

S: I'm going to Cape Canaveral next month.

J: I want to go! Why are you going?

S: I'm going to watch a Maven Rocket launch. I have tickets.

J: Did you have to buy tickets?

S: VIP tickets. Yep.

E: Maven?

R: VIP tickets.

J: Oh, shit Steve.

E: VIP tickets?

S: A listener generously offered them to us and you guys didn't jump on them quick enough.

J: This is all where the famous Apollo program took flight in the 60s and 70s and where the Space Shuttle launched and did all of its business in the 80s to 2000s. And in 2010 the FAA approved a Jacksonville Cecil Field Spaceport, so they got their license to build the spaceport there. So what we're seeing is, we're seeing a huge growth, huge, yeah, a spaceport is a massively expensive thing to undertake, we're seeing a growth in not only states showing interest in hope of building these spaceports but we're seeing that there's already been infrastructure slowly being built behind the scenes without a lot of people knowing about it, and I'm just really excited like I want to have space ships taking off and landing every day. I just want it to be a part of the background noise.

R: It's a lot of background noise.

S: Five years, jay.

E: I would name my spaceport Mos Eisley Spaceport.

S: Mos Eisley?

E: Have a canteena and everything.

J: So Steve and I were talking earlier today and we both made the observation of why were the first spaceports in the United States in Florida and why aren't all the other ones more towards the equator, or as close to the equator as possible because of the fuel saving so to actually get something at an altitude it's easier to get up from there than it is say in Connecticut where we live or in northern California.

S: The primary reason Jay, I looked into this a little further just to get some numbers on it. If you're on the equator and you launch to the east then you get to add the rotation of the Earth to your initial kinetic energy, your initial velocity. So one calculation that I read said that if you launch the space shuttle from the equator versus launching from the North Pole where you have zero assist from the rotation of the Earth, it would cost an extra $800,000 in fuel to get the shuttle up from the North Pole vs the equator. As of course the difference in latitude decreases that difference in fuel cost and money cost decreases as well. It's actually not that great when you're talking about different cities within the United States, it's actually not as big as I thought it was. Houston, obviously a big spaceport in Houston, is at 29.7 degrees north latitude. Cape Canaveral is at 28 so Houston's only a little bit north so there's actually not that significant of a difference. Alaska surprised me a little bit, that's pretty far north, although I don't know, it kind of dips down a little bit too so I don't now if it's, where exactly in Alaska it is but the other factor that was brought up was, if you're launching to the east, what are you going to be flying over if you have to ditch, so Cape Canaveral is very far south and there's nothing but Atlantic Ocean to the east so if you have to ditch the rocket it's not a big deal. If you launch from California, there's a lot of land that you have to fly over. I guess if you're in the middle of the desert that's ok. But still you're going to be, before you get significantly up into orbit, you're still going to be flying over populated areas eventually. In Houston I guess most of the flight path will be across the Gulf of Mexico before you get into orbit.

J: You know, I'm really excited about the aeroplane launch style, like just taking off like an aeroplane to get into outer space. To me that's the way to do it, I don't know the physics behind why it's a lot harder or does it in the end cost more fuel-wise to do it that way, but that seems to be a better approach for a lot of reasons and you know I was also thinking, can't they make it so that when a space plane takes off and gets up to a very high altitude, you know maybe it gets up to 60 thousand feet, couldn't they launch something off of that to get it into a low earth orbit much easier than launching it all by itself from the ground?

E: You mean like piggy backing on another vessel and going from there?

S: That's a way of staging your launch to orbit, using a flying craft as the first stage rather than just another rocket.

J: and did you know that people are already paying to get Low Earth Orbit experiences right now?

E: Oh yeah.

S: Yeah. They're already reserving seats on the Virgin Galactic, is that it?

J: No I think that people are paying for real, there are some people that are able to fulfil that, there are organisations out there that can do it.

R: What, you mean like the vomit comet and stuff?

J: Well yeah, they're calling it like a Low Earth Orbit space ride. You're up and down very quickly but you get up to the point where you're seeing space, or a lot more of space.

S: But you don't go into orbit, you're just getting very high.

R: They're taking advantage of the grey area of what is atmosphere and what is space there, don't you think?

S: High altitude launches but not into orbit.

Gender (36:08)[edit]

Who's That Noisy ()[edit]

  • Answer to last week: Hardness of birthstones

Questions and Emails ()[edit]

Question #1 ()[edit]

How does someone new to skepticism get involved.

Science or Fiction ()[edit]

Item #1: In the past week astronomers have recorded the largest solar flare every directly observed. Item #2: A new study finds that playing immersive video-games increases a player’s tolerance for pain and reduces their empathy for the pain of others. Item #3: Neuroscientists have discovered a new type of information processing in the brain that significantly increases the brain’s computing power.

Skeptical Quote of the Week ()[edit]

“Seeking what it true is not seeking what is desirable.”- Albert Camus

S: The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by SGU Productions, dedicated to promoting science and critical thinking. For more information on this and other episodes, please visit our website at, where you will find the show notes as well as links to our blogs, videos, online forum, and other content. You can send us feedback or questions to Also, please consider supporting the SGU by visiting the store page on our website, where you will find merchandise, premium content, and subscription information. Our listeners are what make SGU possible.


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