Next month, however, or perhaps a few weeks beyond if the attendant gremlins of spaceflight choose to play with the launch schedule, could come an achievement to surpass anything Musk has done before.
The first orbital test launch of the largest and most powerful rocket ship ever to leave Earth – SpaceX’s towering Starship, from its Starbase headquarters in Texas – is seen by many as a pathway back to the moon for the first time in half a century and maybe the first vehicle to eventually land humans on Mars.
The project that began life in Musk’s overactive mind more than a decade ago is every bit as ambitious as his pronouncement this week that: “I’ll be surprised if we’re not landing on Mars within five years.”
Starship will be the first spacecraft in which all components are fully reusable, reducing significantly the traditionally astronomic costs of space travel. It has an unprecedented in-flight refueling capacity, allowing for more frequent and efficient operations.
As the visionary behind the return to human spaceflight from US soil last year for the first time since the retirement of Nasa’s shuttle fleet in 2011, Musk, 50, is confident that his 395ft (120m) spacecraft, a full 32ft taller than the Apollo-era Saturn V, can deliver.
Time magazine, in honoring the billionaire entrepreneur, appeared to acknowledge that humankind’s greatest achievements come from unorthodox minds. Musk, it said, is “a madcap hybrid of Thomas Edison, PT Barnum, Andrew Carnegie and Watchmen’s Doctor Manhattan, the brooding, blue-skinned man-god who invents electric cars and moves to Mars.”
Sean O’Keefe, a former head of Nasa, said Musk had repeatedly challenged the traditional rules of spaceflight with great success.
“One of the things that [he] has artfully figured out how to do is, whenever there has been any doubt about his ability to accomplish something, in some period of time thereafter, he has focused his attention, expertise and talent to go out and demonstrate that you can do it,” O’Keefe, professor of strategic management and leadership at Syracuse University, told the Guardian.
“And that’s what this is. It is going to be interesting to see where this goes. [Starship] provides options, very significant options.
“To look at, for example, the lunar surface as being not only reachable by multiple means but also by commercial sources that can do the regular resupply and so forth, will be extremely beneficial.”
Starship will be propelled into orbit by a first-stage booster rocket called Super Heavy, to which SpaceX attached 29 of its Raptor engines before sending the entire craft to the launchpad at its Starbase launchpad this week. With about 16m pounds of thrust, and a capacity to lift up to 165 tons from the Earth’s surface, Starship is almost twice as powerful as the Saturn V rockets that sent 12 astronauts to the moon between 1969 and 1972.
“You can really take advantage of the Starship architecture and get to the outer solar system in ways we haven’t thought about before,” Jennifer Heldmann, a planetary scientist at Nasa’s Ames research center in California, told Arstechnica. “It could provide a revolutionary new way of exploring these worlds.”
Other innovative and speculative uses have been proposed for the new spacecraft, including asteroid-busting missions to protect Earth.
Musk, though, has made no secret of his ambitions to reach the moon and one day colonize Mars to make humans a multi-planetary species.
“The next really big thing is to build a self-sustaining city on Mars and bring the animals and creatures of Earth there,” he told Time. “Sort of like a futuristic Noah’s ark. We’ll bring more than two, though, it’s a little weird if there’s only two.”
First, however, astronauts must return to the moon and Starship is only one of two spacecraft in production with the capability to land astronauts back there. Nasa’s own space launch system (SLS), part of the Artemis program, has suffered budget overruns and delays in development, pushing back its first crewed landing until at least 2025.
SpaceX also has a hand in Artemis, having won the $2.9bn Nasa contract to build its lunar lander and sparking a lawsuit with rival Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin company that was settled in Musk’s favor last month.
No firm date has been set in January for Starship’s orbital test launch, which follows a series of increasingly successful suborbital flights from Texas over the last two years. If successful, Musk has said up to a dozen further flights could follow in 2022, with Starship’s first lunar voyage – a space tourism venture funded by Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa – set for 2023.
O’Keefe, meanwhile, remains cautious about Starship’s deeper-space capabilities for humans, despite its size and innovation, given that it relies on the same chemical propulsion systems used in spaceflight “since Yuri Gagarin took the first trip and Alan Shepard was right behind him” in 1961.
“Mars is 65m miles away,” he said. “‘Cutting’ the distance can only be achieved if you add space propulsion and right now we have none of that. We have no means to achieve it. No one on this rock knows how to do that.
“The second thing we don’t have is the means to provide shielding sufficient to preserve human life. As it stands, the radioactivity is so extraordinary you wouldn’t make it, much less get back. Those are the two fundamental limitations I see to anyone being able to achieve anything much beyond the lunar objective at this stage.”
VMware has restored availability of vSphere 7 Update, a release that it withdrew in late 2021 after driver dramas derailed deployments.
Paul Turner, Virtzilla’s veep for vSphere product management, told The Register that the source of the problem was Intel driver updates that arrived out of sync with VMware’s pre-release testing program. When users adopted the new drivers – one of which had been renamed – vSphere produced errors that meant virtual server fleet managers could not sustain high availability operations.
Turner said around 30,000 customers had adopted the release, of which around eight per cent encountered the issue. That collection of around 2,400 impacted users was enough for VMware to pull the release before the other 270,000 vSphere users hit trouble. That level of potential problems, Turner admitted, was considered a sufficient threshold to justify a do-over and the embarrassment of a pulled release.
VMware has since reviewed its testing program and procedures in the hope it will avoid a repeat of this error. Doing so, and repairing the release, meant a busier-than-usual holiday period for VMware developers. Turner said those who put in the extra hours will be compensated with extra time off in the future.
VMware also used the time needed to get the release ready to ensure that vSphere 7 U3 thoroughly addresses the Log4j bug. It took the opportunity to update to the latest version of the tool – which is free of the critical bug that allowed almost any code to execute without authorisation.
But VMware decided not to add anything new to vSphere while it addressed Log4j and sorted out the driver drama. Users will have to wait a few more months for another dose of VMware’s usual concoction of security updates and feature tweaks.
There’s more interesting stuff on the way, too. VMware has promised a full vSphere-as-a-Service offering is in the works, and the Project Capitola software-defined memory tech that will pool RAM across hosts. The company has also dropped hints that its plan to run its ESX hypervisor on SmartNICs is nearing release.
VMware has detailed the new/old release here and made downloads available here.®
The EU’s antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager said she was satisfied for the company now known as Meta to pursue its Kustomer acquisition after it struck a deal for rivals.
Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, has secured antitrust approval from the EU to pursue its acquisition of US customer services software start-up Kustomer.
The social media giant’s decision to acquire the start-up attracted EU scrutiny last April, months before its rebrand. Then known as Facebook, the company planned to integrate Kustomer’s products, including a chatbot, into its service.
Now, Meta has assured the European Commission that it will provide rivals free access to its messaging channels for 10 years.
The EU was satisfied that this addressed competition concerns which previously arose from the company’s decision to acquire Kustomer.
“Our decision today will ensure that innovative rivals and new entrants in the customer relationship management software market can effectively compete,” EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager said in a statement.
Facebook had initially announced its acquisition plan in November 2020. In February 2021, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties wrote to the European Commission outlining its concerns over data that Kustomer had gathered and what might happen to that data under Facebook’s watch. The Commission also received a referral request from Austria flagging concerns over the Kustomer deal.
Other Meta acquisitions have also attracted the scrutiny of competition regulators. Last November, the UK ordered Meta to sell Giphy after its acquisition of the GIF making company was found to have breached competition rules. In the US, it is facing an antitrust suit that could force the company to sell WhatsApp and Instagram.
The EU’s decision to allow Meta to pursue the acquisition of Kustomer comes following a recent vote in the European Parliament in favour of the Digital Services Act, a companion of the Digital Markets Act. The act represents the EU’s attempt to shift the balance of power away from Big Tech in favour of ordinary people.
The long-debated act was hailed by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen as a “gold standard”.
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‘OK, Dad, this is an incredible essay on the effects of grief and grey morality in a postapocalyptic society,” says the eldest child, AKA the millennial. “It’s got proper female characters, progressive takes on sexuality and tonnes of rain.”
“They’ve made a video game of The Handmaid’s Tale?”
“No, Dad. It’s The Last of Us. Don’t worry. It’s still a zombie shooter. And both games have the best ending ever.”
Now she has my interest. Video game endings fascinate me, because my generation started out with arcade games that didn’t have them. Pac-Man kept eating dots and chasing ghosts and the Space Invaders kept coming, wave after incessant wave. The first arcade game that had an actual ending was Dragon’s Lair and nobody actually saw that because it was so hard to complete.
I have a tough start with The Last of Us because I hate games where you search for stuff in every room of a house. I spend my normal life doing that with car keys and headphones. I want games where you walk into a room and all the objects get sucked into a magic pocket. But that isn’t realistic, I hear you cry. Well, neither is only being able to carry three shivs in a world where, despite the zombie apocalypse, cargo pants clearly still exist.
I also hate any form of crafting, because that was what my generation had to do for “fun” as kids before we had video games. Whether it’s smoke bombs from sugar and explosives or a set of Action Man drawers from matchboxes, it’s all boring to me.
“Keep going,” I tell myself. “The millennial says it’s got the best ending ever.”
Throughout the first chapter of Joel and Ellie’s jaunt across a post-infected US I keep trying to guess what this great ending will be. Maybe Ellie isn’t immune to infection after all? Maybe Joel is her real father? Maybe they’re both unwitting participants in some reality TV show, I’m Infected Get Me Out of Here?
As you will all know by now – and if you’ve yet to play The Last of Us then please stop reading – the ending has Joel murder a perfectly innocent and well-intentioned doctor who wants to cut Ellie open to find a cure that will save humanity. But Joel has no truck with utilitarian philosophy, because Ellie has now become a replacement for the daughter he lost. So, he disregards mankind’s future and, by stopping the operation, effectively murders the entire human race (alongside a whole hospital’s worth of doctors).
“Why does he do that?” I asked the millennial, in one of many fantastic discussions we had about the game.
“Because he’s a white male,” came the answer, because it’s 2022 and she’s in her 20s. And maybe she’s right. Either way it is a jaw-dropping, supremely brave ending and the terrific Left Behind side-story also brought the feels.
So, when it came to The Last of Us Part 2, I was beyond excited. Fifty million hours later I was beyond disappointed.
Don’t get me wrong, the millennial nailed it when she said it was a great exploration of the effects of grief and grey morality. But after spending the whole game switching between two strong female characters (literally, have you seen Abby’s arms?) and contrasting factional creeds, you have the final confrontation. They fight. And … they both live. And go their separate ways. The only real damage is Ellie losing a couple of fingers, and the game portrays the worst consequence of this as not being able to play guitar any more. Seriously? That’s the biggest drawback to being fingerless in a zombie apocalypse? The first game ended with Joel murdering an entire civilisation, the second ends with Ellie murdering one song on a guitar. It’s a scene you might have found in The Secret of Monkey Island. It’s hilarious.
The Last of Us Part 2leaves us with exactly the same non-ending as those original arcade games. Ellie and Abby will go on killing to keep their respective postapocalyptic factions going, both driven by the grief of murdered loved ones. They are both trapped, endlessly chasing ghosts. Sounds familiar…
The millennial says this shows there are no winners when it comes to revenge. I say they want both protagonists alive for The Last of Us 3. It’s a cynical cop out. But then, The Last of Us Part 2 is a game that features the most cynical scene ever, where apropos of nothing, after genuinely bravura portrayals of women, transgender and gay characters, alpha female Abby suddenly gets rogered from behind by some guy. It happens out of nowhere. The game spends umpteen hours portraying progressive sexuality, and then it’s like some marketing man decided they needed to toss the incels a piece of red meat to stop them hate-bombing all over 4chan (which didn’t work). It is easily the most gratuitous bit of nudity I have ever seen in games, and I have played The Witcher 3. The rogerer in question even has a girlfriend. Who is pregnant. Way to shit on a sister, Abby.
“It’s basically Pac-Man with gratuitous boobs,” I say to my eldest, who sighs and pours herself a large cup of coffee. This will be another long discussion.