Tag Archive for Dragon

Inspiration Mars?

As you may already be aware, I love space. I have always loved space and I imagine I will continue to do so. Unfortunately, I was born 19 years after humanity set foot on the Moon. While I missed out, I am aware of the huge impact this had, the technology and inspiration from this mission is still felt today. But last week, something changed, a press conference was announced and rumours started flying of a manned mission to Mars in 2018. This was the stuff of dreams, could this announcement by my Kennedy’s “we choose to go the Moon…” speech, was I about to get swept up in my version of Apollo fever. It was certainly starting to look that way.

Header image for Inspiration MarsThe press conference was being held by the first space tourist, multi-millionaire Dennis Tito. He was presenting a ‘mission for America’ something that involved a technical paper he was releasing on March 3rd. This paper looked at the feasibility of taking a two person crew on a fly by of Mars and returning them safely to Earth. Amazingly the paper showed that, using current technology, this mission was entirely possible. Exploring even further showed that engineers and experts worldwide were agreeing, thanks to a special alignment of the planets, we could in fact get to Mars and back, using current rockets in 501 days.

With news like this you can see why I was excited for the press conference. As buzz built my colleagues and I prepared at work for a busy couple of days after the conference. Press statements were made and arrangements for media crews to join us on Wednesday night to film our reactions to the announcement. So with 5 of us sat in front of the big screen at work, the conference began.

The panellists ready to make their announcement to the world

Inspiration Mars panel (left to right): Dennis Tito, Taber MacCallum, Jonathon Clark & Jane Poynter

Dennis Tito was sat with colleagues and co-authors of the paper in front of the gathered press to make a history changing announcement. It all started very positive. Tito stated without a waver in his voice that while great progress in robotic missions had been made, human spaceflight have flagged behind. His intention with the Inspiration Mars Foundation is to ‘bridge the gap between the International Space Station and the upcoming SLS/Orion missions. It was a non-commercial mission that would serve to inspire future generations to push them selves to the edge of what was possible. He then said “We are launching January 5th 2018″… Wow! This was it, we were going, despite all the odds and the naysayers, that is what he said, ‘we are launching’ not we ‘might‘ be launching. One for the history books, my cap is doffed for you Dennis!

But wait, almost as quickly as he stated we were going, he followed it up with possibly the most damning statement of any project. “I will personally fund the mission until 2014.” Now this statement might seem positive enough, but if you read between the lines (and listen to what he then proceeded to say) it became very clear that they have a severe shortage of cash! This went from being the biggest news to being something we will probably have all forgotten about in a few weeks. They were looking for investors. Sigh.

An artists impression of Mars.

This fake Mars is about as far as you will get on only two years funding. (Also why didn’t they use a real picture of Mars?)

So that was it, with one fell swoop, one measly sentence I began to lose interest, why have we gathered everyone here, there is no mission just some rich persons pipe dream. But that wasn’t the end of this debacle…oh no, grab your popcorn because it gets more interesting.

The subtitle, “A mission for America” didn’t quite sit right, until the latter half of the press conference. As it happens, Dennis Tito is very much a man of his age. He made it very clear and almost outright said it, this was an American mission, to launch and American rocket crewed by American astronauts (presumably to an American Mars? see picture above). They were not looking for help from other countries, this was revealed after a good 60 seconds of awkward shuffling when asked about other countries. I find this quite frankly bewildering. Let’s ignore for a moment that space travel is slowly but surely getting more and more international (16 countries involved in the ISS), let’s ignore the ultimate aim for worldwide collaboration and acceptance, but let’s instead concentrate on Tito.

You see Dennis is most well known for being the first space tourist, but back during his attempt to buy a ticket he was flat out refused by, guess who, America! NASA didn’t want anything to do with him, in the end it was the Russians who agreed to train him and fly him up there, in fact there were serious discussion about banning Tito from the american section of the ISS! WTF! And here he is, for want of a better word, ‘pissing’ all over that relationship, just to push the “America the great” viewpoint of old.

Dennis Tito in the Russian Soyuz that took him into space

Dennis sitting next to a RUSSIAN cosmonaut, climbing out of a RUSSIAN Soyuz!

Now i am not a savvy business man, but holding a conference in which you are attempting to secure investors and then outright saying that you only want American involvement seems like a small misstep to me. A quick look at the Forbes rich list shows that of the 100 richest billionaires only 36 of them are American, now yes, ok any one of those 36 could pay for the mission with no problems, but cutting 64 other very rich people out of the deal seems very short-sighted, especially when the only donation you have had so far was $10 from a 6-year old (probably made up for emotional marketing nonsense).

Armfuls o Cash!

Current estimates suggest Tito will provide $100 million out of the possible $2 billion they need. You need more Tito!

The overall feeling after this conference is a massive sense of disappointment, it had a huge potential, but that seems to have disappeared. This complex, time-sensitive mission needed to have all the parts in place from the get go to succeed, and currently this one doesn’t have the most important part. Not only that but Tito has potentially soured some relationships with the dated way he shunned collaboration.

As it stands I feel there is literally no chance that this mission will even get off the ground. As far as I am concerned this is just some rich mans dream, maybe I will sit and design a mission to colonise Mars there will be swimming pools and blackjack and a theatre for Las Vegas style shows, I can do it for $1 Trillion dollars, of which I have no doubt I can raise. You would say I’m mad, but this is exactly what Tito has said and he like me has no money to get his project started. Maybe  I will be surprised, maybe there are some rich American people who share similar views and maybe they will pay for Tito’s American eagle to make Mars the red in the Star Spangled Banner.

What a Fiasco!


Well, I have decided it is time for my first written game review. I have done video 60 second reviews (here) but this tie I wanted to dedicate a little more time to it. So here goes.

In this entry I am going to review the pen and paper role playing game, ‘Fiasco’ by Jason Morningstar.

Splash and tagline for Fiasco

The tag line pretty well captures the spirit of the game.

To start off with I will define a few things for players new this area of gaming, bear with me if you know all this. A pen and paper role playing game is a game you play with friends/other people and is based around you doing a bit of acting. You design a character and then you play that role throughout the game, deciding what they would do, what equipment they might use, how they might interact with others. As you might be able to work out, role playing games (RPG’s) are pretty flexible and open. A pen and paper RPG is not played on a computer buy instead, most likely round a table with friends using pens and papers to record the action, track equipment etc. The most popular example of this is Dungeons & Dragons. Most role play games have one person running the game, a Game master or Dungeon master or something like that. They look after the world, design stories and plots for your characters to follow and conjure up enemies and problems to beat.

Personally I really like RPG’s, I find they are incredibly social, it’s a great opportunity to meet up with a group of mates and hang out for several hours. Also they have a heap more freedom then any videogame I’ve ever played, giving you a chance to get creative. So that covers the basics of RPG’s, now onto Fiasco.

Fiasco is a little different to most RPG’s in a couple of ways. First of all Fiasco doesn’t have a game master, it doesn’t have someone building the world for you and ensuring you play within the rules of the game, in fact there are very few rules indeed. Most RPG’s have a strict set of rules and mechanics to work out what happens. “So you want to break down the door? Well take your strength score, roll a dice add those together with any modifiers you have. Does your total beat the door? Yes, congrats!” This is generally how most RPG’s go, revolving round stats and dice. Fiasco is all about acting out the character. The best way to describe it is, acting out a film and that is how it is designed, with a session expected to last around 2-3 hours. “But hey! With out a Games master how do we know what to do?” I hear you cry, well have no fear. In Fiasco you work together to work out a story and through your roleplaying you make this happen. Fiasco does have a small amount of guidance though; this is part of the setup.

Fiasco Setup

During the setup for Fiasco, you work out a rough framework for your session. First thing to do is pick a setting, so Gangster London, Bible belt America, a Submarine, a Theatre, the list of free play lists is quite extensive. After that you roll a load of dice, this is to generate some random numbers. These numbers are used to start determining how the player’s characters are related, important locations, objects that might feature and characters wants and needs. These features are then used to give you some context and a framework to start on and develop through the story.


Act 1

After the setup you will have a rough idea of certain elements that will feature in the story as well as the relationships between all you characters. In the two games I have played we took a small amount of time here, to work out exactly how the story would start and some vague links between the elements. Now we are ready to start act 1.

The way fiasco plays is you take it in turns to direct a scene from the story. These scenes usually involved characters interacting and doing something, but can include monologues, just descriptions of actions or anything else that is necessary or relevant. So you describe what’s going to happen, then you and all involved parties begin acting it out. Part way through the scene your friends will decide if it’s going to end well or badly for your character, and assign you a dice (these become important later on). You go round, so that each player gets two scenes then Act 1 ends. Act 1 tends to be used to set up the action for Act 2, so coming up with plans and schemes that will almost certainly go wrong!

Poster for Fargo

Fargo is one of the films that inspired Fiasco.


The Tilt

Plans have been made, traps have been set, and relationships have been forged. All is going well until… THE TILT!

Halfway through Fiasco everything goes wrong! Just like any good film something that happens that is just not expected and chaos ensues. This is what the Tilt table is for. After act 1 you roll for 2 elements on this table, they represent some type of disaster. So someone might die, something might get set alight, an object may go missing, betrayal anything and everything could happen.  This is where it gets interesting.


Act 2

So act 2 starts up playing out very similarly to act 1. Everyone gets to participate in or direct 2 scenes each that start to resolve conflicts, action plans and generally start to conclude the story. All this has to make progress towards or resolve what happened in the tilt. Although the tilt is rolled before act 2 starts that is not necessarily when happened. This makes for interesting scenes as you work towards that goal, or try and deal with the fall out. While act 1 has the players establish a lot, act2 definitely sees lots of resolution. It all changes slightly in act 2 as the player gets to decide the outcome of their characters scene. So you may opt to negate the outcomes you received in the first act or concentrate on maxing out positive or negative for an exciting ending. Action will ramp up, characters motives and schemes will unravel as things go wrong, but what will happen in the aftermath!



The aftermath is when you find out what happened. You take the outcomes you have been assigned (dice) and you roll them on the aftermath table to see well or badly your character overall. So you roll positive against negative, work out the difference and that gives you an outcome, ranging from “The worst thing in the world” to “Fan-F***ing-tastic!!!” You then take a few short sentences to deliver the films closing montage of your character. These can often be tragic spirals of depression of glorious rises to fame, or just mediocre existence, but are inevitably a good giggle.



And with that…you have your Fiasco! Around 3 hours from top to tail, of story and role play driven fun.

I was originally introduced to Fiasco via Will Wheaton’s “Tabletop” Youtube series and was instantly intrigued. I promptly picked up a copy and do not regret it at all.

'Tabletop' logo

Fantastic webseries by Will Wheaton, him and various people play games.

So far I have played in two Fiascos, and they were both wildly different. The first was set in a Titanic-esque setting aboard a transatlantic cruise ship the and in the other we were part of a small time theatre group. The cruise was full of lies, gangsters, betrayal and death, whereas the theatre was a den of debauchery, filth, one-upmanship and snakes! Both were incredible fun reducing all those involved into fits of giggles, toe curling awkwardness and heartbroken tragedy as the exploits of our characters unfolded.


Final Thoughts

I must say so far I have been thoroughly impressed. Fiasco requires zero preparation time and the equipment list is 4 dice per player, some paper, a pen or 2 and access to a playset (I printed these but you could read them from a screen, you only need them for setup). I got hold of Fiasco to help me develop my story telling ability, I have always found ‘setting the scene’ difficult when I have played in previous RPG’s and this has really given me a chance to practice and hone this skill (purely because that’s pretty much the entire  game). It does away with complex rules, there are no mechanics to look up or remember. I even feel you could probably do away with the dice altogether if you really wanted, although I like the semi randomness, the dice force a narrowing of the options available, so you have to work with what you get.

I would very strongly recommend this anyone who enjoys role playing, especially if you prefer the role play bits to the dice rolling bits. This is purely written as a one shot system which means each session and story is separate, that being said, I guess you could do a couple of sequels if you so desired.

So, it’s a brilliant game, super simple to pick up and endless replay ability due to randomness of dice and a multitude of free playsets. Pick a copy of this up, you will not regret it. Keep it in your bag and that one day a player doesn’t turn up, throw it on the table, and roll up a one shot.

Buy it here!


Tabletop Fiasco Videos:

-Setup: here

-Act 1: here

-Act 2: here

List of all the current Fiasco playlists: here

The real Dragon rises!

As I am sure many of you aware, history was made this weekend. SpaceX’s Dragon capsule became the first commercial spacecraft to dock with the International Space Station. This is a landmark achievement for them and I imagine the team, is insanely proud of themselves (I know I would be). The fact remains that the saga isn’t over yet, the capsule still has to detach safely and return to Earth for the test to be a complete test, but I think most people agree that the biggest hurdle has been overcome.

I am finding this developing arm of the space industry fascinating, the idea of the competition that will be in the private sector almost hints at the emotion that drove Man to the moon back in the 60′s. I think we may be on the cusp of seeing a real explosion of space technology to develop as several of these big companies really start competing for contracts and the recognition of achieving landmark goals first. SpaceX clearly have a small advantage but a couple of organizations are nipping at their heels, such as Orbital Sciences who also have a contract to resupply the ISS. I think we are in interesting times for the space industry.

Below you will find the most recent blog entry I wrote for the MSN UK ‘Exploring Space’ Blog. This was posted after the launch of the Falcon rocket but before the docking took place. As a side not you may notice that some of the MSN articles I post will be slightly outdated, especially while I upload the back catalogue,  so please go look at their site. But I would also love if you read the articles here and let me know your thoughts. So here is the article.


Dragon Rising!

SpaceX was the first company to put a privately built spacecraft into orbit and return it safely to Earth. The company’s CEO took this even further. He declared he wanted to be the first company to put an astronaut into orbit.

Lift off of the Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon capsule.

3, 2, 1 - We have lift off!

On Tuesday 22 May they moved one step closer to their goal. Lift off of their Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule combination took place at 8:44am (BST). This is a demonstration mission that culminates in the docking of the capsule with the International Space Station (ISS). If successful this will be another first for SpaceX, being the first privately built spacecraft to dock with the station, If all goes to plan this mission will start an era whereby the ISS will be by private companies. SpaceX already holds a contract with NASA to provide the cargo transport for the station but the success of this mission is vital to show that SpaceX is up to the job of successfully transporting human crew.

Over the next four days the orbiting capsule will go through a series of maneuverability tests and system checks. These are designed to check that the capsule is functioning as expected and intended. Once these checks have been performed SpaceX will be given permission to allow Dragon to drift within 10 meters of the ISS. After the capsule has reached this distance the astronauts on board the space station will grab the capsule using one of the robotic arms. This will pull the capsule into the docking position. This method has been used twice before, for the capture of two Japanese supply craft.

SpaceX have worked hard over the last 10 years to achieve the bold goals they have set for themselves; already looking to develop crew transports, heavy lifters and even looking towards a Mars capable craft, but it hasn’t been an easy ride.

Timelapse of the Flacon 9 rocket's lift off.

A path to the heavens

SpaceX suffered a few minor setbacks during the development of their first rocket, the Falcon 1, with engine issues resulting in one lost vehicle and two other unsuccessful missions. Development of the current rocket, Falcon 9, has been a lot more successful with only minor setbacks concerning some of the systems and safety precautions on board providing any resistive forces.

The launch on Tuesday represents a rapid recovery from an aborted launch attempt just a few days earlier on the 19 May. This abort was caused when one of the engines was not operating as expected, this resulted in an automatic shut down and launch abort. The issue was then investigated and measures were taken to resolve the problem, which led them to a successful launch on Tuesday.

As this mission gets off to a flying start it marks the beginning of a period of intense worry and frustration. The Dragon capsule needs to perform well in the subsequent tests to ensure it gets to make its mark of becoming the first commercial capsule to dock with the ISS.

We will be watching this mission very carefully and wish SpaceX the best of luck.

Written by Josh Barker, Presenter at the National Space Centre.

Dragon Rising!

This weekend it won’t just mark the rising on the SpaceX Dragon. Finally and with a small amount of trepidation the launch of my blog has occurred! It has been long awaited threatened and I have finally taken the plunge. I have gone on about having a blog for about 4 years now and well part lazy-less and part complacency has meant that I have never achieved it. Well as you can see, yep with your eyes, it has finally happened! Spurred on by others and feeling a small amount of “well I said it first!” I have finally taken the plunge. So enjoy.

I guess this being my first post makes it a good chance to give you an idea of what you can expect. Well a good place to get an idea about who I am and what I may write about can be found here: http://revjb.co.uk/so-who-is-revjb/ That way I don’t have to write it out again. To summarise, I am a geek. So you can expect geeky things, from games to films, space to technology and many other things in between.

I also plan on using this site to present a few other online presences I have. So you will be able to find links and content that comes from them as the site develops and as that content gets produced. This will include things such as my MSN UK ‘Exploring Space’ Blog posts I write, my gaming stream and videos as well as some other things as well.

So in conclusion, the site is very much in its infancy so expect things to change, stuff to be added and generally progression will happen. With this in mind, feedback is a wonderful tool and I would love loads. So please feel free to get in touch, via comments, tweet at me or email me. This can be about things I could improve, features I could add, something you particularly liked, your opinion on a subject I have discussed or even just to have a chat. It would be great to hear from you and I hope you enjoy hearing what I have to say.