From Coal Jobs to Solar, Star Trek Discovery News, and NASA’s NextSTEP-2 Partners | Vol. 3 / No. 42

Coal | Photo: Alexander G, CC BY-SA 2.0

Coal to Solar

Donald Trump has been promising former coal miners in the United States’s Appalachia region that if elected he’ll bring jobs back for coal miners, but nobody with any idea what they’re talking about actually believes that plan makes any sense. In the first place, the idea that America’s coal jobs are going to China is absurd — China is a net importer of coal, number one, so it’s not like they’re providing the coal we “need” for cheaper; and number two, the coal jobs that went away did so because the coal industry ditched them in favour of mechanization. Number three, demand for coal has been decreasing in the US because it’s both more expensive and worse for the environment than oil. Number four, in many parts of the world, alternative energy sources like wind and solar are cheaper than coal. Coal is never coming back. It’s done. Maybe it’s not the Dodo of the energy world, but it’s at least the Panda. If the Panda were terrible for the environment. But there is hope for those current and former coal workers whose jobs are (or are soon to be) gone: solar. A new study to be published soon in the journal Energy Economics entitled “Retraining Investment for U.S. Transition from Coal to Solar Photovoltaic Employment” concludes that “a relatively minor investment in retraining would allow the vast majority of coal workers to switch to PV-related positions even in the event of the elimination of the coal industry.” It even looks like most of them would make more money in the solar industry, too. So if whoever gets in power wants to help out the coal workers, the first thing they can do is start retraining programs. Check out Vox for more on the story.


Logo for Star Trek: Discovery | CBS
Logo for Star Trek: Discovery | CBS

More details were released this week about the forthcoming Star Trek television series, and it sounds like it’s going to be great. The main character is going to be female, and “likely” nonwhite (they’re still in the process of casting), but not the captain of the Discovery, as they’re aiming to have a Star Trek show that takes place from the point of view of someone who isn’t the captain for a change. The timeline is set to begin ten years before the original series’s “five year mission,” so a ways after the events in the Scott Bakula-led Enterprise series, and may even include Spock’s mother, Amanda Grayson (but probably not in the first season). It’ll have a gay character, more robots and aliens, and more sex than the previous versions, which, being pretty vanilla by today’s television standards, doesn’t mean it’ll be at HBO levels or anything. And finally, its plot will revolve around an as-yet unexplained “incident in the history of Starfleet that has been talked about but never fully explored.” Your guess is probably better than mine, frankly. Me, I can’t wait for this show, but I’m apparently going to have to, because I’m not getting CBS All Access for one show, guys. Oh well, I’m sure my friends from the rest of the world who have Netflix will tell me about it. Sigh.


Artist's conception of BEAM attached to ISS | Photo: Bigelow Aerospace
Artist’s conception of BEAM attached to ISS | Photo: Bigelow Aerospace

NASA has announced this week its six partners for its NextSTEP-2 (Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships) program, where private companies will be designing full-sized ground-based prototypes for long-term, deep-space habitats to take the next generation of astronauts to the Moon, Mars, and beyond. The six NextSTEP-2 partners include some of the usual suspects — Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, and Orbital ATK — but also some of the newcomers to the space industry. These are Bigelow Aerospace, who’ll be working on a expandable module like BEAM, which is attached to the ISS right now; Sierra Nevada Corporation, who’ll be working on an inflatable module that launches from and works with its Dream Chaser; and a relative unknown, NanoRacks, who’ll be working with Space Systems/Loral and ULA to test ways of turning the currently expendable upper-stages of already-in-use rockets into pressurizable habitation modules. The total expenditure for the program will be around $65 million, and the companies will have roughly 24 months to design, construct, or produce their feasibility studiesCheck out NASA’s site for more on each of the partners’ plans.


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Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as an editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.