The Sony hack: Why the US is blaming North Korea

One question that keeps surfacing about the Sony hack is Info security legend Bruce Schneier notes the US “might have intelligence on the planning process for the hack” which together with the evidence from the act were enough for the White House to name North Korea.

But with so many doubts and caveats buzzing about North Korea’s role, it was a second observation from Schneier that seemed to make even more sense.

North Korea (WikiCommons)
North Korea (WikiCommons)

He quotes a George Washington University cyber security research scientist named Allan Friedman, who said that diplomatically it’s “a smart strategy” for the US to be overconfident in assigning blame for cyberattacks. As Schneier relates Friedman’s view:

Beyond the politics of this particular attack, the long-term US interest is to discourage other nations from engaging in similar behaviour. If the North Korean government continues denying its involvement, no matter what the truth is, and the real attackers have gone underground, then the US decision to claim omnipotent powers of attribution serves as a warning to others that they will get caught if they try something like this.

Add to this that there is hardly any downside for the US to blame North Korea, the speed and confidence of the accusation makes sense. If there is one place in the world people will believe almost anything about, it’s North Korea. The Hermit Kingdom has few allies and North Korea’s “role” in the hacking of Sony Pictures would be less embarrassing than other, bigger rivals of the US.

SpaceX reusable rockets: launch pads turned into machine guns

SpaceX's Grasshopper rocket (SpaceX)
SpaceX’s Grasshopper rocket

I have to admit it. When I first saw the video of SpaceX’s reusable rocket it reminded me of crude 1950s rockets from TV, the kind that would land, thrusters first, on the surface of the moon to deliver silver-suited astronauts. For this reason, the SpaceX ‘grasshopper’ appeared to me at least to be a truly quixotic venture. Head-turning but a bit of a novelty.

Ross Andersen on Aeon explains their true, remarkable potential. Reuseable rockets, if the technology were perfected and scaled up, would create a kind of low-cost production line of transportation into space, which could open a lot of other possiblities.

[SpaceX chief Elon Musk] says he is working on a reusable rocket, one that can descend smoothly back to Earth after launch, and be ready to lift off again in an hour.
…He told me full reusability would reduce mission costs by two orders of magnitude, to tens of dollars per pound of weight. That’s the price that would convert Earth’s launch pads into machine guns, capable of firing streams of spacecraft at deep space destinations such as Mars.

This technology has progressed beyond the drawing board and is being tested in Texas. The prospect of rockets launching and delivering goods into space on an hourly basis would transform expectations for space development. As a guess, I’d say that from a geopolitical perspective, this sort of breakthrough would likely alter perceptions about US space power, as well. Particularly in a time when China and India are capturing headlines for their moon missions and Mars probes.

Orion launch: humans on Mars, jobs on Earth

Orion launch

The White House statement following the successful test launch of the Orion spacecraft is telling. Yes, it may look like a piece of transcendent technology [potentially] aiming for Mars but it’s really about growing American jobs, or at least, that’s how the White House explains it. According to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John P. Holdren:

“With today’s successful test launch and recovery of the Orion spacecraft, NASA has taken an important step towards the goal of human exploration of the solar system. Support from private-sector aerospace partners for the Orion effort – as well as for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to develop safe, reliable, and cost-effective access to and from space – reflects the Administration’s commitment to create jobs, bolster the American economy, and build the strongest commercial space industry in the world.”

It’s not quite “One small step for man…”. In fact, it reminds me of Obama’s speech on military action against Islamic State that outlined the rationale for bombing – then segued somewhat surprisingly to talk of the improving outlook for US jobs and the economy.

Orion rising over Earth
Orion rising over Earth

A human trip to Mars based on the Orion spacecraft picks where NASA left off in the early 1970s when it considered building a Reusable Nuclear Shuttle, as the next step after the moon mission. But a renewed conquest of space today has to be balanced against terrestrial domestic concerns. The Apollo moon launch occurred when the US still had an industrial economy and it drew fire from community leaders and civil rights activists who questioned the priorities of the US government in sending people to the moon while many of its own citizens lived in poverty.

Today the US doesn’t have a primarily industrial economy: it’s an information and services economy undergoing great change. It leaves many people questioning where their livelihood will come from. The NASA statement on the Orion launch shows that, if nothing else, the Obama Administration ‘gets’ public anxiety in this matter.

Orion capsule parachutes deployed.
Orion capsule parachutes deployed.

It also shows an understanding that a significantly different space-economy will have to emerge to support future efforts towards Mars. Also, the idea of opening space exploration through privatization is  consistent with the role of the US government in opening past frontiers such as the West, the sea, the air, and the internet.