Two humongous explosions in open frontiers I’m watching – space and education

Two massive explosions to discuss in the frontiers I’m watching. One in private space exploration and the other in academia at UNC-Chapel Hill…

Both explosions make me sad. Unfortunately, one of them was intentional.


Progress is never in a straight march forward –

10/28 – – Private Orbital Sciences Rocket Explodes During Launch, NASA Cargo Lost – An Antares rocket, Cyngus spacecraft, and NASA’s cargo were lost due to an explosion 6 seconds after launch. Previous resupply lifts to the ISS by Orbital Science have been successful. Fire officials let the fires burn themselves out to reduce danger to cleanup crews of dealing with unburned propellant.

You can see a video of the heart-breaking explosion at

Progress is never in a straight line.

10/28 – – Orbital Sciences’ Antares Rocket Explosion in Pictures – Those thousand frame a second cameras got some fascinating, sad shots.

I am confident Orbital Sciences and all the other private players will learn a lot from this and move forward.


The other explosion doesn’t have as much fire, heat, and flying debris but is still a massive conflagration. My wild guess is that this one will also leave little bits of burning shrapnel spread over the landscape.

10/22 – New York Times – U.N.C. Investigation Reveals Athletes Took Fake Classes – There are many articles covering the systemic academic fraud at the University of North Carolina. This is just one of the more recent.

The issue in just one sentence:  Over 3,100 students received credit for attending phantom classes over the course of 18 years with the administration and athletic staff never noticing the fake classes.

You read that right. 3,100 students. 18 years.

Primary purpose of the scheme was to pump up grades of athletes and others who were struggling academically. A large number (under 200 I think) maintained their eligibility to play inter-collegiate sports based on the dummy grades.

Wainstein report – Check out the full report if you think I’m making this up or you don’t believe the NYT recap.

10/24 – Chronicle of Higher Education – UNC-Chapel Hill Should Lose Accreditation – President of Macalester College suggests falsification of grades on a massive scale over an extended time (3,100 students over 18 years, remember) is a systemic lack of academic integrity. He suggests that today transcripts from the campus do not necessarily mean the student even attended the class, let alone achieved any academic goal.  He asks why transcripts from the university should be believed.

Any consequences the NCAA might get around to imposing are inconsequential because he sees this as an academic issue and not just limited to the athletics department. He suggests accreditation for the university should be withdrawn until it demonstrates it has regained its academic integrity.

I seriously doubt that will ever happen. But it is possible the regional accrediting agency might actually take a close look at a systemic academic fraud.

10/28 – The Feed – The Utter Moral Collapse of UNC-Chapel Hill – Mr. Mead is rather put out. He calls it a

Massive, systemic academic fraud…

He calls for an outside investigation, this time one that won’t apply a coat of white-wash to the athletic department and won’t turn away from considering the responsibility of every level of administration.

He calls the fiasco a

…complete ethical and educational lapse.


…a case of utter moral collapse of the entire chain of command up to department chairs, deans, provosts and, yes, presidents of the University of North Carolina.

To describe the behavior of the coaches in multiple sports (to this point the men’s football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, and men’s soccer teams are involved), he invents the term grotesque negligence, since gross negligence isn’t sufficient to explain their treatment of athletes. The alternative explanation of all coaches and staff in those departments is depraved indifference.


I’m going to cover a lot of ground in a few words:

This is the third investigation by UNC. It took three tries to discover the scandal’s extent that is known today. The NCAA already investigated and levied some minor penalties. The NCAA has reopened the investigation and might actually have some penalties in the near-serious range this time. As for university reaction, the athletic director got a softball interview with Sports Illustrated (have you asked your coaches about this, and, are you satisfied with their answers are my nomination for the two hardest questions asked). The AD said that the scandal involves an insignificant number of university staff working with an insignificant number of students enrolled in an insignificant number of classes.  Quantification of this situation as insignificant is his word, not my characterization. He also said the Wainstein report had no new information in it.

The flames from one of those explosions died down over the next several hours. The other will take longer to burn out.

Both fiascos require some serious investigation and resolution.

Full disclosure:  I graduated from the University of Maryland-College Park campus many years ago. My recollection of the rivalries and tobacco road referees then means I’m supposed to still dislike the UNC athletic teams today. That’s a nonissue for me.  I suppose those rivalries also mean I should be enjoying UNC’s embarrassment. I’m not.

So why the long rant?  Systemic, extensive, long-term, willful, institutionalized structural fraud bothers me (as if you didn’t already know).

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