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General Motors pledges 100% renewable power for its facilities by 2050

9/19/2016 5:25pm

A GM assembly plant in Janesville, Wisconsin. (credit: Cliff)

Last week, GM announced a plan to move its 350 facilities in 59 countries to renewable energy by 2050.

The auto company has been one of the more pioneering players among the world’s top automakers when it comes to reducing fossil fuel consumption. GM is responsible for the Volt and the upcoming all-electric Bolt, which will have more than 238 miles of range and will cost somewhere around $30,000 to $35,000 after federal and state incentives have been applied. Those two factors make the Bolt the only car in production from a major manufacturer that could rival the also-upcoming and all-electric Tesla Model 3. (And GM does have a history of building electric vehicles, too—its 1995 EV1 was the first high-volume production electric vehicle in the US.)

Beyond electric cars (since GM also makes a lot of gas-guzzlers as well), the company previously pledged that 125 megawatts of the total energy its facilities consume yearly would come from renewable resources by 2020. GM said last week that it was ahead of schedule on this promise and would exceed the goal later this year when a 30MW solar array at the Jinqiao Cadillac assembly plant in Shanghai came online.

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Pokémon Go player assaulted in Central Park while streaming on Twitch

9/19/2016 5:07pm

On Sunday night, Pokémon Go player and Twitch game streamer "Rickeybot" turned on his usual livestreaming rig so that he could film himself walking around New York City while playing the popular smartphone game. That session took a dark turn, however, when the player's camera captured someone assaulting and mugging him in Central Park.

Twitch user Rickeybot, seen here walking through Central Park in New York City. Note the man approaching from behind; this was captured about a second before that man appears to assault and mug the Pokémon Go player. (credit: LiveStreamFails)

Thanks to Pokémon Go's geolocation features, the video makes clear that the mugging specifically happened next to the Sweeny Memorial Bench "Pokestop" at 12:13am Eastern time—right after the victim tried and failed to capture a moderately rated Seaking character in the game, no less. An archival video of the apparent assault shows a man approach Rickeybot from behind and bring him down with what looks either like a chokehold or a punch around his throat. The camera viewpoint falls to the ground at the same time that viewers hear a sound of impact and a moan. The assailant orders his victim to "take it off, let's go," while the streamer pleads, "no, no, no, please, no."

The camera clearly captures the assailant's face for a few seconds, and it reveals a man in his late teens or early 20s wearing what appears to be a camera or flashlight mounted on top of his head. The video also shows the assailant gesturing one hand toward the game player, though it's harder to tell whether that gesture included a weapon of any kind. The rest of the video includes dark, shaky video and sounds of intense breathing in what appears to be proof of the assailant fleeing the scene; meanwhile, the screen-capture feed reveals someone going through the Samsung smartphone's settings to factory-reset the device and delete all of its credentials. All the while, Twitch viewers commented on what they saw, typing responses such as "if you read this you thief, we saw your face, you will be in jail soon."

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Yarr! Five piratical board games to celebrate “Talk Like a Pirate Day”

9/19/2016 4:48pm

Welcome to Ars Cardboard, our regular look at tabletop games. Check out our complete board gaming coverage at

Today is "Talk Like a Pirate Day." While Krispy Kreme celebrates by giving away a free original glazed donut "if ye speak pirate" or a full dozen "if ye dress pirate," this is Ars Cardboard—and we celebrate by gaming it up.

Fortunately, we're flush with choices. Tabletop games have embraced piracy; indeed, the website BoardGameGeek lists more than 900 entries in the "pirate" category. Many of these are only good once you've had a bit too much grog, though, so let's winnow down the list to five piratical favorites. Hoist the main sail and fly the Jolly Roger, mateys—it's time to plunder!

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Cops record themselves allegedly fabricating charges with suspect’s camera

9/19/2016 4:18pm

In a US federal civil rights lawsuit, a Connecticut man has shared footage to bolster his claims that police illegally confronted the pedestrian because he was filming one of them. Authorities seized Michael Picard's camera and his permitted pistol, and the officers involved then accidentally recorded themselves allegedly fabricating charges against the man.

Picard's police encounter began as he was protesting a sobriety checkpoint while lawfully carrying a handgun in a holster. The plaintiff often protests near sobriety checkpoints in the Hartford region and is known by locals and police in the area, according to court documents. "Cops Ahead: Keep Calm and Remain Silent," read the 3-foot-by-2-foot sign Picard held up to motorists ahead of the checkpoint in West Hartford last year.

According to the lawsuit, trooper John Barone walked up to Picard and said "someone called in" a complaint about a man "waving a gun and pointing it at people." It's a claim the lawsuit alleges is fabricated. The lawsuit also states that Barone "swatted" the digital camera out of Picard's hands and onto the ground, at which point the battery dislodged. Barone seized Picard's pistol and "took the handgun permit out of Picard's pants pocket," according to the suit.

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AT&T and Comcast helped elected official write plan to stall Google Fiber

9/19/2016 4:09pm

Enlarge (credit: Google Fiber)

As the Nashville Metro Council prepares for a final vote to give Google Fiber faster access to utility poles, one council member is sponsoring an alternative plan that comes from AT&T and Comcast.

The council has tentatively approved a One Touch Make Ready (OTMR) ordinance that would let a single company—Google Fiber in this case—make all of the necessary wire adjustments on utility poles itself. Ordinarily, Google Fiber must wait for incumbent providers like AT&T and Comcast to send construction crews to move their own wires, requiring multiple visits and delaying Google Fiber's broadband deployment. The pro-Google Fiber ordinance was approved in a 32-7 preliminary vote, but one of the dissenters asked AT&T and Comcast to put forth a competing proposal before a final vote is taken.

The new proposal from council member Sheri Weiner “call[s] for Google, AT&T, Comcast and Nashville Electric Service to create a system that improves the current process for making utility poles ready for new cables,” The Tennessean reported last week. “Weiner said AT&T and Comcast helped draft the resolution she proposes.”

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The Air Force’s next long-range bomber has a name: The Raider

9/19/2016 3:52pm

Enlarge (credit: US Air Force)

The US Air Force has picked a name to go with the number for its next long-range bomber—even though it will be nearly a decade before the aircraft comes into service. After sifting through 2,100 unique names submitted in a contest run by the Air Force Global Strike Command (the successor to the Strategic Air Command), the Air Force's leadership selected "Raider" as the official name for the B-21.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, who revealed the B-21 designation for the winning Long Range Strike Bomber (LRSB) design from Northrop Grumman in February, announced the name at the Air Force Association's Air, Space, and Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, this morning. The name honors Doolittle's Raiders, the Army Air Forces bomber group that launched a surprise attack against Japan on April 18, 1942—flying B-25 bombers off the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Hornet. The last surviving member of Doolittle's Raiders, Lt. Colonel Richard Cole, joined James on stage for the naming announcement, along with the two airmen who had submitted the name.

On its current course, the B-21—which bears a distinct resemblance to Northrop Grumman's last long-range stealth bomber, the B-2 Spirit—will not reach "initial capability" until the mid-2020s. Based on well-established technology, the Raider is supposed to be a more modest investment for the Air Force than previous major aircraft programs (such as the B-2, the F-22 Raptor, and F-35 Lightning II—all of which ran far over budget). The initial development contract is for $21 billion, with a purchase of up to 100 aircraft to follow at a fly-away cost of $511 million each (based on Northrop's bid). Even at its reduced cost, the program forced the Air Force to reduce the number of F-35s it plans to purchase in order to operate within budget constraints.

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After standoff, LA cops’ bomb disposal robot snatches man’s shotgun

9/19/2016 3:28pm

Enlarge (credit: LA Sheriff's Department)

It was just before dawn on September 9 in Lancaster, California, a small city on the northern edge of Los Angeles County. Dozens of sheriff’s deputies had been deployed several hours earlier to apprehend a gunman believed to have been responsible for an attempted murder, among other crimes, in the city during the previous day.

The man, Ray B. Bunge, had fled into a pitch-black open field and had barricaded himself in what authorities described as a “small dugout dirt berm with shrubs and fencing wire around him.” The previous day, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD) had brought in a helicopter equipped with an infrared camera overhead, and a personnel carrier was set up in front of him.

In total, there were approximately 40 deputies on scene. After several orders to surrender throughout the night, Bunge did not comply. At his feet lay a shotgun—despite his shooting spree earlier in the day, he hadn’t fired a single shot toward law enforcement.

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Gears of War 4 reveals offline LAN, free matchmaking DLC, smooth 4K on PC

9/19/2016 3:10pm

Ars visits The Coalition in Vancouver, BC. Video shot by Sam Machkovech, edited by Jennifer Hahn. (video link)

VANCOUVER, BC—The future of high-end PC gaming is looking good thanks to graphics APIs like DirectX 12 and Vulkan, which let game engines more directly access multi-threaded processes in your hungry gaming computer's CPU and GPU. As of right now, however, neither API has been heavily tested in the public gaming market. Vulkan's biggest splashes to date have included noticeable, if incremental, bumps for games like Dota 2 and this year's Doom reboot, while DX12 has been applied to PC versions of existing Xbox One games—meaning that we've seen those games jump up to impressive 4K resolutions, but we haven't seen similar jumps in geometry or other major effects.

This fall, Microsoft is finally taking the DX12 plunge with a deluge of "Xbox Play Anywhere" game launches, including this week's Forza Horizon 3, but arguably the biggest DX12er of the bunch is October's Gears of War 4. I wouldn't have made that statement before game developer The Coalition unveiled the game's DirectX 12 version for the first time, but after seeing what the company had to offer, I was amazed. Here, finally, was a Gears of War game that looked as stunning as the original did during its era—you know, so long as you can afford the game's "recommended" PC build spec.

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Microsoft shuts down Skype office in London as it develops yet another client

9/19/2016 1:44pm

(credit: Aurich Lawson)

Microsoft is closing the London office that was home to part of its Skype development, causing the loss of 220 jobs. A further 300 people are losing their jobs in Redmond as Microsoft makes cuts that were previously announced in July. In a statement, the company said:

Microsoft is consolidating offices across London, moving employees to Microsoft’s new office at Paddington. As part of this effort, Microsoft reviewed some London-based roles and made the decision to unify some engineering positions, potentially putting at risk a number of globally focused Skype and Yammer roles. We are deeply committed to doing everything we can to help those impacted through this process. Microsoft will be entering into a consultation process and offer new opportunities, where possible.

Sources close to the matter tell us that another factor may have been influential in the decision to shut down the London Skype office. Currently, the company has the traditional Windows desktop app; the new Universal Windows Platform app for Windows 10, Windows 10 Mobile, Xbox, and Skype; the Skype Web client; and a Web-based standalone app for Linux (which apparently has internal builds that run on Windows, too). Skype also has mobile apps for iOS and Android in addition to a macOS client.

This is an excessive number of clients, and what we're hearing is that Microsoft's solution is to develop yet another client, codenamed "Skype for Life." This one client will be cross-platform, covering not just Windows but Linux, macOS, iOS, and Android.

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Samsung’s latest Note 7 battery fix violates Android compatibility docs [Updated]

9/19/2016 12:37pm

Enlarge / Samsung says it will change the battery status bar icon to green.

Samsung has issued another update on the explosive Galaxy Note 7 situation, this time informing consumers how they can differentiate fixed devices from unfixed devices. Through a software update, Samsung says it is going to give non-explosive Note 7s a green battery icon, giving people a quick way to tell a Note 7 is no longer dangerous. There's just one problem with the green battery icon: it's against the rules.

The core Android platform is open source, but Google's Android apps—like the Play Store, Gmail, YouTube, and others—must be licensed from Google. Licensing these apps means adhering to several terms from Google, including complying with the Android Compatibility Definition Document (CDD), which in turn ensures that devices are "Android compatible." APIs need to work the way developers expect them to, hardware needs to meet Google's minimum requirements, and OEMs need to follow Google's security recommendations.

In the CDD, Google also defines some of the interface design—usually the parts apps need to interact with, like the System UI and shared theme assets. This includes mandating the color of the status bar icons, which seems to throw a wrench in Samsung's publicized plans. The section titled "3.8.6. Themes" reads (emphasis ours):

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HP’s DRM sabotages off-brand printer ink cartridges with self-destruct date

9/19/2016 12:17pm


This past week, thousands of HP Inc. printer owners were notified by their printers that their ink cartridges were "damaged" and needed to be replaced. The reason, according to a statement from HP, was a firmware update intended to "protect HP's innovations and intellectual property." But some users report that even HP's own cartridges failed in their printers—and that they weren't able to get the printer to respond in order to remove the offending ink.

"I turn it on, it complains about a damaged cartridge, so I open the front door to replace." one HP OfficeJet user complained. "When I open the door, the carriage does NOT move, and the error message now says to close the door to print. I close the door, and the original damaged cartridge error message returns."

The change in firmware was triggered early last week, with a wave of complaints hitting companies selling "private label" ink and refilled HP cartridges on September 13. As Myce reported, Dutch ink cartridge retailer investigated the problem with cartridges sold by the company and was told by the manufacturer of the chip used on its ink cartridges that the problems were worldwide—and the manufacturer was already producing new chips to get around the firmware.

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Microsoft and Sony’s emerging 4K pissing contest

9/19/2016 12:07pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

Sony's PlayStation 4 Pro (launching in November) and Microsoft's Xbox One Scorpio (launching late next year) are giving the pixel-counters out there a new, 4K-sized battlefield to fight over. Now, Microsoft is drawing a line in the sand in that developing battle, with Microsoft Studios Publishing General Manager Shannon Loftis telling USA Today that "any games we're making that we're launching in the Scorpio time frame, we're making sure they can natively render at 4K."

The word "natively" is important there, because there has been a lot of wiggle room when it comes to talking about what constitutes a truly "4K" game these days. For instance, according to developers Ars has talked to, many if not most games designed for the PS4 Pro will be rendered with an internal framebuffer that's larger than that for a 1080p game, but significantly smaller than the full 3840×2160 pixels on a 4K screen (the exact resolution for any PS4 Pro game will depend largely on how the developer prioritizes the frame rate and the level of detail in the scene). While the PS4 Pro can and does output a full 4K signal, it seems that only games with exceedingly simple graphics will be able to render at that resolution natively.

Sony says the PS4 Pro's internal rendering pipeline and some proprietary upscaling techniques will improve lower resolution base signals to take fuller advantage of a 4K display. But no amount of upscaling can fill in those missing 4K pixels as well as hardware (and a game engine) that natively generates images at full 4K resolution—or so the argument goes.

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Microscope within a microscope reveals hidden details

9/19/2016 11:55am

Enlarge / We've come a long way from this technology. (credit: NIH)

Most of the world of biology, and, indeed, a significant part of physics, is focused on trying to generate a clear image of really tiny stuff. For many reasons, it simply isn't possible to get better images. Still we keep trying, and a recent success reminded me that sometimes all you can do is stare in awe at utter genius.

I present to you a microscope that is a hybrid of Michael Phelps and an arcade game. It's a swimming lens that you steer over a surface, bringing back fascinating views of the terrain below. It goes one better than Phelps, in that it gets its energy locally, so there's no need to drag it out of the pool for food and recreational drugs. And, finally, it's really, really simple. So simple that if you have a decent microscope already, you can probably use one of these swimming lenses with a few minor modifications.

Enhance my image

As always, to reveal the full beauty of the idea, we need to see why an ordinary version of the technology fails. The basic ideas behind a microscope's failure go back to two things: conservation of energy and conservation of momentum. Light consists of waves that have a certain energy and momentum, depending on the frequency and wavelength of the light. When light scatters off a surface, the frequency and wavelength don't change, which means that the total momentum and energy of the light is unchanged.

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Cornell wants to drill 2 to 4 miles underground for enhanced geothermal heating

9/19/2016 11:40am

Enlarge (credit: Cornell University)

Geothermal energy—energy drawn from the internal heat of the Earth—has long been the purview of mountainous, volcano- and earthquake-prone regions like the western United States or Iceland. The US’ eastern states, on the other hand, have been generally disregarded as geologically unfit for geothermal projects because the rock beneath them rarely has the natural fractures or water sources necessary to easily build a geothermal system. But that’s not stopping Cornell University, based in upstate New York, from thinking it can warm its Ithaca campus in winter by tapping into heat from “basement rock,” two to four miles underground.

Cornell announced a new project, called “Earth Source Heat,” this month. The university will research and potentially execute a system that will involve drilling deep into the rock near the campus, circulating fluid to capture the naturally occurring underground heat, and using that fluid to directly heat the campus (rather than change the heat into electricity, as many geothermal plants do).

The project would be considered an “enhanced geothermal system,” or an EGS, which differs from a regular geothermal system in that the reservoir of hot rock into which fluid is injected is man-made, rather than naturally created. EGS projects have been very limited in the US. In 2014, when Ars toured a geothermal plant outside of Reno, Nevada, Karl Gawell, the executive director of the Geothermal Energy Association, called EGS a "tough business" because funding for projects was difficult to come by, and private companies found such an endeavor far too expensive to be economically feasible.

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Cable lobby tries to make you forget that it represents cable companies

9/19/2016 11:12am

Enlarge (credit: NCTA-The Internet & Television Association.)

The US cable industry's biggest lobby group has dropped the word "cable" from its name in a rebrand focusing on its members' role as providers of both Internet and TV services.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) will henceforth be called NCTA-The Internet & Television Association. NCTA will be maintained in the name as a nod to the group's past, even though the initials no longer stand for any particular words.

“Just as our industry is witnessing an exciting transformation driven by technology and connectivity, NCTA’s brand must reflect the vibrancy and diversity of our members,” NCTA CEO Michael Powell (a former Federal Communications Commission chairman) said in today's announcement. The group's "mission to drive the industry forward remains the same," he said.

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Valve bans developer from Steam after it sues customers over bad reviews

9/19/2016 8:57am

Enlarge / A scene from Digital Homicide's Starship: Nova Strike. (credit: Digital Homicide)

A game developer has been banned from Steam after users claimed that it had attempted to sue 100 users of the platform for $18 million (£13.8 million)—for the crime of leaving bad reviews.

Digital Homicide, which has released dozens of small games mostly available for a couple of quid each, had its titles removed from Valve's popular digital distribution platform on Friday night. Its boss James Romine was granted a subpoena by a court in Arizona apparently allowing him to demand the release of "identification and associated data" of anonymous Steam users.

The lawsuit listed in turn the misdemeanours of dozens of John/Jane Does, which include counts of "harassment," "stalking," and "cyber-bullying."

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iPhone 7 hissing: Probably nothing to worry about

9/19/2016 8:47am

Enlarge (credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

There's a new iPhone and, predictable as sunrise, there's a reported problem that may or may not gain a -gate suffix. This time: some iPhone 7s seem to be making an audible hissing noise.

Here's an audio clip from Stephen Hackett's iPhone 7. He says the hissing is loud enough that it "can be heard while the phone sitting on a table." In the audio clip, though, the microphone is probably right up against the back of the iPhone. Hackett says on his blog that Apple Care are replacing his iPhone 7.

Another video by Unbox Therapy puts a mic right up against the back of an iPhone 7 Plus, and then an iPhone 7 and iPhone 6S as well. The iPhone 7 Plus seems to have a louder hiss than the other two.

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Oliver Stone on the Snowden who graced Ars’ forums: “Now he’s a different man”

9/19/2016 8:38am


On the day the Oliver Stone film Snowden opened in theaters around the world, Mr. Stone was kind enough to give Ars a call (in fact, a Facetime call) to talk about the film's creation. We had so many questions for Mr. Stone about collaborating with Edward Snowden, how he thinks American warfare has changed, and how much of his film is based on a work of fiction. Here's a transcript of our Friday conversation, edited for flow and for Mr. Stone's requested redactions.

Ars: To start, I was curious: How much did your film draw from the forums of Ars Technica, where Edward Snowden was apparently a longtime member and commenter?

Stone: Well, quite a bit of stuff [in my film] had not appeared [up until now]. There was a lot of information that only... let’s say no one really knew. Bart Gellman told me that when he saw the film, he said, there’s stuff here no one knows. And James Bamford [author of The Puzzle Palace], who I respect, they’ve been on the frontier of this, he said [classified programs] like Heartbeat, Epic Shelter—these things, nobody had talked about them.

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Op-ed: Why Obama should pardon Edward Snowden

9/18/2016 6:30pm

Edward Snowden speaks via video link at a news conference for the launch of a campaign calling for President Obama to pardon him on September 14. (credit: Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden has asked President Barack Obama for a pardon, and the ACLU, which represents Snowden in the US, agrees. The following essay by Timothy Edgar, which originally appeared on the blog Lawfare, supports that position. Edgar is the former director of privacy and civil liberties for the Obama administration's national security staff, and is currently the academic director of law and policy at Brown University's Executive Master in Cybersecurity program, and visiting scholar at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs.

I have signed on to the letter asking President Obama to pardon Edward Snowden that was released today. I know this will be an unpopular position among many of my former colleagues in the national security community. My reasons for doing so are not fully captured by that letter. They are different from those who see Snowden simply as a hero and the NSA as the villain. I have concluded that a pardon for Edward Snowden, even if he does not personally deserve one, is in the broader interests of the nation.

Around the time Edward Snowden got his first job in the intelligence community, I decided to leave my position as an ACLU lawyer in the hope I could make a difference by going inside America’s growing surveillance state. Surprisingly, senior intelligence officials took a chance on hiring me in a unique new office safeguarding civil liberties and privacy. I began work in June 2006.

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Elon Musk scales up his ambitions, considering going “well beyond” Mars

9/18/2016 5:45pm

Enlarge / Elon Musk at the Allen & Co. Media and Technology Conference in Idaho during the summer of 2015. The book is Excession, by Iain Banks. (credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

For most of its 14 year existence, SpaceX has focused on designing and developing the hardware that will lead to its ultimate goal: colonizing Mars. These plans have remained largely secret from the general public, as company founder Elon Musk has dropped only the barest of hints. But that is expected to change on Sept. 27, during a session at the International Astronautical Congress, when Musk details some of these plans for the first time in a public forum.

However, on the eve of the meeting, Musk dropped a surprise on Twitter. The workhorse spacecraft that will carry approximately 100 tons of cargo or 100 people to the surface of Mars, which until now has been popularly known as the Mars Colonial Transporter, can't be called that, Musk said. "Turns out MCT can go well beyond Mars, so will need a new name..." he tweeted on Friday evening. By Saturday evening he had a new name dubbing the spacecraft the "Interplanetary Transport System," or ITS.

Mars, it turns out, isn't the solar system's only marginally habitable world for would-be new world colonists. The Moon, Venus, the asteroid Ceres, and outer Solar System moons Titan and Callisto all have some advantages that could allow for colonies to subsist. However, Mars has generally been the preferred destination—due to its relative proximity to Earth, a thin atmosphere, and sources of water ice. Musk now seems to be suggesting that some of these more distant destinations, especially moons around Jupiter and Saturn, might be reachable with the Interplanetary Transport System.

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