Steve Ballmer, former Microsoft CEO, records an episode of the Numbers Geek podcast earlier today at his office in the Seattle region. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) With even more than normal, Steve Ballmer might not have seemed like an analytical guy to casual fans watching his LA Clippers come back from a 31-point deficit to defeat the Golden State Warriors in Game 2 of their first-round NBA playoff matchup earlier this week. It was the biggest comeback victory in NBA playoff history. But as listeners to , the former Microsoft CEO has a passion for numbers, as well. Earlier today, before recording a future episode of the show about the upcoming annual report on the U.S. government from Ballmer’s nonprofit civic data initiative , we took the opportunity to have him analyze the stats from the Clippers’ historic win. Listen to this short bonus episode below, or subscribe in your favorite podcast app, and continue reading for highlights from his comments, along with a copy of the box score from the game. “We were down 73-50 at halftime and we won 135-131, which tells you we outscored the opponent by 27 points in the second half, scoring over 40 points in (each of the final) two quarters, which is essentially unheard of,” Ballmer said. But “the thing that really flips is the shooting percentage” in the second half, he said. The Clippers shot 66.7 percent from the floor in the second half, and ended up shooting 56.5 percent for the game, vs. 53.3 percent for the Warriors. The Warriors “had a major rebound advantage at one point” earlier in the game, but by the end of the game, the Clippers were at 34 rebounds vs. the Warriors 38 rebounds, “which was a big deal,” Ballmer said. He added, “I would say the most important thing to take a look at, at the end of the game, was how many turnovers both teams had. Both teams had a lot of turnovers, 22 for the Warriors, 19 for us. I worry sometimes about us two ways. Turnovers and rebounding, sometimes offense, but mostly turnovers and rebounding. And we wound up pretty close to the Warriors on both sides. They had a couple more rebounds. And they also had a couple more turnovers, which means we both got about the same number of possessions. We just put the ball in the basket better.” Of course, this was just one game. The series resumes Thursday night at Staples Center in LA with the teams tied at one game apiece. Also check out , with audio from Ballmer on the baseline at Staples Center. We’ll be back soon with another episode of the show.
Israel’s SpaceIL almost made history today as its Beresheet spacecraft came within an ace of landing on the surface of the Moon, but suffered a last-minute failure during descent. Israel missed out on the chance to be the fourth country to make a controlled lunar landing, but getting 99 percent of the way there is still an extraordinary achievement for private spaceflight. Beresheet (“Genesis”) launched in February as secondary payload aboard a Falcon 9 rocket, and after a month and a half spiraling outward, . Today’s final maneuver was an engine burn meant to bring down its relative velocity to the Moon, then brake to a soft landing in the Mare Serenitatis, or Sea of Serenity. Everything was working fine up until the final moments, as is often the case in space. The craft, having made it perfectly to its intended point of descent, determined that all systems were ready and the landing process would go ahead as planned. They lost telemetry for a bit, and had to reset the craft to get the main engine back online… and then communication dropped while only a handful of kilometers from the surface. The “selfie” image above was taken from 22 km above the surface, just a few minutes that. The spacecraft was announced as lost shortly afterwards. Clearly disappointed but also exhilarated, the team quickly recovered its composure, saying “the achievement of getting to where we got is tremendous and we can be proud,” and of course, “if at first you don’t succeed… try, try again.” The project began as an attempt to claim the Google Lunar Xprize, announced more than a decade ago, but which proved too difficult for teams to attempt in the time frame specified. Although the challenge and its prize money lapsed, Israel’s SpaceIL team continued its work, bolstered by the support of Israel Aerospace Industries, the state-owned aviation concern there. It’s worth noting that although Beresheet did enjoy considerable government support in this way, it’s a far cry from any other large-scale government-run mission, and can safely be considered “private” for all intents and purposes. The ~50-person team and $200 million budget are laughably small compared to practically any serious mission, let alone a lunar landing. I spoke with Xprize’s founder and CEO, Peter Diamandis and Anousheh Ansari, respectively, just before the landing attempt. Both were extremely excited and made it clear that the mission was already considered a huge success. “What I’m seeing here is an incredible ‘Who’s Who’ from science, education and government who have gathered to watch this miracle take place,” Diamandis said. “We launched this competition now 11 years ago to inspire and educate engineers, and despite the fact that it ran out of time it has achieved 100 percent of its goal. Even if it doesn’t make it onto the ground fully intact it has ignited a level of electricity and excitement that reminds me of the Ansari Xprize 15 years ago.” He’s not the only one. Ansari, who funded the famous spaceflight Xprize that bore her name, and who has herself visited space as one of the first tourist-astronauts above the International Space Station, felt a similar vibe. “It’s an amazing moment, bringing so many great memories up,” she told me. “It reminds me of when we were all out in the Mojave waiting for the launch of Spaceship One.” Ansari emphasized the feeling the landing evoked of moving forward as a people. “Imagine, over the last 50 years only 500 people out of seven billion have been to space — that number will be thousands soon,” she said. “We believe there’s so much more that can be done in this area of technology, a lot of real business opportunities that benefit civilization but also humanity.” Congratulations to the SpaceIL team for their achievement, and here’s hoping the next attempt makes it all the way down.
For the first time later this week, a privately developed moon lander will launch aboard a privately built rocket, organized by a private launch coordinator. It’s an historic moment in space and the Israeli mission stands to make history again if it touches down on the Moon’s surface as planned on April 11. The Beresheet (“Genesis”) program was originally conceived as an entry into the ambitious but ultimately unsuccessful Google Lunar Xprize in 2010, which challenged people to accomplish a lunar landing, with $30 million in prizes as the incentive. The prize closed last year with no winner but as these Xprize competitions aim to do, it had already spurred great interest and investment in a private moon mission. and Israel Aerospace Industries worked together on the mission, which will bring cameras, a magnetometer, and a capsule filled with items from the country to, hopefully, a safe rest on the lunar surface. The Beresheet lander ahead of packaging for launch. The launch plan as of now (these things do change with weather, technical delays, and so on) is for takeoff at 5:45 Pacific time on Thursday — 8:45 PM in Cape Canaveral — aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. A live stream should be available shortly before, which I’ll add here later or in a new post. 30 minutes after takeoff the payload will detach and make contact with mission control, then begin the process of closing the distance to the Moon, during which time it will circle the Earth six times. Russia, China, and of course the U.S. are the only ones ever to successfully land on the Moon; was the first to soft-land (as opposed to impact) the “dark” (though really only far — it’s often light) side and is currently functional. But although there has been one successful private lunar flyby mission (the Manfred Memorial probe) no one but a major country has ever touched down. If Beresheet is a success it would be both the first Israeli moon mission and the first private mission to do so. It would also be the first lunar landing to be accomplished with a privately built rocket, and the lightest spacecraft on the Moon, and at around $100M in costs, the cheapest as well. Landing on the Moon is, of course, terribly difficult. Just as geosynchronous orbit is far more difficult than low Earth orbit, a lunar insertion orbit is even harder, a stable such orbit even harder, and accomplishing a controlled landing on target even harder than that. The only thing more difficult would be to take off again and return to Earth, as Apollo 11 did in 1969 and other missions several times after. Kind of amazing when you think about it. Seattle’s Spaceflight coordinated the launch, and technically Beresheet is the secondary payload; the primary is the Air Force Research Labs’ S5 experimental satellite, which the launch vehicle will take to geosynchronous orbit after the lunar module detaches. Although Beresheet may very well be the first, it will likely be the first of many: other contenders in the Lunar Xprize, as well as companies funded or partnering with NASA and other space agencies, will soon be making their own attempts at making tracks in the regolith.