Projector deals, Apple Watch markdowns, and more Samsung Galaxy S9 bundles

The Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+ have been out for a week now, and while excitement about getting the new flagship Android phone may have died down a bit, Samsung has kept it up by offering bundles with the phone. The Samsung Ultimate Bundle, which contains a Samsung Gear IconX, Gear VR, and wireless charger is available for $99 with the purchase of a Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+. It’s a $400 value for about $100. There’s also a Power Bundle, if that’s more your speed. These deals only last through April 6th, so now’s as good a time as any to snag the new Galaxy phone.

If you’re not interested in a new phone, there are plenty of markdowns on wearables and projectors. AppleWatches are being discounted by $70 at Best Buy and the Garmin’s Vivosmart smartwatch is down to $59.99 at BuyDig. Anker’s portable projector, the Nebula Capsule, is being bundled with the official travel case for $39.99 less than the full retail value. Smartphones, specifically the S9 and S9+, are this week’s headliners, but there are deals in a number of categories.





Looking for gaming deals? Check out Polygon’s gaming deals roundup here.

Good Deals is a weekly roundup of the best deals on the internet, curated by Vox Media’s commerce team, in collaboration with The Verge’s editorial team. You can submit deals to and find more Good Deals here. All prices are reflective of time of publication and are updated periodically to account for changes.

The Oregon Trail handheld game is a really fun nostalgia gadget

In late February, Target quietly began selling a portable version of The Oregon Trail for $24.99. Now, I’ve spent $25 on much dumber things than this in my time. You probably have, too. So I went right out to my local store and bought the handheld game once it was in stock. (Initially it was only available in stores, but now you can order on the web.) Target is the exclusive retailer, and it also sells a card game, though can’t imagine that would scratch my nostalgia itch to the same satisfying degree as this miniature Apple II gadget.

Target and Big Fun, the actual manufacturer of this handheld, definitely get points for presentation. The beige unit is chunky but light and comfortable to hold. And for something that costs $24.99, the color screen on here is about all you could ask for. The protruding floppy disk is the game’s power button, and there’s also a speaker to its right that barks out eight-bit audio just fine. The rest of the layout is pretty simple, with buttons for enter, yes / no, volume, and a wagon key that you’ll use whenever you want to stop to rest, hunt, trade, or learn about each historical stop along the way.

The screen is about all you could ask for from a cheap handheld.
Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

To the best of my recollection, I haven’t played The Oregon Trail since leaving elementary school. I haven’t tried any ROMs, online versions, or the recent remake inside of Minecraft, which looks fun for a new generation of gamers. Also, my memory is nowhere near good enough to know precisely which Oregon Trail this really is; the consensus seems to be that it’s closer to the MS-DOS version than the Apple II, since you’re able to freely walk around while hunting.

I’m sorry. I’ve got people to feed.
Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

But as I pressed the big, loose-feeling buttons on this chunky plastic handheld and made mission-critical decisions, I felt the familiar pressures of looking after everyone in my group and the helplessness of seeing a random pop-up alert that someone had broken a limb or come down with cholera.

Just kidding. This is The Oregon Trail we’re talking about. If someone making the trek with you doesn’t die of dysentery, you’re not getting the full experience. I do still get unreasonably sad when oxen die; that hasn’t changed. And my girlfriend wasn’t thrilled when her character unexpectedly croaked after a single bout of exhaustion. Some folks just aren’t cut out for this journey.

This is still the most stressful part of the game.
Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

But everyone else in my wagon made the trek successfully on the first attempt. I guess I made the right call in picking the banker — even if said banker is totally worthless at repairing anything on the wagon. The carpenter might be a better fixer-upper, but I’ll take the money for food and supplies every time.

Having to get your wagon across a body of water remains the most harrowing aspect of the game. You’ve got little control over the diseases that randomly bring sickness and death to your squad, but many of your other choices matter, and you’ve got to constantly monitor your remaining food, clothing, and other supplies.

I don’t know why I’m telling you about The Oregon Trail’s gameplay mechanics. If you’re reading this review, you’ve probably got a good idea of how it goes.

The D-pad is a monstrosity, but it gets the job done.
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

But I can definitely say that this handheld version is plenty enjoyable. I’m happy with what I got for $25. Will I be playing The Oregon Trail every day? Or carrying it around in my bag instead of my Switch? No chance. But that’s not why I bought it. It’s a fun nostalgia gadget for 30-somethings like myself. It’d make a good, silly gift. Everything feels authentic and true — true enough, anyway — to the experience I had in grade school crowded around a computer with my classmates.

And hey, the batteries come included.

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

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Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach is a time-travel adventure full to the brim with ideas

Time travel is a classic trope in science fiction, posing questions about fixing the past, paradoxes, or simply spectating in a time long before your own. In her new book, Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach, author Kelly Robson spins out a fantastic story that neatly sidesteps the inherent problems that come along with messing with your past. Instead, she tells a sharp story about how looking to the past can help with the future and some of the pitfalls that come with a world without consequences.

By the 2260s, Earth is in tough shape, and humanity has burrowed under its surface to survive. Massive cities kept the species alive, and in the six decades before the story begins, new generations of humans have emerged, set on fixing what was broken. Minh is one such worker: she’s a researcher who’s spent her life studying and restoring river ecosystems. There’s been a problem, however: time travel has recently been invented, and that has begun to pull money and attention away from the work that will make the surface of the planet habitable again.

Some spoilers for Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach ahead.


When the opportunity arises for her to lead one of the first research teams into the past to aid reclamation efforts, Minh assembles a small group of colleagues: Kiki, a fabrication specialist; Hamid, a large specialized animal; and Fabian, a strategic historian from the Temporal Economic Research Node (TERN), the organization that invented time travel, who acts as their guide in the year 2024 BCE. Once there, however, she finds that while the region’s inhabitants are living millennia in the past, they’re able to comprehend the threat that these new visitors pose, and the travelers’ interactions with the Mesopotamians presents its own set of ethical challenges.

Robson recently explained that she wasn’t really interested in playing with time travel paradoxes, and unlike Tom Sweterlitsch’s The Gone World — which is all about paradoxes — the time travel in Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach is consequence-free: when travelers go back, they essentially create an alternate timeline, which collapses once they leave. There’s no impact on their future, which makes their work a bit easier: they don’t have to worry about stepping on that stray bug, for fear of throwing the timeline out of whack.

What I appreciated the most was how Robson structured the book: each chapter opens with a sequence that clearly comes later, and she makes it obvious that while the people that Minh and her team encounter live thousands of years in the past, they’re not idiots. They recognize the danger that these strange new people and accompanying objects pose, and their arrival plays into their own power struggle in 2024 BCE.

But this consequence-free travel is dangerous. Fabian explains that TERN takes tourists back all the time, and that they sometimes run into problems. As a result, he has no qualms about being aggressive in their defense, at one point killing a group of soldiers who go out to investigate the strange objects that appeared in their fields. Kiki argues that they’re still people, and how they treat them reflects them. Minh just wants to focus on gathering her data, but the conflict threatens to tear the team apart as danger looms.

Robson’s story is engaging and thought-provoking, as is the world that she sets it in. While reading it, I was considerably reminded of the world featured in Annalee Newitz’s fantastic debut novel Autonomous. Like in that novel, the world has faced considerable societal and climate-related challenges, but people haven’t simply gone underground and huddled for shelter, waiting for everything to get better. Robson sets up a world where life goes on: and while this is a short, quick read, this is a novella that’s positively stuffed with things to look at. There’s complicated generational structures — Minh is a “plague child,” part of a generation that faced incredible scarcity and illness, while her research partner, Kiki, is part of a generation known as the “Fat Babies.” She hasn’t experienced the same hardship as Minh, and Robson deftly layers these tensions in between the characters, making their outlook on the world as unique as their bodies — Minh, with prosthetic legs, while Kiki enjoys a massive, healthy body.

Like Autonomous, Robson uses her world to take a close look at the larger societal structures that inform the world. Banks have a significant degree of control over cities, organizations, and individuals, buying and selling individual debt, and essentially financing the big projects that Minh and others are working on. But while those institutions make it possible for people to get an education or run big projects, Robson points out, they only do so when it’s in their interest. As a result, time travel isn’t used for research purposes: it’s used for tourism. This echoes some arguments made by Kim Stanley Robinson in last year’s New York 2140, which looks at the ties between capitalism and climate change. Robson doesn’t quite go as far here, but the point is apparent: capitalism-style economies aren’t great at tackling the bigger issues that face society.

Much of this thinking runs in the background as Minh and her team go deep into the past, and it’s a testament to Robson’s writing style to cram all of this in unobtrusively alongside a fun, optimistic science fiction adventure. Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach is a splendid read, one that had me wanting far more by the time I turned the last page.

Gun deaths could become easier to study thanks to the new spending bill

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now have the government’s permission to resume gun violence research, in writing: the massive omnibus spending bill that President Donald Trump signed today clarifies that a 22-year-old ban on using federal funds to advocate or promote gun control doesn’t actually ban research.

While the bill is a step in the right direction, researchers will only believe that the landscape of gun violence research is actually changing when they see money for it in the CDC’s budget. “It’s not bad news — it’s good news,” says Jeffrey Swanson, a professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University. “But I’m skeptical that it’s going to really turn things around without some money being made available.”

In 1996, Congress passed what became known as the Dickey Amendment, which banned the use of government funding to advocate for gun control. Congress simultaneously yanked $2.6 million of the CDC’s funding — which just so happened to be the amount set aside for gun violence research, according to Science. The move “had a chilling effect,” Swanson says. “Not only on the CDC, but other agencies.”

The omnibus bill that the president signed today could help thaw long-frozen investigations into the public health risks posed by firearms. But John Donohue III, a law professor at Stanford University, can think of two reasons to be wary of the change. One possibility might be that “if the CDC goes anywhere near this, they’ll get their funding cut back by Congress — which could hurt,” he says. Plus, Donohue says, “This could be a ploy to funnel money to some of the fringe researchers whose goal is to promote gun rights.”

So the CDC might be cautious about venturing back into such a politically fraught arena, says Philip Cook, professor emeritus of public policy at Duke University. “There are bound to be political risks,” Cook told The Verge in an email. For example, if CDC-funded research were used to support calls for gun control, “there will be hell to pay with the NRA [the National Rifle Association] and their many friends in Congress,” Cook says. “So my guess is that we will not see such funding any time soon.”

After all, we’ve seen similar efforts to kick-start gun research at the CDC go precisely nowhere in the past, German Lopez reports for Vox. In 2013, shortly after the mass shooting that killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, President Obama directed the CDC to study firearm violence. He requested that Congress fund the program to the tune of $10 million — but the Republican-controlled House rejected the budget plan. So the CDC continued to avoid it.

Other agencies filled in the gaps. The National Institutes of Health, for example, have a less restrictive take on the Dickey Amendment than the CDC, and have continued to fund gun violence research according to a news item in the Journal of the American Medical Association. (One explanation for the different interpretations could be that “the size of the NIH budget gives it less reason to be concerned about retaliation by pro-gun members of Congress,” the article says.) The National Institute of Justice also funds this research, and has an open request for funding proposals due in May that aim to investigate firearms violence.

Even now that the CDC has both presidential and congressional permission to re-start gun violence research, there are still major barriers to finding answers, says Richard Rosenfeld, a professor of criminology at the University of Missouri St. Louis. The Tiahrt Amendments, for example, block the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives from sharing information about firearm trafficking with the public — including researchers, according to the Giffords Law Center, which advocates for gun safety. That’s a big problem for scientists who want to track where the firearms used in crimes are coming from and where they’re going, Rosenfeld says. “For the life of me I can’t understand why anyone would put an obstacle in the way of research that would help us understand and reduce firearm violence,” he says.

Data availability couldimprove thanks to another section of the bill that calls for a funding boost for the National Violent Death Reporting System, or NVDRS, says Sean Gallagher, senior government relations officer at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Right now, this database collects details about violent deaths from 40 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Today’s bill proposes providing enough funding that the NVDRS could expand to all 50 states. That will be key to getting a nation-wide picture of who is killed by guns, and under what conditions. “Good data is everything, it’s what researchers need to start and this is going to be it,” Gallagher says. “I was kind of shocked it was in there.”

Still, information like hospitalization data and court records that would also help researchers compare the effects of different gun policies in different states is siloed and hard to access, Swanson says. “Those records actually exist, but it is a byzantine process to try to get agencies to develop data sharing agreements and overcome privacy and turf issues,” Swanson says. So there are still big barriers to understanding the public health risks of guns, he says: “It’s not like all of a sudden a huge brick wall is going to fall down and we’re going to be able to learn all the things that we need to know.”

Uber suffered from self-driving car problems before Sunday’s fatal crash

All was not well with Uber’s self-driving car project before the fatal crash this past Sunday in Arizona, which has prompted widespread criticism of the ride-hailing giant’s approach to autonomous vehicle development and forced the company to pause much of its operations surrounding the technology. The goal of offering driverless ride-hailing services to the general public by the end of the year was quickly falling apart, and Uber’s self-driving cars had a record of failing to operate correctly under a number of standard road conditions, according to internal company notes obtained by The New York Times.

This included issues that involved operators of the fleet of Volvo XC90s — like the one that killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg in Tempe, Arizona on Sunday — to intervene more often than engineers expected, something that seriously threatened to delay the company’s implementation of self-driving technology. Further scrutiny of the problem stems from the video released Wednesday by the Tempe Police Department that shows the Uber operator looking down in the moments before the vehicle hit Herzberg, and whether a second operator in the vehicle may have prevented the incident. According to the The New York Times’ report:

When Uber moved to a single operator, some employees expressed safety concerns to managers, according to the two people familiar with Uber’s operations. They were worried that going solo would make it harder to remain alert during hours of monotonous driving. Mr. Kallman said it delayed the start of its single-driver initiative to allow for more training and to make sure drivers felt comfortable for the new role.

Further issues were found by the Times, including operators being distracted or falling asleep while behind the wheel of the self-driving test vehicles, as well as Uber’s desire to develop its technology ahead of its trade secrets trial with rival Waymo earlier this year. For now, though, there appears to be larger issues surrounding Uber’s self-driving initiative. And the fatality in Tempe is just the surface.

These two indie platforms are partnering to help authors produce audiobooks at affordable prices

Indie authors who publish through platforms like Amazon or CreateSpace usually don’t have the resources to publish an audiobook, which can be an expensive endeavor with production costs that self-published or first-time authors cannot afford. Now, self-publishing platform and ebook distributor Smashwords has teamed up with production platform and audiobook distributor Findaway Voices to give these indie authors a cheaper way to make audiobooks.

In an announcement, Smashwords CEO Mark Coker said today the deal would give “greater control over pricing and distribution” to authors and publishers, making it more “economically feasible” to get into audiobook production even with short or cheaper books. By using Findaway, Smashwords’ authors and publishers can now find professional narrators more quickly and hear voice actor recommendations from an online casting support team. There will also be estimates of production costs and stated hourly rates for voice actors, ranging from $150 to $400 an hour.

There’s a lot of demand from indie authors interested in making audiobooks, and this new proposal from Smashwords and Findaway Voices would answer that demand. The news also comes at a time when the audiobook marketplace is booming. From 2016 to 2017, the audiobook industry grew 29 percent, adding 79,000 new audiobooks to the market, according to GoodReader.

Apple proposes 13 new emoji to represent people with disabilities

Apple proposed new emoji today that would better represent hearing aids, guides, and people with disabilities, in a submission to the Unicode Consortium, as noted by Emojipedia.

Apple wrote in its submission, “Apple is requesting the addition of emoji to better represent individuals with disabilities. Currently, emoji provide a wide range of options, but may not represent the experiences of those with disabilities.”

The new suite of emoji include a hearing aid, people using canes or wheelchairs, a guide dog, and prosthetic limbs. There are 13 new emoji suggested in total, with 45 if you count skin tone options. Apple says the emoji are just a starting point, hinting that there might be more accessibility emoji to come.

The Unicode Technical Committee meeting, where members will deliberate over these emoji, is slated for next month. If these emoji are approved, they would be put on a shortlist of candidates for Emoji 12.0, due for a release during the first half of 2019. Meanwhile, the emoji list for 2018 has been completed and is due to come to major mobile platforms during the second half of this year.

Instagram on desktop is better than mobile, change my mind

Instagram launched in 2010 as a photo-sharing app designed to capture picturesque moments of our otherwise mundane lives. Since then, it’s evolved into a full social network, a messaging tool, and an ad platform, which exists in both mobile and desktop spaces.

Now, most Instagram users opt for the mobile experience, replete with its familiar motions — scroll, double tap to like, scroll, scroll. But it’s come to our attention that there’s a population of Instagram users who actually prefer the web browser version. Which one is superior? We invited our colleagues from Racked, Eliza Brooke and Alanna Okun, to settle the debate.

Eliza: It’s Friday afternoon, so I would like to pick a fight.

Alanna: Say more.

Eliza: I really love Instagram on desktop. I believe this is an unpopular opinion.

Alanna: It is! The only other person who I know of who prefers desk-gram is my mom. Who is a very smart and tech-savvy lady! But like, also my mom, so.

Eliza: I think my mom, too. So to start, Instagram is great on desktop because the images are huge, and because you don’t scroll as quickly, you really take the time to consider them. It’s like a magazine. This also means that you really figure out who you hate following. You can’t whisk away Donna’s shitty food photos like you do on the app. Eventually you will wind up unfollowing her, and that will make your life better.

Alanna: See, but that’s what I like about mobile — the lack of commitment. I have more choice in which photos I linger on (and zoom in on) and which ones I scroll right past. The thought of an image taking up a full, large screen is intimidating! I like the intimacy and the coziness of mobile, these little windows into people’s lives. And while I have reduced my number of hate-follows in my advanced age, I do keep a few around for schadenfreude and self-manufactured jealousy purposes.

Eliza: So, two things in response to that. One, the fact that images take up the full screen on desktop does mean that you need to be mindful of who’s around you and potentially looking over your shoulder. It’s like opening the hatch on all of your embarrassing lifestyle aspirations. You could make the same point about using the app on the subway, but it’s easier to tilt your phone screen away from prying eyes. Two, I find that desktop gives me some psychic space from the people I’m jealous of, whereas the intimacy of a phone makes me feel like I’m literally closer to my envy. Like I’m clutching my bad, gross secret to my chest.

Alanna: We’re making it sound like we’re the world’s most craven pervs on Insta.

Eliza: When it’s literally just us looking at [cool writer’s name redacted]’s apartment decor.

Alanna: God, I want her life.

Eliza: So much! Another great thing about Instagram on desktop is that you’re way, way, way less likely to fave someone’s photos while stalking them.

Alanna: Ok, so while I HAVE absolutely done some pretty embarrassing 112-weeks-in accidental faving, that’s still not enough to convince me to switch to desktop. I kind of even like the thrill of mobile? It’s like that old board game Operation, where you have to meticulously tweeze bits ‘n’ pieces out of your unwitting patient.

Eliza: My parents did not instill healthy risk management in me as a child. I have done the thing where you are snooping through someone’s photos, leave their profile, are immediately filled with fear that you accidentally faved something, RETURN to their profile to make sure you didn’t fave something, and so on and so forth. It never ends.

Alanna: Another thing I don’t understand about your method is that half the joy of Instagram for me is its portability; I won’t lie, I’m not averse to bringing my phone into the bathroom with me. In fact, part of the way I forced myself to start flossing every night was when I began saving Instagram stories to watch while doing so!

Eliza: You have many more life hacks than I do.

Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

Alanna: And this is actually psychotic but I kind of think of Instagram as like, my “unplugging” platform. Like when I’m lying in bed and am all done with Twitter and email and Facebook for the day, I switch over to the more passive, lulling scroll of Tumblr and Instagram. I know this is terrible for my REM cycles and brain and stuff, but I can’t help it! It brings me peace.

Eliza: I love that it does. I really struggle with Instagram self-control. A few months ago, my boyfriend, who does not have Instagram (and somewhat ruefully agreed to let me post photos of him if I really want to, so I never do), told me that every time I pick up my phone, the first thing I do is open Instagram. Apparently I would sometimes realize half a second later that I didn’t actually want Instagram and would swipe it away, but I always went there first. Clearly, I have a problem. I delete the app from my phone probably three times a week, and in its absence, the desktop version is a nice, less addictive middle ground. I consume Instagram in a much more moderate way now. That’s a huge part of why I prefer desktop.

Alanna: That makes a lot of sense; I realize my reasoning for preferring mobile is also a testament to my full-blown addiction. Is there anything you do miss about the mobile version when you’re on desktop?

Eliza: I do miss the DMs. The app can be a really fun frenzy of tagging your friends and sending them things that you know they’ll love or that you can mutually eviscerate. But it’s also overwhelming, and you start to feel like you owe people something. Desktop is a quieter space. You also can’t post photos on desktop, which makes it a much more passive experience. I usually download the app again when I have something I desperately need the world to see. And when you want to share an Instagram post with a friend, you really have to go the extra mile and copy that link to drop in your iMessage conversation.

Alanna: I think what I’m drawn to, healthily or otherwise, is the endless feedback loop of posting, and getting faves and followers, and feeling validated and in on something, but that can cause a lot of fatigue. And when a photo doesn’t perform the way you expect it to (kill me!) or when the glow fades from a recent successful one (kill me twice!), you’re left feeling… cold. Not to mention the somewhat sinister nature of Facebook-owned apps in general; I’ve always kind of just assumed that all my data was being mined and sold, but even as my discomfort with that grows, I still feel fairly helpless in its thrall.

Maybe we should just throw our phones and computers into the East River?

Eliza: Let’s do it!!!!!! But my laptop is the property of Vox Media.


Which platform do you prefer to use Instagram on?

  • 55%
    Mobile app

    (230 votes)

  • 44%
    Web browser

    (182 votes)

412 votes total Vote Now

Congress is giving NASA more money than it requested to build a second launch platform

Today, Trump signed into law a massive $1.3 trillion spending bill that will fund the federal government through the rest of fiscal year 2018, and the deal is quite generous to NASA. Practically all of NASA’s programs get a funding boost, and the space agency even gets money that it didn’t ask for — notably, the funds needed to build a second launch platform for its next big rocket.

The spending bill gives NASA an extra $350 million in 2018 to make the structure, which will be used for future launches of the Space Launch System. That’s the deep space vehicle the agency has been developing for the last decade. A mobile launch platform is key for the SLS since the structure will transport the rocket to its launch site at Kennedy Space Center in Florida and serve as the base for the vehicle to launch from.

NASA already has a launch platform for the SLS in the works. So why did Congress allocate money for a second one, exactly? Because the platform that’s almost complete will only be able to support one — just one — launch of the SLS.

The problem stems from the fact that NASA’s current mobile launch platform wasn’t actually built for the SLS. NASA has been modifying a platform that was originally built for a rocket that never saw the light of day — the Ares 1, a vehicle that was meant to send humans back to the Moon as part of the now-canceled Constellation program. When the Constellation program was replaced with the SLS program in 2011, NASA decided to simply upgrade the mobile launch platform the agency had already built for Ares 1 to support the Space Launch System. The SLS is a much bigger and heavier vehicle than the Ares 1 was going to be, so NASA has had to reinforce the base of the platform, as well as expand it to accommodate the larger size of the rocket and its engines.

But late last year, NASA admitted it had a problem: even after the modifications are complete, the launch platform will only be able to support the very first launch of the SLS — a test launch without any people on board. This mission, called EM-1, will use the smallest planned version of the vehicle, known as Block 1. After that launch, NASA will put crew on a much larger version of the SLS, known as Block 1B. In fact, all future human missions will use the Block 1B version. And this bigger rocket is just too tall and too heavy for the current platform — even with all of its upgrades.

So NASA offered two choices. The first option was simple: the agency could start building another mobile launch platform now to support the larger SLS launches in the future. But that meant the current platform would really only be used once and then essentially tossed aside. The other option was less wasteful: after the first test launch, NASA would upgrade the existing platform again to accommodate future flights. But the next set of upgrades couldn’t begin until the inaugural flight was over.

Relying on just one platform risks delaying the first crewed flight of the SLS. NASA estimated that it would take 33 months to complete the new upgrades, or nearly three years, after the inaugural flight. That would put a huge gap between the first two flights of the rocket, one that could grow if the platform upgrades aren’t finished on time.

Despite the risk, NASA ultimately decided to go with just one platform. The space agency estimated it would need at least $300 million for the project, according to Space News. But the president’s budget request for fiscal year 2019 didn’t include any money for that refurbishment, and NASA’s acting administrator Robert Lightfoot said that it would be too expensive to pursue, according to his testimony during a congressional hearing.

The Crew Access Arm — the passageway astronauts will take to get on the SLS — being installed on the mobile launcher tower.
Image: NASA

Now, Congress is telling NASA to build a second platform, likely due to safety concerns. Building the new platform could potentially move the second flight of SLS up to 2022 instead of 2023. Otherwise, having such a huge gap between the first and second flight of the rocket could cause engineers to forget the valuable experience they gained from flying the rocket the first time. “When that happens, you have all the people — in your ground systems and in mission control — you have them sitting around for months at a time with nothing to do,” Casey Dreier, director of space policy at the Planetary Society, tells The Verge. “And in the absence of real rocket launches, you might lose good people.”

But another unofficial motivation could be optics. Further delays would be a bad look for the perennially delayed SLS program. The first flight of the SLS has been consistently pushed back — from 2018, to 2019, and then to 2020. And even when the first two flights of the vehicle are done, the rocket will probably only launch once a year. Many of the biggest supporters of SLS are in Congress — notably the lawmakers from Alabama, where the rocket is being built — and they don’t want any more delays that critics can exploit. “You have other commercial rockets launching much more frequently,” Laura Forczyk, a space consultant and owner of space research and consulting firm Astralytical, tells The Verge, citing SpaceX’s Falcon rockets. Many critics have proposed canceling the SLS and replacing the rocket with similar commercial options, which might fly more regularly. “But if they can lessen that time between [the first two test flights], that will mitigate the criticism they’re getting,” says Forczyk.

Still, it’s not a good look to scrap a barely used mobile launch platform. As of now, there are no plans to fly the smaller version of the SLS after the first test flight. A second platform could give NASA the option to fly the smaller version of the SLS again if needed, Dreier argues. But if that doesn’t happen, it means that NASA has taken about a decade and spent upwards of $700 million to build and upgrade a platform that will essentially be thrown away. (In addition to those concerns, it turns out the tower on the platform is slightly leaning, too, though NASA says it won’t affect any launches from the structure.)

“It’s a good reminder why this idea of using [existing] hardware and adapting it to new needs never actually saves you money,” says Dreier. “It just gets spread out over time. When you have to adapt something that has to work in an extreme environment, you have to deal with a lot of unplanned details to make it safe and dependable.”

This whole saga is also a good reminder that Congress will always get the SLS program what it needs — sometimes over even the president’s wishes. The rocket has often received money that NASA has requested for the vehicle’s development, and now the SLS is getting even more hardware than it really needs. “To look at the motivations and the opinions behind Congress, you look at the funding,” Forcyzk says. “And they are completely supportive of it in the fact that they always give as much or more than what is requested.”

Dropbox shares soared today in biggest tech IPO since Snapchat

Cloud storage and collaboration company Dropbox — which started 10 years ago as a small startup in the San Francisco-based Y Combinator incubator program — went public today, and its shares were up nearly 36 percent as of market close this afternoon. The successful performance makes Dropbox the biggest tech IPO since Snapchat’s in March 2017. Dropbox ended the day of trading, under the ticker symbol “DBX,” with a market valuation of around $10 billion.

We knew Dropbox was likely expecting a favorable outcome, considering it priced its shares at $21, above its initial projected $18 to $20 range. But the surge in share price, which helped Dropbox match its last private funding valuation, is a welcomed vote of market confidence for a company that spent years fending off aggressive competition from the tech industry’s biggest players, including Google and Microsoft. Dropbox’s business, comprised of around 11 million paying subscribers, mainly depends on individual cloud storage plans sold to consumers, but it also sells businesses on company-wide enterprise-grade subscription plans that hinge on collaboration tools and integrations with products like Salesforce and Microsoft Office. Only about 30 percent of Dropbox’s 11 million users are on business accounts.

While Dropbox is on stable footing now, it’s still facing the biggest players in the industry in a race to the bottom as cloud storage becomes increasingly inexpensive and, in some cases, is offered to consumers for free. Dropbox has tried to diversify the kinds of products it offers, debuting a Google Docs competitor called Dropbox Paper last year, simplifying its core service even further, and partnering with the very same companies it knows threaten its business. The company is faring better than its primary competitor Box, which today suffered a 7 percent drop in share price on news of Dropbox’s debut. But going forward, Dropbox has to figure out a way to make itself indispensable to both consumers and businesses if it’s to continue growing.