Saturday, May 31, 2003

Burt Rutan moves ever closer to a go at the X Prize and perhaps a new era in manned space travel.

Friday, May 30, 2003

Janet Reno compared Republicans to Nazis recently. Ms. Reno is certainly familier with Nazi practices. She caused almost ninety people to be burned alive in Waco about ten years ago in a tank and gas assault on their home. More recently, she dispatched black clad commandos to snatch a little boy from the bosem of his family so that he might be dispatched back to the Cuban police state from which his mother died to free him.
Philip K. Chapman has an assessment about the last thirty years of space flight which is at once depressing and-for the most part-accurate. He does tend to beat up on Nixon too much over the horrible decisions taken in the 1970s which have led to the sad state of affairs; he fails to factor in the political context.

Chapman does take a stab at offering solutions. Alomg with Rand Simberg I thoroughly agree that the Outer Space Treaty needs to be renegotiated. At the very least we need an agreed upon regime for private property rights in space to help encourage commercial development.

I'm not so sure about his idea of ending human space flight as practiced by NASA and setting up some kind of commercial enablement agency. I'm not sure it's politically viable and I can see the potential for all sorts of mischief for a five billion a year government entity to "help" commercial space development. I think we should phase out the shuttle as soon as possible and replace it with commercially developed and run space vehicles. However NASA still has a role, in my opinion, in cutting edge exploration (i.e. beyond LEO) and research and development.

Thursday, May 29, 2003

John Carter McKnight has struck again. While his arguments are now more coherent than last time, he still commits a number of errors which bear examination. The first is that he complains quite a bit about problems without offering solutions. The second is that he misuses popular culture to make a point. The third we shall see in due course:
In The Matrix, the hero chooses the red pill, symbolizing awareness and the struggle for human freedom. Most of the space community, along with much of our society as a whole, however, has enthusiastically embraced the blue pill alternative - willful ignorance and life in a fantasyland. Only by consistently "just saying no" to those blue pill choices will we get into space to stay.
The Matrix, and its current sequel, The Matrix Reloaded, portrays the real world as a place of struggle - grubby, unglamorous, dangerous and challenging.

The computer-generated fantasy world of the Matrix, by contrast, is a place where skills can be instantly uploaded rather than slowly mastered, where pesky laws of nature can be circumvented, and where style points definitely matter.

It is, in short, utopia for a people without patience or concern for consequences, who want their cake without the calorie burden of actually eating it.

The problem is that the virtual reality universe of the Matrix films is not the utopia McKnight describes. The super human martial arts feats are accomplished by human freedom fighters who jack into the virtual reality from the real world to stop the machines from destroying them.
Evidence of blue-pill choices in the space movement abounds. The previous edition of this column, "Smells Like Teen Spirit," described a conclusion that could only have been reached by a blue-pill junkie: that the most important space issue today is a lunar real estate registry.

I'm not sure that anyone has claimed that lunar real estate registry is the "most important space issue today." Many people, myself included, believe that it can be a useful tool in enabling commercial space development.
"Likewise, any advocate who begins a presentation with "Assume cheap access to space..." or "Assume the government builds a heavy-lift launch vehicle for us…" has definitely popped the cerulean ellipsoid.

I'm not sure that anyone has assumed anything of the sort. Many people think that CATS is a prerequisite to the spread of humanity beyond the Earth. Many people think that a heavy lifter, government built or not, would be a useful thing. But I know of no one who does not think that these things need to be worked for.
NASA and Big Aerospace continue to gobble blue pills with the voracity of a Las Vegas Elvis. It's almost tautological that bureaucratic decisionmaking involves heavy doses of willful denial of reality, but the entire Shuttle safety process has taken the cliché to sickening levels.

In going forward with its human spaceflight efforts, the agency has put forward only blue-pill alternatives. Continuing to fly the Shuttle for another twenty years can only be advocated once one has chosen to escape from the reality of its aging, unreliable systems, poor safety record and worse management record.

This is actually a true statement, but McKnight goes on to say:
Securing Congressional approval to build an Orbital Space Plane seems equally delusional, given Congress's clear realization that NASA has failed to bring any of its X vehicles to operational status, uses wishful thinking and electronic fantasy for a financial control system, and has consistently refused to put forward coherent, achievable, meaningful goals for its human efforts in space.

Certainly assuming that OSP is doomed to fail depends on experience over hope. But if this were the case, it would not be too much of a problem. NASA would only waste time and money. The problem is that NASA may well have learned some of the lessons of NASP, X-33. et al and may actually make OSP work. That would buy us a slightly cheaper, but still government run space shuttle that would freeze out commercial players from some important markets, like resupply of ISS.
A recent Washington Post op-ed by David C. Acheson calls on NASA to take the red pill: "It is time to take a mature, unemotional look at where manned spaceflight came from and where it is going, and with what technology and at what cost. Then either set it on a new path, with technology we can trust, or turn toward unmanned space science." This is exactly what's involved in taking the red pill.

I disagree with Acheson's implicit assumption that human spaceflight is unjustifiable. However, certainly in NASA's hands it's not been justified. To justify its human spaceflight efforts it must set setting forth a coherent plan of exploration.

If need be, it may have to stop flying the Shuttle be until a rationally-designed, cost-effective alternative can be developed, under competitive bid if possible, and by socialized aerospace if unavoidable. These are the red-pill choices confronting the Agency.

There is certainly some truth in this. But assuming, to use a word McKnight is fond of, that NASA is going to stop flying the space shuttle in the near term, before alternatives are available, is a political nonstarter.
But the space community is not alone in its choice to avoid struggle, hardship, incremental progress and responsibility. Should anyone doubt that America collectively has taken the blue pill, the point was implicitly made this week by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman:

In the wake of the Iraq war, the E.P.A. announced that the average fuel economy of America's cars and trucks fell to its lowest level in 22 years, with the 2002 model year. That is a travesty. No wonder foreigners think we sent our U.S. Army Humvees to control Iraq, just so we could drive more G.M. Hummers over here.

When our president insists that we can have it all - big cars, big oil, lower taxes, with no sacrifices or conservation - why shouldn't the world believe that all we are about is protecting our right to binge?… Someday, our kids will condemn us for all of this.

This is incoherent and wrong. It also reveals McKnight's third error, which is to make "sacrifice" and "suffering" virtues in and of themselves rather than means to an end. It also reveals a certain fascistic tendency in a desire to tell Americans what they should and should not drive. Raising fuel efficiency of automobiles and trucks is certainly a seductive idea, though it tends to be a distraction from real solutions to energy problems, like the development of alternative technologies. However the trade off tends to be lighter, more flimsy cars and trucks which are more likely to kill their occupents in an accident.
Anthropology professor John J. Donohue elaborated on America's blue-pill infatuation in "Virtual Enlightenment: The Martial Arts, Cyberspace and American Culture" (Journal of Asian Martial Arts, Volume 11, No. 2, 2002).

He describes "an interesting cultural phenomenon of contemporary America: an enthusiasm for entertainment that focuses around strenuous physical activity in a population grown increasingly sedentary, the allure of imaginative interaction without true personal engagement, and a desire for mastery without effort."

He contrasts Matrix-like cyberspace martial arts with the real thing: "[t]he period of apprenticeship in traditional martial arts systems was not only long, uncomfortable and boring, but was also designed to weed out individuals who lacked the maturity of character necessary to reach a level of mastery."

Of course most students of the martial arts do not regard fatique and pain as virtues in and of themselves, but work at their craft for the spiritual and physical advantages the mastery of such arts offer.
This is what the space community is up to in the red-pill real world. Without illusions to sustain them, a few hardy souls are building little rockets, keeping little companies near the black, working through hard years of professional training, undertaking sustainable and effective projects. Building towards mastery, towards the time when a hard-won body of skills can be fully used to take us into space to stay.

A pretty good prescription for people at Scaled Composites and Armadillo Aerospace, but how does that apply to those without the money and/or the business acumen to start a company? It might have some application, but McKnight doesn't reveal this to us, instead choosen to careen back into his misuse of the Matrix as a metaphor:
Cyberspace martial arts "practice," Donohue contrasts, "permits programs to deliver 'symptoms' of mastery to the user without the psycho-physical transformation that truly occurs over a period of years in a training hall. Orthodox martial arts training has the potential to transform people into masters; video games have the power to seduce consumers into playing."

Likewise, many space-outreach programs and advocacy groups are geared not at producing eventual masters, but at seducing consumers into shilling out enough to keep their programs going.

They sell the dream of spaceflight we all share, but without a means of supporting their recruits through the years of anonymous struggle needed to make that dream a reality.

The dropout rate in space advocacy is probably comparable to that in the local dojo: huge. Consequently, their memberships tend to have a high volume of churn: rather than a core of "sempai," senior students working towards mastery, they have an endless supply of "kohai," fresh meat who sign up for a while then quit when they aren't able to dodge bullets after the first download, or live in the fantasy space cities that they design in their conference workshops.

A discussion of the sempai/kohai relationship, holds that its basis is in absolute truth (the red pill), as contrasted with comfort (the blue pill).

All the more credit, then, to the few who take the red pill and stay through the lean, unglamorous years.

Not all dreaming is blue-pill, though - a point I can't stress enough. We must know where we are going in order to get there, and the only way to do that is to dream of the future.

All change is a product of dreams, of envisioning something that does not yet exist. But change only occurs when those dreams are then translated into action, when the viewgraphs move to the shop floor and tin starts getting bent.

Again, McKnight offers no insight on how all this applies to space advocates who are not running space startups. What action does he propose to take? I certainly to not know.
In response to the scorn I heaped on the Space Settlement Initiative's advocates for their flights of utopian fantasy, one reader asked me, "What's so bad about Utopia?"

A previous attempt to answer that question, The Spacefaring Web 2.02, "The Critical Response," is available in the archives at. The short answer, though, is that wishful thinking of any sort, be it bureaucratic denial, pie in the sky space dreaming, viewgraph engineering or Matrix jiu jitsu, can only produce consumers, not masters.

There is a clear difference between the revolutionary dream and the blue-pill fantasy. Any honest account of the dream concludes by saying, "The way there is through blood, sweat, toil and tears." The blue-pill fantasy concludes, "Sign up for this limited-time offer!" Caveat emptor.

What constitutes "bureaucratic denial, pie in the sky space dreaming, viewgraph engineering or Matrix jiu jitsu?" What does McKnight considers "blood. sweat, toil, and tears?" And to what end?
Author's note: The previous issue of this column misattributed the press release about the Artemis Society/Moon Society's endorsement of the Space Settlement Initiative. The release was made by associates of the Initiative and was not cleared, in either language or timing, by the Artemis Society or Moon Society.

The Lunar folks are smart, practical people who're doing very good work alone and in cooperation with other groups. I erred in not confirming attribution of the silly and/or contentious statements in the press release prior to writing. However, I stand by all of my remarks with respect to the statement's actual authors.

It's a pity that McKnight feels that way, because his previous offer was incohorent, angry, and insulting. But we've already covered that.

Bob Walker is pretty sure that the Chinese are serious about occupying the Moon. I agree. And we know what we need to do to stop them.
If Clinton was the Napoleon of politics, Dick Morris thinks that George W. Bush is a master of the great game never before seen on this Earth.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

If the Democrats are as doomed as this indicates, they have only themselves to blame.
Coming to the London stage in 2005, The Lord of the Rings: The Musical. Oddly enough the many songs composed by Tolkein don't seem to be slated for inclusion.
Dick Morris gives Sid Blumenthal's love letter to Bill Clinton the thrashing it deserves.
Glenn Reynolds takes stock of the current state of space exploration. While he finds the preasent painfully depressing, he also has a glimmer of hope for the future.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

The Planetary Society endorses human space exploration. I have some issues about their approach, but it is a vast improvement over their "robots uber alles" stance of about twenty years ago.
Bryan Preston gives the Texas Democrats who fled to Oklahoma rather than to vote on a redistricting bill the back of his hand. He finds their pretensions about acting in the spirit of the Alamo-well-you see:
But the Dems' victory may prove as pyrrhic for its architects as Santa Anna's at the Alamo. That battle was his last major win: He soon lost Texas to Sam Houston's rested army at San Jacinto. Recent polls show that 59 percent of Texas voters think the fleeing 53 Democrats' actions were "very wrong." Texans will undoubtedly punish them next year.

Sunday, May 25, 2003

Looks like the mullahs of Iran will be the next group of fools to go up against George W. Bush and lose.

Saturday, May 24, 2003

Science research conducted on the space shuttle has been controversial, but is not quite as useless as critics maintain. Still, the point that microgravity research is expensive due to the high cost of operating the space shuttle is a legitiment one. The solution, in my mind, is not to abandon such research, but rather to find ways to make it cheaper.
The bloodbath at the New York Times is spreading.

Friday, May 23, 2003

Dr. Paul Spudis, author of The Once and Future Moon, has an interesting article about a return to the Moon in the current issue of Astronomy Magazine. It seems to only be in the dead tree edition, but it's well worth the price of the magazine.
A view of the Earth from Mars.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

According to the Uchronia alternate history site, the latest epic series by Harry Turtledove, master of that genre, will be called Days of Infamy and will depict the Japanese invasion of Hawaii.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Chris Hedges, a reporter for the New York Times, went to Rockford College to deliver a commencement address filled with hatred for the United States and bigotry against the soldiers and sailors who defend her. Much to his distress, he found out that student apathy is not a problem on the Rockford campus. He did not, I suspect, find out that it is not the journalist who ensures freedom of the press, it is the soldier.
President Bush gives Europe a much needed thrashing over its opposition to genetically modified food. This luddite policy has the side effect of killing a whole lot of Africans.
One benefit of the post 9/11 age is that the tiresome phobia against missile defense seems to be melting away.
John Kerry, be afraid. Be very afraid.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

According to Newsmax.Com's Left Coast Report, the movie Matrix: Reloaded is being slammed for bigotry against albinos:
The record-breaking box office hit "The Matrix: Reloaded" has thrown some folks into a white-hot frenzy.

As usual, Hollywood is taking some heat for its choice of villains. The movie bad guys in question have white hair, red eyes and very light skin. This has raised the ire of the melanin-challenged among us.

Dr. Jim Haefemeyer of the National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation told Jeannette Walls of MSNBC that letters were sent to Warner Bros. expressing the concerns of the group. So far the studio hasn't written back.

A rep for Warner Bros. gave an explanation for the villains' ghostly appearance. "We don't call them albinos. They're dead. That's why they're pale." What he's saying is that they're really those time-honored ghouls commonly known as vampires.

Maybe the whole problem stemmed from the fact that so many in the entertainment press had already classified the evil pallid twins as albinos.

Monday, May 19, 2003

Lucianne Goldberg, who really should write her memoirs one of these days, remembers what a hot bed of female lust the Kennedy White House was. She also compares Mimi and Monica and you can guess who comes up short.

The Washington Times comes close to getting it right insofar as what ought to be done in the wake of the Columbia tragedy.
NASA's greatest challenge is not making a final determination of the failures that led to Columbia's demise, nor is it rejuvenating a safety program that was simply not up to task. It is not even in finding a safer replacement for the shuttle. After all, space travel is an inherently risky enterprise. No amount of planning can account for every contingency, and no amount of preparation can avoid every eventuality.
NASA's real challenge is determining in which direction the manned program shall go, whether a voyage to Mars, a permanent manned base on the moon, or even an intermediate step, such as a series of manned missions to potentially earth-threatening asteroids.
That decision, and the resolution to see it though, can only come from the top. Several months ago, we called for Mr. Bush to give the space program a tangible target in his next State of the Union address. Now that the fighting in Iraq has finished and the tax cut has passed, Mr. Bush must make the direction of the manned space program a priority.

Sunday, May 18, 2003

Naturally we saw Martrix: Reloaded Friday night. While the movie had that burden of all sequals in that it lacked that wonderful element of discovery, it was a satisfying enough viewing. There were enough digital gun fights, sword fights, kung fu fights, and car chases to filled up twenty ordinary movies. There was a three minute sex scene that Ms. Curmudgeon thought was two and a half minutes too long. And, of course, there were the lame attempts to slather on some pop philosophy to try to elevate the film into something beyond what it was.

Finally the presence of Cornel West, academic race baiter, in the council of Zion, the city of the free humans, was a bit jarring for me. I would have cast Dr. Walter Williams and really caused a lot of controversy.

Friday, May 16, 2003

Hugh Jackman, AKA Wolverine, as King Cyrus of Persia? Looks like it could happen.

Very apt, considering that Cyrus conquered Babylon (modern Iraq) over 2500 years ago

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Alan Wasser reacts to McKnight's slam against space property rights and those who dare to speak of them more in sorrow than in anger:
Dear John Carter,

First, I must to thank you very much for your endorsement and kind words about the Space Settlement Initiative ( .

But then I must tell you how saddened and amazed I was to read your totally unfair and unwarranted attacks on the Moon Society and Artemis - with such colorfully awful language as "manic-depressive teen obsession".

John, I understand that it was only because you, personally, completely misunderstood what you were reading in several different ways, and I am sure that when you do understand, you will agree that you owe them a sincere public apology.

Your first misunderstanding was revealed when you said "A recent press release by the Moon Society and Artemis Society (
provides a textbook example of that bipolar adolescent attitude in action."

John, as the release itself so plainly stated, it wasn't from the Moon Society and Artemis Society - it was from the Space Settlement Initiative. From Dave and me! He's not even a member, let alone a spokesman for them.

All the Moon Society and Artemis Society did was the same thing you have been kind enough to do several times now - endorse the Space Settlement Initiative. The comments that annoyed you weren't theirs - and weren't attributed to them. They were clearly Dave's and mine.

As you must have known, the Moon Society and Artemis Society even issued a press release that also endorsed your "Space Settlement Summit" meeting.

So why would you say such terrible things about them?

John, I've seen the inside of space activism for a quarter century, now. I'm an Advocate of the Foundation. I was formerly a Board member of both the L5 Society and ProSpace and I'm still on the board of the National Space Society. Therefore, I think I've earned the right to the following personal opinion, which your attacks force me to state publicly, (but remember - it is mine alone - don't blame them):

The leadership of the Moon Society and Artemis Society, - Greg Bennett, Arthur Smith, Randall Severy, etc. - is - today - the best, the brightest, the most courageous and sensible in space activism. They don't suffer from excess ego or "not invented here" syndrome. They are focused on practical steps to achieve our mutual goals, and aren't afraid to support controversial objectives.

Personally, those two are the only space activist groups I would give a dime to today.

I'm glad the groups in your "Summit" meeting had the courage to endorse space settlement. That was good. But supposedly that was the reason our movement was founded about three decades ago. How many hero medals do you guys want for your incredible shrinking "art of the possible" - which still doesn't even think about how to get to space settlement - all these years later.

Therefore, I drew a comparison in that release between what that meeting did and what the Moon & Artemis Societies do all the time. I did, not them. If it offended you, I'm sorry. But how dare you berate them like that just because I think they are superior.

The second big flaw in your piece is the Foundation's constant mistake.
The Foundation loves the words "free enterprise" and "capitalism" but is embarrassed by the word "profit". You act as though there is no importance to the question of profitability - that all we need to do, to mobilize capitalism, is to get the government to stop competing.

"Before long, a private vehicle will make a successful suborbital flight. That flight will mark a passage from adolescence to adulthood for the space community, an achievement of independence from the stifling paternalism of stagnant government programs."

Will they make a sufficient profit to justify the cost of further development? How?

Do you care?

Do you think profitability matters to capitalism?

(By the way, I wonder if you know just how many times in the past years Foundationers have said similarly silly things about that week's promised private launch. Dozens.)

Anyone building a profitless space vehicle's not being a capitalist. He's being a philanthropist. Capitalists do things to make a profit. They do risky things like develop space transport only to make a BIG profit.

When will you guys face up to the fact that you are going to have to find SOME way to offer a BIG profit for the development of C.A.T.S. (for the development of safe, reliable, affordable space transport) before private enterprise will do it for us.

If you do find some way to make it really, really profitable - they will do it, (maybe even if the government is still competing).

But if there continues to be no profit in developing C.A.T.S., your horizons will keep shrinking and your "art of the possible" will continue to get smaller and smaller.

How sad, after all these years, to hear a space activist deride the excitement of space as "teen spirit" and say "There will be a time when most bright, imaginative kids will immerse themselves in the reality of space access. But not today. There will be a time when we unite for an exciting push out into the cosmos. But not today." When? What will make that day come?

Our release talked about one way to make C.A.T.S. profitable.

That IS what we need to do TODAY.

Do you have an alternative way to make C.A.T.S. profitable?

Or will you just continue to ignore the embarrassing word "profit"?

very sadly,
your friend Alan
ps: Don't miss: for May 14th.
It is brilliantly right on.

Dave Brett, who actually authored the press release Mr. McKnight (see below) had troubles with has a comment:

I really appreciate it because I am the one who
actually wrote that press release. I guess someone
forwarded the release to McKnight, and it wasn't
clear to him that I don't represent the Moon Society
or the Artemis Society.

Dave Brett
Austin, TX

Rand Simberg sings an elegy to a space station launched thirty years ago this week.

My fondest memory of Skylab was when Pete Conrad made some much needed repairs to the station using tools from Sears. One of my more cynical friends had suggested at the time that NASA had engineered the who operation to answer critics who disdained the idea of people in space.

In any case, things like Skylab reminds us what we threw away when we stopped building Saturn Vs and made NASA into a space faring tax service.
Michelle Yeoh and Chow Yun-Fat, who were so magnificent together in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, will be reunited in a live action, Chinese language film Hua Mulan. You may remember that Mulan, about a Chinese woman who disguises herself as a man and leads China's armies to victory over the Turks, got the animated Disney treatment a few years back with Eddie Murphy voicing a talking dragon.
Michael Mealing, representing the Artemis/Moon Society, responds to John Carter McKnight (see Fisking below).

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

I have not commented on the New York Times scandal because frankly the idea of reporters working for far left North Eastern newspapers lying is hardly news. However, the beautious Ann Coulter has a few sharp words about the whole affair.
Here's a story about one of the Canadian teams going after the X Prize.
John Carter McKnight offers a polemic against loose talk about private property rights in space filled with such viciousness that one wonders about his state of mind when writing it. Private property rights in space is a concept which is not only mentioned in the press releases of space advocacy groups, but from time to time in distinquished law journals. Yet McKnight thinks that even mentioning the subject is a sign of childishness and mental disorder. His article is as filled with ad hominem attacks as it is devoid of rational argument. Thus, it deserves closer examination.
Before long, a private vehicle will make a successful suborbital flight. That flight will mark a passage from adolescence to adulthood for the space community, an achievement of independence from the stifling paternalism of stagnant government programs.

The efforts of the entrepreneurial rocket companies have been reminiscent of the ritual that marks the passage to adulthood in our culture - not the Confirmation or Bar Mitzvah, but the drivers' license road test.

Like driving, suborbital flight is no big deal to the adults at NASA and the Russian Space Agency, who mastered it a generation ago. Everyone else has been working towards that unglamorous rite of passage, not seeking to storm the heavens or revolutionize the world, but merely to re-create Alan Shepard's flight of forty years ago. To get the rest of the space community its drivers' license.

Now if Mr.McKnight had continued in this vein, or better yet stopped right there, he would have written an interesting and insightful essay. Alas he chose to take a sudden and dark turn.
While the small rocket companies prepare for that suborbital Department of Motor Vehicles exam, the X Prize, some still cling to adolescence, turning with cynicism from the real to their fantasies of the ideal.
Cynicism and utopian idealism go hand in hand - both are rejections of the possible in favor of the ideal. The space cynic considers any constructive action by NASA not just unlikely but impossible, and treating with the space agency akin to dancing with the devil. The utopian rejects all current efforts as dangerous distractions from the "real work" of bringing about a spacefaring paradise.

Here McKnight careens from a celebration of private space efforts to a swipe at anyone who criticizes NASA. I’m not sure what one has to do with the other. NASA’s big problem is that it is running a government operated and funded space taxi service, something which ought to be the province of the private sector which McKnight lauds in his opening paragraphs.
A recent press release by the Moon Society and Artemis Society provides a textbook example of that bipolar adolescent attitude in action. The organization rejects "other groups'" strategy of engaging audiences with a credible message. Rather, they implicitly favor preaching doctrinal purity even at the price of public incredulity, going on to reject the notion of establishing a consensus to build upon rather than pushing for "utopia now."

Taking a pouty swipe at those engaging in the political "art of the possible," referring to the Space Settlement Summit effort ( The Spacefaring Web 3.07, the Moon Society/Artemis Society writes that "several other space advocacy groups now say they are ready to publicly espouse the idea of space settlement after years of being afraid to do so very loudly for fear it sounded to 'way out'… but, as always, failed to support any plan directly targeted to promote space settlement."

After wingeing (sic) that the grownups haven't given them their whole Christmas list, they go on to endorse "the most realistic and achievable method for encouraging private enterprise in outer space."

A media program? Investor briefings? Low-cost rocketry? No - the "Space Settlement Initiative," a system for recognizing extraterrestrial real estate claims.

McKnight alas does not define what he means by “credible message” or “the political art of the possible.” He seems to think that a “system for recognizing extraterrestrial real estate claims” is neither of these things. He continues to try to explain why.
Bear in mind that this press release was issued the day a crew departed for the International Space Station - by Soyuz. On a day when the United States had no means of sending humans into space, when humanity's entire stock of flightworthy spacecraft consisted of a few steel balls sitting in Russian warehouses. The level of wishful thinking, of willing disengagement from reality, is staggering.

I’m not sure how the current troubles involving the space shuttle fleet somehow make “system for recognizing extraterrestrial real estate claims” wishful thinking and a willing disengagement from reality. It would seem to me that private property rights in space might prove to be an impetus for some of the private space launch efforts McKnight celebrates in his opening paragraphs. The knowledge that one might own real estate on-say-the Moon and have one’s private activities protected would be a better spur to private investment than the current state of affairs. McKnight seems to crudgingly recognize this in his next paragraph.
This is not to condemn Alan Wasser's Space Settlement Initiative on its philosophical merits. As a discussion point, a proposal to shape future efforts, the Initiative has much to recommend it, and is superior to many competing space property rights schemas in the literature. As a concept, the Initiative is excellent work.However, just not now or in the foreseeable future.

As a rallying point for political action today, its choice by the Moon Society/Artemis Society is a breathtaking rejection of adult engagement with reality as it stands today, reminiscent of the people who consider themselves "residents" of online gaming worlds rather than the disappointing land of meatware. It is Peter Pannishness of the worst sort, and an insult to the people getting their hands dirty in the Mojave in an attempt to earn the space community's way to adulthood.

Here’s where we really get into the cheap shots substituting for rational argument. I’m especially flabbergasted at the concept that calling for a system of private property rights in space is an “insult” to rocket entrepreneurs. How is it an insult and not, as anyone who examines the issue closely, something that actually supports their efforts?
The Moon Society/Artemis Society is not alone in clinging to adolescence. For the Baby Boom generation, efforts to re-create an Apollo program for the Moon or Mars are an attempt to regain their Camelot, that high school team-spirit feeling of solidarity, enthusiasm and purpose.

Actually a case can be made for government-funded expeditions to the Moon and Mars that would pave the way for private settlement and development. The slam against Apollo stems from how it ended without any follow through. We abandoned the Moon and instead embarked on a thirty year experiment in a government run space taxi service. I’m not sure what McKnight’s beef is against space exploration, except that he thinks it isn’t very cool.
Those of us a bit younger felt that magical teen hormonal rush in the late 1990s, in the founding days and nights of the Mars Society and the Roton rollout. Recession and robotic failures dashed us with adult reality just as Vietnam and urban riots did our forebears.

Perhaps this is the root of McKnight’s problem. Instead of learning from such setbacks and pushing on, he’s decided that it’s better to throw cheap shots at those who dare to do so.
There's a difference between healthy idealism and manic-depressive teen obsession. It's an easy distinction to lose, especially in a community united around enthusiasm. The impulse towards space is driven by the majesty of the universe, by the sense of infinite possibility in our expansion into the cosmos. Heady stuff, and passionate engagement should arise from our grand visions.

Yet McKnight seems to think that idealism and mental illness is one in the same.
The mature attitude, though, charts a course between grandeur of vision and the boundedness of the possible, between the future we would create and the present we must create it from. Immaturity lies in living in our castles in the sky, in refusing to sully our dreams with reality.

McKnight goes on to try to buttress his argument with both the religious right and Lenin, which should make that argument suspect on its face.
Religious conservatives refer to this adolescent fantasy as "immanentizing the eschaton," of trying to live in the transcendent moment rather than the mundane world. At the other end of the spectrum, Lenin called the socialist utopianism of leftist dreamers a "childhood disease," to be outgrown through engagement with "objective conditions."

McKnight goes on to call for a Stalinist style purge of everyone from space activism who dares even to mention “space property rights.”
The Moon Society/Artemis Society press release, and much of the commentary on future space transportation, manifest that "childhood disease." They should be quarantined with "space mumps," the symptoms being an urge to move right into castles in the sky, coupled with a sullen resentment of unglamorous reality.

We should do it, for the children.
Much of the space-education effort displays space mumps symptoms. "Getting kids excited about space" is pretty much a direct translation of "immanentizing the eschaton." It's a putting of the excitement cart before the reality horse.

Space education programs fall flat because the genuine excitement of hands-on engagement with something uniquely, generationally new and timely is simply absent. Rather than remedy the problem by advancing space access, giving rise to genuine passion and interest, these programs attempt to generate enthusiasm in a way transparently phony to kids, who have a finely-honed nose for the foolishness of adults trying to act like teenagers, whether in trying to recapture their own youth by imitating the young or in trying to talk to them in their own language.

There was little need in the last decade for programs, governmental or nonprofit, to get kids excited about computers. Why? They were exciting. The time was right, the technology was available, malleable, and eminently suited to creative play. Space technology isn't there, and all the wishful thinking, and "space is kewl" phoniness won't change that fact.

But again what does all that have to do with space property rights? The issue is esoteric enough that I doubt it ever creeps into these efforts.

The problem isn't youthful enthusiasm - it's the divorce of that enthusiasm from appropriate circumstances, like 20-somethings still hanging out at the high school football games. There will be a time when space property rights will top rational space advocacy agendas. But not today . There will be a time when most bright, imaginative kids will immerse themselves in the reality of space access. But not today. There will be a time when we unite for an exciting push out into the cosmos. But not today.

If not now, then when? The problem with McKnight’s thesis is that the time is never “quite right” to discuss space property rights.
Today we're confronted with workaday tasks of engineering, finance and marketing, with the long-neglected foundational work that must precede sustainable space development. Much of it is about as exciting as refinancing a mortgage - but just as necessary for our future.

We have to get up in the morning and go about the workaday tasks of ensuring interest in space - in real space deliverables, not orbital sky castles or a Red Eschaton - and cheap, safe, routine access to Earth orbit. Wishful thinking and pouty utopianism can only keep us from our adult responsibilities. If we need to feel that teen rush again, well, there's always rock & roll.

McKnight finishes his rant by pounding in the theme that space property rights and supporting commercial access to space are somehow incompatible. Since he can’t prove this with rational arguments, he uses insulting language and a hostile tone. In so doing he does a great disservice to the cause of opening up the high frontier of space.

I think that this movie should be entitled Portrait of a Gourmet as a Young Man.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Here's one idea how NASA can foster free market space transportation.
The Bush Administration's space remote sensing policy heavily favors the free market. Now if the White House applies the same princible to space transportation, we're off to the races.
Thirty years ago today, Skylab was launched. More on that and on space stations in general anon,

Monday, May 12, 2003

Texas politics can sometimes strain credulity. Where else would one find members of the legislature who literally flee the state in order to prevent a quorum so that legislation they don't like won't get passed?
The Orbital Space Plane is running into some flack in the Congress, well deserved in my opinion. Interestingly enough, some alternatives are gaining some traction:
Griffin said NASA needs to pursue an alternative that offers greater promise for phasing out the space shuttle sooner rather than later. Despite grand ambitions for the shuttle, he said, the vehicle has proven more costly to operate and less reliable than hoped. "It is time to move on," he said. Griffin proposed modifying the space shuttle for extended stays at the space station, a move that would buy NASA some time for developing an OSP that does more than go back and forth to the station.

At the same time, Griffin said, NASA ought to restore the Alternate Access to the Station program that it plans to shut down at the end of July.

Dale Myer, the president of Dale Myers and Associates and a former NASA deputy administrator, said NASA ought to conduct an in-depth study of developing a crew rescue and transfer vehicle based on the Apollo command module. An assessment Myers conducted on behalf of NASA earlier this year found that an Apollo-derived capsule could meet most of NASA's requirements for the OSP program, be ready to go in four to six years and cost considerably less than a winged vehicle.

Angel, one of my favorite TV shows about a vampire trying to atone for his former evil ways, has been thankfully renewed.
While some of the outside experts cited in this story are either politicians or in one case an anti human space flight history professor, the idea that material fatique might limit the operating life of the remaining space shuttle fleet is a serious one. My suspician that even while NASA officially denies this is a problem, it will try to find solutions for it.

Sunday, May 11, 2003

Thomas James has the interesting idea that the Orbital Space Plane project will help private enterprises in a kind of oblique manner. Of course it depends on two things happening.

First, the OSP has to fail, but occupy NASA's attention for a few years. Based on the previous experience of X 33, etc this might seem like a safe bet. However, I would suggest that because of Administrator O'Keefe's management reforms and because of the limited scope of the OSP (as opposed to previous efforts), the project actually might get off the ground,

Second, NASA has to not see the efforts of the private companies as a threat. One would hope this would be the case under an administration that champions free enterprise as a princible. But a paranoid person might also see NASA trying to crush its competitors by using its influence to entangle them in regulartory snares. And even if it doesn't, regulation may prove as great if not greater a regulatory hurtle as any of the technical ones.

Saturday, May 10, 2003

Thomas James gives Congressman Joe Barton the back of his hand for calling for the ending of the space shuttle program without having thought through what happens next.

Friday, May 09, 2003

Thanks to low taxes, deregulation, and free trade, the per capita income in Ireland has surpassed that of Great Britain. Considering how the British treated Ireland for about eight hundred years, this might be the great example of the best revenge being to live well.
Here and here can be found evidence that the Senate GOP is about to launch a full scale nuclear strike against Democrat obstuction of Bush judicial nominees. Mr. Daschle, if ye choose to sow the wind, be prepared to reap the whirlwind.
Here's another hint that NASA finds the Aitken Basin on the lunar South Pole very interesting. Please note the first paragraph of the link.
Why is NASA proposing to spend billions on an "Orbital Space Plane" when private industry is working on the problem of space access for far less money. A good question.

Thursday, May 08, 2003

While private lunar ventures proceed apace (see below) NASA is considering a Lunar South Pole Aitken Basin Sample Return mission. As fas as it goes, it would be a fine thing. But let's not diddle around with sending a robot to do a human's job, shall we? Let's send a couple of geologists at least.

Come to think of it, we've already referenced a study being conducted at NASA to revive the Apollo command and service module as the basis of the Orbital Space Plane. Considering the potential for private solutions to the ISS access problem, I think this is a questionable move. However, if NASA wanted to build an Apollo with modern materials, electronics, and so on, and use it for what it was intended-taking people to the Moon-then I would be rather enthusiastic.

To see how a Lunar South Pole mission might have gone in the Apollo era, by the way, I offer this bit of adventure fiction.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Democrats are losing their minds over President Bush's visit to the Abe Lincoln.
Hugh Hewitt imagines AFL/CIO's John Sweeny complaining to the portrait of his predecessor, George Meany, about the whipping the Democrats are likely to get next year.
More on the private race to the Moon.
While NASA struggles to get the space shuttle fleet back into service and wonders how to build a new orbital space plane, the race to build the first private sub orbital space craft is going full out.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Gary Hartpence has decided to deprive the American people of the possibility of his gracing the Oval Office with his presence. Too bad. The only entertainment I've gotten so far from this campaign cycle has been the school girl slap fight between John French Kerry and Howard Dean at last Saturday's debate.
The foam problem, which likely killed Columbia and her crew, stemed from some dubious decisions take during the Clinton/Gore/Goldin era.
Paul Weyrich suggests a method to break the absurd and dangerous Democrat fillibuster of Bush judicial nominees.
More evidence why Kyoto is a joke.

Monday, May 05, 2003

I wonder. Is it pique at being left out that is causing France to do everything it can imagine to get included in the Axis of Evil?
Sir Anthony Hopkins will play Ptolemy in Oliver Stone's Alexander the Great epic. Ptolemy was one of Alexander's Generals who later became King of Egypt, founding the dynasty which ended with Cleopatra. Colin Farrell plays Alexander.
Dick Morris shows one reason why peace in the Middle East is so elusive. Queen Noor should be ashamed of herself.

Saturday, May 03, 2003

George Will suggests getting rid of racial categories because increasingly people in the United States do not fit into them. Why? Interracial marriage creating millions of people of mixed ancestory.
Progress toward repairing spinal cord injuries.
Clearly the UN needs to deploy peace keepers to control the unrestrained looting going on at the sumptuous restaraunts at its New York headquarters.
Now here's something you don't see every day. A publically traded knocking shop.
We saw X2 last night and found it the usual enjoyable SF blockbuster, filled with special effects and explosions. Of course some movie critics, being addled lefties, want to read more into the film than is there Jonathon Adler gives these people the back of his hand, with which we concur.

Friday, May 02, 2003

John McCain must be breaking the furniture about now. And not because the President looks better than he does in a flight suit.
The filming of the epic The Alamo proceeds apace.
Here is what the President had to say from the flight deck of the Abe Lincoln.

Thursday, May 01, 2003

Speaking of ID4, it seems that a script for a sequal is in the works.
Peter Jennings slanting the news to make a communist dictatorship look good? Shocked! Shocked, I am!
I just saw the President landing aboard the Abe Lincoln. I don't know about you, but if I didn't know he was the President, I would have taken him for the commander of the Lincoln's air wing, resplendent in his flight suit, working the crowd of pilots and flight crewmen. He's right out of central casting.

Addendum. My wife says Dubya reminds her of Bill Pullman getting ready to lead the air armada against the invading aliens.