Monday, June 30, 2003

Mel Gibson as King Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great? Could be.
You may remember a few weeks ago when 51 Democratic members of the Texas Legislature literally fled the state in order to sink a proposal to redraw Congressional districts. It seems that this embaressing episode was all for nought.
A fellow named Mark Mortimer has exceeded the bounds of stupidity-there is no polite way to put it-by suggesting that the sums needed to expand civilization into space are not available because of the increased cost of extracting oil. His piece needs a full court examination.
The 1960's was an euphoric decade for space enthusiasts. Starting from almost nothing a program to carry members of humanity to Earth's Moon was designed and built. After this great step, the subsequent decade saw not only the end of human travel to outer-space but another less glamorous but more telling event.

I guess all of those shuttle launches and Soyez launches never happened. Oh, and the International Space Station, Mir, several generations of Sayluts, and of course Skylab never existed
This event was the peak in conventional oil production for the United States. Activities in space require an inordinate amount of direct energy (i.e. launches) and indirect energy (i.e. launch technicians commuting to work).

Without allocating another significant amount of the earth's resources and especially energy to space endeavours there will be no settlements in space nor precious little for space enthusiasts to be happy about.

This is the first I have heard that rocket ships were oil fired or perhaps Mr. Mortimer thinks they run on gasoline.
What does a peak in conventional oil production have to do with human space settlement? First, let's consider the value of oil. In a nutshell, oil enables more and more people on Earth to expect and get more and more resources for their daily living whether watching plasma televisions, commuting to work in SUV's or flying to business meetings.

The production, distribution and operation of the devices used in these activities rely predominantly on energy derived from oil. Oil and other nonrenewable resources have been consumed at an exponential rate since the start of the industrial age. The most significant per capita consumption occurs in North America and Europe.

What about natural gas and coal? Not to mention nuclear?
Yet, for example, the United States since 1970 has had a decreasing oil production. They are not an isolated case. Nonrenewable resources are being depleted all across the globe. Educated estimates for the occurrence of global peak production is somewhere between the years 2005 to 2010. At some moment during this time the amount of oil being produced worldwide will begin inexorably to shrink.

Mr. Mortimer does not cite a source for this statement, so I can't fact check him here. Suffice to say that the world supply of oil has been depleated since 1859, when the first well was drilled in Pennsylvania. New sources are being found all the time, so I have my doubts that his statement is actually true.
What exasperates this scenario further is that the 'cheap' energy sources are already almost completely used. Just look at the oil industry in Texas. At one time this oil was near the surface and close to market. Now, it is all but consumed.

The estimated profit factor for extracting oil during the 1940's was about 100 (i.e. It takes one unit of energy to extract 100 units of energy of oil). The factor for oil discovered today is at or less than 10.

A tiny fraction of energy comes from renewable resources yet these have a profit factor of 3 or less except for a few instances from geothermal and hydroelectric sources. With more and more energy being used just to extract energy there is relatively less and less available for use in people's daily lives.

Again I can't fact check Mr.Mortimer because he fails to provide a source for this statement. The last sentence is certainly not true and Mortimer will contradict himself later on.
Even though the production of oil has peaked in the United States and is nearing a peak world wide, the usage of oil/energy has not peaked. In the United States, both the per capita energy consumption and the population continues to increase.

There you are. There is less energy available, yet we are using more. I'm not sure how that can be.
This trend is repeated for almost all countries except for a few that have diminishing populations. None have a decrease in energy usage. The net result of this increasing consumption of oil/energy coupled with a peak in the production of nonrenewable resources is an increased allocation of energy resources to maintain people's standard of living and a decrease of energy resources for research or infrastructure especially on the scale of a space settlement.

Again Mr. Mortimer seems to think that oil is the only surce of energy. I repeat myself: natural gas, coal, nuclear. And that doesn't cover renewables. Also I get the impression that Mr. Mortimer fails to take into account the cost savings of more energy efficient machines, ranging for automobiles to home appliances. Finally, energy costs are just one factor in determining how "affordable" a space settlement is. Here's a fact Mr. Mortimer does not consider. In 1961, the year Kennedy announced the Moon landing goal, the GDP-adjusted for inflation for the United States was just over five hundred billion dollars. Last year it was in excess of 11 trillion and is still growing.
A somewhat overly-optimistic estimate of 10 to 25 years is needed to en place a colony on the moon. Upon completion this lunar base would facilitate further expansion into space. Commensurate with its completion would be a considerable addition to humanity's knowledge base.

However, this space settlement would not improve people's standard of living nor provide an appreciable source of energy. Rather, depleting the earth's dwindling energy resources to the tune of $100B US to $500B US would have an immediate detrimental effect on people's standard of living.

I can't once again fact check Mr. Mortimer because he does not provide sources for his figures. Also it looks like Mortimer thinks that all that loose talk about space solar power and fusion fueled by helium 3 is just that.
Even more challenging is that this base or any space settlement would be constructed either when oil peak production occurs or more likely after it occurs. People's standard of living will be decreasing due to the decrease in nonrenewable resources, I expect they will be loath to give up more of their standard of living for the minimal short term benefit of a lunar colony or any other space settlement.

"People's standard of living will be decreasing due to the decrease in nonrenewable resources." I guess there's no hope for expanding nuclear, hydrogen fuel cells, more efficient ground based solar, not to mention the space based solar and fusion hitherto mentioned.
I would like to think that humanity's future is brighter than the dim picture portrayed above. Maybe people will devise an energy source that would permit the continual increase of the standard of living of an every increasing population. Even better, this new energy source would have a surplus to allow for continual research and infrastructure development including space settlements.

However, without this new source I think people will be putting more and more effort into maintaining their existing standard of living and less and less on building for the future. The bolt that was the Apollo program may have been humanity's one and only opportunity to shoot out to space.

The idiocy of that last statement rather speaks for itself. Not to worry, though. People are far more clever than Mr. Mortimer gives them credit for. When the supply of a commodity (such as oil) gets smaller, people either find more of it or find substitutes. Not that we're running out, mind you, but it's a well understood princible of economics. And of course the availability and price of energy is only one factor determining the resources available to expand humanity to the stars. Unlike what Mortimer suggests, there are far resources available in 2003 than there were in 1963. And, of course, technology improves apace.

Mr.Mortimer on the other hand would do well to study a little economics before publishing this drivel.

Sunday, June 29, 2003

The most important project NASA has embarked upon is getting its financial house in order. Only then can the space agency return to being a positive force in the opening of the high frontier of space.
The Palestinians may get a country of their own, out of the folly of diplomats, but they are still less a nation than a grotesque death cult.
Kate Hepburn has passed on. My favorite of her films was The Lion in Winter in which she stole scenes from such as Peter O'Toole, Anthony Hopkins, and Timothy Dalton.

Friday, June 27, 2003

Many thanks to reader Wayne White for pointing out this article on the Chinese space challenge by Dr. Joan Johnson-Freese, Chair of the National Security Decision Making Department at the United States Naval War College. An expanded version of this piece will be found in the Naval War College Review, Summer 2003, Vol. LVI, No. 3.
Trial lawyers, having reaped billions by suing big tobacco, have now set their sights on "big food." The commercial described here may seem far fetched and funny, but don't count on it not actually happening in the future unless something is done.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

In Japan, they have replaced the impersonal and unhelpful Microsoft error messages with Haiku poetry messages. They're used to communicate a timeless message, often achieving a wistful, yearning and powerful insight through extreme brevity. Here are some actual error messages from Japan:


The Web site you seek
Cannot be located, but
Countless more exist.


Chaos reigns within.
Reflect, repent, and reboot.
Order shall return.


Program aborting:
Close all that you have worked on.
You ask far too much.


Windows NT crashed.
I am the Blue Screen of Death.
No one hears your screams.


Yesterday it worked.
Today it is not working.
Windows is like that.


Your file was so big.
It might be very useful.
But now it is gone.


Stay the patient course.
Of little worth is your ire.
The network is down.


A crash reduces
Your expensive computer
To a simple stone.


Three things are certain:
Death, taxes and lost data.
Guess which has occurred.


You step in the stream,
But the water has moved on.
This page is not here.


Out of memory.
We wish to hold the whole sky,
But we never will.


Having been erased,
The document you're seeking
Must now be retyped.


Serious error.
All shortcuts have disappeared.
Both are blank.
Sarah Saga is now free and on American soil. Unfortunately her children, as well as too many American citizens and their children, are still held hostage by the Saudi regime.
The Washington Time's Inside the Beltway section had this observation of how modern government have complicated our lives:
The quote of a National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration official in last Sunday's Washington Times — "We are NOAA and we are building an ark" — caught the eye of Jay Allen of Sterling, Va.
"This got me to thinking," he says, "were our rains of the last few weeks of biblical proportions, could we have built an ark? I am afraid in this day of ubiquitous government, there are more obstacles to overcome then even the Almighty could manage."
Without further ado, Mr. Allen's "10 reasons NOAA couldn't build the ark."
10. It's already been raining for 40 days and nights.
9. It would take three years for an environmental impact study before funding was approved.
8. Democrats would be concerned about adding to the deficit.
7. The Endangered Species Act won't allow certain species to be removed from their habitat.
6. Organized unions
5. OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) — need we say more?
4. The Environmental Protection Agency wouldn't let you dump the "stuff" at the bottom of the ark.
3. The French would insist on a U.N. Security Council resolution.
2. Homeland Security would want everybody scanned before boarding.
1. God said, "Build Me an ark" — the ACLU would be all over that.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Looks like NASCARs appeasement of Jesse Jackson hasn't worked.
Bill Clinton, proving once again that everything that comes out of his mouth is likely a lie, claims he loves paying taxes.

He also says that he wants to be audited every year. Since that sounds suspiciously like Gary Hartpence's challenge to the media to check up on his alley catting, I think he should be taken up on it.
John Carter McKnight's reign of error continues with a very strange article which suggests that the evil corporations are going to "take over" the high frontier and that entrenpeneurs need not apply. Right. Sort of like how Boeing and Lockmart have brought down launch costs.
If you're worried about the world being destroyed, by accident or by deliberate design by crazy terrorists, here's a group that wants to ensure that humanity will live on.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Some interesting concepts of how to get around the universe besides boring, old chemical rockets.
Florida Today editorializes that the space shuttle fleet needs to be phased out and that the planned Orbital Spavce Plane will be too late to replace it.

One concept that holds promise has been examined by a team led by six-time astronaut and Apollo 16 moonwalker John Young, who commanded Columbia on the first shuttle mission in 1981.

They say a scaled-up, highly modernized version of the Apollo capsule could work.

Much about this concept remains to be determined, including whether the capsule would be disposable or reusable, how many astronauts it would carry and the program's pricetag.

While more study obviously is needed, the potential for an effective way to get humans into orbit without the shuttle is there, and with it the opportunity to utilize the spacecraft as a space station lifeboat, a role now filled by Russian Soyuz capsules.

I think this piece misses the point. Attempt after attempt to build a government built and run space liner right has already wasted tens of billions of dollars. Even if the next attempt is successfull, a great opportunity would be missed. Instead of trying to build a slightly cheaper, slightly more reliable space shuttle, let's go to the private sector for NASA's space launch services and let NASA be a customer rather than an operator.

Of course, if NASA wants to build "Children of Apollo" for a purpose such would be far better suited for-taking people back to the Moon-I would have a different additude.
Rand Simberg has a response to my Space Review piece. His point has merit. While I have been waiting for the great private space launch breakthrough since Otraig in the 1970s, I think we are close to achieving it. However we're not doing enough to encourage such efforts, especially insofar as NASA is concerned. Also I'm not sure of any private manned effort for a return to the Moon that is likely to see fruition any time soon. Part of my proposed response to the Chinese challenge is a manned return to the Moon whose primary purpose would be to field test technologies needed to get there and live and work there. I would even support an Antartica style base on the lunar surface, though with the stipulation that the Moon would not be closed to private development and that the base would be the core of the first human settlement beyond the Earth.

Of course I don't think either China or NASA are "irrelevant" to space. I've explained my reasoning about China. NASA is, however, a negative drag on opening space, especially in the manned part. Restructured and given useful things to do, NASA can be an asset. And since, like most government agencies, it is not likely to go away, it behooves us to make it one.
The most entertaining gaffe so far of Campaign 2004 was made by Howard Dean. He regrets the faux pas.

Monday, June 23, 2003

Fred Barnes finds that the reputation Howard Dean has for honesty somewhat wide of the mark. He also expresses the hope, though he must know better, that the media will scrutinize him and call him on his dishonesty.
The Supreme Court has upheld racial discrimination against white people in college admissions, albeit on a limited basis.
A couple of weeks ago, Jeff Foust, editor of The Space Review published an article which concluded that the idea of a space race with China was unnecessary and undesirable. At the time I offered a critique of that article in this space.

Well, Jeff was kind enough to ask for a more detailed response from your humble servant. Do read both articles on what I think will be a major foreign policy and space issue of the coming decade.

Sunday, June 22, 2003

Harry Potter, libertarian hero? Glenn Reynolds points the way to a minireview and discussion which make that case. One thing I would like to know. Are there any wizards working in the private sector and not the Ministry of Magic in J. K. Rowlings' universe? Maybe Book 5 will reveal the answer to this question.

Addendum: A reader has some thoughts about the private sector in J.K.'s magical universe:
What about Diagon Alley? Judging from the first book, the place is a thriving and seemingly unregulated marketplace. The second film (haven't read that book yet) has Harry teleporting into the seedy side of the place, which while shunned by good folk appears to be equally unregulated, and there was nothing to suggest any kind of "vice squad" suppression by whatever authorities may exist in Diagon Alley (one wonders what one might find in a thoroughly unregulated magical red-light district).

Hogwarts seems to be a private college, where the students have to pay tuition rather than receiving an education as a free handout from the State.

Of course these are support businesses for wizards. What I want to know is if I needed a magic potion to cure gas or a curse put on my business rival, are there private wizards who will provide them for cash?

Friday, June 20, 2003

Another thing that annoys me to no end are people who think Harry Potter is in league with the Devil. David Koppel has found a book which pretty much proves that the Harry Potter books are the most Christian orienented fantasy series since C. S. Lewis's Narnia books.

The book is entitled The Hidden Key to Harry Potter: Understanding the Meaning, Genius, and Popularity of Joanne Rowling's Harry Potter Novels by John Granger.

In the meantime we are anxiously awaiting our Amazon copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Ms. Whittington has first dibs on it, so I'm going to be very lonely for a while.

One of the most annoying scandals in American foreign policy is the way our government treat American children being held captive in Saudi Arabia. These kids, products of marriages between Saudi men and American women, are kidnapped by their fathers, often in defiance of American custedy judgements, and are held captive in the Kingdom. American girls, in a country where women are treated as chattal, are treated with particular medieval barbarity.

The latest news is about Sarah Saga, an American girl who was abducted by her Saudi father at age five. As a teenager, Sarah was forced into an arranged marriage with another Saudi man. Now age 24, and with two children, Sarah escaped from her husband and is now hold up at the American consulate in Jiddah. There she may stay for a considerable period of time because women are not permitted to leave the Kingdom without their husbands' permission. While the State Department is not craven enough to force Sarah out of the consulate, as happened with another American women during the Clinton years, Foggy Bottem seems unprepared to forceably press the issue of Sarah and the other American citizens who are suffering in similar situations.

One thing which really annoys me is how government officials and some members of the media use weasal words to describe Saudi treatment of women, especially American women, as somehow morally equal to the way they are treated in the West. It isn't. It is inhuman barbarism and should not be tolerated, especially when inflicted upon American citizens.

The American government can and should do more to force the repatriation of these Americans being held hostage, in effect. One way is for these Saudi fathers to be prosecuted in absential for kidnapping. Saudi men who participate in arranged marriages with American girls should be prosecuted for rape.

Finally, Michael Reagan had an interesting idea. His father, President Reagan, used to present a list of Soviet dissidents to any Soviet leader he happened to meet with the suggestion that they should be released. President Bush should present a similer list of American citizens being held hostage to any Saudi leader he meets, with the suggestion that friendly relations depends on they being freed as well.

Meanwhile, Fox News helpfully provides places where people can write in support of Sarah Saga and other Americans being held by the Saudis.
Looks like Orrin Hatch has been throwing stones in glass houses.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

John Kerry calling the President a liar seems to be part of that tiresome phenomenom of Democrats charging hell bent for leather to the left in order to asuage the crazies in their base. Usually that is manifested by more and more bizzare policy proposals. Universal health case for house pets. The abolishment of the Marine Corps. That sort of thing. But now the race seem to feature who can accuse the President of the worse things. I predict that before the primary is over and it being time to veer back to the center, the Democrats are going to be accusing the President of cannibalism and child sacrifice with a rusty spoon.
The latest in the myriad of recent books about voyaging to Mars is Red Thunder by John Varley.
George Will discusses why the Democrats are impoding and makes the following point:
Sociologist David Riesman suggested there are broadly two kinds of political people. Gyroscopic people have internal guidance systems. Radar people steer according to signals bounced off others. Today, Democrats are more a radar party, Republicans are more a gyroscopic, and stronger.

Rand Simberg suggests that Burt Rutan's effort to win the X Prize may run into some avoidable regulatory problems.
While attention is focused on China's lunar designs, the Chinese also have some long term plans for Mars.
Joel Mowbrey says that the only thing wrong about Newt Gingrich's suggestions for reforming the State Department is that they don't go far enough. Of course Foggy Bottem will still react with invective, hate, and loathing because, well, Newt is right and they know it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

It seems that the Democrats have made it their own special project to keep Hillary Clinton's fiction filled autobiography on the best seller lists.
Now that Sen. Hillary Clinton's book has topped out at the 600,000 sales range, Clinton and her supporters seem to have found a way to keep the book sales coming. Clinton's Senate staff and schedulers have made it clear to her Democratic Senate colleagues and groups interested in having her appear at fundraisers that she will only attend if copies of her books are either purchased in bulk for free distribution at the event or her books are made available for purchase while she is in attendance.

"They told me Mrs. Clinton will be more than happy to sign all the books and that she would spend plenty of time with those people who bought them," says a publicity director for a Washington-based nonprofit who inquired about a possible appearance by Clinton early next fall. "It wasn't like they were telling me we had to have the books, but the underlying message seemed to be, if we want a commitment, a promise of the book sales would help us get her."

Further confirmation of Clinton's people seeking a quid pro quo would be her planned appearances at fundraisers for Barbara Boxer, Patty Murray, and Blanche Lincoln, all up for re-election in 2004. All three will be selling copies of Clinton's book and she will be appearing at all three events with the express purpose of signing them.

Also, the Democratic National Committee is negotiating not with the publisher Simon and Schuster, but with several local Washington, D.C. bookstores for purchases of Clinton's book which would possibly be used as premiums for donors. "We haven't worked it out yet, but we think by going through the bookstores the sales would be reflected not as bulk and would insure Senator Clinton would have a long stay at the top of the bestseller lists," says a DNC staffer.

It's expected that Clinton will emerge in the top slot of the New York Times latest bestseller lists. And Democrats have made keeping her on top a priority throughout the summer.

The last time I heard of this sort of thing happening was a similer operation conducted by the Church of Scientology to inflate the sales of L. Ron Hubbard's putrid scifi series Battlefield Earth. That little factoid suggests to me that Hillary Clinton could make a pretty effective cult leader.

Update: Shame on me for forgetting former Speaker Jim Wright. Back in the 80s he put together a book of his speeches and had labor unions and other organizations buy them in bulk as a means to circumnavigate campaign finance laws. This sort of behavior was one of the reasons Newt Gingrich was able to drive Wright from office, one of the many things Democrats have never forgiven him for.
Michael Barone agrees with most people that Hillary Clinton wants to run for President in 2008. He also makes a rather strong case why she would lose.
The inspiration for Constantine's conversion to Christianity may well have actually come from the heavens.
Paul Eremenko thinks that the Columbia Disaster offers us a choice of either end human space flight (until commercial ventures get off the ground) or "We choose to go the Mars before this decade is out." Paul is quite right that the Bush Administration will choose neither of these things, but not for the reason he thinks. This is a false choice. There are a lot of others that will advance the goal of opening the high frontier of space far better.
Here is some more about John Kerry's hypocritical stance on wind power. Basically he seems to be for it unless it wrecks the view from his vacation home on Nantucket.
Comingsoon.Net puts the Hulk on the couch.

"Don't make me angry. You won't like me when I'm angry."
Senator Orrin Hatch, who is ordinarily more sensible, wants to find technological ways of damaging the computers of those who illegally download music or other media. Of course this idea is against federal law and can arguably be considered unconstitutional.
Bill O'Reilly, who most of the time is a mildly amusing blowhard, is upset at the Internet because people have said mean things about him there. Be still my heart. Mean things are said about everybody on the Internet and most do not have a network TV and radio show to whine about it.
The Washington Post has discovered Harry Potter fan fiction.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Jim Oberg sees in the fleet of robots orbiting or approaching Mars a model for international cooperation in space that works. Now how to use that model for human space exploration?
A participant describes what it is like to be a revolutionary against the Iranian mullahs.

Monday, June 16, 2003

Speaking of regime change, looks like the good people of California will have the chance to send their benighted governor packing.
Paolo Ulivi provides a good summary of the current state of the Chinese planetary space program. He includes an extensive bibliography of Chinese technical articles which, I think, should put to rest the canard that the Chinese space program is solely based on copying Russian technology.

Update: Rand Simberg offers a clarification of his original remarks about supposed use by China of Russian hardware. Here is his original statement, by the way:
A desire for a race with a China that's simply recapitulating Russian hardware is nostalgia for the sixties and Apollo, and that's a mindset that we have to break ourselves out of, instead focusing on commerce and lower cost of access.
Michael Ledeen offers some perspective on the current uprising in Iran. It's not just the students and the mullahs may be in big trouble.

Friday, June 13, 2003

I have to admit, I was surprised and pleased when I read Gettysburg by Newt Gingrich and William Forstchen. Their previous effort at alternate history, 1945, did not do very well, primarily in my opinion because that book was slapped together in haste to try to sell books based on Speaker Gingrich's name and fame.

Not so this offering. The premise is simple. On the second day of the battle, Lee does not assault the Little Round Top. Instead, taking Longstreet's advice, he sends a goodly portion of his army round to the far right flank of the Union Army, seizing its supplies and cutting it off from Washington. What follows is a hellish bloodbath which is all the more searing to the Civil War buff as one sees what happens to familiar charecters such as Chamberlain, Hood, Armestead, and others. I cannot recommend this book enough. It is nothing less than a counterfactural Killer Angels.

It is also, irritatingly, the first of a trilogy. Now we'll have to wait for the narrative of the second volume, to be named apparently Grant Comes East.
One of the mainstays of Democrat energy proposals is the promotion of hydrogen fuel cells as a panacea for America's energy woes. Fuel cells have much to recommend them. They are both clean and efficient means of producing energy. Of course extracting hydrogen to power them does not come cheap, though some companies are exploring technologies which would use natural gas or even gasoline as a fuel for these devices. Even President Bush has proposed spending some money developing the technology.

Unfortunately it looks like that the environmentalists may have found a oppose hydrogen fuel cells. This is par for the course. Environmentalists have a tendency to find reasons to oppose any energy producing technology, even wind mills which apparently hurt migrating birds and spoil the views from the vacation homes of a couple of liberal Senators named Kerry and Kennedy.
Of course George Will has written the best tribute for David Brinkley, gentleman broadcaster.

Thursday, June 12, 2003

Here is a wonderful piece about a group of (successful and rich) dot comers and others who are in the process of making a space flight revolution that threatens to pass NASA by. Note the "space flight is utter bilge" style comment from John Pike, a man who understands not physics, engineering, finance, or management.
This story shows Hillary in a hitherto undisclosed light as a peace maker but, sadly, Bill in the altogether all too familier role as bully and coward. Dick Morris is fortunate that he is not an attractive woman.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

NASA is looking at a December launch for the first post Columbia flight of the space shuttle.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

If this is not an argument for building space settlements, I'm not sure what is.
President Bush's enemies have been having a little too much fun by claiming all sorts of dark conspiracies because Iraqi WMDs have not yet been located. In a way they remind me of the people who claim FDR "knew" about the Pearl Harbor attack in advance, but refused to warn the Pacific Fleet in order to drag the United States into World War II.

Now President Bush has gotten support from a rather unexpected source.

Monday, June 09, 2003

Prooving that TV sci-fi, no matter how silly, never dies, NBC is reviving the 1980s epic V. V, as you may remember, depicted a fleet of alien ships arriving on Earth carrying a race of aliens whom, at first, seemed friendly to humans. But soon their true nature and their true designs on humanity became clear, and the fight was on waged by a rag tagged group of resistence fighters.

Who can forget the slimey, salacious alien leader Diana, with a taste of warm blooded flesh in every sense of the word? Or her rival Lydia, appalled by Diana's methods, who once complained, "Whatever happened to good, old fashioned torture?" Or the breathless "reports from the resistence" by Howard K. Smith? Or the nebbish Robert Englund is a a rather unFreddy like role? Or the tendency to shamelessly steal for classic movies ranging from Patton to Casablanca?

It should be a hoot.
Jeff Foust has a Space Review Article which attempts to paint a space race with the Chinese as not only unlikely but undesirable. In so doing, he makes a number of mistakes which tend to undermine his argument.

The first thing Foust does is to suggest that early speculation, based on interviews with Chinese officials, that the Chinese are planning a humans to the Moon program is off the mark. He quotes one Chinese official, who a year ago suggested that the Chinese were going to the Moon, complaining that those remarks were "misinterpeted."
. “We will explore the Moon certainly, but with unmanned spacecraft,” he told the BBC. “We are not setting a specific date for a landing on the Moon,” he added, but when pressed by the BBC, suggested that China would establish a manned base on the Moon “perhaps by 2020 or 2030.”

Foust takes this statement at face value, but not the previous one. Another way to interpet this statement is that the Chinese may be trying to tamp down speculation on their lunar plans for fear that the Americans would be aroused to match or surpass their efforts.

Foust goes on to suggest that Chinese lunar efforts will be, at least in the short run, unmanned and therefore not a threat.
The program would start with lunar orbiters, which would be followed by landers and rovers, and eventually sample return missions. The first phase of the Chang’e program—the orbiter—would be completed by 2010, according to People’s Daily: that timeline is similar to India, which is planning its own unmanned lunar orbiter for late this decade. The March 2003 article also noted, though, that the program has yet to be approved by the Chinese government.

Of course, Apollo had its unmanned element. Ranger, Lunar Orbiter, and Surveyor preceeded the manned Apollo missions. But one does not preclude the other.

The Encycloypedia Astronautica suggests that the Chinese could land a man on the Moon as early as 2005 (unlikely in my view) or as late as after 2030. The same source suggests that technology developed for the Shenzhou program provides the Chinese with the technology for a lunar program whenever the decision is made to go:
The configuration of the re-entry capsule of the Shenzhou is the same as that of the Russian Soyuz. This was designed and flight qualified in the 1960’s specifically for return to the earth from the moon. Using proven Chinese Lox/LH2 technology, a lunar-lander using the Shenzhou spacecraft could have a mass of under 40 tonnes. A Lox/LH2 stage of the about the same size would be required to propel it toward the moon.

Launch of such payloads into low earth orbit would be within the capability of an upgraded version of the CZ-5-5.0 booster using 8 x 3.35 m diameter strap-ons. This could be available as early as 2010. Two such launches of a CZ-5-5.0 - one of the lunar injection stage, and one of a Shenzhou-derived lunar lander - could place the necessary payload into earth orbit. After docking with the booster stage, the Shenzhou would be boosted to a direct landing on the moon. The direct landing approach was shown in Russian studies of the 1970’s to be the most practical method for emplacment and support of a lunar base (since lunar orbit rendezvous methods restrict possible base locations to a narrow band around the lunar equator).

A lunar landing stage developed for a Shenzhou-derived return vehicle could also be used on a one-way trip to place moon base payloads of about 11 tonnes on the lunar surface.

So the Chinese could mount a serious human lunar effort sometime after 2010.

Next, Foust makes the point that a space race with the Chinese would be undesirable, making reference to Apollo:
That race was arguably another battle, albeit a peaceful, nondestructive one, in the Cold War. Less than twelve years after the first shot of that battle, Sputnik, was fired, the US could claim victory by landing Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the Moon. However, both the Soviet Union and the United States lost interest in manned lunar exploration shortly thereafter, and Apollo coasted to an end as both countries focused resources on other efforts.

Foust fails to mention the political factors which led to the demise of Apollo in the early 1970s which are unlikely to be repeated in the 2010s or 2020s. He also misunderstands what people like Bob Walker and myself mean by a "space race." We don't mean a single point goal like landing on the Moon, once accomplished to be forgotten. While Apollo was a sprint, what we are proposing is more like a Marathon. The winner will be the first nation that becomes a space faring power. That nation will own te future.

How such a race would be conducted is a subject I covered in a Space Policy Review article. Here follows the core of my proposal:
We therefore have a model of a "space race" with China in the early years of the 21st Century. Instead of a scenario which features a Presidential pronouncement of "we choose to go to Mars" followed by flag and footsteps expedition which leads nowhere, it is a model which relies on America's true strength. That strength does not reside in large, government bureaucracies but in the vigor of private, entrepreneurial institutions. So with this model in mind, how does America beat China in the space race? The first thing the United States would do is to refocus its national space effort to support the expansion of private business. The US would pass tax and other incentives to foster private space development. Technology research programs would be funded with a goal of lowering the cost of traveling to space and operating there. Instead of operating a government space line (also known as the space shuttle fleet) the US would acquire its launch services in the private sector.

Government sponsored expeditions to the Moon, Mars, or other destinations would not be undertaken to just facilitate prestige or "good science." Such voyages would be conducted to test space technologies that could be used by private business. Thus purpose of a return to the Moon would be primarily to test things such as lunar oxygen extraction, lunar mining (including polar ice), and lunar based solar power stations such as been suggested by Dr. David Criswell.

In other words not Apollo, but something more. Even Foust seems to agree:
Those predicting such a race, and even hoping for one to break out, might be better served by helping craft policies and programs that would benefit the long-term development and use of space for defense, exploration, and commerce. That’s a race well worth winning.

No disagreement there. And the stakes are high indeed, as I suggested three years ago:
The winner of the next space race of the 21st Century will not be the nation that is the first to plant a flag on some distant world. The winner will be the first nation that transforms itself into a true space faring civilization, gaining for itself the economic and political benefits of being such a society. The United States cherishes its traditions of human freedom, belief in progress, and optimism for the future. China elevates the might of the state over the rights of the individual, crushes dissent, and seeks world domination. Which country will become the first space faring remains to be seen. The winner of that space race will shape the future of the entire human race, not just for the coming century, but for all time to come.

Rand Simberg, on the other hand, is a little more impressed than Foust's arguments than I am.

Looks like Tom Shales was decidely unimpressed by Hillary's performence on Barbara Walters last night.

Sunday, June 08, 2003

NASA has decided to name the two Mars Rovers it is in the process of launching "Spirit" and "Opportunity." With due respect to the kid who came up with them, but none to the NASA flunkies who picked them, these are profoundly aweful names. I would have prefered "Marvin" and "Duck Dodgers", which at least have a bit of whimsy attached to them. After all, an Apollo command module was called "Snoopy", so there is a precedence.
Ms. Curmudgeon has demanded that I mention the book The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn by Diane Ravitch. She did this after seeing a talk by Ms. Ravitch on C-Span in which she described how the teaching of history and literature is being ruined in the public schools. She has in fact vowed that should we ever have children, they will be home schooled.

More proof that Hillary Clinton, at least as she presents herself in her new book, is a more bizarre person than anyone ever imagined. For one thing, she compares her marriage to Bill with Nelson Mandela's decades long imprisonment by the Afrikaaners. She also seems to be a person motivated primarily by hatred of others.

Friday, June 06, 2003

Bob Zubrin, by the way, has a new book coming out. Mars on Earth: The Adventures of Space Pioneers in the High Arctic. It is about the simulated Mars Base on Canada's Devon Island the Mars Society has been sponsering for the past few years.

Bob Zubrin lauds to upcoming launches of the Mars Exploration Rovers as the next step in the expansion of humanity beyond the Earth.
"In 1492 Europe, there were wars going on, battles for thrones, bankruptcies, scandals, all the stuff that would fill up newspapers if there had been newspapers then," Zubrin said."Today almost none of that is remembered. What is remembered is that an Italian weaver's son got three ships from Queen Isabella and went across the ocean to discover the New World.

"Five hundred years from now, no one is even going to remember the Iraq war, and certainly no one would have heard of Martha Stewart," he said. "But 500 years from now, there will be human civilizations on hundreds of planets. And the important thing people will remember about 2003, hopefully, is that it was the year we took the first step in humanity leaving Earth."

If Bill Clinton got his wish and was able to run for President again, George W. Bush would give him an epic thrashing.
The role of Lancelot in the upcoming King Arthur film has been cast. He will be played by Ioan Gruffudd, best known as Horatio Hornblower in the A&E films.
Herein is a story passed to us by our venerable sire from someone at United Space Alliance:
For the engineers and food scientists among us:
Sometimes it DOES take a Rocket Scientist!!
(true story)
Scientists at NASA built a gun specifically to launch dead chickens at the windshields of airliners, military jets and the space shuttle, all traveling at maximum velocity. The idea is to simulate the frequent incidents of collisions with airborne fowl to test the strength of the windshields. British engineers heard about the gun and were eager to test it on the windshields of their new high speed trains. Arrangements were made, and a gun was sent to the British engineers.

When the gun was fired, the engineers stood shocked as the chicken hurled out of the barrel, crashed into the shatterproof shield, smashed it to smithereens, blasted through the control console, snapped the engineer's back-rest in two and embedded itself in the back wall of the cabin, like an arrow shot from a bow.

The horrified Brits sent NASA the disastrous results of the experiment, along with the designs of the windshield and begged the US scientists for suggestions.

You're going to love this......

NASA responded with a one-line memo:

"Defrost the chicken."

There is a lesson somewhere here.
Yassir Arafat seems hell bent on proving that there will be no peace in the Middle East until he (Arafat) rests in peace.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

Your humble servant has some thoughts in the Washington Dispatch about the Orbital Space Plane and how it is not the solution to NASA's (or anyone else's) space transportation problems.

Update: Rand Simberg sees a couple of stumbling blocks to my idea. They are Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

A British twit named Rod Liddle really, really hates Americans and even more than that hates the idea of Americans settling Mars. It's stuff like this that makes me understand Lt. Cornelius Whittington's desire to spend seven long years blowing the heads off those people starting back in 1776.

Fortunately Tom James inflicts a damn fine fisking which, while not as potent as a volley of grapeshot, will do for now.
Austin Bay says, let them hate us so long as they fear us.
NASA is seriously looking at landing sites at the Lunar South Pole for a sample return mission. I've said it before, but I'll say it again. Don't send a robot to do the job of a human. Send a couple of geologists to prospect for ice at the lunar south pole. We could do it before the end of the decade, possibly even before the end of Bush's second term. It would be a useful begining to building a settlement there. Also it would be wonderful and glorious.
Speaking of Election 2004, Senator John McCain was recently asked how he would attack President Bush if he were running against him next year. The Straight Talk Man replied that for he to run against the President he would have to be smoking something that would not be made legal even in Canada.
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D) New York will recount in her new book, Living History, how shocked, appalled, and hurt she was when her husband Bill informed her that-well-yes, he had been dallying with Monica Lewinsky like some besotted teenager. This bit of information came to Hillary months after it broke in the media. Well, I guess it is true that the wife is the last to know.

The most unhappy person right now is not William Jefferson Clinton. He is impervious to shame and emabressment. The most unhappy person in the world has to be Senator John Kerry, titular front runner for the Democratic nomination, followed closely by the other eight Democratic candidates. Instead of "moving on" (to use a phrase often expoused by Clinton loyalists in the late 90s) those same Clinton loyalists are still obessessing over Monica, Ken Starr, and impeachment five years after the fact. The rest of us are already focused on slightly more important things, like the War on Terror, while for them it is always 1998. The constant reminders of the tawdry Clinton years must be a source of endless frustration to those eight men and one woman who propose to replace George W. Bush in the Oval Office next year.

Still there is some hope. About a couple of weeks after Hillary's book comes out, someone will arrive who is bound to overshadow her. His name is Harry Potter and I, for one, am looking forward to that book.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

With Mars Express and the Beagle 2 on their way to Mars, soon to be followed by two American landers, it behooves us to examin why so many previous Mars probes have failed.
If you're looking for a gift for Father's Day, we offer a thrilling novel of suspense and a tale of a space program that never was.
The Producers, the smash Broadway hit by Mel Brooks about two dubious charecters out to make millions by deliberately producing a Broadway flop, will be the basis of a movie. Which is strange, because the play itself was based on a movie which was also made by Mel Brooks.

Next, perhaps, Blazing Saddles the Musical or Young Frankenstein the Musical.
The Minneapolis Star may start printing the names of sports teams such as the Braves, the Indians, and even the Redskins which it had not been doing so out of a desire to be sensitive to the feelings of some American Indians. No word on the status of team names like the Vikings or the Celtics, which under the same criteria ought to be offensive to European Americans but apparently are not.
What, with the Estrada controversy and now this, the Democrats seem ready to punt the Hispanic vote.

Monday, June 02, 2003

A hugh redeployment of American troops overseas is in the works, the better to meet the threats of the new century. One place where Americans may be headed demonstrates that the goddess of history has a sense of humor and that Ho Chi Mihn, General Giap, and Jane Fonda may have lived in vain.

Sunday, June 01, 2003

The highly amusing slap fight between Howard Dean and John Kerry, both of whom want George W. Bush's job, continues. It would be just what the Democrats deserve if these two-er-gentlemen became running mates.
The Washington Times has been good enough to publish my response to Bob Walker's excellent piece on Chinese imperial ambitions in space.