Thursday, July 31, 2003

Jim Oberg takes note of a little known problem at NASA-too many astronauts, not enough flights.
This is certainly a bizzare story if true. I would pay good money to see the Duke face down a couple of Soviet button men.

Saturday, July 26, 2003

For those of you who can read Portuguese, here is a treat.
The circus that will be the California recall election is attracting a rather eclectic slate of candidates. These include Arianna "Medea" Huffington, her now gay ex husband Michael Huffington, and Gary Condit.

Friday, July 25, 2003

Rand Simberg discusses the "over coming gravity being easy, but the paper work being hard" phenomonom which seems to be hindering private space launch development.

Thursday, July 24, 2003

In the final article in the Houston Chronicle's historic, six part series about the state of the US civil space program, what happens next is examined. It appears that there are some rumblings among the political class, if the quote from Tom Delay is to be taken at face value, to do more than just go around in circles.

My suggestion is to if one really wants to go back to the Moon and on to Mars, then stop talking about it and do it. As Napoleon once said, if one proposes to take Vienna then, for heavens sake, take Vienna.

And here's an added incentive that's not generally discussed. If NASA is redirected to doing cutting edge exploration and research-things it has demonstrated it can do very well-then it will be all the easier to get the space agency to yeild Low Earth Orbit to the private sector. It would be a wonderous thing if the first person to walk on the Moon in a generation does so at about the same time as the first privately built and operated space liner goes into regular service. Then we will know that the true space age will have begun.
Ronald Reagan and Rush Limbaugh are giants of conservatism, to be sure. But Hitler and Mussolini? So says a new study of the psychological roots of conservatism.

Seems like highly partisan junk science to me.
Poor Democrats. First the 101st Airborne bag Uday and Qusay, now this.
Rand Simberg has some thoughts about the Houston Chronicle's excellent series on the state of the US civil space program, to which we have been providing links below.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Planetary scientists like to tout all of the great acomplishments of robotic probes in gathering scientific data as opposed to the human space flight program. They don't realize that the reason for that state of affairs is not because robots are more capable than humans; they are demonstrably not. The reason is that the human space flight program has been so grossly mismanaged for the past thirty years.

Of course that begs the question, should our space effort be just about "doing good science." I would suggest that a proper space effort would view science as a means rather than an ends. The real goal of our space effort should be the spread of the human species beyond the Earth, not only to access the opportunities which lay in the heavens, but to preserve human life and civilization from anything which might wipe them out if they were still confined to one planet.
Check out these two space related blogs. Lunar Soil and Martian Soil, whose subjects should be self explanetory.
According to Space.Com's Astronotes section, China is proceeding with her plans for lunar exploration:
The Chinese Academy of Sciences is moving forward on phase one plans to shape China’s multi-pronged Moon exploration program -- named Project "Chang'er I".

According to Ouyang Ziyuan, chief scientist of China's moon exploration program, and an academician with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the country is quickening their steps to land on the Moon, he recently told China’s People’s Daily .

A scientific research team for the moon exploration program has been established, under the unified coordination of China National Space Administration (CNSA).

A three-phase effort is being outlined. First a lunar probe would be lofted, dedicated to exploring the topography, geomorphology, geologic formation and distribution of resources on the Moon, as well as chart the cis-lunar environment – the space between the Moon and the Earth.

The People’s Daily reported that a second phase is to place a robotic mobile lab on the Moon. A third stage is a lunar sample return project. It would gather data for site selection of a Chinese manned landing effort, to be followed by China establishing a base on the Moon.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

NASA's history of dealing with X vehicles has been a sad and depressing one.
Looks like Saddam's two evil sons, Uday and Qusay are now burning in Hell.
Meanwhile the first launch of a manned Shenzhou draws nigh and with it a new era in space flight.

Monday, July 21, 2003

The space station, in it's various incarnations, has been a case study in how not to do a large project of its kind. Part of its problem is similer to the space shuttles; it was designed to do all things for all people, from microgravity research to a staging base for interplanetary expeditions, something one facility could not possibly do very well. Add to that the gross mismanagement, the cost overruns, and the breath of its opposition (ranging from people who want to spend money on social programs, to the "robots uber alles" crowd, to the more serious folks who think ISS is inadequet even for the task of microgravity research) and it is a wonder that hardware was built at all, not to mention launched into orbit.

The space station has survived, I think, largely because of its opposition. Robert Park, for instance, is demonstrably silly in his suggestion that anything humans can do, robots can do better. A space station can be very useful. Besides, as the polling data referenced below indicates, politicians would propose ending human space flight at their peril. Liberals like Bob Traxler, also quoted in the article, who tried once to cancel the project to fund social spending did so in an era in which skepticism for such things had grown. The starving children vrs rockets argument has lost its bite. Even the more serious critics, a group I joined just over ten years ago, failed to articulate an alternative vision that could be sold to the public and the political class.

So, for better or for worse, we are stuck with the International Space Station. When the shuttle fleet is back flying, ISS will likely be built up to the seven person occupancy. If the rumors about Bigelow Aerospace building the transhab with a nod and a wink from NASA are true, ISS might even grow beyond that. That would be on the whole a good thing, since the more people ISS can sustain, the more work that can be done.

And if ISS can serve as the destination for a race to build and fly and first private orbital vehicle, as I suggested recently, then the tens of billions spent on the faclity might actually come close to being justified.
Here is the PDF document containing the results on the Zogby Poll on public additudes toward the civil space program. Some of the numbers are, in my opinion, breathtaking.
Steven Speilberg and Tom Hanks are developing a ten part miniseries based on World War II's Pacific War as a follow up to Band of Brothers, which featured a company in the 101st Airborne Division in the European Theatre. Also, Hanks has optioned Charlie Wilson's War, about how a Congressman helped to arm the Afghan Resistance to fight Red Army invaders and thus hasten the fall of the Soviet Union. Hanks will play Rep Wilson.

Sunday, July 20, 2003

The space shuttle is not the answer to the problem of cheap, reliable access to space. Because of political compromises in the early 1970s, it was doomed never to be.
Thirty four years ago, on a certain magic Sunday evening, two men trod upon the surface of another world. We are now into the second generation of people who have never witnessed such a sight as it happened. That is a blot upon our civilization. May it be wiped away soon.

Saturday, July 19, 2003

People may be at last ready for something grander in space than just going around in circles. However they may be a bit confused about how much such things might cost, at least in the near term.

Still, there are some amazing poll numbers attached to the story, courtesy of Zogby. 51 percent of those asked want to return to the Moon right away.

Friday, July 18, 2003

Supported by RINO (Republican in Name Only) Senator Arlen Specter, Senate Democrats continue to deny poor children in the District of Columbia a quality education.
Prime Minister Tony Blair gave the back of his hand to all of those sunshine soldiers and summer patriots in the Democrat Party who want to get all wobbly in their quest to cast President Bush as a greater threat to civilization than ever Saddam was.
Meanwhile, some other Democratic candidates practice the fine art of groveling and boot licking.
Senator Bob Graham (D) Florida and a man who would be President, jumps off the deep end of insanity.

Thursday, July 17, 2003

With X Prize contestants getting ready to actually launch, one last hurtle remains. The FAA. Certainly a case of overcoming gravity being easy, but the paperwork being hard.
Will China accept the edict of white, European environmentalists that it must forever remain poor for the good of the Earth? Or will it seek the resources it needs for prosparity anyway, perhaps beyond the Earth?
Amir Teheri, contrary to what is depicted in the media, suggests that Iraq in 2003 is about as far from Vietnam, 1968, as one can get.
Mark Wrede of Los Angeles has a curious response to my LA Times piece on the demise of the Apollo Program which bears close examination:
Mark R. Whittington's commentary addresses one of the greatest hidden tragedies of the last 30 years, but while he acknowledges the political complexities of the reasons for the discontinuation of the Apollo program, he does not discuss one of the most important components. Had there not been the perceived military threat, there would have always been, on the part of the public, an emphasis on spending money on more earthbound concerns.

An interesting adjective "perceived." The Soviet Union menaced the world with a growing arsenal of nuclear weapons in a drive for hegonomy. I wonder how such a thing could have been "perceived" as a threat?

Also, while my piece was about the demise of Apollo, I believe I did mention that it was born in the politics of the Cold War.
This was why there was agreement by liberals and conservatives in the late '50s and early '60s to spend the money to go to the moon.

A little misleading, because there were people in both camps who vehemently disagreed with going to the Moon in 1961. Senator Goldwater on the right, Senators Proxmire and Fullbright on the left.
With the waning of the capabilities of the Soviets to arrive before us in the late '60s, the desire to appropriate the money also faded.

That was certainly one factor, absent leadership first by Lyndon Johnson then by Richard Nixon for a vigorous post Apollo effort. A greater factor was the canard, put out by the left, that pioneering space literally took food from the mouths of the starving, and housing from over the heads of the poor.
Indeed, conservatives could appear to be liberal by arguing that the civilian space program was a boondoggle unlike the military potential of high-atmosphere space, which they have funded without limit.

Certainly Senator Goldwater, as previously mentioned, held that view. But the decisive factor was a whole host of liberals who viewed that "the civilian space program was a boondoggle" unlike. well, the Great Society.
It is the approach to space as explorers and not conquerors that keeps manned missions in the purgatory of appropriations.

This is the most curious statement of all, but I think Mr. Wrede is more correct than he knows. The Outer Space Treaty of the mid 1960s forbade claims of national soverignty of celestrial bodies, like the Moon. Memos from the State Department of that time have recently come to light which suggests that this clause was nothing less than a scheme to take the wind out of the sails of our space effort in order to transfer space funding to foreign aid. Also no political leader of the time-not Kennedy, not Johnson, and not Nixon-articulated the notion of following up Apollo exploration of the Moon with the settlement of the Moon.

And that is the crux of my complaint.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Over thirty years after being obliterated in the biggest landslide ever, George McGovern still doesn't get it. To be sure Nixon did some not very nice things (as if there weren't Democrats before and since who were just as bad-or worse), but he had one advantage over the "honest campaigner" Mr. McGovern. He was not as inclined as McGovern to embrace appeasement abroad and socialism at home. And those tendancies-since McGovern-have been the problem with the Democrat Party.
Did environmental concerns doom not only the Columbia, but the Challenger seventeen years before? This former NASA guy suggests that it's so.
Arthur C. Clarke once said that when a elderly, but respected scientist says something is possible, he is usually right, but when he says something is impossible he is almost certainly wrong. And that applies when a whole group of such people get together and say something, in this case missile defense is impossible. Of course there is the added problem that the leadership of the American Physical Society has shown itself to be politically biased against missile defense, thus casting doubt of the credibility of any study conducted by it.
John Carter McKnight sees nothing but horror and thuggery if unfettered capitalism is allowed to exist in the heavens. His solution is something he calls American Hegonomy, by which I suspect he really means the regulatory state. I'm all in favor of Americans dominating space settlements (the alternatives seem to me to be no space settlements or the Chinese.) I'm not sure that exporting bureacracies such as the EPA, the IRS, etc is a good idea. Space settlements should be laboratories for societies which can get along with a minimun of interfeerance from such august bodies. America, after all, served a similar purpose, showing how people could get along with Kings and other tyrants. Worked pretty well, in my humble opinion.
TransOrbital's first commercial mission to the Moon, the one drawing the ire of so many folks who want to contain capitalism to the Earth, is nevertheless drawing nigh.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Governor Gray Davis of California, facing certain doom in the effort to recall him, is now resorting to legal stratagems to thwart the will of the people of his state.
In what now seems to have become an annual custom, your humble servant takes the opportunity of this upcoming Apollo Day (this Sunday) to complain about how we have not made much progress in space since.

I will continue to complain, by the way, until the situation changes.

Monday, July 14, 2003

As irritating as some pollsters are, I have never before heard of any getting lynched.
Ralph Peters provides an antidote to media hysteria over Iraq. Guess what? We're winning and winning big.

Sunday, July 13, 2003

Looks like Tom Clancy's new Jack Ryan novel will be out shortly. Only in this case it's about Jack Ryan the Younger, now a special ops guy. He's going to have his hands full when the Columbian drug cartel makes common cause with Middle Eastern terrorists. The book is called The Teeth of the Tiger.

Saturday, July 12, 2003

Now the name Ronald Reagan will be a source of terror for tyrants for decades to come.

Friday, July 11, 2003

The Democrats are going nuts over this "Bush Lied!" canard. This is not a good strategy for them. The President remains wildly popular, not the least because of his reputation for honesty (especially compared to his predecessor.) Also this campaign buttresses the image of the Democrat Party as the party of appeasement.
Of course if these had been remarks by-say-Nixon or Reagan, the headline would have been something like "Former President Anti Semite."

Thursday, July 10, 2003

Carla Struck has found a new way to be a victim, which is to be a Mexican with naturally blond hair. Her tale of woe reminds me of a friend I had a college named Alverez. His parents hailed from Spain and like many Castillians he was fair haired and skinned. Nevertheless he was always being offered affirmative action goodies on the basis of his name, at least until the people offering it saw him and noted that he did not fit the stereotypical appearence of a Hispanic in America. It was the source of no end of agrevation and ammusement to him.
If this is true about the administration not planning to direct serious attention to fixing the space program until the earliest next year, then it's too bad. The US space program has been dysfunctional for so long, the sooner someone tries to change that the better. While the administration has made a good start, primarily in getting NASA's financial and management house in order and putting a down payment on nuclear technology necessary for real exploration, more needs to be done. The problem of space access, refered to below, is top on the list. Next is how to get people beyond Low Earth orbit, to the Moon first, as expeditiously as possible.
The Orbital Space Plane may be another fiasco in the making. More than enough reason to cancel the project and do this instead.
Some rather distinquished people would like the President and Congress to pay more attention to the threat of Near Earth Objects (i.e. asteroids and comets which might hit the Earth.) Here is the letter they sent. Here is a piece I once wrote on the subject.

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Sarah Saga, the American woman who was kidnapped to Saudi Arabia as a child, was forced into an arranged marriage by her Saudi father, and escaped years of abuse recently, describes to a Congressional committee how utterly unhelpful consular officials in Jiddah were. Her children are still in captivity.
Senate Democrats did the will of the trial lawyers by killing malpractice reform. And a happy side effect, from their standpoint, is that the private medical system will be damaged some more by law suits, bringing closer the day of a Canadian style, government run health care bureaucracy.
Magic potions should only be tried under the supervision of a Hogewarts instructor. Do not attempt at home, on your own.
Michael Savage, the late night, far right, radio loon got bounced from his MSNBC slot for wishing a caller would die. That is a good thing. It is not a good thing that far left television personalities are allowed to stay on the air while wishing death to people they hate.
Glenn Reynolds is not afraid of a lunar klondike and neither should you be.
A film about the Empress Maud is set to go before the cameras. Maud was the first Queen of England in the 12th Century. Her rise to the throne sparked England's first civil war.

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Now here is an idea about how to improve the teaching of history being promoted by the Prince of Wales which really needs to be brought across the pond to America as soon as possible.
Jeff Faust suggests that Prometheus (among other NASA projects) constitutes a shift away from the "better, faster, cheaper" era of planetary exploration. He's right, of course, though a lot of the cost of Prometheus is technology development.
Paul Spudis, over on the Space Policy Forum, has soon surprising news about the Lunar South Pole-Aitken Basin Sample Return Mission being proposed, mentioned in the Roadmap to Space Settlement and a recent Space.Com article:
In actual fact, NASA has ZERO plans to explore or send missions to the lunar poles. The mission you are thinking of is the "South Pole-Aitken basin sample return mission", a proposed mission for the new New Frontiers series (not yet selected, though). This mission has nothing to do with the poles and lunar ice. Its mission is to return samples of the basin floor of SPA, an impact feature over 2000 km across. These rocks will address major questions in early lunar history. The actual site this mission will be sent to will be no further south than about 60 S latitude. The misleading name has caught some others, including Leonard David in his recent piece.

Of course I've always been skeptical about robotic sample return missions. The best way to collect geological samples from another world is to send geologists.

Monday, July 07, 2003

Arthur Smith has an interesting review of the National Space Society's "Roadmap to Space Settlement" document.
Lawrence Kaplan says that the Democrats have found their voice for national security. It is the voice of George McGovern.
If the Democratic Party intends to run against a popular war, its leaders might wish to recall the lesson of a Democrat who ran against an unpopular war. He lost 49 states.

Signourney and Arnold fighting Aliens in the same movie? A match made in-somewhere.
I have noticed that on the political argument shows, male liberals get all flustered and sometimes incoherent when Ann Coulter says things like all liberals are traitors or Joe McCarthy was really not such a bad guy. It took a female conservative like Dorothy Rabinowitz to give the beautious Ann a stern response.

Rabinowitz, by the way, knows something about witch hunts, having long championed the cause of people who have been falsely accused-and falsely imprisoned-on the charge of child abuse.
Professor Walid Phares provides a good thumbnail sketch of who is shooting at our troops in Iraq and why.

Friday, July 04, 2003

Democrats are oppossed to the President's "taunting" of the enemy in Iraq. They think it is rude to do so. Does that mean they support killing them, but only with a polite tone?
On this, the 227th birthday of the United States of America, the spirit of 1776 may be stirring in some of the unlikeliest of places.

Thursday, July 03, 2003

A growing gun culture in Europe? How fascinating.
Rand Simberg has a nice discussion about how the laws of physics do indeed allow for solar sails and that Thomas Gold is just another "elderly scientist" who is almost certainly wrong.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Speaking of theories being tested by experimental data, human space flight opponent Thomas Gold claims that solar sails violate the laws of physics.
This story is bound to annoy the "robots uber alles" crowd. That is something I find odd, because I thought that scientists like Robert Park believed in testing theories with real world experimental data.
Meanwhile Project Prometheus, designed to build nuclear propulsion and power technologies for space travel, faces some daunting challenges.
On to Mars! declares Bob Zubrin. While I disagree with that (I think a return to the Moon can be accomplished while we build the nuclear propulsion technology which will bring Mars within reach) I certainly have to agree with this:
We don't need to spend the next 30 years with a space program mired in impotence, spending large sums of money and taking occasional casualties, while the same missions to nowhere are flown over and over again and professional technologists dawdle endlessly without producing any new flight hardware.

I also noticed that the headline writer uses the phrase "manifest destiny." It is a good phrase to use for the expansion of humankind into the universe. It is also a phrase which causes the Left to go red faced with rage. I have witnessed this in person, when Zubrin himself has used it.

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

One of the hitherto unknown stories of the early space age is that of the thirteeh American women pilots who actually passed all of the tests for being astronauts and trained for that job. They were denied actual missions into space because in the early 1960s only military test pilots could be astronauts and of course no women were test pilots.
When the Mercury 13 appealed to Vice President Lyndon Johnson, who might have helped their cause, his response was negative. He wrote on a drafted letter, "Let's stop this now."

When they asked for support from astronaut John Glenn, he said, "Men go off and fight the wars and fly the planes, and women stay at home. It's a fact of our social order."

Their last hope was President John F. Kennedy. He refused to see them.

Their story is told in more detail in The Mercury Thirteen: The Untold Story of Thirteen American Women and the Dream of Space Flight by Martha Ackmann

140 years ago today, the advanced units of Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia and George Meade's Army of the Potomic met near a small town in Pennsylvania named Gettysburg. After ferice fighting on Semminary Ridge (which involved a Union cavalry unit holding off many times its number of Confederate troops with Spenser repeating rifles) and Culp's hill, Union troops found themselves entrenched on Cementary Ridge south of the town, with a curve around to Culp's Hill south and east of the town. What began as an accidental meeting engagement had developed into one of the decisive battles in world history.
Just when one thinks that there is a limit to mendacity, Senator John Edwards surpases it by holding up a bill giving deployed soldiers relief on their student loans for political gain.