Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Speaking of space policies, we know that the White House (with some input from Congress, NASA, and others) is working on one. They've already leaked that a return to the Moon is a component of it.

Based on what I've gleaned from certain media and private sources (the latter consists of people who know people who know other people who may have talked to some guy), levened with wild assed guesses based on my understanding of how this administration works and what its philosophy is.

(1) There will be a return to the Moon effort that will envison the first landing taking place in five to seven years. The effort will combine the resources of NASA, DOD (mainly the Missile Defense folks), DOE, academia,
and the private sector and will have technology R&D as its main focus.

(2) Mars will be given a nod, but no commitment. There'll probably be a plus up of techynology development, including Prometheus. The working target,
though, will be an expedition sometime in late 2010s.

(3) Lots of commerical incentives, including tax breaks, regulation reliefs, and buying services.

(4) Return to flight of the shuttle certainly, but a date certain when it will be retired (2012 is my guess) in it's current form. We'll see a shuttle derived SHLV built out of shuttle parts, though.

(5) ISS to go to six plus people and be used primarily for biomedical research to support deep space missions.

(6) NASA's budget will start going up at a sustainable rate of five to seven percent (that's $750 million to a billion for starters.)

(7) Aeronautics will be spun off to it's own agency. Earth observation goes to NOAA. There'll be other efforts to reorg NASA and make it run better.

(8) The effort to develop some kind of alternate way to get people into LEO will be revamped (again). My suspician is that part of it will include expanding the alternate access program to carrying people as well as cargo. OSP will probably still get built, but a version of it will be envisioned as part of the Back to the Moon effort, thus spreading the cost around.

My guess is that unlike the last Bush, the current Bush is being very careful to bring in Congress and NASA in the planning process for the proposal. Therefore, unlike last time, it will pass largely intact.

Not that there won't be complaints. The libertarians I take to task below will surely find some reason to hate it; their mantra will be predictable. The left will not need a reason to hate it; George Bush will have proposed it. It will hurt children and other living things, they will say. Yet, while the product, having been developed by falliable human beings, will not be perfect, it will be good enough to advance the expansion of human beings into space and will therefore be worthy of support.

In a few weeks, we'll find out how right (or wrong) I am. If the latter then--well--never mind.
Both "Laughing Wolf" and Rand Simberg offer a downbeat, pessimistic assessment of our prospects for space, though Rand is ever hopeful about the advent of the private sector (as I am even though we've been hearing about it for twenty five or so years.) They both are wrong in their total thrust, looking at things as they do through the "government evil, private sector perfect" prism. The reality is a little more complicated.

Rand stumbles about the Bush policy (more above) thus:
The conventional wisdom is that this will be seen as the key space event of the year, one that set off a major investigation into the catastrophe, resulting in recommendations that would ultimately lead to a reform and revitalization of the space agency, with new goals. The cynic in me (that part of me that has, unfortunately, been much more prescient than my more idealistic side) is unsurprisingly skeptical about the prospects for such an outcome. Bureaucracies have remarkable inertia and staying power, particularly when their status-quo activities benefit powerful political interests, and sending humans to other planets, lofty a goal that as seem to many, is not now, and never has been such an activity.

The problem is that isn't true. Public opinion, the White House, Congress, and even that intractable bureaucracy we know as NASA have come together in alignment that a new direction is necessary and that involves stopping going in circles and going beyond LEO.
Such skepticism is borne out, so far, by the fact that many in the space community were disappointed a couple of weeks ago in hoping for an early Christmas present from President Bush--that the administration would announce some bold new goal for NASA on the centennial of flight. Such a goal may still be announced, perhaps at the upcoming State of the Union address next month (and close to the first anniversary of the loss of Columbia), but simply announcing a new destination, as many hope, will not solve the fundamental problem.

First, I'm not sure what not announcing at Kitty Hawk has to do with anything. All that meant is that the policy was not ready for roll out. Also, Rand forgets that it's not just the destination, but what one does when one gets there. My sense is that there will be new things done on the Moon.

"Laughing Wolf" is also prepared to condemn the Bush space policy even before it is rolled out.
The real danger here is that the Bush Administration tends to do things all on its own. It does not leak trial balloons or engage in any of the typical things an administration does to test or tilt the waters. This can be, and for the most part is, a very good thing. The problem lies in the fact that there is no way to tell if anyone in the space policy circle can or will consider that the governmental model is obsolete.

I'm not sure what is meant by "government model." I seem to get the sense that it means any government involvement at all.

Or then again:
Is there a place for government in space? Yes, there is. The government needs to set realistic policies and regulations for commercial, private, or other space ventures. The government can assist with developing truly advanced technologies, or allowing companies access to facilities so as to aid private development of same. The government can help limit liability for all space ventures, just as it does for aviation. There are a host of things government can do, but has to date not done.

All well and good, but to develop technology, one has to test it. That involves flying hardware to places like-say-the Moon. "Laughing Wolf" seems to think that is a replay of Apollo.
What is needed now is not some grand re-do of the Apollo program, but a real space race. Not between governments or political ideologies, but between companies or private groups. This race, this competition, will result in the real next generation of launch vehicles. It will encourage innovation, risk taking, and all those other things that are an anathema to governmental agencies, but are crucial to development. It will give us not one system, but many proven systems so that there is redundancy and cost-effectiveness.

Of course that is a strawman. No one is suggesting a "replay of Apollo" in which we get flags, foot prints, and then nothing. However there is going to be a race between governments and political idealogies. The Chinese space challenge makes that inevitable. Supporting space commerce is a fine objective, but national security is also a worthy purpose for a government space agency, as well science (overemphasized these days as it is.)

Critics like "Laughing Wolf" and Rand Simberg have another problem. While NASA has certainly made more than its share of mistakes and still suffers from institutional problems, the continuous whining about that while offering zero or at best impractable solutions (aside from let's just abolish NASA or make it into a bench testing techie hobby shop and then sit back and let the private sector do everything) is a nonproductive exercise and just a little bit tiresome. So how about it, guys? We know there are problems. We've been hearing about them for decades. What we haven't heard are good solutions.

And if we are disposed to actually develop solutions, let's keep in mind certain facts.

(1) NASA is not going away. You can klick your heels and wish as hard as you want, but it's not going to happen, even if it were desirable.

(2) There will always be a place for government financed, government operated space programs. And that doesn't just consist of bench testing neato technology and doling out prizes (though both of those can be components). National security needs and the consensus that government has a role in developing technology, encouraging economic growth, and doing science suggests a strong, vigorous space program.

(3) If we don't do it, someone else will. And yes, I'm talking about China. And You won't like that future.

So, how about it? Let's have less whining and more solutions.

Let me help out. My view, as I've stated before, is that some kind of synergy between the public and the private has to be established, as it was for aviation and for the opening of the Americas. The way to do that is that NASA (and other government entities) has to become a customer for things like launch services, while devoting itself more to the cutting edge. That's why I disagree with my libertarian friends and support a return to the Moon as a focus for such efforts. A return to the Moon can also serve as a core market for all of those entrepenurial startups because, of course, to get to the Moon, first one must get to Low Earth Orbit. Government lunar operations can also help support commercial efforts.

So, how am I wrong?
For those of you interested in Medieval music, check out Istanpitta.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

The Houston Chronicle uses the apparent loss of the Beagle 2 to inveigh against the robots uber alles crowd.
According to this story, President Bush and Prime Minister Blair are preparing to enter Libya in triumph early next year.
Christopher G. Adamo suggests that one of NASA's problems is political correctness. I think he's on to something.

Monday, December 29, 2003

A far left group, that I am told is affiliated with the Howard Dean Campaign, has put out an anti Return to the Moon ad. It puts out the unimaginably evil thesis that if we go back to the Moon, millions of children will starve and wallow in misery. This is the callumny that stopped us going to the Moon thirty odd years ago and is now being revived to stop us from correcting that mistake.

As my friend Dennis Wingo says, "So it begins."

Addendum: T. L. James of the Marsblog gives the text of the evil ad a damn, fine fisking.
Taylor Dinerman examines what new industry might be spawned by the X Prize Competition. In the process he compares Burt Rutan to the Wright Brothers.

Saturday, December 27, 2003

George Will suggests that the only thing worse for the Democrats than nominating Howard Dean will be not nominating Howard Dean.
Time for 2003, the year in space:

Most significant story: The Columbia disaster, not only for the lost of an orbiter and a brave crew, but for what it has done to crystallize the need for a change in space policy. The theory seems to be that if people are going to die in space, they should do so doing something besides going around in circles in low Earth orbit.

Runner Up: The flight of the Shenzhou 5. The entry of the Chinese into the exclusive space faring club has sparked the realization among most people that a new space race has begun and it’s not just between China and the United States. India and Japan are both seriously talking about their own person in space program.

Most hopeful development: The formation of a new space policy by the Bush White House that seems to include a return to the Moon. This, in my mind, will correct a thirty plus year mistake that involved the United States stopping going to the Moon. Going back to the Moon will not so much be a “reply of Apollo” as it will be picking up where Apollo 17 left off.

Runner up: The various test flights of Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne in the runup to the X Prize some time next year. This will begin the era of sub orbital barnstorming and, in the fullness of time, the entry of the private sector into low Earth orbit operations.

Most predictable disappointment. The apparent loss of the Beagle 2 Mars lander. In my opinion we need to put some means of telemetry on these vehicles the better to monitor them on the way down.

Runner up. The spiralling out of control of the Orbital Space Plane’s costs even before the final design has been formalized. Proof also that some of NASA’s old bad habits have not yet been cured. It will have to be cured if NASA is to be charged with a beyond LEO effort.

Friday, December 26, 2003

Howard Dean proves once again why he should never be President or indeed given any office of public trust.
Going out for those after Christmas sales, with some Christman money or a gift certificate/card from your Aunt Thelma? How about the following?:

Looks like Arnold will be back (in the movies that is.) First up, a documentary about how he became Governor of California by his own hand.
Howard Dean enlists Jesus Christ as his running mate, much I suspect to the chagrin of Clark, Edwards, and Graham.

I remember how they laughed at George Bush for choosing the man from Nazareth as his favorite philosopher.
Charles Rousseaux suggests that the choice before us is one of destinations: the Moon, Mars, and/or earth approaching asteroids. Wherever we go, though:
Mankind belongs in space, and Americans, long the optimists of the frontier, must lead the way. It is long past time for this free people to permanently break the bonds of low-Earth orbit. On that point, even those without stars in their eyes agree.


Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Merry Christmas to one and all and..........

Good luck to the Beagle 2 team!

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Bill Safire is worried that Dean won't get the nomination. His theory is that then Dean goes independent and Bush wins far too easily. David Brooks, however, sees little chance of that happening.
Jeff Greason predicts a revolution in private rocket travel along with a plea for some common sense, commercial friendly government policies.
School vouchers appear to be working in Florida, much I suspect to the consternation of the teachers' unions.
The greenies are locked in a civil war over windmills, a form of power generation we were once assured was environmentally benign. Except that it seems to kill birds.
A conservative student group battles political correctness by listing the top ten campus follies.

Monday, December 22, 2003

US News has a good piece about Colin Pillinger, the scientist responsible for the Beagle 2 space probe due to touch down on Mars this Christmas Morning.
Rand Simberg offers his latest musings on space and thereby falls into the idealogical trap he usually stumbles into. His position can be summerized thus: Goverment bad. Commercial good.

The problem with his position is that it is not supported by historical experience. The first great age of exploration (started in my opinion by the government funded Prince Henry the Navigator and not by the government funded Columbus) was sustained by a synergy of public and private efforts. So too was the development of aviation. In both cases government resources and private flexibility combined to drive progress.

The problem with the way we have done space is that we have not found that synergy. At the beginning of the space age, it was considered gospel that only governments had the resources to develop space technology and operate in space. Now certain libertarian idealogues tell us that only the commercial sector has the flexibility to do the same.

Both points of view are right--and wrong at the same time.

Certainly we are not going to abolish NASA and end all publically funded space efforts. Talking about that is about the same as proposing an expedition, not to the Moon or Mars, but to Utopia (which of course translates as "nowhere.") National security requirements, the Chinese space challenge, and the need to marshel resources to open up the high frontier of space makes any such proposals a fantasy at best, dangerous at worse.

What we can do is to make our publically funded space efforts more commercial friendly, to use them as core markets (just like the air mail) to help jump start a commercial space sector. For instance, let's throw open the maintenance and resupply of the International Space Station to commercial big, instead of building another NASA run space ship to do the same. The assembly of lunar and interplanetary expeditions in low Earth orbit can be another core market. That's not just a grand vision, but a realistic one.

Update: Rand has offered a complaint that I have mistated his position. In his comments section he has offered a "clarification" that seems to my mind to somewhat contradict his original position. (He now favors some publically funded space projects, though he is vague about what they would be and under what conditions, etc.) I've responded to his response, pointing out--among other things--that he would have less to complain about if he could manage to have a clear and consistant position.
The Washington Time's Inside the Beltway section has apparently discovered a hitherto unimagined aspect of the President's Return to the Moon strategery (with tongue firmly planted in cheek):
As is tradition at the annual holiday White House Basement Party, a Christmas poem — penned this year by Greg Clugston of Salem Radio News — was read to all assembled, including White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan.
The talented Mr. Clugston titled his verse: "'Twas the Night Before Christmas — 2003 White House Press Basement Version":
'Twas the night before Christmas and at the White House,
President Bush was asleep — quiet as a mouse.
With Barney and Spot at the foot of the bed,
Visions of prescription drug benefits danced in his head.
Tomorrow, in the morning, to Camp David he'd go
For Christmas with Laura and his parents in tow.
Having gotten a lid, the reporters laid low,
Expecting their holiday shift to go slow.
When out on the South Lawn there arose such a clatter,
Laura jumped up to see what was the matter.
And what to her bewildered eyes did she see?
Two shadowy figures attempting to flee.
The couple wore ball caps in the dark of the night,
Boarding a Gulfstream Five for a top-secret flight.
The plane flew at top speed with shades pulled down tight.
Even exterior lights were off — to keep out of sight.
When a "non-U.K." pilot spotted the presidential plane,
The control tower suggested he was going insane.
The president arrived at a remote military base.
So remote, in fact, it looked like outer space.
Travel poolers were incredulous, as they began to swoon,
Realizing that Bush had just flown to the moon!
Dressed all in white, Bush emerged with a jump.
Wearing a spaceflight suit, he was ready to stump.
"Now Kerry! Now Gephardt! Dean, Edwards, and Clark!
And the rest of you candidates who are a shot in the dark!
"My bold new campaign will keep you off-kilter.
I'll do it bypassing the national media 'filter.' "
It was a strategy all of the Democrats feared —
TV ads replaying Saddam's shaggy beard.
Bush hoisted a flag, planting it inside a crater.
He saluted and waved and said, "See ya later."
Hours later, Dubya arrived back home on the lawn.
Stepping off the Gulfstream he stifled a yawn.
He approached the stakeout with a twinkle in his eye,
Knowing the secret travel would boost poll numbers high.
And I heard him exclaim, while Cheney hunted and fished,
"Merry Christmas to all! 'Mission Accomplished.' "

Sunday, December 21, 2003

The Zero Gravity Club (which likely has a couple or more members already) now has a $40 million entry fee.

Update: Chris Hall takes me to task for the use of the term "Zero Gravity", which is not quite accurately what goes on in space.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Timothy Ferris continues the drum beat for a return to the Moon.
Howard Dean ought to consider this sobering fact: His views on national security issues are scary to liberal Democrats. Not because they are a danger to Civilization, but because they are a danger to the Democrat Party.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Mr. Gregory Weinkauf publishes a review of Return of the King that is, shall we say, unique. He makes two outrageous conclusions:
One other bitch: Elijah Wood. Even after conducting an unofficial poll among random women -- for whom this cinematic Frodo approximates their fantasy of masculine innocence, or something -- his casting remains an irritation. Wood is way too young (Frodo is supposed to be 50 in these adventures), and Ring-geeks may be silenced by stating that, aesthetically, he simply lacks the experience to fulfill this role. Wood looks like a spoiled princess in a poofy wig, not a forlorn orphan with a monumental burden. He's a sticky little turd in the middle of an angel food cake. The only salvation is that very soon we'll have the technology to delete Wood on our home computers and edit in someone better. Gene Hackman would have been better. ("Henh-henh…my dear Sam…henh!")

Leaving aside the fact that LOTR hobbits age slower than humans, so that fifty is the equivilent of twenty something, I think most people will conclude that this evaluation is wide of the mark.

Besides, Gene Hackman?! Please...

Then Mr. Weinkauf inserts some political commentary:
Denethor (John Noble), who is a total nutcase fraud very similar to our current American president (Bush, please follow his example to its conclusion).

Well, gracious. Now as Eminem is finding out to his cost, those who wish for the death of the President get the unwelcome attention of the Secret Service. I wonder if that includes the wish that he go crazy and throw himself on a flaming pyre? I hope so, because getting Bush hatred shoved down ones throat during a moview review puts one off one's food a little too much.

Qaddafy, mindfull no doubt of the fate of Saddam Hussein, has apparently capitulated on the subjects of WMDs and terrorism.
Alan Boyle has some thoughts about "Survivor on Mars" and the irrespressable Bob Zubrin.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

What dark conspiracy is devouring the Democrat Party into a morass of paranoia and madness?
"Dean, McDermott and Albright sound like the Democratic foreign-policy dream team," Mr. Reed said. "I also heard a rumor that aliens were coming down to Earth to occupy the bodies of three prominent Democrats, and it looks like it came true."

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Dr. Paul Spudis gives yet another case for a return to the Moon.
The failure of the Wright brothers flight reenactment was well covered in the media. Ignored, of course, was Burt Rutan's breaking the sound barrier with his privately built rocketship was little noticed. I bet Orville and Wilbur would have appreciated the irony.
We saw Return of the King today (of course) and the English language is inadequet ti describe how impressed I was. I saw sights that I had only my imagination to visualize for the past thirty five years since I read the books. The Battle of Minas Tireth sequence is the greatest of its kind ever put on the screen.

It was little noticed at the time, but a hundred years ago this day, the world changed forever because of two men on a wind swept beach.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Happy birthday, Arthur C. Clarke.
Happy birthday, Beethoven.
Congressman Jim McDermott should resign from Congress in shame.
In an interview Monday with a Seattle radio station, McDermott said the U.S. military could have found the former Iraqi dictator "a long time ago if they wanted."

Asked if he thought the weekend capture was timed to help Bush, McDermott chuckled and said, "Yeah. Oh, yeah."

McDermott went on to say, "There's too much by happenstance for it to be just a coincidental thing."

When interviewer Dave Ross asked again if he meant to imply the Bush administration timed the capture for political reasons, McDermott said: "I don't know that it was definitely planned on this weekend, but I know they've been in contact with people all along who knew basically where he was. It was just a matter of time till they'd find him.

"It's funny," McDermott added, "when they're having all this trouble, suddenly they have to roll out something."

On the other hand, maybe he should just keep it up and confirm the Democrat Party as the Party of Raving Lunacy.

Monday, December 15, 2003

With a war on Terror, a war in Iraq, economic uncertainty, and an agrimonious election drawing nigh, is this any time to even think of going back to the Moon? Douglas MacKinnon says, "Yes!"
Orson Scott Card, the SF author of the Ender and Alvin Maker series, has some harsh words for his fellow democrats.
A return to the Moon won't be a big windfall for the big aerospace conglomerates like Boeing and Lockmart. On the other hand:
"The work you do for NASA doesn't look that attractive on a straight profit investment standpoint. But it allows people like ourselves to develop technologies we would not have developed otherwise, and really pushes the technology envelope," said Richard Aubrecht, vice president of strategy and technology at Moog Inc., a subcontractor on the space shuttle and other NASA spacecraft dating back to Mercury.

"If you can use the technology you're developing there, then it's a very good deal for everyone – for your company, for NASA and for the country."

Via Marsblog.

General Wesley Clark, who once seemed to advocate the development of warp drives, disdains a return to the Moon.
During his campaign speech, Clark made indirect reference to reports that Bush plans to return U.S. astronauts to the moon.

''I see a country that can produce great scientists and engineers,'' Clark told the crowd. ''We've already been to the moon. We did it.''

Afterward, he told reporters, ''We need to get America pointed into the future on the things that represent the future in this country.''

Now, who is this "we", I wonder? I have not been to the Moon. Neither has General Clark. Indeed, a hundred and thirty five million Americans have never actually seen a moon walk live.

Peaceniks reallly need to get over Hiroshima and stop protesting the display of the Enola Gay at the new Air and Space Museum Annex. An invasion of Japan would have very likely taken over a million Japanese and allied lives. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki both spared the world that horror and provided a look at the potential greater horror that nuclear combat was capable of visiting upon the world. Enola Gay may well have spared the world death by nuclear war in that way
Will the sub orbital space craft being developed under the X Prize competition eventually lead to vehicles that can go all the way to orbit? Clark Lindsey suggests probibly.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Sounds like the director who will do the movie version of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" wants to channel Hitchcock. Should be interesting.
Unlike the rest of the Democrats, Lieberman seemed positively the statesman on Saddam's capture. That's a good political gambit for him if he thinks that a "silent majority" of Democrats will rise up and beat back Howard Dean and give some sensible person (say, Lieberman) the nomination. I'm afraid, though, that Democrat primary voters are inmune to external stimuli. They hate the war. They hate Bush. That is all that matters.
Late breaking news. Various sources are reporting that Saddam Hussein is in Coalition hands. US Defense Department refuses to confirm at this time. More to follow.

Addendum: Looks like it's confirmed. This is big. This is as if we had captured Hitler after World War II.

Addendun: More confirmation. Looks like the celebration has begun in the streets of Baghdad.

Addendum: If John Kerry's reaction is any guide, it looks like the Democrats are at a loss as to how to deal with this. He took the occassion of Saddam's capture to launch partisan attacks against both President Bush and Howard Dean. He looked shrill and a little bit demented.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Mohammed Atta, the mastermind of 9/11, was trained by Abu Nidel in Baghdad, just weeks before the attack that destroyed the twin towers, according to this story. This makes Operation Iraqi Freedom even more of a justum bellum than ever.
Talks over a European constitution have collapsed. And not too soon, in my opinion. The whole notion of a European Union is nothing more than a Franco-German scheme to take over Europe and then use it as an instrument to stick it to the Americans.

Friday, December 12, 2003

About fifty members of the Medici family, which caused so much Itallian history, starting in the 15th Century, are to be dug up for forensic examination. One question to be answered is how many of them died by poison.
Sharon Begley says it is time to go to Mars, the Moon not being exciting enough.
We seem to have turned the corner in Iraq according to Victor Davis Hanson.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

James Carville, fresh from losing his cabbage each and every episode of HBO's K-Street, does the same live, before an audience of Democrats.
Two great holiday gifts:

The Supreme Court's horrible McCain-Feingold decision has brought together the left and the right in common cause. Let this be a lesson. Assaults on free speech hurt everybody, not just folks one happens to disagree with.
George Will asks some hard questions for the Democrat Presidential candidates.
The Moon is about to become a popular destination for many nations.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Peggy Noonan gives eulogy to Robert Bartley, friend and champion of freedom.
Old Europe is learning that appeasing Saddam has a cost.
While democracy and free speech are under assault in the United States by proponents of "campaign finance reform", it seems to be flourishing in Iraq.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. "

Not, apparently, according to the Supreme Court. This decision is Earth shaking in its implications. It says, in effect, that the government can restrict free, political speech. Justice Scalia, in his dissent, is quite right by saying that it is a dark day for freedom. It is the worse decision that the Supreme Court has ever made and, somehow, in some way, it must not stand.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Abolish NASA or depend on ponderous, international bureaucracies to explore space? The answer, in my mind, is neither. I oppose international bureaucracies in all forms for any purpose. As for abolishing NASA, the political difficulties aside, there seems to me to be a role for a government role in the opening of the high frontier, pursuing the cuttung edge research and exploration that the entrepeneurs are not willing to do and/or able to do. In other words, the universe is vast enough for both NASA and Jeff Bezos to play in.
Looks like most of the American people favor a return to the Moon, so long as it doesn't cost too much.
The first step in China's lunar effort, the Chang'e I Lunar Orbiter will launch within three years.
According to Dick Morris, Gore backing Dean makes a lot of sense. By doing so, Gore pokes a finger in the eye of the Clintons and, since Dean won't win, Gore is set up for a battle for the nomination with Hillary in 08.
Looks like the radiation hazards on and around Mars are manageable for humans.

Monday, December 08, 2003

The Christian Science Monitor repeats the foolishness about the return to the Moon commited by the Washington Post (see below). Both it and the Post seem to repeat the same talking points.
Al Gore jumps on the Howard Dean band wagon. I wonder if Gore will give Dean some tips on debate techniques.
Peter Jennings is not liberally biased. He is just protecting the peasents in America through a sense of noblesse oblige.
Michael Barone says that those who criticize President Bush for spending too much money miss the point. Bush never campaigned as a small government conservative in the classic sense that he wanted to shrink government. What he proposes to do with government (and is doing) is far more revolutionary.
Taylor Dinerman suggests that the Moon could become the Gibraltar of space. What's more, the Chinese recognize that fact.
Robert Roy Britt suggests ten reasons to return to the Moon. Clearly not listed in order of importance.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

Despite the Washington Post (see below) discussion and excitement is building for a return to the Moon.
The folks at the Washington Post are mad as hell that the President is even thinking of sending people back to the Moon. Of course they seem to be mad as hell at the President period.
THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION is said to be considering a commitment to put a person on the moon. This comes in the context of a White House search for "Big Ideas" -- think "vision" and "national purpose" -- to carry into the 2004 campaign, according to Post reporters Mike Allen and Kathy Sawyer. We suppose every president goes through a similar process as he faces reelection and the question: What would I do with a second term? But putting a man on the moon, as it used to be called, was a Big Idea 40 years ago, and even then no one could really articulate a purpose.

That's false, of course. Lots of people articulated a purpose for Apollo and are articulating a purpose for a return to the Moon. The Post just doesn;t think those purposes are valid.
Why would President Bush, to whom this proposal has not yet been presented, embark on a dubious, multibillion-dollar rerun at a time of war and budget deficits?

That's very cute, but returning to the Moon is not a "rerun", but rather picking up where Apollo 17 left off.
We can think of plenty of Big Ideas more useful than providing a new employment program for NASA, Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Make sure every child who qualifies gets to attend Head Start; right now, two out of five are shut out, the Children's Defense Fund reports. Make sure every low-income family that qualifies receives housing assistance; right now, 5 million are in need, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Not Big enough? How about health insurance and preschool for every American 4-year-old?

Aren't we a little past the hoary, old "starving children" argument against space exploration? Thirty years ago we abandoned the Moon and robbed a generation of a brillient age of space exploration so that we could fund the welfare state. Those welfare programs, by the way, failed and in many ways made matters worse.

The Post goes on to contradict itself in a grand fashion.
In other words, government could do plenty of useful things if money were unlimited. But it's not -- as Republicans used to tell us. In that context, we propose two Big Ideas that should come first, even if, as campaign slogans, they may need work.

Finish what you started. To his great credit, Mr. Bush rededicated his presidency after 9/11, and he has accomplished a great deal toward making America safer. But as he has said many times, the battle against terrorism will be long and arduous. Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein remain at large. The anthrax attacks remain unsolved. The administration's plan to defend against smallpox is in a shambles, research into bioterror is in its infancy, cargo arrives in U.S. ports with less than ideal scrutiny. In eastern Afghanistan the Taliban is regrouping, and in Iraq U.S. success is far from assured. The Army is straining under unexpectedly long and dangerous deployments. If the administration suddenly has found extra billions for NASA, it could dedicate them to the crucial mission in Iraq.

In other words, the Post wants guns as well as butter, slathered over with a little Vietnam War style panic talk. How Johnsonian.

The Post goes on to grouse the liberal grousing about a new found worry. The deficit.
Clean up your mess. Mr. Bush not only has failed to confront the serious budgetary problems that he inherited; he's made a frightening situation far worse. "The Social Security and Medicare shortfalls compel change," Mr. Bush said in his 2004 budget. "They must not be left hanging over the heads of our children and grandchildren. The longer the delay in enacting reforms, the greater the danger, and the more drastic the remedies will have to be." All true; yet Mr. Bush's actions have only dug the hole deeper. He's saddled the country with unaffordable tax cuts, pressed to make those cuts permanent, allowed federal spending to soar and added a huge new entitlement program, prescription drug coverage for Medicare, that does little to constrain rising Medicare costs as part of the bargain.

So one suspects that the Post will support privitizing Social Security and Medicare when it's proposed next year. And Osama bin Laden will convert to Judeism.

And by the way, "unaffordable tax cuts?" At least the Post didn't yell about "tax cuts for the rich?"
And so the budget has swung from a $237 billion surplus in fiscal year 2000 to a $374 billion deficit in 2003 -- the most precipitous fall in 50 years. Worse, no end to the record deficits is in sight: The 2004 shortfall is apt to be above $500 billion, and the 10-year deficit $5.5 trillion or more. The selfishness and irresponsibility are breathtaking. So here's one more Big Idea: level with the American people about what it will take to get the fiscal house back in order, and begin the process of doing so.

Translated, of course, is "raise taxes, cut the military, and certainly don't do any new space initiatives." Certainly not restrain entitlements. That would be "on the backs of the poor and the elderly."

Saturday, December 06, 2003

John Kerry leaps the length of his chain and using the F word to attack the President.
Is the Chinese "great leap outward" helping to spur a new American space initiative? Here and here are indications that it is so. (Via NASA Watch)

Friday, December 05, 2003

Looks like a return to the Moon is only one of the big initiatives being pursued by the Bush White House. Another seems to be a "war on desease" that should be popular with aging baby boomers.
A return to the Moon should be easier, cheaper, and presumably quicker than it the 1960s.
If a decision is made to return to the moon, NASA's advantage is that some technological issues were solved decades ago, McCurdy noted, as were the difficulties in organizing a work force to make it happen. But the challenge of how to do it without spending what amounts to $150 billion in today's dollars is equally important.

"We know how to do low-cost missions. The problem is, they crash a lot," McCurdy said. "We also know how to do high-reliability missions. The trick is now to do both, simultaneously."

Thursday, December 04, 2003

There are two series coming the TV set in Ancient Rome, ABC's Empire (renamed from Tyrannus) and HBO's Rome.
The New York Post seems to confirm the back to the Moon story.

A return to the Moon would constitute a monumental turning point in human history. It would open up such a myriad of opportunities in commerce, in technology development, and scientific research that people should be amazed that this proposal had not be seriously pursued before. Indeed, the fact that we stopped voyaging to the Moon in the 1970s is a blot on our civilization. If President Bush makes this proposal and if we rise to that challenge, that blot will finally be wiped out.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Unlike Rice and the University of Texas, Texas A&M will not practice racial discrimination in admissions.
NASA's O'Keefe hints at big changes ahead for the US space program.
Jeffrey Bell misreads history in order to make a point about the need to develop true space faring technology.

First, Bell on the Chinese:
But some years ago, I read some of the actual literature on that short period of Chinese oceanic voyaging. The real story is that those tribute fleets were very much like our current space program: vastly expensive, but producing no useful results other than propaganda. At each port stop, the local sultans or maharajas proclaimed themselves vassals of the Celestial Emperor, expensive gifts were exchanged, and then the fleet sailed on.

The Chinese didn't get any colonies, forts, naval bases, or trading posts. They seem not to have even collected taxes or tribute on a long-term basis from the places they visited. There was no increase in trade or industry that can be traced to Cheng Ho's voyages.

Bell makes a circular argument here. Zheng He's voyages "failed" because they didn't lead to long term overseas trade and colonization. But, it could be argued that Zheng He's voyages did not lead to these things because not only did the Mandrians stopped those voyages, but passed laws forbidding even privately funded overseas voyages on pain of death.

Next, Bell trots out the Vikings in Vinland:
What the Norse colonizers of Canada lacked was the technological base to maintain themselves in the New World. They had a marginal technology for crossing the ocean, a marginal technology for fighting the Indians, marginal cold-weather clothes, and marginal farming/fishing/mining techniques.

They didn't find an export product that could have been sold in Europe. They could just barely support one tiny village in Newfoundland with the help of the larger colonies in Greenland and Iceland. (And this was in a period called the Medieval Climatic Optimum that was considerably warmer than today.)

When it became clear that life in Newfoundland would be nasty, brutish, and short even by Viking standards, they gave up. Later, the Little Ice Age came along and even the Norse colonies in Greenland were snuffed out by global cooling that their feeble technical toolkit couldn't cope with.

These points are a little more valid, though one might point out that hostile Indians were probibly the decisive factor in the failure of the Norse North American settlements. There are no natives--hostile or not--to deal wwith anywhere in the Solar System and therefore the Viking analogy is not quite as valid.

Bell does, however, comes to a good idea for a model for our space efforts in the near term. It is not so much Columbus as it is Prince Henry the Navigator.
What we need are the 21st-century equivalents of the galleons, plate armor, gunpowder, horses, and plows that made the European colonization of America practical in the 1500s and 1600s. Even more, we need some outer space analog to profit centers like Newfoundland's codfish, Virginia's tobacco, and Mexico's gold.

When we have these things, the Age of Space will really start. If we emulated the Vikings and the Confucian scholars by closing down our current useless manned space program, we might have the money to fund the equivalent of Prince Henry's Navigation Institute and develop this technology now instead of waiting 500 years.

Of course the interesting part was that Prince Henry funded extensive overseas voyages, most of which remain secret to this day, partly to explore the coasts of Africa, but also to research and develop deep ocean sailing technology that Columbus and his successors eventually used to open up the Americas.

Dennis E. Powell discusses the prospect of a return to the Moon.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

If "reality TV " has been done to death, will "alternate reality" TV be not far behind?
President Bush's first post Thanksgiving poll has his job approval at 61 percent. His enemies will view this as proof that his Baghdad trip was undertaken for purely evil political purposes.
Looks like the Russians have arrived at the obvious conclusion about what a turkey Kyoto is.
There's a proposal to replace the head of FDR--whom many mistakenly think was the greatest US President of the 20th Century--with that of Reagan, who really was the greatest US President of the 20th Century.
Jeff Foust muses on the subject of space visions. Meanwhile, David Boswell discusses one such vision, Mars Direct.
Dick Morris chronicles Hillary Clinton's badwill tour of Afghanistan and Iraq. Meanwhile, Bush's enemies continue to rant about the President's far more inspiring trip to Baghdad.