Curmudgeons Corner

Random thoughts on politics, current events, popular culture, and whatever else interests me.

Mark R. Whittington is a writer residing in Houston, Texas. He is the author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction, including the novel of suspense Nocturne which he coauthored with his wife, Chantal, The Children of Apollo trilogy, The Last Moonwalker and Other Stories, Gabriella’s War, The Man from Mars: The Asteroid Mining Caper, and Why is it So Hard to Go Back to the Moon?

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Monday, May 31, 2004
 
How we won the Battle of Fallujah.


 
The Chinese have denied turning their back from the Moon, according to Jim Oberg. I guess the race is on after all.


 
Thomas W. Hill, professor of physics and astronomy at Rice University, makes a lot of remarkable assertions about the President's Moon, Mars, and Beyond Initiative in the letters to the editor section of the Houston Chronicle, in response to an article eight days ago by Your Humble Servant. Let's examine those assertions.
Mark R. Whittington's May 23 Outlook article, "BREAK THE SILENCE / Make a case for space, Mr. Bush," asked the president to lobby Congress to support his "Moon, Mars and Beyond Initiative." The problem is that Congress is forced, once a year, to deal with facts (measured in dollars), while presidential administrations are sometimes given to flights of fantasy! The MMB initiative is one such fantasy, and it promises to be the most expensive fantasy in history, if implemented.

Professor Hill does not give us any previous "flight of fantasy" that presidential administrations have been given to. Perhaps he refers to President Jefferson's Louisiana Purchase, or President Lincoln's transcontinental railroad, or President Teddy Roosevelt's Panama Canal, or President Kennedy's Apollo Program. But then all of these things succeeded. He does not tell us why he thinks that the Moon, Mars, and Beyond Initiative is a "fantasy" and not simply visionary like any of those previous big ideas I mentioned. Nor does he tell us why it will be the most expensive "flight of fantasy" in his august judgement.

Professor Hill rants on:
Whittington calls the estimated cost of $1 trillion a canard, but it is not, it is a very conservative estimate, as knowledgeable people in the space business would agree. That is why the administration has chosen not to present a cost estimate to Congress.

A conservative estimate? By what knowledgeable people? And that the administration has not chosen to instantly give a cost estimate for a project that will last thirty years and beyond seems to me to be simple prudence, not a cover up.
The legitimate purposes of today's space program do not include sending humans back to the moon, much less to Mars.

Why? By whose standards?
In the 1960s, our space program was mostly about sending humans to the moon. That was a political Cold War imperative and price was no object. It cost around $25 billion. Today, allowing for inflation, that could be $150 billion, and it was for six brief visits, not a permanent outpost.

One trillion dollars is a reasonable ballpark figure for only the moon part. Forget Mars and beyond.

That hundred and fifty billion also financed the invention of the art of space flight. Those six trips to the lunar surface were just the end product of a program which included Mercury, Gemini, and some precursor Apollo missions.

For a more detailed analysis as to why the trillion dollar estimate is silly, I suggest Jim Oberg's recent piece. Dwayne Day has also had some thoughts on the subject.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration won the race to the moon and it was fun to watch. The Apollo program also produced significant gains in scientific knowledge. (Although those gains could have been acquired at a fraction of the cost using robotic spacecraft, even with '60s technology.)

But to send humans to the moon and return them alive to Earth, NASA was forced to learn how to lift large payloads out of Earth's gravity, which, in turn, gave rise to a scientific revolution that is the lasting legacy of today's space program.

Except for the claim about robotic space craft, unsupported by both experience and recent experimentation, Professor Hill seems to make a pretty good case for Apollo style human space flight projects.
Consuming a third of NASA's budget, Earth and space scientists have literally re-written the textbooks about Earth, our solar system and the universe beyond. Most of the remaining two-thirds have been spent, as Whittington correctly observed, "sending people to fly in circles in low Earth orbit, growing crystals or performing microgravity experiments on fruit flies."

This is true, but not really relevant to the question at hand. The failure of the space shuttle is not a reflection on the utility of human space flight, no more than various failures of certain robotic missions reflect on the utility of those types of expeditions.
The legitimate business of NASA (and other space agencies around the world) is scientific exploration and discovery. Leave the human tourists out of the equation, and we could do twice as much at half the cost.

Of course, human explorers have a place in scientific exploration and discovery, whether it takes place on this planet or somewhere else. There is no substitute for the human powers of observation, the human mind to process what is being observed, and the human ability to react instantly. Remarkable as the achievments of--say--the Mars Opportunity and Spirit rovers have been, it can be easily asserted that their entire missions could be accomplished by a pair of geologists in a day or so. It would cost more, of course, but one gets what one pays for. And let's not even start on technology development and commerce, two things Professor Hill does not mention, but are important nevertheless and do require humans. It is a sad thing that a Professor at such a respected university does not seem to realize this.

As Sir Arthur C. Clark once said, "There are some terrible examples in the past of distinguished scientists who simply lacked imagination. For example the Astronomer Royal Hon. Woolley, once was quoted saying, 'Space flight is utter bilge', that was quoted against the poor chap for the rest of his life." Too bad Professor Hill has joined that dubious group of the distinquished and unimaginative.














Friday, May 28, 2004
 
Well, I saw The Day After Tomorrow and it was as bad as I thought. Ordinarily this wouldn't matter, since the special effects were eye popping, but the movie was made not so much to entertain but to prevent the reelection of George W. Bush. In a way this reminds one of a similerly titled film, The Day After. The Day After depicted the effects of a nuclear war from the point of view of the good people of Lawrence, Kansas. Every body dies, of coursr, the lucky ones in a flash, the unlucky ones in slow, lingering mode. The message of that movie, which came out in 1984, was that if we reelected Ronald Reagan, this would happen. Ironicly, five years after we did reelect Reagan by a huge landslide, the Berlin Wall fell and shortly thereafter, the Soviet Empire.

Meanwhile, Alan Boyle announces the finalists of his bad scifi disaster movie contest.


 
One wonders how people would view the war in Iraq if the mainstream media paid more attention to the story about seven Iraqi men, all victims of Saddam's tyranny, given new right hands, courtesy of the United States.


Wednesday, May 26, 2004
 
Grant Comes East, the second in Newt Gingrich's trilogy about a Civil War in which Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia anniliates the Union forces in and around Gettysburg. Can Grant arrive in time to save the Union?



 
Al Gore foamed at the mouth, chewed the carpet, ranted, raved, and screamed like a lunatic. Remember, this man was five hundred votes short of becoming President of the United States.


 
There was a town meeting at JPL concerning the Moon, Mars, and Beyond Initiative. Not surprisingly coming from a community of robotic scientists, was this opinion:
Another audience member said she disapproved of the plan to increase human space exploration because, as the Mars Rovers have shown, she said, robotic exploration can be just as inspirational and scientifically fruitful at a fraction of the cost of manned missions. "Let's go there virtually,' she said, just as millions have gone to the Red Planet through Spirit and Opportunity's eyes with the images they've sent back to Earth.

Someone should have a sit down with this woman and explain to her about the value of the human powers of observation.

Surprisingly, there was some support for the President's vision and even some helpfull suggestions:
Some of the scientists in the auditorium supported the vision and used their time at the meeting to recommend ways to enhance it. For example, one scientist suggested that a portion of the agency's recommended $1 billion in additional funding over the next five years be allocated for prize money to inspire innovative work in the development of the spacecraft needed to make the vision a reality.


Addendum: Rand Simberg has some more interesting stuff from the town meeting.





 
Admitting that The Day After Tomorrow is based on dubious science, professional fan boy Harry Knowles suggests that the best thing he found about the film was about how it bashed the President and Vice President.
Lastly, I enjoy the film as a Jonathan Swift style black satire regarding the absolutely irresponsible scientific and environmental misjudgments of the Bush Administration, and in particular… I’m quite fond of the portrayal of the puppet President and the incompetent Stromboli Vice President, even though they didn’t go the cheap route of hiring dead on look-alikes… what is there, is an obvious parody of a President that was seemingly on Vacation and doing photo-ops whilst crisis hit the country, with no clue how to respond… and a belligerent Vice-President with no patience or tolerance for any input outside of that of his own personal realm of experience. Obviously this isn’t meant to be Bush and Cheney. Obviously. No, Really it isn’t. They’re even different names. So there’s no reason to get… defensive. Ahem.

Sure, Harry. Whatever you say.


Tuesday, May 25, 2004
 
An environmental scientist says that the film The Day After Tomorrow is filled with hot air.


 
The fight to get approval for the Moon, Mars, and Beyond Initiative proceeds apace, with a lot of activity happening under the radar. The prospects are neither bleek nor a sure thing.


Monday, May 24, 2004
 
Jennifer Graham points out that there is one kind of race (several, I would add) that President Bush would beat John Kerry in hands down.


 
Taylor Dinerman looks at how the Moon, Mars, and Beyond Initiative is doing in the Congress. Skittishness over funding is only part of the problem.
Meanwhile, the publicity surrounding NASA’s accounting mess just proves the old adage that “no good deed ever goes unpunished.” For years before Sean O’Keefe took over, NASA’s financial management system was an obsolete, disgraceful, mess. The commitment to so called “full-cost accounting” was, at best, being implemented at glacial speed. Now that they are actually doing something about the problem all the old problems are exposed and at the same time the new system is not yet operating as promised. It’s a typical story for our age, those who try to repair a flawed institution not only get blamed for not having an instant, perfect solution, but they get the blame for the institutional dysfunction that created the need for reform in the first place.

Meanwhile, Jeff Foust talks to Craig Steidle of NASA at how the Moon, Mars, and Beyond Initiative is going from his point of view.



Sunday, May 23, 2004
 
Fred Barnes catches Michael Moore in a lie concerning--well--Fred Barnes.


 
Your Humble Servant takes note of the skittishness in the Congress concerning the funding of the Moon, Mars, and Beyond Initiative, and then gives the President of the United States his marching orders.


Saturday, May 22, 2004
 
Proof positive that the French really hate us.


Thursday, May 20, 2004
 
Nancy Pelosi leaps the length of her chain in an attempt at the President's throat.


 
Bill Cosby gives the civil rights crowd the back of his hand.


 
Part of SR 95, the Budget Resolution passed by the House and pending in the Senate, as posted in NASA Watch:

"The conferees support the President's Vision for Exploration and believe the fiscal year 2005 funding for Function 250 should provide sufficient funding to initiate the process. Additionally, the bulk of the requested increase for fiscal year 2005 is for return to flight of the Space Shuttle and continued assembly and operations for the International Space Station. The Conferees hope that these two must-fund requirements will be taken into account during their consideration of the NASA appropriation. The conferees also recognize the importance of the research and education initiatives of the Department of Energy's Office of Science and the National Science Foundation."


Addendum: Looks like the resolution fully funds Moon, Mars, and Beyond.


 
NASA's lunar plans are starting to take shape. The longest men have stayed on the Moon is three days. Within a few years, it could become ninety days.


Wednesday, May 19, 2004
 
Senator Fritz Hollings is pretty sure that it's all the fault of the Jews.


Tuesday, May 18, 2004
 
A United States/European Mars Race? Maybe. And certainly the necessity to beat the French to Mars would be very galvanizing.


 
A lot of media outlets have been carrying this story with the suggestion that China has "cancelled" a plan to send men to the Moon. Actually, a close reading of Wang Yongzhi's remarks suggests no such thing at all:
"China will also conduct a lunar orbiting program," Wang was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, Wang said that due to financial reasons, China's lunar probe is not to send an astronaut to the moon, but to launch a satellite which orbits the moon.

My reading is that Wang is refering to China's planned lunar orbiter to be launched in 2006, not something that might fly at the end of the next decade, perhaps using the planned space station as a jumping off point.

Addendum: Jim Oberg agrees with my conclusions.



 
David Frum suggests that Europe has unrolled the red carpet for anti American crackpots. He sees ingratitude behind it all.
I doubt that today’s Europeans care very much about remembering what real fascism was – who succumbed to it – and which nation saved humanity from its rule. To remember what the United States has done in the past would provoke too many uncomfortable questions about what Europe is doing in the present.


 
Michael Moore is about to get taste of his own medicine. I somehow doubt that "Michael Moore Hates America" will get an Oscar for Best Documentary.


 
Looks like Piers Anthony's Xanth series will be the basis of a motion picture.


Monday, May 17, 2004
 
Over thirty years after John Kerry first slimed American soldiers, he has done it again, albeit in a slightly more subtle way.


 
The prospect of returning to the Moon has increased interest in space agriculture.


 
Proof that Michael Moore is the Leni Riefenstahl of the Far Left


 
It Looks like Big Labor opposes the Moon, Mars, and Beyond Initiative. I find that curious, considering its potential to create a lot of high tech jobs. This demonstrates how much the Union Bosses have aligned itself behind the interests of the Democrat Party and away from the interests of workers. Whom do these people think would be building the space craft, servicing the equipment, and eventually helping to utilize the resources of the high frontier of space? The idea that they would be American workers does not seem to have entered their heads.


Sunday, May 16, 2004
 
The next step of China's conquest of space is starting to take shape.


 
Peter O'Toole, actor of the old school. May he live forever.


Saturday, May 15, 2004
 
You would think that with the President's low approval numbers, the Democrats would be exaulting. But, taking note that despite all that, John Kerry has not pulled ahead, the Democrats are indulging is weird fantasies such as this one.


 
House Majority Leader Tom Delay issues marching orders.


Friday, May 14, 2004
 
Jeff Foust reports that House Majority Leader Tom Delay is taking a leading role in supporting the Moon, Mars, and Beyond Initiative.


Thursday, May 13, 2004
 
Fan written stories based on popular TV shows and movies have been around since the first Star Trek went off the air. Now, with modern digital cameras and software, fan films are about to come into their own. And some may be better than the originals upon which they are based.


 
The race for the X Prize continues as SpaceShipOne exceeds two hundred thousand feet in its third powered flight.


 
Pfc Lynndie England, She Wolf of Abu Ghraib, apparently had far too much time on her hands.


Wednesday, May 12, 2004
 
Hugh Hewitt wonders why Teddy Kennedy is not called to account for slandering the US military recently. Give me a break. The good Senator got away with leaving a young girl friend of his to drown. Comparing the military to Saddam's torturers is minor compared to that.

Addendum: Jim Oberg reminds me that Mary Joe may not have actually drowned:
Teddy left Kopechne to die, fer shoor -- whether she drowned
remains unknown, mainly because Kennedy clan friends
pressured her parents into refusing an autopsy. It's scary
that she may have suffocated, her head in an air pocket
at the car's back window -- meaning she lived for an hour or
two, in the darkness, and could have been saved if Teddy
had quickly called for help.

Remember. This man is in the United States Senate.


 
Look who was AWOL when his vote was needed in the Senate to pass some legislation he favored.


Tuesday, May 11, 2004
 
Al Gore agrees that the film The Day After Tomorrow is based on junk science. But he wants people to watch it and be influenced by it anyway.


 
The beheading of Nick Berg, slow, barbaric, and brutal that it was, was also a major public relations blunder. Just as many Americans were beginning to wallow in self doubt because of the prisoner abuse scandal, these animals have managed to remind the world what this war is all about.


Monday, May 10, 2004
 
As Your Humble Servant has suggested, the President will shortly make a major speech supporting his Moon, Mars, and Beyond Initiative.


 
Taylor Dinerman suggests that the cost of not doing the President's Moon, Mars, and Beyond Initiative would be too great to bear.


 
Sam Dinkin believes that he has found a way to enforce a kind of space property right with existing treaties.


Saturday, May 08, 2004
 
George Will discusses a new book by Michael Barone that casts a great deal of light on the nature of America in the 21st Century. It is called Hard America, Soft America.



 
Now there really is a Rick's American Cafe in Casablanca.

Play it again, Issam.


Friday, May 07, 2004
 
Air America, the liberal alternative to Rush Limbaugh on the radio airwaves, has failed to meet its payroll. I am amazed. Air America got all that free PR in the major media and yet it is apparently spiraling out of control.


Thursday, May 06, 2004
 
Jeff Foust reports that Tom Delay, the House Majority Leader, has seized control of the NASA Authorization process from Sherwood Boehlert, Chairman of the House Science Committee. Delay is an enthusiastic supporter of the Moon, Mars, and Beyond Initiative. Boehlert has been skittish about paying for it.


 
John Kerry can't really exploit the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal. He's confessed to doing much worse things in Vietnam.


Wednesday, May 05, 2004
 
In the midst of the blizzard of anti Bush books, Dick Morris still finds a way to publish his love letter to Hillary Clinton:



 
Glenn Reynolds has some thoughts about spurring the economic development of the Moon and other celestrial bodies.


 
John Kerry's fellow Swift Boat veterans explain that they are not attacking him out of partisanship. Rather, it's personal.


 
The Aldridge Commission will propose the most profound changes to NASA since its creation in 1958.
The changes envisioned by the panel would transform NASA into an agency working alongside an industrial partner, academia and parts of other Cabinet-level agencies to expand the nation's economy into space as a means of creating new wealth and strengthening national security as well as advancing science.




Tuesday, May 04, 2004
 
Looks like the Aldridge Commission will be taking a lead role in selling the President's Moon, Mars, and Beyond Initiative.


 
The raison d'etre that John Kerry has advanced for his candidacy is that he's a Vietnam War hero. His latest commercials linger lovingly over his four month and twelve day Vietnam career, with video of him striding through the bush like Rambo in search of more prey. However, there is a group of Vietnam veterans who have a slightly different and far more disturbing story to tell.


 
Looks like the deficit may have shrunk all by itself by $100 billion. Imagine that.


 
More indications that the Chinese are thinking about sending people to the Moon.
The seminar, which was concluded on April 27, also disclosed that the timetable for the three stages, orbiting, landing and returning, of China's moon probe project had been set up.

The project, called "Chang'e ", will send a satellite "Chang'e I" to the moon in the first phase which will explore the lunar surface environment, topography, geologic structure and physical field. The second phase will develop and launch a spacecraft to the moon to take on exploration and auto-inspection, which will provide chemical and physical parameters for the selection of the site of the lunar base in the future.

The third phase aims to make and lift up small sampling re-entry cabin, lunar surface sampling apparatus, and robot operation arms. Data offered by the samples and explorations taken by these equipment will be very useful to the manned moon probe and site location of a outpost station on the moon.




Monday, May 03, 2004
 
John O'Neil calls John Kerry a liar and then explains why this matters.


 
Your humble servant champions an idea by science writer Ken Silber to pay for the President's Moon, Mars, and Beyond Initiative. Ken's original article can be found here. Ken also has an article about space property rights.

Addendum: Tom Matula has some interesting thoughts on this subject:
Its nice to see the proposals I first presented at the 1997 Princeton Conference

Matula, Thomas L. (1997),"The Potential Role of a Space Development Bank in Accelerating the Commercial Development of Space" in Proceedings on the Princeton Conference on Space Manufacturing, Space Studies Institute, Princeton, NJ., May 7-9, 1997.

and again at the 10th Space Frontier Conference

Matula, Thomas L. (2001) “Time for a Space Development Bank?” Presented at the 10th Space Frontier Conference, Los Angeles, CA October, 18-21, 2001.

are starting to bear fruit among advocates. However linking it to real estate property rights on the Moon will create near-term problems with the current treaty framework for space and add a unnecessary element of risk. A much better option is a two-tier structure linked to the future revenue streams from a Lunarbase Development Authority. The revenues streams could be based on several I proposed for the ISS in

Matula, Thomas L. and Darryl J. Mityr(2002), "A Market Based Approach to Commercializing the International Space Station through the Creation of an International Space Station (ISS) Development Corporation," in the Proceedings of Space 2002: The 7th International Conference on Engineering, Construction, and Operations in Space, Albuquerque, NM, March 14-17, 2002.

Basically such financing would best be integrated into financial markets via a two-tier financing system consisting of guaranteed and non-guaranteed securities.

The guaranteed bonds issued by such an authority would be guaranteed by the government allowing a much lower interest rate (3-5%). These would be zero-coupon bonds issued for infrastructure that would have government agencies as anchor customers, say a telescope for the NSF or ESA, or propellant production infrastructure with NASA as an anchor customer for future space missions, etc. The secure revenue streams and government guarantees would allow these bonds to fit in well with long term investment goals even in retirement accounts.

The second tier would be "junk" bonds which would be issued at a much higher rate from the Lunarbase Development Authority for revenue streams not anchored by federal contracts and these would not be guaranteed. These "high-risk" securities would be used for funding the more risky (and potentially more profitable) joint ventures with private firms for lunar resource development. Alternatively stock could also be issued like was done for Comsat for these ventures or the bonds could be made convertible to stock in the Authority at a set rate. Both options would work for the speculators Mark talks about.

This options would avoid the delay of getting involved in the legal issue of real estate rights on the Moon while still capturing revenue streams from lunar ventures. There are far better strategies for that which will not needlessly upset the various apple carts involved.

The real advantage of bond financing with a Lunarbase Development Authority is that it would move a good portion of a return to the Moon beyond annual party politics allowing more stable budgets and long term planning. It would also allow capturing the various revenue streams likely to result from a lunar return which will be lost if the return to the Moon is funded like Apollo was. It will also send the message that a return to the Moon is not about science alone, but about science, technology and most importantly the economic competitiveness of the United States. Finally (and this is for the Mars folks) it will ensure NASA does not get bogged down on the Moon but will keep its focus on Mars and beyond. It will also provide a model that could accelerate the development of Mars and other space destinations as well (a Mars Authority…).

Again its not rocket science, its economic science and leveraging the lessons of history for the future.


 
I have a suggestion concerning the disgraces to the uniform who commited this travesty Their court martial should be broadcast live on the Arabic language TV network the Pentagon has set up. This display of American justice would be instructive to the Arab world.


 
John Kerry claims he has a "Band of Brothers" (A steal either from the Bard or Tom Hanks) of veterans supporting him. Well, it seems that there is another such Band, who knows Kerry and his leadership qualities all too well, and they do not think him fit to be Commander In Chief.

Addendum: Here is the website for Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.


 
The British press recently published a story that alleged to report on how NASA was going to deal with sex on long space missions. Taylor Dinerman suggests that the story was motivated by space ship envy on the part of the Brits.


Sunday, May 02, 2004
 
John Fund says that the panic about John Kerry in Liberal Democrat circles is starting to spread. But, alas, it is too late.


Saturday, May 01, 2004
 
So I wonder what interest the space aliens have with Iran?