Monday, October 31, 2005

Dwyane Day gives the back of his hand to the New Yorker for a review of First Man, a biography of Neil Armstrong.
Were the space shuttle and space station mistakes? Eric Hedman mulls the question.
Anthony Kendall makes the case for the human exploration of Mars.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Friday, October 28, 2005

The oil companies are raking it in because of high energy prices and so, as certain as the sun rises in the east, the libs are screaming for a windfall profits tax to punish them for their success.

I have a little bit of experience in this matter. In another life, I managed the windfall profits system for an independent oil company in the early eighties. It was a nightmare, with weekly changes in government rules that had to be incorporated into the system, tested, verified, and implemented.

Instead of finding ways to punish the oil companies, people ought to think of ways to encourage them to invest in more energy production. A lot of that would simply consist of getting out of the way and reducing regulations. This may be too simple a concept for some to grasp.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

John Birmingham's new Axis of Time book is now out.
Looks like Benefit Management Administrators Inc. just bought itself a public relations nightmare.
Harriet Miers has fallen on her sword, which all things considered is a good thing. Now we can have a real Supreme Court fight.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Tom James has some news via Mike Griffin about the space race with the Chinese that some people say does not exist.

Addendum: Rand Simberg, however, has no worries.
If he means Americans, I've no worries at all--the government-copycat Chinese space program is not going to beat private enterprise.

Of course the evil, big gummit, socialist Chinese space program has already beaten private enterprise into low Earth orbit.
Aint it Cool's Harry Knowles and some guy name Vern claim that Zorro will soon be fighting "California Neocon Christian Terrorists" in his new movie.
I'm not sure what to make of the politics of the movie. I think pretty much anybody could read some kind of symbolism into it to support their world view. The Californians are voting to ratify a constitution, which reminds you of Iraq. And some assholes are trying to steal the votes. (Alot of Zorro's missions are about stealing or protecting documents.) So you might think the bad guys (who mention Jesus alot but don't seem all that christlike) are a good symbol for terrorists or insurgents or somebody like that. But even though they're trying to stop the vote, they are kind of these neocon types trying to control the whole world, and starting a civil war and supplying weapons and whatnot. You could draw alot of different parallels. So I'm not sure what this all says about our modern world but I guess if Zorro ran for congress I might vote for him, I don't know. I'll have to think about it.

That of course is remarkable, since California got statehood about 1850, as I recall, and those who opposed its entry into the Union as a free state were slave holding southerners, hardly the sort to feel much sympathy for freedom for Iraqis. In any case, Harry provides a good service with a pretty good film and TV site, except when and his minions choose to interject far left politics. I wish he would stop.

Addendum: We just saw the Legend of Zorro and it's a good swashbuckler. Also, Vern is either a liar or delusional. While there is a bad guy who growls about "doing the Lord's work" he is only a minion of a bunch of Eurotrash (led by a Frenchman no less) who are in cahoots with slave owning southerners out to stop California from joining the Union? Why? So that America will become strong (and do things like win the Tour de France and liberate Iraq.)

Monday, October 24, 2005

Space Politics reports that there is a Congressperson from Missouri who seems to be a little confused.
"Consider that everything else is negotiated: wheelchairs, doctors' fees, everything but drug prices," she said. "I also hope they eliminate Mars out of the NASA budget."

However previously she said, about the Medicare drug plan, "We could probably find all the savings we need right there."

Of course, maybe she meant exactly what she said and just wants to "eliminate Mars."
Those people who comfort themselves with the supposition that the Chinese space program is solely about furthering prestige, may wish to read this sobering analysis.
Dwayne Day attempts to analyze the Chinese space program and makes a crucial error.
However, because rockets are inherently dangerous high-performance machines, and the harsh environment of space leaves little margin for error, eventually China will also suffer tragedy in space and will lose a crew. The citizens will mourn, the leaders will express resolve, but public support will slowly erode. Perhaps someday we will see the Chinese equivalent of a Senator Proxmire or Mondale criticizing the waste of resources on such a pointless exercise. And it is perhaps inevitable that eventually the Chinese public will come to view human spaceflight as a waste of money when the peasants need health care.

The problem is that not only is China not a democracy, but China is not America. Indeed, Dwayne's supposition that tragedies in space tend to erode support for space efforts does not even stand up in American space history. Support for space efforts actually increased after both Challenger and Columbia. Proxmire and Mondale never used the argument that "space is deadly, so let's not send people into space" but rather "space is wasteful, even when successful, so let's spend the money on social programs." Their argument was buttressed by the media.

The Chinese, on the other hand, do not have an independent legislature nor a free media. There are no Chinese equivalents to Mondale and Proxmire willing to oppose government policy, since that sort of thing can get one imprisoned, if not executed, in the Chinese system. Nor is there a media willing to do anything than parrot the party line. If the Chinese lose a crew in space, I would suspect that the Chinese government would use that "heroic sacrifice" to spur on enthusiasm for greater efforts. Given that the media in China is controlled by the government, the matter should be easy.
Jeff Foust describes some of the fighting among space activists over the Exploration Systems Architecture Study that, in my opinion, threatens to blow our chance to get Americans beyond low Earth orbit in this generation.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Bruce Gagnon is pretty sure that Judith Miller and possibly the entire New York Times is really responsible for the Iraq War. He has some demands as well.
The Times should immediately fire Miller and should do a front-page apology to the American people and the rest of the world for their crucial role (as America's newspaper of record) in creating justification for the war. In addition, the Times must call for an immediate withdrawal from the war and must call for the legal prosecution of all those implicated in the selling and coverup of the war. And that includes Judith Miller and anyone else at the Times that played any role in the scandal. How can anyone ever believe anything the Times ever prints again unless they purge themselves from the outrageous relationship their paper has forged with the war-making machine of the Bush Pentagon?

The New York Times in bed with George W. Bush and the great Neocon conspiracy. Who knew?
Orson Scott Card has a new online magazine, called the Intergalactic Medicine Show. Thanks to Fred Kiesche.
This post by Michael Mealling suggests that there might be some soul searching about the knee jerk opposition to NASA's plan to get people to the Moon among the internet rocketeer folks. The idea is that if the return to the Moon gets gutted, so will other things like the Centennial Challenges. Michael seems to think that one oppose one but the not the other. The problem is that both are an intregal part of the same vision, which tries to combine the public and the private to faciliate the vision of expanding humankind beyond this Earth. In some ways, I think Michael replicates the fallacy of some folks like Robert Park who thinks one can end human space flight, but keep up a robust, robotic exploration program. In my view that is sort of like saying that one can eviscerate someones lungs, but keep him alive by keeping the heart pumping. It does not work like that. Just as robotic space probes and human space flight tend to support one another, both technically and politically, the "Apollo on steroids" and things like the Centennial Challenges support one another. Cut out the return to the Moon and Congress is likely to suggest that we're wasting money on Centennial Challenges as well. After all, why facilitate the creation of a lot of cool technology if it's not going to be used any time soon?
Florida Today reports that NASA is going to need three to five billion more dollars to ramp down the shuttle in an orderly fashion while ramping up the Vision for Space Exploration. Meanwhile, Bart Gordon (D) TN suggests that they'll be renewed assaults on the VSE from both the left and the right. Now, the left wanting to spend space exploration money on social programs is as old as the space age. The right wanting to sacrifice space spending to just cut the budget has cropped up from time to time as well. However, I suspect that since gutting VSE would mean no publically funded manned space flight after about 2010 or so, that would be a Rubicon Congress would ultimately not want to cross. But with Tom Delay somewhat distracted and President Bush with his own problems, it could get interesting.

The temptation would be to cut the gordian knot, end the shuttle now, figure out how to complete the station with expendables, the CEV, and commercial vehicles, and then try to accelerate the VSE. If I were Space Czar, with the power of life or death, I'd probibly do that. But we live in the actual physical universe we live in, with politicians who would find all that just a tad too unsettling to stomach.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Two hundred years ago today, a British fleet under Admiral Horatio Nelson obliterated a Franco-Spanish Fleet at Battle of Trafalgar, thus dashing any hope Napoleon had of invading Britain and ensuring British naval supremacy for over a hundred years.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

It's not often these days that the folks have something nice to say about NASA. An exception seems to be David Masten of Masten Aerospace, who sees opportunities in NASA's new Suborbital Lunar Lander Analog Challenge.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

An Earth shaking historical event just occurred.

Osama bin Laden captured?

Humans landing on Mars?

A flat tax enacted?

None of these mundane things have occurred.

The Houston Astros have won the National League Pennant and are going to the World Series.


The sky is still above and the Earth below.
A power unit that combines solar, wind, and battery technologies, so rugged that it can be dropped with a parachute and generates up to 150 kilowatts. How ironic that it is being developed with CIA funding.
Looks like that the old fashioned rocket engine is about to undergo so further further development.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Will Japan build the nuclear reactor that will power the lunar base?
Magnficent Desolation: Tom Hanks' Vision of Lunar Exploration.
Jim Oberg provides an explanation for the Chinese space effort.
Nor can national pride be sneezed away as a genuine benefit, especially in light of the still-divided domestic economy. National unity and discipline have been themes of China's history for thousands of years. When a central government has “the mandate of heaven” it can maintain order and security. Without widespread public acceptance of its legitimacy and effectiveness, a regime can fall.

What better source for a “mandate of heaven” in the 21st century than the heavens themselves?

The Royal Astronomical Society says that Britain needs its own astronauts.

Addendum: The full report from the RAS.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Which Serenity charecter are you?
Is Italy about to become an independent space power?
There may be more to it than just a desire to maintain a relationship in which they have invested so much. The Moon is going to be the first place that humanity colonizes, and if Italy, as Italy rather than as a part of Europe, is part of that colonization effort, they will be one of the first nations to establish profitable businesses on the Moon and have an outsized influence on global space policy for the next hundred years or more.

Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus would be no doubt pleased.
Even before people return to the Moon, entire fleets of robots from many nations will have visited.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Friday, October 14, 2005

The father of the Chinese space program was a gentleman named Tsien Hsue-Shen, formerly an American who was thrown out of the country in the fifties under accusations of being a communist.
Now, for the first time in more than 40 years, a major world power has committed itself to an ambitious program of manned space exploration. In effect, China, following the master plan mapped out for it by Tsien, has committed itself to the old Ley-Von Braun vision in a way the United States and the Soviet Union never did.

That means that the space station the Chinese are planning is just a stepping stone for grander adventures, to the Moon, then Mars.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Stephen Schwartz is very appalled that the Nobel Prize for Literature has gone to a talentless, Bush hating sociopath.
Through the magic of virtual reality, we can now visit the Rome of the Caesars.
Happy birthday, Lady Thatcher. Truly you are Churchill and Gloriana at once, reborn.
Are the Egyptians taking defacto control of Gaza. A very interesting development, if true. It means that the Palestinian state in Gaza has failed even before it was established.
Designer Children: The Future of Germline Gene Therapy.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Terraforming: Building New Worlds for Humanity.
Has Steven Spielberg invented the holodeck? Stay tuned.
The crew of the Shenzhou 6 have brought with them the ultimate Chinese takeout.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Shenzhou 6, with taikonauts Fei Junlong and Nie Haishen on board, has blasted off and is in Earth orbit.
Ah, women in SF movies and TV. They can kick alien butt, but are still cute.
Water Mills: Tapping the Power of Rivers, Streams, and Tidal Basins.
Fusion Energy: Bringing the Power of the Sun to the Earth.
Dwayne Day examines the question of whether the Chinese intend to land people on the Moon and finds the evidence somewhat lacking. I would suggest that the question is not if but when, though.

Shenzhou 6 is scheduled to launch tomorrow with a crew of 2. More.

Monday, October 10, 2005

More praises sung of Serenity, with some spoilers. Go see this movie.
We used to sing songs about how we loathed those blue skinned little twerps, the Smurfs, and how we wished they would all die in various, horrible ways. It looks like that UNICEF has granted our wish by running a commercial in which the Smurf village gets bombed into ashes.

Now, if we can just see a suicide bomber take out Barney, my joy will be complete.
Just when one thought the controversy over Terri Schiavo was buried along with the woman, journalist Diana Lynne has a new book about the case. Aspects of it continue to be troubling. Did we witness a murder sanctioned by the court system? And if so, who was at fault?
Condi for President? Dick Morris seems to think so. I would personally love to see it, especially if it also meant Hillary being crushed in an election:
Central Vacuum Systems: Making Housework Easier.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Tom James reminds us that today is Leif Erikson Day in honor of the true discoverer of America.
Some new Centennial Challenges have been issued, involving suborbital rockets.
Keith Cowing has a fascinating look at NASA's lunar return architecture,including some of the rationale that went behind it that I do not think has occured to some of the sniping critics. His conclusion:
This architecture has been out in the public view for a month or so. The media has already had its way with its initial presentation. Congress will soon weigh in on whether they think it is the right thing to do, whether it is supportable, and whether they will sign on to support it. There is some valid skepticism on the financial aspects of how Mike Griffin wants to pull this off. However, based on the technical aspects of the architecture itself, while it is more bare bones than many would have liked to see, it is a frugal, well thought out way to pick up where Apollo left off - and then move ahead with the personal exploration of the world closest to our own. Hopefully, if NASA is able to pull it off, it will both restore the confidence in NASA's ability to mount large space projects and hopefully whet the appetite of a new generation for the personal exploration of planets beyond - i.e. Mars.


Saturday, October 08, 2005

A candidate for President who will surely not mess around with spin doctors and polls. Or for that matter, the Constitution.
Jason Apuzzo takes a look at conservative film making which, outside the iron triangle of liberal Hollywood, is not longer an oxymoron.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Alan Boyle reports from the X + 1 Symposium in Los Cruces, New Mexico. There are lots of plans in the works for private space flight, as might be imagined. They seem to break down into two categories. Space Adventure (which includes sub orbital jaunts and rocket racing) and servicing government markets. On the last bit:
Another venture, Transformational Space, is hoping government contracts will provide the millions of dollars needed to develop an air-launched craft that could be used later to take paying passengers on orbital trips to the international space station.

T/Space's president, David Gump, said he was waiting for word from NASA about a program that would fund the development of alternate delivery vehicles for station-bound cargo and crew. T/Space's proposed system for piloted missions, known as the Crew Transfer Vehicle or CXV, would build upon a concept that was originally drawn up for the U.S. Air Force and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Gump said the CXV system could bring the cost of sending a four-person crew into orbit down to $20 million per flight — which is even less than the estimated $65 million cost of a Russian Soyuz launch. If the system becomes a reality, that could bring orbital flights within reach of tens of thousands of would-be fliers, Gump said.

"Personal spaceflight is the hammer that will drive down the cost of everything else we want to do in space," he said.

It's a classic air mail like scenario. Use a core government market to drive down the cost of your service, then apply it to other markets. Not exactly politically correct, according to some people, but likely to work, in my opinion.
Douglas Kern has a fascinating defense of Intelligent Design. While I remain on the fence, I find his arguments persuasive.
Captain Ed has concluded that, in his quest to bag Tom Delay, Ronnie Earle may well have caught himself.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Cryonics: Cheating Death.
Louis Freeh, former FBI Director, apparently really sticks it to Bill Clinton in a new book, according to Drudge.
In the book, “My FBI,” he writes, “The problem was with Bill Clinton -- the scandals and the rumored scandals, the incubating ones and the dying ones never ended. Whatever moral compass the president was consulting was leading him in the wrong direction. His closets were full of skeletons just waiting to burst out.”

The director sought to distance himself from Clinton because of Whitewater, refusing a White House pass that would have enabled him to enter the building without signing in. This irked Clinton. “I wanted all my visits to be official,” says Freeh. “When I sent the pass back with a note, I had no idea it would antagonize the president,” he tells Wallace.

Returning the pass was only the start of the rift. Later, relations got so bad that President Clinton reportedly began referring to Freeh as “that F…ing Freeh.” Says Freeh, “I don’t know how they referred to me and I really didn’t care,” he says. “My role and my obligation was to conduct criminal investigations. He, unfortunately for the country and unfortunately for him, happened to be the subject of that investigation,” Freeh says.

In another revelation, Freeh says the former president let down the American people and the families of victims of the Khobar Towers terror attack in Saudi Arabia. After promising to bring to justice those responsible for the bombing that killed 19 and injured hundreds, Freeh says Clinton refused to personally ask Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah to allow the FBI to question bombing suspects the kingdom had in custody – the only way the bureau could secure the interviews, according to Freeh. Freeh writes in the book, “Bill Clinton raised the subject only to tell the crown prince that he understood the Saudis’ reluctance to cooperate and then he hit Abdullah up for a contribution to the Clinton Presidential Library.” Says Freeh, “That’s a fact that I am reporting.”

The most unsavory of those investigations was the one concerning Clinton and Lewinsky. The White House intern had kept a semen-stained dress as proof of her relationship and a Clinton blood sample was needed to match the DNA on the dress. “Well, it was like a bad movie and it was ridiculous that…Ken Starr and myself, the director of the FBI, find ourselves in that ridiculous position,” he tells Wallace. “But we did it…very carefully, very confidentially,” recalls Freeh. As he explains the plan in the book, Clinton was at a scheduled dinner and excused himself to go to the bathroom. Instead of the restroom, he entered another room where FBI medical technicians were waiting to take a blood sample.

Freeh says he was determined to stay on as FBI director until President Clinton left office so that Clinton could not appoint his successor. “I was concerned about who he would put in there as FBI director because he had expressed antipathy for the FBI, for the director,” he tells Wallace. “[So] I was going to stay there and make sure he couldn’t replace me,” Freeh tells Wallace.

One of the canards raised against the NASA plan to return to the Moon is that, in the minds of the critics, the launchers being contemplated for it do not have any other function. John Strickland, however, has uncovered all sorts of interesting possibilities that suddenly become available with a heavy lift vehicle as contemplated.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Michael Griffin had an interesting chat with USA Today recently and very likely has made some people unhappy by speaking the truth.
Q: You've mentioned activities that can be done on the moon, but if there is no commitment to build a moon base or even to sustained missions that last beyond a week, how can we even discuss such possibilities?

A: We are just starting, and the program we are outlining is one that fits within the budget. It starts small. It allows, but does not require, planners to make additional investments. What we have tried to offer is an architecture that is very modular, very building-block oriented.

In other words, not just about four "government employees" as some have suggested.
Q: For all our technological developments, we haven't figured out how to get launch costs down. Is there something new that is going to change this?

A: I hope that by opening up the space station logistics market to commercial operators, it will create competition. If we can get some competition going, we can improve the price quite a lot.

But I thought NASA was giving the shaft to commercial space companies.
Q: In retrospect, was the shuttle program a mistake?

A: My opinion is that it was. It was a design that was aggressive and just barely possible. We didn't make the investment. Since we do not today have huge budgets, one of our goals is to focus on getting people in and out of space by dealing with the first 100 miles up and down — but do it in a simple, straightforward way. The shuttle was a valiant effort, but it is expensive to maintain and it is not logistically reliable. President Bush's decision to retire it in 2010 is the right decision.

A gaff defined as speaking the truth that other people don't want to hear.
Q: Was the space station a mistake?

A: I would not have built the space station. We are now trying to change the path while doing as little damage as we can. It cannot be done instantaneously. It's a large boat with a small rudder.

And again.
Meanwhile, Byron York suggests that the Delay Affair is going to get more and more fascinating--and not to the advantage of the folks who are out to get Delay, methinks.
Though he is pretty sure that the Alliance is run by the Red Chinese, Bryan Preston really does love the movie Serenity.

Go see this film.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Maglev Trains: Flying Without Wings.
It may be the Curmudgeon within me, but I'm not sure why I should gete excited by the announcement of a rocket racing league. I suppose it's because I'm not into Nascar or, unlike Mrs. Curmudgeon, horse racing. Also some of the people jumping up and down about it find returning to the Moon--real space exploration--boring. What's up with that?

Now, yes, before you send your flame letters, I know the theory of how such a competition might advance the art of rocket design and how that's all to the good. Still, perhaps I'll wait to pop the cork until it actually happens. I've seen too many announcements from folks about wonderful stuff they're going to do that never seems to pan out.
The Promise and Peril of Genetically Modified Food
Captain Ed takes a dim view of Ronnie Earl's latest legal gymnastics in his quest to destroy Tom Delay.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Fuel Cells: Engines of the Future.
Harry Flashman, that liar, that bounder, that cad, that coward, is back for a new adventure. And about time too, in my humble opinion:
Jeff Foust examines the main stream media's reaction to NASA's return to the Moon program. Dr. Alan Stern anticipates the vast treasury of science knowledge ready to be unlocked on the Moon. Taylor Dinerman reviews a book about space power.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

The Joy of Pasta.
Now Xena and Gabriella can be together forever in the heavens, as befit ancient Greek heroines. Even if they only did exist in a campy TV show.
Three new travel pieces, Cologne: Germany's Jewel of the Rhine,Canterbury: Britain's Place of Pilgrimage and Shanghai: The Old in the Midst of the New.