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, and The Man from Mars: The Asteroid Mining Caper.
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Friday, September 30, 2005
Having had to miss the blogger press viewing of Serenity, we saw it again tonight. What more can I say. Go and see this wonderful space opera with more heart and truth than all the Star Wars films put together.
Highways in the Sky: Flying Cars and the Future of Travel.
John Strickland also takes a dim view of the NASA plan to return to the Moon, but oddly enough not for some of the reasons others do. For one thing, he likes the heavy lift launcher. If only it could be built commercially, though.
Thursday, September 29, 2005
Ronnie Earle--the movie? The mind boggles.
Michael Griffin clarifies his position on the space shuttle and space station.
The Senate has passed its version of the NASA Authorization Bill that, among many other things, specifically orders NASA to return to the Moon.
Alan Boyle discusses the use of space solar power stations to control hurricanes.
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
Power from the Sun: The Promise of Space Solar Power.
Gregory Benford has a piece on Amazon.Com on the biomedical revolution that can enhance our lives. It's downloadable for 49 cents:
When in rains, it pours. After getting into a fight with fiscal conservatives in the House, House Majority Leader Tom Delay finds himself under indictment for conspiracy to violate the Texas Election Code. My guess is that this is a political indictment, brought about by the uber partisan prosecutor Ronnie Earl, who previously tried to put Kay Bailey Hutchison in jail. Still, it's a big headache for Delay who now has to temporarily step aside as Majority Leader while he tried to clear his name. One political effect, Delay has been a champion for the Vision for Space Exploration. It's prospects may be dimmed a bit without Delay in the position to defend it.
My guess, though, is that both VSE and Delay survives.I believe David Drier supports the VSE and, after Delay survives this latest attempt to take him out, my guess is that he will be stronger than ever.
Addendum: Rich Lowry may have it right.
If you can indict a ham sandwich, a conspiracy charge is indicting the mustard on the sandwich; it's what you do when don't have anything solid; conspiracy indictments are often tossed.
Addendum 2: Mark Levin is very unimpressed.
I can't find a single sentence tying Tom DeLay to a crime. That is, there's not a single sentence tying DeLay to the contribution. The indictment describes the alleged conduct of two other individuals, but nothing about DeLay. You would think if Ronnie Earle had even a thin reed of testimony linking DeLay to the contribution, it would have been noted in the indictment to justify the grand jury's action. Moreover, not only is there no information about DeLay committing acts in furtherance of a conspiracy, there's no information about DeLay entering into a conspiracy.
Addendum 3: Michelle Malkin has a great roundup.
The British are doing studies of missions to deflect asteroids. Naturally developing space craft that can do this will have other beneficial effects.
Tom James ventures into the fever swamps of the far left, discovers the space policy of the same, measures it the balance, and finds it wanting.
Michael Griffin has said that the space shuttle and space station were mistakes. I guess that makes in unanimous.
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
Ken Calvert (R) California belives that we're in a space race with China. I agree.
Of course Jeff Foust is somewhat skeptical.
Of course if there is classified intel that the Chinese are aiming for the Moon sooner rather than later, don't say I didn't warn you. Of course the silver lining is that a healthy competition with a fascist country like China would be just the thing to focus attention on actually doing things in space.
Science fiction writer Robert Silverberg discusses building alternate realities in a short piece from Amazon.com. downloadable for 49 cents.
Yesterday we saw Magnificent Desolation, Tom Hanks' paean to the Apollo moon landings, at the local Imax. The recreated scenes from the Apollo moonwalks were almost indescribable for the sense of wonder and awe it caused me to feel. I perceived, more than at any other time, what it must have been like to walk on that alien, yet nearby world. I may never trod the lunar dust my own self, but thanks to Tom Hanks, I've come pretty close. Thanks, Mr. Hanks.
Of course there are some nits to pick. I could have done without the cutesy bits with the kids doing their version of Jaywalking and not knowing a thing about who voyaged across the airless sea to the Moon or what they did. And the imaginary bit with the folks trying to fake the moon landing was meant for laughs, I suspect, but I groaned.
Still, I disagree with Jeff Foust about the "grandiose" lunar base. That's a word that the enemies of space exploration use to ridicule the Dream. I would use the word "grand." Much more fitting for an imagining of the first community of humans off this world.
And, Yolanda, young lady, I hope you make it and get to trod those unknown lands beyond the airless sea.
Monday, September 26, 2005
Gregory Benford has an article on High Frontier: A Real Future in Space, downloadable from Amazon.com for 49 cents.
Sunday, September 25, 2005
Tom Delay, having just recently declared victory in the fight to control spending, seems to have decided to rethink that position.
Jeff Foust reviews Magnificent Desolation.
So how is NASA going to use EELVs?
Robin Snelson has a great roundup of some of the interesting groups who are in (or at least may be in) the personal rocketship game.
Sir Arthur C. Clarke shows that he still has the vision and imagination that has been inspiring me since I was a boy in a piece about the new age of space exploration and space elevators.
Keith Cowing has a terrific piece on NASA's need for relevancy. Read the entire thing.
Addendum: Here's the interview with Mike Griffin that I think Keith is talking about. Read it as well.
But the goal isn't just scientific exploration . . . it's also about extending the range of human habitat out from Earth into the solar system as we go forward in time. . . .
I think that the man gets it.
Saturday, September 24, 2005
Jon Goff, who seems to have a disagreement with me about NASA's plan to return to the Moon, lowers his lance and charges full tilt against my arguments. In so doing, I think he stumbles again into error.
I've heard a lot of people justify this plan by using similar arguments. "We're not just doing what we did last time! This time we'll put FOUR government employees down on the moon, maybe even for a week or two at a time." Yawn. And how does this prove that calling it Apollo 2.0 is incorrect? When you see a Part Two to a movie, do you assume that it is an exact repeat of the earlier movie? No, what Henry and Rand were saying is that this ESAS plan is like an Apollo:The Next Generation. Sleeker ship, cooler destinations, neater costumes, but more or less the same old socialist misadventures of a starship misnamed "Enterprise". It's like the old Back to the Future movies. By the time number three rolled out, you already knew what some of the key plot elements were going to be, even if the sets were different, the stunts and visuals a bit higher quality, and several characters were entirely new.
Well, leaving aside the confusion of real life with the movies, I think that by Jon's definition any plan to return to the Moon, whether it was done by NASA, the Chinese, or by Elon Musk would be considered Apollo Part 2. It could be done any number of ways, but the end result is that people will be back on the Moon. Now, it could be that Jon is suggesting that any return to the Moon would be "boring" and therefore to be avoided. By that criteria, would it mean that he would support going directly to Mars? It's a differnt place, after all. One can't be sure.
That's one of the problems with this plan. Sure, the "Longfellow" isn't exactly the Saturn V, and the Stick isn't exactly the Saturn IB. Sure, the LSAM isn't exactly a LEM either, and their capabilities are a little bit better than the old Apollo system. They have newer electronics, and might even reuse part of the capsule. However it's once again the bumbling socialist misadventures of our dear Space Agency. With steely eyed rocket men (and maybe some women too this time) boldly going where...you get the idea. I mean, do these guys really have that much desparation to have the program go the way of Apollo? Do they really want to put some bootprints on the moon for a couple of months only to have the whole thing eventually killed off by Congress for costing so much?
Now we get closer to the meat of Jon's argument. A government financed, government operated return to the moon is "socialistic" and therefore, evil. Now, it seems to me that if we define any activity that a government might undertake to be socialistic, then there seems to be only two real forms of organizing a society: socialism and anarchy. If a return to the Moon done the way NASA plans is "socialistic", then President Jefferson was surely a socialist for doing the Lewis and Clark expedition. In other words, I think Jon's application of the term is a little too broad to be taken seriously.
Now, the fear that the new program will "go the way of Apollo." This is a somewhat justified fear, considering how politicians can behave. But that would be true of any program, whether it's the NASA plan, the Vanderbilt plan, the Rand Simberg Plan for prizes, or any other plan. My own reply is that the history of the shuttle and the space station shows that space projects have far more resiliency than one might suspect. The key is in the amount of money being spent per year. Apollo costed a great deal more per year than is being contemplated being spent on the new program, and therefore made an easier target. Also, the politics of the early 1970s, which suggested that "all that money" being spent on space exploration would be better spent on social programs is not likely to replicate itself in the flintier, more conservative 21st Century. Finally, public opinion polls show that space exploration is far more popular than it was in the 1960s.
How exactly will a single launch failure scrub the mission entirely? Almost all of the additional launches for such a technique would be propellant launches. We're talking at most a slight delay as you have another propellant delivery launched. There are about a half dozen or more potential launch vehicles out there, so it's not like you can't have multiple suppliers. The whole fact that your program isn't beholden to a single launch vehicle makes it more robust. If you have a launch failure with the Stick or the Longfellow (man, can these guys come up with less lampoonable names? I mean seriously, this sounds like something I would see as a header for some perverted spam message--possibly with at least one word slightly mispelled or with some other character in place of a letter), your entire program gets stood down for a year or two or three while they figure out what went wrong.
I think that Jon confuses his own idea of fueling an empty space craft in orbit with Henry's idea of launching the moon ship in small, modular sections. The loss of a launch vehicle and a single module is going to delay your lunar mission by more than just a few days and may even scrub it if problems start to cascade.
Now, I like the idea of space going tankers. I used the concept for Children of Apollo. But, it's new technology, the development of which has certain pit falls that have a greater chance of increasing the cost and expanding the schedule of the program than NASA's idea of going with the tried and true. I think it's a worthy idea to develop in the view of enhancing the infrastructure once people start going to the Moon on a regular basis.
I can't speak to the names of the launch vehicles. I think they're dum too, no matter who came up with them. I always liked the idea of naming space craft from Greek or Roman myths and, if we want to be creative, we can go to Celtic, Norse, or whatever for inspiration.
Except for the fact that NASA's also touting this plan as one to "keep the team together". Mark himself uses the argument elsewhere that this plan is more "politically" feasible because it doesn't eliminate a lot of jobs at KSC. So which is it? Does it eliminate enough jobs to actually free up enough money to actually develop the hardware to go back to the moon, or does it keep enough jobs intact so that it is easier to get political approvals? You can't have it both ways.
I'm not sure what Jon is talking about here. Since there is no giant, reusable (sort of) orbiter to turn around, the return to the Moon vehicles can be operated by fewer people. NASA itself has said so. And, considering the aging of the NASA workforce, reducing the "team" won't likely result in a lot of forced layoffs.
I wonder how well Mr Whittington has been paying attention to the industry if he's completely unaware of the existance of Atlas V, Delta IV, Sea Launch, Proton, Soyuz, Ariane V, and other existing launchers. NASA doesn't need to "wait for commercial launchers to come on line that may or may not be available". Just by designing the individual pieces to be launchable on current vehicles would at least keep the door open for future cheaper vehicles. Especially if NASA keeps a common interface design so that they can switch between launch providers (or possibly use multiple different providers) as prices change. Once again, we see an interesting world where the Stick and the paper Longfellow are treated as real, existing, proven vehicles, while other vehicles like the Atlas V and Delta IV that have actually flown to space are denegrated. Sure, I can understand not designing the whole thing to work only with a Falcon V or Falcon IX, in case they don't get developed. But ignoring existing current boosters and developing what are in effect brand new, unproven vehicles inhouse is just wasteful. For the $15B NASA wants to develop their own rockets, they could buy 60-150 launches on existing boosters that would be just as safe and cheaper per launch than the vehicles NASA wants to fly. Not only that, but by developing in-space vehicles that are capable of being assembled from smaller pieces and refueled on-orbit NASA would actually allow themselves to take advantage of advances in lower cost orbital flight, thereby allowing them to do more exploration. But it appears that keeping ATK fat and happy, and keeping KSC fully staffed is more important than actual exploration. I can see why politicians might be happy with that, but why are pundits like Mark standing up for this Don Young's Way to the moon?
Leaving aside the political unlikelihood of using foreign launchers, does Jon suggest that using five or nine or whatever number of EELVs is going to be cheaper than using two larger launch vehicles? Not to mention the cost of man rating the launchers, which I'm told is very expensive and very time consumning. And, again, Jon demonstrates a lack of appreciation for how capitalism works. Since the customer has decided on an infrastructure that it believes works for them, it doesn't seem to me to be the place of a commercial vendor to say, "No, no, that's stupid. You have to do it the way we want to do it." No, it seems to me that it is for the vendor to find ways to accomodate the customer. If Elon Musk or someelse can offer a cheaper way to build and operate a launcher the sizes NASA requires, then I would be the first to urge that NASA consider going with that commercial solution rather than doing it in house. But since there are no launch vehicles in existence or likely to be in existence in the near future that will meet NASA's requirements, then--sadly--returning to the Moon, at least initally, has to be done the old fashioned way.
Looks like Hurricane Rita, for us, consisted of some wind, raid, and a series of brief power outages lasting from ten seconds to about a minute.
Friday, September 23, 2005
This newspaper editorial slamming the return to the Moon program has quite a few problems, not the least of which is a kind of surreal divorice from the facts.
Way back in January 2004, as almost a throwaway line in his State of the Union speech, President Bush proposed returning humans to the moon and eventually to Mars. Many commentators noted that this grandiose public-works proposal seemed to sink like a stone in the sea of public opinion, and the president has not stressed it.
Actually it was in a speech that took place before the State of the Union. And while many commentators pretended that it "seemed to sink like a stone in the sea of public opinion", public opinion polls have shown popularity for the proposal that is both wide and deep. And while the President hasn't "stressed it", he certainly played hard ball to keep it alive last year.
Perhaps, however, the constituency he was addressing was not the American people at all, but the brave little band (well, not so little at $16 billion a year) at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Pummeled by space shuttle failures that neither advanced scientific knowledge nor provided reliable and repeated trips to space, the widely acknowledged uselessness of the space station project and renewed private-sector commercial space travel efforts, the NASAcrats could at least take refuge in the idea that the president still believed in them.
All things being equal, why would the President do that?
And so, only 20 months later, NASA administrator Michael Griffin has unveiled a $104 billion plan to put Americans on the moon again - in 2018. The money will come from reordering priorities within NASA's existing budget and retiring the ill-conceived shuttle.
Actually, while the Earth Departure Stage does use J 2s, the rockets that will be used to be used to return to the Moon will use shuttle technology.
Perhaps it is commendable that NASA is trying to accomplish something interesting within its existing budget. But throwing together a program premised on modifying existing components and marrying them to some new hardware sounds like a formula for integration problems that will inevitably mean delays and cost overruns.
Actually, the reason NASA proposes to use existing technology is to keep cost overruns at bay. A lot of previous projects (X-33 for example) tended to spiral out of control due to bleeding edge, technological hubris.
Last October, Burt Rutan of Scaled Composites in Mojave showed us the likely future of space travel. SpaceShipOne, which cost about $25 million from the first scratches on a drawing board to successful flights, slipped out of the Earth's atmosphere twice within a couple of weeks and returned successfully. Virgin Atlantic chairman Richard Branson immediately announced he was placing an order for several larger space ships, and Mr. Rutan has practically had to fight off investors eager to put money into the next phase of commercial space travel. A Las Vegas hotelier has announced a plan to build a space hotel.
Which is why NASA proposes to reach out to the private sector for things like space station resupply. A lot of the alt.space crowd who are in full fury against the return to the Moon plan for being insufficiently commercial tend to forget that fact.
To be sure, those space ships, and others being developed by competitors, are not designed to go to the moon - not yet. But they almost certainly will gradually bring down the cost of venturing into space, open up avenues of imagination that will lead to further developments and provide a steady stream of income to finance future developments, at no cost to taxpayers.
And when the private sector develops moonships, we can argue about resupply contracts for a lunar base.
What a concept! Let those who are really interested in space travel pay for it rather than seizing money from all taxpayers (some of whom are hardly enthusiastic) and building bloated bureaucracies that design jerry-built behemoths.
A familier libertarian argument that could be applied to any government agency. Now, I support the commercial space sector, but there seems something a little uninspiring about cancelling space exploration in favor of joy rides into suborbit.
There may be a role for NASA or a similar government agency in the future as a research organization that develops or refines concepts and technologies and makes them available to private entrepreneurs. However, since the thrills of the space race in the 1960s, NASA has demonstrated conclusively that it is not the right agency to handle operations.
This is what I call the space version of the Vietnam Syndrome. NASA failed with the space shuttle and space station and therefore it should never do anything again. Of course one might suggest that a better way would be to learn from past mistakes and apply the lesson to future endeavors.
While Galveston and other places are suffering, we've gotten little more than a breeze and a little drizzle. Nevertheless, one of my neighbors is pounding nails at this hour (at 10:30 PM), apparently putting up plywood. A little late to be doing that.
Liftport had successfully tested a robot climber – a novel piece of hardware that reeled itself up and down a lengthy ribbon dangling from a high-altitude balloon.
Looks like Rita will smack Port Arthur. Meanwhile both Galveston and New Orleans are starting to flood. Here, the winds have picked up a bit and the clouds have rolled in.
Michelle Malkin gives the back of her hand to Don Young (R) Alaska for addication to pork.
Addendum: In the spirit of offering up pork for destruction, I offer the following:
Item 825 in the Highway Bill - Implementation and Quantification of benefits of large scale landscaping of freeways and interchanges in the Houston area. Savings - $22,796,800.00.
Item 992 in the Highway Bill - Construct a pedestrian/bike trail in the Sunnyside area of Houston. Savings - $750,000.00.
Item 1300 in the Highway Bill - Construct pedestrian/bike trails in Houston's historic Third War. Savins $600,000.00.
Item 1836 in the Highway Bill - Design and construct streetscape improvements to Old Spanish Trail Sh 288 to Griggs Griggs to Mykawa. Savings - $800,000.00
Item 1966 in the Highway Bill - Construct landscaping and other pedestrian amenities on Old Spanish Trail and Griggs Road Rights Away. Savings - $1,600.000.00.
In the Labor/HHS Appropriations Bill - Project GRADUSA, Inc. in Houston for the school reform program. Savings - $20,000,000.00.
Rita's track continues to shift to the east and it looks like the physical spot where I now occupy may actually avoid hurricane force winds. It's going to br tough for Port Arther, Beaumont, and Lake Charles, though.
The freeway horror traffic jam seems to have subsided. I've seen some heart warming stories of local residents coming out to offer water and other forms of succor to evacuees who are either stuck in the jam or else by the side of the road out of gas. That's just the sort of people we Texans are, after all.
So far the weather where I am is calm. It will change very soon, though.
Looks like science fiction fans really are different from mundane people, even to the extent of speech patterns.
Thursday, September 22, 2005
It looks like French rap is just as putrid as the American kind.
Rita seems to have shifted a little more to the east and north and has diminished somewhat.
The remarkable thing about Rita, so far, is the horror taking place on all of the highways leading out of town. Hundred mile long traffic jams, with people stranded by the side of the road with cars overheated or else having run out of gas. What seems to be happening is that a lot of people are bugging out, having been spooked by Katrina, who might well have been better off riding Rita out, as we are. There is the very real prospect of lots of people trapped in their cars as the hurricane hits.
Keith Cowing links to a horrible pack of lunatic ravings by someone named Bob Parks that is, naturally, in the New York Times. Then he nukes it with some commentary from Steve Squyres, princible investigator for the Mars Rovers.
Some potential better news (from my perspective) on the Rita front. Looks like the latest track has the landfall shifting further to the east and north. The more it does that, the less Houston will be affected.
t/Space is a small, entrepreneurial company that proposes to build a very cheap to fly spacecraft. It is looking for more money both from NASA and from private investors. Robert Bigelow is mentioned in the article as a possibility among the latter.
Blogging for the next several days may become sporadic to nonexistent because of the unwelcomed visit to our area by Hurricane Rita. The most current track indicates a land fall just east of Galveston Bay, which will be very bad. However, a lot of the forecasting I've been reading suggests that the track may shift to the north and east, around to the Beaumont/West Louisana area. I do not wish Rita on anyone, of course, but this development would be good for where I am.
Barring a mandatory evacuation order or some other such development, we plan to ride it out. We'll well inland and not in a high flooding area. Besides, the routes out of town are packed for what appears to be quite a number of miles, with reports of drives to Dallas taking twenty four hours (the normal time in about four hours.)
I will report on what is happening from my perspective as long as power and my interet connection holds out. But, do not be surprised if I am off line for a few days.
Space Politics had some more reporting on the proposed cancellation of the back to the Moon program in the Operationa Offset bill. It seems that it's the only proposed cut that hasn't a justification (i.e., it is duplicative, wasteful, etc.) This confirms my suspician that the item wasn't very well thought out.
Also, some the group of conservatives pushing the bill seem to be divided on this item. Congressman Ted Poe, for example, seems to be against it.
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Retinal Implants: Helping the Blind to see.
Looks like a group of House Republicans, of all people, want to cancel the return to the Moon program "for $44 billion in savings" apparently over ten years in order to help pay for Katrina. One of the problems with this proposal is that since the Moon program is supposed to cost $104 billion over thirteen years, the proposed cut would save quite a bit more than $44 billion. That tells me that this proposal is not very well thought out and is not being offered seriously. Also, I suspect these politicians must know that President Bush's first reaction to eliminating one of his priorities will not be to say, "Well, alright." We've been down that road before.
Glenn Reynolds falls into a trap by suggesting that the money being spent on the return to the Moon should instead, at least in part, be spent on a space elevator. There are several problems with this idea. First, in the real political world in which we all live, if return to the Moon got cancelled, the first thing that would occur to politicians would not be, I suspect, to invest in what they would perceive to be a riskier space project. Second, I have a hard time understanding how the return to the Moon somehow precludes building a space elevator. Indeed, I should think that a human presence on the moon would be an incentive.
Glenn is correct that the infrastructure imagined to return astronauts to the Moon is expensive and not likely to be commercially viable. But I'm not certain that it's the government's place to build a commercial space transportation infrastructure. If I were asked how one would build a space elevator, the last idea I would consider would be to do it as a government project. The way I would do it would be to offer commercial incentives, tax write offs, loan guarantees, even land grants on the Moon. That's the way the transcontinental railroad was built. Doing space elevators the same way would, I suspect, ensure that more than one gets built, really bringing down the cost of space transportation. And it would cost the government far less than ten billion.
A very important "spin off" of the back to the Moon program is already being predicted. Hint. It will really annoy certain people in the so-called "peace" movement.
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
One of the jibes made by the sneering class about NASA's plan to return to the Moon goes like this: "It's just a replay of Apollo." Even Mike Griffin had to use the unfortunate phrase, "Apollo of steroids." However, Paul Spudis provides a pretty good answer as to why that is not so.
Paul Spudis, a lunar and planetary scientist at the Applied Physics Laboratory, a research and development arm of the Johns Hopkins University in Laurel, Maryland, takes issue with those that see the NASA vision as an Apollo replay.
Solar Sails: Galleons of the sky.
Here is the complete transcript of the Michael Griffin press conference. The exchange that seems to have caused some of the alt.space crowd to have the vapors follows:
MR. HOFFMAN[ph]: Carl[ph] Hoffman, "Popular Mechanics."
On the face of it, Griffin's response seems reasonable. The alt.space crowd has been suggesting that NASA adjust its requirements to accomodate their desires and capabilities. No one suggests that the kind of rockets necessary to boost the lunar ship will be available commercially in the near future. So, for commercial launchers to be used, NASA will have to change the mission architecture that it has determined is best to something the commercial sector can accomodate. It would be sort of like a housing contractor tell one, "Well, we can't build the sort of house you want, but we demand that you settle for the sort of house we can build you."
Now, leaving aside whether breaking down the moon ship to multiple launches or launching the moon ship dry and then fueling it with commercial tankers (which do not now exist) are better ideas, it seems to me that one charecteristic of a successful commercial company is the desire to fullfill the needs of the customer, not telling the customer to adjust its needs to what the company feels it can provide.
Now, to be fair, I don't see people who are actually trying to grow space businesses complaining. But there are a lot of internet rocketeers who think they know better. They might. But they're not in charge.
Monday, September 19, 2005
Looks like Mother Sheehan has turned on Hillary Clinton. Let the cat fight commence.
Sam Dinkin makes the case for lunar property rights.
Meanwhile, Daniel Handlin asks the question: How to make the Vision for Space Exploration irreversible?
More details about the Return to the Moon plan are now available.
In NASA's new return-to-the Moon scenario, astronauts will cover much more territory than Apollo moonwalkers. A key goal is to use water ice that may be stashed within permanently shadowed craters at the Moon's poles.
This suggests a lunar base sooner rather than later. However:
"I don't think it's a foregone conclusion that you may have to abandon the Moon," Geveden told the INSA audience. "What we're headed for on the Moon is a South Pole analog…some kind of camp that we set up and sustain ourselves for months at a time, not years."
What exactly does that mean? Crew rotations lasting months? Anything short of a permenent base seems to me to be short of what is desirable.
Also, this interesting tid bit:
Reaction to NASA's new visionary agenda at the INSA meeting was mixed. But the feedback seemed more a matter of age.
Reminds me of a story about a return to the Moon study done in the 1990s. The young engineers that conducted the study were enthusiastic. But some old fellow asked them, "Why are you bothering with this? We've already been to the Moon."
"Maybe you have," one of the young engineers replied. "But we haven't."
Addendum: On the other hand both Rand Simberg and Harry Vanderbilt are very unhappy, not unsurprisingly. Nothing that NASA could come up with is going to please everyone.
Both gentlemen, incorrectly, think that the VSE is "Apollo 2.0", the ultimate calumny one can offer to a proposed space project, at least in certain quarters. That's wrong because the plan does not so much retrace Apollo's steps as it picks up where it leaves off. I find that to be a logical approach, seeing as the first step to getting back to the Moon is getting back the capability of going to the Moon that was thrown away thirty or so years ago.
Vanderbilt goes on with an argument that NASA ought to assemble its moon ship from much smaller pieces using existing (or proposed to soon exist) launchers. There is certainly some validity for that approach. But Vanderbilt airily dismisses the counter argument that with more launches required per mission, the greater the risk that a single launch failure will delay or even scrub the mission entirely. He also, I think incorrectly, suggests that the return to the Moon infrastructure will shoulder the same personel costs as running the shuttle fleet. That runs contrary to what NASA itself has been saying and the common sense fact that a great deal of the personel costs of running the shuttle consists of turning around the orbiters, which of course would go away when the shuttle fleet is retired.
Vanderbilt makes a number of other questionable assumptions, in my opinion. For instance, NASA's building a launch system in house rather than waiting for commercial launchers to come on line which may or may not be available is the wrong approach. Now, if the Falcon series and others now being contemplated were actually flying, it would be another matter. I can understand NASA's decision to go with the tried and true (i.e. a couple of rockets with existing technology) rather than count on the commercial space sector which may or may not deliver. Mind, I might have made a different decision (at the very least keeping some options open.) But that's not a deal breaker for me.
But read the whole thing and judge for yourself.
Addendum 2: Of course, if I were--say--Elon Musk, I might wonder if I could build a launcher that could boost the CEV cheaper than the launcher NASA is contemplating. Perhaps, instead of complaining that "NASA's doing it all wrong" one might think of this as an opportunity.
Sunday, September 18, 2005
Looks like Mary Landrieu has some serious issues she needs to work out.
Friday, September 16, 2005
The Cato Institute has taken up Tom Delay's challenge and has proposed sixty two billion in cuts to offset what has been spent on Katrina so far. Some of the proposals look pretty good, at least on paper, like cutting farm subsidies and privitizaing the air traffic control system. The proposal to cut NASA in half, because "the arrival of private manned space flight" has made NASA "obsolete" seems a little bit off the wall. Private manned spave flight has not arrived nor, when it does, will it make NASA obsolete, any more than private air travel has made the Air Force obsolete. Even Cato's math is a little suspect. Half of NASA's current budget is about 8.1 billion, not 7.9 billion.
Now, I respect a lot of the work Cato has done in the past, but this sort of thing wrecks its credibility. I'm also puzzled that Cato left out things like the pork in the Transportation Bill or the corporate welfare in the Energy Bill. Maybe Cato was more interested in tweaking Tom Delay than in offering a serious proposal.
Addendum: Justin Feng has some thoughts.
While other companies piddle around with suborbital barnstorming or resusable rockets to launch things cheaper, 4Frontiers is eschewing such minor things. Their business plan is to build a Mars settlement.
Mother Sheehan has called for the withdraw of troops from "Occupied New Orleans". This is apparently not a joke nor a parody from The Onion.
Hugh Hewitt has a good analysis of Bush's speech. In tone, it was FDR (which is why I suspect some conservatives find it off putting.) However, in substance, it was pure Reagan, filled with proposals for enterprise zones and vouchers and what not. Katrina may well be the catalyst of a conservative revolution in how one deals with the poor and the distressed.
Looks like Tony Blair has turned his back on Kyoto and indeed any other such treaty that would limit economic growth.
The Wielizka Mine: An Underground Cathedral in Salt.
Fred Kiesche has a great round up of the current state of things space.
Thursday, September 15, 2005
Robert Wise, director of such classics as The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Sound of Music, and--of course--Star Trek: The Motion Picture has died.
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Looks like we'll know the full details of NASA's Return to the Moon plan on Monday. Now, I've heard some sneering that all it entails is a replay of Apollo. Nothing could be further from the truth.
NASA’s plan envisions being able to land four-person human crews anywhere on the Moon’s surface and to eventually use the system to transport crew members to and from a lunar outpost that it would consider building on the lunar south pole, according to the charts, because of the regions elevated quantities of hydrogen and possibly water ice.
Of course Apollo was confined to the equatorial regions of the Moon and did not include a lunar base.
Kim Stanley Robinson is most famous for his Mars trilogy, about the settlement of the Red Planet. He has now come out with a book, entitled Fifty Degrees Below, set in a future world beset by global warming that seems to be a thinly disguised polemic against President George W. Bush. In a recent interview, Robinson had some remarkable things to say:
"I think the US is in a terrible state of denial," he says firmly. "Worse than that, we seem to be caught in a kind of Gotterdammerung response: we'd rather have the world go down in flames than change our lifestyle or admit we're wrong. Even here in California, 50% of cars on the freeway are SUVs, and they're political statements: they say, we're going to take the rest of the world down with us because we don't give a damn. Essentially they're Republican vehicles: when you see an SUV go by, you know the driver voted for Bush. I do think the world has larger global warming problems, but if the US were actually engaged in dealing with them, there'd be a sense that the worst abuser had seen the light and the whole world was on the same page. There's a really sizeable minority here who back measures to reduce emissions, but the political process is controlled by the Republican administration, which is basically in thrall to the oil industry. So it'll come down to another election - and with the last two elections both in their different ways perhaps having been stolen, we can't even really count on democracy anymore. It's pretty scary here."
It leads me to wonder in Robinson has lost his mind. Anyway, the paranoia about "stolen elections" is something that has been touched on many times before by myself and others. Dittp for psychotic Bush hating. I am rather disappointed that Robinson has joined the black helicopter crowd.
But I am going to take issue with the idea that all SUV drivers are Republicans who don't give a damn about the environment. In my experience SUVs tend to be owned by soccer moms who need something roomy to take the neighborhood kids to school, to soccer practice, and to piano lessons. They are likely to have voted for Clinton twice because they thought he cared. Quite a few probibly gave money to the Sierra Club or similer organizations. They may have voted for Bush in 2004, but only because they thought (correctly) he would keep them and their kids safer from the terrorists.
Finally, I've been reading novels set in the near future with story lines based on environmental hysteria since the early 70s. None of the scenarios have played out the way those books have suggested. The reason, I suspect, is that those writing them have agendas that are more political than scientific.
Nanotechnology: A Magic Bullet to Cure Cancer.
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
The good news is that Sir Richard Branson is going to build an oil refinery. The scandal is that he probibly can't build it in the United States.
Orion: The Once and Future Spaceship.
While the main stream media was busy trying to destroy President Bush over Katrina, Coalition and Iraqi forces won a great victory unnoticed.
Monday, September 12, 2005
Could techniques be developed to alter the course and the wind speed of hurricanes? Could be.
Our team plans to conduct experiments in which we will calculate the precise pattern and strength of atmospheric heating needed to moderate hurricane intensity or alter its track. Undoubtedly, the energy required to do so would be huge, but an array of earth-orbiting solar power stations could eventually be used to supply sufficient energy. These power-generating satellites might use giant mirrors to focus sunlight on solar cells and then beam the collected energy down to microwave receivers on the ground. Current designs for space solar power stations would radiate microwaves at frequencies that pass through the atmosphere without heating it, so as to not waste energy. For weather control, however, tuning the microwave downlink to frequencies better absorbed by water vapor could heat different levels in the atmosphere as desired.
Hmm. Does this mean if we had space based solar power, we could also avoid catastrophes like Katrina and thus save tens of billions of dollars? What an interesting space spin off.
Leo to play Teddy Roosevelt? Well, OK.
The beautiful and talented Mrs. Curmudgeon directs foul scorn on the History Channel for using a special on Roman history to take contemporary political shots. I seem to remember what she's talking about. The special was comparing George W. Bush to the Emperor Trajan and the War on Terror to his campaigns in Dacia and Mesepotania. Dacia equaled Afganistan and Mesepotania equaled Iraq and imperial overreach. The problem of course is that we're not going to make Afganistan or Iraq provinces of the American Republic with a proconsul to run things and legions to make such things run smoothly.
I was also reminded of a reviewer of HBO's fantastic series, Rome, about the struggle between Caesar and Pompey. At one point, Senator Cato the Younger refers to Caesar's "illegal war" in Gaul. Ah ha! said the reviewer, obviously a shot at President George W. Bush.
Well, no. If Dubya is Caesar, then it is a flattering comparison. And if his enemies are Pompey, Cato, Cicero, and the rest of the Roman Senate, then the comparison is very unflattering. Caesar is a master soldier, statesman, and lover. His enemies are a bunch of dweebs. See the series and you'll know what I'm talking about.
Replace the Vehicle Assembly Building? Taylor Dinerman makes the case.
Lessons learned from the International Space Station? One can only hope.
Sunday, September 11, 2005
I think we've all have learned to shake our heads in astonishment at the kinds of atrocities that somehow are selected to be considered "great art." From a crucifix swimming in human urine to sculptures made of dung to just twisted monstrosities that represent God knows what, the examples keep coming to shock and irritate. In fact, that's what the modern arbiters of what is considered "art" tell is art is for. So, I suppose that this "memorial" in the shape of an Islamic crescent fits the bill.
Yes, yes, of course Islam does not condone the murder of innocents. But 9/11, including the taking of flight 93, was done in Islam's name. So to erect a crescent on the site that is supposed to honor the heroes of flight 9/11 would be, to my mind, like erecting a swastika on a World War II memorial. But, we are told, art is suppose to shock, irritate, provoke, and make one uncomfortable. (Or vomit, it seems, in many cases.)
It was not always so. Five or so centuries ago the great rulers of the Italian Renaissance, men like Lorenzo di Medici, steeped in the traditions of the civilization that they were rebuilding from the ashes of the Dark Ages, knew that art was for another purpose. It was to glorify, to honor, to celebrate all that was good and beautiful and brave. So, instead of Piss Christ, we got the David, the Sistine Chapel, the Mona Lisa, and the School at Athens. Instead of the "embracing crescent", we got St. Peters Basilica, the Duomo in Florence, and hundreds of palazzos and churches that are still awesome in their beauty, centuries after those who made them had died.
Even during the history of our own republic, there have been those who understood great art. Who could stand at the feet at the Giant Lincoln, at his memorial, and not be lifted out of oneself by that man's sad wisdom? Or see a painting by the astronaut/artist Alan Bean and have ones heart stilled by the achievement it celebrates?
The problem is that those we have chosen to be arbiters of public art do not have the values that sustain a great civilization. Why else would they choose a design for a memorial that seems to memorialize the terrorists rather than those fourty brave souls who rose up to fight them and to buy their defeat with their lives?
Clearly this design needs to be rejected, the committee that chose it dismissed, and some new group of people who understand the meaning of 9/11 chosen to start again.
Or, perhaps, just one man. Are there any Lorenzos alive today?
Never, never, never forget.
Foul scorn to those who ever would.
And all honor for those who fight and die to make sure it never, never, never happens again.
Addendum: Michelle Malkin has some thoughts along those lines as well.
Friday, September 09, 2005
SpaceX, having not actually launched anything into space, has announced the third generation of its proposed Falcon launch vehicles. Despite having heard this sort of thing before, many times, from the alt.space sector, I have high hopes that this one will actually fly. Boeing and Lockmart could use the competition.
Latest in a series of travel pieces, A History Lovers Guide to Nottingham.
Thursday, September 08, 2005
Day of Decision: Teutoburg Forest.
Day of Decision: The Battle of Salamis.
Why weren't the levees in Louisiana strengthened? Well, as you might expect, opposition from environmentalists. Katrina may go down as another example of how environmentalism can actually destroy the environment and kill people.
Wednesday, September 07, 2005
Michelle Malkin continues her examination of the continuing Air America financial scandal and the involvement of one Al Franken, who made himself rich smearing conservative icons such as Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly.
One of the canards the angry left is spewing out is that Bush administration somehow shortchanged Louisana's levie repair budget "in order to pay for the war in Iraq." However, it looks like Louisana did not use the funds they had very wisely.
Jim Oberg directs my attention to Austin Bay's post about how the NY Times tells a different story about Houston for its international edition than for its domestic edition. Apparently the Times is telling the Europeans that my city, which has taken in tens of thousands of refugees at great expense, is filled with a bunch of evil capitalists ready to profit and exploit.
I wonder how many refugees have been taken in by New York?
The Space Elevator: A Highway to Heaven.
Latest in a series of travel pieces, A History Lovers Guide to Cyprus.
Europe's Smart-1 is--quietly and almost unnoticed--unveiling the Moon's secrets, particularly at its north pole.
And so does China's next manned launch.
The test of Bigelow's inflatable module draws nigh, hopefully for next year.
Tuesday, September 06, 2005
As New Orleans descended into anarchy and horror, Houston, Texas, my city, stepped up to feed, clothe, and shelter the refugees.
The good news is that California approved gay marriage the right way, through a vote by the peoples' representatives in the legislature. The bad news is that the people may be made very irate by the vote.
Addendum: Of course, Arnold may veto the bill.
Looks like the Sci Fi Channel is developing an alternate history series.
Latest in a series of travel pieces, A History Lovers Guide to Bangkok.
The terrorist who planned the 1972 Munich Massacre is complaining that Steven Spielberg has not consulted him on the movie he's making about Munich.
Bob Denver is dead. He was not only famous as Gilligan, the hapless first mate castaway, but also as the layabout beatnik Maynard on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, whose least favorite word was a four letter one that began with "W".
Bruce Gagnon rants about "nuclear rockets", while Jim Oberg catches him in a lie.
Hey, I'm the expert on that case, and you are lying about this -- and too scared to allow posted criticisms.
Michelle Malkin suggests that some of the horror stories about what has occured in New Orleans may not be entirely true. Of course, I am not surprised, especially the one about cannibalism, considering the source.
Jack Sweeney took time off from presiding over the destruction of the AFL/CIO to bash the President over Katrina. Of course when the clean up and reconstruction goes into full swing, he'll be demanding that the work be done by the unions for union scale.
It's a little early yet to determine what effect if any Katrina has on the space program. Jeff Foust, however, offers some speculation.
Saturday, September 03, 2005
In many ways, a giant has passed from the judicial scene. And Supreme Court nomination politics has just gotten more interesting.
Let me stipulate that I like Anne Rice as a writer. I've always had a thing for her vampires, after all. But I find this just a little outrageous:
But to my country I want to say this: During this crisis you failed us. You looked down on us; you dismissed our victims; you dismissed us. You want our Jazz Fest, you want our Mardi Gras, you want our cooking and our music. Then when you saw us in real trouble, when you saw a tiny minority preying on the weak among us, you called us "Sin City," and turned your backs.
Sorry, but no. I'm a little disgusted with all of the finger pointing, though having said that I have a suspicion that the lions share of the blame for the chaos in New Orleans is going to fall on it's own corrupt, incompetent government. But I live not ten minutes away from the Astrodome, where thousands of refugees from New Orleans have been given shelter, food, water, hot showers, and other comforts. Aid organizations, Christian churches, Jewish temples, community groups, and just ordinary citizens are coming together to give the people of New Orleans succor. I see military people, some of them veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, risking their lives to rescue people and put down the looters and the gangs.
Turned our backs? Anne, you should be ashamed of yourself.
My only question is, why did it take so long for that fat fraud, Michael Moore, to take the opportunity of Katrina to spew hate and lies?
Looks like Shell Oil has found a way to make the extraction of Oil Shale profitable. They might be able to extact enough for us to shoot the finger at the Oil Sheiks. I await, however, the hysterical screams of environmentalists over the plot by the evil oil companies to wreck the pristine environmental of Colorado.
Friday, September 02, 2005
So now Katrina is all a plot by George Bush to oppress black people, according to some rapper named Kayne West.
An updated list of all the ways in Houston one can help victims of Katrina.
While most of the blogosphere is diligently raising funds and otherwise seeking to help Katrina victims, Bruce Gagnon is taking the opportunity for a little rumor mongering, class warfare, and environmental hysteria.
Latest in a series of travel pieces, A History Lovers Guide to Bath and A History Lovers Guide to Madrid.
Thursday, September 01, 2005
Hugh Hewitt describes how the internet will help the shattered Gulf Coast rebuild.
The Chronicle has also published a list of resources (food, shelter, etc) for refugees available in Houston.
The Houston Chronicle is blogging from within the refugee camp inside the Astrodome.
Michelle Malkin recounts the horrors Katrina has wrought outside New Orleans.
Latest in a series of travel pieces, A History Lovers Guide to Bordeaux.
Teddy Kennedy wants attorney-client privledge waived over some memos John Roberts wrote twenty five years ago. Ann Coulter suggests that we need to know about a certain auto accident where a certain Senator left a certain young woman to die.
Monte Davis concludes his series on thinking clearly on space.
Reader Carol Schorn offers this plea for help for some different refugees from Katrina: