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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Wednesday, November 30, 2005
 
Jon Goff gives Jeffrey Bell the back of his hand, while offering some good thoughts on the effects of microgravity vs low gravity.


 
These numbers suggest that NASA is trying for a big increase for next year in spending.


Tuesday, November 29, 2005
 
Did Hu Jintoa pull off a JFK moment?


 
Serenity, the movie spin-off of the TV series Firefly, did not do as well as one might have hoped, so therefore the likelihood os sequals would seem to be dim at best. Glenn Reynolds suggests a solution.


 
More fascinating discussion on China's lunar plans.


 
Living on the Moon.

Addendum: Yes, I'm aware of the editing screw ups the content site has made on the piece. They've been informed and the problem should be fixed ASAP.


Monday, November 28, 2005
 
Jason Verheyden is deeply mortified that Paul Hellyer is Canadian. Then he makes an alarming suggestion:
How do they know for sure that these guys are peaceful and ethical? We're the Indians, they're the Europeans. I'm sorry, but ethically speaking, I'm thinking that an advanced good natured race would leave us alone and let us be. That way they don't take the risk that they could do what the Europeans did to the Indians.

In fact, I would take it as a sign of bad things if an alien species were abducting people in secret and sporadically popping in randomn areas... I would call that a prelude to invasion. If they were really advanced, they would recognize how uncivilized we are, and would give us time to mature.


 
Meanwhile, Burt Rutan quietly works to bring about the new era of suborbital barnstorming. One reason I like Rutan is that he lets his deeds, which are impressive, speak for him.


 
Daniel Handlin concludes his defense of NASA's return to the Moon plan.


Sunday, November 27, 2005
 
For some, it must be wonderful to have been alive to work on the last series of moon landings and now be able to work on the next.


 
Harrison Schmitt's Return to the Moon is finally out.

Addendum: Then again, perhaps not. This is a puzzlement because earlier today it was available. But it should be soon, we trust

Meanwhile no word yet on the other Return to the Moon.


 
Here's more on Bruce Willis' plans to make a movie based on the exploits of Deuce Four. I hope the deal comes to fruition, but caution gentle readers that a lot of Hollywood films don't get made in the end. Remember when Johney Rambo was going to personally go to Afghanistan and kill Osama bin Ladin? Still it would be nice to see a film about modern war in which the Americans are the good guys.


 
More indications that the Chinese intend to send astronauts to the Moon sooner rather than later.

Addendum: With unrelenting predictability, Rand Simberg disagrees:
If Mike Griffin's deputy said, "I think that in about fifteen years, we could have the capability to send humans to Jupiter," would Mark then agree with the headline "US Aims To Put Man On Jupiter By 2020"? Would he say that there are "indications" that this is a US goal?

Well, given his apparent gullibility, perhaps he would.

Of course landing a man on Jupiter and landing one on the Moon are exactly analogous. At least it seems Rand thinks so. For the record, I think not.

Of course Rand might be suggesting that it would be as hard for China to launch a lunar expedition as it would be for America to launch a Jupiter expedition (the latter of which would actually land on a gas giant.) It's hard to be sure what he's thinking when he imagines that an American public official would say the sort of thing he suggests that he or she would say.

Addendum Two: Peoples Daily also has a story on China's possible lunar plans.
China plans to achieve extravehicular activity by astronauts and locking of spacecraft by 2012, basis for establishing the future space station and even the moon probing, he said.

It appears that an Earth orbit assembly of a lunar craft is being considered, as I read between the lines.


 
Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng, who recently flew in orbit aboard the Shenzhou 6 space craft, will shortly visit Hong Kong to whip up patriotism and otherwise buttress the legitimacy of the current regime. Totalitarian governments like China's, which regularly violate human rights and hide little embarrassment like SARS and the full extent of Bird Flu, tend to find these little shows useful. The public relations aspect of China's space program (or anyone's space program for that matter) is not something to be despised. One of the main purposes of Apollo, after all, was to showcase the technological superiority of the United States, which it did very successfully. Considering what else was happening at the time, this was a good thing. We need to remember this when regarding out current space efforts.

And that applies to those being undertaken by plucky entrepreneurs like Rutan and Musk, as well as NASA's. America, after all, is still the land where individuals can move the Earth if they have but the will and the ability.


Saturday, November 26, 2005
 
The first flight of the Falcon 1 has been scrubbed.


Friday, November 25, 2005
 
Dr. Duncan Steele makes the case for exploring the asteroids with human beings.


 
Jeffrey Bell has been reading posts on various BBS and is thus incited to write another diatribe. Now, I think it's all kind of quaint to go searching for rational discourse on internet BBS; it's sort of like trying to find an honest man in Congress. You'll probably discover what you are looking for, but it will be a hard search indeed.

Bell also goes postal over a famous painting.
This dream palace is symbolized by one particular image that one sees far too often these days. This is an artist's concept of a future Moon base/colony with a small spacesuited child playing joyfully in the regolith like it was a gigantic sandbox.

Logically, this image makes no sense.

1) Spacesuits are so expensive and so tailored to individual measurements that no Moon parents could afford to have a whole series custom-made for a growing child.

2) EVA is so dangerous that no one would allow an irresponsible child out in vacuum. (Even the Robert Heinlein kid's SF novels that we Boomers grew up on were relatively sane on this point.)

3) The child would be exposed to deadly cosmic rays at a critical time in its development.

4) No child could grow normally in the low lunar gravity. Even adult astronauts are carried away on wheelchairs after only 6 months in space (the last American to return from the ISS actually fainted from the stress of normal gravity).

I remember the picture, a bit of whimsy as I recall. Even so, point (1) seems to me to be a bit silly. Is Bell suggesting that off the rack space suits are never going to be invented?

Point (2) seems also silly. Dangerous compared to what? And I'm sure kids taking a walk outside the habitat will be under adult supervision.

Point (3) has a little more basis for concern. But I think data is lacking about how much exposure to cosmic rays would be bad for little children. More research is needed before we come to any definative conclusions.

Ditto for point (4) Bell is suggesting that long term exposure to low gravity (one sixth on the Moon and about one third on Mars) is just as bad as exposure to micro gravity. There's no data to support any conclusion either way. Nor is there sufficient data on possible counter measures.


 
Mark Trylson has an interview with aviation legend Dick Rutan.


 
This particular story might have come from The Onion, except it seems that the people involved are dead serious.
On September 25, 2005, in a startling speech at the University of Toronto that caught the attention of mainstream newspapers and magazines, Paul Hellyer, Canada’s Defence Minister from 1963-67 under Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Prime Minister Lester Pearson, publicly stated: "UFOs, are as real as the airplanes that fly over your head."

Mr. Hellyer went on to say, "I'm so concerned about what the consequences might be of starting an intergalactic war, that I just think I had to say something."

Hellyer revealed, "The secrecy involved in all matters pertaining to the Roswell incident was unparalled. The classification was, from the outset, above top secret, so the vast majority of U.S. officials and politicians, let alone a mere allied minister of defence, were never in-the-loop."

Hellyer warned, "The United States military are preparing weapons which could be used against the aliens, and they could get us into an intergalactic war without us ever having any warning. He stated, "The Bush administration has finally agreed to let the military build a forward base on the moon, which will put them in a better position to keep track of the goings and comings of the visitors from space, and to shoot at them, if they so decide."

I suppose it must be an evil plot by the Neocons to foist democracy on the Klingons and the Romulans.


 
The first flight of the Falcon draws nigh, currently scheduled for Saturday.


Wednesday, November 23, 2005
 
Chris Matthews suggests that he was misquoted about terrorists and says that they should be killed.


Tuesday, November 22, 2005
 
Day of Decision: The Battle of Trafalgar.


 
More proof that some environmentalists will find a reason to hate any source of energy. Just as they discovered that wind mills hurt birds, they have now discovered that biofuels will destroy the rain forest.


Monday, November 21, 2005
 
So which science fiction writer are you?


 
Capote: a Film about a Book and its Author.


 
SpaceDev claims it can do a manned lunar mission for ten billion dollars, about one tenth the estimated cost of NASA's return to the Moon plan. Of course the trick is raising that amount of capital in the private market.

For those who will inevitably jump up and down about this and demand that Jim Benson just be given ten billion and then told to have at it, should bother to read the following legal language at the bottom of the article:
Except for the factual statements made herein, the information contained in this news release consists of forward-looking statements that involve risks, uncertainties and assumptions that are difficult to predict. Forward-looking statements are based on the Company's current expectations. Such forward-looking statements are not guarantees of performance, and the Company's actual results could differ materially from the Company’s current expectations based on many factors that are directly or indirectly related to the items discussed above.


 
Chris Matthews tries to understand the differnt point of view of people who slice off peoples' heads, blow up women and children, and are at war with the whole world and find that they are not evil.


 
Jeff Foust makes the case for going to the moons of Mars before Mars itself.


 
Jeff Brooks, a partisan Democrat, wonders why his fellow liberals oppose space exploration and suggest they ought to because it fits with "Democratic values." They should, in my opinion, because it fits American and Western values. But Brooks' argument falls down because of a misunderstanding of what Democratic values are.
Since this was about politics, it didn’t come as a surprise. Bush was for it, so Democrats were against it. Had President Clinton announced an identical program of space exploration in the middle of his time in office, Republicans undoubtedly would have viciously attacked him for it, probably using many of the same arguments.

Actually, not true. Realizing that a lot of liberals would stop bathing if President Bush were to expound on the virtues of cleanliness, conservatives to my observation don't share that tendency. After all, Bill Clinton did support the space station (mainly because it would have hurt him politically to oppose it) and as it turns out, Congressional Republicans agreed with him far more than Congressional Democrats.
If unsurprising, I did find the sudden Democratic opposition to space exploration rather ironic. After all, the Democratic Party has historically been very supportive of space exploration. It is no coincidence that the two most important NASA facilities in the country, Kennedy Space Center and Johnson Space Center, are named after Democratic presidents. John F. Kennedy had the political courage and wisdom to launch the Apollo program and Lyndon B. Johnson had the political skill and willpower to see it through. When John Glenn ran for the Senate, he did so as a Democrat.

Brooks seem unaware of more recent history. Democrats like Senators Proxmire, Mondale, Ted Kennedy, and George McGovern were early opponents of space exploration in the late 60s and 70s. In the 1980s and 1990s opposition to the space station project was largely Democratic (with a smattering of budget hawk Republicans). Congressman Traxler, an appropriations subcommittee chairman, tried to kill the space station. Senator Kerry was an opponent of the space station and seemed indifferent (at best) to going to the Moon and Mars during last years campaign. Oddly enough, recent history has given us more hope for a bipartisan consensus. While uberlefty Barney Frank is opposed to the Vision for Space Exploration, funding for it has passed by wide, bipartisan margins. Of course that may be reflective more of the attitude among elected Democrats than the Michael Moore fans Brooks hangs out with.
The Democratic Party supposedly stands for progressive values, while the Republican Party ostensibly stands for conservative ideals. It sometimes seems that these identifications have ceased to have any real meaning, but in terms of classical political philosophy, conservatism seeks to maintain society as it is or go back to what it once was, while progressivism seeks the transformation of society from what it is to what it should be. If the Democratic Party still holds true to its progressive beliefs, it should be a staunch defender and supporter of space exploration. Rather than jeer Bush for the Vision for Space Exploration, the Democrats should have cheered him for it.

Shall I be impolite and talk about conservative attempts to reform the tax code, social security, health care, and other things and liberal opposition to the same? Brooks seems to have the matter exactly backwards.
It might strike some as odd to associate space exploration with political progressivism. But space exploration is about far more than sending robots to take pictures of the rings of Saturn or sending astronauts to pick up rocks on the Moon. Like political progressivism itself, space exploration is about a glorious and hopeful vision of the future. It’s about making the future better than the past.

To be further rude, but accurate, it seems to me that the "progressive" vision for the future is not an expansive, space faring civilization, but an inward looking, isolated welfare state, more France than America.
Consider protecting the environment, which Democrats claim as one of their main issues. A solid reason to support a robust space program is that, in the long run, genuine solutions to our planet’s environmental problem will require easy access to space.

The single greatest cause of environmental damage is the production of energy. Conventional power-generation technology involves the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil or the use of nuclear fission reactors, and we know that renewable energy sources can only go so far in replacing fossil fuel and nuclear fission power. In the long run, the only genuine solutions to these problems require the use of space resources. Space-based solar power is one possible answer; nuclear fusion using lunar helium-3 is another. Energy beyond imagining, more than enough to lift the entire world up into an acceptable standard of living, without polluting a single environment, is ours for the taking. We simply have to decide to do it.

Others have pointed out the immense potential of exploiting the resources of the asteroid belt, which contains sufficient raw materials to meet every conceivable need of humanity. Automated mining operations could dismantle the asteroids and transport them to Earth orbit, where they could brought down to the surface using space elevator technology, now under development. If we could successfully exploit the resources of the Asteroid Belt, we would never again have to carve huge scars into our planet’s surface in our quest for resources.

So, imagine a world without smokestacks or stripe mines, a world where the air we breathe and the water we drink is not tainted with noxious chemicals, a world where all our energy and material needs are met by the resources of the solar system, freeing the Earth to be the paradise we all want it to be. Rather than simply complaining about environmental problems, easy access to space would give us the power to actually do something about this.

All very true and arguments I have used. But Brooks seems unaware of the fact that many environmentalists oppose any new power generation or industrial development whether they are environmentally benign or not. I have even heard of people opposing "strip mining the Moon."
The advocates of space exploration tend to be a starry-eyed bunch. We envision a future that sees humanity thriving in colonies on the Moon, Mars, and beyond. We envision a future where heroic tales of exploration and discovery have replaced stories of bloody warfare in the collective imagination of humanity—where the exploration of space has become what the philosopher William James called “the moral equivalent of war.” We envision a future where the resources of the solar system have created such abundance that no human being is in need. In short, we envision a future here humanity lives up to its full potential.

That reminds me of an occassion I witnessed when Bob Zubrin, the famous Mars advocate, was presenting just such a vision, comparing it to the winning of the American West. Some fellow in the audience made a crack about the dispoiling of the hapless Native Americans, seemingly not to realize that there are no Native Martians to oppress. That didn't stop Ben Bova, the science fiction writer and someone who should know better, from opposing the settlement of Mars lest it's prestine lands be dispoiled.
The people I had the honor of working with during the 2004 campaign season were some of the most intelligent and idealistic people I have ever known. They also had a hopeful vision of the future, where poor children had access to proper healthcare, everyone was given to a good education, and one could take a deep breath and not worry about inhaling pollution. To these people, if not to people in the upper echelons of the party, being a Democrat was all about wanted to create a good future for all people. They also want to help humanity live up to its full potential.

By taxing the bejesus out of everybody. Which reminds me. Not at one point in this piece does Brooks touch upon why Democrats ought to support private space enterprises.
Far from being antagonistic, it seems to me that these two visions are natural allies. Each is oriented to the future and each is full of hope. More importantly, it pursued in the right way, they can mutually support one another. The space program can provide the solutions to many of the problems Democrats care about, while the pursuit of egalitarianism, international cooperation, excellence in education and other Democratic issues can contribute to a successful space program.

Welfare states do not explore space very well. There's no money in the private or public sectors for it, since it's all being spent on social programs.
All this is not to say that Republicans are opposed or should be opposed to space exploration—far from it. There are many aspects of Republican ideology which should make it supportive of space exploration, too.

Mr. Brooks, President Bush and Congressman Delay thank you for this insight.
In my mind, space exploration should not be a partisan issue. Space advocates can come from both parties and might be bitterly divided over the war in Iraq, abortion, tax policy, and uncountable other things. However, on the subject of space exploration, there is no reason why Democrats and Republicans cannot be allies.

The fact that it has fallen to a Republican president to issue the Vision for Space Exploration should not keep Democrats from supporting it. Divided as Americans are on so many other issues, the expansion of humanity throughout the solar system is a cause worthy of a Grand Alliance.

If Hillary Clinton gets elected President, I trust she will remember this.


 
Daniel Handlin provides an examination and defense of NASA's return to the Moon plan.


Sunday, November 20, 2005
 
Has al-Zargawi at last been sent to the flames of Hell? I have my fingers crossed.


 
Being a person who is at once attractive, smart, articulate, conservative, and a minority, Michelle Malkin has gotten far more than her share of hate from the far left. Now it looks like some people are going beyond that leval of viciousness to attack her family. I have the greatest sympathy. My own family was once the subject of a racist attack because of my views. So I have naught but scorn for people who do that. It is a vile, stupid, and ungentlemanly.


 
John Weidner discusses some of the weird political mythology in Steve Baxter's book Titan. Sadly, while he almost gets it, he throws in a little mythology of his own.
And, far from losing interest in space and letting NASA die, people now, young people, are starting thrilling new space ventures (and letting NASA die). The big-government/NASA/send-only-the-elite-few vision of space travel is being replaced by one where young billionaires want to let everybody get to space. And it's not a movement that has much connection with traditional politics, but it fits more with conservative thinking than liberal.

The problem is that's not entirely so. Far from dying, NASA is being revitalized thanks to the Vision for Space Exploration proposed by that right wing, conservative President who is somehow so different from the right wing, conservatives of liberal myth. Most polling shows a great deal of enthusiasm for exploring space beyond low Earth orbit, even if it's done by big gummmit. Also, NASA seems to at last be embracing the entrepreneurial spirit and would like very much to buy services from the commercial sector, if the commercial sector will step up and start providing them.

Liberals, as John Weidner points out, are captives of their own myths. But I think that to some extent and for some of them, libertarians are too. There is no dichotomy between evil big gummit and those plucky entrepreneurs. Both have their place in the great process of opening the high frontier of space. Helping them find their place is the great challenge of space policy of our age.


Saturday, November 19, 2005
 
Cochlear Implants: Helping the Deaf to Hear.


 
One of the slams against NASA's return to the Moon program is that it's "not commercial" and that it relies on government built and operated hardware. Mike Griffin suggests that this is not so. He suggests that the ESAS is simply the bare core of what needs to be done to get people back to the Moon. Commercial participation, in the form of fuel depots, will greatly enhance our ability to mainatin a vigorous program of lunar exploration and settlement. Now, will the alt.space crowd learn to take yes for an answer?


 
The Foresight Exchange is one of those online markets where people bet money on the future: everything from the price of oil next year to who will be President in 2009. Some of these markets have proven to be pretty accurate predictors. The most recent prediction for China landing a man on the Moon by 2020 is at sixty five percent.

The prediction for an American landing by 2020 now stands at forty percent.

The prediction for private space companies is a little more promising at sixty percent.


Friday, November 18, 2005
 
Dan Schrimpsher has some good suggestions on how NASA TV could be improved.


 
Charles Krauthammer offers the most clearly stated polemic against "Intelligent Design" that I've read.


 
Britain's Sky One means to remake the 1960s classic series of paranoia and intrigue The Prisoner.


Thursday, November 17, 2005
 
Frank J talks about Boston Legal, a great show often ruined by far left pontification. It sparks a great debate about TV and politics.

For a great right wing show, give me 24, which as Keifer Sutherland blowing away and otherwise abusing terrorists with great gusto.


 
John Murtha (D) Pennsylvania for all intents and purposes call for a surrender in the war on terror. He should be ashamed.

Addendum: According to Hannity, this has not been the first time.


 
John Lewis, a senior fellow and director of technology policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, suggests that China is about thirty years away from a manned lunar landing. That would be ok if there is a US government presence on the Moon before then, but not so good if we dither and argue over whether our effort is politically correct or not.

Of course, Lewis' estimate is based on the Chinese building a Long March 6 super heavy lifter first. They could get to the Moon much earlier with Long March 5 and Earth orbit rendezvous.

Addendum: Rand Simberg breathes a sigh of relief and then repeats something that both John Goff and Nikita Khrushchev have said.
Of course, when they do, they won't need to bring much in the way of supplies--they'll be able to check in to the Lunar Hilton.

Maybe. But if there is no US government preasence to help enforce property rights (and if Rand were to have his way, that's how it will be whether he cares to admit it or not) the Lunar Hilton might shortly thereafter be under new management.


Wednesday, November 16, 2005
 
SpaceX's problems with Falcon 1's engines will keep James Doohan's ashes grounded until at least February. Of course if Scotty worked for SpaceX, they would be ready for a Christmas launch, in my opinion.


Tuesday, November 15, 2005
 
Michael Griffin articulates a vision of a space faring future.


 
Riches in the Sky: The Promise of Asteroid Mining.


 
On the eve of the President's Asia trip, Frank Gaffney warnes of the danger of coddling the Chinese.
It flows from this basic insight that we must be concerned about such developments as:
The persistent assertion by the Chinese leadership to their political cadre and military officers that America is the "main enemy" and that war with the United States is "inevitable."
Official Chinese efforts to secure energy resources from all over the world to meet its yawning needs (notably for oil, coal and natural gas) in a way that seems meant to deny such resources to the U.S. and other global competitors.
The PRC's predatory trade practices and intellectual property theft that continue in violation of past commitments and World Trade Organization obligations. In part, the result is a bilateral trade deficit that has increased "over 140 percent in only four years." The wealth thus garnered by China is used -- among other things -- to fuel the plundering of America's remaining high-technology industrial base and the utter liquidation of our manufacturing sector.
Wealth transfers from the United States are underwriting Beijing's ominous build-up of its armed forces, as well. The commission says: "China is engaged in a major military modernization program, the motives of which are opaque and unexplained. It is building a modern navy and air force, upgrading its nuclear-armed ICBM force and beginning to operate in a power-projection mode. It has markedly expanded its information warfare operations to a level that is clearly designed to disrupt American systems."
The commission has also helpfully warned about the PRC's increasingly bringing economic dinosaurs -- its biggest "banks" and other state-owned enterprises -- to the U.S. capital markets. By so doing, it is offloading the financing of otherwise unsustainable entities onto American investors. As a result, the latter are unwittingly helping underwrite the unsavory activities of such enterprises -- including: China's proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, arms build-up, environmental depredation, technology theft (including the Navy's Aegis fleet air defense system and nuclear warhead designs), espionage and slave-labor manufacturing operations, etc.
Finally, China is engaged in activities that pose a more immediate danger. Two of its nationals were recently arrested trying to sell Chinese-made QW-2 man-portable surface-to-air missiles in this country. Had they done so, the result could have given rise to a potentially grave threat to American airliners. And Chinese micro-satellites are being readied to attack our space assets as another, potentially devastating manifestation of Beijing's pursuit of what the Pentagon calls "asymmetric warfare" capabilities against the United States.

Of course I am assured that the Chinese would not even think of behaving badly in space. That would be "stupid."

Addendum: Rand Simberg reacts in his usual manner.


Monday, November 14, 2005
 
Condi Vs Hillary: the Next Great Presidential Race by Dick Morris.


 
Recently Britain's Royal Astronautical Society issued a report endorsing human space flight. Taylor Dinerman speculates on the report's implications.


 
Elon Musk, of SpaceX, is not a person shy of articulating big dreams for his company. Among them appear to be a heavy lifter that would seem to be competition for NASA's planned heavy lift launcher that is designed to take people back to the Moon and on to Mars. That would seem to me to undercut the notion, put forth in some quarters, that a heavy lift launcher can't be developed commercially. Also, oddly enough, if it's ready by 2018, NASA would have a commercially available backup launcher for it's exploration plans. Not to mention what the private sector could do with it.

On the other hand, SpaceX still has not launched so much as an ant into low Earth orbit. But one hopes that it will succeed in lowering the cost of launching things larger than that and hence expanding the market.


Sunday, November 13, 2005
 
Serenity, with a doubt the best space adventure movie to come along in a long time, did not find the mass audience it deserved. My theory is that a lot of people were confused by the title. Perhaps if it had been called Star Ship Serenity or, perhaps, Serenity: The Alliance Strikes Back, things might have been differnt.

Anyway, the movie is available for order on DVD, just in time for the holidays.


Friday, November 11, 2005
 
Bruce Willis proves that not everyone in Hollywood is a leftist idealogue.
In an interview that aired last night on MSNBC's "Rita Cosby: Live and Direct" (9 p.m. ET), actor Bruce Willis told Cosby he would offer one million dollars to any civilian who would turn in Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri or Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Willis talks to Cosby about his support for embedded blogger Michael Yon, and the actor says he is in talks about a possible film about the Deuce Four, the soldiers Yon is embedded with in Iraq.

I can't wait to see that movie.


 
President Bush has dropped the hammer on the Fifth Column in America.
And our debate at home must also be fair-minded. One of the hallmarks of a free society and what makes our country strong is that our political leaders can discuss their differences openly, even in times of war.

When I made the decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power, Congress approved it with strong bipartisan support. I also recognize that some of our fellow citizens and elected officials didn't support the liberation of Iraq, and that is their right, and I respect it. As president and commander in chief, I (accept ?) the responsibilities and the criticisms and the consequences that come with such a solemn decision. While it's perfectly legitimate to criticize my decisions or the conduct of the war, it is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began.

Some Democrats and antiwar critics are now claiming we manipulated the intelligence and misled the American people about why we went to war. These critics are fully aware that a bipartisan Senate investigation found no evidence of political pressure to change the intelligence community's judgments related to Iraq's weapons programs. They also know that intelligence agencies from around the world agreed with our assessment of Saddam Hussein. They know the United Nations passed more than a dozen resolutions citing his development and possession of weapons of mass destruction.

Many of these critics supported my opponent during the last election, who explained his position to support the resolution in the Congress this way: "When I vote to give the president of the United States the authority to use force, if necessary, to disarm Saddam Hussein, it is because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hand is a threat and a grave threat to our security."

That's why more then a hundred Democrats in the House and the Senate, who had access to the same intelligence, voted to support removing Saddam Hussein from power.

The stakes in the global war on terror are too high, and the national interest is too important for politicians to throw out false charges. These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will. As our troops fight a ruthless enemy determined to destroy our way of life, they deserve to know that their elected leaders who voted to send to them to war continue to stand behind them. Our troops deserve to know that this support will remain firm when the going gets tough. And our troops deserve to know that when -- whatever our differences in Washington, our will is strong, our nation is united, and we will settle for nothing less then victory.

Bravo, Mr. President. Bravo. And about time, too.


 
Some of the countries trying to grab control of the Internet from the United States are also some of the worst human rights abusers in the world, especially where it comes to stopping free speech. China is the prime example.

I see certain parallels with a controversy that will surely occur in the future, over who will "control" the Moon (see one scenario below.) That's a reason why there needs to be a US government presence on the lunar surface sooner rather than later.


 
Moon dust was the bane of the Apollo astronauts. It got into everything and actually could prove to be a health hazard. But is also could be a good building material for future space settlers.


 
XCOR's EZ-Rocket will shortly attempt to break a distance record for point-to-point rocket-powered take off and landing, It may be a prelude of things to come as the "NASCAR in the sky" starts up.


Thursday, November 10, 2005
 
Dr. Ron Sugar, President and CEO of Northrop Grumman, sings praises of the new age of exploration.


 
You all have probably met them, the armchair warriors who claim to have won a chest full of medals in Vietnam but actually had never put on a uniform in their lives. Anne Morse writes about these annoying people. Now that we have a new war, they'll be plenty of folks who will claim that they were in on the capture of Saddem or rode in that cavalry charge at Mazar-al-Sharif. Beware of them.


 
Happy 230rd Birthday to the United States Marine Corps.


 
Looks like the SciFi Channel has (sort of) found Saddem's weapons of mass destruction.


 
S. M. Stirling, the author of such series as the Draka and Island in the Sea of Time, is preparing to publish a new series of novels called Lords of Creation. The premise is that Venus and Mars are habitable planets, just as the old pulp SF stories from the fifties said they were. Earth history is about the same up until 1962. Then the West and the Soviets get into a real space race. Here are some sample chapters of the first book, set on a very strange Venus, The Sky People.


 
Her Majesty's Spymaster by Stephen Budiansky.


 
Rand Simberg has actually asked an interesting question. Why is the current plan by NASA to return to the Moon worthy of support? In answering this question, we have to make an assumption and then recognize some painful truths.

First, the assumption. Sending people to the Moon and eventually beyond is a desirable national goal. The Moon especially is a venue for a great many scientific and commercial opportunities. A subset of this assumption is that concentrating on this goal is the best use of NASA resources.

Now the painful truths.

First, the budget for doing this is not going to be unlimited. The upward limit, given the current political balance of power is between about .6 and 1 percent of the federal budget. Therefore, no Apollo-like sprint, but rather a slow, steady development cycle lasting for a number of years.

Second, a number of political constituencies have to be satisfied for any plan to return to the Moon to receive funding. That includes the shuttle constituency (based on jobs in the district), planetary science, and aeronautics. If any of these constituencies feel too short changed, they will oppose the plan.

Third, enabling commercial development is only one subset of the goal. There are also science and national security aspects of the goal of getting back to the Moon.

Fourth, the Moon is just one destination. Beyond it, lays Mars.

Given this, it seems to me that the plan put forth by NASA to return to the Moon best recognizes these facts.

First, it gets people back to the Moon.

Second, it does so with a reasonable (i.e. not Apollo sized) budget.

Third, is satisfies the various political constituencies by not impacting them too severely. There has to be a balance between this and the second aspect. That’s proving to be difficult. Getting the shuttle back into service is proving more costly than previously estimated. I have proposed cutting the Gordian knot and retiring the fleet, perhaps after a Hubble servicing mission. But will not hold my breath for that to happen.

Fourth, it satisfies all the subsets of the goal, by facilitating commercial development, doing science, and helping national security. This is because it is to lead to a permanent outpost on the Moon, which can be a focus of both commercial and science activities, as well as constituting a US government presence. Commercial interests would be enhanced by providing services to a lunar outpost, which would involve expanding it to a full fledged settlement in the fullness of time as activities like mining and tourism increase.

Fifth, it recognizes that Mars is also a goal. Hence, one of the reasons there is a heavy lifter as part of the plan.

There have been some objections, as the gentle reader might have heard. I’ll deal with those in another post.


 
One would think that in an era of high energy prices that encouraging new oil drilling would be a no brainer. Apparently not for GOP moderates however.


Wednesday, November 09, 2005
 
Keith Cowing has been kind enough to provide a list of pork tucked away in the NASA budget, most of which has little if anything to do with space exploration and research. All thanks to our representatives in Washington.


 
Jon Goff tries again:
I don't doubt that China might have bad intentions. What I do doubt is that they're stupid enough to act on those bad intentions when the costs would obviously far outweigh the benefits. I couldn't care less about the "intentions" of dictators, so long as they lack the capability to act on them. As I pointed quite clearly, if China broke this particular treaty, they would be putting billions of dollars of existing assets at risk, not to mention commiting a blatant and premeditated act of war upon the US if it were dumb enough to murder alt.spacers.

If China murdered a bunch of US citizens in a case where they were obviously the aggressors, do you think for a second that the US wouldn't retaliate, or at least sanction some sort of retaliation? Do you honestly think that China is so freaking stupid that they would do something like that? And for what? A chunk of rock that they probably couldn't even get any economic benefit out of during a shooting war?

Actually there is a precedence. In 2001, the Chinese illegally detained an American air craft and it's crew, also technically an act of war. They are not shy of being aggressive if they want to. Nor do I think they would have to murder anyone. The threat would be enough.
I don't worry about their intentions because I know that they fully understand how stupid it would be to act upon them.

In any case, Jon's citing of the Outer Space Treaty does not address the scenario. The Outer Space Treaty applies to national states, not to private entities. The Chinese would not, under the treaty, be able to restrict access to the Moon by--say--a NASA expedition. But the treaty is silent about private entities. So, the Chinese giving the boot to Lunacorp (or pick your favorite name) may be aggressive and bad, but it would not be illegal under the Outer Space Treaty.


Actually Mark is wrong here, but that's just par for the course. If he actually bothered to read a little about this treaty, he would see that private entities are treated as subsets of the state under which they operate. China has no right to prevent Lunacorp for instance from landing on the moon. If they took force against Lunacorp, it would be an act of war against the US. How dense is Mark? How desparate is he to find some straw he can grasp to justify a stupid and irrational space transportation architecture?

The text of the treaty is very clear. The only part where nongovernment entities are even mentioned is Article VI. "States Parties to the Treaty shall bear international responsibility for national activities in outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, whether such activities are carried on by governmental agencies or by non-governmental entities, and for assuring that national activities are carried out in conformity with the provisions set forth in the present Treaty. The activities of non-governmental entities in outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, shall require authorization and continuing supervision by the appropriate State Party to the Treaty." That's it.
Oh, threatening to murder citizens of another country is kosher, but even hinting that such an action might have negative results for China is terrorism? Maybe in Mark's wingbat world. No, placing a military base on the Moon in the first place would be illegal, using it to threaten others would be more so. Acting upon that threat would be an act of war. Reminding China that were it to commit an act of war, and a violation of the treaty it's supposedly trying to defend, would result in them no longer being protected by said treaty isn't terrorism.

I never said it was kosher. I did suggest that it is not covered in the Outer Space Treaty. There is also a provision in the treaty that states, "The use of military personnel for scientific research or for any other peaceful purposes shall not be prohibited." There is nothing that forbids weapons for self defense. A fine line, considering that Jon is right that a "military base" is prohibited, but one I think that China might be willing to cross.
And can anyone imagine China trying to start a shooting war with the US over a private company trying to land on the Moon? Private US companies are still made of US citizens. If they are acting legally, and are attacked illegally by China, that would be murder, and an act of war against the US.

Now, if the private company were dumb enough to actually attack China's space assets first, he might have a point. But since the private company is within its rights to land on the Moon in the first place, they would probably call China's bluff and remind them that any action they take would be an act of War. I ask again, does Mark seriously think China is dumb enough to risk so much for so little?

There again we have the scenario of a private company threatening to get into a fight with the largest country on Earth, which I find very unlikely. And would the United States start a war, which might turn nuclear, over the Moon? If I were in Beijing, I might be willing to roll the dice in order to corner the 3HE market.


 
Rand Simberg, in essence, calls me a liar without, as far as I can tell, proving it. It's sad when some people can't engage in debate without engaging in that kind of behavior.

Meanwhile, Jon Goff tried to offer a further rebuttal to my suggestion that we need to be concerned about Chinese intentions in space.
After claiming that my previous post (which I already stated was only going to discuss above-board and legal ways that China could try to claim the Moon) shows that I'm ignorant about military tactics, Mark provides this rather bizarre little scenario:

Allow me to present a scenario. The United States follows the suggestions of Jon, Rand, and others and stops the NASA return to the Moon. About 2020 the Chinese land a manned expedition and declares that they will now, under the authority of the UN, serve as stewards of the moon and its resources to make certain that certain entities do not "exploit them" and deny them to the peoples of the world, the common heritage of whom they are.

The Chinese build up a small base at the lunar south pole. However, let us say that a plucky alt.space firm decides to ignore the Chinese announcement and, having solved the problem of manned space flight to the Moon, lands a ship at the lunar north pole.

The Chinese tell the alt.spacers to get themselves away from the Moon as they have not filled out the proper paperwork (which is long, complicated, and impossible for anyone the Chinese do not want on the Moon to comply with.) Fail to leave and a ground to ground missile will take your space vehicle out. Then you will die.

Sensation on Earth. A protest is filed at the UN. China, Russia, and France veto the protest in the Security Council.

The plucky alt.spacers have to pack up and leave. China owns the Moon defacto, though not dejure.


The problem Mark is overlooking is that there's no legitimate way China can do this without violating the very treaty that he claims they would be upholding.

Now that I've actually read a bit of the OST (test available here), I think my case is even firmer that such a move by China would be blatantly illegal under the OST. Here are a few relevant quotes from the treaty (which China has ratified):

Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall be free for exploration and use by all States without discrimination of any kind, on a basis of equality and in accordance with international law, and there shall be free access to all areas of celestial bodies.


This means that any nation trying to restrict the access of any other nation to outer space or celestial bodies such as the Moon would be in blatant violation of this treaty.

Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.


A Chinese-only military base on the Moon used to prevent other nations from being able to freely use and explore the Moon would be illegal under this treaty. Now, if they allowed the US, Europe, and other UN peacekeeper nations to also use that base, they might be able to get away with having it there, but do you really think that a base that has US, Canadian, British, and other western peacekeepers there is really going to allow them to use aggressive military force against unarmed civilians?

The Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used by all States Parties to the Treaty exclusively for peaceful purposes. The establishment of military bases, installations and fortifications, the testing of any type of weapons and the conduct of military maneuvers on celestial bodies shall be forbidden.


Ahem?

Anyhow, it's quite obvious that Mark's scenario would be blatantly illegal under the very treaty it is trying to protect.

"But so what?" Mark will probably say. "Isn't China an "Evil Communist Dictatorship" (TM)? "Are you really naive enough to trust a dictator"? "Haven't you learned anything from [insert favorite false-historical-analogy here]?!?"

Jon ends this section with a very oft repeated line that people have used over the years when they doubt the bad intentions of tyrannies. I think that the history of the current government in China should give one pause before ridiculing the idea that it might break treaties when convenient.

In any case, Jon's citing of the Outer Space Treaty does not address the scenario. The Outer Space Treaty applies to national states, not to private entities. The Chinese would not, under the treaty, be able to restrict access to the Moon by--say--a NASA expedition. But the treaty is silent about private entities. So, the Chinese giving the boot to Lunacorp (or pick your favorite name) may be aggressive and bad, but it would not be illegal under the Outer Space Treaty

Jon continues:
So, realizing that there is no legitimate and legal way China can block others from using the Moon, let's talk about if they try to do so by main force. So, somehow China manages to miraculously create a huge base on the Lunar South Pole with a bunch of missles, both ground-to-ground and anti-spacecraft, before NASA or any private entity can get there (cause those Evil Com-yoo-nists are so much smarter, competent, and wise than us poor helpless Capitalists, dontyaknow). Plucky alt.spacer company Harriman Industries with it's reusable translunar tugs and landers shows up in orbit around the Moon. Chinese officer contacts them and gives some BS about how China is enforcing the OST to prevent any Evil Capitalist Running-Dogs from exploiting and raping our Precious Bodily Fl....erm....Nearest Celestial Neighbor.

What is the poor alt.spacer to do? Doesn't China hold all the cards on the Moon?

No. Not by a long shot.

In such a situation, I imagine that Harriman Industries would contact the Chinese government, with something along the following lines:

From: Harriman Industries, Inc.
To: Chinese Embassy

To whom it may concern,
We are delighted to hear that you have taken on such an honorable and noble task as enforcing Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies. What a noble document indeed! We at Harriman Industries understand the importance of guaranteeing space to the free use of all nations, and the importance of non-interference with the property of other nations. In recent years nations such as your own, that of the United States, and others have put literally billions of dollars into satellites and other economically valuable entities in space. Without the concept of non-interference, what would the world be like?

You have such lovely satellites, it sure would be tragic if something were to happen to them...

Anyhow, we will be landing at the coordinates given to the UN under auspices of the treaty, and will be setting up a base to aid in the exploration and utilization of local resources. We look forward to peaceful cooperation in the future with you and your nation.

Sincerely, your friends in the peaceful development of space,

D. Harriman


What Mark completely overlooked in his shallowly-reasoned scenario is that even if China has a toehold on the Moon, it still has most of its valuable economic assets either in orbit around the Earth, or on Earth itself. The very laws that China would have to break in order to use force to prevent others from accessing the Moon are the very laws that China relies on to protect its economic assets in space. Is it really dumb enough to try setting a precidence that allows other nations to interfere with its property at will? At that point, they have to start asking themselves. Is preventing others from accessing the moon really worth losing all of my Earth orbital assets?

Speaking of military tactics and strategy, I wonder if Mark has ever read Sun Tzu:

The highest realization of warfare is to attack the enemy's plans; next is to attack their alliances; next to attack their army; and the lowest to attack their fortified cities.

For this reason attaining one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the pinnacle of excellence. [Defeating] the enemy's army without fighting is the true pinnacle of excellence.

That's an interesting scenario, an alt.space company proposing to wage war against the largest nation state on Earth. Let us suppose that a private company actually decides to threaten China's space assets. China would be quite within its rights to call that piracy and terrorism, proving its point that such a company should not be allowed to operate on the Moon or even exist. It would demand that whatever country that company was incorporated in should seize it's assets and arrest it's corporate officers. If that country failed to do so, China's position would be that said country would be aiding and abetting piracy and terrorism and that China would therefore be free to act accordingly.

As for Sun Tzu, let me assure Jon and all that I have read the book. Believe me, despite what Jon and others have said, the establishment of a Chinese base on the Moon would be a classic Sun Tzu tactic. Can anyone imagine any sane person running a private company proposing to engage in a military confrontation without the support of another nation state with the military power to prevail? I think not. China would thus be able to, in effect, own the Moon without fighting.

Addendum: Robot Guy contributes to the debate.

Addendum 2: Rand actually "clarifies" his statement about me.
It is possible to make false statements without lying--all it requires is a belief (no matter how mistaken, or deluded) that the statement is true. So, since I haven't called him a "liar," I rationally felt no need to "prove" that he was one.

Hmm. At the risk of causing yet another explosion, I would venture to guess that he is calling me a fool instead of a liar. Except that he goes on to say:
Mark has been too busy making up things that I supposedly write to pay attention to things that I actually do write.

"Making things up." Sounds like I'm still a liar.


 
Distributing forbidden books, like the Bible, will now get you three years of hard time in China. The Chinese are also cracking down on web sites that dare to post forbidden content.


 
Visiting Fort Donelson.


 
Venus Express has launched and is now on its way.


Tuesday, November 08, 2005
 
How to Budget Spending for the Vision for Space Exploration.


Monday, November 07, 2005
 
Alan Boyle relates how the race to start sub orbital barnstorming is already generating losers before there is a winner.


 
Looks like the Chinese take a dim view of lunar land fraud.


 
Another rather foolish complaint is that NASA has somehow not changed its evil, anticommercial ways. This story would seem to contradict all of that.


 
One of the more foolish criticisms of NASA's return to the Moon plan is that it is "not commercial" and that it only consists of deploying a handfull of government employees on the Moon. Taylor Dinerman suggests that this is simply not the case.


 
Dwayne Day down plays or tries to the idea of a Chinese threat in space. His analysis, based on what was said at a recent conference, falls down with the following:
A military officer in the audience suggested that how one interprets the Chinese space program depends upon whether or not that person views China as a threat. Although several speakers agreed that this is true, they also added that it is not a useful way to look at the situation. For starters, it is overly simplistic and not a falsifiable thesis—if China is a threat, then what would it take to “prove” that the country is not a threat? Such a limited definition also prevents the United States from taking advantage of opportunities that may appear. One of the speakers noted that China is a major trading partner and a major purchaser of American Treasury bonds. Clearly, if China is a threat, it does not prevent trading with them or letting them finance our spending. A different speaker pointed out that Russia currently has missiles pointed at the United States and frequently does things that the United States does not like, and yet Russia is a full-fledged partner in the International Space Station. So there is no inherent reason why China must be treated differently.

There was similar rhetoric about the Soviet Union during the Cold War and indeed about Nazi Germany in the 1930s. The fact is that China is conducting a massive military build up that seems to be designed to project its power world wide. That build up has a space component. Pretending that it's not happening or that it doesn't matter because China is a "major trading partner" seems to this analyst to be foolishly inprudent. China's policy is directed toward challenging the status of the United States as the world's sole super power and, eventually, supplanting it. It's space program is part of that policy as it is designed to enhance China's economic, military, and political power.

Addendum: Rand Simberg, of course, takes the stance of, "Remain calm. All is well." The Chinese say that there is no space race. Do not believe what your lying eyes tell you.

Addendum 2: CNA's expert on China, Dean Cheng, has a better take on the implications of the Chinese space program than would be suggested by Dwayne's story. Click on LISTEN for the NPR story.

Addendum 3: Jon Goff puts in his two cents.
This fearmongering seems so unrealistic, nutty, paranoid, and tin-foil-hattish, that I barely know where to start.

Remain calm. All is well.

Jon has some points that are somewhat less turgidly worded. There's a lot of stuff about fences and how they are impracticle which does very little but to demonstrate a certain ignorence of military tactics.

Allow me to present a scenario. The United States follows the suggestions of Jon, Rand, and others and stops the NASA return to the Moon. About 2020 the Chinese land a manned expedition and declares that they will now, under the authority of the UN, serve as stewards of the moon and its resources to make certain that certain entities do not "exploit them" and deny them to the peoples of the world, the common heritage of whom they are.

The Chinese build up a small base at the lunar south pole. However, let us say that a plucky alt.space firm decides to ignore the Chinese announcement and, having solved the problem of manned space flight to the Moon, lands a ship at the lunar north pole.

The Chinese tell the alt.spacers to get themselves away from the Moon as they have not filled out the proper paperwork (which is long, complicated, and impossible for anyone the Chinese do not want on the Moon to comply with.) Fail to leave and a ground to ground missile will take your space vehicle out. Then you will die.

Sensation on Earth. A protest is filed at the UN. China, Russia, and France veto the protest in the Security Council.

The plucky alt.spacers have to pack up and leave. China owns the Moon defacto, though not dejure.

Addendum 4: Rand Simberg thinks that the idea that the Chinese might behave badly in space is--well--delusional. He doesn't say why, which tells me quite a bit.


Sunday, November 06, 2005
 
My favorite Victorian adventurer and all around cad, Harry Flashman, is back. And about time too.


 
I've always enjoyed jokes about the cheese eating surrender monkeys, but this is absurd. The reaction of the French government to an Islamic revolt appears to be to blather, "Remain calm. All is well." The growing and alarming news about the Paris Riots, which seem to be spreading throught France, bely that.


Friday, November 04, 2005
 
Andy McCarthy summons up the unquiet ghost of Terri Schiavo and discusses how her rights were violated when she was put to death by slow starvation.


 
Meanwhile the effort to keep the space shuttle fleet aloft until 2010 seems to be draining money away from NASA's own return to the Moon effort. I think it may be time to cut the gordian knot, end the shuttle now, and accelerate the development of the CEV and all the rest. Try to find ways to complete the space station using expendibles. Indeed, that effort might be another commercial market for folks like SpaceX.


 
A Chinese newspaper is reporting that the Chinese manned mission to the Moon is now a go.
"China will make a manned moon landing at a proper time, around 2017," leading scientist Ouyang Ziyuan was quoted by the Southern Metropolis News as saying.

The project also includes setting up a moon-based astronomical telescope, measuring the thickness of the moon's soil and the amount of helium-3 on the moon -- an element some researchers say is a perfect, non-polluting fuel source.

Some scientists believe there is enough helium-3 on the moon to power the world for thousands of years.

"We will provide the most reliable report on helium-3 to mankind," Ouyang said.

The gentle reader will notice that the date is one year before the planned date of the American return to the Moon. Could it be that the new space race is now officially on?


Thursday, November 03, 2005
 
John Goff has his own response to my post below which deserves its own, separate analysis.
Our favorite cranky curmudgeon, Mark Whittington decided to do a little trolling the other day.

Cranky? Trolling? I'm really a lovable curmudgeon, as all who really know me can attest, but we'll go on.
Human civilization by any reasonable definition of the term is not going to be spread beyond earth by this program. At most a few dozen civil servants are going to go camp out on the moon for a few months at a time. The techniques and technologies that are truly necessary to do what Mark says he wants to see (spreading human civilization beyond the Earth) are being intentionally ignored by the current ESAS architecture. The companies that had contracts developing these technologies have for the most part had their contracts canceled explicitly since they are developing techniques that would make those HLVs that NASA has such a fetish for unnecessary.

There's a couple of fallacies here. First, that the NASA return to the Moon is the sole and entire effort to spread human civilization beyond the Earth. To repeat myself, opposing the ESAS on this basis is sort of like opposing Lewis and Clark on a similar basis. Second, Jon seems to suggest in this paragraph that only NASA can finance all of the technology necessary to take humankind to the stars. This would come as a surprise to folks like Burt Rutan and Sir Richard Branson.
But he's right, NASA isn't around to give us all a vacation in space. It isn't here for our entertainment. What it should be here for (if it should be here at all) is to help promote the commercial development of space. That is the only way that "Western Civilization" is going to spread beyond the Earth. It isn't going to happen on ultra-expensive, low-flight-rate, government run and operated vehicles. It will only happen when commercial companies are routinely traveling about inside cislunar space, and some companies are making money doing things on the lunar surface, in orbit, and beyond.

The first two sentences are correct. The rest is wrong. Commercial development, while it can be facilitated by government space, is only (a) one aspect of government space (there are national security and science aspects as well) and (b) is best left to commercial entities. NASA should be commercial friendly, and it has become much more so than it has been, but it should not be seen as a conduit for corporate welfare for the alt.space crowd.
It's interesting how a fun little jest about us at MSS probably being able to land a CNN crew on the Moon before NASA gets back there has now been hyped up to a "boast". As though any serious person would have taken that comment to be a serious promise of what we think MSS will be doing fifteen years from now. We do intend to do lunar landers at some point if we can figure out the suborbital RLV first (since a lunar lander is really not too much more sophisticated than a VTVL suborbital RLV), but when or if that actually happens is dependent on how well this first vehicle goes, what we can do with the various intermediate markets between now and then, etc.

I would hate to be a potential investor in Jon's company, finding out that a proposal, albeit one that was far fetched, was just a "fun little jest." One would be forgiven for wondering what else is just a joke.
In case Mark couldn't tell, those insults were meant as what is sometimes called "humor". They weren't intended as substantiative arguments, or a replacement thereof. And more importantly, I wasn't so much insulting those who haven't drunk the alt.space koolaid as those who had drunk the NASA koolaid.

I didn't think it was all that funny. But then I suppose it is all a matter of perspective. And I certainly wasn't making a joke about the kool aid.
Of course most people won't be traveling to space, even if it becomes no more difficult than traveling to Europe. Most people on this planet haven't and won't leave their nation of origin. Most just don't want to. However for those subset of people that do want to leave Earth and visit or settle places out in space, it would be nice if it were even an option. I would be overjoyed with NASA if they even were able to help as small a fraction of the US population get to the moon as the fraction of Europeans who had been to America by the end of the 17th or 18th century. But as I keep pointing out, this architecture won't even lead to that much.

Is it NASA's job to do all of that? I think not. Help facilitate, to be sure, but not to do it.
How? Waving hands doth not make it so. How exactly will ESAS help "open the high frontier" so a "lot of people" can "take advantage of the opportunity"? Why should I care if they do, if those "some people alive today" end up being just another couple dozen NASA employees? Why is that worth celebrating at all? If the current space policy actually lead to even say 10,000 people settling cislunar space over the next 20 years, it would be awesome. But the reality is that if ESAS leads to even a dozen people settling on the moon by 2025, I'd be amazed.

Again Jon repeats the fallacy that ESAS forecloses space settlement just because in and of itself it would consist of a series of expeditions involving a few dozen people. Just like Lewis and Clark.
The basic exploration actually needed as a precursor to settlement only has to be expensive if one is trying to get the program to double as a space-nerd welfare scheme. More importantly, much of the exploration and development that is most needed to make lunar settlements and cislunar economies a reality are being actively ignored by NASA at the moment, and will be further ignored as the costs of the Shaft, the Continual Employment Vehicle, and the *ahem* "Longfellow" start overrunning their budgets.

I suppose that's why there exists the Centennial Challenge and the program to offload resupply of the ISS to the private sector. Funny Jon has yet to mention that.
The reality is that NASA is now cutting funding to research being done on anything related to on-orbit assembly, zero-g cryogen storage and transfer, and anything else that might make it unnecessary to employ thousands of ATK and BLoMart employees in several states to build and launch the Longfellow. They care more about pandering to special interests and padding the pockets of connected companies than they do about helping mature the technologies needed for civilization to "spread beyond Earth". Now, this isn't 100% fair. Brant Sponberg, and his team with Innovative Partnerships are fighting the good fight to try and get at least some crumbs for developing these techologies. I really aplaud Brant and his team for what they're doing. It should be obvious however where NASA's and Congress's real priorities lie. While Brant is struggling to get authorization (and money) to offer prizes more than a piddling $250k for helping foster some of these critical technologies, NASA is planning on spending $20-25B over the next several years in developing their own launchers.

It's call priorities. NASA's budget could be ten times the amount it is now and not everything desirable would get funded. That's how it is in the real world most of us live in. Jon also seems to think that all we have to do is cancel the return to the Moon and money would flow like rivers to some of those interesting technology development programs. He reminds me of some of the planetary science folks who claimed that all we had to do was cancel manned space flight and there would be plenty of money for robotic space missions. Oddly enough, it didn't happen then. Cancel the return to the Moon, and it wouldn't happen now. There are plenty of things that have nothing to do with space that the politicians would be pleased to spend the money on.
It'll be great if NASA gets authorization to offer larger prizes, and especially if they can get a few million to back the Lunar Lander Analog prize for example. I would applaud that as an excellent use of NASA money. That still doesn't mean that I'll support or condone wasting billions on pork just because NASA did the right thing with a few million.

Now Jon mentions the Centennial Prizes, if not by name.
Anyhow, barring a sea-change at NASA, it looks like several exploration/settlement technical milestones are going to be done entirely (or almost entirely) by those darn unrealistic alt.space companies:

* The first succesful transfer of cryogenic propellants on orbit

* The first reusable lunar transfer vehicle

* The first LEO propellant depot

* The first reusable lunar lander

* The first production level lunar ISRU propellant plant

* The first permanent off-world settlement

* The first offworld settlement with more than 20 people

* The first private individual (as opposed to civil servant) on another world

* The first child born and raised off of earth

* The first lunar platinum extraction facility

* The first spacesuit that can survive use on the moon for more than a few weeks at a time without serious overhauls


And very possibly:

* The next person on the surface of the moon

* The next object of any sort on the surface of the moon


And my personal favorites:

* The first CNN crew on the surface of the moon

* The first me on the surface of the moon

Oh, I hope so. But I've seen almost thirty years of similar promises, only to see them collapse in bankruptcy. Also, if Jon really thinks these things will happen, why is he all in a twist over NASA's program? It seems to me that if the private sector can do all of those things, then it doesn't matter what NASA does. It sort of undercuts Jon's implication that only NASA can facilitate all of those things.
Well, first off Mark is wrong. Orbital Sciences was originally privately funded when they developed their Pegasus. They've boosted many billion ants worth into orbit. There's also that Falcon I sitting on the pad out in Kwajelein that's about to put paid to his silly cooment. He is right though that with how expensive NASA does things, the cost/benefit ratio is way too high to justify doing anything on the moon (not even sending government employees there). We'll just have to change that. Making technology more capable and less expensive is something that the private sector (as opposed to the public sector) is quite good at.

Of course, by that definition, Boeing and Lockmart are private companies too. The sad fact is that Orbital Sciences has been living off government contracts and not off of the private market.

I also look forward to congratulating Elon Musk, just as I did Burt Rutan last year in the pages of USA Today. When Falcon 1 flies, then of course my "silly cooment" will no longer be operative and I will be the person most pleased that it will be so.
Sure, you probably won't see any near-term private company that tries to sell a business plan that involves going directly to the moon and setting up a colony there. Or if you do, they won't get funded. What you will see is private companies incrementally developing the technologies, techniques, and markets needed to get there. You'll first see private orbital and suborbital flight over the next few years. Then you'll see the start of orbital tourism, private microgravity research (in private facilities), private on-orbit assembly and servicing. By the time the CEV is ready, you may well see private spacecraft flying on a semi-regular basis. And long before Longfellow is ready, you'll see private joy-rides around the moon, private tugs delivering on-orbit assembled satellites to GEO, and other similar ventures. You may even see a few tourist expeditions to the old Apollo landing sites before NASA astronauts ever tread again on the lunar surface.

I agree with this for the most part. Remember my Washington Dispatch piece from last year which describe people watching the coverage of the first return to the Moon from orbital space ships. The 100 million dollar Soyez jaunt around the Moon may have happened. But, unless something really unexpected develops, the first person to go back to the lunar surface will be a government employee.
Ah, the Red Scare. It's kind of amusing that on-orbit assembly is oh-so impossible for us Americans, and even the thought of a private US firm being able to put a CNN crew on the surface of the moon before NASA is heresy. However the Chinese make some small rumor about sending people to the moon, and it is a serious threat. Mark should note that Chinese government-run lunar program will probably take the same route that Russia was planning on taking: on-orbit assembly of modular spacecraft from smaller launch vehicles. Somehow in Mark's world those darned socialists are smarter than us American capitalists....funny that a self-avowed capitalist has so much more faith in government and central planning than he does in the market. It seems he has more faith in the power of communism than even the communists do. Most of them are smart enough to realize how much bullox communism is, and are trying to shed it in favor of some form of capitalism as fast as they can.

Well, not only am I somehow paranoid about the "Red Scare", but paradoxically, I'm also a communist. I wish Jon would make up his mind. The fact of the matter is that the Chinese are very serious about what they are doing and are not wasting time arguing about ideology.
Yeah, the Chinese may get there with a few dozen employees and setup a small base. They might even do so before private enterprise gets there. And when private companies get there, they'll land a couple miles over and setup their own facilities. As will another company, and another, and another. They probably won't mind having another trading partner out there. The important thing to remember is that due to the OST that China signed, they can't claim land there any more than we can. They can only exclude others from interfering with their stuff that they bring there. The moon has the surface area of Africa. Do you really think that a dozen Chinese guys are really going to be able to fence the whole thing off before private enterprise gets there?

Jon has a charming belief in the benevolence of fascist dictatorships. My suspicion is that if they are on the Moon first, the only "private companies" that will be permitted will be those that are wholely owned subsidiaries of the PLA. They won't have to do something as overt as claim the Moon as their own. They will claim that they are "protecting the resources of the Moon, which are the heritage of all mankind" from the evil capitalists who want to exploit them. And given the state of missile technology, yet they can fence off the Moon if they want to.
And private companies, Americans that they are, will also have guns. I'm not sure what Mark's point is.

I can just see "Lunacorp" or whatever going up against the Chinese. I'm sorry, but I would rather not have to fight a war in order to get back to the Moon. I want us there first, even if it is just a dozen government employees at first, to make sure that others will be able to follow.


 
Shenzhou 7 will orbit three men. Then things are going to pick up just a bit.


 
Captain Ed has a pretty good analysis of the mess the French find themselves in thanks to their appeasement of Islamic radicals. I predict that the Frogs will surrender and establish a pro Islamic government in--say--Vichy.


Wednesday, November 02, 2005
 
The echo chamber alt.spacer blubbering about NASA's plan to return to the Moon continues. This from over at Space Pragmatism.
Unlike many of my private space industry brothers, I don't think it is doomed to failure already. I think they could get to space, and with the right leadership (and I mean in the White House not in Griffin's seat) they could build colonies and launch Americans to Mars.

So far so good. But...
So why am I not jumping for joy and waving my arms. The problem is, it doesn't get me and my wife to space.

I'm not sure why that is the case, as I'll explain later.
Well, just the same for me. I want to go to space. I don't give a crap if you go to space. (I wouldn't mind the company, so come on up). But the best way to get me to space is to get everybody to space.

Well, I actually do care if you get into space, especially if you share my values about Western Civilization. The purpose of the space program is not to get me and mine a trip to Club Moon but to spread human civilization beyond the Earth. If I get to go, fine. If not, sad for me but it doesn't matter in the large scale scheme of things.

Jon Goff, who once famously boasted that his company would have a CNN crew to cover the NASA return to the Moon landing, has some more complaints:
It's kind of amusing hearing people defend the ESAS project saying that it will get America back on the moon. No, it won't get America back on the moon. It'll get a few employees of the US government back to the moon, but most Americans have never gone to the moon a first time, let alone talk about "going back" to the moon.

And that's the real problem with this architecture. It really does nothing to help hasten the day when Dan, or his wife, or I, or any other normal Joe for that matter, will have a chance to visit or live on the moon. If commercial lunar access becomes a reality, it will become so in spite of ESAS, not becuase of it.

Now, I don't mind having to use some of my own ingenuity to help develop commercial space. It's just a cryin' shame seeing billions of our money going each year to allowing some aging hipsters to live out their Star Trek fantasies by proxy all over again as NASA builds its "Continual Employment Vehicle". And the ironic thing is that these NASA-fanboys are often the same guys who whine about entitlements and social programs. They're all welfare-queens as far as I'm concerned.

If NASA should exist at all, it should not be to give rocket nerds their jollies at everyone else's expense. It should be actually helping promote the private space industry, for the benefit of all. Maybe they should be doing stuff more like what the old NACA used to do--research on useful topics, industry promotion, stuff like that. Not just channeling billions to bloated contractors for a program that only benefits a couple of space voyeurs.

Well, goodness, where does one start? Let's leave aside the insults against those of us who have not drunk the alt.space koolaid. Those really demonstrate the poverty of the libertarian anarchist argument.

The fact of the matter is, no matter what scenario one can imagine, most people alive on this planet will not travel into space, no more than most people in Europe in the 17th and 18th Century traveled to the Americas. Put that fantasy out of your mind.

A sound space policy--and I think that NASA's plan to return to the Moon is part of it--will open up the high frontier of space to a lot of people with the will and the ability to take advantage of the opportunity. It may not mean that you or I will be toasting the fiftieth Apollo Day at Tranquility Base. But it will mean that some people alive today might.

The reason why those evil big gummit employees need to go is that they will take care of the hard, exacting, and expensive task of exploration. Eventually there will be some kind of base, around which the next wave of space travelers, the entrepeneurs, will gather to form the first lunar settlement. The third wave will be the tourists, in my opinion.

Settling the Moon or any place else in space without a government presence is a fantasy. There is no incentive for all of those alt.space firms, which have not boosted so much as an ant into low Earth orbit, not to mention the Moon as of yet. The cost/benefit ratio is just too great to manage for a private firm at this time.

Abolish NASA, stop all public space exploration, and one might eventually see private space explorers reach the Moon. But in my opinion they are likely to find the Chinese there waiting to greet them with a no tresspassing sign. Then it will not matter how clever those future entrepeneurs are. The Chinese, socialists that they are, will have the guns.

Addendum: Dan Schrimpsher feels I have "blind sided" him. I assure one and all it was not deliberate. He provides a clarification in which he accuses me of being altrusitic.
And while I congratulate you on your altruism, I simply don't share it. You don't care if I get into space, you care if Americans in mass get into space. I would love that (if I was one of them). But you know what, I want to go to space. I am passionate about it. It is my greatest dream. And quite frankly I think you cheapen dreams in general to say my dream should be for western civilization and not personal. Real dreams only happen at the personal level. I bet all our space nut forefathers wanted, personally, to go to space. That is why they worked so hard to make it happen and why we are where we are today.

Of course I did not "cheapen" personal dreams, but I do need to suggest that expecting someone else to fullfill them, whether it is a government agency or some private business entity, is a little bit arrogant in my view. I suppose this comes from wearing the space policy hat for so long. If I were to argue that so much money should be spent on some project or that policies should be enacted to encourage private business so that I personally can fly in space, I should be accused of self absorption on a cosmic scale.

And I'm not being altruistic. I am thinking of the children and grand children when I suggest that our civilization will only survive and prosper if it expands beyond the Earth. If that includes me and mine, fine. If it happens too late for me and mine to take advantage of the opportunity, then too bad for us but not for humankind as a whole.

Addendum 2: Rand Sumberg misses the point while accusing me of doing the same. "Legitiment concerns" about about the architecture that NASA has chosen to return to the moon should only be taken seriously if there's an alternative offered. It's been some weeks since the announcement of that architecture and, in the midst of all the belly aching from the alt.space crowd, I have not seen one mention of a serious alternative.

And accusing me of NASA worship is pretty rich. I doubt that there are too many people at NASA, who might remember the Weekly Standard article published in July, 1999 entitled "Thirty Years of Ineptitude", who would agree. And I've called the NASA plan to return to the Moon inefficient and costly, as is charecteristic of any government program. It is, however, the only game in town.

Addendum 3: Robot Guy weighs in and commits a common fallacy that critics of NASA's plan to return to the Moon make.
The ESAS will not accomplish Mark's goal of spreading humanity to space. In the very best case scenario, it will send a handful of people to the moon, and will bring them back to earth.

Spreading human civilization is all very noble, but it simply is not going to happen as a result of sending a couple people up to the moon every few years and then returning them to earth a few days later. It will happen as a result of dozens, hundreds, thousands of people going up into space and not coming back.

What that means is not tiny capsules that can only bring four people at a time. That means the equivalent of ocean liners that transport hundreds or thousands of people at a time. In order for the VSE to mean anything in the long run, people other than NASA-vetted übermenchen will have to go. In other words, in order to meet Mark's goal of spreading human civilization, we have to get away from the space-is-expensive-and-only-governments-can-afford-it-and-only-a-select-few-can-go meme.

North America wasn't settled by those few rowboats carrying four people at a time, returning them to Europe after they had spent a week in North America. It was settled by hundreds of ships powered by steam or diesel fuel driving screw propellors, with hundreds of families huddled in the hold on every trip. And those people were not joyriding and expecting to return; often it required the entire life savings of those families to make a one-way trip.

It means a paradigm shift away from the Apollo-on-steroids version of space travel. Instead of tiny capsules perched atop massive rockets, boosting a handful of people into space at a time, supported by an army of tens of thousands of technicians and engineers, we have to find a way to send a large number of people using a much smaller team of enabling personnel on the ground. A new technology needs to be implemented to make space colonization a reality - and that new technology is a space elevator.

The fallacy is that an initial government sponsered expedition to the Moon will somehow prevent all of those hordes of settlers and adventurers from following. It's sort of like opposing the Lewis and Clark Expedition because "only a few government employees" get to go. Actually, exploration is a prerequisit for settlement. It was true in the American West. It is true now.

And I'm a big fan of space elevators. I would not, however, task NASA with doing them. Better to put in a a regime of tax breaks, loan guaruntees, and other incentives to facilitate private business doing the construction and operation of space elevators.

Just as the NASA return to the Moon plan is the equivilent of Lewis and Clark, space elevators are the eqvivilent of the transcontinental railroad. Both have their place in the great dream of spreading human civilization to the stars.


 
The racist attacks on Maryland Governor Michael Steele, who is running for the Senate, are coming not from the Klan but from liberal Democrats.
Black Democratic leaders in Maryland say that racially tinged attacks against Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele in his bid for the U.S. Senate are fair because he is a conservative Republican.
Such attacks against the first black man to win a statewide election in Maryland include pelting him with Oreo cookies during a campaign appearance, calling him an "Uncle Tom" and depicting him as a black-faced minstrel on a liberal Web log.
Operatives for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) also obtained a copy of his credit report -- the only Republican candidate so targeted.
But black Democrats say there is nothing wrong with "pointing out the obvious."

The Oreo cookie thing, for those who don't know, is a calumny made against black people who are said to be "black on the outside, but white on the inside." It's often made against young African Americans who try to be well spoken and interested in scholastics, the idea being that is "acting white." It is certainly made against African Americans who don't toe the liberal party line and who hold conservative beliefs. People doing this ought to be ashamed.


 
Hallowed Ground: Visiting Shiloh.