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?

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

Buy the following books wherever fine books are sold

Now Available for the Amazon Kindle

Contact Me

Return to the Moon Store
Children of Apollo Store
Health Words
Muse Voices
Top Secret Writers
Capitalist Review
Blasting News
Instapundit
Spudis Lunar Resources Blog
Big Hollywood
Marks Fine Books - Used and New
This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?
Thursday, December 29, 2005
 
They greenlight a movie about a couple of gay cowboys and next thing you know, a woman marries a dolphin.


 
The World War I Christmas Truce of 1914.


 
Visit Turin.


 
The folks at National Review Online have their predictions for 2006. My favrorite:
Aliens from Mars will invade the Earth. Using their giant spider-legged attack vehicles, the invaders will lay waste to human civilization. President Bush will be named to head a hastily assembled International Council of Nations. He will begin a last-ditch effort to counterattack by launching nuclear warheads at Mars on Saturn V rockets. Rep. Nancy Pelosi will immediately condemn his plan as "unnecessary and irrational." Peace activists will march outside the charred remains of the White House, mourning the tragic loss of innocent Martian life. Michael Moore will release a documentary alleging links between Bush and the Martians. Then all the Martians get sick and die. The End. (I know, what a lame ending, but I couldn't come up with anything better.)


Wednesday, December 28, 2005
 
Mossad agents weigh in about Spielberg's Munich. They are not happy.


 
Paul Martin, Prime Minister of Canada, is showing himself to be utterly clueless about the causes of violent crime.

Or else, he is rather cynically pulling the Anti-American card in a desperate attempt to stay in office.


 
NASA's gigantic ESAS Document is now available for downloading and viewing. A cursory glance causes me to make the following evaluation:

Pro: The plan follows an incremental process that evolves fairly rapidly from a series of sortie missions to a permanent lunar base.

There is lots of consideration for local resource utilization (i.e. LUNOX, water from the poles.

Con: The base seems to stop at four people in a "steady state" phase that lasts at least until 2030.

There seems to be no consideration for commercial participation, at least in the documents I've read so far.

I predict that these last two will confirm in the minds of many people the idea that NASA is not serious about enabling the large scale colonization of the Moon. However, I think that these problems can be fixed rather easily. Indeed one (commercial participation) leads to the other (expansion). The good Dr. Griffin seems to agree, at least implicitly, if belatedly.

I conclude that there needs to be consideration sooner rather than later on how the commercial sector can be brought in as an active participant in the lunar effort. That means bringing down the cost and expanding the scale of transporting people and things to and from the Moon. Also, expanding the capacity of the lunar base to support more people. More power, more oxygen, more water. And, the one thing I see lacking, a lunar greenhouse.


Tuesday, December 27, 2005
 
When the ancient Egyptians had to erase the memory of one of their disgraced Pharoahs, they had to topple his monuments and chisel out his heiroglyphs. When the Soviets wanted to make someone an unperson (after shooting him) they had to airbrush out his photos from official records. But now, the city fathers of Graz, the home town of one Arnold Schwarzenegger, were able to obliterate their former favorite son with a few key strokes.


 
Carnival of Tomorrow: Christmas Edition is now up.


 
Apparently RedOrbit has named this place Red Hot Blog of the Day.


 
How private companies are paving the way to the high frontier of space. Irony of ironies, the piece is in Pravda.


 
Steven Spielberg actually thinks that his new film, Munich, could be an instrument for reconcilliation of Israelis and Palestinians. A gentleman named Mohammed Daoud begs to disagree.

Who is Mohammed Daoud? He planned the operation that killed the Israeli athletes.

There is a lesson hidden in this irony.


 
J. K. Rowling is preparing to write the final adventure of Harry Potter.

Of course, I'm reminded of what happened when Arthur Conan Doyle tried to end the Sherlock Holmes series by killing him off in The Final Problem. He was harassed so much whenever he ventured onto the streets of London about when he would write a new Holmes story that he was finally forced to do so. It is not my impression that Potter fans are as respectful of an author's wishes as Holmes fans were over a hundred years ago. I somehow think that when the "last" Harry Potter comes out in a year or so, it won't really be the last.


 
Paul Spudis makes the case for returning to the Moon.
The moon is important for three reasons: science, inspiration and resources. All three are directly served by the new lunar return architecture. This program has the potential to make significant contributions to our national economy and welfare.

Indeed.


Monday, December 26, 2005
 
I shall be on the Space Show this Wendsday, December 28th, between 10 and 11:30 PM Eastern Time discussing things space with David Livingston.

Listeners can talk to me or the host using toll free 1 (866) 687-7223, by sending e-mail during the program using dmlivings@yahoo.com, drspace@thespaceshow.com, thespaceshow@gmail.com or chatting on AOL/ICQ/CompuServe Chat using the screen name "spaceshowchat."

The Space Show is now podcasting effective May 3, 2005. Subscribe your pod casters to http://www.gigadial.net/public/station/11253/rss.xml.

The show will be rebroadcast on New Years Day between 3PM and 4:30PM Eastern.


Sunday, December 25, 2005
 
On Christmas Night, 1776, George Washington and what was left of the Continental Army crossed the Delaware River and the following day destroyed a garrison of three Hessian mercenary regimnents at the Battle of Trenton, thus bouying what was up until then a faltering war for American indepedence. Some folks reenacted the crossing this Christmas.


Saturday, December 24, 2005
 
Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, happy Holidays to one and all, especially those who must spend the season far from home, facing peril so that the rest of us will not have to.


Friday, December 23, 2005
 
Captain Ed goes to see Spielberg's Munich to confirm the awefull truth, that it is a tissue of lies. Journalist Aaron Klein, on the other hand, has just published a far more accurate account.


Thursday, December 22, 2005
 
Once, a long time ago, a troubled world got the perfect Christmas present: The Flight of Apollo 8.


 
300, Frank Miller's epic about the Battle of Thermopylae, now has an offical website.


 
Captain Ed heaps disdain on Spielberg's Munich. Virtually everyone who has seen this flick thinks it's a love letter to the terrorists. Spielberg seems to have blown the credibility he got for Schindlers List.


 
Looks like we get to fight over the Patriot Act in about month. Oh joy of joys.


 
While the Senate was covering itself in ignominy by once again allowing a minority to block drilling in ANWR and by punting full consideration of the Patriot Act to the middle of an election year, it actually did something useful. It passed the NASA Authorization Act.

The Act does two important things. First, it gives Congresses full stamp of approval on the Vision for Space Exploration. It is now the official policy of the United States to go back to the Moon and then beyond. That makes it just a bit harder for a future Congress or President to cancel the program.

Second, the Act fully authorizes the Centennial Challenges program. Now, up to ten million dollars can be spent on each technology competition without prior approval of the Congress. This has profound implications for the way NASA does business. By using just a little bit of seed money, NASA can provide incentives to private groups to create technological innovation that will help open the High Frontier.

Interesting times lay ahead.


Wednesday, December 21, 2005
 
Mrs. Curmudgeon offers some advice to any gentleman who finds himself in a dysfunctional relationship.


 
The Democrats, with the help of a couple of RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) have voted to uphold a filibuster that blocks passage of a Defense Authorization Bill which funds our armed forces in time of war. The excuse is to block drilling for oil at ANWR, a desolate tundra in the north of Alaska. Earlier, the Dems voted to continue another filibuster to block the Patriot Act, a collection of sensible law enforcement reforms that make it easier to locate and capture terrorists, thus preventing another attack like 9/11. The remarkable news that the President has authorized wire taps of suspected terrorists has got the Dems in a state of apoplexy, with some hinting at impeachment.

I understand the political motivations surrounding this. The Dems will do anything to get at the Great Satan in the Oval Office.

But imagine if you are Osama bin Laden hiding in his cave or Zargawi, hiding wherever he's hiding. Imagine what you must be thinking, of the joy in your heart at the idea that the Infidels seem to be falling apart.

Then ask yourself this question. When does irresponsible politics become something else? When does it become treason?


Tuesday, December 20, 2005
 
Another review of Spielberg's Munich, that suggests that the director of Schindlers List blew it big time when it came to doing a film about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


 
Karl Rove--super genius.


 
One of the slams against the Chinese space program is the suggestion that it is too government centric. By that, the critics mean that without a commercial component, the Chinese space effort is doomed either to failure or to be limited in scope. However, it seems that the Chinese recognize the value of commercial participation in space after all.


 
The DVD of the best SF film of the year 2005 is now out:

As are ten episodes of the best SF TV show on the air:


 
Anthony Dick profiles Dr. Jacques Chaoulli, healer and rebel against Canada's Stalinist health care system. Increadibly, despite the demonstrable horrors that Canada's government run health care bureaucracy has inflicted on patients, Dr. Chaoulli remains very much a voice in the wilderness.


 
The film and television business, as it currently is, will shortly change in ways that frightened Hollywood executives cannot possibly imagine.
Technology is democratizing entertainment by empowering audiences and artists. Imagine this: Audiences will watch their favorite shows when they want, how they want, and at any hour, through any visual device -- I-Pods, laptops, cell phones, even satellite televisions in cars.

CSI at 11 a.m. in a taxi-cab? Fine. Good Morning America on the treadmill at midnight? Not a problem. As a result, live events -- such as sporting events, concerts, and news -- will proliferate. Traditional local news stations? Gone. So are 30-second commercials.

Or go even further. Movie theaters will become agile, free-wheeling art houses that show King Kong on one screen, E.T. on another, an independent documentary on yet another, while beaming in a live performance of a U2 concert for a private party -- all on the same night, all at the same time. For a nominal fee, blockbuster opening nights will be held at churches and synagogues, community centers and trade shows, anywhere an audience gathers. Former network show-runners with devoted fans, such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon, will charge subscribers a small fee for original programming. Three million subscribers, each paying $1.99 per show. You add it up.

Small film industries will pop up in Boise, Idaho and Kansas City, Missouri. Millions of loyal fans will receive the latest episode of their favorite soap opera via email just in time for their lunch breaks. Businesses and non-profits, universities and government agencies will launch their own television networks -- all of which will benefit consumers and “creatives.”

I can hardly wait.


 
I will make an early prediction. If the Dems start to seriously push to impeach President Bush because of disagreements over national security, they will have crafted for themselves the biggest political debacle in history.

Dick Morris has more on how the Dems are cutting their own throats.
ANYONE who wonders whether the Democratic Party in general and Sen. Hillary Clinton in particular are really tough on terror — or are just posing for the cameras — needs to look at the vote by the entire Democratic Senate delegation (excepting only Nebraska's Ben Nelson and South Dakota's Tim Johnson) to prevent closure of their filibuster against the Patriot Act extension.

While the legislation President Bush proposed extends the entire act, certain key provisions are set to expire at year's end. (The rest of the act is good until September 2007.) By voting to allow these provisions to lapse, the Democrats have shown a total disregard for national security.


Monday, December 19, 2005
 
A visit to historic Bruges.


 
Looks like the flight of the Falcon 1 is delayed again, this time due to structural problems in the first stage.


 
Saturnalia: The Reason We Celebrate Christmas in December.


 
Carnival of Tomorrow: The King Kong Edition.


 
A "planet" named Buffy?


 
Eric Hedman discusses space spending, why and how much.


 
Dwayne Day and Jeff Foust discuss some of the background of the Vision for Space Exploration, which included secret studies done in the 1990s when such things were very politically incorrect.


Sunday, December 18, 2005
 
A UCLA political scientist did a study of the media and came to a shocking conclusion.

The media is liberally biased.


Saturday, December 17, 2005
 
Is Hillary Clinton about to blow what some once thought was an inevitable march to the White House?


 
Andrea Peyser does not like Spielberg's Munich at all.
Here lies the film's biggest flaw — and its greatest danger. Munich reeks of moral relativism. It puts the terrorists and those who respond to terror on even moral footing. It suggests that Israel must pay, one way or another, for vengeance.

If true, this is very sad. Another example of Hollywood not getting it.


Friday, December 16, 2005
 
Happy Birthday, Sir Arthur C. Clarke.


 
History and Sights for Your Visit to Geneva.


 
Mark Trulson points to this piece about how Christmas hurts the environment. It is not, by the way, a satirical piece from The Onion.


 
My old Deaniac buddy, Rich Kolker, has opened up a file in Wiki so that he and his fellow Deaniacs can compose an insiders account of that magical mystery tour known as the 2004 Dean Campaign. It's barely started now, but in the future it should be very entertaining.


 
The Dish: Reaching for the stars from down under.


 
Looks like the Democrats in the Senate have actually blocked renewal of the Patriot Act. That means, barring some last minute occurance, that we shall be naked onto our enemies again in the new year. Increadible.

Here are the provisions scheduled to expire.

Addendum: Here's the rollcall. Note that Frist switched his vote to No as a parlimentary means to keep the issue alive in case some of the other Senators voting No come to their senses.


 
Ramesh Ponnuru agrees with me, in part, on the legacy of William Proxmire, but with an added caveat.
The late senator gets too much credit from conservatives for having been tough on spending (which he wasn't, particularly)--and not enough for having been a pro-lifer (back when pro-lifers were a serious force in the Democratic party).

Of course, as I am more on the pro choice side, that does not lend credit to the late Senator in my eyes.


 
Victor Davis Hanson casts his scholarly eye on the situation in Iraq and concludes that we're winning and are going to win, despite the liberal Copperheads preaching defeat.


Thursday, December 15, 2005
 
The Motley Fools examine the implications of the new Space Race.


 
Flashman on the March by George McDonald Fraser.


 
William Proxmire, former Senator from Wisconson, is dead. If there is a just God, then he is answering for a lot as he is weighed in the balance. He was a remorseless, rentless foe of publically funded space exploration and, perhaps more than any other person who was in public life in the 20th Century, is responsible for the sad state of the American space program has been these past thirty years. He fought the Apollo program with the zeal that bordered on fanatical. His efforts to stop spending on post Apollo space projects is credited by this analyst with crippling those efforts. We are only now just beginning to recover.

Proxmire presented himself as an an opponent of "wasteful spending", which oddly enough did not include spending dear to his constituents in Wisconson, like dairy price subsidies. His behavior was most henious when dealing with science grants for the National Science Foundation. He and his staff would choose grants whose descriptions sounded absurd, but was not necessarily so, and then drag scientists before his committee to demand why they were "wasting" public money. In grilling happless researchers, many of whom were unused to communicating with laymen, not to mention hostile politicians, Proxmire would often use the tactics pioneered by his predeccessor, Joe McCarthy. Indeed, Proxmire was in many ways to government waste (a real problem) as the Tailgunner was to communism (a real evil.) Proxmire cared less about combating real waste than in promoting William Proxmire, even if it meant persecuting innocent people.

For example, one winner of the "Golden Fleece Award", a grandstanding stunt Proxmire used to highlight his own self appointed role as a fighter against "government waste", a scientist named Ronald Hutchinson, was compelled to sue Proxmire for defamation. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court. Proxmire was forced to pubically apologize, promise not to engage in similer activities, and pay Hutchinson 25 thousand dollars. More on the suit here.

A number of other Golden Fleece Awards went to projects that later provided important breakthroughs, like the Aspen Movie Map, a revolutionary hyper media system developed by MIT in the late 1970s. Proxmire frequently had to apologize to recepients of his Golden Fleece Awards.

Proxmire was featured in at least two science fiction stories, under a different name in Death and the Senator by Arthur C. Clarke and under his own name in The Return of William Proxmire (in which he appears with the late, great Robert Heinlein) by Larry Niven. His name has become a verb, to proxmire, meaning to unfairly oppose science and space exploration for political reasons.

It may seem a little extreme to suggest that the world would have been better off had Proxmire never lived, but it is irrefutable that it would have been a better place had he not been a Senator.

Proxmire died today from complications of advanced alzheimers. Would it not be a bitter irony (though I do not know if this is the case) if some science project that he suppressed in the 70s or 80s might have led to a treatment for that illness, thus perhaps sparing him that most horrible of endings? Something for everyone to think of.


Wednesday, December 14, 2005
 
More pronouncements from China about a man to the Moon program.


 
World renowned paleontologist Robert T. Bakker maintains that a giant ape like King Kong is--well--far fetched.

Is there anyone, renowed paleontologist or not, who does not know that?

Addendum: Rand Simberg agrees.

Addendum 2: Also racist?


Tuesday, December 13, 2005
 
Speaking of gay cowboys, the problem with Brokeback Mountain is not in its gay characters and themes, but rather that it is apparently a western without a lot of gun fire. Had I been in charge of development, I would have changed the story to have the principles be wild west bandits. Then we could shoe horn in some train robberies, bank robberies, confrontations in the middle of the street, and chase scenes with the posse. It could all end up with a final conflagration in some South American hell hole--say Bolivia.

Ah, you find the depictions of gay sex a little gross, do you? Well, you're an unenlightened bigot, but since the business of film is to sell as many tickets as possible, I have a solution. Make the two principles lesbians and cast Sharon Stone and Angelina Jolie in the roles. The tickets that would be bought by fans of Howard Stern alone would make the film the most successful western in history.


 
Apparently Prince Caspian, the sequel to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (a great film, by the way, even if there are no gay cowboys in it) is all but greenlit. And a good thing too.


 
One of my major problems with how the Soviet Empire fell is that there were never any trials of former communist leaders for the various crimes against humanity that they commited. The Poles, at least, seem ready to address that situation.


 
Michael Mealling has an account of the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) initiative NASA gave to potential vendors. Some very interesting points.
The briefing opened with meta-comments from Neil Woodward about NASA HQ's point of view. He appeared to be trying to be as adament as possible that "The primary way we want to do ISS resuply is commercial". Using the CEV as ISS resupply is a risk mitigation step. Its development process has internal milestones that require a determination about whether COTS can replace it. If so then they dialback their internal effort as industry takes over. At Headquarters there is a "perfect storm" for support for COTS for various reasons. Everyone is saying "if it was there, we would use it. And therefore we want to help develop it." "Its difficult for us to think differently. But we have to because the old ways don't work anymore." Many interpreted much of that as a way of saying that if the industry steps up for COTS that they might consider COTS for all CEV crew deliveries, not just ISS. That could mean that if the industry does its job, the Stick might never go beyond the prototype stage.

This would tend to address the major gripe a lot of people have against ESAS, that it is insufficiently commercial. Of course, the commercial sector has to step up.

Michael has an interesting conclusion:
As you can imagine there was a lot of skepticism in the room. NASA is going to have to prove itself here and that's going to be hard for them to do. But its also going to be hard for the industry to prove itself too. Both sides need to have a little faith.

Indeed.


Monday, December 12, 2005
 
Looks like it's up the tall ladder and down the short rope for Tookie Williams, mass murderer and domestic terrorist chieftain. And a good thing too.


Sunday, December 11, 2005
 
Gregory Benford and Michael Rose have a new essay out, available for downloading from Amazon:


Saturday, December 10, 2005
 
Richard Pryor has died. He was a comedian who could make you laugh and make you think all at the same time. However, it was always clear that his humor was born of pain and of demons that he often found difficult to control. The manner of his last years, slowly being destroyed by MS, is proof that life is often not fair. Hopefully he is now in a place beyond pain, but not beyond humor.


Friday, December 09, 2005
 
The paramilitary police of the third space faring nation massacred some peasents and is now trying to cover up that fact.


 
Looks like very soon Britain's socialist health care bureacracy may deny health care to people who eat, smoke, or drink too much. The idea is that lifestyle choices contributed to whatever made one sick, so it's unfair to burden the public with treating such people. I can see this sort of thing being expanded to denying treatment to AIDs patients or anyone else with an STD.

Of course, if socialist medicine ever got imposed in the United States, Dr. Gregory House could just not treat someone, under these rules, because, "You irritate me." After all, one doesn't have to do that.


 
After making a good splash several years ago with 1901, a novel depicting a German invasion of North America in the same year, Robert Conrpy returns to the alternate history genre with 1862 about the British intervention in the Amercian Civil War. I suspect this one will be far better than the Harry Harrison take on it.



 
The X Prize Foundation wants NASA to offer an orbital X Prize. If so, it should somehow compliment rather than replace Bigelow's America Orbital Prize.


Thursday, December 08, 2005
 
Imperial Governor by George Shipway.


 
Day of Decision: The Battle of Tours.


 
Looks like the Congress is about to agree on the first NASA authorization bill in quite a while. The bill will do two things that are very important. It will officially put Congress's stamp of approval on the Vision for Space Exploration. This will make it a bit more difficult for the VSE to be cancelled in future years. And it will authorize the Centennial Challenges program, which offers prizes for technology demontrations. This is a great change in the way NASA does business and has a great deal of potential to expand the technology envelope for not a lot of money.


 
America's rejection of Kyoto was praised by someone very surprising.


Wednesday, December 07, 2005
 
Scott Adams, the superb, gives us a guide of how to argue on the Internet. Many of us have been victims of these methods (and I can say in my case, some others not mentioned.)


 
NASA's plan to commercialize space station resupply and crew transfer is gaining some interest among some of the smaller start up space companies.


 
Stan Crock has a dim view of the plan to alleviate the sky rocketing costs of the EELV by combining the two (Delta IV and Atlas V) into what amounts of as a rocket launcher cartel. His solution?:
So what should the Air Force do? What it wanted to do at the start: Pick one company and fully fund it. Otherwise, the EELV program will eat up so much of the space budget that other programs will suffer irreparably. It may not be easy to choose between a Boeing that cheated and its all-American Delta IV, which has few launches under its belt, or a Lockheed Martin Atlas V that relies on Russian technology but has five successes to date.

But, hey, that's why they pay the brass the big bucks. The Air Force also should leave open the possibility that new, lower-cost entrants, such as SpaceX, could compete for launches in the future. The best way to safeguard both reliability and taxpayers is to rely on competition and make a choice.

Interestingly enough, some of the opponents of NASA's return to the Moon plan actually think that one of the alternatives, assembling a Moon ship using EELVs, is "commercial." Methinks Mike Griffin is smarter than some folks give him credit for by rejecting that option.


 
Apollo 13: a True Life Space Adventure.


 
Michael Schiavo, who succeeded in having his wife Terri put to death by slow starvation and thirst before the eyes of the world, has decided to add insult to injury by starting a political pac to defeat those politicians who tried, albeit ineffectively, to stop him. To add something indescriable to insult, he is calling it Terri Pac.

Meanwhile, Diana Lynne, takes stock months after Terri was put to death.


 
House MD: The Misanthrope as Hero.


 
Designated Targets by John Birmingham.


 
This is, of course, the sixty fourth anniversary of that other Day of Infamy, the one that took place at Pearl Harbor. Just as 9/11 resulted in the deaths of two tyrannies--the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Baathists in Iraq, Pearl Harbor resulted in the death of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Then as now, one strikes at the Eagle at ones peril.

There was a difference back then. Can one imagine a Republican Senator accusing American boys fighting in the Pacific and Europe of terrorism? Can one imagine a Republican Congressman demanding a withdraw of American troops from the fighting fronts? Can one imagine the head of the Republican Party claiming that victory over Japan and Germany was impossible?

No one cannot. The loyal opposition in the 1940s would never have sacrificed their country's intrest for sordid political gain. They would not have even conceived that such a thing was possible, not to mention desirable. Why is it different today? Is it the times? Or just the charecter of the people demanding defeat?


 
How the CEV will work.


Tuesday, December 06, 2005
 
Weresheep?


 
Looks like Steven Sommers (Van Helsing, Mummy, Mummy Returns) is back on as writer/director of the remake of When Worlds Collide. Spielberg will still produce.


 
Apparentlty Global Warming is not only bad for the environment, but it is sexist as well.


Monday, December 05, 2005
 
Looks like John Kerry, who once accused Vietnam vets of being war criminals, is trash talking American soldiers again, this time on Face the Nation.
And there is no reason, Bob, that young American soldiers need to be going into the homes of Iraqis in the dead of night,terrorizing kids and children, you know, women, breaking sort of the customs of the--of--the historical customs, religious customs.

What a piece of work is this man.


 
Ryan Zelnio has a proposal to establish an international framework for developing the Moon. I'm a little bit skeptical. I'm all in favor of a Lunar Development Authority that can buy goods and services from the commercial sector, but Zelnio's idea seems to be overly bureaucratic, cedes too much authority to foreign countries, and imposes arbitrary rules concerning contracting.

Addendum: Tom James has a good analysis of some of the proposals flaws.


 
Hugh Sidey and the Decision to Go to the Moon.

This is not a very flattering protrait of JFK and the best and the brightest as they wrestled with the implications of the Gagarin flight.


 
Taylor Dinerman examines the problems with trying to balance efforts to wind down the shuttle program with building the space craft that will take America back to the Moon.

Addendum: Robot Guy has some thoughts.
If President Bush is serious about the VSE, then it is essential to retire the shuttles as soon as possible, preferably before he leaves office. If the shuttles are still flying in 2014, then the VSE probably won't happen at all, and Mark Whittington will get an "I-told-you-so" moment as China sets up a base on the moon before NASA does.

Lord, I hope not.


Sunday, December 04, 2005
 
One would think that if one were doing a movie about the modern Middle East, one would have fanatical Islamofascist terrorists as the bad guys. But in Syriana, this is not so. Instead the bad guys are the old Hollywood standby of CIA agents in cahoots with the evil oil companies.


 
Mike Mealling has some interesting thoughts on the whole NASA return to the Moon kerfluffle that still seems to be bothering some of the internet rocketeers. He even has a good historical analogy, even though his conclusions are wide of the mark.

Of course, Mike does not seem to be aware that mainframes are still marketed by IBM and still have their place in the great scheme of things. Steve Jobs (as well as Bill Gates and others) didn't make Big Iron obsolete, but rather expanded access to computer technology from large companies and government to--well--just about everybody with PCs and client servers. The universe of data processing includes a wide variety of technologies, which still include mainframes (some of them, by the way, hooked up to server networks.)

That might be the role that smaller space companies--the Apples and the Dells of the aerospace industry--have, not to supplant NASA or Boeing, but to expand access to space travel by adding new technology. I suspect that just as IBM is still going strong today, albeit differently, as it was in the 1970s, NASA and the big aerospace companies will thrive just as well in--say--the year 2050 when SpaceX and SpaceDev (or it's equivalents) are fortune 500 companies

Mike is also wrong when he suggests that NASA's return to the Moon technology is "flawed." It actually does what it is supposed to do, which is to get people back to the Moon with as little fuss as possible (given the inefficient and wasteful ways of government agencies.) It is not meant to be the be all and end all of opening up the Moon or any place else to human settlement and industrial development. Another Mike, a fellow named Griffin, recently made some useful suggestions along those lines. The commercial sector can expand NASA's return to the Moon into a large scale movement to open up the high frontier of space, if it will step up to the challenge. I would add that to Mike Mealling's good ideas about what folks who are serious about making a go at making money on space travel should pursue.


Saturday, December 03, 2005
 
Will there be new Serenity on the SciFi Channel?


 
Abu Hamza Rabia, a top Al Qaeda operative, has joined the growing Al Qaeda contingent in Hell.


 
Torture is still used as a regular tool of law enforcement in China. Nor does the word refer to making prisoners stand around naked while being photographed by depraved, bored prison guards.
"There is much that still needs to be done; there is a need for many more structural reforms," said Mr. Nowak, a law professor in Vienna, Austria.
Torture methods he cited include the use of electric-shock batons, cigarette burns, submersion in pits of water or sewage and exposure to conditions of extreme heat or cold.
In Tibet, Mr. Nowak was told that sleep deprivation was frequently used, in one case for 17 days.

The world's latest space faring nation is also a police state. Something to think about.


Friday, December 02, 2005
 
Apparently I'm educated enough to be a US citizen.




You Passed the US Citizenship Test



Congratulations - you got 10 out of 10 correct!



Thanks to Fred Kiesche.


 
One of the raps against NASA is that it's a little bit hide bound, resistant to innovation, and incapable of thinking outside the box. For a long time, that rap was pretty much on target. The Centennial Challenge has been evidence that the space agency is at least trying to change its ways. Two more, in fact, have been added.
The space agency is challenging innovators to build an autonomous aerial vehicle to navigate a tricky flight path or robots capable of building complex structures with only limited guidance from their human handlers, NASA officials said.

The sticking point for getting this worthy program expanded is not NASA, but the Congress (speaking of institutions that are hide bound, resistant to innovation, and incapable of thinking outside the box.) I think that if the space activism community would spend a part of the effort it spends picnicing on one another lobbying for some of this stuff, great things can be accomplished.


 
Rand Simberg directs more ire at the Chinese space program, apparently based on a faked video derived from a Dutch beer commercial.


 
Here is a copy of our strategy for winning the war in Iraq, apparently geared toward liberal democrats.


 
The palace of King David may have been discovered in Jerusalem. Considering the religious politics of archeology in the Holy Land, the yelling and the screaming has just begun.


Thursday, December 01, 2005
 
Let's wish the ACLU a Merry Christmas.


 
Day of Decision: The Battle of Hastings.


 
Rick Tumlinson, of the Space Frontier Foundation, fires a shot at NASA's return to the Moon program. Like all of the other shots, it starts a little weak as it relies not on evidence but on assertions unsupported by evidence to make his point. However, unlike most other critiques, Tumlinson actually has deigned to make some suggestions, many of them useful.
• NASA (with Congress) should change its central contracting method to pay for services and pay for delivery. It should make cost-plus contracts the exception rather than the norm. Multi-year appropriations should be a part of this package.
• Starting with low Earth orbit, NASA should set up a management authority to run at least our part of the international space station (ISS) and mandate that its focus be on supporting and enabling commercial infrastructure. At the same time, that authority should not encourage commercial activities on ISS that might compete with real enterprises such as the space facility being developed by Bigelow Aerospace.
• All nation-to-nation barter deals should be banned unless a U.S. commercial solution has been tried first. On the other hand, NASA should push for exemptions to the export controls known as the International Trafficking in Arms Regulations to encourage international commercial partnerships.
• Greatly expand the Centennial Challenges program.
• Immediately cut contracts for commercial ISS resupply and eventually propellant transport to LEO.
• Immediately allocate money for vouchers, to help kick start the NewSpace sub-orbital transportation industry, creating a market for ever higher rides for science payloads, astronauts and even teachers.
• Announce the shuttle program is over except for one last glorious flight to save the Hubble telescope. The agency should swallow a little short-term pride and buy a package deal of astronaut rides on the Soyuz (buy them at the current commercial rate, and get a discount for quantity - this really works every day outside of government).
• If NASA cannot wiggle out of agreements to carry ISS components, often cited as the reason for keeping the shuttle going, either quickly build a shuttle-based side mounted, arm equipped, low-tech container or convert one of the shuttles to remote control (DARPA and the Russians know how to do this one).
• With money saved by canceling the shuttle NASA should offer at least three U.S. firms a total of $10 billion for the first demonstrations of fully reusable people carriers to low Earth orbit – to be delivered by 2010.
• NASA should offer the winners multiyear contracts to carry astronauts to ISS and to board the trans-lunar spacecraft. Offer to pay them around $5 million per LEO ride, and let them sell the extra seats to anyone they want.

Back to the Moon - Frontier Style
• Moving outwards, the Moon/Mars architecture should be redesigned to one that is frontier enabling rather than a dead end.
• NASA should restart its long lead research support for interplanetary spaceships such as Prometheus and nuclear power sources for use in space.
• NASA should begin development of fully reusable LEO/Moon transportation systems.
• The agency should make all lunar robotic missions frontier science oriented, surveying resources and sites for the place we will put our first base. Once selected, focus efforts on the chosen site and its environs.
• Load the landers with commercially sponsored energy production and In Situ Resource Utilization experiments and send rovers to explore the shadows and ice.
• There should also be a priority search for big money payoffs like asteroid impact based platinum.
• Build up the base using transportation/habitation systems that are designed to be rough, tough and growable – nothing expendable allowed.
• Put out a long-term lease-based prize/contingency contract to rent lunar surface habitats from the first two firms to demonstrate them here on Earth by keeping them going for six months or so in a lunar analogous environment.

There are a few nits I would pick. Such as, I suspect Mike Griffin would claim that a cost plus arrangement is going to be the exception rather than the rule, if you look at the over all picture. The ESAS is just one part of that. Also, I'd rather see the private sector develop a "fully reusable" LEO/Moon transportation system rather than NASA. The latter is the sure way to another shuttle at best, another X-33 at worse.

Still, I give Tumlinson points for offering solutions as well as complaints. Good work.