Sunday, December 31, 2006

John Edwards has coined a phrase, the McCain Doctrine, which consists of the emerging plan to send thirty thousand or so extra troops to Iraq, scour the country of terrorists, then hand things over to the Iraqis. It is a mark of a man who learned about strategy by getting his knees scabby chasing ambulances that he thinks that this is a bad thing and that he's being all so clever by calling it the "McCain Doctrine."

Now I have my problems with John McCain, the Lord knows, but if one had a choice between a war hero and a trial lawyer to decide matters of war and peace, who would one choose? Besides, I see a perfect debate comeback which I offer here for free. "Mr. Edwards, there are some people who cannot be dealt with just by suing them."

Saturday, December 30, 2006

William Burrows, author of The Survival Imperative and This New Ocean recomends five books on space.

I should add some of my own:

Addendum: Glenn Reynolds has some of his own

Friday, December 29, 2006

They will hang Saddam Hussein from a sour apple tree!
A sour apple tree! A sour apple tree!
They will hang Saddam Hussein from a sour apple tree!
As they march along!

Addendum: It's offical. Saddam Hussein now roasts in Hell.
Looks like there will be an Indian Jones 4 after all.
Jon Goff has a curious post about something that appears to be faith based entrepreneurialism. I am tempted to be snarky and suggest that the wrong answer when asked either by a bank board or a congressional committee about whether ones space project will work is, "I have faith that it will."

But Jon has stumbled upon a truth, though perhaps not the one. If one wanted to pursue a safe way of making money, there are plenty of avenues available. None of them are going to get so much as an ant into space, however. People who propose to make a business out of space travel have to believe that there is a market for it. All the analysis in the world will not foretell the future with one hundred percent certainty. That is not to say, however, that there is no science behind it.

People who suggest that space tourism is going to be the "killer application" that will drive the development of private space travel have a lot of marketing research to back up their belief. That's the sort of thing that a bank board or a venture capitalist can understand.

Not to be ignored is the tacit seal of approval that NASA has given private space development. Folks who have control of investment capital have often turned to NASA to evaluate potential space related projects. This was a big stumbling block in the 1980s and 1990s when NASA took a dim view of anyone who proposed to compete with it on its turf. That changed with the current administration. There can be no greater endorsement by NASA of private space than the COTS program.

And, of course, the X Prize played its role. The X Prize was not based on any "faith" that any single effort would succeed, but rather on "faith" that given a competition that some effort would succeed. This "faith" was based on historic experience, going back to the aeronautic prizes of the 1920s. And with the success of Burt Rutan, money has flowed to sub orbital barn storming efforts.

A similar approach can be used for publicly funded space efforts. The President and Congress need a little more than "faith" that something good will come of a space effort. Publicly this "good" has to consist of everything from national prestige (and for those who scoff at that, please read Machiavelli), good science, and economic stimulus. Privately, and even unspoken, the "good" consists of jobs in the district. The experience of Apollo proves that these are not unreasonable justifications.

Faith is a good thing, sure. But it has to be buttressed by real world evidence. Otherwise space efforts, whether they come from President Bush or Elon Musk, will be quite as useful as praying a space ship into orbit.
Alan Boyle looks back at 2006, the year that was in space, and then ahead at 2007 for what might be.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

NASA is still struggling over relative apathy toward the Vision for Space Exploration on the part of young people, defined as 18-25 or so. Part of the problem, I suspect, is the fact that youths tend to not think about the long term as much as folks who are older. The return to the Moon is not scheduled to happen for another ten to twelve years.

Of course, there is the old problem that NASA Public Affairs has been clueless since the Apollo Program:
Tactics encouraged by the workshop included new forms of communication, such as podcasts and YouTube; enlisting support from celebrities, like actors David Duchovny ("X-Files") and Patrick Stewart ("Star Trek: The Next Generation"); forming partnerships with youth-oriented media such as MTV or sports events such as the Olympics and NASCAR; and developing brand placement in the movie industry.

OK, some of this is fine, like using the Internet and so on. But Patrick Stewart and David Duchovny? Both Star Trek: Next Gen and the X-Files are so--well--1990s. Besides, Patrick Stewart is on record as being against going into space until all the world's problems are solved, which is another way of saying never.

Now if NASA were smart,they'd approach actors from more current popular SF shows. Say--Nathan Fillion (Captain Reynolds) of Firefly and Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck) of Battlestar Galactica

Addendum: Stacy Bartley has what he calls a "modest proposal."
I'm not sure how much this would cost. Not as much as some things I
suspect. But why not live feed web cams on every astronaut's helmet?
Why not live web feeds from the flight deck of the shuttle? Why not
live web feeds showing day to day activities in the ISS? Why not a
live web feed looking down at the Earth from the ISS? Why not a live
web feed looking down the side of the stack during the launch and
ride to space?

I'm not of the generation in question, but I'd be on those web sites
every day,and I'd NEVER miss an EVA. Also the data from these would
not be without use to NASA. Yes, we may see something awful
happen-but that's life isn't it?

As for voices to use-I'd use James Edward Olmos. First off he HAS the
voice, secondly he's hispanic which is a large constituency that
needs to be sold.

Hmm. Admiral Adama. Might work.

Addendum Two. Jon Goff tells his horror stories about NASA public relations, the only group that could make going to the Moon the first time seem boring. Then he comes upon a big problem:
What NASA doesn't need is more clever PR. Their PR is too clever by half already. They need a space program that's actually relevant to kids. Kids love space. But by the time they grow up a bit and learn that NASA might just get back to the moon by the time they're as old as their parents are, it really takes a lot of the excitement away. Mary Lynne Dittmar said in the article that "If you're going to do a space exploration program that lasts 40 years, if you just do the math, those are the guys that are going to carry the tax burden", refering to the youth. The problem is that if you're doing a space program that takes decades to accomplish anything actually interesting to anyone outside of a few NASA centers, you've already lost the PR campaign before its started. There's only so much lipstick that can be put on that pig.

There is a lot of truth there. We're a culture that demands that things happen now or we get bored with the effort and want to move on to something else. And it is not just a charecteristic of youth.

Jon, however, stumbles badly when a solution is called for:
So long as the major program NASA is focusing on is being treated as a welfare-for-nerds project, they're going to have a hard time selling it to the youth. It's entirely possible for NASA to accomplish a lot more, a lot quicker, and to have an exploration program that's actually exciting to both youth and adults. An exploration program that people might actually care about and feel worth supporting. But doing that while also trying to keep aging Shuttle employees off the street is going to be a real challenge.

All perhaps true, but how? For most people the answer to the question is to drop the current plan and use my favorite plan, whatever that is. But there is no proof that any plan, using EELVs or Direct Launcher or any of the myriad of dime a dozen schemes to go back to the Moon will advance the day people return to the Moon by even a year, not to mention to a time when many people will get excited about it now (which the cynic within me suggests would have to be next week sometime.)

"Commercial solutions" does not constitute black magic. It does not get rid of all of the many technical problems inherent in designing, building, and flying reliable and cheap space craft. The folks have been trying to get something into low Earth orbit since the late 1970s. It's hoped that next year that will finally be accomplished (by Elon Musk, we expect.) It took about seven years of the X Prize just to get to the point Burt Rutan was able to replicate the feat of the X 15 with his SpaceShipOne, albeit with far less money. The era of suborbital barnstorming lays still in the future, though it is hoped later in the decade.

Even a lunar X-Prize, even if it could be accomplished, might not get us back to the Moon sooner than NASA's tried and true way. Remember, that is only ten to twelve years in the future. Considering the trouble the folks are having just getting beyond the atmosphere, I wouldn't want to place a bet that any private group could beat NASA to the Moon, even if it could raise the money to do so.

There is one sure fire way to bring the return to the Moon closer than a decade. Shovel more money at the project. A lot more money. Enough, in fact, to develop the Ares 1, Ares 2, and everything else needed to get to the Moon at the same time, rather than in sequence. Good luck persuading Congress, especially the one now under our new Democratic overlords.

Sounds depressing? Well, I was once young myself. Around the time men first set foot on the Moon, a group of people came out with a plan for what should be done next by NASA in space. One feature of it was the first Mars expedition taking place in 1986. I was apalled. I would be an old man of thirty by that time. How should I get excited by something that would happen then?

I am fifty now and the first person on Mars is still in the future. With luck, or perhaps life extending medical technology, I might even live to see it.
The release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is months away, but already London bookies are taking bets as to plot details. Will Harry die? And if so, who will send him off this mortal coil? Will Hermione and Ron marry and what will they name their first kid?

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

President Ford had a space legacy--of sorts.
Could someone please tell me the logic behind Joe Biden's Iraq strategy? It appears to consist of refusing to fight our enemies and applying pressure to our friends. The ghosts of Machiavelli and Von Clausewitz must not believe that man is soon to be Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

More to the point, how is it that a political party which was so wrong on the Cold War is even listened to when offering the same disasterous counsel for the War on Terror?
Plans to send Orion to an asteroid are taking shape.
RIP Gerald R. Ford. He was the first President I voted for, though truth to tell it was really a vote against Jimmy Carter. Ford was a better man than he was President, though in his defense it would have taken a true paragon to deal with the mess that had been handed him. The fall of South East Asia had happened on his watch, but that was the fault of Congress, which cheerfully cut off funds to our allies there and watched as tens of millions were consigned to tyranny, millions to live as refugees far from the land of their birth, and millions to die often grisly deaths. (That's the same fate many of the same folks have in store for the people of Iraq, but that's another story.)

The less said about tom foolery like WIN buttons, the better.

I do agree that Ford's pardon of Nixon was an act of statesmanship, which may have robbed him of a second and full term. Watergate had dragged on for far too long, attended as it was by blatant hypocrisy on the part of Nixon's enemies. In my opinion, there are several other Presidents who would be in the dock if subjected to the same ruthless examination as had President Nixon. Ford staunched the bleeding and then moved on. As disastrous a decade as the 1970s were, a lynching of Richard Nixon (and that's what any trial would have become) would have been the icing on a bitter cake indeed.

Ford was defeated by Jimmy Carter, likely the worse President in my lifetime and who continues to be the worse ex President. But Carter was followed by the man who almost beat Ford in the 1976 primaries, President Ronald Reagan the Great.
So how did Tolkien's elves--well--do it?

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Very soon, now, it will be up the tall ladder and down the short rope for Saddam.
I am told that there is no truth to the rumor that Nancy Pelosi intends to enter Washington D.C. riding a chariot in a parade featuring maidens tossing rose petals in her path and defeated Republicans being dragged in chains. Nevertheless, the four day coronation seems to me to be a bit much. Besides, there can be only one Goddess Empress of America and the woman who intends to be that currently resides in the Senate.
Ice at the lunar south pole? The evidence is as yet inconclusive.

Sunday, December 24, 2006


For My Liberal Friends:

"Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, our best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low-stress, non-addictive, gender-neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasion and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all. We also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the generally accepted calendaryear 2007, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great. Not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country nor the only America in the Western Hemisphere, and without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wishes. By accepting these greetings you are accepting these terms. This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for herself or himself or others, and is void where prohibited by law and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher."

For Everyone Else:
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Henry Hertzfeld explains in a paper produced last year why the cost and price of launching things and people into space have not decreased in the last forty odd years and why it may be difficult for them to decrease very much in the foreseeable future.
The Space Cynics once again give the Internet Rocketeer Club a good thrashing, though perhaps with a little overheated rhetoric. Please note the bit in the comments, by the way, about on orbit refueling, everyone's favorite alternative to NASA's plan to go back to the Moon. It turns out that unless Falcon 9 flies, it won't work.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Eragon is a very derivative film, to say the least. But it was pretty enjoyable nevertheless.
Ralph Kinney Bennett celebrates the invention of one of the great innovations of the 20th Century--the television remote.
Jon Goff has been discussing lunar markets or perhaps a Moon prize as a means to spur private manned missions to the Moon. I've pointed out that there are not now any markets that would cause a venture capitalist to devote the billions of dollars and years of effort that would suffice to pay for such an enterprise. Nor will a "Moon prize" work because, while we can hope that the US government would meet its obligations to fund such a prize over the years it would take for a private "race to the Moon" to take place, very few people would care to bet billions of dollars on that possibility.

Now Jon seems to agree with me--sort of:
His point is valid in a way. There are no lunar markets today that are both so provably real, and so large that they can possibly justify a venture capitalist investing to develop a full-blown cislunar transportation architecture as well as developing all of the hardware and infrastructure to take advantage of that market. That is true, and I'm not going to argue with it.

So far so good, but then Jon adds:
However, it's also a false dilemma. There are other paths to the end goal of commercial lunar markets that don't involve raising venture capital to directly pursue those lunar markets today. There are nearer term, more realistic markets, that require less startup capital, and involve less risks, that make future lunar enterprises come closer to closing the business case. There are probably more than I've ever dreamt of. Many of them involve little or no government money. Many of them probably could eventually lead to privately developed manned lunar missions prior to the first LSAM landing.

Ok, and those are?
If private enterprise reaches the moon, it probably won't be because of some master plan dreamt up by some wunderkind (least of all me). It will be the result of many smaller, nearer term, more incremental plans by many competing individuals trying to provide value to others in new and innovative ways. That's how markets work. Grand multi-year plans hammered out by genius technocrats aren't what capitalism is about.

And those are?
The moral of the story being that if a given approach is stupid, but the goal is worthy, try thinking of other approaches before dismissing the goal as impossible.

Well, let's see. NASA reaches the Moon the old fashioned way. Meanwhile the COTS program is successful and results in a commercial space transportation sector. Then NASA builds on the success by starting a Lunar COTS program. Private companies step up and , before long, the Moon is opened to private development and the government started Moon base becomes a town. Everybody wins.

Heh, Jon's right. This thinking of "other approaches" really does work.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Our new Democratic overlords plan to offer a continuing resolution to fund the government in 2007 at 2006 levels would impact NASA rather seriously. Of course, it could also impact the rest of the government just as hard. I suspect there will be some frank discussions about this plan in January, especially in the Senate where the Republicans have the power of the filibuster.
Building a Town on the Moon.
The title of the seventh and alleged last Harry Potter is (drum roll please) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
John Birmingham invites one and all to pitch your own Star Trek series.
The fourth book in the series I like to call The Dragon Riders of Britainia is coming out this Fall.
Rachel Ehrenfeld reveals some of Jimmy Carter's unsavory, Arab financial backers.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Carter: Comic Genius.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The trailor for The Astronaut Farmer is now out. On one level it looks like a sort of space going Field of Dreams, with themes of faith in your dreams against all odds and so on. On another level, it looks like something that exceeds even the paranoid imaginings of the Internet Rocketeer Club. It seems that in the movie that NASA is so angry at some private yahoo tresspassing on their space flight turf, that it gets the military to try to shoot the astronaut farmer down. How that jibes with a world in which dozens of groups are building their own space craft unmolested by NASA and, indeed, in a couple of cases with NASA money helping to pay for it, I don't know. It seems as delusional as the plot of Capricorn 1, in which NASA fakes a Mars landing and then sends hit teams after the astronauts to make sure they are silenced.
Scientists are bio engineering mosquitos that won't carry such nasty diseases as dengue fever and malaria. The idea is that these insects would eventually supplant those that do carry the diseases in the wild, thus saving millions of third worlders from sickness and death. Naturally luddites, especially in Europe, are outraged at the idea of "frankenbugs."
David Zucker's new video about James Baker and the Iraq Study Group rather says it all I think.
Looks like Michael Belfiore's new book on commercial space, Rocketeers should be out by summer.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The arrangement NASA has made with Google will revolutionize how we follow news from the opening of the high frontier of space. I expect private ventures will enter into similar arrangements.
Though Helium 3 mining may be decades away, mentioning it has become quite respectable in the media since I first did two years ago.
Oliver Stone's greatest film is now out:
Via Dan Schrimpsher, praise for the return to the Moon from a very unusual source.
Senator Barack Obama: Will He Run for President and What Will Hillary Clinton Do About It?
Teddy Kennedy reveals that attempts to address obesity in low income people has an unpleasent side effect. People on a diet tend to be hungry.
Can the International Space Station survive past 2016? Here is one way how.
What possible connection does the Challenger disaster and Saddam Hussein have? Dwayne Day has discovered that connection.
Part of the grand strategy for dealing with China is an alliance that includes another emerging super power--India.

And that will include space exploration suggests Jeff Foust.
One of the big problems the United States faces is how much of our energy lies under the ground controlled by governments that are hostile to human rights and support terrorism. The good news is that there are plenty of oil and natural gas reserves under land controlled by the United States government. That is also the bad news.
But both reports found much of this energy is either explicitly off-limits or hampered by regulatory constraints that effectively make it so. At least part of the solution to high oil and natural gas prices lies right under our feet, but Congress has failed to change the laws and regulations that keep this domestic energy locked up.

Federal lands are critical because most of America's onshore energy is in the West and Alaska, where more than half the land is under federal control.

How much energy are we talking about? The federal lands studied are "estimated to contain 187 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 21 billion barrels of oil, which represents 76 percent of onshore federal oil and gas resources," the Interior Department found. That 187 trillion cubic feet of natural gas could supply all of America's households for 39 years, and 21 billion barrels of oil represents more than 30 years' worth of current Saudi imports.

At the very least, bringing this energy online would have taken the edge off the price spikes consumers suffered in recent years and keep a lid on runaway prices for decades.
The often grinding, trench warfare over school vouchers has gotten a new twist in Texas over a proposal for vouchers for children with autism.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Apocalypto: Mel Gibson's Dark Vision of the Fall of Mayan Civilization.
A third Stargate TV series is in development. No word as to concept. Via Stacy Bartley.
Where Would Jesus Shop? Why, on-line, I should hope.
One of the good things about the proliferation of left wing documentaries is that they have in turn spawned documentaries with other points of view, as in the case of this reponse to Al Gore's environmental extremist screed.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Rush Limbaugh gave an account of a very brave Iranian born neurologist who suggested that the basis of Islam had less to do with divine revelation and more to do with the Prophet having epilepsy. So far as anyone knows, the author of the book Sword and Seizure is still alive
There seems to be a ray of hope concerning FY07 NASA funding, despite Congress's decision to punt most of the budget.
Jim Benson's Dream Chaser is just one of many private space craft under development.
Boston Legal's Alan Shore: The Bad Boy of the Firm of Crane, Poole, and Schmidt.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The cast of Battlestar Galactica as imagined on the Simpsons.
If this comes to past, I'll bet that some folks will want to rename the Marine Corps the Mobile Infantry.
An Analysis of the Report of the Iraq Study Group: Why it Fails to Address the Real Issue and How to Achieve Victory in Iraq
What is Robotic Physical Therapy?
Congress's punt of the budget has mixed news for NASA.
What this means for NASA is that its programs will continue to be funded at FY06 levels: good news for some science and aeronautics programs that were facing cuts in the 2007 budget, perhaps, but not so good for the exploration program, as a Space News article [subscription required] notes. The agency overall was expecting a minor budget increase, but exploration in particular was planning on a $900-million bump over 2006 to fund work on Ares 1 and Orion. (However, NASA may get some additional flexibility on how it distributes funding within the agency.)
Paul Greenberg has some fun imagining an ISG type report in 1943.
What course do we recommend? Given the weakness of our allies, the United States should launch a new diplomatic offensive to build an international consensus for stability, reconciliation and the reconstruction of Europe and Asia. The ambitions of Germany, Italy and Japan should be left to a revitalized League of Nations to deal with while we strive to reach a modus vivendi with their leaders.

There is no magic formula to solve the world's problems. However, there are actions that can be taken to improve the situation and protect American interests. Many Americans are dissatisfied, as the midterm elections of 1942 demonstrated, not just with the war but with the state of our political debate regarding the war.

Our political leaders must build a bipartisan approach to bring a responsible conclusion to what has become a costly conflict. Our country deserves a debate that prizes substance over rhetoric, and a policy that is adequately funded and sustainable. The president and Congress must work together. Our leaders must be candid and forthright with the American people in order to win their support.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Don't believe for a moment that the Democrats are at all serious about getting rid of earmarks. For one thing, the money will still get spent, but just on things that Democrats like.
Obey and Byrd said lawmakers could re-apply for home-state projects next year when Congress turns to the fiscal 2008 budget cycle _ after reforms of the earmarking process are put in place.

They said some of the money set aside in the pending bills for home- state earmarks will be shifted to programs Democrats feel have been shortchanged by Bush's budget, such as health research, education and grants to local law enforcement agencies.

Just how much money would be redirected is unclear. Projects such as levees and federal grants to housing and transit authorities will still be funded, but the administration will determine how to spend pools of money that Congress usually divides up, specifying the amounts for particular projects.

Obey and Byrd said their plan "provides the administration far too much latitude in spending the people's money. But that is a temporary price that we will pay" to be able to devote time and energy to Bush's Iraq funding request and next year's budget.
I must say that I would be less annoyed at Adolf Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denier convention if I knew that something would be made of the opportunity. There is something about the close proximity of so many nut cases and haters and terrorists that just begs for a JDAMS bomb or, at least, a volley of hellfire missiles.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Can someone please tell me what the big deal is about Senator Barak Obama? Besides the fact that he's not Hillary.
The incoming Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee is not a crook, so far as we know. But he knows next to nothing about modern terrorism.
When asked by CQ National Security Editor Jeff Stein whether al Qaeda is one or the other of the two major branches of Islam -- Sunni or Shiite -- Reyes answered "they are probably both," then ventured "Predominantly -- probably Shiite."

That is wrong. Al Qaeda was founded by Osama bin Laden as a Sunni organization and views Shiites as heretics.

Reyes could also not answer questions put by Stein about Hezbollah, a Shiite group on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations that is based in Southern Lebanon.

Imagine a pol in World War II not knowing that the Nazis were--well--German.
The New York Film Critics Circle has named. United 93 as the best film of 2006. I think it's the best film of the decade. Here is what I had to say about this awe inspiring epic when it had its first run.
Let's see. President George W. Bush spies on Al Qaeda terrorists and the left goes berserk. President Bill Clinton spies on Princess Diana and I'll bet there will be yawns from the same quarter.

I don't believe this story about Teddy Forstmann for a moment. We know what Clinton was after.

Addendum: This is pretty droll
Previously classified documents reveal the particular information the Secret Service was seeking about Princess Di in 1997, including: turn ons, turn offs, favorite color, opinion of President Clinton, willingness to consider relationships with men in open marriages, ability to keep a secret...
Jeff Brooks proposes an international convention that would allow for land purchase on Mars. His proposal is shockingly similar to one recently proposed for private property on the Moon. Rand Simberg suggests that such arrangements are doomed to fail, given the nature of the "international community." Rand has a point, but if one proposes withdrawing from the Outer Space Treaty or even just amending it to allow claims of sovereignty, one had better be prepared for (a) a diplomatic tsunami and (b) a space race that might eventually involve open warfare over space resources with heavy involvement of big government, with its military power and power to tax and regulate.
Jeff Foust suggests that NASA needs to do more to explain why we're going back to the Moon.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

It is becoming more clear that NASA's planned lunar base is just the begining.
Captain Ed comments about how federal power is sometimes used to crush independent entrepeneurs who dare to compete against big corporations. In this case, the product in question is milk.
There is one group of folks who seem enthusiastic about the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group. Unfortunately they are the same folks who run the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Science vs Exploration? Actually there is no real conflict. Each supports the other.
Mike Griffin once again bemoans the space shuttle and how it came to be. Very refreshing. Meanwhile he discusses the cost of returning to the Moon.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Cape Wind Project, an alternative energy project that certain rich liberals are fighting tooth and nail.
The Last Moonwalker speaks about returning to the Moon.
Jeane Kirkpatrick, RIP.
Firefly: The Online Game. Shiny.
The space race between the United States and China has a military and commercial dimension.
The U.S. has asserted for itself the responsibility to ensure freedom of action in space. That responsibility isn't being taken seriously if the threats in space are downplayed.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Peggy Noonan, someone I usually like, has an very odd piece about the Bush family and feelings, inspired by the incident in which Bush the Elder broke down in tears after speaking of his slightly less famous son, the out going Governor of Florida. She had a very strange assessment of Bush the Younger.
Unlike anguished wartime presidents of old, he seems resolutely un-anguished. Think of the shattered Lincoln of the last Mathew Brady photographs, taken just weeks before he was assassinated. He'd gone from a bounding man of young middle age who awed his secretaries by his ability to hold a heavy ax from his fully outstretched arm, to, four years later, "the old tycoon." Or anguished Lyndon B. Johnson sitting in the cabinet room by himself, literally with his head in his hands. History takes a toll.

But George W. Bush seems, in the day to day, the same as he was. It is part of the Bush conundrum--a supernal serenity or a confidence born of cluelessness? You decide. Where you stand on the war will likely determine your answer. But I'll tell you, I wonder about it and do not understand it, either what it is or what it means. I'd ask someone in the White House, but they're still stuck in Rote Talking Point Land: The president of course has moments of weariness but is sustained by his knowledge of the ultimate rightness of his course . . .

If he suffers, they might tell us; it would make him seem more normal, which is always a heartening thing to see in a president.

But maybe there is no suffering.

Maybe he outsources suffering. Maybe he leaves it to his father.

The problem is, as any wounded soldier or beraved family member of a fallen soldier will attest, the Commander in Chief does feel and very deeply. He has been known to even pray and weep with those folks who have taken the brunt of the War on Terror.

If Noonan does not know this, she ought to.
You're an astrobiologist and are headed for the Moon. What do you pack?
There has been some discussion about a fifty billion dollar Moon Prize that was floated by the Wall Street Journal here and here. In my judgement, these kind of prizes won't work. A private entity going after such a prize would have to acquire financing from a venture capital source over a number of years, if not decades. I doubt that there are too many venture capitalists or bankers willing to invest money in a venture solely designed to win a government prize on that basis, since it can be yanked at any time at any change in Congress or the White House.
Today, December 7th, a day that shall live in infamy.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

I've always considered Jimmy Carter a sanctimonious dolt and in the running for the worst President and ex President in history. But it looks like that isn't even the half of it.
A longtime aide to Jimmy Carter has resigned from the Carter Center think tank, calling the former president's new book on Israel and the Arabs one-sided and filled with errors.

Kenneth Stein, the Carter Center's first executive director and founder of its Middle East program, sent a letter that bluntly criticized the book to Carter and others.

Stein wrote that the book, "Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid," was replete with factual errors, material copied from other sources and "simply invented segments," according to an excerpt of the letter published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The findings of the Iraq Study Group are now out. One of the more controversial recommendations is the one to open negotiations with the Syrians and the Iranians. I actually think that is a good idea, but only after the bombing starts.
The Promise of Lunar Based Astronomy.
A look at the next Mars lander, the Phoenix.

Meanwhile, surface water on Mars?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Captain Ed reports that Adolf Ahmadinejad has gotten into a bit of trouble with his religious fanatic backers over (and I'm not making this up) dancing girls.
Jon Goff, having apparently taken the suggestion to refine and revise his "alternate architecture" for returning to the Moon to heart, presents his latest version.

The following paragraph is key to understanding the usefulness (or rather lack there of) of the exercise:
I'm going to try and describe the overall concept in this blog post, but I'm not going to be going into it in anywhere near as much detail as some alternate proposals. I'm just one person, with finite resources, and I have almost no hope that anyone at NASA is going to listen to me. I want to put the concept out, and some of the guiding principles (with just enough technical detail to flesh things out), but leave nitty gritties like trying to predict schedules and exact budgets to others if they wish.

In other words, there is no time to examine potential problems, show stoppers, and so on that might make the plan a little less realistic than Jon appears to believe.

I'm lead to imagine what would happen if, by some magic occurrence, Jon were invited to make a presentation to Mike Griffin. Would he be prepared to answer some of the very hard questions that surely would be forthcoming? I somehow doubt it.

So what's the purpose of taking the time to come up with this alternative scenario? Not to effect change. This is admitted within the post.

Now, don't get me wrong, I like the kind of enthusiasm and earnestness that goes into exercises like these. I could only wish that those could be channeled into something more productive.

That's just my dour, curmudgeonly assessment.
Rand Simberg remembers the year in space, 2006.

Monday, December 04, 2006

NASA, Commercial Space, and the Democrats.
Casino Royale: James Bond Reimagined.
Looks like, as expected, that NASA will build a lunar base at one of the poles, rather than conduct scattered sorties.

Addendum: One of the things that came out in the briefing was that any entity, whether another country or a private enterprise, with their own transportation would be quite welcome to visit the lunar base.

For all of those with alternative transportation schemes, there is your opportunity. If you can't coinvience NASA to adopt your idea, maybe you can persuade--say--the French or the Japanese.
The Albuquerque Tribune likes the idea of mining helium 3 on the Moon.
As the fur trade was to America's Western frontier, helium-3 is to lunar discovery and settlement. Helium-3, abundant on the moon where it has been produced and trapped over billions of years by bombardment from solar particles, is the ideal fuel for a nuclear fusion energy power plant.

Never mind that scientists have been trying to produce sustained fusion power on earth for nearly half a century.

With a sustained fusion energy research program coupled to a lunar colonization and helium mining program, the world could look beyond its petty squabbles - most linked to energy and water shortages - and to the energy abundance of the sun, the moon and the stars.

It sounds romantically improbable, but that's what they said about Columbus, Magellan, and Lewis and Clark.
The GAO is concerned about the cost of returning to the Moon. NASA, however, is confident that it has a handle on it.
Taylor Dinerman takes a dim view on arms control for space weapons.
Eric Hedman has a fascinating and rational article about the Ares 1, possible alternatives to it, and the pros and cons. He has one bad suggestion and one good:

The bad:
If NASA management won’t seriously look at this proposal, I’m asking Congress to do their job as the “board of directors” of our government. This decision is crucial for the future of the US manned space program. Don’t let the design be finalized before know that a potentially much better option wasn’t considered. If this proposal is dismissed without serious consideration, NASA may lose the support and confidence of the many space enthusiasts that pester their representatives in Congress who, in turn, help keep NASA funded. I can’t say if the Direct Launch concept is the best ultimate choice, but I do think the concept need a fair hearing before irreversible changes to NASA’s infrastructure are started.

We've had too many instances of politicians making engineering decisions based on political expediency. However I am fascinated with the Direct Launcher concept and, if Ares 1 does run into serious problems, it ought to be seriously considered. (Hedman by the way seems to agree with me that the various EELV alternatives are non starters.)

Now the good:
For the public to trust that sound engineering decisions are being made, it is absolutely necessary that NASA effectively communicates with the interested members of the public. They periodically need the decisionmakers at all levels to be available to the trade and general press to explain what they are doing, how they make their decisions, and why they have made them. Having to regularly explain to the public the rationale for their decisions would, in my opinion, help ensure that NASA personnel make sound engineering decisions and increase the likelihood of success. I, like most Americans, really am impressed with many of the things that NASA accomplishes and do want to see them succeed spectacularly.

Indeed. A failure to communicate has been a problem at NASA for decades.
Jeff Foust reports on yet another alternative exploration scenario. This one bypasses the Moon altogether and instead goes to the L2 point as a means to staging to Mars and to near Earth asteroids.

The idea is intriguing as a supplement to going to the Moon, IMHO.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Are we at the dawn of a new great age of space exploration? I certainly think so, but there are skeptics. Just as there were when Columbus first sailed.
An interesting piece about the development of the Ares 1 over at NASA Glenn.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The cost of some surgical procedures has gotten to high in the United States that we're now starting to outsource them to other countries.
MedRetreat's price for a trip to Thailand for a hip replacement is $12,000, including $8,000 or $9,000 for the procedure, he said. Also included is round-trip airfare for two; a one-week stay in the hospital; and a two-week stay in a five-star hotel. In the United States, the price of the hip replacement alone is at least $40,000, Mr. Marsek said.
Mr. Rupak -- whose firm sends patients to Argentina, Belgium, Costa Rica, El Salvador, India, Panama, Singapore and Thailand -- said a patient would spend $36,000 for coronary arterial-bypass grafting and $55,000 for a heart-valve replacement in the United States. But in some foreign countries, the same operations are available for as little as $11,000 and $13,000 respectively, including airfare and hotel.
A person who undergoes cancer surgery in India or Thailand could expect to pay $14,000, including airfare and hotel, he said. In this country, the surgery alone would cost about $65,000.

Why are some surgical procedures so cheap in other countries?
Explaining why the cost of medical treatment is so much lower in other countries, Ms. Ernst said, "The American dollar is more valuable in many undeveloped, foreign countries, where the pay scale is low and the number of patients high."
One of the main reasons American surgeons and hospitals are starting to lose out to competitors in foreign countries is that "medical malpractice is not nearly so ruthless" overseas as it is in the United States, she said in her report in PRI's newsletter, Health Policy Prescriptions.
In such foreign destinations, "doctors can pay as little as $4,000 a year for malpractice insurance. American doctors can pay 25 times that amount every year," Ms. Ernst said.
In addition, foreign hospitals involved in medical tourism do not have to worry about the "bad debts" that plague so many facilities in the United States, Mr. Marsek said.
"Hospitals involved in medical tourism don't take you unless you pay. When you go overseas for medical tourism, you present your credit card, and that's that," he said.

In addition, procedures not yet available in the United States are available in foreign countries. An example was Kim Poor's stem cell treatment for which he had to go to China.
Really, I'm a bit of an anglophile my own self, but this is just a little much. Clearly Gwyneth hasn't met too many punk rockers and soccer holligans. Besides, I wonder what things Ms. Paltrow considers "interesting?"

Of course anyone who would actually like living near Madonna really needs, in my humble opinion, to reexamine their priorities.
Jon Goff presents his latest alternative return to the Moon architecture, called Lunar Surface Rendezvous, with addenda here, here, and here.

Like most alternative return to the Moon scenarios floating around on the Internet, my impression is that making it compare favorably to ESAS involves (a) a maximum focus on potential problems for ESAS and (b) assuming that there will be no unforeseen problems for the alternative in question. Also, launching two astronauts at a time to the Moon leaves one open to the charge that one is advocating an "incredibly shrinking Moon mission."

The problem that spending a lot of time on alternative lunar missions is that NASA is not likely to suddenly "see the light" and choose one of them, barring a complete collapse of ESAS. And that collapse, though often predicted on the Internet, does not seem to be in offing as of yet. Also, I suspect that no matter which plan NASA were to choose, there would be the same amount of squabbling, finger pointing, and rancour by people with their own pet plans.

My suggestion, which will likely not be taken, would be to drop this quixotic notion that some people doing back of the envelope return to the Moon missions are somehow going to sell their idea to NASA in lieu of its own plan and instead concentrate on fights that can be won. Like restoring funding for X prizes.

Mind, some of this work might have some bearing on future, private lunar ventures. But I'd like to throw out a challenge to my friends in the Internet Rocketeer Club. Instead of trying to come up with mission scenarios that match NASA's requirements or even downsize them, how about coming up with plans that would exceed them? Instead of launching four people to the Moon, how about a way to launch--oh say--forty? If the Moon is ever going to be the venue for commercial development and human settlement, something like that is going to be necessary.

Addendum: Jon Goff responds (sort of). I'll have more thoughts, but I'm off to a lunch meeting.

Friday, December 01, 2006

It's time to withdraw our forces from Iraq and redeploy them--to Iran and Syria.
Taylor Dinerman suggests that the ascendency of the Democrats in Congress constututes a threat to effective missile defense.
Mona Charen, whom I generally like, wrings her hands at the idea of extending life for centuries or even longer:
What would that mean? Let's see, Social Security benefits for 135 years? Medicare for the same period? Prescription nanobots for a century? Assuming that people will remain healthy and working for decades and decades (which is what the futurists predict), would the economy expand due to the continued productivity of well-trained people, or sink under the weight of the extra elderly? (Not all of those doddering around at the age of 140 are going to be on the tennis courts.)

The entire concept of family life would have to change. What would happen to the already high divorce rate if people had to spend the better part of two centuries together? How about military service? Would young men and women who could otherwise expect to live to such astounding ages be willing to risk dying at 20 or 25?

On the up side, interstellar colonization would become more practicable, even without magic, faster than light warp drives. Someone who expects to live thousands of years won't shrink from the long voyage time to get to the new worlds.
Is the world ready for a new Cleopatra film project? Maybe, but we must agree that Cleopatra was Macedonian/Greek and not Egyptian and, unlike Richard Burton's depiction, Marc Antony was not a whipped dog in the arms of the Queen.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Will Stephen Hawking get to fly in space? It may happen.
George Will is the latest to give the junior boor elect from Virgina a a sound spanking.
Stephen Hawking once again calls for space colonies.
Eric Flint's new alternate history novel, 1824, is now out:
The New Horizons probe will shortly pass by Jupiter, where some of its systems will get a good shakedown. It will not reach Pluto, the former 9th planet, for another eight years, which just goes to show haw vast just our Solar System really is.
Recently a judge actually ruled that American currency was unfair to blind people. Captain Ed went to a blind person of his acquaintance for comment.
For my report, I decided to interview a blind person to discover her reaction to the news that Judge Robertson had freed her from the bonds of discrimination. The First Mate's initial response is hard to quote, because I don't know how to properly transcribe a snort and a peal of laughter.
Jason Miks has a conversation with Bjorn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist. Just in time. Lomborg is writing a book about climnate change that, I imagine, Al Gore will not like.
It's at the stage where people are saying its even worse than we thought yesterday, and that it is going to be catastrophic, and chaotic and disruptive - all these kinds of words. This has actually led to one of the lead modellers in the UK to come out and say it's bizarre that before we had the debate between the climate change skeptics and the scientists, and that now we have the debate between the scientists, who are now becoming the skeptics, and those who are saying it's all going to end in chaos, when it is going to do nothing of the sort - and this is not what the UN panel is telling us.

Perhaps this is most clear when you look at the movie from Al Gore. Everything he says is technically true. He says for instance that if Greenland melts, sea levels will rise about 20 feet. This is technically true. But of course the very evocative imagery of seeing Holland disappear under the waves - or New York, or Shanghai - leaves the impression that this is all going to happen very soon. Where in fact the UN climate panel says that the sea level rise over the next 100 years is going to be 30 cm - about 20 times less than he talks about. So there is a dramatic difference between what we're being told and what we're actually seeing.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Bob Tyrrell has some fun at the expense of the soon to be junior Senator from Virginia, thus placing his health in danger.
According to the Hill, Webb even told a source for the paper that "he was so angered by this [encounter] that he was tempted to slug the commander-in-chief." Webb claims that one of his heroes is President Andrew Jackson. I too admire Old Hickory, but I at least recognize the rough ways of the early 19th century are not to be reprised in the 21st century. What next, will the junior senator from Virginia being challenging those who arouse him to a duel? What century does Webb think he is living in? Believe me Senator Webb is going to be a vast source of amusement, and he will fit in nicely with the unpleasant pols whose political base is the Angry Left.
The First Great Deep Space Expedition.
It looks like the good people of Virginia have elected a complete boor at their junior Senator.
Scientists are already looking at ideas for lunar observatories.

If you want to know why Senator Mikulski is supporting the Vision for Space Exploration when she was so instrumental in gutting Bush the Elder's Space Exploration Initiative, the answer lays in part which NASA center will help develop a lunar observatory.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Ken Silber, at the risk of stating the obvious, suggests that future space colonists should be handy with tools.
Looks like the AP has been using bogus sources to fabricate stories about death and mayhem in Iraq.
Actual science on the space station? Who knew?
Looks like those six Imans brought things on themselves by behaving exactly like a group of terrorists preparing to seize an airliner.

Naturally that doesn't matter to the mad cap member of Congress from Texas, Sheila Jackson-Lee.
Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, Texas Democrat, said the September 11 terrorist attacks "cannot be permitted to be used to justify racial profiling, harassment and discrimination of Muslim and Arab Americans."
"Understandably, the imams felt profiled, humiliated, and discriminated against by their treatment," she said.

Understandably I feel frightened and apalled by Rep Jackson-Lee's casual disregard for the security and lives of airline passengers.

Hugh Hewitt has more.
A coalition of space groups have banded together to help save funding for the Centennial Challenges. Kudos, for I think this is a good fight and one that can be won, unlike a pointless squabble with NASA over hardware.
Let me get this straight. A film about--well--Christ is considered too offensive to be show at a Christmas Festival?
An executive vice president with New Line Cinema, Christina Kounelias, said the studio's plan to spend $12,000 in Chicago was part of an advertising campaign around the country. Kounelias said that as far as she knew, the Chicago festival was the only instance where the studio was turned down.

Kounelias said she finds it hard to believe that non-Christians who attended something called Christkindlmarket would be surprised or offended by the presence of posters, brochures and other advertisements of the movie.

"One would assume that if (people) were to go to Christkindlmarket, they'd know it is about Christmas," she said.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Charlie Rangel spat on the soldiers again, this time on Fox News Sunday. Captain Ed has a dim view of this. So do I, of course. Along with Kerry's "botched joke", Rangel's remarks unveil the bigotry and hatred with which the modern Democrats view those who guard us while we sleep.
Taylor Dinerman has a largely positive appreciation of Mike Griffin, NASA Administrator and space visionary.
Griffin is not only technically qualified to lead NASA, but at least from the outside, one sees that he has the right people skills as well. Morale cannot be underestimated as an ingredient in any successful organization and NASA’s morale is generally as high as or higher than it ever has been in the last ten or fifteen years. He also has something that no other NASA administrator has ever had: an understanding of venture capital and startup business process. His time as head of In-Tel-Q, the CIA’s entrepreneurial technology fund, has given him an understanding of the way that risk capital and risk-taking businessmen work together. His gamble on the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contract and his support for the NASA prizes is evidence that he understands the way the dynamic new economy works.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

I have never been able to understand the appeal of "Deaf Culture", which seems to extend identity politics to an absurd area. Sure one can communicate by sign language if one is deaf, but I think something is lacking in one's quality of life if one can never enjoy Mozart, or O'Carolan, or Loreena McKennitt. Fortunately, a recent advance in ear implant technology may bring music and speech to those who are born not able to enjoy them.
When Robert Gates was chosen to replace Rumsfeld as SecDef, many in the chattering class hailed it as the triumph of the "realists" (i.e. people who don't do things like--well--fight terrorists.) Michael Barone thinks that these folks are in for a big disappointment.
When it is time to build the first space elevator (or what I call the "railroad to the stars"), the Otis Company stands ready to help. Via Stacy Bartley.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Ken Burns proposes to do for World War II what he once did for the Civil War. I am looking forward to it. He did, however, do something that thoroughly disappointed me.
Asked about the contrast between today's home front and World War II, Burns called the latter, "the greatest collective effort in the history of our country."

Common sacrifice is lacking today, he said.

"We now have a military class in this country that suffers apart and alone, whereas there wasn't a family on any street in America that wasn't in some way touched by the war," he said.

"When 9/11 happened what were you asked to do? Nothing. Go shopping. That's what we were told," Burns said. "Go shopping. It's ridiculous. Nobody said, 'This is a war born of oil, turn your thermostats down five degrees.' "

Sorry, but no, the current war was not born of oil. It was born mostly of Islamo-fascist rage at the West and at modernity. If there was not one drop of oil in the Middle East, the enemy would still hate us and try to kill us. Burns, who obviously knows a lot about history, should know better than that.

And "shared sacrifice" for it's own sake is not only stupid, but more than a little bit evil to suggest. I would much rather never again see the mistakes, of trying to appease enemies of civilization, made that made a war of the scale of World War Two necessary.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Progress on using new ceramics and alloys to extend the life of rocket engines. This is an important development for deep space exploration.
George Abbey, former Director of the Johnson Space Center and at one time the most feared and hated man at NASA, takes a dim view of the whole return to the Moon thing. Unlike other critics, he has a real simple solution. Keep the shuttle.

Meanwile, Mark Wade has some interesting comments about the way the Orion space craft will return to Earth.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Recently six Muslim Imans were ejected from an air liner for suspicious behavior. Some overwrought people are calling them the new Rosa Parks. Robert Spenser begs to differ.
Recently some clever folks in Australia with time on their hands developed something called the Wearable Instrument Shirt, designed to make noise when one plays the air guitar. I explain why this is a very bad idea.
Jeff Foust has a post which should prove sobering to all of those who stayed home last election or even voted Democrat because they were mad at all the earmarking the Republicans indulged in. Between Hoyer as Majority Leader and Mollohan, a porkmeister without peer, as subcomittee chair dealing with NASA, you aint seen nothing yet.
Clark Lindsey posts a plea to contact the Senate to restore funding for the Centennial Challenges. I enthusiastically second that.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Robert Altman, RIP.

Yeah, I know he was a big lefty, but rather liked MASH and Nashville. For all of you space enthusiasts, he also did a film in the late 60s called Countdown, starring a couple of unknown actors named Robert Duval and James Caan, which depicted a Lunar Gemini mission. It was a kind of cheesy film, but of some historical interest IMHO.

Duval more recently starred as an astronaut in the film Deep Impact.
Jon Goff responds to some points made below.
I had a few more comments I felt like making to your post about
dry-launch. I think you're misunderstanding some of what I'm saying.

1-I'm not talking about "three modified launchers". I'm talking about
using stock versions of the launchers. Falcon IX is being designed from
the ground up to be a man-rated booster. Which means that if it
actually makes it to market, it would not need any modifications
whatsoever for launching either crew, cargo, or propellants in order to
participate in a dry-launch scheme. Delta wouldn't require any
modifications to operate as a propellant or cargo delivery rocket
either. If they want to man-rate their Delta IV line (as Lockheed is
planning on doing anyway for their Atlas V line), they could, and that
would mean that what would then be stock Deltas could perform all three
missions. And once again, with the Atlas's, any upgrades become the
stock configuration. That means that whether it's flying NASA hardware,
DoD hardware, Bigelow passengers or cargo, propellants, comsats, or
whatever, it will be using the same hardware. I'm not talking about
huge grandiose multi-billion dollar hardware developments. What little
developments are involved are minor, relatively low-cost, and are
already being pursued by most of these companies at least partially on
their own dime.

Some points/questions:
(A) Falcon 9 is envisioned as the carrier for the Dragon space capsule under the COTS program. Does that mean that it would also--say--carry an Orion without any other modifications?

(B) Lockmart is not "planning to manrate the Atlas 5." It is currently studying the possibility of doing so as part of an arrangement with Bigelow.

(C) I'd like a definition of "minor, relatively low-cost." We've all heard that one before. One of the points made in one of the NASASpaceFlight forums is that proponents of alternative architectures seem to assume that their plans with not have unforeseen development problems, something that would be unique in the history of rocketry.
2-While an EELV/Falcon dry-launch architecture would likely start out
with barely enough capacity to match the planned ESAS mission tempo, it
would do so several years sooner. NASA could be flying ESAS class lunar
missions as soon as 2010-2012 using such a method, instead of waiting
till 2019. As that demand firmed up, and as more experience was gained
with such a system, capabilities could and would ramp up. The much
lower cost of the system would allow NASA to fly many more times a year,
and that would in turn drive up demand for cargo delivered to LEO. Most
of the current price issues with LEO access stems from the abysmally low
flight rate. Increase that dramatically and not only will you see
existing boosters get cheaper per flight, but you'll also see new
entrants coming to market. Long before some mythical COTS on the moon
comes about, NASA could be spurring on the investment of billions of
dollars of private money into a truly robust commercial space
transportation industry, but alas they'd rather play rocket boys.

That sounds very good, but once again it sounds like the scheme is promised not to have any unforeseen problems in the development phase. Maybe that would be the case. Maybe not. Also, while if it all works out, it would certainly mean more money in the corporate pockets of Lockmart, Boeing, and maybe SpaceX, what about other potential players. The whole idea of a "commercial space transportation industry" is that other players (R-P/Kistler?) can easily compete. I'm not sure I see how that is the case. Maybe Jon can enlighten us.

3-If you're smart about how you do the logistics, you don't need long
loiter times for the CEV on-orbit. For starters, you could just
preposition the propellant. Only launch the CEV once everything else is
ready to go. But the reality is that there are probably even better
ways than that.

How many tanker flights would it take to top of a CEV? If more than one, will this involve the CEV docking with several fuel modules or will there be one common one that the refuelingt flights top off from which the CEV subsequently refuels?

4-Yes, commercial purchases still would have to pay their share of
upgrades, but those development costs will be spread out among all
customers, and will be largely (if not entirely) offset by higher
performance, and lower marginal costs due to higher flight rate. With
Ares I/V, NASA has to pay the full development cost up front, then the
full fixed cost every year, then the full marginal cost for every
flight. With say encouraging Atlas V to develop the Phase I upper stage
(the WBC I've been talking about), NASA doesn't pay the full development
cost or fixed cost. It pays the marginal cost, plus its share of the
other costs. Which will be cheaper than if it developed it in-house.
Higher flight rates for Atlas/Delta would also eliminate the need for
subsidies that DoD is having to chip in every year.

So, it is envisioned that the expansion of EELV (and presumably Falcon 9) infrastructure would also mean the addition of more customers to share the cost. This might be true, if we assume a high flight rate causing less cost per flight. The cheaper that something is, the more it will be used. But I would like to see some kind of marketing study to back this up.

5-No, they wouldn't share launch facilities. They're different
launchers, have different processing styles, and are different sizes.
However, they were all designed for much higher flight rates than will
exist without dry-launch, and they all developed their fixed
infrastructure for less than a billion or two. If there's enough demand
for them to justify adding another pad, or another processing building,
or another mobile transporter, or whatever, they'll do it. And they'll
do it as affordably as they can manage, because they're for-profit
enterprises. Even if NASA paid for the infrastructure upgrades out of
pocket to allow for a massive flight rate, you'd still only be talking
about $1-1.5B tops. Far less than they're going to have to blow
completely overhauling their LC-39 infrastructure for the Stick and Ares
V. But once again, these are commercial boosters. If they have enough
demand, they'll decide to upgrade their infrastructure.

Sounds great, but again I'd like to see a more detailed analysis.

6-We have firm numbers on how much it cost to develop and field Atlas V
and Delta IV, including developing the RS-68, developing multiple
classes of boosters, developing the factories capable of building over
30 vehicles per year, and both teams setting up launch facilities on
both coasts. The total amount came to around $2.5B IIRC. Period.
Full-stop. When you compare those hard, real, existing numbers to
adding a few extra pieces of hardware, or finishing the upgraded upper
stage they've been developing for several years, I just have a hard time
where you imagine that another $19B is going to come up. When you
actually compare what they spent delivering what they did, it's
perfectly reasonable to believe that for the cost of adding some extra
pad facilities at their Cape Canaveral facilities, and in the case of
Atlas V, finish the development of their Phase I upper stage, I really
have a hard time believing it will cost even as much as it took to field
the vehicles in the first place.

Call it a wild guess, but a slight upgrade usually doesn't cost multiple
times as much as the original.

Yes, they cost more than originally billed, but as you point out flight
rate has a huge part in that. They built their factories and launch
pads for 12-24 flights per year *each*, and are only getting 2-3 flights
per year each. They were basing their prices on what they thought was a
conservative 6-8 flights each. Anybody with a lick of sense who was
given that data would come to the conclusion that a large part of the
price increase comes from having to support fixed-costs over a much
smaller number of flights.

By comparison, the Shaft (if you include the fixed costs as EELVs do)
will cost at least $370M per flight, and that's before adding any of the
CEV hardware. And that's using the most optimistic NASA numbers I've
seen. I'm sorry, but if *that's* their typical wildly optimistic
low-ball estimate, I'd hate to see what the real numbers come in at.

Lockheed/Boeing may sometimes act like NASA-lite, but I'll take
NASA-lite to NASA-thick-and-heavy any day of the week.

Again, sounds great, but I'd like to see a more detailed analysis of compared development/operational cost.

7-When it comes to space exploration, what matters most is how much
you're able to do, not how you get there. If you can send twice as many
Mars missions for half the price, who cares if it takes 30, 40, or even
150 flights per mission? Taxpayers don't give the government fractions
of a launch vehicle flight. They give them dollars. What matters is,
with the limited money that NASA has, what allows them to accomplish the
most exploration and the most impact for good in space development? Not
how many flights it took per mission to do that. I think there's a
solid case that can be made that not developing HLVs, and investing that
money instead in buying lots of flights and fielding the technologies
need for *real* space exploration (not the round-off error known
erroneously as "Apollo on Steroids"), will allow for more exploration to
be done for less money, and sooner.

Here I think was the real show stopping for the EELV option, even given every other consideration. NASA has concluded that Mars is going to require heavy lift, which to them means the Ares 5. Since the money is not in the budget to start developing that vehicle until after the shuttle is retired, something has to be done to keep the expertise for doing Ares 5 employed and functional until then. That means Ares 1, which has some bits in common with its future big sister (the 5 segment SRB, the J 2S, and so on.)

Taking tens of flights just to set up each Mars expedition is crazy, IMHO, if one has a simpler alternative. It would be sort of like suggesting that every flight across the Atlantic has to involve tens of in flight refueling operarions.

What matters mostly in the end is results, not merely how those results
are achieved. And quite frankly, the pitiful amount of results that
NASA expects to be given $70B+ over the next decade for aren't worth
it. I wouldn't be opposing Apollo on Sterroids if they were only going
to spend $5B over a few years, and get us back on a reasonable schedule,
but somehow I'm supposed to be supportive of a plan that costs more,
delivers less, takes longer, and wastes countless opportunities to
really change the status quo?

I'm afraid that Jon simply has not proven his case that his approach is the better one. Oh, it might be, but for reasons stated, I doubt it. He's made some back of the enevlope claims about cost and schedule that may or may not be true, given a lack of a detailed study. Mind, I would encourage him and others to keep working on their ideas. It's not going to change NASA's mind. But, with future advancements in technology, some of these ideas might prove the basis of a true commercial cis lunar transportation system when lunar commercial markets open up. For better or ill, the Ares train has left the station. I know that the memo from Jeff Hanley and the subsequent interview in Space News got some noses out of joint for its tone. But there was one very good point in it. One can argue endlessly over the best way to get back to the Moon (and Jon's is not the only one. There are almost a dozen that I've seen by last count) or one can get back to the Moon. Ares is going to work, I suspect, if only because NASA will make it work.

Of course, one could continue to tilt at the windmill of opposing "Apollo on steroids" and making grandiose statements about how it's on the point of collapse and is bound to fail. Of course, that doesn't look like it is the case. I think that the critics took a credibility hit recently when, having claimed that Ares 1 was not making weight, discovered that in fact that it was. (Assuming of course that there is not some kind of conspiracy to "hide the truth" involving top NASA management.)

I do however think that there are more productive uses of ones time. Stopping James Oberstar from destroying the space tourism industry might be one idea. Getting more funding for X prizes might be another. Just a thought.

Monday, November 20, 2006

This is a fascinating idea that I'm inclined to agree with, so long as it is not done in public and frightens the horses. Via Stacy Bartley.
Apparently Charlie Rangel's plot to bring back the draft is too rich even for our other new Democrat overlords.
Looks like NASA is taking some of the blogosphere carping over the Ares seriously enough to allow certain managers to be interviewed in Space News. Their explanation for rumors about Ares 1 not making weight are very illuminating.
Will James Oberstar Kill the Space Tourism Industry? It could happen, unless he is stopped.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Jon Goff, in my humble opinion, continues to beat the dead horse of using "six to twelve" (Twelve?!) launches of modified EELVs to do a lunar mission rather than the current Ares architecture of two launches. The idea is that the vehicles would be launched "dry" (sans LOX) on two modified EELVs. The other four to eight launches would be tanker flights to fill to fuel tanks. As Jon states:
Upon a little thought, you realize that the only failures that can cause a loss of mission are failures on hardware flights. A lost propellant flight doesn't cost you the mission, since you can easily fly a replacement. Only a failure involving the docking or launch of one of the hardware flights actually eliminates something unique that you needed for the mission.

I'm not certain which NASA Jon imagines would do that. I suspect that if a tanker flight were to fail for some unknown reason (or even a known reason), NASA would stand down to try to figure out and correct the problem. And I think we all know how much time NASA takes doing that.

Indeed, even a small, entrepreneurial company like SpaceX has spent many months after a launch failure which it had a very good understanding of.

A number of questions come to mind:

(1) How long will it take to launch six to twelve modified EELVs using the current infrastructure?

The short answer I suspect is too long. The LSAM/EDS is designed to loiter in orbit up to a month waiting for the Orion with the crew to dock. How much longer will it have to wait to also get tanked up?

And that leads to a second, related question:

(2) If the Orion is being launched dry, then how long does the crew wait in LEO to await being fueled? And, if the mission failure scenario take place, will it have enough fuel to deorbit and land?

Again, I suspect that the answer is, too long. And that's without even considering the extra consumables necessary to sustain the crew while they wait for the fuel rockets.

OK, so we build more infrastructure (that means pads, processing facilities, and so on) to enable us to launch the modified EELVs in a shorter period of time.

The problem is, that costs money, on top of the money it will take to modify and man rate the EELVs. I can see that cost rapidly eating up whatever savings one might get by canceling Ares 1 and Ares 5.

And let's not forget that without something like Ares 5, Mars becomes a lot tougher. As it is, NASA estimates four launches of an Ares 5 to put together a Mars mission.

Addendum: Jon responds:

Hey Mark,
I want to avoid getting into a tit-for-tat on my blog, so I'll just post some comments here if you want to put them on your blog. Your comments are in italics.

I'm not certain which NASA Jon imagines would do that. I suspect that if a tanker flight were to fail for some unknown reason (or even a known reason), NASA would stand down to try to figure out and correct the problem. And I think we all know how much time NASA takes doing that.

Exactly. And that is why a multiple launcher system is more robust. So what if NASA stands down the Atlas line, so long as the Delta line and the Falcon line, and other lines are still working. If the stick suffers a failure, you are out a multi-billion dollar lunar payload. Period. If one of the two or three or four commercial companies launching your propellant fails, you can keep on going while you solve the problem. It's called redundancy. It's a good thing.

(So we're going to modify not one by three different launch systems. I'd love to see the cost of doing that. I suspect it involves just a little more than sticking a tank full of LOX on top of a booster and letting fly.)

(1) How long will it take to launch six to twelve modified EELVs using the current infrastructure?

The short answer I suspect is too long. The LSAM/EDS is designed to loiter in orbit up to a month waiting for the Orion with the crew to dock. How much longer will it have to wait to also get tanked up?

Actually, they're designing the LSAM/EDS to survive a 6-month loiter, not just a one month wait. That way they can handle any delays on the Stick. As for how long it would take for six to twelve, I don't have numbers for Delta, and I can't seem to dig up the reference at the second for Atlas, but what I remember reading was that Atlas could handle 12+ flights per year without any new infrastructure, and that by adding a second set of some of the infrastructure, they could push to 30 flights a year without requiring massive changes in how they do things.

If you assume 12 EELV Medium flights per lunar mission, we're still talking about being able to do the same mission operations tempo with EELVs without infrastructure improvements as we are for the theoretical Ares I/V vehicles. With some simple infrastructure upgrades, you could increase the op-tempo even further to double or triple the planned flight rate. If others like Kistler, SpaceX, or newer players also join in, you could have a much higher flight rate than what is even theoretically possible with Ares I/V.

(My Impression was that NASA would like to do at least two lunar missions a year. I suspect accomodating that with "commercially available" but radically modified EELVs would not be trivial.)

(2) If the Orion is being launched dry, then how long does the crew wait in LEO to await being fueled? And, if the mission failure scenario take place, will it have enough fuel to deorbit and land?

Again, I suspect that the answer is, too long. And that's without even considering the extra consumables necessary to sustain the crew while they wait for the fuel rockets.

Well, you wouldn't launch Orion 100% dry. You'd keep enough propellants on board to cover all of your bases abort wise. As for the crew wait issues, there are so many ways you could skin that cat that I'm not too worried about it. But here's two simple ideas. First, you could buy a Sundancer module from Bigelow or use ISS as a staging area for the assembly. That way crew wait times aren't a problem, and by having people in the loop, rendezvous and docking reliability goes way up. Second, you could launch the propellants for Orion before launching Orion. You could possibly combine the two if you wanted to.

Yes, this stuff takes a little thought, but is by no means impossible, or even that unreasonable.

(I wouldn't want an Orion crew loitering around LEO, even in a Bigelow (more cost) module (ISS is in the wrong orbit) while their muscles atrophe and the calcium leaches from their bones unless they really have to.)

OK, so we build more infrastructure (that means pads, processing facilities, and so on) to enable us to launch the modified EELVs in a shorter period of time.

Who is this "we"? Lockheed or Boeing can opt to build more infrastructure if they need it to meet the flight rates. Remember, you are *commercially* purchasing propellants delivered FOB orbit. That means that how they meet those requirements is up to them, and is on their tab. And the EELVs while "modified" compared to their current state will at that point be *standard* EELVs. Lockheed already stated that if it goes with WBC, or if it man-rates Atlas V, that *every single Atlas V flight* after that point will use that upgraded software and hardware. Which means that instead of launching custom designs every time, you end up launching dozens of the *exact same stock booster*. That makes a huge difference in cost and reliability.

Another point to remember is that both EELV teams designed their current boosters, and built all the infrastructure for supporting 12-24 flights per year each, for less than 1/4 of what NASA intends to spend on just developing Ares I. I think they can probably upgrade their infrastructure pretty cost effectively. Remember, if they're doing this commercially, they have to make sure they do it in a cost effective manner. I'd be surprised if the infrastructure modifications Lockheed would need to up their rate to 30/year would cost them more than $250-500M.

(I'd be surprised if it didn't cost more. Claiming "commercial purchase" only means that the cost of new infrastructure is included in the price. We pay one way or the other. Another question. Would the same pad and processing facility accomodate an Atlas V, a Delta IV, and a Falcon 9. Or would they need seperate infrastructure? And even if all three vehicles could be stacked and launched in the same facility, I could see lots of reasons why Elon Musk would not want the boys at United Launch Alliance to get too close a look at his rocket.)

The problem is, that costs money, on top of the money it will take to modify and man rate the EELVs. I can see that cost rapidly eating up whatever savings one might get by canceling Ares 1 and Ares 5.

Not really. Boeing and Lockheed have shown that they can do things a lot more affordably than NASA can. It still isn't the most cost effective in the world, but when you compare it to nearly $30-50B over the next decade, it's really hard to beat. I'd be surprised if all of the upgrade costs came to more than $1B between the two of them--if they were doing it on their own dime and selling commercial flights to NASA, instead of NASA insisting on running the show.

(In what universe does this take place? My observation is that Lockmart and Boeing are like little NASAs, mostly because in dealing with NASA they have to be. What was the difference between the launch price of an EELV when first proposed and the current price? I know, launch rates are all, but still...

I would like to see a more exhaustive cost analysis on Jon's scheme than what appear to these tired, old eyes as guesses. No offense.)

And let's not forget that without something like Ares 5, Mars becomes a lot tougher. As it is, NASA estimates four launches of an Ares 5 to put together a Mars mission.

Which means 1-2 years worth of perfectly flawless launches on the Ares V per Mars mission. It just isn't realistic. Get used to on-orbit assembly and on-orbit propellant transfer and everything gets a lot easier. With that much demand (we're talking hundreds of thousands of pounds of propellant), that would provide enough launch demand for multiple RLVs in addition to existing boosters. You might actually be cost effective and sustainable at that point.

(As opposed to how many launches of an EELV in the same period? Thirty? Forty? Fifty? I'm sorry, but fewer is better in this case.)