Random thoughts on politics, current events, popular culture, and whatever else interests me.
Mark R. Whittington is a writer residing in Houston, Texas. He is the author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction, including the novel of suspense Nocturne which he coauthored with his wife, Chantal, The Children of Apollo trilogy, The Last Moonwalker and Other Stories, Gabriella’s War, The Man from Mars: The Asteroid Mining Caper, and Why is it So Hard to Go Back to the Moon?
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Sunday, April 30, 2006
We saw United 93 Friday night. It is everything you are hearing about it and more. Go and see the film, though it will be hard to watch.
We'll have more to say about it anon.
Looks like the HBO series Rome will indeed have a second series. Ave!
Saturday, April 29, 2006
NASA, it seems, has decided that the key to lunar exploration is finding ways to make money on the Moon. Now, a lot of people, including Your Humble Servant, have been saying this for years. But for the space agency to now agree with the sentiment represents a sea change in policy that I suspect will not be fully appreciated for some time to come.
Friday, April 28, 2006
Sam Dinkin has an interesting idea (scroll down to the comments section; the "open letter" is somewhat ambiguous.)
So what would a White House event promoting commercial space look like? Having the major players in the space tourism industry over? Someone like Elon Musk over after a successfull launch? Or maybe something related to the final selection for the COTS program?
Thursday, April 27, 2006
Learning to Extract Arsenic from Plants and Soil
Technology Moving Toward Cheap, Efficient Water Desalination
Teddy Kennedy is all for alternate energy sources like wind power. Except when he's not.
Who is John Galt?
It could be Brad Pitt, with Angelina Jolie as Dagney Taggart. The mind boggles. Still, Atlas Shrugged has been talked as a project for almost thirty years.
Proof that the politics of space exploration have taken an interesting turn. One of the most liberal Senators and one of the most conservative Senators seem to agree that NASA needs more money. Remarkable.
David Beamer, father of the hero Todd Beamer, says that the film United 93 got it right.
Day of Decision: The Battle of Saratoga.
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Supply chain management issues for people on the Moon and Mars will be, well, daunting.
One of the accusations made against the NASA plan to return to the Moon is that the set of space vehicles proposed, being made partly of space shuttle parts, constitute a plot to retain the huge, bloated work force that is servicing the space shuttle, thus making the new system just as expensive. While some skills needed for the shuttle can be transvered to ESAS, NASA Administrator Mike Griffin seems to disagree with that canard.
The agency also is no closer to solving what Griffin described as its biggest challenge -- shifting its operational workforce from shuttle and space station duties to the new moon vehicles.
Griffin said this to a group of Senators, who would seem to be keenly interested in the space program as being a jobs in the district machine.
Jim Pinkerton suggests that the British Royals, of all people, have something to teach about courage and leadership that rich swells in this side of the Atlantic might heed.
Chair Force Engineer takes a look at the latest version of NASA new heavy lifter, and finds that it looks very familier indeed.
The first crew to return to the Moon may include an astronaut from Great Britain. If so, I suspect the shades of Drake, Cook, and Shackleton will smile.
Famed physicist Richard Feyman as an action hero, sort of like Indiana Jones? Done right, this could be a lot of fun.
Next thing you know, the late Carl Sagan will be battling commies in the early sixties.
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Rich Kolker, who once upon a time used to be a reasonable guy, but is currently spirally down into everything that is unattractive about a lefty, scorns the idea of outreach to religious voters. The problem is that roughly ninety percent of the electorate in the United States believes in some kind of God and scorning them is not exactly a sure fire way to win elections.
Rich engages in other flights of foolery.
We have observed John McCain's destruction in 2000 by the Religious Right in South Carolina and Howard Dean's uncomfortable, forced discussion of his religious beliefs in 2004, all because politicians have been made to feel required to justify themselves to self appointed religious guardians.
McCain was not destroyed by "the Religious Right", which seems to be the lefty version of the Elders of Zion when it comes to blaming some group for all the world's ills. McCain destroyed himself by trying to get the Republican nomination while spurning Republican voters.
Ronald Reagan, it is said, seldom darkened the door of a church before his Presidency.
It really rankles that President Reagan is honored as the man who brought down the Soviet Empire. One can be religious without going to church, of course. But Rich prefers the snarky accusation of "faking it."
Of course Bill Clinton attended church regularly and conspicuously, and I'm nt sure there are any of the Commandments he did not break at one time or another.
How far have we traveled from JFK's assertion that "I hope that no American ... will waste his franchise and throw away his vote by voting either for me or against me solely on account of my religious affiliation. It is not relevant."
I hope Rich remembers that when liberals start attacking Mitt Romney for his Mormanism in 2008, just as they did when he ran for governor.
Read the whole thing. The icy contempt for anyone with religious faith just reeks. It demonstrates one of the big problems the Left has. One just can't win elections by telling ninety percent of the voters that their irrational bigots.
For all of us who loved the stories of daring do on the high seas with such folks as Captain Hornblower and Captain Aubrey, Mrs Curmudgeon discusses the history and mixing of grog.
While environmentalist wackos are blocking the development of ANWR, it looks like--thanks to the 2005 Energy Act--that the process to develop oil shale reserves on federal land is proceeding apace. I hope no one tells John Kerry or Chucky Schumer until it's too late.
Hot air over high gas prices is driving Bill Murchison to drink. The latest seems to be Senator Chucky Schumer bellowing for the break up of the oil companies.
Monday, April 24, 2006
Sir Ian McKellen wanted his charecter Magneto to do Patrick Stewert's Professor X in the up coming X men film.
I see that now that there's another spike in the price of oil, certain politicians are demanding that the oil companies be punished, including a imposition of a windfall profits tax.
For those of you unfamiliar with the idea, this is the way a windfall profits tax works. The government sets an arbitrarily level beyond which profits are considered "windfall" and then slap a huge, draconian tax on it. It doesn't have any purpose but extracting money from big oil for the government to do what it wants with it, certainly not expanding the supply of oil or lowering its price. In fact, with a windfall profits tax in effect, the government will not want any of these things to happen. It would mean less tax revenue.
In another life time, I managed a windfall profits system, with the help of an accountant, for an independent oil company. It was a system of such complexity that it occupied most of my time keeping it running. On top of that, the government regulators would change the rules on a monthly basis, requiring fixes to the system.
The absurdity of the situation was hammered home when the price of oil started to dip below the arbitrary level the government had set. Because the original designers of the system had not anticipated this happening, the system started generating negative windfall profits taxes. That meant that it was lowering the company's over all tax liability. The correct method would be to just zero out the windfall profits tax every time a property sold oil below the cut off level.
Unfortunately, because of accounting practices of the company, previous months' revenues were subject to adjustments. That meant that the price of oil sold by a typical property could move above or below the cut off level, depending on the adjustment. Therefore I had to develop a kind of parallel system to keep track of this, adjusting the windfall profits from negative to positive and back again, plugging the numbers from one system to the other as needed.
And some people wonder why I am the Curmudgeon.
Cynthia McKinney attempts to string arm the media and therefore digs herself deeper.
It used to be that traitors worked for enemy countries, motivated either by idealogy or by money. Mary McCarthy, who apparently was a Clintonista mole inside the CIA, seems to have been motivated by another kind of idealogy, more related to domestic partisan politics than--say--the notion that Communism was the wave of the future. We cannot imagine her burbling secrets to a Washington Post reporter was motivated by any love for Al Qaeda. That doesn't make her apparent treason any less heinous, of course. Alas there are some who think differently.
The next Chinese manned flight will take place on September, 2008. That's just after the Beijing Olympics. Interestingly it is also just before the 2008 US Presidential elections.
Eric Hedman bemoans the fact that science and R&D (into which he includes the Vision for Space Exploration) is not a political issue and suggests ways to change that. Of course that could be a double edged sword. A political issue implies different points of view; people against as well as far.
Taylor Dinerman muses on the perils and promises of space cooperation with China. My personal opinion is that there are more of the former than the latter and one ought to be very careful indeed.
Bon Clarebrough suggests that despite the success of SpaceShipOne, private space travel still doesn't get respect in certain quarters. Likely so, but my suggestion is that the answer to that consists of more accomplishments. It's alright to say that just as Kitty Hawk led to private aviation, SpaceShipOne must lead to private space travel. But there is nothing like seeing more space craft flying to prove it. Meanwhile, Jeff Foust discusses the current state of affairs of the so far embyronic commercial space travel industry.
Sunday, April 23, 2006
Jeff Foust has some pretty good summaries of the Friday and Saturday sessions of the Space Access Conference. Despite some off putting boasting going on (see my complaint below), there is a lot of serious action taking place, much of it because of NASA initiated policies. There's been a great deal of positive response to noth only COTS but the Lunar Lander Challenge being conducted by both the X Prize Foundation and NASA under the Centennial Challenge program.
Saturday, April 22, 2006
Rand Simberg has been providing some live blogging from the Space Access Conference. He has a report of some remarks by Jim Muncy. One thing jumped out at me:
Don't fight about the architecture. The fight is between any commercial activity in LEO and an all-government program. The fight is for enough resources so that more of us can get into business, regardless of how much money NASA wastes to send a few astronauts to the moon. Because if we can move along well enough in LEO, and get costs to orbit down, we'll beat them to the moon. We know there's a commercial market for it, we know there's an entertainment market for it. Once we get the costs down, someone will put the deal together and beat them, so why fight them.
"The architecture" of course the NASA plan to return to the Moon that many folks in the Internet Rocketeer Club seem dead set against. There's a big problem with Jim Muncy's reasoning. The prospect of alt.space launching people into low Earth orbit any time soon seems to be dependent on how much a success COTS is. Elon Musk has even suggested that early development of his proposed Dragon space ship is dependent on getting funding from NASA through COTS. That's from a guy who has actually created a successful business and has actually built flyable hardware. Jim Muncy himself suggests that COTS consists of just crumbs and alt.space needs more subsidies to get into LEO in a significant way.
Therefore the idea that alt.space is going to go from where it is now to taking people to the Moon before NASA, without government help, is the height of hubris It wrecks the credibility of alt.space to make statements like that, with no supporting evidence that anything of the sort is going to happen.
My suggestion is that instead of making idle boasts that a private company is going to beat NASA to the Moon, space advocates should concentrate on pushing realistic policies that will open space to commercial development. Let's see how soon and how extensive private space development happens in LEO before bragging about private sector Moon walkers. In any event, I suspect that the first private people to go to the Moon will likely go as a result of a lunar version of COTS to support a NASA lunar base.
By the way, I see a danger in demanding too much money for COTS. At a certain point it would turn the initiative from providing incentives for private space vehicles to actually paying for them with government money. That's a road that should not be gone down.
Retired Air Force General Pete Worden, celebrated for his ability to think outside the box, has been appointed director of NASA Ames Research Center.
Friday, April 21, 2006
Another review of United 93 from Aintitcool. There's a tiresome discussion of the question, "Is it too soon?" (My answer: It's about time!), followed by a very favorable review.
A hundred and seventy years ago, Texas won its independence from Mexico on the field of San Jacinto, avenging the massacres at the Alamo and Goliad.
Looks like a new new Star Trek movie is on again, featuring the adventures of young Kirk and Spock.
With Chinese leader Hu Jintao in the United States, there seems to be some talk of space cooperation. So far it seems to be just talk.
Regarding where things stand today in terms of NASA’s cooperation with China, Mathews said: “Generally speaking, NASA is constrained in its ability to discuss new civil space cooperation with China until China addresses issues of concern to the U.S. government. Our current involvement with China is limited and consists of such things as low-level Earth science exchanges of data. There is no human spaceflight-related cooperation under consideration at this time.”
And for a variety of good reasons.
“Specifically, there is no distinction between space technology for civil or military use, since 95 percent of space technology is dual-use, and further—and really problematic—there is often little or no distinction between military technology that is offensive or defensive in nature,” Johnson-Freese explained. “So, fear of being exploited drives countries to view actions of others in zero-sum terms.”
Translated: China is a fascist dictatorship that oppresses its own people and threatens the peace of the world with its imperial ambitions and military buildup. China in turn regards the United States as the princible impediment to those ambitions.
Just in time for a scary movie by Al Gore about global warming, a group of scientists have cooled to the idea.
Addendum: Jonah Goldberg suggests that Al Gore is the Tailgunner Joe of the environmental extremists. Green scare indeed.
Thursday, April 20, 2006
Aviation legend and first man to fly twice the speed of sound Scott Crossfield has died in a plane crash Our condelences to his family and friends.
The debate over whether there is a space race with China and whether there should be, continues. Also here, with a suggestion I don't agree with:
As China no doubt appreciates, a focused civilian space endeavor is the best way to improve or maintain a country's technological edge. If China wants to plant its flag on the moon, then the United States should plant its on Mars.
My suggestion is that if China plants its flag on the Moon, a representative from the American lunar settlement should be there for the ceremony, carrying visa forms.
A live action feature film based on Milton's Paradise Lost. Interesting. Next, perhaps Dante's Inferno? (Or, come to think of it, Niven and Pournelle's version?)
Oddly enough, Deborah Orin does not see signs of impending GOP doom. Along with her reasons, I suspect the awareness that the Dems are just too dangerous to be allowed in power is starting to sink in. This should not mean that the Republicans should not address their problems, however.
China's imperial ambitions, as well as that country'sd military buildup, has caused an American reponse.
One of the technologies NASA is developing to assist astronauts on future interplanetary missions is telemedicine, as well as robot surgeons.
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
A review about the very first major motion picture about 9/11, United 93.
Anne Applebaum gives the back of her hand to environmental extremests who are now literally tilting at windmills. There is apparently no energy production technology, no matter how benign, that they will not oppose. Captain Ed also comments.
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Let me get this straight. According to Congressman Neil Abercrombie (D) Hawaii and Congressman Curt Weldon (R) Pennsylvania, we ought not to kill Muslim terrorists with Israeli made bullets.
Although the Army should not have to worry about "political correctness," Abercrombie was making a valid point about the propaganda pitfalls of using Israeli rounds in the U.S.-declared war on terror, said Rep. Curt Weldon, the Pennsylvania Republican who chairs the subcommittee on tactical air and land forces.
Are they kidding? Sensitivity? Regarding the sort of people who fly airplanes into building and blow up women and children as suicide bombers? If I were either of these two gentlemen, I should be ashamed to have said such bilge.
In fact, I am so sensitive about Islamo fascist murdering thugs that had I my way every one we kill would be buried along with the carcass of a pig. They may not be afraid to die, but they would fear that kind of defilement.
Medic in a Box: The Intelligent First Aid Kit.
A couple of folks with the Center for Strategic and International Studies urge the President to embrace China as a new partner in space exploration. Their reasoning falls apart very quickly because of some things they don't mention.
First, any space exploration effort with only one transportation system is faced with a critical bottleneck. After the Columbia disaster, it was clear that a backup system such as the Russian Soyuz capsule is essential to a continued human presence in space -- while the shuttle cannot fly, the Russians and Chinese will be the only countries that can put people in orbit. Moreover, if Russian Soyuz wasn't able to dock with the international space station, the crew of the station could have been stranded.
The authors forget or perhaps are unaware of the COTS program that is designed to encourage the development of private space craft to perform crew rotation and resupply tasks for ISS. It would be far preferable to rely on commercial space craft to keep ISS running than to depend on the Russians or the Chinese.
The second lesson of the post-Apollo era is that international cooperation is essential to maintaining a space-exploration program. In the space station we can see that international cooperation, even with questionable execution, is vital to maintaining the political viability of space exploration. Any solely national system -- such as Skylab -- can fall prey first to domestic political concerns and ultimately come crashing to Earth. In other words, multiple transport systems are critical to crew survival and international cooperation is critical to the sustained political support needed for program survival.
International cooperation is fine when it's with countries that share ones values. Europe, Canada, Japan, India, and even Russia (though Putin is increasingly acting more like a Tsar than an elected President) are acceptable partners. But China is a totalitarian state, a fascist government which persecutes political and religious dissidents, which threatens it's neighbors with military aggression, which steals land from it's own people for favored companies to develop. We would not contemplate asking Iran or North Korea to become space partners, even if they had something to contribute to space exploration projects. China is just as unaccecptable in its own way.
No, it is better to recognize that there is a race to see which system will define the future by exploring and settling the high frontier of space. Will it be democracy and free market capitalism? Or totalitarian fascism and crony "capitalism?" The decisions we make now will determine the answer.
NASA has achieved some milestones in testing a methane/LOX engine. This will surely stoke up debate over engines and fuels to be used in the return to the Moon.
Monday, April 17, 2006
More evidence that complacency concerning China's lunar plans may be misplaced.
Michael Barone asks the question: Will the Democrats win control of the House this year? His answer: probibly not.
Polls are not good predictors of turnout -- only elections are. Last week, we had a special election in the 50th district of California, whose Republican congressman resigned in disgrace and went to prison. In 2004, the 50th district voted 55 percent for George W. Bush and 44 percent for John Kerry. Last week, the district voted 53 percent for Republicans (there were 14 candidates, the winner among whom goes on to a June 6 runoff) and 45 percent for Democrats. There were only two of them, and the leader, Francine Busby, got 44 percent of the vote -- the same percentage as Kerry. That may be 1 percent higher when the last absentees are counted.
There's a feeling among pundits that perhaps the GOP deserves to lose the House (and the Senate) because after almost twelve years in power, it has run out of gas and has become too enraptured with power rather than princible. I think this may be true, but also misses the point.
We the people do not deserve the GOP losing the House, or rather what will happen because of it. The Democrats are wrong about virtually every issue, but they are downright dangerous where the War on Terror is concerned. If the Democrats are the party of socialism at home, they are even more to the point the party of appeasement abroad. Do we really want to live in a world where the Iranians are getting nuclear weapons and Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are moving heaven and Earth to stop the President's efforts to restrain them?
Mores the pity, because something has to be done about the Republicans' caving on issues such as taxes, immigration, and the tendency to spend on frivolity.
Eric R. Hedman looks on with bemusement on the heated debates concerning ESAS, NASA's plan to return to the Moon.
If you read a number of the space-related web sites, forums, and blogs, you will find opinions on the direction NASA is going that range from just about perfect to that it will condemn the human race to extinction. I think that this range of opinions would exist no matter what the plans are or become.
I couldn't have said it better myself.
Addendum: Rand Simberg is unimpressed by Eric Hedman's analysis. He spends a lot of bandwidth that he is unimpressed, without explaining why.
The issue to me isn't whether or not it's workable. It probably is, from a purely technical standpoint, given sufficient funding (which is actually a huge caveat). The issue is whether or not it's politically and economically sustainable.
The first and second sentences are a remarkable admission. The third is unsupported by anything in the post. Expressing an opinion with passion and vehemence does not make the opinion any more valid. Indeed, the evidence would suggest just the opposite. Congress has made a return to the Moon the law of the land. Polling data indicates that support for a return to the Moon remains high and bipartisan. Recent moves by NASA to commercialize portions of a lunar base would seem to nuke the economic sustainability argument as well.
But, of course, with Rand, it's always about him.
In fact, he negates it with his very next sentence:
Leaving aside the absurd suggestion that this analyst spends any time at all plotting to make the lives of certain people miserable, the point that Eric and I make is very valid. Given that every plan has fans and critics and given that every plan has it's tradeoffs, then it's rather tough (especially for the lay person) to come down on one side or the other. That is especially true if the arguments used consists of statements unsupported by experience or evidence, but clearly motivated by politically idealogy.
It could just as easily be argued that by finally displaying a sense of fiscal and technical realism, and admitting that the ISS was a politically driven policy and technical disaster, NASA would have a better chance of establishing its credibility for future programs. I know that it would make me more inclined to support it. But that's just me.
So, if ISS were to just go away, whatever beef Rand has with ESAS would also go away? Is this the real reason for opposition to ESAS? That ISS is a failure, therefore ESAS must be?
I call that the Vietnam syndrome of space. Just as Desert Storm and the War on Terror must become failure because Vietnam was, then any project pursued by NASA must be a failure because ISS is. The fallacy in this argument cannot be more clear.
Sunday, April 16, 2006
President Newt Gingrich? The conventional wisdom suggest, probibly not. But then, Newt has defied the conventional wisdom before.
US Space News has the following story:
This coming week is a time of decision for the CEV/CLV program. We are back to a 4 segment SRB. The 5 segment SRB 1st stage required an additional $1,000,000,000 next year to certify for flight. They wanted to change the propellant grain. This was driving a full test program and a massive amount of analysis. Simple put, the SRB program was starting over. We may add a second J-2 engine to the upperstage of the CLV to get more energy. However we can't make the 2nd stage much wider or the SRB will snap. The option to add a third stage to the CLV is out. A three stage CLV would not fit out the VAB doors. The Launch Abort Rocket design is fixed. It looks and works like the escape rocket on the Soyuz. This allow us to fly without a booster cover on the CEV capsule. Right now we can't fly the Lunar CEV SM and CM on one CLV rocket so the new plan is called "Lunar 2.5". We launch the CEV service module (minus the CEV capsule) on a CLV 1st. Followed in a day to two by a CEV Command Module and crew (minus the SM) launched by a second CLV. The CM rendezvous and docks the with SM. Followed the next day with launch of the heavy lift (HLV) booster with the earth departure stage and Lunar Lander. They all form up and away we go! One more idea from this week you might find interesting. Cancel the CLV and man rate the HLV. That will most likely not happen. It should, saves a ton of cash and gets us to one design. One more new bit. Two SRB's, one on each side of the new upperstage. Looks a lot like the Shuttle C concept with the CEV on top. Could happen. Solves the energy problem. But, it's not Monday yet. Lastly the ISS CEV will have very small version of the SM (sort of a limited propulsion module).
Because of the NASA Space Flight article fiasco, it's best to approach this with a grain of salt, especially since the story does not contain a source. But we'll watch the process of putting together the final lunar mission methodology with great interest, as well as the outside reaction.
Saturday, April 15, 2006
Jeffrey Bell is the latest to take the Dan Rather style fake but accurate attitude concerning the NASA Space Flight article that turned out to be based on false information. Thia entire situation has been agog. If I set out with a plan to thoroughly descredit all critics of NASA's return to the Moon plan, I could not have done a better job than people like Bell and others are doing. That's a pity, because like every other large organization NASA occassionally does things that require rebuke. But if this continues, NASA will just have a pat answer to any criticism. And that would be a bad thing.
Friday, April 14, 2006
Despite the fact that the NASA Space Flight article was retracted, Clark Lindsey sill opposes ESAS. So does Chairforce Engineer.
I can only observe that every possible method of going back to the Moon has its supporters, who will tell you why their preferred method is the only one that will work and why all others will not. So, I cannot help but have the sneaking suspician that no matter what method NASA were to choose, there would always be a group of people who will oppose it; some, to be sure, because NASA had chosen it.
Jonah Goldberg explains why modern Hollywood doesn't get Washington D.C.
Are Zarqawi and the Al Qaeda terrorists fleeing Iraq in defeat and ignominy? General Vines thinks so. If he is right, then we have just won a victory on an epic scale in the War on Terror.
Thursday, April 13, 2006
NASA Space Flight has now officially retracted the article that announced that VSE was in big trouble because of weight problems.
This is because the content of the article was based around NASA "internal use only" data, from a yet to be finished study.
Despite what appears to be a "study" that looks to be as phony as the Bush National Guard letter that Dan Rather presented us just a year and a half ago, the kerfluffle continues.
It seems to me that a lot of people automatically believed this story because they wanted to believe it, since it fitted a templette of NASA as an organization that can't do anything right, that always screws up. But we have to be very careful about this sort of thing, balancing the desire to get it fast with the need to get it right. Remember, we bloggers are supposed to be the new media, above the sort of practice that has discredited the main stream media.
Chris Bergin, the managing editor of NASA Space Flight, is to be commended for coming clean on the mistake immediately after having discovered it. His behavior certainly contrasts sharply with that of--say--Dan Rather, who continues to insist that he Bush National Guard story was "fake, but accurate."
Addendum: Rand Simberg's reaction is--well--remarkable.
What is it about a conservative woman of color, who is smart, capable, and is mentioned frequently as a future President or Vice President of the United States, that causes left wingers to behave like inbred, red neck klansmen? One cannot make this stuff up:
The question read, "Condoleezza holds a watermelon just over the edge of the roof of the 300-foot Federal Building, and tosses it up with a velocity of 20 feet per second." The question went on to ask when the watermelon will hit the ground, based on a formula provided. The question propagates a racial stereotype and denigrates Secretary of State Rice, said Perryman. While Rice's last name wasn't mentioned, the reference was clear, he said.
Drudge is reporting that Gena Davis' Commander in Chief, about the first female President, is about to be impeached for the high crime of low ratings.
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
From an alternate universe, in which Firefly was never cancelled.
Mike Puckett directs me to a headline over at US Space News. (No permalink apparently.)
We are going to add about $800,000,000 to the CLV 1st stage cost estimate. This should put it at about $2.1 Billion. The primary reason for this is the addition of a 5th SRB segment. We have to assemble and test fire 3 1st stage boosters before 1st test launch. We also have to do a considerable amount of analysis to make sure it's safe, and that we have not introduce an unknown into the SRBs performance. All the right things to do. We also have to get more hardware.
Eight hundred million is not chump change, but it is somewhat less than two billion.
Addendum: Clark Lindsey comments.
The managing editor of NASA Space Flight, which first broke the story of the weight problems that were alleged to be plaguing the VSE has left a message on the thread following the report that was leaked. (Scroll down to the end.)
As those who are regulars here will know, we constantly follow up our content. This is set to become the case with this - as we aim to run an interview with key person involved with the VSE in the coming days, plus - and note this - add some form of a disclaimer/retraction notice attached to the info in this thread due to it being something, I'm finding out - we really shouldn't of run, given it was sensisitive info and part of a process that isn't complete.
In other words there may be less to this than at first was seen. This should be a caution for all of those (and you know who you are) who reacted with various forms of "I told you so!" Sometimes waiting until full information is available before commenting is a good policy. It appears to be something that--in this case--the main stream media actually followed better than the blogosphere.
Rand Simberg takes note of the 45th anniversary of Gagarin's first flight and the 25th anniversary of Columbia's first flight with some of his own helpful suggestions and caustic observations.
I have two critiques of the critique.
First, Rand has presented a breath taking lack of specifics in his suggestions on how to improve the space program. It is a fine thing to have a space program that is "based on the American values of free enterprise and individualism." But what does that mean in terms of specific public policy ideas? It's alright to gripe about NASA's short comings (and that is certainly a target rich environment), but without solutions the exercise is pretty useless.
Second, Rand likes to misuse the word "socialist." "Socialism" has a specific dictionary definition and it is decidely not "any government program I don't like."
For all of NASA's shortcomings as a government agency, I'm pretty sure it does not fit that definition.
The latest "I told you so!" over the weight problems plaguing ESAS has come from the irrepressible Jeffrey Bell. Fortunately for the future of space exploration, he has some helpful suggestions
One of the things that seems to have brought about a million people into America's streets is a provision in the House immigration reform bill that would make illegal aliens into felons. Bad for Republicans? Not, if the truth were known, apparently.
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
If you got an idea about what ought to be done on the Moon once people return to it, NASA wants to hear from you.
1. Ideas should be expressed in English as achievable lunar exploration objectives, over a 25 year horizon, which address one or more of the following key elements of the exploration strategy:
The boasting that takes place from the Internet Rocketeer Club is nothing compared to that which comes out of Russia. Mind, I'd love to see this happen, if only so I can tweak people about it.
In which I give the House Republican Study Committee a hand slap for proposing--in effect--to end publically funded space flight in America.
So, how depressed are you? Here is my score:
Venus Express has successfully entered orbit around Venus. It will examine the composition of that planet's atmosphere.
NASA has added a secondary payload to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, an impactor designed to strike at a permenently shadowed crater at the Lunar South Pole, creating a plume that will presumably confirm the preasence of ice there.
Sadly, though, it looks like the follow up lunar lander is encountering budget problems.
Monday, April 10, 2006
Did global warming actually stop in 1998?
Looks like because of the switch from methane burning engines to hypergolic engines on the CLV, the CEV, and the LSAM, the CEV and the LSAM have become too heavy to go to the Moon. This would not only be embaressing, but disasterous except that the problem was found during the design phase and not years from now with metal already being bent.
I predict a number of things:
Every suggestion for alternate mission profiles are going to be hashed and rehashed, along with the inevitable "I told you sos!" from the usual suspects.
NASA will either decide to enhance the vehicles, possibly by going back to methane burners, and/or try the L2 option. The "Walmart LSAM" is a nonstarter and a quick way to get VSE cancelled.
More money will be needed to keep the program on track.
The complete study as well as the attached comments are illuminating.
Addendum: Rand Simberg and Clark Lindsey have reacted pretty much as I thought. Will NASA get religion and go to several EELVs? Maybe, but I doubt it.
Apparently Ben Affleck leaped the length of his chain on Bill Maher and suggested that President Bush could be hung for treason.
Congressman Alan Mollohan (D) West Virginia seems to be in a lot of trouble. I blame the culture of corruption.
Looks like Hollywood is developing a movie about the Terri Schiavo case. Unfortunately it will be based on Michael Schiavo's book and therefore will be decidely one sided.
Jeff Foust has an interesting piece that argues two suppositions. There is no space race with China. There should be no space race with China. He bases both almost solely on a recent talk given by Luo Ge, the Vice Administrator of the Chinese National Space Administration. But the article is significant for what it does not mention as for what it does.
For instance, one China's new planned EELV class launcher.
A case in point is the development of a new heavy-lift launch vehicle. The New Generation Launch Vehicle (which is sometimes referred to in the West as the Long March 5, although Luo said that no official name has been assigned to the vehicle yet) will feature a five-meter payload fairing and a modular design that will allow it to place as much as 25 tons into low Earth orbit and 14 tons into geosynchronous transfer orbit. That would make it comparable to the largest expendable vehicles in service today, like the Delta 4 Heavy and the Ariane 5. However, it is far smaller than the shuttle-derived heavy-lift launcher NASA is developing for future lunar exploration: that rocket will be able to place over 100 tons into LEO.
Of course the new launcher could be used for a lunar effort if China chose an Earth orbit rendevouz method, one that some critics of the NASA plan to rely on a heavy lift vehicle suggest should be done instead, using Delta IVs and Atlas Vs.
Foust goes on about what Luo Ge said about China's lunar plans.
And what about that lunar exploration program? Luo outlined China’s Chang’e lunar exploration program, which calls for an orbiter to be launched in 2007, a lander (perhaps featuring a rover, based on the illustration shown in the talk) in 2012, and a sample return mission in 2017. That timeline was something of a revelation for some in attendance at the CSIS presentation, although it was simply a reiteration of previous plans. And if to eliminate any uncertainty about that 2017 sample return mission, Luo added, “These are all unmanned missions.”
All true, but as Leonard David suggested, this is only phase one.
China has drafted a multi-step program for lunar exploration.
Indeed, China's space plans suggest a lead up to a lunar effort. Future Shenzhou missions will feature practice of space walking, rendevouz, and docking. The sample return mission would demonstrate landing a vehicle on the lunar surface and returning it. A scaled up version could surely carry people.
Foust also contradicts himself here:
Some might argue that there’s no reason to take Luo at his word, and that China may yet be developing in secret advanced space capabilities, including manned lunar exploration. True, it is wise to be skeptical about pronouncements of government officials, regardless of country. However, such capabilities, which may require the development of even-larger launch vehicles and a new spaceport, cannot be developed in secret forever. (See “Red Moon. Dark Moon.”, The Space Review, October 11, 2005.) Moreover, working on such projects in secret could negate what is one of the major purposes of the Chinese space program: international prestige.
While it's not certain that China would need to conduct a massive, secret space program to get to the Moon, the key phrase in the paragraph is "--cannot be developed in secret forever." This contradicts the following: "Moreover, working on such projects in secret could negate what is one of the major purposes of the Chinese space program: international prestige." Well, that would be gained not in the planning and development of a lunar mission, but in the lunar mission itself, which would decidely not be kept secret.
Foust goes on to suggest that the estimated budget for the Chinese space program precludes a lunar effort:
Of course, one way for China to use space to make its mark as a world power is to race the US back to the Moon, as some in the US think China is doing. However, that would require a significant amount of money, which the Chinese program appears to be lacking. Asked about the size of the Chinese space budget, Luo said that Chinese budgets were “very complicated” but estimated annual expenditures at about $500 million. That’s not only a small fraction of NASA’s $16.5-billion budget, it’s also smaller than what Russia—which, like China, benefits from low-cost labor—spends on its space program today. It may explain why some of the high-profile, but expensive, aspects of China’s space program, like Shenzhou, have proceeded at a relatively slow pace.
But is that an accurate figure? How much of the Chinese space effort does that cover? And, even given all of that, budgets can grow in future years.
Foust suggests that the United States should seek cooperation with the Chinese, rather than competition:
Such cooperation raises a number of foreign policy issues for both countries, but at least some in the US believe it’s time to engage China on space, rather than try to contain it. “Somehow, our strategy of containment, if its goal is to prevent you [China] from becoming a spacefaring nation, isn’t working,” said John Hamre, president of CSIS and a former deputy secretary of defense during the Clinton Administration, in introductory remarks at the April 3 event.
Of course, some might raise an eyebrow at the prospect of cooperation with a country that murders and otherwise oppresses it's political and religious dissidents, threatens it's neighbors with military force, has proven imperial ambitions, and a record of stealing technology from the West. Indeed, the last seems to this analyst to be the real motive for the desire of the Chinese for space cooperation. Access to American technology would be a great help.
Foust goes on to make a valid point:
Despite Luo’s statements, it’s likely some in Congress will continue to see China’s space program as a competitive threat to the US. According to the published accounts of the March 30 hearing, some used the perceived space race with China as proof that NASA needed more funding. According to Space News, Tom DeLay said that he would fight to get up to $5 billion added to NASA’s budgets in the coming years to accelerate development of the Crew Exploration Vehicle, citing China’s program as the reason. “We had a 40-year lead in space and we’re giving it up. The US is quibbling over $3 billion to $5 billion. It’s amazing to me,” he said.
Indeed, the Chinese threat (or challenge as Robert Walker prefers to call it) should not be the sole justification for the US space effort. The commercial and scientific opportunities inherent in going beyond low Earth orbit justify it even if there was no Chinese space program. Moreover, many people have a tendency to think that a space race has to be the same as that conducted with the Soviet Union in the 1960s--a neck or nothing sprint for a single point goal, making it easy for them to deny that a space race with China exists. But as this analyst pointed out a few years ago, a space race can also be a marathon with far more comprehensive goals.
Imagine this scenario. A future administration decides to cancel the Vision for Space Exploration and, for good measure, drives the commercial space sector off shore with tax increases. By the middle of the next decade, the US space program consists of a few unmanned probes and documentaries on the Discovery Channel.
Meanwhile, the Chinese keep plugging along in their slow and steady way and land men on the Moon by--say--2020. The resulting prestige China gains at the expense of the United States starts people toward the conclusion that America's days as a super power are numbered and the future lays with China.
This prospect is borne out as the Chinese proceed to commercially develop the Moon. But 2050, China is selling helium 3, space based solar power, and platinum based metals to the world. It therefore controls the future energy source of the Earth and has thus become the sole super power.
A world dominated by China would not be a pleasent one, no more than one that was dominated by the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany. That prospect should be more than sufficient to concentrate the mind when it comes to examining future space policy options.
Sunday, April 09, 2006
Friday, April 07, 2006
Ayad Rahim gives Hollywood the back of his hand for it's depiction of terrorists. I do think he's being a little unfair to 24. Last year, the TV series did actually depict Middle Eastern terrorists very accurately.
Apparently that Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, due to be launched to lunar orbit in 2008, wil also carry a lunar impactor to search for water at the lunat south pole.
Thursday, April 06, 2006
Michael Griffin gives a wide ranging talk about the nature and purposes of exploration. One part caught my eye:
Imagine if you will a world of some future time – whether it be 2020 or 2040 or whenever – when some other nations or alliances are capable of reaching and exploring the moon, or voyaging to Mars, and the United States cannot and does not. Is it even conceivable that in such a world America would still be regarded as a leader among nations, never mind the leader? And if not, what might be the consequences of such a shift in thought upon the global balance of economic and strategic power? Are we willing to accept those consequences? In the end, these are the considerations at stake when we decide, as Americans, upon the goals we set for, and the resources we allocate to, our civil space program. Humans will go to Moon and Mars; the only questions are which humans, what values they will hold, what languages they will speak.
Something to think about.
I review An Army of Davids by Glenn Reynolds.
Paul Spudis reviews Harrison Schmitt's Return to the Moon.
There is nothing that brings liberal Democrats back to their slave owning, racist roots than a black man who won't toe the line. I hope that Lt. Governor Steele is ready for what's about to happen to him.
Morris James has some more thoughts on the future direction of the Chinese space program in the light of recent remarks by Luo Ge. James agrees with Your Humble Servant that the new version of the Long March holds much significance.
Addendum: Rand Simberg reacts in his usual fashion. Now, contrary to his fervent belief that I somehow "hope for a space race with the yellow hordes" (his words, not mine), I actually hope he and Dwayne Day are right and I am wrong. But it seems to me that the consequences of my being right and the United States burying it's head in the sand (a common strategy for dealing with tyrannies that is always advocated by certain people, but which has never worked), are too dire to risk.
Addendum 2: More from Leonard David.
China has drafted a multi-step program for lunar exploration.
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
Glenn Reynolds, somewhat unfairly, is dismissive of Tom Delay's legacy.
Tom DeLay has never been much of an issues guy. He's always been a backroom guy, a fixer (that's where he differs from, say, Newt Gingrich, with whom he's being compared now).
Of course, anyone who lives in South East Texas knows that's not entirely true. He was and is a lion when it came to the space program, as well as a number of other issues.
David Frum has a more balanced appraisal.
Republicans, though, will remember Tom DeLay as the man who marshaled the votes for the great Republican legislative triumphs of the 1990s: welfare reform, budget-balancing, applying the laws of the land to members of Congress, NATO expansion. Newt Gingrich may have conceived the plans; it was DeLay who often realized them. And just as even fierce Democrats now credit Ronald Reagan for demonstrating that the presidency could work after the drift and weakness of the Carter years, so DeLay will in time get his due as the man who got action out of the House of Representatives in a way that nobody else has done since the reforms of 1974.
Frum is not entirely without his criticisms, though:
He erred especially in his now notorious “K Street Project.” He believed that by pressing lobbying firms to hire more Republicans he could somehow annex the lobbying industry as a source of strength for the conservative project. K Street would be recruited to reinforce the GOP. Instead, and all too often, it was the lobbying industry that ended up annexing the Republican party.
That's a fair assessment, but it represents not a moral failure, as Reynolds and some others believe, but a mistake in strategy.
Frum concludes thus:
And when your grandchildren and mine visit Capitol Hill decades hence, they will see Tom DeLay’s face not in pixels but in sculpture, arranged with his sometime partner, sometime rival Newt Gingrich in the arcade alongside James Madison, John Calhoun, Thaddeus Stevens, Joe Cannon, Sam Rayburn and the other bygone powers of the House of Representatives. These leaders also had their faults. They too had their failures. But the United States is a just and generous nation, and those who write its history will tell the story in full: not only the tawdry chapters, but also the magnificent.
I'm told that Massachusetts takes a preverse pride in being the most liberal state in the Union. But now, horror of horrors, the state that gave us Teddy Kennedy and John Kerry may be shown up by New Jersey of all places.
The consensus that both humans and robots are needed in space exploration continues to grow.
Who will replace Tom Delay as NASA's strongest advocate in the Congress, if anyone? Who indeed?
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
Jeff Foust also mentions a talk given to a meeting of the Center for Strategic and International Studies by one Luo Ge, vice administrator of the China National Space Administration. He was becomingly vague about China's plans past ten years from now, but Reuters had an interesting revelation
Beyond Moon missions, including a flight to collect and return lunar samples to Earth in 2017, the Chinese space agency plans to develop a nonpolluting launch vehicle that can lift 55,000 pounds (25,000 kg) into orbit by 2010, said Luo Ge, a vice administrator at the Chinese National Space Administration.
That's roughly the equivalent of a Delta IV Heavy. What's the purpose of building this new launcher? Taking away market share from the EELV and perhaps Falcon 9 is one possibility. Building the planned Chinese space station is another.
Or, perhaps, going to the Moon using the Earth Orbit Rendevouz method.
Contenders for Tom Delay's seat have already started to come out of the woodwork. Meanwhile, Jeff Foust states the obvious about NASA losing a powerful friend in Congress.
Monday, April 03, 2006
Looks like Tom Delay has decided to throw in the towel. It's a pity, since it proves once again, as with Newt Gingrich, that demonizing conservatives sometimes works. However, as with Newt, I predict that it will not gain the Left any lasting strategic advantage.
More on giant, space based sling shots.
The Breathscanner: An Easier Way to Detect Diseases.
Sam Dinkin's new business venture, Space Shot, is now open for business.
Who would have thought that one of the more interesting targets for future exploration would turn out to be the hitherto obscure moon of Saturn, Enceladus?
Taylor Dinerman takes Stephen Moore to task for attacking the Vision for Space Exploration and explains why conservatives and libertarians ought to support the current space effort.
Sunday, April 02, 2006
The discussion sparked by the suggestion by some members of Congress that the United States is already in an "unofficial" space race with China illuminates some of the dangers of making assumptions about the Chinese space program. Dwayne Day, a space expert of some reputation, has a lengthy post which has some points that need addressing.
The only way that they could do so would be to use open sources, and as we know, all of the open sources indicate that China is _not_ racing the United States to the Moon. In fact, compared to six months ago, China is actually _slowing down_ its space program. So it seems rather bizarre that China keeps scaling back its manned spaceflight program and yet people claim that this means that they are even more dangerous. By this logic, the worse thing of all would be if the Chinese actually stopped.
A delay of about a year (or less) of the next Shenzhou flight may constitute "slowing down" in the sense that a long distance runner might slow down to pace himself, but hardly constitutes stopping. Nor do I see any evidence that the Chinese are "scaling back" anything. Dwayne Day might want to clarify what he means by that.
You cannot reach the Moon by launching only one manned spacecraft every two years.
Why not, if each mission proves a key capability?
It requires substantial technology development and demonstration missions--rendezvous, propulsion and reentry tests.
To be sure, and each Shenzhou mission seems to be designed to do just that. The Chinese have already proven that they can fly a man in space and then multiple man crews. Rendezvous, docking, and space walking are all scheduled for future Shenzhou missions.
Add to that the fact that the Chinese have stated that they have no desire to be lured into a race with the Americans and have also stated that they plan on building a space station.
If we are to go by what Chinese officials have said then some at least have said that the ultimate goal of their program is a lunar base. (Others have tried to throw cold water on the idea.) In any case a space station and a lunar effort are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, if ones lunar strategy is to assemble a lunar ship in Low Earth Orbit, then building a small space station would be good practice.
But this is also a situation where certain members of Congress should heed the old trial attorney's advice of not asking a question that you do not already know the answer to--what if they hold a hearing about the Chinese space program and NASA tells them that there is no space race with the Chinese? They won't like that answer.
Dwayne Day contradicts himself here because previously he states:
NASA is not really set up to produce an unclassified report on China's space program, especially in only 30 days.
My prediction, by the way, is if NASA does a study, it will land fully and squarely on the side of "maybe."
In a subsequent post, Dwayne Day has this to say:
As you may know, I have written perhaps half a dozen articles about US intelligence monitoring of the Soviet manned lunar space program, and I continue to write on this subject. It is clear from declassified US intelligence documents that the CIA had a pretty good sense of Soviet timelines, although less understanding of Soviet technical decisions.
I'm not sure what that has to do with knowledge of ultimate Chinese intentions. A quick glance at conventional wisdom of about 1970, as presented in the mainstream media, suggests that we were never in a space race with the Soviets, that Apollo was based on a fraud. A decade or so later, those declassified documents suggested otherwise.
In any case, that suggests a question that anyone without access to classified intelligence cannot know the answer for certain. Is there intelligence on the Chinese space program not generally known to the public? Is finding it out (considering the priorities of the War on Terror) even on the top of the agenda?
Based upon this experience, plus the Apollo experience, plus the relatively open nature of the Chinese manned space program compared to the Soviet program, it should be easier to get a sense of Chinese progress toward a lunar goal.
"Relatively open nature" and "completely open nature" has a wide gap, in my humble opinion. Even the US space effort has a "black" secret component about which there is endless debate.
In conclusion, it seems to me that it is clear to everyone that the Chinese are up to something with their space effort. Their accomplishments so far and their announced plans suggest a replication of the Mercury and Gemini programs that taught the United States the art of space flight in preparation for expeditions to the Moon. Plus the Chinese have planned a series of unmanned probes that might be precursors to a manned effort. Is the goal just a Mir type space station? Or is there something else, instead or beyond it? Pronouncements by Chinese officials have been, at best, contradictory. Does that mean the Chinese have no intention of mounting expeditions to the Moon, ever or at least in the foreseeable future? Or does it mean that they want to tamp down speculation about that, for fear are sparking an increase in the US space effort as proposed by those members of Congress? The answer to these questions will have profound implications for the future of space exploration.
But then again, maybe those members of Congress, with access to classified data, know something we do not know.
Saturday, April 01, 2006
As a space policy analyst, I am sometimes privy to certain information that is not available to the media or general public. Usually it's in the form of, "Well, I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you." However, I've just come across a bit of intelligence with implications so profound that I cannot remain silent about it.
As most people who follow the news know, Iran has a semi secret nuclear bomb program. Hitherto it has been assumed that they are building these nukes in order to destroy the hated Infidel (i.e., the United States and Israel.) This assumption has been proven to my satisfaction as having been wrong.
Iran is building an Orion space craft. They intend to use it to capture first the Moon, then Mars for Islam and therefore deny it to the Infidel (that's definitely us, folks.)
Orion, for those who do not know, was a concept for a space craft developed in the late 1950s that would be propelled by the explosive force of nuclear bombs. It was thought that had this technology been developed, men would be on Mars by 1965 and would have gone to the Saturn system by 1970.
How does a third world country get the money for building such a space craft? Well, Iran does have oil and they can buy the technology and expertise. There is a rumor that the Chinese may be kicking in some under the table funding.
Of course, once the Iranians build a base on the Moon, the ball game is over. It would be an impregnable base from which to launch suicide bomber space craft against any target on Earth. In which case, we'll have no other choice but to convert or die.
Target date for the first launch is sometime in 2008.
Since NASA is incapable of doing anything right, our only hope is that some plucky entrepreneur gets to the Moon first and establishes a homemade, laser powered defense system to shoot down approaching Iranian space craft. Otherwise it's the chador for you ladies and I have to get rid of my wine cellar.