Curmudgeons Corner

Random thoughts on politics, current events, popular culture, and whatever else interests me.

Mark R. Whittington is a writer residing in Houston, Texas. He is the author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction, including the novel of suspense Nocturne which he coauthored with his wife, Chantal, The Children of Apollo trilogy, The Last Moonwalker and Other Stories, Gabriella’s War, The Man from Mars: The Asteroid Mining Caper, and Why is it So Hard to Go Back to the Moon?

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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.



 
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.
Mark,
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.)

~Jon


Friday, November 17, 2006
 
A bionic hornet that can locate, chase, photograph, and then terminate individual terrorists.


 
A new tale of the Serenity, in the style of South Park.


 
Donald Lambro suggests that the Dems are not yet officially in power and their agenda of appeasement abroad and socialism at home is already in trouble.


Thursday, November 16, 2006
 
Is Nancy Pelosi the Jimmy Carter of our generation?


 
This piece in the Guardian is a bit hyper about the proposed Orion asteroid mission, suggesting that it might be sent to divert a killer rock. Of course, if an Orion could--say--set up a mass driver to divert an asteroid into a very high, safe Earth orbit and that astroid had a lot of minerals that were useful for future space colonies, the cost of government run space exploration could be paid for decades. Just one small, one mile rock, 3554 Amun, has thirty times more metal than has ever been mined on Earth in human history with a worth of about twenty trillion dollars.


 
John Edwards, former Senator, former candidate for President and then Vice President, future candidate for President, is trying to make a splash shaking down Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart claims and Edwards denies that this fact didn't stop Edwards from also trying to score a Play Station 3 from his local Wal-Mart.

Addendum: Edwards is now blaming the gaffe on a volunteer.


 
Milton Friedman RIP. A great champion of free markets has passed from the Earth.

His books are still classics on the virtues of free market capitalism:


Addendum: And who of a certain age does not remember watching Free to Choose on PBS back about 1980 with rapt attention. My favorite bit was in one of the panel sessions after one of the episodes when Thomas Sowell, a black economist, a conservative, and a protege of Dr. Friedman gave this liberal white woman a smack down for claiming she knew best what black folks needed.


 
The GOP in Opposition, in which, like everyone else, I give out free political advice.


 
I have to say, Pelosi is certainly off to an entertaining start as Speaker to Be.
Stephen Hess, senior fellow emeritus in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, told Cybercast News Service on Wednesday that supporting Murtha was highly risky for the first woman in line to become House speaker.

Should the Pennsylvania congressman be defeated in Thursday's vote, Pelosi would "clearly - in her first effort to win over her caucus - [have] sustained a very serious loss" that could make her appear weak, Hess said.

On the other hand, "if he wins, she has a person as her deputy who has a very murky ethical past" that could be the target of investigations by Congress and the press.

I can hardly wait to see what the new year brings.

Addendum: Looks like Hoyer is in as House Majority Leader. First defeat for Pelosi.


 
Even before returning to the Moon, an Orion might be sent to an Earth approaching asteroid.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006
 
Did the sword smiths of Damascus use carbon nanontube material to forge their weapons a thousand years ago?


 
This is a far more useful exercise than fighting with NASA over hardware.
The most disappointing thing about the state of the Centennial Challenges is that the pro-frontier/pro-NewSpace community hasn't made Congress change its position.

Given the importance we have all attached to prizes and new ways of NASA/USG doing things in space, the tepid response of this community and its inability to raise enough pressure to get the prizes funded shows we are either too weak to effect significant change, too disorganized to do so, or we simply don't care or aren't willing to put our muscle where our mouth is.

We have a few weeks to put that pressure on and bring one home for the cause. The leaders of this community, including many of the great bloggers out there, need to wake up and make this happen. We need to both focus attention on the committee(s) involved and on NASA to fight for one of the brightest spots in its otherwise dark future. This isn't about who does the prizes or competes for them, or even how soon anyone wins, it is about the concept of trying something new with hundreds of years of proven track record, changing how we do space, supporting the fledgling NewSpace industries and movement, and showing that those of us who care about humanity's future in space is worth fighting for.


 
Of course it is a bit early, but if Senator Reid falls, the Senate would flip control since the incoming Governor of Nevada, Jim Gibbons, is a Republican and would presumably appoint a Republican in Reid's place.


 
NASA's strategy for exploring the Moon is still taking shape.


Tuesday, November 14, 2006
 
John Birmingham, he who wrote the Axis of Time Novels, has posted the Marine Corps Rules for Gun Fighting.
1. Bring a gun. Preferably, bring at least two guns. Bring all of your friends who have guns.

2. Anything worth shooting is worth shooting twice. Ammo is cheap. Life is expensive.

3. Only hits count. The only thing worse than a miss is a slow miss.

4. If your shooting stance is good, you're probably not moving fast enough nor using cover correctly.

5. Move away from your attacker. Distance is your friend. (Lateral and diagonal movement are preferred.)

6. If you can choose what to bring to a gunfight, bring a long gun and a friend with a long gun.

7. In ten years nobody will remember the details of caliber, stance, or tactics. They will only remember who lived.

8. If you are not shooting, you should be communicating, reloading, and running.

9. Accuracy is relative: most combat shooting standards will be more dependent on "pucker factor" than the inherent accuracy of the gun.

10. Someday someone may kill you with your own gun, but they should have to beat you to death with it because it is empty.

11. Always cheat; always win. The only unfair fight is the one you lose.

12. Have a plan.

13. Have a back-up plan, because the first one won't work.

14. Use cover or concealment as much as possible.

15. Flank your adversary when possible. Protect yours.

16. Don't drop your guard.

17. Always tactical load and threat scan 360 degrees.

18. Watch their hands. Hands kill. In God we trust. Everyone else, keep your hands where I can see them.

19. Decide to be aggressive ENOUGH, quickly ENOUGH.

20. The faster you finish the fight, the less shot you will get.

21. Be polite. Be professional. But, have a plan to kill everyone you meet.

22. Be courteous to everyone, friendly to no one.

23. Your number one option for personal security is a lifelong commitment to avoidance, deterrence, and de-escalation.

24. Do not attend a gunfight with a handgun, the caliber of which does not start with a "4."

Then, of course, there are the Navy Rules for Gun Fighting.
1. Go to Sea

2. Send the Marines

3. Drink Coffee


 
Stacy Bartley sends this further news about the new direct to DVD Babylon 5 feature.


 
NASA responds to stories about problems with the Ares 1.
So where are we today, specifically on the issue of what the launch vehicle can lift and what the Orion is allowed to weigh?

First, the latest set of analyses indicate that the Ares I can lift 58 klbm to the program-specified injection point of -30 x 100 nmi. This number PROTECTS worst case propulsion performance on the first and second stage.

This compares favorably to the requirement that we specified for the Ares I to inject 52.1 klbm.

The Orion team is working to a control mass of NGT 48.4 klbm. They in turn carry margin within that allocation ranging between approximately 10-20% for mass growth as the design process proceeds.

Further, we have been fairly conservative on the amount of propellant we will load in the Orion Service Module for the lunar missions.

Both the Ares I performance and the Orion control mass are 'watch items' on our list of top program risks. This is NORMAL for any such development effort ... mass delivered to space has been and will always be a source of risk for any spaceflight project or program.

So, if all is well, then where are the stories about the Ares 1 being on the edge of catastrophe coming from?


 
With a combination of stupidity and arrogance that borders on the fantastic, the Senate is once again refusing to confirm John Bolton as UN Ambassador. This is despite the fact that he has proven very successful in representing our interest in that corrupt body.

President Bush could renew Bolton's tenure as another recess appointment. However, Bolton would have to serve without pay. Hugh Hewitt proposes raising funds to pay Ambassador Bolton by private donation.


 
The Moon has no global magnetic field as does the Earth. But there are local magnetic fields scattered about the Moon that might prove very useful.


 
S. M. Stirling's new novel, The Sky People, is now out. The premise is that history proceeded the same as in our world until about the early 1960s when we discovered that both Venus and Mars were habitable. The Sky People is set on a Venus filled with jungles and such like.


Monday, November 13, 2006
 
Blue Origin performed its first launch.
This test should have involved a prototype rocket vehicle designed to go up no higher than 2,000 feet (610 meters), on a flight lasting no more than a minute, according to the environmental assessment filed with the FAA


 
Speaking of come backs, Yusuf, the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens, is coming out with his first studio album in about thirty years:


 
A George Soros group is unhappy with Pelosi for backing John Murtha for Majority Leader.


 
Coming to DVD--Babylon 5: The Lost Tales.


 
Mike Allen declares that Pelosi's honeymoon is over after less than a week.


 
Proving that no issue is resolved until it is resolved in favor of the left, Hillary has vowed to bring back socialized health care, which we imagined the public rejected over ten years ago.


 
Speaking of maximum weirdness, there's an album out of John Dowland pieces as performed by Sting:

Dowland was an Elizabethan madrigalist.


 
The first studio album in a decade by the incomperable Loreena McKennitt will soon be out:


 
James Oberg examines the subject of space weapons.


 
Jeff Foust takes a look at the left wing press and finds much to be amused and even a little apalled at:
Both essays, though, have a flawed premise at their cores: that the rise of private spaceflight means the demise of government spaceflight. Lin speaks of “private space exploration”, which is something of a misnomer: many companies’ plans for space can no more be classified as “exploration” than can a trip to a ski resort (eco-friendly or otherwise). Lobel writes that the early Space Age, while a superpower struggle between the US and USSR, “inspired wonder” and “encouraged people to envision new possibilities.” “Those intangibles,” Lobel concludes, “unlikely to fit into a business plan, are at risk if exploration is put at the mercy of pure profit.”

The problem here is that few people in the space community are seriously talking about abandoning government-funded and -run space programs in favor of entirely private exploration ventures. The magazine presents a false choice: we can either have public space exploration or private space exploration, but not both, nor some combination of the two. And while Lobel is dismissive of the Vision for Space Exploration (saying that President Bush’s announcement of it nearly three years ago “rang hollow”), it is NASA policy, having received strong bipartisan support in Congress to date, and it’s providing opportunities for the private sector to cooperate with—not replace—the space agency.

Isn't it fascinating that a left winger sounds very much like some of the radical libertarians who look askance at anything NASA?

It's not the only false dichotomy found. Read the whole thing.


Sunday, November 12, 2006
 
Pelosi is supporting Cut and Run John Murtha for House Majority Leader, signaling, one suspects, her seriousness in pursuing the surrender strategy in Iraq. Steny Hoyer, on the other hand, is pretty sure that he has the majority of the House Democrats on his side.

Let the games begin.


 
Russ Feingold will not, after all, offer himself as a gift to the Nation. This is bound to disappoint a lot of the nutroots who have been looking for someone to follow. It also looks to me as if a smooth path is being cleared for Hillary in her quest for Goddess Empress of America.


 
The gates of Hell are yawning wide for Fidel Castro.


 
I find certain conspiracy theories entertaining. None more than this one by one Tiffany Ranae who suggests that President Bush threw the mid term elections as part of a plot to win the Iraq War. You read that right.


Saturday, November 11, 2006
 
Jon Goff suggests cutting down to two person crews. It would be cheaper, of course, but I can foresee all sorts of problems stemming from an, "incredibly shrinking return to the Moon."

Addendum: Jon responds:

I honestly doubt most politicians could care weather CEV flies 2, 3, 4,
20, or zero people to the moon so long as it keeps providing jobs in
their district alas. However in order to sell a change to a two person
architecture, it would have to be sold as being better--that by going to
such an architecture you could get there sooner and actually send more
people. People like being able to spout off counterintuitive ideas. It
makes them feel smarter than everyone else.

I have a little different take on politicians. Shrinking the crew of a return to the Moon to half of what is promised is a prescription, in my humble opinion, for getting the program cancelled. A cynic might suggest that is the whole point.

I also have difficulty how shrinking the crews to two constitutes sending more people to the Moon. I'm not sure that the idea is cheap enough to pay for more flights per year. So the math doesn't really add up.

I will refrain from commenting on the last two sentences.


 
Persistent rumors of big problems with the Ares 1 are starting to take on the diminsion of unpleasent fact.
It is widely known that both Mike Griffin and Scott Horowitz are reluctant (to say the least) about abandoning their current launch vehicle concept. Alternate approaches such as using EELVs are not welcome solutions by either Griffin or Horowitz.

One possible solution to the Stick's current design problems is to add side-mounted solid rocket motors. Many inside the program are not so sure that this solution is worth the effort. Others suggest that starting from a clean sheet of paper may be the only prudent course of action.


Addendum: Jon Goff has some more thoughts which seem actually close to the mark.


Friday, November 10, 2006
 
It used to be the case that Germany claimed "universal jurisdiction" over every country on Earth and tried to enforce their claim by force of arms. Two World Wars have made Germany a kinder, gentler nation, however. Now the Fatherland claims "universal jurisdiction" over the Earth and is trying to enforce it through their courts. The arrogance is breath taking.

I suggest that the Attorney General start investigating and prosecuting German citizens who are implicated in the oil for food scandal. It may be time to humble the overbearing pride of the Germans once again.

Addendum: Stacy Bartley reminds us:
And while we're talking about the criminal culpability of the Germans
in Iraq-how about deeper investigation into selling them the
technology to make nerve gas? Never mind the OTHER military
applications tech they sold them...

Indeed. The Germans are not in the moral position to have their courts used as a playground for the allies of the terrorists.


 
Looks like there is a move afoot to award Howard Dean with the Royal Order of the Boot and replace him with Harold Ford Jr. A good move if it happens, but it will enrage the Deaniac crowd about whom it has been observed resemble the members of a cult rather than adherents of a politician.


 
It should come as no surprise to anyone that George McGovern wants to bug out of Iraq. We've seen this movie before, of course. It resulted in millions of SE Asians being made refugees and a couple of million being made dead. The anti war left certainly has a lot of blood on its hands. Nevertheless, it looks like the Democrats will be consulting with McGovern how to recreate that winning strategy that worked so well in SE Asia in Iraq.


 
Syria and Iran are very happy about the prospect of a Democratic controlled Congress.


 
In which a young British man finds out that his--er--posterior makes a very poor launch pad for a firework. Via Donna Marie Calcote.


 
A Look at Virgin Galactiic's business model.


Thursday, November 09, 2006
 
I always knew that the truth was out there. Now, does MI6 have its own X Files section?


 
RIP: Basil Poledouris.


 
Nathan Burchfiel suggests that the newly elected Democrats are centrists and will force moderation on the new Democrat Congress. Ton Blankley counters that there are too many aging, ultra liberal committee chairmen like Charlie Rangel and John Dingall who have spent twelve years in the wilderness and are hungry to take revenge and exercise power before they die. Beware of old men in a hurry.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006
 
Looks like India is getting serious about having its own manned space program.


 
Austin Bay has some thoughts about the Rumsfeld resignation.


 
Man overboard. Rummy to resign.


 
Jon Goff comments on some of the alternative plans to return to the Moon. One gets the impression that while he really hates the Ares 1 and 5, he is not very much impressed with any of the alternatives either. That's a big probem with the Internet Rocketeer Club. The members are pretty enthusiastic about finding problems, but seem to hang back when solutions are offered. More to the point, it looks to me like Jon is sniping at some proposed solutions.

To repeat myself, as someone with no engineering sense, it seems to me that any proposed hardware is going to have trade offs, advantages and disadvantages. The trick is to pick a plan with the most advantages and the fewest disadvantages. I've always been willing to be persuaded that the current plan is not that one. But I also have to see an alternative that is not some vaguely worded cant about "commercial solutions" that don't exist. The first people to return to the Moon will be employees of some government, riding in a government run, government built vehicle. There is no getting around that fact.

Now, I tend to like Direct Launcher for a number of reasons. First, it seems to have been developed by a group of people who are serious about going back to the Moon, who do not have a political agenda, and have some measure of expertise in building rockets that actually fly. And the plan, as I read it, has some numbers to back it up. I would like to see a critique of the Direct Launch plan that goes beyond the "it's NASA and shuttle derived, so it must be evil."

Addendum: Jon Goff responds:
Mark,
You ought to try reading a bit more carefully. I actually had mostly
nice things to say about the Lockheed proposal, and some good things to
say about DIRECT (that in spite of its flaws, it was better than what we
currently have). It was the other three that I didn't see having any
actual benefit over the current plan.


And yet I don't recall reading, "And therefore NASA ought to change direction to one or the other proposal." I can be convinced of getting behind that statement.

And as you seem to be confused, I'll repeat it again. Ares I and Ares V
will never go to the moon. They only go to LEO. If NASA wants to
control everything going past LEO, that's fine for now. There isn't a
real commercial market ready for that yet. But for getting stuff into
LEO in the first place, the commercial sector has been doing that for
most of my lifetime (if not longer). While I may have some kneejerk
libertarian issues with any NASA program, I'm at least willing to
tolerate a NASA ESAS, LSAM, and at least the mission module part of a
CEV. But as for the vehicles to actually launch them, why waste $35B
and a full decade recreating the wheel when we can just get on with
exploration?

Of course one does not get to the Moon without getting to LEO first. There is no commercial solution that will do both. And I'm not sure that I want to hear again the idea that we can launch every expedition to the Moon with three or five or nine or however number of commercial launchers all at once. The fewer launchers per flight, the less prone to failure. I should think that Jon would have been familier with the KISS princible.

Addendum 2: Jon has some more thoughts:
You're making a classical error here. While yess, less launchers per flight might be preferrable if all other things were equal, all other things aren't equal. What you have is a tradeoff. Using existing EELVs with little or no modification might require more flights, but then you don't have to spend $35B developing two new vehicles, nor do you need to pay $2.2B per year in fixed costs. That makes a huge difference. More to the point, the ESAS architecture is actually more sensitive to launch timing in a way. Because it is incapable of refilling propellants if it gets too much boiloff, if the CLV is late you have no choice but to scrub the mission, and writeoff the hardware. With an EELV based mission, sure your odds of needing to have spares, or backup launchers is higher, but the system is more tolerant of such problems. If your boiloff is too bad, you send another flight.

Sometimes simplicity is the enemy of reliability and robustness. That's one of the lesson I learned from XCOR. Make it safe, make it operable, make it affordable, and then make it simple. Simplicity is not a virtue in itself, unless it actually benefits safety, operability or affordability.


By my observation, that has been easier said than done. Smarter people than I think that depending on multiple flights of EELVs is just asking for trouble. Jon disagrees. You can try to judge who is right and who is not.


 
Jeff Foust discusses some of the space policy implications of the fall of the House to the Democrats. So does Keith Cowing.


 
It was as bad a defeat as many had feared would happen. The House is lost and so, likely, is the Senate. The task now is to learn the lessons of the defeat and to implement them. Last night’s defeat can contain within it the seeds of future victories, if the Republicans only care to look.

First of all, the Republicans should avoid feelings of bitterness, self flagellation, and most of all—blame placing and finger pointing. Those things are unattractive in someone who has just lost and waste time better spent productively.

The electorate is trying to tell the Republicans something, albeit with a blunt instrument of an election. It was clear for quite some time that the Congressional Republicans had gotten just a little too fat and happy in power, a little like the Democrats were by about 1994. Mind, in my opinion even fat and happy Republicans were to be preferred to any Democrats, but the electorate decided that wasn’t a deterrent to trying to send the GOP a message that, so far, has not been heeded.

The message is that power has to be earned and is not a birthright simply because one has an R after ones name. A lot of important legislation has not been passed, from making the tax cuts permanent, to social security reform. And, of course, there’s the spending. That which is politely called earmarks and which is more commonly called pork has, in the past, been considered useful for bribing legislators into toeing the line. But the tolerance of the public for it has come to an end.

And, of course, people are discontented by Iraq, not out of a desire to cut and run, but rather out of a desire for victory that seems elusive. Mind, it is true that the media has not reported on the war accurately. All that most people hear about the Iraq Campaign is news of the latest soldier or group of soldiers blown up by an IED. While the entire butcher’s bill of three and a half years of Iraq would constitute a day or two at Normandy Beach or the Bulge, only hearing about the deaths of American soldiers must wear on many people after a while.

So, Republicans, what is to be done now? First and foremost, you have to understand that the Democrats are now in power in the Congress and will feel they have a mandate to implement their agenda, whatever that is. Your job is to stop them. The aims of the Democrats are as bad as can be, consisting of tax increases, weakness in the War on Islamofascism (including Iraq), and possibly impeachment, certainly endless investigations. And spending, Lots and lots of new social spending.

Fortunately (and I’m talking to you Mr. President) the Republicans have the veto pen and the numbers to make vetoes stick. Also, just as important, the Senate Republicans have the filibuster. The Democrats have used it to advantage. Teach them that when they sow the wind, they will reap the whirlwind.

Iraq is going to be a tough one. One thing the Republicans might do is to try to improve the narrative beyond the awful litany of combat deaths. The vast majority of the soldiers there believe in the mission. Use that enthusiasm to change the narrative. And find some ways to motivate the Iraqi Government into ending the sectarian violence and take on the militias.

Deal forcefully with Iran and North Korea. The kabuki dance of diplomacy is not going to work with those two countries. Come up with a good military plan to take out or at least delay their nuclear programs and implement it.

Finally, just passively opposing Democrat folly will not be enough to turn things around. Start introducing legislation that will appeal to the electorate. You know what this would consist of. Making the tax cuts permanent. Social security and Medicare reform. And so on. The legislation will not pass, but the effort will set the agenda for 2008. And run against a “do nothing Congress.” It worked for Harry Truman and, to a lesser extent, Bill Clinton.

Do not nominate compromise, “moderate” judges. Pick judges as if you have a sixty seat majority. If (and likely when) they get rejected, nominate others just like them. Wear the Democrats down. Make them the obstructionists.

And while we’re at it, try to avoid the temptation to try to compromise with the Democrats on legislation. Make them compromise with you. If they want to say—raise the minimum wage—they also need to cut taxes.

The next two years are likely to be filled with turmoil. But the problem of a Democrat Congress can also be an opportunity. The trick is to recognize it and take advantage of it.


 
Post mortems of last night's defeat by Captain Ed, Hugh Hewitt, and Michael Medved.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006
 
Who Can Own the Moon: The Case for Private Property Rights in Space.


 
Yet another alternative approach for returning to the Moon. The big problem is that even if it is agreed that the current approach is dysfunctional, there are now so many alternatives that years could be spent arguing over which one is best.


Monday, November 06, 2006
 
Do I dare say that this group of people have "absolute moral authority" when it comes to the question of cutting and running from Iraq?


 
Four more alternatives to NASA's return to the Moon plans.


 
Taylor Dinerman discusses international cooperation in space, why Japan is more suited for such an arrangement in returning to the Moon than Europe, and this fascinating idea:
A permanent US base on the Moon will give America the overwhelming legal say in what can and cannot be done on the Moon and thus what will happen elsewhere in the solar system. Concepts such as homesteading and private property that may be anathema to Europe’s political elites can be firmly established, even in the face of international disapproval. As long as the US maintains its freedom of action it will be able to shape the future economic rules of space commerce to fit both its traditions and its interests. Handing others a veto over future of the solar system is not in the interests of the US, nor in those of other freedom-loving nations.


 
Dwyane Day continues delving into the question: If Kennedy had lived, whither Apollo?


 
Paul Spudis weighs in on the debate about lunar ice.
In contrast to some recent claims, this debate is still open and nothing has occurred in the last few years to cause participants in the debate to abandon their positions. In a nutshell, poor or incomplete coverage by a variety of marginal data has led to much heat, while casting little light on the issue of lunar polar water.


Sunday, November 05, 2006
 
A discussion on astronomical observatories on the Moon. Via Fred Kiesche.


 
Looks like it's up the tall ladder and down the short rope for Saddam. More.


Saturday, November 04, 2006
 
Speaking of smart pundits, Dean Barnett is taking a decidely contrarian view of Tuesday's election.
So what’s it all mean? In the tied races, the Republican will win. In the close races, the Republican will win. It adds up to Republicans running the table in the Senate. That’s right – running the table. Montana, Virginia, Missouri, Tennessee, New Jersey, Rhode Island (whoopee), and Maryland will all send or re-send Republicans to the Senate. But wait, there’s more! Michigan will send Sheriff Michael Bouchard to the Senate. And in Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum is in striking distance.

In the House, the same holds true. Republican Joe Negron will take Foley’s seat. New Mexico’s Heather Wilson will return to Congress. So, too, will Connecticut’s Chris Shays. We’ll lose a handful of seats for the individual failures of certain Congressmen (hello, Curt Weldon), but we will retain control of the House.


 
So, what of the smart pundits are correct and the Republicans lose the House but retain the Senate? How does that affect space policy? My guess is, probably not much. Congressional support for the return to the Moon program is bipartisan. However, I say this with the following caveats:

First, discontent over cutbacks in the aeronautics and space science accounts seem to be more pronounced with the Democrats. There is the possibility that the House Democrats will try to slice a little off the exploration account to make up for these shortfalls, thus butting heads with both the Administration and the Senate. Of course this might not even be considered necessary if (a) the Senate proposal to pass "emergency" spending to cover the shuttle return to flight expenses passes and/or (b) some massive change in the approach to returning to the Moon happens that saves money and time, like Direct Launcher.

Second, look for less support for prize schemes like Centennial Challenges. Currently that is coming from House Republicans and if they lose power...

Third, proposed tax increases might hit small, start up commercial space companies very hard.

Finally, an attempt to cancel the Vision for Space Exploration will be made, just as it was this year. If the Democrats are in charge of the House, it might take on more dramatic proportions, thought not, I think, to the level of the several near death experiences the space station suffered in the early 1990s.

Of course that is all predicated on the smart pundits being right. There could be, as some media reports suggest, a late surge toward the GOP. The Republicans have a superb Get Out the Vote (GOTV) operation that might prove the difference in a number of close races. And, of course, in the modern era of cell phones, don't call lists, and the tendency on the part of polling companies to oversample Democrats, the polls could be wrong.


 
One of the books I'm reading is about medical science, based on our favorite TV doctor:


 
Democrats have gotten an endorsement that they might not want to have. But people need to take it into account while voting next Tuesday.


 
Tidal energy companies, which propose tapping the power generated by streams, rivers, and tidal basins using what one might call water mills are staking claims to choice spots under various water ways.


Friday, November 03, 2006
 
Well, Saddam had an active nuclear bomb program and, as our forces crossed the border into that country, was a year away from getting a nuke. Who knew?


 
Jon Goff has some more thoughts on NASA's return to the Moon plans which need responding to.
What I meant by truly meaningful was an exploration program that would actually accomplish a reasonable amount for the amount of money that would be spent on it. Spending $65-100B or more just to get up to the point where you can send two four-man missions per year to the moon is I think a pathetic waste. Now, if that money were to yield a truly robust lunar exploratory program, one that landed dozens of people per year to explore the moon and setup a base, I wouldn't be quite so disgusted. But basically all we're getting is an Apollo remake for the same price, but this time boys and girls with 4 Astronauts per mission instead of two!!! Yawn. Apollo on Steroids? Hardly. Apollo on Geritol maybe.

Well, if I thought it ended there, I might be a little irate too. But I see the four person lunar base as more of a beginning rather than an end. I refer to a few paragraphs in a recent piece that seems to have been ignored by the Internet Rocketeer Club.
NASA envisions private companies launching refueling ships to top off the tanks of its exploration ships, thus increasing the payloads that can be sent to the moon and Mars. Privately built orbiting "space factories," like the Industrial Space Facility proposed in the 1980s, could be serviced by low-cost, private spacecraft. The cheaper and more reliable that space flight becomes through technological innovation and private competition, the more things can be done in space. The Commercial Orbital Transportation Systems program could serve as a precedent for a more ambitious competition.

Twenty years from now, NASA envisions astronauts living and working on the moon on a permanent basis. Transporting crews to and from a lunar base and keeping them supplied will be expensive using NASA's planned Ares family of rockets.

Meanwhile, the economic development of low Earth orbit will have been facilitated by commercial space transportation companies that the Commercial Orbital Transportation Systems program helped to nurture. Seeing this, a future NASA administrator could conclude that what worked before might well work again.

So a competition could be announced in which money would be awarded to companies able to demonstrate the ability to deliver people and cargo to the moon. Private companies would step up to the challenge of building commercial moon ships. Within a few years, relatively low-cost and reliable transportation to the moon could be a reality.

An indirect way of achieving the goal of "dozens" of visitors to the Moon per year, but I think one with a better chance of success than relying on NASA to do it for us.
Jon continues:
The problem here is that Lewis and Clark also didn't wait until the government had spent ten years designing and building a massive Crew Exploration Wagon before exploring the West either. They for the most part used existing transportation equipment, imperfect as it was, and made do. Which is what we should be doing.

I could mention the minor scandal of the collapsable boats which would be all too familier to people in the modern age of cost overruns of new vehicles, but the point ignores the fact that walking or portaging across the American West was a little less challenging than travel even to Low Earth Orbit.
If the only point is to get to the moon, to start exploring, with no thought toward future commercial development, then why even develop Ares I and Ares V? EELVs in their current forms exist, are man-rateable at comparatively low costs for delivering crew capsules to orbit, and could mount an effective lunar exploration program. If the point is to get to the moon as quickly as possible, why wait another ten years while we develop boosters that would be even more useless and cost-prohibitive for truly commercial cislunar transportation than the ones we already have?!? If the goal were to get to the moon as quick as possible, and get an semi-affordable exploration program under way, why wait till 2018? If we're going to go with a capsule, and all sorts of retro Apollo technologies to avoid having to develop new technologies, why are we still embarking on a decade long development program? Boeing and Lockheed could probably have warmed over Apollo-esque capsules, flyable on their vehicles, man-rating and all, before the end of this decade. Lockheed claims (with good evidence to back it) that you could use the basic Centaur upper-stage technology as the transfer stage instead of making a custom "Earth Departure Stage". At that point, you'd only need a lander stage developed. If the point were to get an exploration program going on the moon before them darn Chinese Commies can take over the moon, and block us capitalist running dogs from being able to ever develop it, why wait till 2018? Especially when you can get a better, cheaper, more extensive program to the moon by 2012, and for $10-15B or less? I mean really?

I'm not sure what Jon is proposing here. The infrastructure that took us to the Moon forty years ago does not exist any more. I suspect it would cost as much or more to recreate it as it would to build something new. Now, I'm all in favor of any reasonable (i.e. possible in the physical universe we occupy) plan to advance the date of the first lunar return. That's why I find the Direct Launcher idea interesting. Do the numbers work? I've heard nothing from the Internet Rocketeer Club except something along the lines, "If it's NASA, it must be evil." A real debate on the technical merits of that and other alternatives, with real numbers, would be useful.
Sure, you can't launch the bloated NASA Continual Employment Vehicle design on an Atlas 401. But if the goal is to get a good exploration program going, you don't put artificial constraints on the capsule like requiring it to fit 4-6 people. If you could save $30B in development by going with a 2-man architecture instead of a 4-man architecture (and if you could shave 6-8 years off of the development schedule), wouldn't it be worth it? With the amount you saved, you could send several times as many people to the moon.

The Direct Launcher folks think you can shave that time and money off and not cut back to a two person crew (try selling that one to Congress, by the way.)
Quite frankly, even with the current EELVs, you could afford to do 50-100 lunar sorties just for the development cost NASA is going to spend building vehicles that they don't need, and that will be obsolete very soon after their introduction.

Numbers, please? And what sort of "lunar sorties?"
If Mark Whittington really supported a Lewis and Clark approach to space exploration, he wouldn't be supporting wasting tens of billions of dollars over the next several years, and would instead be advocating using the launchers we currently have, and making due.

I'm all in favor of saving money and time. Except for the Direct Launcher proposal, I haven't seen any proposal yet that might do that. Arm waving about "commercial solutions" that don't exist do not constitute a proposal.
I wasn't implying at all that NASA is or should be a commercial entity. What I was saying was that it would be good if NASA spent more time trying to do commercially relevant R&D as opposed to operations. NACA for instance did a lot of wind-tunnel research into different airfoil shapes, which it then made publically available with all the data. Some of those designs are still used today for some things. That data greatly aided in the development of commercial aviation. NASA does a little bit of this for commercial space (such as TPS work done at Ames for instance), but unfortunately far too much of their money is focused on doing the one thing NACA never did--trying to design, build, and operate their own vehicles and transportation systems. Unfortunately, due to inevitable cost-overruns trying to develop and operate their own vehicles, many of these more commercially enabling R&D projects are being curtailed. NASA has a huge amount of money, and is in one of the best positions to lay the groundwork for a truly vibrant commercial space industry, but instead it wants to go play with being their own rocket line. Again. In spite of all the examples in the past where their grandiose approach to space ended up being far to expensive, and completely ineffective.

Actually, NACA did build and flew a lot of test vehicles. The Aeronautics part of NASA still does it. And, I have to repeat myself, since Jon apparently didn't get it, the Ares 1 and 5 is not a space line. It will not carry commercial customers. Nor should they.
As a research agency, and even with a lot of their exploration, NASA does a pretty good job. But as a transportation operations agency, they have an extremely lousy record. Stop throwing good money after bad. Get NASA out of the Earth-to-LEO transportation market. Say no to Shuttle-Derived-Launch-Vehicles (unless someone can raise the money privately to develop them). If NASA wants to play Lewis and Clark on the moon, let them do so with existing rockets, instead of trying to build yet another Space Transportation System.

Ares 1 and 5 is not the space shuttle. The space shuttle was designed to serve all of America's launch needs, a task for which it was ill suited and at which it failed. Ares 1 and 5 can no more be considered a commercial space line than the Air Force's C 17s. They are only designed to take explorers back to the Moon. Once they are there and once commercial entities have proven themselves with Earth to LEO operations we can start on commercial travel to and from the Moon.

People who arm wave about "commercial solutions" to return to the Moon have no notion of how private capital is raised. Let us suppose that NASA were suddenly to drop the Ares 1 and 5 and put out returning to the Moon to private bid. Now, imagine that you are the President of Whittington Space Transportation. You have hired a bunch of top flight engineers and have designed a system that fits all of NASA's needs. Since NASA is paying for performence, you have to raise the private capital to build and test the thing. So you go to a venture capitalist, who is going to ask some tough questions. He (it is very likely to be a he) is not going to be a space enthusiast. All he will care about is making a return on his investment, the sooner the better.

Venture Capitalist: Well, your numbers based on NASA's plans seem reasonable. But what happens if a future President or Congress cancels the program?

You: We don't envision that happening.

Venture Capitalist: But what if it does?

You: Well, we have listed a number of private markets that bear looking at.

Venture Capitalist: Yes, I rather like the Helium 3 mining proposal. When will fusion reactors that are capable of using Helium 3 be available?

You: Thirty years at the most optimistic estimate.

Venture Capitalist: I see. And the lunar tourism proposal. Currently it costs twenty million to go to Low Earth Orbit. The Russians are offering trips around the Moon for a hundred million. Our estimate that taking tourists to the lunar surface will cost about a quarter of a billion a head.

You: We think less on our system.

Venture Capitalist: Based upon what flight rate?

You: About six or eight trips a year.

Venture Capitalist: The Earth to LEO operation happens about once a year.

You: We feel we can do more.

Venture Capitalist: Yes, I see. Well, that seems to be it. You'll hear of our decision in due course.

Bets on what that will be?

Now, envision the same conversation happening with an actual lunar base extant, in effect a physically tangiable market, not likely to go away. Oh, and by this time Whittington Space Transportation and outfits like it have a track record of taking people and cargo to and from LEO.

I hope one and all get my point.


Thursday, November 02, 2006
 
Will The Astronaut Farmer become the sleeper film hit of next year? Sounds like an interesting film, nevertheless.


 
The first part of a report on alternatives to current plans for the Vision for Space Exploration. Up for this part, Direct Launcher and something called L2 Resources For Ares I, V and Constellation.

Not surprisingly, by the way, Rand Simberg hates the Direct Launcher proposal for the usual reasons. For the record, I find it intriguing.


 
Rand Simberg admits that an emerging Asian power has its eyes on the Moon. Oddly enough, it's India and not China.


 
Jon Goff demonstrates some half baked thinking that has really made discussions of space policy a kind of dialogue of the deaf.
And that, boys and girls, is the reason why I think the current architecture is fundamentally flawed. Even if it worked flawlessly, and without any cost overruns, it would be way too expensive to actually do anything truly meaningful in the long run.

Referring, of course, to the Ares 1 and 5. What "truly meaningful" means is something that is not clear to me. The architecture is designed to get people back to the Moon. It is not designed to open the Moon to human settlement or economic development, any more than the water craft that Lewis and Clark used was meant to open up the American West.
While being a libertarian sort of guy, I'd rather see NASA (and most of the rest of the current federal agencies) go the way of the dodo, if they insist on living, I wish they were providing a better return on coerced investment. The NACA approach, which focused more on industry promotion, developing the technologies and doing the research to enable commercial application, and such things instead of trying to operate their own airlines would've been a lot better than the path NASA has taken since it's foundation.

NASA may be lousy at doing commercially effective R&D, but they are far worse when they try acting like an airline.

An interesting point, but one that misses a larger point. NASA is not a commercial entity. It cannot be made to be one. Wishing that it were so is sort of like wishing for the Moon without being willing to put out the hard effort to get it.
If NASA deserves to exist at all, they should be spending most of their money on trying to help "encouraging and facilitating a growing and entrepreneurial U.S. commercial space sector," not trying to fund and run their next Amtrak in the Sky.

Two problems with this. NASA has a lot more constituencies that need satisfying that just the U.S. commercial space sector. Also, I had not heard that NASA was going to build the "next Amtrak in the sky." Where has Jon heard the Ares 1 and 5 was going to take commercial customers to the Moon?
People like to point at how much X-33, SLI, NASP, and other such programs have wasted, but what they seem to be missing is that while these were "R&D" programs, they were "R&D" programs trying to lead to another NASA operated space transportation system. Which is basically what the money for CEV, Ares I, and Ares V are. Sure, Ares I and Ares V aren't trying to break new technological ground, but they are trying once again to establish the national space exploration transportation system. The fundamental flaw in all of those failed research programs wasn't so much that they were trying new technology, and new technology is bad. It's that they were trying to make yet another NASA owned and operated transportation system. Ares I and Ares V aren't so much a bold break with past mistakes as they are an unimaginative repeat of the same.

I have to repeat myself, since Jon does. The needs of space exploration are a little different than that of commercial transporation. We did not wait until the transcontinental railroad was built to explore the American West. There is no "destination" as such beyond Low Earth Orbit that a commercial transport could go to. Until such exist, it is a little premature to even think about commercial transportation to the Moon or anywhere else beyond LEO. No one is going to finance such until there is a market for it, like a lunar outpost.
So long as NASA insists on spending the majority of its yearly billions on developing, owning, and operating its own spacelines, no progress is really going to be made by them towards opening up space for the rest of us. 14 years from now, we may not be *just* going around in circles in LEO, but being stuck sending only a handful of government employees per year into space isn't that exciting for me, regardless of if their paths are circular, elliptical, or a figure-eight.

Jon repeats himself once again. NASA is not building a new space line. The Ares 1 and 5 will not be taking commercial customers to the Moon. As expensive as those two vehicles are likely to be, they are a necessary prerequisit to cheap, commercial transportation since they will establish a permenent human preasence on the Moon and hence create a market for such transportation.


Wednesday, November 01, 2006
 
The goal of the new White House space policy is space supremacy for the United States. This is a good thing.


 
If we're going to operate by Trent Lott rules, John Kerry needs to issue an apology every day for the next month or so and then be forced to resign.


 
Right wing nut job Harold Ford Jr. demands that Kerry apologize.

Addendum: For those of you who have emailed me, all I have to say that I apologize to NO ONE for making lame jokes at the expense of politicians (g).

Addendum 2: More right wing nut jobs who want Kerry to apologize.


 
Victor Davis Hanson describes what is wrong with John Kerry in particular and Democrats in general.
It used to be that millionaire FDRs and JFKs felt sympathy for those of the lower classes and wished to ensure that the hoi polloi had some shot at the American dream. But today's elite liberals-a Howard Dean, Al Gore, Ted Kennedy, George Soros, Ted Turner-love the high life and playact at being leftists simply because they are already insulated from the effects of their own nostrums that always come at someone poorer's expense while providing them some sort of psychological relief from guilt. Poor Harry Truman must be turning over in his grave-from bourbon, cigars, and poker to wind-surfing and L.L. Bean costume of the day says it all.

One wonders why John Kerry not only refuses to apologize, but refuses to resign from the Senate.