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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Sunday, December 31, 2006
 
John Edwards has coined a phrase, the McCain Doctrine, which consists of the emerging plan to send thirty thousand or so extra troops to Iraq, scour the country of terrorists, then hand things over to the Iraqis. It is a mark of a man who learned about strategy by getting his knees scabby chasing ambulances that he thinks that this is a bad thing and that he's being all so clever by calling it the "McCain Doctrine."

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


Saturday, December 30, 2006
 
William Burrows, author of The Survival Imperative and This New Ocean recomends five books on space.


I should add some of my own:


Addendum: Glenn Reynolds has some of his own


Friday, December 29, 2006
 
They will hang Saddam Hussein from a sour apple tree!
A sour apple tree! A sour apple tree!
They will hang Saddam Hussein from a sour apple tree!
As they march along!

Addendum: It's offical. Saddam Hussein now roasts in Hell.


 
Looks like there will be an Indian Jones 4 after all.


 
Jon Goff has a curious post about something that appears to be faith based entrepreneurialism. I am tempted to be snarky and suggest that the wrong answer when asked either by a bank board or a congressional committee about whether ones space project will work is, "I have faith that it will."

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

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

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

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

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

Faith is a good thing, sure. But it has to be buttressed by real world evidence. Otherwise space efforts, whether they come from President Bush or Elon Musk, will be quite as useful as praying a space ship into orbit.


 
Alan Boyle looks back at 2006, the year that was in space, and then ahead at 2007 for what might be.


Thursday, December 28, 2006
 
NASA is still struggling over relative apathy toward the Vision for Space Exploration on the part of young people, defined as 18-25 or so. Part of the problem, I suspect, is the fact that youths tend to not think about the long term as much as folks who are older. The return to the Moon is not scheduled to happen for another ten to twelve years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hmm. Admiral Adama. Might work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am fifty now and the first person on Mars is still in the future. With luck, or perhaps life extending medical technology, I might even live to see it.


 
The release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is months away, but already London bookies are taking bets as to plot details. Will Harry die? And if so, who will send him off this mortal coil? Will Hermione and Ron marry and what will they name their first kid?


Wednesday, December 27, 2006
 
President Ford had a space legacy--of sorts.


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

More to the point, how is it that a political party which was so wrong on the Cold War is even listened to when offering the same disasterous counsel for the War on Terror?


 
Plans to send Orion to an asteroid are taking shape.


 
RIP Gerald R. Ford. He was the first President I voted for, though truth to tell it was really a vote against Jimmy Carter. Ford was a better man than he was President, though in his defense it would have taken a true paragon to deal with the mess that had been handed him. The fall of South East Asia had happened on his watch, but that was the fault of Congress, which cheerfully cut off funds to our allies there and watched as tens of millions were consigned to tyranny, millions to live as refugees far from the land of their birth, and millions to die often grisly deaths. (That's the same fate many of the same folks have in store for the people of Iraq, but that's another story.)

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

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

Ford was defeated by Jimmy Carter, likely the worse President in my lifetime and who continues to be the worse ex President. But Carter was followed by the man who almost beat Ford in the 1976 primaries, President Ronald Reagan the Great.


 
So how did Tolkien's elves--well--do it?


Tuesday, December 26, 2006
 
Very soon, now, it will be up the tall ladder and down the short rope for Saddam.


 
I am told that there is no truth to the rumor that Nancy Pelosi intends to enter Washington D.C. riding a chariot in a parade featuring maidens tossing rose petals in her path and defeated Republicans being dragged in chains. Nevertheless, the four day coronation seems to me to be a bit much. Besides, there can be only one Goddess Empress of America and the woman who intends to be that currently resides in the Senate.


 
Ice at the lunar south pole? The evidence is as yet inconclusive.


Sunday, December 24, 2006
 
HOLIDAY WISHES.

For My Liberal Friends:

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

For Everyone Else:
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year


Saturday, December 23, 2006
 
Henry Hertzfeld explains in a paper produced last year why the cost and price of launching things and people into space have not decreased in the last forty odd years and why it may be difficult for them to decrease very much in the foreseeable future.


 
The Space Cynics once again give the Internet Rocketeer Club a good thrashing, though perhaps with a little overheated rhetoric. Please note the bit in the comments, by the way, about on orbit refueling, everyone's favorite alternative to NASA's plan to go back to the Moon. It turns out that unless Falcon 9 flies, it won't work.


Friday, December 22, 2006
 
Eragon is a very derivative film, to say the least. But it was pretty enjoyable nevertheless.


 
Ralph Kinney Bennett celebrates the invention of one of the great innovations of the 20th Century--the television remote.


 
Jon Goff has been discussing lunar markets or perhaps a Moon prize as a means to spur private manned missions to the Moon. I've pointed out that there are not now any markets that would cause a venture capitalist to devote the billions of dollars and years of effort that would suffice to pay for such an enterprise. Nor will a "Moon prize" work because, while we can hope that the US government would meet its obligations to fund such a prize over the years it would take for a private "race to the Moon" to take place, very few people would care to bet billions of dollars on that possibility.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, December 21, 2006
 
Our new Democratic overlords plan to offer a continuing resolution to fund the government in 2007 at 2006 levels would impact NASA rather seriously. Of course, it could also impact the rest of the government just as hard. I suspect there will be some frank discussions about this plan in January, especially in the Senate where the Republicans have the power of the filibuster.



 
The title of the seventh and alleged last Harry Potter is (drum roll please) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.


 
John Birmingham invites one and all to pitch your own Star Trek series.


 
The fourth book in the series I like to call The Dragon Riders of Britainia is coming out this Fall.


 
Rachel Ehrenfeld reveals some of Jimmy Carter's unsavory, Arab financial backers.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Carter: Comic Genius.


Wednesday, December 20, 2006
 
Alan Boyle remembers Carl Sagan, dead these ten years.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006
 
The trailor for The Astronaut Farmer is now out. On one level it looks like a sort of space going Field of Dreams, with themes of faith in your dreams against all odds and so on. On another level, it looks like something that exceeds even the paranoid imaginings of the Internet Rocketeer Club. It seems that in the movie that NASA is so angry at some private yahoo tresspassing on their space flight turf, that it gets the military to try to shoot the astronaut farmer down. How that jibes with a world in which dozens of groups are building their own space craft unmolested by NASA and, indeed, in a couple of cases with NASA money helping to pay for it, I don't know. It seems as delusional as the plot of Capricorn 1, in which NASA fakes a Mars landing and then sends hit teams after the astronauts to make sure they are silenced.


 
Scientists are bio engineering mosquitos that won't carry such nasty diseases as dengue fever and malaria. The idea is that these insects would eventually supplant those that do carry the diseases in the wild, thus saving millions of third worlders from sickness and death. Naturally luddites, especially in Europe, are outraged at the idea of "frankenbugs."


 
David Zucker's new video about James Baker and the Iraq Study Group rather says it all I think.


 
Looks like Michael Belfiore's new book on commercial space, Rocketeers should be out by summer.


Monday, December 18, 2006
 
The arrangement NASA has made with Google will revolutionize how we follow news from the opening of the high frontier of space. I expect private ventures will enter into similar arrangements.


 
Though Helium 3 mining may be decades away, mentioning it has become quite respectable in the media since I first did two years ago.


 
Oliver Stone's greatest film is now out:


 
Via Dan Schrimpsher, praise for the return to the Moon from a very unusual source.


 
Senator Barack Obama: Will He Run for President and What Will Hillary Clinton Do About It?


 
Teddy Kennedy reveals that attempts to address obesity in low income people has an unpleasent side effect. People on a diet tend to be hungry.


 
Can the International Space Station survive past 2016? Here is one way how.


 
What possible connection does the Challenger disaster and Saddam Hussein have? Dwayne Day has discovered that connection.


 
Part of the grand strategy for dealing with China is an alliance that includes another emerging super power--India.

And that will include space exploration suggests Jeff Foust.


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

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

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

At the very least, bringing this energy online would have taken the edge off the price spikes consumers suffered in recent years and keep a lid on runaway prices for decades.


 
The often grinding, trench warfare over school vouchers has gotten a new twist in Texas over a proposal for vouchers for children with autism.


Friday, December 15, 2006
 
Apocalypto: Mel Gibson's Dark Vision of the Fall of Mayan Civilization.


 
A third Stargate TV series is in development. No word as to concept. Via Stacy Bartley.


 
Where Would Jesus Shop? Why, on-line, I should hope.


 
One of the good things about the proliferation of left wing documentaries is that they have in turn spawned documentaries with other points of view, as in the case of this reponse to Al Gore's environmental extremist screed.


Thursday, December 14, 2006
 
Rush Limbaugh gave an account of a very brave Iranian born neurologist who suggested that the basis of Islam had less to do with divine revelation and more to do with the Prophet having epilepsy. So far as anyone knows, the author of the book Sword and Seizure is still alive


 
There seems to be a ray of hope concerning FY07 NASA funding, despite Congress's decision to punt most of the budget.


 
Jim Benson's Dream Chaser is just one of many private space craft under development.


 
Boston Legal's Alan Shore: The Bad Boy of the Firm of Crane, Poole, and Schmidt.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006
 
The cast of Battlestar Galactica as imagined on the Simpsons.


 
If this comes to past, I'll bet that some folks will want to rename the Marine Corps the Mobile Infantry.


 
An Analysis of the Report of the Iraq Study Group: Why it Fails to Address the Real Issue and How to Achieve Victory in Iraq



 
Congress's punt of the budget has mixed news for NASA.
What this means for NASA is that its programs will continue to be funded at FY06 levels: good news for some science and aeronautics programs that were facing cuts in the 2007 budget, perhaps, but not so good for the exploration program, as a Space News article [subscription required] notes. The agency overall was expecting a minor budget increase, but exploration in particular was planning on a $900-million bump over 2006 to fund work on Ares 1 and Orion. (However, NASA may get some additional flexibility on how it distributes funding within the agency.)


 
Paul Greenberg has some fun imagining an ISG type report in 1943.
What course do we recommend? Given the weakness of our allies, the United States should launch a new diplomatic offensive to build an international consensus for stability, reconciliation and the reconstruction of Europe and Asia. The ambitions of Germany, Italy and Japan should be left to a revitalized League of Nations to deal with while we strive to reach a modus vivendi with their leaders.

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

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


Tuesday, December 12, 2006
 
Don't believe for a moment that the Democrats are at all serious about getting rid of earmarks. For one thing, the money will still get spent, but just on things that Democrats like.
Obey and Byrd said lawmakers could re-apply for home-state projects next year when Congress turns to the fiscal 2008 budget cycle _ after reforms of the earmarking process are put in place.

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

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

Obey and Byrd said their plan "provides the administration far too much latitude in spending the people's money. But that is a temporary price that we will pay" to be able to devote time and energy to Bush's Iraq funding request and next year's budget.


 
I must say that I would be less annoyed at Adolf Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denier convention if I knew that something would be made of the opportunity. There is something about the close proximity of so many nut cases and haters and terrorists that just begs for a JDAMS bomb or, at least, a volley of hellfire missiles.


Monday, December 11, 2006
 
Can someone please tell me what the big deal is about Senator Barak Obama? Besides the fact that he's not Hillary.


 
The incoming Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee is not a crook, so far as we know. But he knows next to nothing about modern terrorism.
When asked by CQ National Security Editor Jeff Stein whether al Qaeda is one or the other of the two major branches of Islam -- Sunni or Shiite -- Reyes answered "they are probably both," then ventured "Predominantly -- probably Shiite."

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

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

Imagine a pol in World War II not knowing that the Nazis were--well--German.


 
The New York Film Critics Circle has named. United 93 as the best film of 2006. I think it's the best film of the decade. Here is what I had to say about this awe inspiring epic when it had its first run.


 
Let's see. President George W. Bush spies on Al Qaeda terrorists and the left goes berserk. President Bill Clinton spies on Princess Diana and I'll bet there will be yawns from the same quarter.

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

Addendum: This is pretty droll
Previously classified documents reveal the particular information the Secret Service was seeking about Princess Di in 1997, including: turn ons, turn offs, favorite color, opinion of President Clinton, willingness to consider relationships with men in open marriages, ability to keep a secret...


 
Jeff Brooks proposes an international convention that would allow for land purchase on Mars. His proposal is shockingly similar to one recently proposed for private property on the Moon. Rand Simberg suggests that such arrangements are doomed to fail, given the nature of the "international community." Rand has a point, but if one proposes withdrawing from the Outer Space Treaty or even just amending it to allow claims of sovereignty, one had better be prepared for (a) a diplomatic tsunami and (b) a space race that might eventually involve open warfare over space resources with heavy involvement of big government, with its military power and power to tax and regulate.


 
Jeff Foust suggests that NASA needs to do more to explain why we're going back to the Moon.


Sunday, December 10, 2006
 
It is becoming more clear that NASA's planned lunar base is just the begining.


 
Captain Ed comments about how federal power is sometimes used to crush independent entrepeneurs who dare to compete against big corporations. In this case, the product in question is milk.


 
There is one group of folks who seem enthusiastic about the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group. Unfortunately they are the same folks who run the Islamic Republic of Iran.


Saturday, December 09, 2006
 
Science vs Exploration? Actually there is no real conflict. Each supports the other.


 
Mike Griffin once again bemoans the space shuttle and how it came to be. Very refreshing. Meanwhile he discusses the cost of returning to the Moon.


Friday, December 08, 2006
 
The Cape Wind Project, an alternative energy project that certain rich liberals are fighting tooth and nail.


 
The Last Moonwalker speaks about returning to the Moon.


 
Jeane Kirkpatrick, RIP.


 
Firefly: The Online Game. Shiny.


 
The space race between the United States and China has a military and commercial dimension.
The U.S. has asserted for itself the responsibility to ensure freedom of action in space. That responsibility isn't being taken seriously if the threats in space are downplayed.


Thursday, December 07, 2006
 
Peggy Noonan, someone I usually like, has an very odd piece about the Bush family and feelings, inspired by the incident in which Bush the Elder broke down in tears after speaking of his slightly less famous son, the out going Governor of Florida. She had a very strange assessment of Bush the Younger.
Unlike anguished wartime presidents of old, he seems resolutely un-anguished. Think of the shattered Lincoln of the last Mathew Brady photographs, taken just weeks before he was assassinated. He'd gone from a bounding man of young middle age who awed his secretaries by his ability to hold a heavy ax from his fully outstretched arm, to, four years later, "the old tycoon." Or anguished Lyndon B. Johnson sitting in the cabinet room by himself, literally with his head in his hands. History takes a toll.

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

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

But maybe there is no suffering.

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

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

If Noonan does not know this, she ought to.


 
You're an astrobiologist and are headed for the Moon. What do you pack?


 
There has been some discussion about a fifty billion dollar Moon Prize that was floated by the Wall Street Journal here and here. In my judgement, these kind of prizes won't work. A private entity going after such a prize would have to acquire financing from a venture capital source over a number of years, if not decades. I doubt that there are too many venture capitalists or bankers willing to invest money in a venture solely designed to win a government prize on that basis, since it can be yanked at any time at any change in Congress or the White House.


 
Today, December 7th, a day that shall live in infamy.


Wednesday, December 06, 2006
 
I've always considered Jimmy Carter a sanctimonious dolt and in the running for the worst President and ex President in history. But it looks like that isn't even the half of it.
A longtime aide to Jimmy Carter has resigned from the Carter Center think tank, calling the former president's new book on Israel and the Arabs one-sided and filled with errors.

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

Stein wrote that the book, "Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid," was replete with factual errors, material copied from other sources and "simply invented segments," according to an excerpt of the letter published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.


 
The findings of the Iraq Study Group are now out. One of the more controversial recommendations is the one to open negotiations with the Syrians and the Iranians. I actually think that is a good idea, but only after the bombing starts.



 
A look at the next Mars lander, the Phoenix.

Meanwhile, surface water on Mars?


Tuesday, December 05, 2006
 
Captain Ed reports that Adolf Ahmadinejad has gotten into a bit of trouble with his religious fanatic backers over (and I'm not making this up) dancing girls.


 
Jon Goff, having apparently taken the suggestion to refine and revise his "alternate architecture" for returning to the Moon to heart, presents his latest version.

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

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

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

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

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

That's just my dour, curmudgeonly assessment.


 
Rand Simberg remembers the year in space, 2006.


Monday, December 04, 2006


 
Looks like, as expected, that NASA will build a lunar base at one of the poles, rather than conduct scattered sorties.

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

For all of those with alternative transportation schemes, there is your opportunity. If you can't coinvience NASA to adopt your idea, maybe you can persuade--say--the French or the Japanese.


 
The Albuquerque Tribune likes the idea of mining helium 3 on the Moon.
As the fur trade was to America's Western frontier, helium-3 is to lunar discovery and settlement. Helium-3, abundant on the moon where it has been produced and trapped over billions of years by bombardment from solar particles, is the ideal fuel for a nuclear fusion energy power plant.

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

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

It sounds romantically improbable, but that's what they said about Columbus, Magellan, and Lewis and Clark.


 
The GAO is concerned about the cost of returning to the Moon. NASA, however, is confident that it has a handle on it.


 
Taylor Dinerman takes a dim view on arms control for space weapons.


 
Eric Hedman has a fascinating and rational article about the Ares 1, possible alternatives to it, and the pros and cons. He has one bad suggestion and one good:

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

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

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

Indeed. A failure to communicate has been a problem at NASA for decades.


 
Jeff Foust reports on yet another alternative exploration scenario. This one bypasses the Moon altogether and instead goes to the L2 point as a means to staging to Mars and to near Earth asteroids.

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


Sunday, December 03, 2006
 
Are we at the dawn of a new great age of space exploration? I certainly think so, but there are skeptics. Just as there were when Columbus first sailed.


 
An interesting piece about the development of the Ares 1 over at NASA Glenn.


Saturday, December 02, 2006
 
The cost of some surgical procedures has gotten to high in the United States that we're now starting to outsource them to other countries.
MedRetreat's price for a trip to Thailand for a hip replacement is $12,000, including $8,000 or $9,000 for the procedure, he said. Also included is round-trip airfare for two; a one-week stay in the hospital; and a two-week stay in a five-star hotel. In the United States, the price of the hip replacement alone is at least $40,000, Mr. Marsek said.
Mr. Rupak -- whose firm sends patients to Argentina, Belgium, Costa Rica, El Salvador, India, Panama, Singapore and Thailand -- said a patient would spend $36,000 for coronary arterial-bypass grafting and $55,000 for a heart-valve replacement in the United States. But in some foreign countries, the same operations are available for as little as $11,000 and $13,000 respectively, including airfare and hotel.
A person who undergoes cancer surgery in India or Thailand could expect to pay $14,000, including airfare and hotel, he said. In this country, the surgery alone would cost about $65,000.

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

In addition, procedures not yet available in the United States are available in foreign countries. An example was Kim Poor's stem cell treatment for which he had to go to China.


 
Really, I'm a bit of an anglophile my own self, but this is just a little much. Clearly Gwyneth hasn't met too many punk rockers and soccer holligans. Besides, I wonder what things Ms. Paltrow considers "interesting?"

Of course anyone who would actually like living near Madonna really needs, in my humble opinion, to reexamine their priorities.


 
Jon Goff presents his latest alternative return to the Moon architecture, called Lunar Surface Rendezvous, with addenda here, here, and here.

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, December 01, 2006
 
It's time to withdraw our forces from Iraq and redeploy them--to Iran and Syria.


 
Taylor Dinerman suggests that the ascendency of the Democrats in Congress constututes a threat to effective missile defense.


 
Mona Charen, whom I generally like, wrings her hands at the idea of extending life for centuries or even longer:
What would that mean? Let's see, Social Security benefits for 135 years? Medicare for the same period? Prescription nanobots for a century? Assuming that people will remain healthy and working for decades and decades (which is what the futurists predict), would the economy expand due to the continued productivity of well-trained people, or sink under the weight of the extra elderly? (Not all of those doddering around at the age of 140 are going to be on the tennis courts.)

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

On the up side, interstellar colonization would become more practicable, even without magic, faster than light warp drives. Someone who expects to live thousands of years won't shrink from the long voyage time to get to the new worlds.


 
Is the world ready for a new Cleopatra film project? Maybe, but we must agree that Cleopatra was Macedonian/Greek and not Egyptian and, unlike Richard Burton's depiction, Marc Antony was not a whipped dog in the arms of the Queen.