Monday, February 26, 2007

What if an asteroid were about to hit the Earth. Taylor Dinerman has some fun imagining the reaction.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

If this story is true about Arabic Gulf States allowing Israel to overfly their territory on the way to taking out Iran's nukes, it certainly demonstrates the old saying about strange bedfellows.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Depending on how one looks at it, The Astronaut Farmer was either a beautiful fairy tale about the power of dreams and the joy of space flight or a mess of a movie with enough holes in it to drive a space shuttle through. Take your pick.

More anon.

Addendum: In the meantime, Alan Boyle has talked to a couple of guys who have seen the movie who have lived the dream in real life that Charlie Farmer does in the movie.
Another review of The Astronaut Farmer, which relates the film to new space, NASA, and the spirit of exploration.
Clark Lindsey asks a question which bears answering, concerning news of certain commercial ventures, some of which have been mentioned in these pages:
So why again is NASA spending its limited number of tens of billions of dollars to build Ares I/V and Orion? Wouldn't it be far more cost effective to spend an extra billion or two to bolster and accelerate the progress displayed in the above list? Why not also shift some of those billions to NASA's great R&D facilities so they can focus on development of the many technologies needed to make space travel and settlement practical? Technologies like space tugs, orbiting fuel depots, artificial gravity via rotating structures, in situ utilization of materials on the Moon and asteroids, low mass radiation protection, advanced propulsion systems for faster travel to Mars, etc., etc. And a few of those freed up billions could go to space science missions and to education.

It's a beguiling idea, except for the fact that things like Bigelow's plans to build lunar bases in L1 and so on have no so much "emerged" but are just things being talked about. Can one base a plan to go back to the Moon solely on plans put forth by small companies, almost none of which have actually seen useful hardware produced? Mind, as I've mentioned below, I can see a point in time when such plans, having gone further along toward reality, might well figure into NASA thinking.

But when one notes the history of or new space or whatever one wants to call it, one sees instances again and again of companies long on promises and very short on actual accomplishments. Mike Griffin, who has been charged with going back to the Moon by both the President and Congressional degree, simply cannot rely solely on Bigelow, SpaceX, and so on to get us there.

Mind, I'm in favor of a lunar COTS, an expansion of the Centennial Challenges, and even some more money for tech development along the lines Clark Lindsey suggests. But that is not going to happen at the expense of the Ares I/V. NASA would be irresponsible not to have that option available. Almost as important, the politics would be impossible. One can more easily wage a fight to add a billion or so to NASA's budget to accomedate what we've just mentioned than to wage a fight to defund Ares 1/V and pour the money into the same.

In a strange way, space advocates are in danger of falling into the same trap that planetary scientists fell into in the early 1970s. The planetary science community was seduced by the notion that if we just defund human space exploration (i.e. Apollo), then billions would flow into robotic space probes Apollo was curtailed, with three planned missions cancelled. But the promised money for unmanned exploration never materialized. If the planetary scientists had been more politically savy, they would have fought for more funding on the basis that unmanned and manned exploration are mutually supportive.

As it was then, so it could be now. Stop this bickering over hardware. There are people who do not want Americans to return to the Moon ever. They will use this bickering to their own advantage. Instead, let's come up with a strategy that will not only advance humankind's expansion to the stars, but is politically sound as well.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Looks like Bigelow has an idea to build a complete lunar base at L1 and then lower it gently down to the lunar surface. NASA seems interested.

If Bgelow can do this in the time frame suggested (i.e. in the mid 2010s), then one would only need to add a lunar COTS, and something I used to scoff at becomes possible, albeit with partial NASA funding. The next people to the Moon may actually fly in a private space craft.
The Chinese are developing megalev assisted space launch technologies.
Al Gore's film is filled with factual errors that ought to disqualify it for a Best Documentary Oscar. It won't matter, though.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Rand Simberg imagines the perfect match up in the Presidential race for space advocates. Bill Richardson vs Newt Gingrich. I'm pretty sure that Richardson has no chance of getting the nomination, as he is too sane for national Democrats. Newt, on the other hand, has some popularity among Republicans and is one of the most imaginative and intelligent politicians in American history.
Popular Mechanics take a look at the Orion.
David Geffen and, it seems, much of Hollywood has suddenly become down on the Clintons. While I'm glad to see that Tinseltown has come around to seeing it my way, one wonders what took them so long.
Another example of how NASA and commercial space are learning to mutually benefit one another.
SIR Richard Branson’s space tourism company has signed a deal with Nasa to help get its flights off the ground, MPs were told today.

Virgin Galactica (VG) President Will Whitehorn confirmed the company had signed a co-operation deal with Nasa at midnight.

He told the Science and Technology Committee that VG will get expertise and Nasa will buy sites on VG for early astronaut training.

“They obviously believe in it and who am I to question them?” he told the committee amid lively debate where VG’s project was branded a “frivolous” toy for rich people.

Addendum: More from Alan Boyle. He thinks NASA may be evolving from a dinosaur into a mammal.
A review of The Astronaut Farmer.

Addendum: And another.
Lets go back to the Moon. For one thing, because it can be the Persian Gulf of this century.
The greatest potential prize on the Moon is energy. “If the world’s 9 billion in 2050 used energy at the rate that Americans to today… the world would have to generate 102.2 terawatts,” writes MIT Professor Daniel Nocera in the Fall, 2006 issue of the quarterly Daedalus. Considering that the world only generates 13.5 terawatts today, the future needs of humanity may be impossible to meet from purely terrestrial sources. Nuclear, hydro and wind power will just not be enough. Even if you are skeptical of human induced global warming theories, generating that amount of energy from coal or natural gas would create more pollution than we may be prepared to tolerate.

Solar power from space offers very large amounts of electricity from a non-polluting source. The two basic solutions: solar power satellites based in orbits around the Earth, probably in geosynchronous orbit 32,000 miles up and lunar solar power beamed directly from the Moon to the Earth’s surface.

“Clever ideas have been advanced for the phased construction of electrical power sources - perhaps using solar cells manufactured in situ from Lunar soil. A not unreasonable scenario is a phase of highly subsidized capital construction followed by market-driven industrial activity” said Dr. Robert Marburger, the President Bush’s science advisor, in March 2006.

The idea of diverting the Sun’s rays to power our increasingly electric world has a long history in space science literature.

The first serious space solar power proposal dates from 1968 when Peter Glaser of Arthur D. Little published “Power From The Sun, Its Future” in Science magazine. It would gather electricity from photovoltaic panels and transmit it via microwaves or lasers to receiver antennas on Earth. In 1972 Gerald O. Neil led a study that designed a space colony circling the L-5 Lagrange Point. There are five of these Lagrange points “where all the [gravitational] forces are exactly balanced. When a spacecraft is placed at one of these points, it will stay there forever,” Neil wrote.

In a 1981 report, the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment explained “The basic premise of the non-terrestrial materials option is that the cost, energy and materials requirements, and environmental impact of lifting the enormous cumulative masses needed to establish and operate a system of many satellite power stations off the Earth can be markedly reduced by using first lunar materials, and eventually materials obtained from asteroids. The fundamental physical principal that supports this premise is that it takes over 20 times as much energy to launch an object to geostationary orbit from the Earth as it does from the Moon, … The primary drawback is the high ‘upfront’ cost of establishing the necessary mining base on the Moon….”

Since these proposals were made the technology for space solar power has improved considerably, a 5000 megawatt array designed with 1989 technology would have been only 35 % as large as one designed in 1979. Improvements in solar cell technology since then indicate that today a solar power satellite would be even smaller and less costly.

“About 13,000 terawatts of solar power hit the Moon,” notes Dr. David Criswell, an expert on lunar solar power. Obviously if we only capture and send a small portion of that down to Earth we will have changed forever the nature of the Earth’s energy economy.

It may be easier to build power stations on the Moon since they would not need the orbit keeping thrusters required by satellites. Maintenance by humans would also be easier in the low gravity of the Moon rather than in the weightless environment of orbital space.
Why tasking the UN with asteroid defense would be a bad idea.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Copperhead Caucus in the Congress may want to think again before they start trying to stop the war in Iraq. It seems, according to on poll, that Americans want to win.
While I don't think that the recent budget follies dooms the Vision for Space Exploration (a position too many people are taking because they seem to wish it so), I do think it raises a long term danger. My thoughts in Short Changing the Future.
John Edwards says that the most dire "short term" threat to world peace is the prospect of Israel taking out Iran's nukes with her own. He said it, by the way, in Hollywood.
The Copperheads, especially in the Congress, are going berserk over the deaths of American service men and women in the War in Iraq, currently at 3133 . But, as Alicia Colon points out, this compares to a butcher's bill of 4417 during the first four years of Clinton which, as we are told, was peace time.
One of the many complaints I've heard about the Ares is that it constitutes a hugh investment of resources for not a lot of flights. But, as planetary scientist Carolyn Porco suggests, the Ares may be very useful indeed for other missions besides returning humans to the Moon.
And human spaceflight is not the only enterprise to benefit. Robotic reconnaissance, which by necessity must precede the dispatch of humans, has been ongoing for nearly 50 years. In that time, all the simple things have been done. Future missions to the planets and their moons will be more ambitious than anything yet tried.

As one example, imagine what our future robotic travels around Saturn might be like. The Saturn planetary system includes Titan, a cold Mercury-sized moon with a dense, organic-laden, hazy atmosphere and a strangely Earth-like, variegated surface sculptured by winds and hydrocarbon rains. It also includes Enceladus, a moon one-tenth the size of Titan, whose jets of water vapor and fine icy particles extend thousands of miles into space and may very likely erupt from organic-rich liquid water reservoirs just below its surface — making this satellite arguably the most promising target we have available to us for astrobiological investigation.

A scientifically comprehensive mission to this part of the solar system, using Ares and a Cassini-like trajectory to Saturn, could easily include several exploratory vehicles. One would be a Saturn orbiter far more capable than Cassini. This vehicle, in turn, would be large enough to carry and deliver a fully equipped balloon-borne scientific payload to float through the atmosphere of Titan and study its surface up close, and an Enceladus lander with equipment that could determine the moon’s physical properties and ascertain whether or not pre-biotic chemistry, and perhaps life, has arisen there.

In other words, robotic exploration, and the insights that will be gained from it into the character, development and evolution of planetary bodies and even life itself, will be taken to new heights and, in turn, pave the way for the eventual arrival of humans throughout the solar system. Anyone up for an extreme excursion to the Enceladus Interplanetary Geyser Park?

Monday, February 19, 2007

Meanwhile, NASA is getting serious about inviting the private sector to become a full partner in the return to the Moon program.
Looks like India is getting serious about being the fourth country to launch a person into space.
There's to be a remake of Capricorn One? WHY???!!!
Will the current hysteria on global warming put a stop to space tourism? Steven Fawkes seems to fear so and offers ways to respond. But I think that a sober look at the real science behind the phenomonom will be more in order.
Stephen Metschan offers yet another alternate approach to returning to the Moon using EELVs without answering the reasons made by NASA why it did not choose that option to start with. And he compares himself to John Houbolt, author of the Lunar Orbit Rendezvous approach used by Apollo.

Metschan's reasoning is that the half billion dollar shortfall demands that the current approach be abandoned and his be chosen. Without a true cost/benefit analysis of his plan over the current one, he hasn't actually made the case. We've also been down the road of redesigning projects (i.e. the space station) willy nilly to respond to shifting winds of congressional whim. I'm pretty sure we don't want to do that again.
Is global warming the eugenics of the 21st Century?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The interesting thing about this launch manifest for Orion is how the various missions seem to have been moved up six months. Does that take into account the half billion funding shortfall for FY2007?

Mind, I think that some of the ISS missions are contingent on COTS not panning out. So it will be fascinating how this changes if COTS creates a private ISS resupply capability. My suspician is that most if not all of the ISS flights go away.

Friday, February 16, 2007

This kind of bionic eye is as great a boon to humankind as just about anything medical science has created.

Addendum: More. Also information on clinical trials.
This week's enhance Trek episode is Amok Time, in which an--er--aroused Spock wrecks mayheim. Some cool shots of the Vulcan wedding arena.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Will the movement of humankind to the Moon, Mars, and beyond affect evolution? It could well be.
The Surge in Baghdad is on and so far is apparently working. Coallition forces have entered some of the toughest Shiite neighborhoods unopposed. Al Sadr, one of the region's biggest trouble makers, has fled to Iran.

But not to worry. John Murtha, who can be said to be the biggest friend the terrorists have in the Congress, is scheming to cut off funds, supplies, and reinforcements to the troops in a stealth manner. In effect, Murtha is shooting at the troops in Iraq from the back.

Worse. He is bragging about it.

Addendum: More. And here.
Some folks have been wringing their hands about the question of how to
get young people behind space exploration efforts. Perhaps the ability to play the noble game of quidditch, just like Harry Potter, would do the trick.
The Lisa Nowak Story: Birth of a 21st Century Tabloid Scandal.
Ken Murphy discusses the lunar library. Also, The Moon as a school for exploration.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Implications of the Chinese ASAT Test: Will the Next War be a Space War?
Now for our obligatory Valentine's Day post. It appears that, at least according to one survey, that woman who play video games get more sex than those who do not.
PlanetSpace, one of the companies NASA has agreed to provide advice and other non monetary support to, has some big plans.
Sam Dinkin continues the destruction of Don Beatties attack on lunar colonization.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

While the fools on the Hill debate the nonbinding resolution to embolden the enemy, Al Sadr, one of the big trouble makers in Iraq, has redeployed to Tehran.
More good news about the Bigelow Genesis 1 module.
Some folks muse about the state of space travel after watching The Astronaut Farmer. The conclusion, if any, is that private space ventures have the potential to rekindle interest in space exploration. I think, partly because of private space ventures, that has already happened.
Despite the hype, global warming doesn't appear to be a concern to either the folks or to pollsters.
More hints that the first explorers beyond Low Earth Orbit in over a generation may not head for the Moon, but rather an Earth approaching asteroid.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Sir Richard Branson, whom we all love because of his Virgin Galactic private space venture, has proposed a twenty five million dollar prize for a technology that will remove a billion tons of carbondioxide (considered a greenhouse gas) out of the atmosphere per year for thirty years without any ill effects. Now, I am a skeptic of the notion that global warming is caused by humans or can be alleviated by humans, but it seems to me that these folks already claim to have arrived at an answer that does Sir Richard ten years better.
The most cost-effective way to meet the threat of global climate change is by restoring tree cover to the world's barren lands. Our 16-year-old program is helping thousands of villages to plant millions of trees.

Each tree planted in the humid tropics absorbs 50 pounds (22 kg) of carbon
dioxide every year for at least 40 years - each tree will absorb 1 ton of CO2 over its lifetime!

Because communities in developing countries join our tree planting program voluntarily to protect their soil, groundwater, and way of life, we are able to plant beneficial trees at a total cost of about ten cents ($.10) per tree.

Now, if these figures are correct, that means that forty billion trees would just be enough to reach Sir Richard's goal. At ten cents a tree, that comes to four billion dollars, an easy enough sum for countries and people who care about global warming to raise. Of course, this assumes that there is enough places in the tropics to put forty billion trees.

If all that is so, then it seems to me that Sir Richard should cut a check for this organization, Trees for the Future, minus a fifteen percent finders fee (three and three quarters million) that I will insist on.
President Reagan is being honored in such unusual places such as Poland--once part of the Soviet Empire--but not, apparently, in Massachusettes.
A French parlimentary group would like Europe to join in the second space race.
Now watching on C-Space Book TV, a talk on the book The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature. Among the politically incorrect: Chaucer, Shakespeare, and--Jane Austin.
Taylor Dinerman takes a dim view of using scraps of paper (i.e. treaties) to deal with space defense.
Dwayne Day has a conversation with Michael Cassutt.
Donald Beattie makes some remarkable and unsupported claims about the usefulness of returning to the Moon in particular and sending humans into space in general.

Addendum: Ken, guest blogging at Selenian Boondocks, has more.
Bob Mahoney continues his examination of space and public relations.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Dumbledore returns in Book 7? So it seems:
"Jo came down to the set at one point and I said, 'Oh hello, why are you here today?' And she said, 'Oh I just needed a break from the book - Dumbledore's giving me a lot of trouble.' And I said, 'But isn't he dead?' And she said, 'Well, yeah, but it's more complex...' I was like, [briskly] 'OK, I'm not gonna ask anything else!'"
Barack Obama announced his intention to inflict us with his candidacy by invoking Abraham Lincoln. This was an odd choice, in my opinion, since unlike Obama, Lincoln wanted to win the war.
"Unicorn" posts an interesting comparison of British vrs Australian views on national defense on John Birmingham's Cheeseburger Gothic blog.
The 72 Virgins or why Paradise is not all it's cracked up to be...

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Star Trek, a film directed by John Ford, starring John Wayne as Captain James T. Kirk.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Alright, I wasn't going to comment on Anna Nicole Smith either, because I don't care--except that we're going to have to endure her skanky puss on TV for the next week or so. But I've just heard this little gem on talk radio.

Anna Nicole Smith is not actually dead. She is living in sin with Ken Lay on a South Pacific Island somewhere. They both will reappear on a special episode of Survivor in a year or so...
Monuments to President Reagan are rising in Poland, a country once part of the Soviet Empire. No one would have predicted such a thing in 1984 when he was working tirelessly to bring down the Evil Empire, in the teeth of some of the same liberal opposition who now want to cut and run in the War on Terror. If anyone had, he would have been considered mad.

Twenty years hence, will the bronze visage of George W. Bush smile down upon passersby in--say--Baghdad?
Has the evidence that is suppose to support the idea of man made global warming been doctored? It would seem so.

No problem we'll just compare "global warming deniers" to Holocaust deniers as a means of shutting them up. Nothing should stand in the way, after all, of using a manufactured issue as a means of extending control over the way people live.
The New Yorker seems shocked that somehow a conservative was allowed to helm a hit TV show like 24. Worse, the article claims that 24 promotes torture.

Perhaps, but only of bad people.
Actor Ian Richardson has died. He is best known for playing the scheming, murderous fictional Prime Minister Francis Urquhart. Rest in peace. And if you are asked about any sins before the Judgment Seat, you know how to answer.

"You might say that. I couldn't possibly comment."
Rand Simberg has a longer take on the sordid adventure of Lisa Nowak. The last paragraph is of particular interest:
Maybe, instead of trying to seek out the Vulcans among us, they should review their entire approach to opening up space, so that it's not just a peak experience for a lucky (or are they?) few, with a letdown afterward, but instead a different one that might allow thousands (of humans) to go, affordably, as often as they want, for their own purposes. We need to have a space industry that's run not by "the right stuff" (which we now see can turn into the wrong stuff), but by the "green stuff." But then, what would be so great about being an astronaut?

There are a couple of problems with this premise. First, even when space tourism finally gets off the ground it's likely to be, in the beginning at least, (a) an experience only the well off can afford and (b) an experience that can be afforded only once. So now instead of about a hundred people in danger of going over the deep end over "post space flight depression" (you can already see Lisa Nowak's insanity defense developing), there are now several hundred thousand at risk, if Rand's thesis is correct.

Second, there will always be certain space flight experiences that will be reserved for the few. When low Earth orbit is crowded with space hotels and space cruise ships, the Moon will be the outer frontier where only the lucky and/or talented few get to go. When the Moon starts getting crowded and developed, the frontier will move to Mars and maybe Earth approaching asteroids. With Mars starting to be developed, the outer planets become the frontier. And so on, so there will always be a role for heroic astronaut explorers to play.

In any case, since Lisa Nowak is the first astronaut in the fifty year history of the space program to be ever arrested on the charge of a felony, one wonders if there is any deeper meaning to her sad story at all except that of a talented woman who, for whatever reason, snapped and make some very bad choices. I'm very certain that her experience ought not to be spun into a reason for some kind of political agenda.

Addendum: Homer Hickam has a slightly more measured take. One quibble.
My suggestion to lessen the pressure on the astronauts and also to decrease the resentment others in the agency feel toward them is to reorganize their office, first by shrinking it. There are two types of astronauts — pilots and mission specialists. The latter are more or less like flight engineers who are generalists. They operate robotics, perform experiments and go on spacewalks. They make up the bulk of the astronaut corps, and we just don't need so many. They should be offered other jobs within the agency. There would remain just a small, core group confident that they will fly.

The remaining seats on shuttle flights should then be opened up to the top tier of space scientists and engineers in the country from outside NASA. Right now, the only Americans allowed to fly aboard our spacecraft are the employees of the astronaut office, who live in a closed community with little outside influence. That is just not right, nor is it healthy.

To bring in the best of the best from outside the agency to fly would not only result in better science and engineering, it would also inject a constant stream of fresh air into a program that, as the Nowak tragedy reveals, is very much in need of it.

The fact that there are too many astronauts for too few flights has been mentioned before. It may be a bit late to implement something like Hickam suggests in the shuttle program, since it is going away in about three years. But it is something to consider once we start exploring beyond low Earth orbit.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

In which I consider The Queen, the front runner for Best Picture Oscar.
Jeff Foust considers the prospects for a lunar base.
Next up for the Classic Trek series reworked for the 21st Century is The Doomsday Machine. Lots of cool before and after pictures.
Is the "consensus" that global warming is a catastrophe caused by humans driven by science or by political intimidation? The latter it seems.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

First there was the flap over John Edwards' palace in South Carolina, now another scandal has erupted over Nancy Pelosi's demand for a flying palace for her own use. For the party of the down trodden, Democrats certainly have that tendency to behave with an imperial sense of entitlement.
George Taylor, a climatologist at Oregon State University, is also the State Climatologist for the State of Oregon. This is unfortunate, from a certain point of view, because Taylor is of the opinion that global warming, such as it is, is caused by natural processes. The Governor of Oregon finds this inconvenient, as his policy is to reduce green house gasses and it will not do to have a high profile scientist who doubts the necessity for this. So, the Governor would like to purge Taylor from his position as State Climatologist and presumably replace him with someone else whose opinions are more politically correct.
Alan Boyle has some comments about the Lisa Nowak story. I wonder that if Jonathon Clark, whom Boyle quotes, has a point about this being the result of NASA not paying attention to some of the mental problems and extramarital affairs of the astronauts, how is it that Nowak is (so far as I know) the first active astronaut accused of a felony in the fifty year history of the space program? One would think that some astronaut would have been driven to attempted homicide before this.

It would be interesting to see how other organizations--say police departments or the military--which employs people in high risk situations deal with this sort of thing and indeed how much of this sort of thing happens.

I wonder if all of this is just the beginning of a certain piling on by the media. A Houston radio talk show host named Chris Baker suggested, perhaps tongue in cheek, that astronauts may replace postal workers in the popular imagination as people prone to snapping at the least provocation. Indeed, perhaps "going astro" will become part of the popular lexicon.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

It looks like that Brian Emmett, who was obliged to give up the free prize of a trip into space because of his inability to pay the taxes, will get his chance after all thanks to Jim Benson.
I wasn't going to comment on the sad adventure of astronaut Lisa Nowak, since as a rule we don't deal with tabloid style stories unless they amuse me. But Rand Simberg's take on the story has forced my hand. He suggests that the cause of a women driving hell bent for leather to Orlando with the kind of equipment that either Hannibal Lector or Jack Bauer might carry is the result of a "culture of toxic narcissism." That is to say, she is now under the charge of attempted kidnapping and murder because she is a NASA astronaut. Rand's solution:
Unjustified astronaut worship is one of the unfortunate consequences that lingers on, almost half a century after the Cold-War space program began. Just one more reason to try to privatize things ASAP.

Now Rand does admit that not all NASA astronauts are inclined to commit felonies:
And of course, this is going to unfairly reflect badly on all the astronauts who really do have the "right" stuff.

Now leaving aside the notion that people who fly in space, whether they work for NASA or a private company, might be inclined to strut just a little, I am reminded of a similer incident that took place a couple a years ago in a hotel parking lot just down the street from the Johnson Space Center.

It seems that this woman caught her husband in the hotel bar with some babe. The frank and open discussion proceeded outside to the hotel parking lot, whereupon the woman hopped in her car and ran over her husband a whole bunch of times until he died. The woman was not a NASA astronaut, but rather an orthodondist.

It just goes to show that when it comes to love and sex, some people will do silly things, whether they fly in space or straighten teeth for a living.

Addendum: Rand links to this post by a former NASA shrink.
Nevertheless, if you treat astronauts like Hollywood superstars; promote them to the public as if they were God's gift to humanity; cater to their narcissistic fantasies; and indulge them in all sorts of special ways, it is not too hard to predict that they will behave just like any other entitled superstar (or politician) whose ridiculous exploits the public follows with obsessive interest.

The problem is I'm very sure that this has not been the case since the days of Apollo. How many of you can actually name the crew of the last shuttle mission? I thought so. Indeed, unless one is unlucky enough to die on a space mission, very few people will even know the name of an astronaut. The corporate culture of the NASA astronaut corps, I am told, is quite different from the Apollo era or even the early shuttle era. The astronauts, on the whole, tend to be a little less--well--flamboyent than the folks who used to drive their corvettes at Warp 99 down Highway 3 at two in the morning after an all night drunk at the Outpost. They tend these days to be a little bit more mundane and colorless. And there is nothing in their makeup or their "culture" to make them want to especially comit felonies.

Addendum 2: Rand is now making the suggestion that Nowak's space trip made her crazy.
I see that she's only flown once, last July. I wonder when this behavior started? Several astronauts have been profoundly affected by their trips into space. Some have gotten religion, some became addicted to various substances. The Overview Effect isn't always benign. I wonder if we'll find out that she had a personality change after her flight?

Rush Limbaugh has been making jokes along those lines, but I believe Rand is serious. It sounds like the plot of a bad, fifties scifi movie.
Bruce Moomaw has an interesting take on the budget battle as well, albeit with some speculations that may or may not come true (I think they won't.) However, he does make a little bit of news. It looks like the Hutchison/Mikulski billion dollar supplemental may rise again, this time as part of a farm bill that's up this month. Stay tuned. The process is not over yet.
The Space Frontier Foundation seems to have jumped the shark over the kerfuffle over the NASA budget and have wound up in a pretty scary place.

Here is a sample of the foolishness coming out of SFF:

"We applaud the House Democratic leadership for being responsible stewards of taxpayer funds by applying the FY 2007 NASA budget cuts to the unaffordable aspects of Dr. Griffin's Moon-Mars plans. The Democratic Party appears to understand that the taxpayers of this nation just aren't interested in supporting what they see as business as usual at NASA. We are hoping that the Republicans join them soon," said Werb . "This should be a wake-up call for Dr. Griffin that his plans, to pour billions of dollars into massive new launch systems that nobody else wants or needs, are going nowhere. It is time for the agency to re-think how it puts people and payloads into space. It is time for the agency to trust the power of free enterprise."

If Bob Werb thinks that David Obey (the liberal Democratic Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee) gives a fig for commercial space, then I would suggest that he think again, long and hard. Far from "the taxpayers of this nation just aren't interested in supporting what they see as business as usual at NASA", the Gallup Organization has consistently found strong support for the Vision for Space Exploration. I also strongly doubt that too many people outside of the small circle of space enthusiasts care one way or another how we go, so long as we do so.

SFF also seems not to have heard of the Commercial Orbital Transportation Systems program nor of the recent agreements made by NASA with other nascent commercial space firms to provide support and advice. It's as if it was still 1992 and NASA was still trying to undermine commercial space instead of encouraging it.

If commercial alternatives do develop to send people and supplies to ISS, I would certainly understand why using the Orion to do the same thing should be opposed. But unless and until such alternatives become available, it would seem to be the height of irresponsibility to not have a backup plan just in case the people (who have yet to launch so much as an ant into Low Earth Orbit) do not step up.

Nor are there commercial solutions for travel to and from the Moon. Nor will there be, in my judgment, until people are actually living and working there.

Rick Tumlinson, in many ways an admirable fellow, finishes this press release by misreading the mood of Congress.
Tumlinson concluded "It is important for NASA to understand this is not a fight they are going to win, even if they restore some of the funding this year. The trend in Congress is going the other way towards balanced budgets, and a better return on investment to the American people. If America really wants to open space to the people, then we cannot dump hundreds of billions into government-based technologies. It simply will not work. We must try something new."

If anything, key members of Congress are complaining that the FY2008 request is too low, so perhaps Rick is right, only not in the sense he believes.

My belief is that, if anything, SFF has picked a fight it can't win, as it has tended to be in the past (the Save MIR campaign comes to mind.) In order to avoid continued irrelevance as a space advocacy group, SFF needs to find a fight it can win and one that will actually advance the cause. My suggestion would be to push for more funding for the Centennial Challenges program and to push for a Lunar COTS once the lunar outpost is established. Pushing for things like Zero G, Zero Taxes (a plan to make space essentially an enterprise zone) and a regime to protect property rights in space would also be good ideas.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Arthur C. Clarke celebrates fifty years of the Space Age, with a particular focus on private space flight. He would like to go as well.
Which state is the largest wind power producer? Surprisingly, it's not California. That fact has made a few people unhappy.
John Edwards decides to pursue the Walter Mondale strategy of promising to raise taxes in order to persuade people to vote for him. Of course, it worked so well in 1984...
Nader Elhefnawy makes the serious mistake of supposing that the proper response to the Chinese ASAT test would consist of negotiations. I think that beefing up our own space war fighting capabilities is the only viable option.
Jeff Foust, usually very reliable for good insights, stumbles a bit in an attempt to analyze the possible effects of the House version of the NASA budget. The problem is that the process is still playing out and no one really knows what the effects will be.

Another problem is that no project can be purely "budget driven" or "schedule driven." Ignore the notion of a schedule and not only does the overall cost of the project balloon out of control, as there are year to year fixed costs (mainly personel), but the milestones keep receeding into the future. The space station, originally slated for completion in the early to mid 1990s, but still not completed, is a case in point.

An example of a purely schedule driven project, of course, is Apollo. It could not be sustained for very long.

The idea, therefore, is to arrive at some kind of balance in which both budget and schedule are reasonable and sustainable.

The notion that another country (China) getting people on the Moon first "would hardly result in the collapse of the republic." Lots of bad things can happen that won't cause that. Yet it is good to try to avoid them.

I also found the ritualistic call to consider scrapping the Ares launchers in favor of something else (EELVs) a little bit puzzling. That notion, while on the surface beguiling, has been slapped down in a number of venues as being more expensive than the proponents suggest and likely unworkable.

Jeff is correct that the next administration can change the Vision for Space Exploration to suit any whim, depending on how many constituancies (Congress especially) can be persuaded. But that's a probem (or opportunity) two years in the future.

My own best guess is that either (a) the schedule slips because of the short fall or (b) Congress fixes things with a supplemental, possibly attached to the War on Terror bill, and things get back on track. We may know more after the budget presentation for NASA this afternoon.
Bob Mahoney asks the question: How does NASA Public Affairs manage to make the most exciting adventure in history seem--well--boring?

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Louise Riofrio has seen the The Astronaut Farmer, a film much anticipated by fans of private space flight. Some minor spoilage and some technical nitpicking is included.

Friday, February 02, 2007

One of the many twists and turns surrounding the Iraq "nonbinding resolution" fight will involve Senator John Warner voting against his own bill.
Harrison Ford, according to this rumor, is threatening to walk off of Indy IV because of some rule that will forbid him using a real whip. If it's a rumor, it's a cool one. If it's real, it's a travesty.
The administration's FY08 budget request for NASA will be 17.3 Billion dollars. The good news is that this should put to rest the internet rumors that the White House is abandoning the Vision for Space Exploration. The possible bad news is that the request does not address the five hundred million dollar short fall imposed on the FY07 budget by the Democratic controlled House. The Senate may try to fix that problem, however.
181 things to do on the Moon.
Let's all go to the Moon.
Film director Roman Polanski is going to do a thriller set around the destruction of Pompeii.
Quite appropriately, in my humble opinion, the Administration has halted plans for joint space ventures with the Chinese because of the ASAT test.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Two smaller space companies are getting a consolation prize from NASA for not winning the COTS competition. It consists of free advice which, for reasons stated in the article, could be worth something.
So how does one build a town on the Moon?
Recently, episodes of classic Star Trek have been broadcast using reworked special effects, sort of the same method that George Lucas used to make new versions of the original Star Wars trilogy. Next up is Journey to Babel, in which we meet Spock's parents. Look here for some eye popping before and after stills.
The FY2007 NASA budget passed by the House is getting a sharp response from certain quarters.
We've used our armed forces, the FBI, and the CIA--the full might of the United States against the terrorists. Now the most fearsome weapon of all is about to be unleashed on the Islamo Fascists.
Russell Crowe as the Sherrif of Nottingham in a revisionist version of the story of Robin Hood? Sounds interesting.
The same folks who brought the Narnia Chronicles to the big screen now propose to do the same to The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis.