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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Saturday, March 31, 2007
 
Matt Burdick thought he was doing the environmentally responsible thing by installing a combination solar powered water heater and pool at his house. He reckoned without the caprice of his home owners' association.


 
Jon Goff is somewhat bemused by the lack of Congressional support for Centennial Challenges and has some suggestions to change that. With all due respect, I think Jon and others are taking the wrong approach.

The way to sell the Centennial Challenges to Congress is not to try to argue about the utility of prizes, but rather about the utility of gathering several hundred (or thousand) space enthusiasts in one place, buying hotel space, eating at restaurants, buying souvenirs, and so on. This would mean that Centennial Challenges would have to be a traveling show, one year in California, one year in Texas, the next year in West Virgina (you laugh, but who is after all the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee?)


 
Captain Ed expresses astonishment at the latest, mad cap antics of Nancy Pelosi.
Let me see if I get this straight. The Democrats want to condemn Turkey for a genocide that the Ottoman Empire committed before the Turks overthrew them, in order to invest Congress with a certain level of moral authority, if not historical illiteracy. At the same time, Nancy Pelosi -- who has pushed for the condemnation of our Muslim ally in the war on terror -- now wants to fly to Damascus to hang on the words of our enemy in the same war.


 
Apparently Congressional Democrats are quite pleased to place our soldiers at risk to pursue their political jihad against the President of the United States.


Friday, March 30, 2007
 
Second Life is proving to be an interesting test bed for space exploration.


 
Zac Wassink has the perfect suggestion to help fight the War on Terror. Shut down NASA. Before you libertarians get all excited, Zac isn't one of you.
At the beginning of 2007 it was reported that NASA's budget could be roughly $500 million less than what President Bush requested. NASA's budget would be slightly higher than $16 billion. If NASA were to simply be halted until the end of the war think of how that money could be used.

Half of that money could be used for the war effort. What we have to realize as a nation is that we are not just going to pull out of Iraq tomorrow. If and when it happens it will be a long and drawn out process that will take years. Until that day comes it would be nice to ensure that our troops are given the absolute best equipment and protection to ensure that American casualties are at a minimum. An extra $8 billion every year would be more than adequate.

The other half of NASA's budget could be used for domestic issues. Millions of dollars could be given to education reform so that schools in urban areas could bring themselves up to the quality of rural schools. Countless Americans without health care could be given assistance. How many more homeless shelters could be built with that money? There are infinite possibilities for that extra $8 billion.


 
I have heard from the usual sources that NASA is not serious about commercial space, that COTS is going to be cancelled any day now, and even that COTS is a plot to fool supporters of commercial space. Then this rather inconvenient bit of news crosses the wires.
Rocketplane Kistler, Inc. (RpK) announced today that a Space Act Agreement (SAA) has been established with the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) to use NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) in New Orleans, LA for the assembly of the K-1 Space Transportation System.


Thursday, March 29, 2007
 
The declaration by SpaceX that the Falcon1 is operational, even though Falcon 1 has yet to actually make it into orbit, illustrates a bold confidence that is at once an advantage and a danger for small, entrepreneurial firms trying to make it into space. There is no way that NASA or any of the big, established firms would dare do that. On the other hand, SpaceX feels it has all the problems identified and solutions in hand before the next launch attempt in the fall. On the other hand, it has still not orbited so much as an ant.

If the third launch attempt succeeds, then SpaceX is on its way as a major space player. Unfortunately if it fails, then a huge setback not only for SpaxeX but for space commercialization will have occurred.

Addendum: I got a note from Stephen Langford:

I could be wrong, but my understanding is that Boeing pretty much
declared their Delta IV heavy lift rocket operational after a test
flight that failed to place its satellites (test satellites, not
commercial) into orbit. I think the problem was cavitation in one of
the turbopumps, which prematurely shut down one of the engines. They
didn't properly account for the greater acceleration of the heavy
lift relative to earlier versions, and the acceleration was enough to
induce cavitation.

My understanding is that the big aerospace corporations are just as
guilty as SpaceX, if you will, in prematurely declaring their craft
operational.


Here's what the Encyclopedia Astronautica has to say:
The demonstration satellite was supposed to have been inserted into a sub-geosynchronous 36,350 km circular orbit but was instead deployed in a 19,035 km x 36,413 km orbit following a 5-hour and 50-minute flight. A shorter than expected first burn of the Centaur upper stage led to an orbit well below that planned. The Air Force EELV program office claimed that the primary flight objectives were accomplished. These included the heavy boost phase, flight of the new five-meter diameter Centaur upper stage and five-meter payload fairing, extended coast, upper stage third burn and payload separation, and activation and usage of Space Launch Complex 37B.


Still, I stand corrected.


Wednesday, March 28, 2007
 
The Rise of Hillary Clinton or Big Sister is Watching You.


 
The book cover for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows has been revealed.


 
Doubtless you have heard about the childrens' after school center that that banned legos. That was just the beginning of the atrocities two teachers, who must have been trained in the Gulag, inflicted on their charges.


Tuesday, March 27, 2007
 
The Senate Democrats have taken up the theme of bribing people to vote for appeasement of terrorists with your money.


 
Continuing their theme of 70s Nostalgia, some Democrats have reintroduced the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, which died about a generation ago.

For those unfamilier with the amendment, it read thus:
Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of gender.
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

Deceptively simple, but it still died because of largely justified fears of what sort of mischief it would cause in the courts.


Monday, March 26, 2007
 
Now you too can live on a Federation star ship. Or at least a facsimile thereof.


 
People are still agog about Elizabeth Edwards and the reoccurance of her cancer. Given that her chances of living a long life are pretty slim--at least right now--one wonders at the thinking that causes them to persist in seeking the White House.

There is a practical consideration. Let us suppose that Edwards wins (unlikely as that is) It's about 2011 and he is overseas engaged in some delicate negotiations in the Middle East. He gets the word that the First Lady has taken a turn for the worse and is like to die within days. Does President Edwards break off negotiations and flies home to be with his wife as she slips away or does he stay and allow her to die alone?

An impossible situation.


 
Rome has completed its run on HBO and all is sadness at the end of the finest historical drama ever to show on TV. Mind, continuing the series might have been a non starter. For one thing, the end of Rome meshes pretty well with 1976's I Claudius, which featured such then unknowns as John Rhys Davies, Patrick Stewert, John Hurt, and--of course--Derek Jacobi.

But what about a pequal series? Say, one starting with Caesar's rise to power as a youth? You get get quite a few seasons out of that.


 
Bigelow Aerospace prepares for the next step.


 
Last week's Falcon 1 launch was a big, incremental success.


 
Missions to Earth approaching asteroids will be as challenging as they are filled with opportunity.


 
Commercial space development needs lawyers, insurance agents, and venture capitalists as well as engineers. An obvious truism that is just beginning to be realized.


Sunday, March 25, 2007
 
From time to time, readers have wondered why the Curmudgeon does not allow comments. Dean Barnett explains why far better than I have been able to.


 
When the hero of The Astronaut Farmer was said to have cobbled together his rocket out of used parts found in junkyards and such like, it seemed a little far fetched. But Jon Goff seems to have found an actual source for used rocket parts.


Saturday, March 24, 2007
 
A couple of weeks ago we saw a film called Amazing Grace and found it very moving.


Friday, March 23, 2007
 
Alan Boyle has a commercial space update.


 
It's almost a cliche to point out that just about anything can be justified if one looks in certain religious texts hard enough. But the Koran as a feminist tract?

Mind, I think it's delicious.


 
The Space Access Conference is seen rightly as the annual gathering for those most enthusiastic about commercial space and, usually, those most skeptical about NASA programs. Into this potential lions' den came Steve Cook, director of the Exploration Launch Projects Office at NASA Marshall, who talked about the development of the Ares and why the EELV is just not a suitable alternative. I suspect that there will be a few who will conclude that Cook is either ignorant of the realities of rocket science or is lying to cover up some nefarious plot at NASA to squash commercial space.

Addendum: I'm reminded that a number of folks are blogging Space Access 2007. Check out Henry Cate, Clark Lindsey and Rand Simberg Scroll about for notes on various talks and panels.


 
Despite claiming a mandate for doing so, as well as larding the bill with gobs of pork to bribe members into voting for it, the liberals in the House could only manage a bare majority to bug out of Iraq. I think this is the greatest gift they could have given President Bush, as it proves that the Democrats are totally irresponsible on both nationa security and spending.


 
Supply chain management for the Moon.


Thursday, March 22, 2007

 
Looks like Season 4 of Battlestar Galactica has been increased from 13 episodes to 22. Also there will be a special movie this fall concerning the experiences of Battlestar Pegusus during and after the Cylon attack.


 
Algore's testinomy reminds us that Global Warming is not the first end of the world fad.


 
Algore's list of "solutions" to Global Warming are draconian indeed.


 
The Democrats seem to be so uncertain of being able to pass a bill mandating a bug out of Iraq that they feel they have to bribe members with slabs of pork. Here is a partial list of bacon that is buying appeasement of terrorism with your money.


Wednesday, March 21, 2007
 
I'm not easily shocked, Lord knows, but deer necrophilia???!!!


 
While Algore rants and raves and declares that we're all going to die, Bjorn Lomborg proves a far more sober analysis of global warming.


 
Animal rights folks want the Berlin Zoo to kill a polart bear cub rather than raise it in captivity.


 
Looks like the Democrats are now reaching for our light bulbs. Replacing traditional incandescent light bulbs with the fluorescent kind may be a good idea, but I am very certain I don't want the government forcing us to make that choice.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007
 
Looks like the second attempt to launch the Falcon 1 was a partial success. More here.

Addendum: And here and here.


 
In case you were worried about it, the next Harry Potter book will be environmentally correct.


 
The Winter of Our Discontent: The Impeachment and Trial of President John F. Kennedy by Harry Turtledove and Bryce Zabel. Apparently an alt.history novel in progress.


 
As the gentle reader has doubtless already heard, the first flight of the Falcon 1 was scrubbed Monday. A new attempt may be made as early as today.


Monday, March 19, 2007
 
Congressman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-WI) dicusses space policy and other topics with Ed Hedman.


Sunday, March 18, 2007
 
NASA's plans for unmanned lunar landers in advanced of a human return to the Moon are being scrapped, partly because of budget shortfalls, partly because (NASA says) they are not needed. I would argue with the last part, but it seems to me that an opportunity has arisen to have a lunar lander Centennial Challenge as has been discussed from time to time.


 
With the successful static test firing of its rocket engine, the second attempt (hopefully) to launch the Falcon 1 draws nigh.


Friday, March 16, 2007
 
Just in time for the 2008 elections, a new Clinton bashing book. All is not well in Bubba Land, it seems.


 
The beautious Cate Blanchett is about to reprise the role that made her famous in a sequel to Elizabeth, entitled The Golden Age which is apparently about the famous Queen and her relationship with Walter Raleigh. A film reviewer who styles himself "Moriarty" decided to inject some rather hilarious political commentary in posting this piece on the film.
But before I forget -- dare I say it!! - this movie is eerily reminiscent of a certain Prez and his hard on for the Middle East....Spain is painted as this hypocrite power that will only fight a 'just' war under God and manufactures all sorts of schemes (namely a treasonous one with Mary Queen of Scots that gets her beheaded)....to create a "proper" reason to go to war. So when Mary bites it - they cut to the Spaniards who are basically celebrating while writing letters of outrage - great stuff.

I'm not sure what is more insulting--to the intelligence or in general--President Bush as King Philip or Elizabeth Tudor as Osama bin Laden. Of course this comes from the site that suggested that Zorro was really fighting evil Neocons in 1860 California. (Hint, he wasn't. The bad guys in the second movie were evil Europeans trying to cut America down to size.)

Addendum: Speaking of Cate, it looks like she is teaming up alongside the Man with the Whip.


 
One of the more exasperating habits of the Internet Rocketeer Club is their knee jerk denigration of China's space effort, even though China has flown a number of people in Low Earth Orbit while the alt.space folks--whom they worship as if they were saints in Heaven--have not.

(Mind, there is no greater booster of commercial space than this analyst, but it is also a realistic boosting, IMHO.)

Fortunately, Michael Griffin is not among the folks that sneer at the Chinese. And apparently there are people inclined to agree in the Congress, which bodes well for funneling more money into our own return to the Moon effort.


Thursday, March 15, 2007
 
The revolt against the "consensus" over Global Warming continues.


 
More on the attempt to found the first lunar energy company. Clark Lindsey has some more thoughts on the attempt in specific and private lunar projects in general. He stumbles badly by suggesting that NASA needs to reject the Vision for Space Exploration in favor of Lunar COTS. As the person who first suggested a Lunar COTS program, let me assure one and all that VSE and it are mutually supportive, not exclusive. The quickest way to get Lunar COTS rejected by policy makers is to wave it as a means to cancel NASA's return to the Moon, so I hope people will stop trying to do so.

I am reminded of the Industrial Space Facility proposal from the 1980s. ISF was suggested as a co orbiting platform for what was then called Space Station Freedom. The idea was that a commercial entity would launch the ISF on the shuttle and use it as a human tended lab/factory for developing commercial products. The crew of the space station would service the ISF.

Then some brainless fool decided to try to sell ISF as an alternative to Space Station Freedom. NASA, seeing ISF now as not an enhancement but a threat, quickly moved to crush the idea.

So I do not support any notion of Lunar COTS as an alternative. It is designed as an enhancement, as a means to cheaply and reliably service and expand a pre existing lunar base.


 
Michael Griffin tries to predict the next fifty years in space, a task that he admits is rather futile. The article is interesting nevertheless, especially his alternate history of the last thirty years.

I might attempt the task my own self in the fullness of time.


Wednesday, March 14, 2007
 
I have always thought that much of what motivates protestors against the War in Iraq is Anti Vietnam War Nostalgia. A group of veterans maintain that the syndrome is based on--well--lies.


Tuesday, March 13, 2007
 
The X Prize Foundation and Zannel Beta announce a new contest that may be of interest.


 
Has the first lunar energy company just been formed? I rather hope this is the case, but I can see Shackleton Energy Company becoming as hated as the more Earthly versions are in certain quarters.


 
Jim Oberg discusses some myths concerning space weapons.


 
Once upon a time, a couple of lefty Canadian film makers set out to make a biop of their hero, Michael Moore. Along the way they discovered that Moore is a fraud and a liar, a fact the rest of us have known for years. The result is a documentary that gives Moore the Roger Smith treatment, entitled Manufacturing Dissent.


 
300, the film version of Frank Miller's graphic novel about the Battle of Thermopylae, is breaking all box office records. Some folks are already drawing War on Terror subtexts, with the starwart Spartans as the Americans and Miller's somewhat fantastic version of the Persian hordes as Al Qaeda. The film certainly seems to have insulted the current Islamo Fascist government in Iran, which I think is great.


Saturday, March 10, 2007
 
Is Newt Gingrich planning to get into the race in September. Maybe and I rather hope so. His recent confession of adultery seems to indicate that he's thinking about it. He'll have some months to judge if people will forgive him his sins. I suspect that if they (especially the Christian Right) think he's contrite, they just might.


Wednesday, March 07, 2007
 
Apparently even having sex can damage the environment if one is not careful. Fortunately there are ways to be both kinky and green, however.


Tuesday, March 06, 2007
 
My take on The Astronaut Farmer. Meanwhile Sam Dinkin has some thoughts about personal space programs.


Monday, March 05, 2007
 
Charles Krauthammer gives praise to the idea of alunar base.


 
While I was dealing with other matters, Mike Griffin was telling Congress the rather obvious news that a half billion short fall in exploration funding means a delay of Orion/Ares flights. "Aha!" suggest a number of people, several who should know better. Obviously this means Ares is a turkey and ought to be scrapped.

Actually, it means no such thing. Any budget short fall for any program is likely to result either in downsizing the program or delaying it, regardless of the hardware being used. We predicted this would be the case and are rather astonished that people seem to be surprised.


 
One of the more tiresome slams against the Ares is that NASA is onkly planning to launch it twice a year. While I suspect it will be ultimately more, Taylor Dinerman suggests that this is a good thing, as it opens up all sorts of opportunities for commercial space. Meanwhile, Jeff Foust reports that issues facing commercial space have moved beyond markets and regulation into risk.


 
Toward the Third Space Age. Yes, a year before the election it seems rather soon to be offering this kind of advice, but since almost everyone has started to run, it seemed to be the thing to do.


 
My apologies for the lack of posting for the past week. A combination of a computer software problem and a family crisis has intervened to occupy the vast amount of my time. I am posting this from a publicv library computer. I should be up and running agin very soon, though.