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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Friday, February 29, 2008
 
Hillary Clinton has a new ad up that is being compared to LBJ's Daisy Ad. In the meantime, Red State has a version with a different ending.


 
Hillary Clinton wants to reduce the space flight gap. Does this mean that she will be signing on with Senators Hutchinson and Mikulski? Or is this, as I suspect, campaign rhetoric?

Addendum: I'm informed by several sources that in fact Hillary Clinton has already been a cosponser of the Hutchinson-Mikulski Amendment. It occurs to be, though, that both the campaign rhetoric and the cosponsership could still be empty if Senator Clinton did not exert herself to getting the measure passed, especially by trying to influence House members.


 
It seems that House Democrats, having decided that oil prices in the United States are too low, have actually passed tax hikes on oil companies. But there are tax breaks, apparently, for Hugo Chavez.


 
The Hizballah appreciates help it is getting from "anti war" groups.


Thursday, February 28, 2008
 
Barack Obama opens his mouth about space policy, when he really should not.
Well, I’ve got a strong belief in NASA and the process of space exploration. I do think that our program has been stuck for a while, that the space shuttle mission did not inspire the imaginations of the public, that much of the experimentation that was done could have been conducted not necessarily with manned flights. I think that broadening our horizons and looking at a combination of both unmanned satellites of the sort that we saw with the Jupiter launch, but also looking at where we can start planning for potential manned flights. I think that is all something that I’m excited about and could be part of a broader strategy for science and technology investment–

And
The only thing I want to say is that I want to do a thorough review because some of these programs may not be moving in the right direction and I want to make sure that NASA spending is a little more coherent than it has been over the last several years.

You would think that the Messiah would be a little more coherent, to coin a phrase, when he choses to speak.


 
Victor Davis Hanson tells the Europeans some inconvenient truths.



Wednesday, February 27, 2008
 
Jim Oberg discusses the Five Myths of the Satellite Smashup.


 
Bill Clinton was in my city of Houston recently, trying to salvage his wife's doomed campaign for President, when he had this to say:
Clinton pointed out that Hillary Clinton places more of an emphasis than Obama on human space travel.

"This is the center of American space travel," he said of Houston and the Johnson Space Center. "Sixteen thousand (local) jobs -- and a lot of America's future -- rely on this."

Space, therefore, continues to be an issue. Of course Clinton, as is his tendency, was very shameless raising the issue, considering what a pernicious effect he had on the country's space program when he was President.


 
Here is where the next human explorers will likely walk on the Moon, provided Barack Obama does not get elected.


 
While polling data tends to indicate widespread support for space exploration among the general population, the excepti8on seems to be in the 18 to 24 year old demographic. I have often wondered how much this will change as these folks grow up, gaining maturity and experience. Nevertheless, some Gen Y NASA folks who work at JSC have some good ideas on how to address this now.


 
Barack Obama not only wants to end nuclear weapons, but defense against nuclear weapons, and nuclear power. There are other frightening proposals as well.


 

The first part of Season Four of Battlestar Galactica draws nigh.


 
Documents from the 3rd Space Exploration Conference are being posted online.


 
RIP William F. Buckley

Truly a giant has passed from this Earth.

Addendum: More detailed thoughts.

Addendum 2: William F. Buckley Goes Home

Addendum 3: We have yet to hear the last of Bill Buckley, though. There will be a book by him about Barry Goldwater out in May:


Tuesday, February 26, 2008
 
Terminator arms race? Maybe, but it will be a long time before they make one as cute looking as Summer Glau.


 
Barack Obama doesn't want to be called a liberal, which is a smart idea to have. Perhaps we should follow his wishes and call him something else entirely.


 
Recently we watched the classic film, El Cid, starring Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren on DVD. My thoughts on this epic of Spain's national hero that, though over forty years old, has certain parallels to our times.


 
Apparently NASA is going to measure the vibration problem on the Ares 1 by actually flight testing hardware. It seems like a sensible move to me, if there is some doubt as to the severity or even nature of the problem.


Monday, February 25, 2008
 
The Barack Obama Photo: The Candidate Learns Never to be Photographed in a Silly Costume


 
I'm always delighted when the far left fights among itself, but this is taking things a little too far.

Addendum: The Democrat Party Civil War Turns Violent


 
During the Oscars, Tom Hanks came out to introduce live a group of American soldiers in Baghdad to introduce the award for Best Short Documentary. A nicd gesture, to be sure. But an even nicer gesture would be to produce and show a big budget film that does not depict those same American soldiers as drug crazed baby killers.


 
The Passing of Fidel Castro

"Sic Semper Tyrannus"


 
Taylor Dinerman discusses the recent spysat shootdown.


 
In dealing with the future of space exploration, Alex Howerton looks at the over twenty year old National Commission on Space Pioneering the Space Frontier Report, which your Humble Servant had a minor role in.


Sunday, February 24, 2008
 
Vantage Point
Vantage Point is one of the most clever, most exciting suspense thrillers to come out in years. Vantage Point accomplishes this by using multiple view points to describe a single event, much like Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon.


 
Will Ron Paul's opposition to NASA spending sink him in his attempt to retain his House seat? That might be a stretch, mainly because Paul has done and said quite a few other crazy things that should sink him.


Saturday, February 23, 2008
 
Burt Rutan is on the mend. Joyous news indeed.


 
China apparently plans to launch a second lunar orbiter next year.


Friday, February 22, 2008
 
Barack Obama cult leader.


 
Retooling the Vision for Space Exploration
A group of planetary scientists, former astronauts, and former NASA officials, led by the Planetary Society's Louis Friedman, have come up with a proposal to alter the goals of President Bush's Vision for Space Exploration. Instead of returning astronauts to the Moon, the group would like to send explorers Earth approaching asteroids. They presented their proposal at a recent meeting at Stanford University to evaluate the Vision for Exploration in February.


 
Gerard Baker of the Times of London says that both Obamas are--well--dangerous.


 
In last night's debate, Barack Obama made an incredible claim:
You know, I've heard from an Army captain who was the head of a
rifle platoon — supposed to have 39 men in a rifle platoon. Ended up
being sent to Afghanistan with 24 because 15 of those soldiers had been
sent to Iraq.

And as a consequence, they didn't have enough ammunition,
they didn't have enough Humvees. They were actually capturing Taliban
weapons, because it was easier to get Taliban weapons than it was for
them to get properly equipped by our current commander in chief.

While this hasn't been commented upon in the mainstream media, it is causing quite a stir in the blogosphere. Basically the consensus is that Obama is--well--full of it.

Addendum: Jake Tapper of ABC claims to have spoken to Obama's mystery Captain and suggests that Obama's story "is backed up." The long answer Tapper gives, though, seems to be far less dire than Obama implied.

Still, considering that the source is anonymous and the story four years old, there is some reason to doubt the details. The main stream media has produced falsehoods disguised as facts too often to accept Tapper's story at face value.

Addendum 2: Ace of Spades examines the story and finds it wanting.


Thursday, February 21, 2008
 
Notice to the upper left, the Slatecard box which will allow for people to easily contribute to candidates who believe in an assertive foreign policy, limited government, and traditional values. If you're a blogger, consider creating your own Slatecard. (Note: If your popup blocker causes the contribute button not to work, hold down the ctrl key while clicking.)


 
Here are the official competitors for the Google Lunar X Prize:
Aeronautics and Cosmonautics Romanian Association (ARCA): Based in Valcea, Romania and led by Dumitru Popescu, ARCA was also a contender in the Ansari X PRIZE. Two of ARCA's most innovative projects to date have been the Demonstrator 2B rocket and Stabilo, a two-stage manned suborbital air-launched vehicle. The craft they plan to enter in the Google Lunar X PRIZE will be called the "European Lunar Explorer."

Astrobotic: Team Astrobotic, led by Dr. William "Red" Whittaker, was formed to coordinate the efforts of Carnegie Mellon University, Raytheon Company and additional institutions. One of Carnegie Mellon's specialties is autonomous navigation through stereo vision and other technologies. This enables Carnegie Mellon's robots to automatically avoid obstacles and select their own route across unmapped terrain. Astrobotic will compete for the prize using their "Artemis Lander" and "Red Rover."

Chandah: Chandah, meaning "Moon" in Sanskrit, was founded by Adil Jafry, an energy industry entrepreneur. He is now chairman and CEO of Tara, the largest independent retail electricity provider in Texas. Jafry's goal is to catalyze commercialization of space, and bring advances in space travel, tourism, sciences, and technology to the general public at large. Team Chandah's spacecraft will be named "Shehrezade."

FREDNET: Headed by Fred J. Bourgeois III, this multi-national team is comprised of systems, software, and hardware developers who serve as the leaders and overall coordinators of an international group of Open Source developers, engineers, and scientists. Their goal is to bring the same successful approach used in developing major software systems (such as the Internet, and Linux) to bear on the problems associated with Space Exploration and Research.

LunaTrex: Led by Pete Bitar, LunaTrex is comprised of several individuals, companies, and universities from all over the United States, some of whom were also competitors for the Ansari X PRIZE. Each team member brings their own history to the mix: rocket science, high-altitude near-space R&D, defense directed-energy technology, aviation design and development, robotics, trajectories, and non-conventional propulsion expertise. The name of their competing craft will be "Tumbleweed."

Micro-Space: Helmed by Richard Speck and based in Colorado, Micro-Space, Inc. has a 31-year history of producing world class, high tech products. Since focusing on the development of spaceflight systems, they have flown 17 innovative, bipropellant liquid fuel rockets, three near-hover rockets with vectored thrust guidance, scores of flights with telemetry and radio tracking, and several innovative life support systems. Micro-Space has been a competitor in the Ansari X PRIZE as well as the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge. Their "Human Lunar Lander" will compete for Google Lunar X PRIZE.

Odyssey Moon: The first team to register for the competition, Odyssey Moon is a private commercial lunar enterprise headquartered in the Isle of Man and founded by Dr. Robert Richards. Odyssey Moon's business plans are actively in development for a series of missions to the Moon during the International Lunar Decade in support of science, exploration and commerce. Their Google Lunar X PRIZE craft is titled "MoonOne (M-1)."

Quantum3: A U.S.-based team, Quantum3 is led by Paul Carliner, a senior executive in the aerospace industry. They propose to field a small spacecraft launched from an East Coast range using launch-coast-burn trajectory for a propulsive soft landing on the surface of the Moon at the Sea of Tranquility. Quantum3 is taking a partnership approach to the mission, utilizing the unique capabilities of the private sector and academic communities. Their craft will be called "Moondancer."

Southern California Selene Group: According to team leader Harold Rosen, the approach taken by the Santa Monica Selene Group can be succinctly summarized as "an elegantly simple design that is relatively inexpensive to implement." The architecture for their "Spirit of Southern California" spacecraft will combine the control and communication systems used in some of the earliest communications satellites with the latest in electronic and sensor technology.

Team Italia: Based in Italy and led by Prof. Amalia Ercoli-Finzi, Team Italia is a collaboration between several universities. The team is currently running a prototype of its system at Politecnico di Milano. The architecture of the robotic system is under study: a single big rover or a colony of many robots, light and mobile, with many legs and wheels, able to be compacted in the lander and distributed quickly on the Moon's surface with cameras and sensory support.

Good luck to one and all.



 
A couple of things about this smear job on McCain. If McCain was ever in doubt that his friends in the media were going to turn on him, he now knows better. Also if there is anything that will get NcCain support from some conservatives it is getting slimed by the Times.

Addendum: The New York Times Publishes a Hit Piece on John McCain


 

A video of a Pentagon briefing about the spysat intercept, including footage of the missile launch and the impact of the target.


 
Part 2 and Part 3 of Building a Base on the Moon.


 
Canada is doing a pre feasibility study to examine the use of Canadian mining expertise on the Moon.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008
 
Looks like the spysat was destroyed by a Navy missile.


 
Michelle Obama gives the people their marching orders.
Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed.

All I can say is, What?!

Addendum: But then again perhaps, as the late Molly Ivins would say, it sounds better in the original German.


 
Rand Simberg engages in a little libertarian utopianism in which he dreams of the day the evil big government can be shouldered aside in regards to space and replaced by private entrepeneurs.
Unfortunately, in order to evaluate an investment, one must decide what is valuable. That's where all these discussions founder, because everyone comes to them with their own assumptions about goals, values, costs, etc. But these assumptions are never explicitly stated, or agreed on, so people tend to talk past each other. Until we have a top-down discussion of space, starting with goals, and then working down to means of implementing them, people will continue to argue about what the government should be doing, and how much they should be spending on it.

This is why getting a private space program, a dynamist space program, going is so important. Because it will short-circuit all the arguments, because we won't be arguing about how to spend other people's money, which is always contentious. We will be spending our own money, for our own goals, rational or irrational, with no arguments in the political sphere, or blogosphere.

There are two problems with this arguement.

First there are very good rationales for a government run space program, ranging from national security, to science, and even exploration that simply can't be addressed by the private sector. The private sector generally does things because there is a profit involved. There is not necessarily a profit (at least immediately) in exploring other worlds, even though that sort of thing is unarguably a good and benefical thing.

Second, even purely private activities have heavy government involvement, usually in the form of taxes and regulation. It's a flight of fantasy to assume that a group of plucky rocketeers are going to fire off spaceships to the Moon, or anywhere else, without the government having some sort of say in how or even whether it's done. That's just the way the world works. And there will be arguments over how much the government should involve itself in such activities. I'm in favor of fairly minimal involvement, which tends to encourage rather than discourage private space development. On the other end of the spectrum there are people, some in government positions, who would actually forbid that sort of thing.

Finally, governments, while ineffecient and wasteful, has a far greater power to direct resources toward an important goal than any private company in the world. That's one reason why we generally have governments fight our wars, police our neighborhoods, and blaze the path across the high frontier of space. The trick s to involve the private sector as partners in the latter endeavor and, as costs go down, eventually have them take the lead. The Commercial Orbital Transportation Systems (COTS) program is a very good example of how that can work.


 
What is a planet? The debate continues.



 
Jon Goff recently participated in a workshop on commercial development of the Moon.

Addendum: Part II.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008
 
And the winner of the second COTS competition is Orbital Science Corporation.



 
If Hillary Clinton loses the nomination, will her supporters switch to McCain?


 
Apparently Hillary Clinton intends to go after delegates who are already technically pledged to Obama. Apparently Democrat Party rules do not actually force a delegate to vote for the person they are pledged to. That means a lot of backroom promises, threats, and deal making. It will be fun to watch. Meanwhile the Democratic National Committee's Credential Committee, which will be mulling over what to do about Florida and Michigan, appears to be in Hillary Clinton's back pocket.


 
The "retirment" of Fidel Castro will likely mean very little to the Cuban people in the short run. He has been a tyrant for nearly fifty years and it will take some getting use to having a life without him.


 
An Ohio man, apparently an Obama supporter, is accusing Bill Clinton of elbowing him in the face and is thinking of legal action. That's a first for Clinton, assaulting a man.


Monday, February 18, 2008
 
The thrust oscillation problem in the Ares 1 design may not be much of a problem at all.


 
It seems that NASA has come up with an idea of building a commercial launch complex on the grounds of the Kennedy Space Center.

Addendum: more.


 
Chairforce Engineer makes a prediction on Tuesday's COTS selection.


 
The media is discovering that the new Messiah, Barack Obama, has feet of clay.


 
One of the dreams people have who would return human explorers to the Moon is a radio telescope on the lunar farside, shielded from the electromagnet noise from Earth. It looks like some work has started to make the dream a reality.


 
Jumper: A Good Concept Badly Executed.


 
When it came to a choice between keeping Americans safe and appeasing the trial lawyers, the House Democrat Leadership chose the trial lawyers. Robert Novak thinks that this is because the Democrats actually are more afraid of losing trial lawyer support than they are of appearing weak on terrorism. Rich Galen also deplores.


 
Sam Dinkin interviews Richard Garriott, soon to be the next private space traveler.

Meanwhile Jeff Foust examines how future private space travelers will be screened and trained.


 
Jeff Foust reviews Robots in Space, a book which examines the robots vs human controversy and offers a somewhat unique compromise.

INMO, the Royal Astronomical Society Study, which proved that humans as well as reports are necessary to properly explore other worlds, should have put an end to the argument.


Sunday, February 17, 2008
 
Jeff Foust has a fascinating account about a science policy meeting in Boston attended by representatives of the Clinton and Obama Campaigns. It seems that there are far more sniping at the Bush space policy than information about what the Clinton or Obama space policies might be. Reading between the lines, though, it appears that under an Obama administration NASA will be dealing a lot more with climate change and a lot less with space exploration.


Saturday, February 16, 2008
 
It seems that some politically correct duplicity is going on with the new Indiana Jones trailer.
At :40 seconds in, all those soldiers come running into frame. WITH MACHINE GUNS. How do we know? Well, because we can SEE THEM, and because we hear the sound of all of the guns being cocked at the same time. Guns established, MPAA. We now know they are there.

Then a few shots later, we see the guns again. THEY ARE STILL THERE.

And at :56 seconds, just to make sure we get the point, there’s the sound of a gun being cocked AGAIN. So we are reminded, “Hey, there are guns pointed at them!”

Except... there aren’t. Not in the US version. Not really. And what we’re left with as our first glimpse in 19 years of this character that is so much a part of the film lives of a generation is this distracting, fuzzy, f***d-with image that will be fixed in the film anyway SO WHY DID YOU FREAKING BOTHER?


 
Barack Obama really doesn't like the idea of space exploration.
Obama agreed that NASA, which employs thousands of Houston-area voters who work at or with the Johnson Space Center, should be a tool for inspiring the nation.

But, he said, the next president needs to have "a practical sense of what investments deliver the most scientific and technological spinoffs — and not just assume that human space exploration, actually sending bodies into space, is always the best investment."

Beneath all the high flying rhetoric about "hope" and "change", Obama remains just another conventional liberal in the mode of Walter Mondale or George McGovern.

Addendum: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama Discuss Space Policy.


Friday, February 15, 2008
 
Now that 24 is losing its long time show runner, Joel Surnow, one of the few openly conservative producers working in TV, some candidates are being considered for his replacement.


 
The British may test mobile phone masts on the Moon.



 
Harlan Ellison is very disatisfied with the deal that ended the writers' strike.


Thursday, February 14, 2008

 
The House Democrats are literally playing politics with the national security of the United States and the life or death of its citizens by allowing FISA to lapse, thus crippling out intelligence gathering capabilities. This is monsterous, verging on treason, IMHO.

Addendum: Guess who the trial lawyers, who are anxious to sue telecom companies that have cooperated with the government in phone tapping operation, have given money to.

Addendum 2: More from Duane Patterson.


 
Apparently the effort to dump the Moon in favor of going to an asteroid has been beaten back.
In particular the attendees agreed to the following set of six statements:


It is time to go beyond LEO with people as explorers. The purpose of sustained human exploration is to go to Mars and beyond. The significance of the Moon and other intermediate destinations is to serve as steppingstones on the path to that goal.

Bringing together scientists, astronauts, engineers, policy analysts, and industry executives in a single conversation created an environment where insights across traditional boundaries occurred.

Human space exploration is undertaken to serve national and international interests. It provides important opportunities to advance science, but science is not the primary motivation.

Sustained human exploration requires enhanced international collaboration and offers the United States an opportunity for global leadership.

NASA has not received the budget increases to support the mandated human exploration program as well as other vital parts of the NASA portfolio, including space science, aeronautics, technology requirements, and especially Earth observations, given the urgency of global climate change.

Additional recommendations will be provided by the organizers and participants in this workshop.


 
The broken spysat, due to reenter the Earth's atmosphere soon, will instead be shot down.

Addendum: Jim Oberg discusses heading off a toxic iceberg.


 

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull


Wednesday, February 13, 2008
 
The current Astronomer Royal, Lord Martin Rees, commits what is close to a "space travel is utter bilge" comment, first made by a previous Astronomer Royal Richard van der Reit Woolley. But he adds a modern caveat that some will find interesting:
President Bush has proposed a long-term programme to return to the Moon, establish a manned base there and then go to Mars. Were I an American taxpayer, I would be opposed to this: if it is done Nasa-style, it will be hugely expensive and vulnerable to delays and political setbacks. I hope, nonetheless, that some people now living will walk on Mars - though they will be adventurers, perhaps sponsored privately or commercially, accepting extreme cost-cutting and much higher risks than it is politically acceptable for Nasa to impose on publicly funded civilian astronauts.

This sentiment, I dare say, would find favor in certain quarters. Unfortunately, were we to follow His Lordship's suggestion, the high frontier would be locked up by some other country, like China, while the private sector is still trying to figure out why it should send people to Mars. Big, national projects are, alas, better done by governments that can garner hugh resources toward an important goal. The trade off is putting up with the waste, inefficiency, and the politics inherent in any government program.

Addendum: A more detailed response.


 
Al Pacino as a Bond villain?


 
You just had to know that Bob Zubrin has latched on to this notion of abandon the Moon and go to an asteroid scheme. The idea that would be a quicker way to go to Mars is absurd and to my mind reveals political cluelessness that is mind blowing.


 
Ther Berkeley City Council has learned a bitter lesson that enemies of the Republic from the Barbary Pirates to Al Qaeda already know to their regret. One goes up against the United States Martine at ones peril.

Semper fi.


 
Here are the return dates for episodic TV shows on CBS.


 
The Return of Jericho or How the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy Murdered the United States


 
Imad Mughniyeh now burns in Hell.


 
Apparently Chris Matthews has developed a school girl crush on Barack Obama.


 
Bids are being submitted for a LOX/methane rocket engine for future space craft.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008
 
Assud the Bunny is the latest purveyor of hate to appear on Hamas Kid TV. And he's apparently carniverous too. And, apparently Nahul the Bee has been killed by the Israelis.



 
The Chinese are spying on NASA to ferret out technological secrets.


 
Apparently Barack Obama is lost without a teleprompter.


Monday, February 11, 2008
 
Victor Davis Hanson provides an answer to all those critics who point to mistakes, errors, and failure in the Iraq Campaign.


 
Robert Jastrow, RIP


 
Sgt. Seth Conner, USMC, throws down the gauntlet to Code Pink and the rest of the Copperhead Caucus. Semper fi.



 
Now that the writers' strike is about over, when will new episodes of our favorite shows air?


 
Captain Ed says farewell to Roy Scheider.


 
Taylor Dinerman muses about space policy and the next President.
If the President decides to retire the shuttle and go ahead with the full Constellation program, then the path will be clear; if not, then not only will China probably beat us back to the Moon, as Mike Griffin and Pete Worden have warned, but the US will lose years or maybe decades while it struggles to find a new vision to replace the one that was thrown away.


 
India will be the next big space power and the fourth country to launch a person into space. Unlike China, this development will provide some opportunities for cooperation.


 
Bob Mahoney has a pretty good analysis of the kerfluffle surrounding the method of returning to the Moon chosen by NASA. If I'm reading his piece right, some of the rage concerning it stems more from perception than reality. Also he correctly faults NASA for not explaining better how the architecture enables going beyond a limited lunar exploration program. Of course my perception (as it were) is that for some people, nothing that NASA or Mike Griffin could say would make any impression.

One nit I'd like to pick:
But my greatest fear is that the current designs are too highly susceptible to going the other way, to downsizing or descoping by the policymakers who will inevitably step forward with new priorities or restrictions. We (NASA, Congress, the White House—the whole techno-politico-industrial mish-mosh) have a long, sad history of backfilling well-conceived, forward-thinking space architectures with compromised, limited designs squeezed out of the engineers by politicians wielding political expediency and penny-wise/pound-foolish budget consciousness as their thrashing rods. At nearly every opportunity to significantly shape and advance space development and exploration, the then-current administration or congress did exactly this, leaving future administrations, congresses, and NASA administrators to pick up the pieces or discard them entirely. Both the space shuttle and space station were originally conceived as essential components of a larger, sustainable exploration architecture; current policy calls for abandoning them both. Why? Because their designs became, under the compromising influence of the powers-that-were, unsuitable for supporting their original exploration objectives.

This would be true, unfortunately, of any design. There is no way, as far as I can tell, of making a space system design politician proof. Keeping politics out of it (as much as possible) will take leadership, focus, and patience. It is not served by a posturing over hardware.


 
A cure from Type 1 Diabetes?

Addendum: A patient case study.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

 
Why John McCain Won


Saturday, February 09, 2008
 
Author Stephen Brust has written a novel set in the Firefly/Serenity universe free for download.


 
Bill Maher openly wished Rush Limbaugh was dead. Now, I don't wish Maher were dead, just gone from the air ways to never be seen or heard from again.


 
More countries are joining the space race, with prospects of a fourth or even fifth country putting a person into space. Also this:
China also plans to send humans to the moon in roughly 2025, says Vincent Sabathier, who studies global space policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. There is "huge public support" in China for a moon mission, he says.

NASA hopes to return astronauts to the moon in 2020, but Griffin said last month that he'd "be surprised if the United States is back on the moon before the Chinese."

Imagine one of the following scenarios:

(1) A President Clinton or President Obama "suspends" (effectively kills) the Vision for Space Exploration.

Or

(2) Squabbling over the Ares reaches Congress with political delays while NASA is forced to "study alternatives."

Either way, Griffin might be proven right and the next man on the Moon will not be an American. Some folks would shrug at the prospect, but it would a horrific blow to American prestige. Being beaten back to the Moon would hurt more than prestige if we didn't play catch up quickly.

Why does that matter? Such an event might signal the end of the United States as the dominate super power. While some America haters might think this would be a good thing, they should also think about what kind of world it would be if either a new super power competition--this time between the US and China--or even the ascent of China as a super power were to take place. Either prospect is not a comforting one.


Friday, February 08, 2008
 
The Orlando Sentinal interviews NASA Administrator Mike Griffin. He reiterates his contention that much of the criticism of the Ares 1 has been orchestrated by contractors who lost out when the original design was chosen. Griffin didn't offer any evidence to support his claim. On the other hand, the phenomenom of aerospace firms trying to reverse contract decisions through political machinations is not unprecedented. Usually this sort of campaign involves leaked stories to the media and lobbying key members of Congress. If Griffin is right, then we have the same sort of thing happening again with a twist; a kind of "battlefield preparation" using Internet rumors.

The story is causing quite a firestorm on the Internet, by the way. The consensus among Ares opponents seems to be that Griffin has lost his mind and is believing in paranoid conspiracy theories. That makes sense. The same people are very willing to believe in a comspiracy at the upper levels of NASA to deliberately foist upon the country an inferior launch system that will not work for some vague unstated political purpose. The idea of an Ares Conspiracy (sounds like the title of a film on the Scifi Channel) falls apart on close examination. One wonders for what purposes such a conspiracy would be undertaken. To preserve jobs? News is that those are going away anyway. No one hatches a plot of this scale without any reason. Especially since, due to its very nature, it would come out sooner or later. One wonders what the reaction would be if it were revealed that a group of NASA managers and engineers conspired to sabotoge the Vision for Space Exploration. It wouldn't be very pretty IMHO.

Addendum: More that is bound to cause rage in certain quarters.
The Atlas V is made by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin andBoeing Co. ULA has never publicly criticized Ares I or suggested that its rocket systems should be reconsidered as a viable alternative for Ares. But congressional staffers have said ULA is lobbying hard behind the scenes for more opportunities for its rockets.

Griffin said the Atlas V lacks the thrust to send the Orion capsule to the moon.

"If you only want to go to low Earth orbit, if you are not trying to go to the moon, the Atlas V would work just fine," he said. "But NASA is trying to craft an architecture to go to the moon."

Upgrading Atlas is something that NASA considered and rejected as too expensive, Griffin said. This displeased Atlas V supporters, he added, leading them to exaggerate reports of Ares problems and try to agitate policymakers in Washington.

"It is all just noise," Griffin said.

"I trust the Congress enough, and my relationships with the Congress enough, to believe that Congress is not going to write a law telling me to go purchase Atlas V's and cancel Ares I.

"That's just is not going to happen," he said with a smile. "The Congress is way smarter than that."


 
I'm not John McCain's greatest fan, lord knows. But Ann Coulter seems to have become unbalanced where it concerns him. I mean, really, Hitler?


 
Rand Simberg revises an idea that usually comes up during discussions about using an EELV instead of the planned Ares.
The problem, as Jon Goff points out at the Space Politics thread, is that he's chosen an architecture that replicates Apollo, which requires a large CM and SM on a single launch. If one is willing to break these up into separate launches, an EELV can handle it easily. But instead of spending his budget getting flight rate up and launch costs down, and doing the R&D necessary to learn how to truly become spacefaring (e.g., space assembly, docking/mating, propellant storage and transfer), he wants to relive the days of von Braun.

The problem is that the scheme adds more complexity to the mission architecture. Now three (maybe more) launches have to go off perfectly within a short time instead of two. One of the legitiment critiques of the current approach is that two launches have to occur for a lunar mission to be successful. Ideally, as Mike Griffin pointed out, one should be able to do the whole thing in a single launch. But there is not the budget for building a big launch vehicle.

The other problem is that one cannot do Mars using this approach. Like or not, NASA is under a Presidential mandate, confirmed by a law passed by the Congress, to develop hardware capable of taking people to Mars and back. With the budget that is available, NASA has to develop launch vehicles and space craft that will do Mars, the Moon, and LEO. Inefficient and wasteful, but there is no way to get around it.


 
Looks like the Archbishop of Canterbury is in hot water over his idea of imposing sharia law in Great Britain. More.


 
Rand Simberg joins Dave Weldon by calling (sort of) for the retention of the space shuttle fleet.
I could be persuaded to extend Shuttle past 2010 at this point, and just wait for the private sector to take over its duties, particularly if the money would go toward a propellant depot and the development of lunar injection and landing hardware. I don't know what it would take to resurrect the contracts and production lines that have been shut down, though.

I think that Rubicon has been crossed.


 
Mike Griffin suggests that Lockheed Martin may be the source for some of the criticism of the Ares. From a qui bono standpoint, it makes sense, because an upgraded version of the Atlas V is considered by some to be in the runninng as an alternative launch vehicle.

The beauty of this theory (and it remains such because Griffin didn't offer any evidence in the form of a smoking gun) is that it fits known facts. There has been a lot of chatter on the Internet about the supposed short comings from two types of people. These are anonymous posters, claiming to be insiders, who suggest that the Ares project is on the verge of collapse but that he (the poster) is afraid to have his name used because of a fear of being fired. The second consist of folks who sincerely believe the supposition that Ares is a turkey, partly because of NASA's recent history of failed projects, partly because they have heard the siren call of "commercial alternative" and believe it to be the Atlas V, and finally partly because of reading stuff on the Internet. The meme that the Ares is dysfunctional spreads and thus takes on a life of its own.

The second step, getting the idea reported in the main stream media, has just recently occured. The next step is to have questions asked in the Congress, demands for outside commissions, demands that the whole selection process be opened again. Eventually, if one believes Griffin, the goal is that Ares gets scrapped, Atlas V gets chosen after all, whether NASA believes it to be the best alternative or not, and Lockheed Martin (or rather United Launch Alliance) benefits.

The problem with the goal of this theoritical disinformation campaign is that the outcome may be no Vision for Space Exploration at all. What a wonderful excuse for a President Hillary Clinton or President Barack Obama to deep six the project because "everyone knows" the Ares project is off the rails.

Just a cautionary note, provided that Griffin is on to something.

Addendum: Keith Cowing is somewhat skeptical. But he has a curious statement:
Isn't it curious that Lockheed Martin seems to have had much more success (on its own) countering the technical issues that NASA felt that it could not surmount (with regard to the Atlas V and human rating) when Lockheed Martin used their own money to do so - with market potential as a key motivator? What is it that Lockheed Martin sees that Mike Griffin has missed?

I wasn't aware that the human rated Atlas V was already flying. I'm not suggesting that Lockmart can't do what it says it can do (say, like the X 33 ahem!), but I'm pretty sure that it hasn't done those things yet.

Addendum 2: I'm reminded that, if true, this sort of thing has precedence. Back in the late 1980s, a company called Space Industries proposed a human tended orbital platform called the Industrial Space Facility, where experiments in micro gravity manufacturing would take place. Originally ISF was to co-orbit what was eventually to become the International Space Station.

Someone, though, started a campaign to sweeten the deal by suggesting that ISF would replace the then planned NASA space station. This was before the widespread use of the Internet, but the idea was that Congress, which had at the time a faction entirely opposed to the space station (Senator Proxmire was still there) would accept the idea of a smaller, cheaper ISF.

The result was that NASA, which had been initially intrigued by the idea of an ISF, suddenly turned against it with a vengence. The project was deep sixed and yet another what if of the space age was created.

Oddly enough, Mike Griffin was associated with Space Industries, somewhat after the events described above.

Addendum 3: Clark Lindsey weighs in.
I would say good for LM if it is true.

Of course, though Clark goes on to say that he doubts that a whispering campaign is actually taking place.
The fundamental problem is Griffin's insistence on building new launchers to fit his exploration architecture rather than fitting an architecture to existing launchers (and to soon-to-be-existing ones like Falcon 9).

I can imagine the reaction if Mike Griffin went to Congress and the White House with the following message, "The good news is that we've found a slightly cheaper way to get to the Moon. The bad news is that we have to scale back our lunar effort to fit the Atlas V." One of two (or even both) things would happen. Griffin would suddenly find himself in the private sector. Also Congress could view the whole thing as the "incredibly shrinking lunar program" and pull the plug.

"But Mark, what about the idea of fuel depots at the lagrange points?" I like the idea as an enhancement, especialy if the depost were maintained commercially. But putting that in the critical path, as it were, adds a certain complexity to the project that may not be necessary to get the first people back to the Moon.


Thursday, February 07, 2008
 
My dear lady wife sent me this one:

An older lady gets pulled over for speeding...

Older Woman: Is there a problem, Officer?
Officer: Ma'am, you were speeding.
Older Woman: Oh, I see.
Officer: Can I see your license please?
Older Woman: I'd give it to you but I don't have one.
Officer: Don't have one?
Older Woman: Lost it, 4 years ago for drunk driving.
Officer: I see...Can I see your vehicle registration papers please.
Older Woman: I can't do that.
Officer: Why not?
Older Woman: I stole this car.
Officer: Stole it?
Older Woman: Yes, and I killed and hacked up the owner.
Officer: You what?
Older Woman: His body parts are in plastic bags in the trunk if you want to see The Officer looks at the woman and slowly backs away to his car and calls for back up. Within minutes 5 police cars circle the car. A senior officer slowly approaches the car, clasping his half drawn gun.
Officer 2: Ma'am, could you step out of your vehicle please! The woman steps out of her vehicle.
Older woman: Is there a problem sir?
Officer 2: One of my officers told me that you have stolen this car and murdered the owner.
Older Woman: Murdered the owner?
Officer 2: Yes, could you please open the trunk of your car, please.
The woman opens the trunk, revealing nothing but an empty trunk.
Officer 2: Is this your car, ma'am?
Older Woman: Yes, here are the registration papers. The officer is quite stunned.
Officer 2: One of my officers claims that you do not have a driving license.
The woman digs into her handbag and pulls out a clutch purse and hands it to the officer.
The officer examines the license. He looks quite puzzled.
Officer 2: Thank you ma'am, one of my officers told me you didn't have a license, that you stole this car, and that you murdered and hacked up the owner.
Older Woman: Bet the liar told you I was speeding, too.


 
First in a series on how to build a lunar base.


 
Mitt Romney is now out of the race.


 
The current Archbishop of Canterbury calls for the imposition of medieval barbarity in Great Britain. The exasperating thing about it is that it's not even Christian medieval barbarity.


 
It seems that Barack Obama and John McCain have clashed before, bringing about one of those rare occassions when the Maverick chastised a Democrat. It also demonstrates a little bit of Obama's charecter.


 
Actor Sam Rockwell is going to play a man stranded on the Moon for three years.


 
Breaching the Great Firewall of China.


Wednesday, February 06, 2008
 
John McCain's Running Mate: One Way to Appease Conservatives



 
Lori Garver and Jim Muncy recently had a discussion on some of the various candidates' space policies. I have a few concerns about McCain, especially in the commercial space area, and am frankly alarmed about Clinton and Obama.


 
The row over the Ares 1 is increasingly seeping into the mainstream media. A couple of interesting facts have come out.

Bigelow is developing a capsule that would fly to its private space station on top of a modified Atlas V. Some Ares opponents are proclaiming, "Ah ha!" and are suggesting that NASA is on the wrong track by insisting on building its own launch vehicle for the Orion. But the article points out that the space craft being developed by Bigelow is certain to be much smaller and lighter than the Orion.

John Logsdon suggests that some of the criticism of the Ares is driven by "ego and profit." I would add that there is a little bit of group think going on. People come to conclusions that are not necessarily valid because others have and there is a kind of bandwagon effect, especially when there is a tendency not to step back and think things through.

Apparently there are other technical problems with the Ares that have to be overcome besides the thrust oscillation. NASA Administrator Griffin doesn't think they'll be insurmountable. But that will not stop the argument from continuing. What is new, according to the article, is that the kerfluffle has a potential of sinking the entire program. Members of what I call the Internet Rocketeer Club should think very carefully about that, especially those who are actually lobbying political candidates to scrap the Ares. The last thing anyone should want is more political influence over launch vehicle design.


Tuesday, February 05, 2008
 
Elon Musk vows that there will be no space flight gap.


 
It seems that an alarming number of the British have trouble distinquishing history from fiction. 58 percent think Sherlock Holmes actually lived. 23 percent, however, think that Winston Churchill was a myth.


 
Jeff Foust contemplates the reaction to the 2009 NASA budget proposal so far.


Monday, February 04, 2008
 
This story suggests that NASA Ames is taking back robotic lunar exploration from NASA Marshall. NASA Marshall, with the assistence of Alabama Senator Richard Shelby, became the lead center for a lunar lander probe, which was subsequently cancelled due to budget overruns.


 
Alan Boyle examines science in the 2009 budget request. It should be noted that while the media always paints the Republicans as "anti science" it was the Democratic Congress which gutted a number of science projects and the Republican President who is trying to restore funding.


 
Robot Guy takes me to task about a recent post and badly stumbles.
There is no double standard at work here. SpaceX used its own money for the Falcon-1 tests. NASA is using taxpayers' money for the obviously flawed-from-before-starting Ares. The difference is not subtle.

Technically, he is correct that SpaceX used private money for Falcon 1 tests. But it also is using public money to develop the Falcon 9/Dragon launch system. So, using Robot Guy's logic, one ought to gove SpaceX the same benefit of a doubt--or lack there of--as NASA.

Now, leaving aside the bald, unsupported statement "obviously flawed from the start Ares" (I wish someone would offer some actual evidence to support that), I can argue that the source of money doesn't matter. Both the NASA and SpaceX (partly funded by NASA) efforts carry with them a promise, NASA to return explorers to the Moon and hence beyond, SpaceX to develop the first truly commercial space line. Both efforts are experiencing their share of technical hurdles.

However, at least from some quarters, one effort is being sniped at, ridiculed, and other wise having scorn heaped upon it without any sound reason whatsoever that I can see. The other effort is being followed with great interest, from the same quarters, with none of the snark. Is it not the fact that SpaceX is simply the "cool kid" on the block, while NASA is the poor outsider that always gets picked on?

Addendum: Robot Guy responds. A few points need to be addressed:

So yes, by all means, let us hold SpaceX to the same standard as NASA - or rather, let us hold NASA to the same standard as SpaceX. Let NASA pay for its mistakes out of its own pocket without dinging the taxpayers for its failures... what's that? NASA doesn't have money of its own? Then perhaps we should hold NASA to the same standards to which NASA holds Rocketplane/Kistler.

I can only suppose that this statement is made in fun. NASA, as a government agency, has no funds but are appropriated by the Congress and taken from the taxpayers. It is concievable that one could demand that the Congress or the White House hold NASA accountable. This has happened in the past when projects like X 36 were cancelled after too many budget shortfalls and schedule slippages. But NASA is different from a private concern by its very nature. The ultimate goal of a SpaceX is to make money. That's all. If money is not being made for too long, then the company will fail. It has happened to quite a few commercial space companies in the past.

The purpose of NASA is not to be a profit making concern. It had better not be, because then it would compete with real private undertakings and would therefore be a creature of socialism. NASA's purpose is to fullfill certain national goals as set forth by the executive and confirmed by the Congress. By law that is currently sending explorers to the Moon and beyond. NASA is busy fullfilling that mandate. If it is seen to be failing in that charge by the people who matter (i.e. the Congress and/or the Executive) then steps will have to be taken. We go on to the Ares.
I had left the support for that statement out of my original post because I thought it was so obvious that further explanation was unnecessary. One could look at the Aviation Week article discussing the thrust oscillation problems, which are going to happen with any solid rocket motor first stage. One could point to the weight problems and schedule slippage. One could keep going, but I suspect that anyone who has been following NASA closely over the last four years would have to know about the problems with Ares/Orion. Any other assumption beggars belief.

By that reasoning, the Saturn V would never have worked and should have been cancelled. Vibrations were a real problem in that launch vehicle's development. Technical problems are inherent in any new development. If we get the vapors everytime one of them like the thrust oscillations crop up, nothing new will ever be built.


 
Private Space/Public Space

What are the Proper Roles of NASA and the Private Sector?


 
Jeff Foust examins the 2009 NASA budget request.


 
Eric Hedman discusses the chicken or egg cunundrum surrounding space based solar power.


 
Jeff Foust gives a fair and balanced analysis of Mike Griffin's recent speech defending the Orion/Ares launch system.


 
Iran now claims to have a space program.


Sunday, February 03, 2008
 
Mike Huckabee makes a wild attack on that great American, Sean Hannity.


 
Glenn and Helen Reynolds has a chat with Mitt Romney.


Friday, February 01, 2008
 
While the sniping against the Vision for Space Exploration continues from the planetary science community (yes, I'm refusing to call it by that other name), NASA has wisely turned to an ad agency to help better sell it. A good move, IMHO, as NASA PAO has never shown very much skill in public relations.

I wonder what sort of ideas that Don Draper, from my favorite show about Madison Avenue, would have?


 
Apparently John McCain, who wants very much to be the Republican nominee for President, once toyed with the idea of leaving the Republican Party. Perhaps someone should ask McCain about this and perhaps extract a pledge that he not contemplate it again, especially if elected President.


 
Another image from the new Indiana Jones film. Cate Blanchett looks very annoyed with the Man with the Whip. And what are those guys in 1950s American Army uniforms doing there?


 
Captain Ed has some thoughts about the recent terror bombing, where Al Qaeda used two women with Downs Syndrome as conveyers of the bombs. The people who would used mentally challanged women in this way are not human beings, in my considerate opinion, and have placed themselves beyond human civilization and its rules.


 
Rand Simberg has a piece taking note of the various anniversaries, good and bad, that seem to have happened this time of year. A couple of howlers in his piece needs to be corrected:
Moreover, because of NASA’s refusal to use existing commercial launch vehicles such as the Boeing Delta and Lockheed Martin Atlas, which would have spread the fixed costs of maintaining those systems over a larger number of flights, the costs to the Department of Defense for satellite launches will go up. This seems to be not just ignoring, but perverting the requirement to support national security with the new program.

Rand is referring to the Delta IV and Atlas V respectively, colledtively known as the EELV. NASA has determined for various reasons having to do with lift and safety, that neither of these vehicles have sufficent capability to launch an Orion space craft to Low Earth orbit. Furthermore, Rand seems to have forgotten that the original rationale for these two two launch vehicles was to launch both military and commercial payloads. The predicted commercial market has not entirely panned out for the EELV, hence the higher than expected launch costs. Hardly NASA's fault. NASA has, however, commited to using EELVs for various scientific and other payloads, including the deployment of a lunar GPS system.

Rand goes on with:
Beyond that, there are reportedly serious technical issues with NASA’s chosen approach, from an overweight crew module, to an underperforming launch system that may shake itself and the crew module apart.

What Rand neglects to add is that these sorts of issues crop up in just about every development project, particularly of launch vehicles. The Saturn V had vibration probems. The original lunar module had weight problems. Both of them were fixed, as one would presume that problems that seem to worry Rand about the Ares launch system and the Orion space craft will be fixed.

Even in the commercial area, technical problems crop up. SpaceX's Falcon 1 have had two launch failures, for example. SpaceX's engineers have ascertained the causes of these failures and are fixing them. It is noted that no one who is having Internet vapors over the Ares is having the same over the Falcon. There seems to be, perhaps because of a double standard, more of an understanding that problems will occur in rocket development in the private sector than at NASA.


 
Berkley wants to give the US Marines the royal order of the boot, and Senator Demint is is not pleased.
DeMint said he will draft legislation to rescind any earmarks dedicated for the City of Berkeley in the recently passed appropriations bill — which his office tallied to value about $2.1 million. He said that any money taken back would be transferred to the Marines.

DeMint's office provided a preliminary list of items that would be subject to his proposal:

— $975,000 for the University of California at Berkeley, for the Matsui Center for Politics and Public Service, which may include establishing an endowment, and for cataloguing the papers of Congressman Robert Matsui.

— $750,000 for the Berkeley/Albana ferry service.

— $243,000 for the Chez Panisse Foundation, for a school lunch initiative to integrate lessons about wellness, sustainability and nutrition into the academic curriculum.

— $94,000 for a Berkeley public safety interoperability program.

Of course cancelling the earmarks is good policy regardless.


 
This is the sort of bone headed bureaucratic move that makes one despair. NASA has had this tendency to make even the most exciting things it does seem--well--boring. Changing the Vision for Space Exploration, which one admits has a certain poetry, to United States Space Exploration Policy, which has that colorless, gray feel to it could only have come from someone who never read poetry, or saw an epic movie, or read science fiction.


 
Five years ago the skies over Texas were illuminated with the flying funeral pyre that was the Columbia. Here is what I had to say at the time.
The funeral pyre of the crew of Columbia STS-107 streaked across the Texas sky like some horrible comet. In ancient times comets were considered to be a prelude to Earth-shaking events, the rise and fall of empires, or the birth and death of kings. What turns of history this tragedy will set in motion no one can predict. One can offer, though, some suggestions of what should be.

Read it all.


 
Great Britain has some interesting plans for alternative energy that are, of course, opposed by the environmentalists.