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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Wednesday, April 30, 2008
 
William Ayers, that friend of Barack Obama, tried to kill John Murtagh one evening in 1970. Murtagh was nine years old.



 
Some residents of the Greek island of Lesbos are actually suing those other lesbians for the legal right to the name "lesbian."

Addendum: Residents of Greek Island of Lesbos Sue Greek Gay Group


 
Where in the world is Jack Bauer?


 
Senator Kay Baily Hutchison calls for a halt to the practice of burning food, in effect, in our gas tanks.


 
One of the things that is aggravating about the current return to the Moon effort and the Internet is that from time to time, one finds an anonymous person posting somewhere claiming (a) he is a NASA or aerospace engineer working deeply in the effort and (b) that the effort is dysfunctional. No journalist in the world with any ethics would accept such testimony as the basis of a story (and I know, that hasn't stopped some from still doing so.) Rand Simberg has found such a person and seems to accept his post at face value.

The excuse I keep hearing for people posting anonymously is that if they actually post under their own names their careers will suffer. My response would be if you really think that tens of billions of dollars are being wasted on a doomed program and if there are really many people working on it who think so, perhaps you should be a patriot and speak out anyway. I simply cannot accept postings that frankly could have been made by anyone who might or might not be who they say they are and might or might not have an agenda, hidden motives, or whatever.


 
The interesting thing about Joel Surnow being hired by Tom Cruise's prodco to develop a contemporary spy drama for the big screen is that he (Surnow) is none of the few out of the closet conseratives working in Hollywood. He is also very good at what he does, as witness 24.


 
Alan Boyle offers a well reasoned refutation of Ben Stein's somewhat turgid movie, Expelled, which apparently attempts to advance intelligent design. Boyle, however, uses an unfortunate term "Swiftboating" as a prejorative. The new verb refers to a series of ads by a group of former SwiftBoat crew members who had served with John Kerry, casting doubt on Kerry's fitness to be President. The charges of the group, which called itself Swiftboat Veterans for Truth, were dead on. But the left has used "swiftboat" as a term meaning "unfair attack" and has apparently succeeded in getting it into the commong lexicon.


 
The latest in the thrust oscillation story for the Ares 1.


Tuesday, April 29, 2008
 
Barack Obama regards the church that he has been attending for about twenty years and is shocked, shocked that there has been hating going on in there.


 
Some House members have dispatched a letter to the House leadership, bascially demanding an extra two billion for NASA. Notice the presence of one Ron Paul, who at times has suggested abolishing NASA, on the list of members.


 
Senator Bill Nelson suggests that Florida holds the key for influencing the next few years of space policy. I suggest that he might be on to something.


 
Days of Infamy by Newt Gingrich and William, Forstchen is now out. I have a review of the second in the alternate history series set in World War Two.



Monday, April 28, 2008

 
The latest story warning of Chinese ascendency in space if we don't watch out.
China's exploding economy is paying for the education of hundreds of thousands of engineers each year, they are acquiring less space technology from other nations and developing more of their own, and they appear committed to dominating the heavens.

Their space program is still behind, says Robert Zubring, one of America's strongest proponents for Mars travel, but it is rocketing.

"And we're standing still. If we continue to stand still, by the middle of the next decade, their space program will be superior to ours and they'll be moving on to the moon and Mars, while we're ... looking back on our former greatness," he said.

Indeed.


 
Helping the blind to see through gene therapy.


 
Taylor Dinerman looks at the state of Reusable Launch Vehicle development.


Sunday, April 27, 2008
 
David Stokes comes across some strange history revisionism.



 
Has John McCain reversed himself on the propriety of going after Obama's relationship with Jeremiah Wright?


Saturday, April 26, 2008
 
The Presidential Candidates and an Alien Invasion
Back when Rudi Giuliani was still a Presidential candidate, a kid asked him what he would do as President in case of an alien invasion. The Rock of 9/11 did not hesitate to respond that he would fight them. One wonders how the other candidates would handle this threat.


Friday, April 25, 2008
 
Now here is a wonderful idea for setting up colonies on other worlds:
Here is an idea: Send battle-hardened, strong-minded soldiers and marines on the long trips into space. We are conditioned to live with the bare minimal (of) life’s necessities and are trained to be prepared for … the worst conditions that any environment could throw at us.

Hell, me and my men will go, set up a colony somewhere and await colonists to arrive.

Me and most of my men are on our 3rd or 4th deployment into a combat area. We are scouts, reconnaissance specialists. We go before everyone else and spend time living off the land. Sounds just like the type of men needed for a long colonization journey.

Please pass this message on to anyone you know in the space program. (T)here are many men already trained and prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country and the human race.

Uh ra!


 
John McCain Picks a Fight with North Carolina Republicans

A Method to His Madness or Just Madness?

The offending ad:


 
The latest in the tawdry story of Alzia Shvartz, abortion artist. It looks like CSI Yale has found no trace of human blood in her studio.


Thursday, April 24, 2008
 
It looks like Brazil is set to replace Saudi Arabia as a major supplier of oil to the Western Hemisphere.



 
The latest Carnival of Space is now up.


 
One of the interesting aspects of the recent launch services agreement between NASA and SpaceX is the implicit endorsement of SpaceX and its proposed launch operations, as suggested in this press release. However, not much remarked, is the implicit endorsement of NASA's Vision for Space Exploration by one of the leading new commercial space companies:
Receiving the NASA Launch Services contract for the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 is a significant endorsement of SpaceX's products and of our plans for the future. In addition to the fourteen missions we've sold thus far, gaining NLS approval constitutes further validation of SpaceX's technology, and opens the doors for the wide variety of NASA spacecraft to fly aboard our launch vehicles. We look forward to working with NASA to send their payloads to Earth orbit, Geostationary orbit, the Moon, Mars and beyond.

As I've said before. Public space and private space are not mutually exclusive. They are mutually supportive. One of the most celebrated space entrepreneurs recognizes this truth very well.

Addendum: Rand Simberg leaps the length of his chain.
Is this supposed to be news? Is Mark aware of any commercial space company that is opposed to the VSE, or sending humans to the moon and Mars? I'm not. So what's the big deal?

Actually the point is that it isn't a big deal, at least to those people who are actually serious about making money on the high frontier. NASA is a big customer and wishing it would just go away to make way for the bright new age of unfettered space commercialism in an exercise in silliness.

Addendum 2: Casual readers who don't follow the space program too closely may be puzzled by this last jibe:
Or is he confusing ESAS with VSE again?

In a way of explanation. VSE stands for Vision for Space Exploration. That is the mandate set forth by President Bush in 2004 and confirmed by Congress through both authorization and appropriation for NASA to send astronaut explorers to the Moon, Mars, and beyond (beyond meaning, at least for the time being, Earth Approaching Asteroids.)

ESAS stands for Exploration Systems Architecture Study, which is what NASA did to set down the method by which VSE would be accomplished. That is where the Ares 1 and V, the Orion, the Altair, and so on come in.

To make an analogy, VSE is like the strategy to invade Europe in 1944 to defeat the Nazis and get rid of Hitler. ESAS is like Operation Overlord, the plan to carry it out.

Rand (and others) are engaged in a kind of rhetorical gymnastics. They claim to support the idea of returning to the Moon, going to Mars, and so on in principle. They just don't like doing it in fact. It is sort of like claiming that one supports the troops, but not the war, or perhaps the other way around.

Now to be fair, they claim that there is some better way to do space exploration than the way it is being undertaken. The problem is that aside from some alternate hardware recommendations that have pretty much been discredited or else vague bloviations about "commercialization", they haven't told us what that all perfect plan that NASA in its obstinacy won't follow is.

Worse, in an attempt to buttress their point, they exaggerate technical problems being encountered in the course of the development of the Orion/Ares with the view of convincing people that the whole program is going to fall apart at any moment. Thrust oscillation! Weight problems! Won't land on land! However each of these issues, from what this analyst reads, are being addressed and seem to be in hand.

So why the frenzied opposition? My guess is that its root cause is a kind of space program Vietnam Syndrome. People have been disappointed for decades at the course of the US civil space program, with the shuttle, the station, and other programs like the X 33 that rose then collapsed. There is just the assumption that VSE will also fail. The assumption is, in fact, comforting because if it comes true, the sting of it will not be so keen than if one held out an expectation that the program will succeed.

But what if it does succeed? What if ten or so years hence, people are triumphantly back on the Moon? What then?


 
Floyd Brown, who helped to hang Willie Horton around Michael Dukakis' neck, is hitting Barack Obama with this ad that points out certain weaknesses. The mainstream media is incandescent with rage.

Addendum: Here it is:


 
China has built its first lunar rover prototype.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008
 
Why Hillary Clinton Won Pennsylvania
Hillary Clinton beat Barack Obama in the Pennsylvania Primary like a drum. It was as thorough a double digit thrashing as ever happened in American electoral politics. The reason why has Democrats, who yearn for an end to the quagmire, wondering why.


 
Rand Simberg weighs in on the implications of the election for space policy. There isn't a lot that hasn't been said by others. Rand reads a little too much into John McCain's various positions, projecting some of his own biases. His conclusion is a bit off too:
For voters already behind NASA’s targeted human spaceflight, don’t get your hopes up—none of the three major candidates are likely to fund the current plan, because they’ll all face the budgetary pressures implied by an aging population and a burgeoning federal deficit.

The problem is that if there is no solution to entitlement spending, NASA spending will be the least thing that will be threatened in the descretionary budget. That will provide sufficient motivation for politicians to bite the bullet and solve the problem without taking a big wack at NASA, the Department of Education, and even Defense spending that out of control entitlements would imply.

Rand goes on to repeat an either or fallacy:
So perhaps the real question to ask McCain, Clinton and Obama is not what they’re going to do for NASA, but whether they’re going to come up with a more innovative federal space policy overall. Could America’s future in space extend beyond simply giving NASA money to build its own rockets and send a few astronauts to the moon at billions of dollars per flight? Instead, could we encourage private enterprise to come up with solutions that enable far more pioneers to reach orbit? Does the next president have any interest in a space program for the rest of us—one that’s affordable and sustainable? While Clinton and Obama battle it out, the candidates still have plenty of time to tell us.

The problem here is that without a lot of those billions being spent not only on technology development, but operational experience, it will be a long time before private business gets us to the Moon, if at all. And we they do get there, they may have to have visas signed by the Chinese who will have beaten everyone there.

The fact of the matter is that public and private space are not mutually exclusive, but mutually supportive. Through initiatives like COTS, NASA can have an inexpensive way to outsource mundane operations like transportation. Through programs like VSE, private business has a core market. The historical analogy is the air mail in the 1920s and 30s. The government outsourced delivery of the mail to private air services. In return, those air services had a core market to build on to develop civilian air transportation.

What worked before will work again.


 
The Sierra County, New Mexico space port sales tax has passed.


 
Some of a certain age remember a guilty pleasure (which came out at the same time as Conan the Barbarian) called The Sword and the Sorcerer. Who can forget the three bladed sword that shot blades across the room? Or the evil wizard who could magically pluck hearts out of people? Or the Crucifixion scene where the hero escaped by literally ripping the nails out of both the boards and his own hands? Not to mention the bad acting, the bad dialogue, but the cool fight scenes.

At the end of the credits, as our heroes rode off triumphant, there was an announcement that a sequel, Tails of the Ancient Empire, would soon be forthcoming. Alas that sequel was never filmed.

Until now.


 
Dennis Wingo is the latest to predict the inevitable collapse of the Vision for Space Exploration. He does so by making some very serious analytical errors, starting with a strange view of space history:
Our national space agency has been trying to sell a business plan to the American people for almost forty years that they have continually decided not to fund. The investor has continually given feedback to the NASA entrepreneur with little or no indication that NASA has listened. This missive will provide examples of this forty year phenomenon and hopefully provide insight to NASA’s leadership on what can be done within the context of the Vision for Space Exploration to establish a lasting effort to achieve national goals.

The probem is that there has been no "forty year business plan." The space program can be actually divided into three very disticnt eras, each of which consisted of seperate space efforts that were pretty much funded and supported by the Congress and the American people.

(1) The Apollo era. I.e. the race to land the first person on the Moon.
(2) The Shuttle/Station era, in which NASA proposed to be a high tech space line, coupled with later the proprietor of the space station.
(3) The Vision for Space Exploration ERA, which is where we are now and has been enshrined by White House directive and Congressional law and, according to most polling data, is supported by the American people.

Wingo then goes on to provide two examples of space initiative that failed to garner Congressional and public support. These were the recommendations of the Space Task Group made in 1969 and George H. W. Bush's Space Exploration Initiative. Wingo's problem is that he seems to assume that the political culture has been roughly static during the past forty years, that the same attitudes that existed in 1969 and 1989 exist in 2008. He also seems to assume, by suggesting that the VSE will go the way of the previous two efforts, that the VSE is roughly the same proposal.

Polling data partly disproves Wingo's analysis. He quotes a gallup poll taken in 1969 that indicated low public support for going to Mars. But the same Gallup poll indicated wide public support for going back to the Moon and on to Mars in 2006.

As for political support, the contrast between Congressional action then and now cannot be more stark. Fudning for post Apollo exploration did not even come up for a vote in the late 60s and early 70s. In 1990, in the wake of George H. W. Bush's Space Exploration Initiative, Congress almost literally went through the NASA budget like Tamberlain through Centtral Asia and excised almost every line item related to eexploration, even those that pre-existed SEI. But, after 2004, Congress has pretty much given full funded for George W. Bush's VSE, with one exception. Indeed the ironic thing is that Senator Barbara Mikuslki, who upposed SEI, is now one of VSE's warmest supporters.

Wingo's beef against VSE is stated thus:

It is quite clear to those of us who have been involved with NASA since the beginning of the SEI era that its successor, the VSE is in trouble. The fact is that NASA ignored both the president and the executive branch organization (OSTP), that helped to come up with the VSE in the first place. The problem is not the rocket, it is the plan of what we do when we get to the Moon. While there are many who would strenuously argue that the transportation architecture represented by the ESAS study as implemented with billions of dollars of taxpayer money is the wrong one, in the end, this argument misses the greater point.

The point is that there is virtually no plan at all to carry out the truly remarkable plan to use resources derived from the Moon for further exploration. The epitome of the divergence from the vision as laid out by the president is the statement by the NASA administrator that “all we need is a good map”, to get back to the Moon. There are statements that encapsulate all the problems of a plan, and this statement is the one that made it clear that NASA has no interest in carrying out the VSE as envisioned by our elected leadership and why in the competition for federal resources, NASA is losing.

The problem is that this is not true. NASA's plan for a lunar base encorporates lunar resource utilization. Nor is NASA "losing" the competition for federal dollars.

Wingo goes on by being misleading:
Congress has already in this past fiscal year budget passed a provision forbidding NASA to continue to study the mission to Mars. Recently it has been stated that NASA will be on a continuing resolution (budget freeze) until after the election. It has also been stated that NASA is to not put together a budget for fiscal year 2010 but let the new administration deal with it. Since three out of three of the current candidates have already stated either a freeze in discretionary spending or specific cuts to the ESAS architecture, the chess pieces are already in place for the VSE to go the way of SEI. It is up to the leadership of NASA to continue driving the train toward the cliff or figure out a way to make NASA relevant to the nation in a way that it has not been since July of 1969.

The Mars provision is annoying but not really relevant over twenty years before a Mars mission is even projected to occur. It's true that Obama wants to cut space spending, but then he is coming from a far left perspective on a number of issues that is not likely to play in the general election, as his recent thrashing in Pennsylvania would seem to indicate. Hillary Clinton's stance on space policy seems to change according to the day of the week and, besides, she is not likely to even win the nomination. John McCain has offered warm support for NASA, including the Vision for Space Exploration. How that ties into his proposal to freeze discretionary spending is not clear. It is this analyst's opinion that the freeze proposal has not been well thought out and, even if seriously sought during a McCain Administration, will undergo some serious changes. In any case the freeze proposal has nothing to do with the merits or lack thereof of VSE.

Then Wingo does something that is mind blowing. He quotes Barney Frank as an example of Congressional and public consensus.
If the sole purpose of the NASA program to send mankind to Mars is simply to get them there and back safely, then the program will not be funded and the hundreds of billions of dollars that it costs will be better spent solving problems here on the Earth.

Besides being untrue, Barney Frank is hardly a representative of any point of view but his own. Frank is one of the most extreme left members of Congress in modern time and the idea that his views are shared by many does not pass the laugh test.

Wingo goes on to project what must be his own personal feelings on--well--everyone:
The timetable is too long for the current plan and it has no means for anyone but the chosen few government employees to participate. This is no longer sufficient motivation for the majority of the engineering community to participate nor is it sufficient motivation for the taxpayer to continue to pay for. Already there are slips to the Constellation program schedule and with every one the groans increase and the spirit falters.

Whose spirit? Whose groans? Wingo doesn't say. Not does he give any evidence to support his supposition. This analyst personally knows quite a few engineering types who are enthused about VSE as it now exists.

The main problem with Wingo's critique of the way VSE is being pursued is that it fails to understand the proper role of government in opening the space frontier. It is not the role of NASA to build the infrastructure that would take him, you, and me to the Moon and beyond, no more than it was the job of Lewis and Claek to build a transcontinental railroad. Government agencies are not very good at building transportation infrastructures. The history of the space shuttle should give pause, if nothing else, to those who think otherwise.

Instead it is one role of NASA to help to enable that infrastructure. How does VSE do that? The answer lays in a NASA program that Wingo fails to mention: the Commercial Orbital Transportation Systems (COTS) program. For a modest some, COTS seems on the verge of leveraging the ISS to enable the establishment of a true commercial Earth to Low Earth Orbit transportation industry. Companies like SpaceX, Orbital, and even Lockheed Martin are actually building space craft that will take cargo and people to and from LEO. Even the sub orbital barnstorming efforts (i.e. Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, etc) are bending metal and testing actual hardware.

So, using the COTS model, it would seem very reasonable to suggest that ten or fifteen years later, someone would suggest a similar proposal for NASA's lunar base. If private industry by that time already has years of experience going to and from LEO, it would not be much of a stretch to suggest that we could shortly see private flights to and from the Moon.

The main problem with Wingo's analysis is, like a lot of other critiques of VSE, that it fails to accept yes as an answer, It's just that all of that economic development that Wingo and others yearn for will be accomplished by different means than they suppose should be accomplished.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008
 
On behalf of Associated Content, I shall be live blogging the Pennsylvania Primary. We'll keep this entry bumped to the top of the blog until after tomorrow.

Addendum: It will also be carried on the Denver Post's political site.


 
Apparently Al Gore used CGI footage from Roland Ememrich's end of the world epic, The Day after Tomorrow, in his own film An Inconvenient Truth.


 
Lee Cary observes the disaster that is the Obama space policy:
Back to the Cortez analogy. The space boats are being burned on schedule as the Shuttle program phases out. The way forward is on the Ares 1 rocket and the CEV - Cortez's guns and horses. But Capitan Hernando Obama says, "Men, let's keep the guns clean and the powder dry, but not feed the horses for five years while we sit here on the beach and hope."

Indeed.


 
Today is Earth Day, in which people are forced to endure annoying scolding about how they are a plague upon the face of the planet.


Monday, April 21, 2008
 
Stephen Hawking wants Lunar and Mars colonies--just as a start. And who am I to dispute one of teh smartest men on Earth? And speaking of lunar colonies, commercial communications for the Moon.


 
Apparently Yale will pull Aliza Shvart's abortion art display unless she admits that it was faked.


 
Nasa Watch readers do the math on the movie (see below) that has the moon crashing into the Earth. Naturally it doesn't add up.


 
The Real Jimmy Carter

Not a nice man.



 
A True bionic eye. And not a moment too soon.


 
Happy San Jacinto Day.


 
One interesting benefit to food price inflation. It looks like resistance to bioengineered food is crumbling. About time too.


 
Greg Zsidisin continues his musing on the state of space politics.


 
Three former NASA Administrators assess both the past and the future of the agency they once led.


 
Via Clark Lindsey, a couple of stories about how ISS is facilitating commercial space development. First, more on plans to resupply the space station commercially. NASA also plans to obtain water for the station commerically. More on that.

It seems to me some good experience in this way of doing things is being built up that will be useful for the lunar base.


Sunday, April 20, 2008
 
Serenity, as written by one William Shakespeare


 
Forbidden Kingdom>: Jackie Chan and Jet Li Together at Last


Saturday, April 19, 2008
 
Ken Murphy discusses the important subject of lunar agriculture.


Friday, April 18, 2008
 
Forget about an asteroid hitting the Earth How about the Moon? And worse, before that, cell phones stop working.

Addendum: Link now fixed.


 
In which a federal judge actually admits to being more illiterate than the average fifth grader.


 
From the same folks who brought you ponderous, idiotic anti Iraq War movies, low brow comedies about 9/11.

When will these people learn?


 
A pretty good article about the continuing challenges, technical and otherwise, facing the Ares 1. The key paragraph follows:
At present, the threats relate to a six month delay to the first Ares I 'full up' test flight, along with the first manned Ares I flight continuing to be under serious schedule pressure, with 2015 and even 2016 in some circles being mentioned as the best case scenario. The schedule also threatens a one year delay of the return to the moon.

Budgetary pressure is classed as the main reason for the schedule moving to the right, though technical challenges with Ares I, and especially the Orion (606C) design cycle, are adding to the pressures.

Sounds like a reasonable argument for the folks in the Congress to cough up more funding.


 
Lord Rees, the latest anti space popinjay, is raising ire across the pond. Here and here.


 
It looks like Emma Watson (AKA Hermione Granger from Harry Potter), is growing up. She will play the love interest of one Napoleon Bonaparte in an upcoming film.


Thursday, April 17, 2008
 
Thursday evening I and some others attended a lecture on lunar exploration and settlement by Dr. Jeffrey Taylor, a a professor of planetary science at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He had some good material, especially about the relationship between science and commercial resource utilization.

He also had a great line when asked whether the exploration program will survive the change of administrations. Something like (and this is from memory and therefore perhaps not verbatim) "You mean are we space enthusiasts going to be bitter, clinging to our dreams of space settlements and exploration?"

I really must steal that line sometime.

Dr. Taylor did hold out hope that the NASA exploration program will be too small and insignificant for even an Obama Administration to kill it. Maybe, but I'd prefer not to take chances.


 
Keith Cowing advances the argument that Republicans are actually worse on public space spending than Democrats. It's a supposition that can only be arrived at by ignoring history.

First, a review of the candidates.

Obama is the most hostile to NASA and the space program, having promised repeatedly to cut spending for it.

Hillary Clinton's view on space really depends on what day of the week she's asked (and who is doing the asking.) On the one hand, she implies to the New York Times she is uninterested in space exploration beyond LEO. On the other hand she has made some general statements supportive of space, but without being too specific.

McCain seems to be the most supportive and his Senate record bears that out. His promise to freeze domestic discretionary spending gives one pause, except when one looks at how it can be practically done. If Congress goes along with it at all, it will be by cutting some things and increasing others. How NASA fares under that scenario is unclear. And, of course, there are all sorts of budget games that can be played with off budget emergency spending. McCain could even justify it by pointing out that Reagan once did it to build the Endeavour orbiter.

President Bush has been, rightly, criticized for not providing as much money for NASA as originally promised. This has put a strain on non VSE programs.

It should be noted that Bush's predecessor, Bill Clinton, slashed NASA spending, which then began to recover, especially after the Gingrich Revolution.

As for Congress, the situation is more interesting. VSE got every penny the White House asked for it under previous Republican congresses, especially after then House Majority Leader Tom Delay laid down the law. The current Democrat Congress has cut spending for VSE and for COTS.

However, there is a bipartisan effort (that's Republican and Democrat) to provide about two billion in emergency funding to make up for the cost of returning the shuttle fleet to flight status after Columbia. The Bush Administration opposes this unless there are offsets elsewhere in the budget.

The measure passed the Senate by unanimous consent last year, but was killed in conference by the House Democrat leadership. A new effort is being mounted this year, joined by Nick Lampson (who is holding the Tom Delay seat) who is rather anxious to find a way to keep that seat and has hit upon more money for NASA.

So the situation is a bit more complicated than Keith states, though IMHO, on the balance, with some caveats and exceptions, Republicans seem better disposed toward the space program than Dems.


 
Sam Dinkin responds to Jeff Foust and Charles Miller's piece on space spending and the retirement of the baby boomers. Most of his points are spot on, but I have a couple of quibbles with one of them:
Boomers dying will likely dry up support for a cargo-cult do-nothing NASA as memories of Apollo die with them; Obama can be seen as a coming attraction of how the next generation will treat NASA.

Well, the premise of the statement is rather overstating some of the problems faced by NASA. Nor, I think, are "memories of Apollo" or support for public space spending exclusive to the baby boom generation. Polling data shows a dropoff of support in the 18 to 24 year old demograohic, but by and large support for public space ranges across generations and political persuasions.

Obama is not a coming attraction of things to come, but an example of a phenomenon that is as old as the space age--the radical liberal who just hates space exploration and wants to defund it and spend the money on social programs. In any case he is not likely to become President and thus in the position to carry out his desires.


 
Apparently NASA has become increasingly confident that COTS will provide a commercial means of resupplying ISS by 2011.


 
Aliza Shvarts Creates Abortion Art and a Controversy

What is art anyway?

The definition of what constitutes "art" keeps being pushed into regions of absurdity and grossness. No greater example of such exist than an art project by a Yale student named Aliza Shvarts who documented how she artificially inseminated herself and then used abortifacient drugs to end her pregnancy.


Addendum: Looks like it was all a hoax.

Addendum 2: Allahpundit has more.


 
Captain Ed declares the winner of last night's debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. It's John McCain.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008
 
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls opens in about a month. There are, however, real crystal skulls found in the Mayan jungles.


 
More on the idea of a telescope on the far side of the Moon


 
Bill Clinton contemplates life without, among other things, Rush Limbaugh.


 
The Coming Republican Landslide of 2008
As that old warrior, Senator John McCain, surveys the battlespace for the 2008 election, he must find much that is pleasing. A combination of factors is coming together that promises to create a landslide victory for the Republican ticket.


 
Lord Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society, persists in his "(manned) space flight is utter bilge error. He seems to be somewhat out of step from a growing consensus across the pond:
Despite his views, though, Europe is pursuing a vigorous human spaceflight policy and has so far spent 5bn euros ($8bn; £4bn) on the space station.

Just last week, Esa unveiled a campaign to recruit the European astronauts of tomorrow.

Britain has also hinted at a change in its long-standing opposition to human space launches following several high profile reports.

One, from the Royal Astronomical Society, suggested the UK's policy has damaged the country both scientifically and economically.


 

The son of Fox and Friend Steve Doocy asks Senator John McCain a question about Hillary Clinton and strong drink.


 
I'm puzzled. I'm told that George W. Bush has alienated the people of Europe with his cowboy, war mongering, unilaterial ways. Yet those same Europeans keep electing pro American leaders like Berlusconi.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008
 
Apparently there was an animated John Carter of Mars project being contemplated in the 1930s that fell apart due to creative differences with the studio. We may yet see one thanks to Pixar.


 
Nick Lampson, a Democrat who holds Tom Delay's 22nd Texas Congressional District seat, is desperately trying to get reelected by persuading Democratic House leaders to cough up more money for NASA. It seems a slim hope at best.


 
More thoughts on the Next Great Mission to the Outer Planets
The next, big, multibillion dollar Outer Planets probe is now in the planning stages, due to launch in the next decade. Two missions are being contemplated, one to Jupiter's Moon Europa, the other to Saturn's moon Titan. There is only enough money for one of these missions.


 
It looks like liberals--including Barack Obama--are already vieweing defense spending as a cash cow for social programs.
A liberal interest group - Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities (BLSP) run out of the Vermont offices of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream - is pressing for passage of a U.S. House bill that would cut $47 billion in Defense Department spending and direct the money to other priorities, including education, job training and children's health programs.

House Resolution 1702, the Common Sense Budget Act of 2007, was introduced in the first session of the 110th Congress by Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) and is awaiting subcommittee action.

While the bill is not expected to advance under a Republican administration, Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has endorsed several of the BLSP's recommendations.


 
The current issue of New Atlantis has an article on Science and the Left
A casual observer of American politics in recent years could be forgiven for imagining that the legitimacy of scientific inquiry and empirical knowledge are under assault by the right, and that the left has mounted a heroic defense. Science is constantly on the lips of Democratic politicians and liberal activists, and is generally treated by them as a vulnerable and precious inheritance being pillaged by Neanderthals.

But, as it turns out:
But beneath these grave accusations, it turns out, are some remarkably flimsy grievances, most of which seem to amount to political disputes about policy questions in which science plays a role. Ethical disagreements over the destruction of embryos for research are described instead as a conflict between science and ignorant theology. Differing judgments about the proper role of government in sex education in schools are painted as a quarrel between objective public health and medieval prudishness. A dispute about the prudential wisdom of a variety of energy policy alternatives is depicted as a clash of simple scientific facts against willful ignorance and greed.


 
Bill Maher, an odious little toad in the best of circumstances, seems to really have a problem with the Catholic Church.


Monday, April 14, 2008
 
(Weak) con artists of the future.


 
The next big outer planets probe will voyage either to Europa or Titan.


 
Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton: "You're no Annie Oakley.
Barack Obama, still reeling over the scandal caused by his remarks at a San Francisco fund raiser in which he seemed to insult small town Pennsylvanians, launched a counter attack against Hillary Clinton.

Besides criticizing her alleged stance on numerous free trade agreements, Barack Obama mocked Hillary Clinton for a new found interest in firearms. Senator Clinton reminisced about learning to shoot during summer vacations. "She is running around talking about how this (meaning Obama's remarks in San Francisco) is an insult to sportsmen, how she values the Second Amendment. She's talking like she's Annie Oakley," Obama said.


 
It looks like NASA engineers may be about to solve both the Orion mass problem and allow it to land on land with a fix to the air bag system.


 
Jeff Brooks announces a new political action committee, Committee for the Advocacy of Space Exploration. More information here.


 
Greg Zsidisin continues to provide analysis of Barack Obamas hostility toward space exploration and openly wonders why space activist organizations do not hammer him on it. Of course certain space activists seem to love the idea of Obama destroying what they don't like, blissfully unaware that he will not replace it with something they do.


 
Charles Miller and Jeff Foust suggests that increasing pressures on entitlements brought on by retirement of the baby boom generation will in turn increase pressure on discretionary spending, including NASA. Perhaps, though as both gentlemen suggest, something must be done about entitlements anyway as the projected growth is in sustainable, which in turn should ease pressure on discretionary spending.


Sunday, April 13, 2008
 
Russia plans to build an orbiting construction station, presumably for deep space craft headed for the Moon or Mars. A short time ago, this sort of announcement would be mere bluster. But now Russia has lots of oil money to spend.

Addendum Suprisingly, Rand Simberg is a little concerned, despite the fact that this proposed project is a big government operation.


 
Rand Simberg takes the occasion of Barack Obama's latest blatherings on things space to call for a national debate on space policy. The first reaction one has is to roll ones eyes and wonder why some people prefer bloviation to actually doing things.

There are other things wrong with the proposal.

The plan seems to be to have this debate (in what form it is not said) and then, one supposes, THE SPACE POLICY will emerged that will guide our steps to the stars forever and always, world without end.

The problem is, the world in which we actually live in does not work like that.

First of all, contrary to what Rand suggests, there is already a national debate on space policy. It has been going on for decades, since I've been alive at least, and strictly speaking for years before even that. Rand ought to know as he has been an enthusiastic participant in the debate for decades.

Second of all, there is already a space policy extant. Strictly speaking there has always been a space policy, at least since the Eisenhower Administration. It has grown and changed with successive administrations and Congresses, as the political winds shifted to and fro, as technology advanced. The current one, which returns NASA to its strengths by tasking it with exploration while at the same time encouraging commercial space, is a pretty good one. There is a good debate to be had about how best to implement this policy, but not, at least in my humble opinion, over the policy itself.

The policy, however, will change, as it has in the past, perhaps for better, possibly for ill. There will be a new administration, a new Congress, changes in technology, and--with the growth of commercial space--changes in that area as well. The "national debate" will continue and space policy will continue to change and grow, organically, even chaotically. You may not like it, but that's just the way it is in the real world.


 
The Bitter Words of Barack Obama
One can tell the true character of a politician (or anyone) when he is at his ease among like- minded people. Such it was when Barack Obama revealed what he really thought of the little people of rural Pennsylvania at a fund raiser attended by rich liberals in San Francisco.


Saturday, April 12, 2008
 
Science Fiction for the Presidential Candidatea: A (Partial) Reading List
Barack Obama likes to claim that he grew up watching Star Trek as a way to sugar coat the fact that he wants to slash spending on space exploration. Clearly the idea of "exploring strange new worlds" didn't take.

This leads one to ask: What science fiction should the candidates have read? That is to say, which works of the genre would prepare either Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, or John McCain to lead?


 
Barack Obama on space again.
I think that, I, uh. I grew up with the space program. Most of you young people here were born during the shuttle era. I was the Apollo era. I remember, you know, watching, you know, the moon landing. I was living in Hawaii when I was growing up, so the astronauts would actually, you know, land in the Pacific and then get brought into Honolulu and it was incredible memories and incredibly inspiring. And by the way inspired a whole generation of people to get engaged in math and science in a way that we haven't - that we need to renew. So I'm a big supporter of the space program. I think it needs to be redefined, though.

We've kind of lost a sense of mission in terms of what it is that NASA should be trying to achieve and I think that we've gotta make some big decisions about whether or not, are we going to try to send manned, you know, space launches, or are we better off in terms of what we're learning sending unmanned probes which oftentimes are cheaper and less dangerous, but yield more information.

And that's a major debate I'm going to want to convene when I'm president of the United States. What direction do we take the space program in? Once we have a sense of what's going to be most valuable for us in terms of gaining knowledge, then I think we'll able to adjust the budget so that we're going all out on what it is that we've decided to do."


Now, just to remind everyone from the Royal Astronomical Society's study on The Scientific Case for Human Space Exploration, which Senator Obama should read before he answers any more questions on space policy:
"...we find that profound scientific questions relating to the history of the solar system and the existence of life beyond Earth can best – perhaps only - be achieved by human exploration on the Moon or Mars, supported by appropriate automated systems."


 
Atlas Shrugged: The Movie may actually start filming by December.


Friday, April 11, 2008
 
The big surprise is not that Barack Obama thinks that the voters are a bunch of rubes. Anyone who knows liberals at all well would know this. The surprise is that he actually said it in public.


 
Fraser Cain has a series of answers from space experts (including Your Humble Servant) on the question: Why explore space?


 
Wesley Clark as Vice President
Retired General Wesley Clark, on paper at least, would make an attractive running mate for either Senator Hillary Clinton or Senator Barack Obama, due to his experience as a military commander that involved both national security and foreign policy issues.


 
Bill Richardson as Vice President
Bill Richardson, currently governor of New Mexico, brings some strengths that would complement a ticket of either Senator Hillary Clinton or Senator Barack Obama, but probably the latter because of recent political decisions.

Until recently, Bill Richardson had been considered a Clinton loyalist. He had been both Secretary of Energy and UN Ambassador under President Bill Clinton. However, Governor Richardson's recent endorsement of Barack Obama, his relationship with the Clintons has become strained at best. James Carville, a long time Clinton strategist, even went so far as to call him a "Judas."


 
Eric Sterner suggests that returning to the Moon is a good way to enhance and direct American "soft power."


 
Another thing needed for the return to the Moon program is more lunar scientists. Meanwhile, a probe to examine lunar dust.


 
John Podhoretz demonstrates how one does not have to actually see a bad movie in order to review it.


Thursday, April 10, 2008
 
More thoughts about Oliver Stone's "W", a movie about George W. Bush.
When the news came that Oliver Stone was going to do a biop of President George W. Bush, those who admire the current President were filled with trepidation. A leak of a draft of the script has caused that trepidation to change to annoyance.


 
A commercial version of the Ares 1? Interesting idea, though it will make some people angry. Then again, the "commercial" Atlas 5 and Delta IV were also developed with government money and markets in mind. So, strickly speaking, is the Falcon 9.

Addendum: Just as I predicted. Rand might be right, of course, but we'll see what the market decides if and when the idea is put forth.

Addendum 2: I am reminded that if this is made to work (and that depends partly on whether one thinks the vibration problem can be fixed) then launch costs are lowered since flight rates are a factor in such.


 
The recent battle in Basra apparently included missions flown by the new Iraqi Air Force.


Wednesday, April 09, 2008


 
The National Space Society magazine has a comprehensive report on space based solar power.


 
A correspondent gives Camille Paglia a rough assessment of the sort of men who work for Hillary Clinton:
The men you always see under her are to a person passive-aggressive, sadistic, mean, little, petty beta-male pieces of work who would not naturally succeed in a common male-type hierarchy. By that I mean an environment that values straightforward achievement rather than the darker political arts.

By "darker political arts" I assume the correspondent means back stabbing, rumor mongering, and toadying.


 
One of my peeves about the Internet Rocketeer Club is the tendency of its members to oversell the immediate promise of commercial space. (That is, as opposed to the long term promise, which is another story.) Chest thumping statements about how "any day now" new space companies are going to leave those big gummit guys at NASA in the dust can be an embarrassment for more sober minded analysts who recognize that the term "rocket science" was not coined as a metaphor for something really difficult for nothing.

Now John Carmack, one of the folks who are actually building and testing rockets, and occasionally blowing them up, offers a realistic analysis of where his company is in particular and the state of commercial space in general. It's a must read for anyone who wants to really where commercial space is at and where it might be going.


 
The Return of Battlestar Galactica: The Paranoid Style of Storytelling


 
General Petraeus's anaconda strategy. Much more complex than the one Grant used in the Civil War.


 
Treating spinal cord injuries through nanotechnology.


Tuesday, April 08, 2008
 
Jon Goff misunderstands the point I made below about Mike Griffin's testimony on COTS.
I also found it amusing that Mark Whittington relies on the following statement from Griffin as an attempt to handwave away such a contradiction

My point was to respond to the suggestions that Griffin was afraid to add money to COTS because it might cause the cancellation of Orion/Ares. The suggestion is unproven and contradicted by Griffin's statement that he does not think that adding money would make any difference in advancing the advent of commercial piloted flights to LEO, Jon goes on to say:
On the other hand, look at COTS. It's total budget through demonstration of capabilities A-C is only $0.5B. If you had $1B from a Mikulski miracle to invest in NASA, which do you think has a higher probability of shortening the gap of time when we have to rely on Soyuz for all manned flights to the ISS? Putting that $1B into a $20-30B program that already only has at best a 65% chance of flying by 2015? Or putting at least some of that into a much smaller program that is intending to fly two cargo vehicles by late 2010?

In other worss, Jon's response is, "It would so!"
Mind, Jon might be right, but he hasn't proven his point nor is his argument necessarily with me (I'm not prepared to state a position one way or the other at this time.) Mike Griffin is the man he has to persuade and, so far, he has not made a very good or persuasive case.

One person I'd like to put the question to is someone who is in a better position to know. Elon Musk, President of SpaceX. The answer might be illuminating.




 
Senator Jay Rockefeller has slimed military pilots in general and John McCain in particular.


 
Christopher Hitchens gives Jeremiah Wright and his ilk the back of his hand as only he can.


 
A poll suggests that John McCain would make a better commander in chief than either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.


Monday, April 07, 2008
 
Jeff Foust had an account of testimony NASA Administrator Mike Griffin had before a subcommittee hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee last week. The title of the Space Politics post is entitled COTS Contradictions? But the contradiction appears to be in Foust's perception about what was exactly said.
Given that statement, you would think that Griffin would be interested in accelerating domestic commercial options like COTS that would lessen or eliminate an reliance on the Russians. Yet, in his comments later in the hearing, he was not that interested in pursuing a crew option for COTS (also known as Capability D) on an accelerated schedule.

But that charecterization was contradicted later on with:
He added that he would “very much like to see” a COTS crew capability developed, but that he doubted that “even with their [the COTS companies’] best efforts, even if more money were provided, that COTS crew transportation capability will arrive in time to be available after the shuttle retires or even by the end of the current contract with Russia in 2012.

It looks to me as if Griffin is not so much uninterested in accelerating COTS as he doesn't think it's possible.

Foust's post provoked a rant from Rand Simberg:
But I suspect that he fears that if COTS is seen to be making too-rapid progress, it will jeopardize funding for Ares/Orion, by making them seem superfluous.

Rand may suspect that all he likes, but it seems to me to remain an interesting conspiracy theory without any proof. Rand goes on to say, somewhat demolishing his own argument:
Of course, the traditional argument is that they are designed for the lunar mission, whereas a station crew transfer capability wouldn't have that additional capability.

That is a true statement. But Rand is not finished:
And Orion is supposedly not just for going back to the moon but for use in a Mars mission as well (though it is never explained what its role is in such a mission). I can't believe anyone seriously believes that a Mars mission would be performed in a glorified Apollo capsule--it's simply too small, and the crew would go nuts.

Well, actually it has been so explained, as Rand suggests by going on to say:
If it's meant as the means to return them to earth upon return to earth orbit, well, OK, but it's pretty pathetic to think that, seventy years after the first lunar landing, we would still be returning people to the planet in a capsule on a chute (particularly if they end up with a water landing)

Except, of course, that it works. I think Elon Musk's Dragon works on a similar idea.

But then Rand goes on to talk about some political matters upon which he is on firmer ground, albeit with the sad desire to see the return to the Moon program die:
Of course, the real danger is that we'll get the worst of both worlds--a continuation of Ares/Orion, which are supposedly being built because they are necessary to go to the moon, but we drop the lunar mission from the policy, so they revert to simply replacing (or competing with) COTS crew capability. And unfortunately, as devoted Democrat Greg Zsidisin has discovered in a one on one, that seems to be exactly Obama's plan. The only saving grace of it is that, in delaying the development by five years, it really means that the program will die. But it betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of the nature of space policy, and space hardware and development, on the part of Obama and/or his advisors. You can't "delay" a program like this and have any hope that it won't end up costing much more over the long run, particularly because you'll lose many of the key personnel for it, who aren't going to sit around twiddling their thumbs at no pay for half a decade while Obama solves the education problem. It's really quite absurd. But then, most of his proposed policies are--one of the many reasons that he isn't going to be elected.

Indeed, Barack Obama is out of his depth in a number of areas. I'm not sure that is sufficient to deny him the Presidency (remember Jimmy Carter), but it should.

Addendum: Clark Lindsey weighs in in the whole COTS is a threat to Orion/Ares 1 theory and offers a solution:
On the other hand, if Falcon 9/Dragon succeeds there will most likely arise overwhelming pressure to kill Ares I/Orion to save billions dollars in further development and operational costs. (NASA could alter its lunar exploration architecture to use the Dragon instead of Orion.

Interesting idea. But, one wonders what sort of modifications will be necessary to turn Dragon, designed to be a LEO transport, into a Moon ship. Radiation shielding and enhanced life support come to mind.


 
Some George W. Bush biographers have has a look at the script of the Oliver Stone movie about the 43rd President and have found it more Hollywood than history.



 
Taylor Dinerman find that Congress is shocked that the end of the shuttle era means that people will lose jobs. His solution: more money for science and engineering, including VSE.


 
Jeff Foust has a look at what may be a new 21st Century profession--commercial rocket pilot.


 
Greg Zsidisin recently confronted Barack Obama about Obama's space policy. Zsidisin found Obama's response--well-troubling.


Sunday, April 06, 2008

 
60 Minutes had a segment on the Vision for Exploration. It was not a bad piece; certainly not the sort of hit job that 60 Minutes is sometimes infamous for. That might be a disappointment in some quarters.

And it was a brilliant bit of programing putting Barney Frank up as an opponent. Rep Frank is pretty much hated outside the North East and so if the purpose was to suggest that VSE might be a good thing, showing that Frank is against it is all the better.



 
Hillary Clinton likes to tell a story about a poor woman whose baby died and then died herself because some cruel hospital refused treatment as she could not afford to pay. It, of course, illustrates the need in her mind for national health care.

One problem. The story isn't true.


Saturday, April 05, 2008
 
Charlton Heston, RIP


 
Nim's Island


Friday, April 04, 2008
 
An Obama advisor has suggested that we need to keep a force of 80,000 troops in Iraq, to build on the success of the surge.

And I'll bet they'll stay for a hundred years if necessary.


 
NASA is studying the possibility of accelerating COTS, presumably as a means to close the space flight gap.


Thursday, April 03, 2008


Wednesday, April 02, 2008

 
The House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics is having a hearing on the status and ongoing issues of the Vision for Space Exploration. The document is a pretty good summary of where VSE stands now.


 
Ted Turner says we'll soon all be chomping on long pig if global warming isn't solved.


 
I know it's a tad early, but I've been asked to recommend Books to Give Dad on Father's Day


 
An insane, ranting, hysterical feminazi view of Firefly.


 
First man, the biography of Neil Armstrong which at one time was a Clint Eastwood project, has been acquired by Universal.


Tuesday, April 01, 2008
 
It looks like Hillary Clinton's propensity for lying is nothing new.


 
Apparently in the Oliver Stone version of history, George W. Bush invaded Iraq because he had daddy issues. The mind boggles.

Apparently there will also be a lot of drinking, barfing, and cursing.


 
Fly Me to the Moon: The Moon as a New Economic Frontier


 
One of the great canards that have been circulated by my friends in the Internel Rocketeer Club is that NASA's approach to going back to the Moon is a plot to keep the shuttle work force employed, sacrificing cost and engineering sense to that goal. But this story about the blood bath about to happen to the KSC work force would seem to demonstrate hw much manure that is.

Now I know that there is an attitude that can be best expressed as, "Screw 'em! They've been sucking at the government teat for too long. Let 'em get real jobs." But that shows not only a paucity of compassion, but complete ignorance of politics. What measures are taken to soften the blow (and the reported Nelson commercial space bill may be part of that) will be interesting to watch.


 
Other Space Ages


 
I’m told that this is going to be released to the media very soon, so I feel confident in reporting this major overhaul of the architecture NASA plans to use to return to the Moon.

First, the Ares 1 will be scrapped. Stop work orders are already being issued to contractors and NASA centers involved. I’m not sure what this means concerning the briefing that is scheduled about the thrust oscillation problem, since it would seem to make the matter moot. Ironicly it looks like the problem is a simple matter to fix.

Ares 5 is going to be redesignated the Ares 5N. The reason for this is that the upper stage is being replaced with one which will employ a nuclear thermal rocket that has been under development by the Air Force for the past five years. The engine has been successfully tested on a stand in a remote facility in the desert south west.

The engine is based on technology developed by the military in the early 1990s for the Timberwind project. The current project, which has just been declassified, is called Project Jester. A General Will Somers is apparently in charge.

Current plans seem to be that NASA will develop the lower stage of the Ares 5N and the Air Force the upper stage. A joint team, led by a Richard Tarleton at NASA Marshall will integrate the two stages.

The Ares 5N will be capable of launching the entire Orion lunar vehicle, including the Orion, the Altair lunar lander, and the Earth Departure Stage. That will prove to be a far less complicated mission scenario than the two launch version that had hitherto been envisioned.

The Air Force is interested in the super heavy lift capability that the Ares 5N will garner to launch heavy space based weapons platforms for missile defense and other purposes. The nuclear upper stage will be built on the Air Force’s budget.

Because the Ares 5N is now going to full development, with the two stages being built concurrently, the scheduled first return trip to the Moon is now in 2014. NASA also anticipates that the Ares 5N will simplify the eventual Mars effort.

This change also reflects growing confidence that the COTS program will cause the development of private Earth to LEO travel, thus enabling the support of the ISS while the lunar rocket is developed and then flown.