Sunday, February 29, 2004

The Aldridge Commission will be holding public hearings outside the usual space oriented cities (like Houston or Orlando, for instance.) The strategy is quite deliberate.
One ring to rule them all
And one ring to find them
One ring to bring them all
And in the darkness bind them

In the land of Hollywood where the shadows lie.
Looks like John Kerry disagrees with Bismark about one thing. You know, the one about God looking after drunks, fools, and the United States of America.
Looks like The Passion of the Christ is, for all intents and purposes, is going to be banned in France. I don't believe the excuse that it might spark anti semitism for a moment.
The brillient and talented Dennis Wingo has a plan to save the Hubble telescope.

Saturday, February 28, 2004 documents John Kerry's rather sleezy record as an anti war protester.

Friday, February 27, 2004

John Kerry made a pretty remarkable statement in Ohio on Thursday.
"What we need to do as we enter this dawn of the 21st century, is not talk about going to the Moon or even to Mars. We need to go to the Moon right here on Earth by creating the jobs, building the high value-added jobs of the future, making clear that no young American in uniform ever ought to be held hostage to America’s dependence on oil in the Middle East," he said.

So I guess he hasn't heard about lunar based solar power or helium 3.

In any case, it looks like that a vote for Kerry is a vote to keep Western Civilization planet bound and to yield the future to Mainland China.
I would have loved to have been in the pitch meeting for The Passion of the Christ.

“It’s going to be about the last twelve hours of the life of Jesus Christ.”

“Uh huh.”

“The dialogue will be entirely in Aramaic and Latin, two very dead languages.”

“Uh huh.”

“And there will be some pretty graphically violent scenes that will probably fetch the film an R rating.”

“Uh huh. Well, thank you very much, Mel. We’ll be in touch.”

Not only can one wonder how the movie ever got made (Mel Gibson eventually had to front his own money and get an obscure company to distribute it) but also how it turned out to be so powerful and uplifting. I say that last as someone who is not particularly a Believer.

There are very few films that have brought tears to my eyes. Fewer yet have caused me to stare open mouthed at the screen, wanting to yell, “Stop it! Stop it!” but knowing that it would do no good, even if I were actually present at the events. The meticulous staging, costuming, and cinematography, as well as the period languages, gave one a “you are there” sense that I have not felt in any historical epic.

I can only imagine what the effect will have on someone who is even a casual believer in the Christian faith.

A couple of the issues needs disposal of. First, the violence. There are some very brutal scenes in the movie. A flaying followed by a crucifixion is not a pretty thing to watch. It was not, however, the most violent scenes I have ever seen, with due respect to Roger Ebert. I have seen things that are far more—well—gross in Saving Private Ryan, with soldiers being blown apart, or Kill Bill, with it’s dismemberments. The torture of Christ was, however, very disturbing on quite another level, however. I would not bring a child to see this movie.

Second, the film is in now way anti Semitic. The accusation, in my opinion, does not even pass the laugh test. True there are some Jewish characters that are disagreeable pieces of work; Caiphus the High Priest, for one. But there are more Jewish characters whom achieve heights of sympathy and heroism, most notably Simon the man who is forced to carry Jesus’ cross. And indeed Jesus and his followers were themselves Jews. Finally, the sadism of some of the Roman legionaries who torment Jesus makes them far more despicable villains than any of the Jewish characters.

Mel Gibson has created a masterwork, I recommend it highly. Christians will find their faith deepened in ways no one who has not seen the movie will fully understand. Non Christians will get an insight into how a story first lived two thousand years ago inspired a world religion that to this day has two billion followers.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Certain political candidates have some things to say on the subject of space exploration that are studies in ambiguity. John Kerry, for instance:
"Our civilian space program represents a great opportunity for scientific research. Sending a person to Mars is a great mission worthy of a great nation like America. Given the Bush budget deficit, it is imperative that we balance funding for a manned mission to Mars against critical domestic needs as well, such as education and health care."

The best I can figure out is that Kerry thinks that sending people to Mars is neat, but not something he would do because of the "need" to fund social programs. And it's all President Bush's fault.

Addendum: Rand Simberg looks at the candidates' space positions and sees naught be cynicism and ambiguity. Can't disagree with that.
When John Kerry smeared American servicemen as "baby killers" and worse, was he simply repeating Soviet disinformation? The former chief of the Romanian espionage service suggests that this is the case.
John Kerry is both for and against the Israeli security fence.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Has John Kerry promised to allow drilling in ANWR and a lot of other places to the Teamsters and promised not to allow such drilling to the environmentalists? It would fit Kerry's pattern of wanting to be on all sides of every issue.
Mel Gibson has been accused of fostering anti-semitism in his movie, The Passion of the Christ. George Will goes in search of real anti-semites and, unfortunately, finds them in the usual places--Europe and the Arab world.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

One group claims that Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ is racist because it does not depict Jesus Christ as a black man. And whatever race he was, PETA is pretty certain that Christ was a vegan.
Roger Ebert is very impressed with Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. We'll be seeing it on Friday and then you'll have Your Humble Servant's review in due course.
President Bush has come out for a Defense of Marriage Constitutional Amendment. It's not that I didn't warn you all. The encouragement of judicial overreach to achieve a goal that, albeit laudable, is bound to generate a backlash. Now we're in for an entirely avoidable number of years of rancor and controversy.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Jim Muncy believes that President Bush has found his Kennedy Moment.
One of my favorite series of novels is Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's St Germain vampire novels. They follow the exploits of a five thousand year old vampire named St Germain through various periods of history. There's one set in ancient Rome, another in China at the time of Geingas Khan, another in Weimer Germany, and so on.

There was also a series of books about one of St. Germain's lovers, one Olivia, whom he gave the "kiss of undeath" around the time of Nero.

Now Yarbro has finally found a paper publisher for a novel about one of St. Germain's other dark armours, Madelaine, whom he met in Paris of Louis XV, set in the Civil War. She falls in love in San Francisco in the 1850s with a down on his luck banker named Sherman who later on would make quite a name for himself in places like Georgia.

Dwyane A. Day offers the second half of the melancholy history of attempts to get people beyond Low Earth Orbit post Apollo. It relates the horrible tale of President Bush the Elder's Space Exploration Initiative.

Fortunately, though, there are a number of differences between Bush the Elder's SEI and the proposal by Bush the Younger.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

This is the most remarkable example of chutzpah in the history of politics. John Kerry had, after all, been bragging about his legendary exploits in Vietnam as reason that he should be President. To be sure these were exploits that he was not always proud of. But they seem, in Kerry's mind at least, to inoculate him against things like slandering Vietnam vets as baby killers, voting to cancel virtually every weapon system the modern military uses, opposing President Reagan's efforts to win the Cold War, and voting to slash intelligence spending even while Osama and his minions plotted the deaths of Americans.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

History informs us that poll results in the Winter and Spring has little to do with election results in the Fall.
Osama may be about to face long overdue justice.
Powerline has an interesting roundup of post withdraw postings on one of the Deaniac blogs. The Deaniacs are not happy. Some of them are so unhappy with the way the Democrat Party has treated their guy that they intend to vote for Satan himself (i.e. George W. Bush.) The theory is that another Bush term means Dean, 2008.

Politics. God, how I love it so.

Friday, February 20, 2004

Looks like Nader is throwing his hat in the ring.
A movie about Bobby Burns!
John Kerry told CNN that he never accused American soldiers of war crimes in Vietnam. John Kerry lied.

The top ten myths about the Bush space initiative, via Jeff Foust.
10) The Bush agenda is responsible for killing Hubble.
9) It leaves us dependent on the Russians.
8) It's a scheme to channel more money to Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
7) It kills ISS.
6) It's a political ploy to benefit the President in Florida.
5) The Moon is boring.
4) This will cost $1 trillion / Bush hasn't budgeted enough.
3) Robots can do this better and cheaper.
2) This is about science.
1) It's about NASA.

I just finished rereading a wonderful historic epic that I first came across in the early 70s, entitled The Imperial Governor. It's the story of Seutonius Paulinus, the Governor of Britain who defeated Boudicca, the British warrior queen who revolted against Roman rule in the year 61 AD. The novel is rich in historic detail and does not soften either the Romans or the British to accomodate modern, PC sensibilities. Paulinus very often behaves as a monster, commiting wholesale genocide. On the other hand, the British are decidely not new age Celts that our Wiccan friends would like to think of them as. The religious practices of the Druids are depicted as extremely horrific.

A film version of this book would certainly not be a Braveheart (i.e., Romans bad, British good), but would be a complex and subtle narrative of an important time in history.

Shipway, who passed away some time ago, wrote a number of other novels that I hope will eventually be reissued as well. My favorites, besides The Imperial Governor, are his two medieval epics, A Knight in Anarchy and The Paladin, and The Chilian Club, a dark comedy about a group of elderly, retired British officers who decide to rid Great Britain of left wing traitors.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Having endured some weeks of lies about the President coming from the various Democrat campaigns, the Bush people are preparing to respond by telling the truth about John Kerry. The Kerry Campaign, naturally, has condemned this tactic as dirty politics.
Christopher Hitchens, who did good work deconstructing Clintonism, directs his fire at John Kerry and his enablers.
Keith Cowing has provided some of the testimony of yesterday's hearings of the Senate Science, Space, and Technology Subcomittee. Here are Courtney Stadd, W. F. Mitchel, Robert Lorsch, Charles M. Chafer, and William F. Readdy.

The common theme of all of these testimonies seems to be one I've been hitting for a while. How do we set up the synergies between a government space program (specifically the President's initiative) and private business? I was very impressed by the focus on practicable solutions, as opposed to some of the idelogical theorizing one sometimes hears.
Can lessons about space policy be found in great literature? You be the judge (about the lessons and the literature.)
Stanley Kurtz has just posted his own evaluation of the Zubrin-Parks robots vrs humans in space debate. He has a unique perspective. For one thing, Kurtz thinks that Park's arguments were more powerful than anyone else has suggested; certainly stronger than the transcript of the debate would indicate. Park has very little understanding about the capabilities and limitations of machines or about what is necessary to carry out scientific exploration.

Kurtz also takes another opportunity to slam Zubrin's "libertarian" vision of Mars settlements as a "fantasy." Kurtz's supposition seems to be based on the idea that the settlement of the Americas, from which Zubrin gets his inspiration for his vision of Mars, was easy (it wasn't; a lot of people died in the process), and that the settlement of Mars would be hard. True, 21st Century Mars is a far more hostile environment than 17th Century North America. But technology has advanced since my ancestors first arrived at these shores in the early 1600s. The tools that can make hostile environments liveable will be even more advanced in a few decades when our grand kids settle Mars.

Finally, I'm not sure that Kurtz has an understanding about how Zubrin views the notion of Mars settlements being laboratories for building free societies. He seems to equate libertarianism with anarchy, which isn't necessarily the case. To be sure, some libertarians I know have those tendencies, but it's my impression that Zubrin is not among them. For one thing, Zubrin does not recoil from the idea of a government operated and funded space program to help make his dreams a reality, unlike some I know.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Guess who has been casted to play Julius Caesar in the HBO series, Rome?
Here's some more about the Senate hearings on the President's space plan that took place in Houston today.
Robert Lorsch, a Beverly Hills, Calif., marketer who lists Procter & Gamble, McDonald's and Sears among his clients, estimates NASA has already missed out on $5 billion in potential royalties from lost advertising. Revenues of that scale could be crucial to countering critics who believe the cost of space exploration is too great, he told a Senate science, technology and space subcommittee hearing in Nassau Bay.

That number simply takes my breath away.

The audio of Kerry's vile slander of Vietnam vets has been found and broadcast. Some way must be found to air it nationa wide.
Dennis E. Powell suggests privitizing the Hubble Telescope.
I haven't hit this National Guard thing because, frankly, I find the whole thing a bit tiresome. Indeed, even John Kerry has recently started to find it so, if not some of the rest of the Democrat Party. Byron York finally comes out with some facts to counter the Bush haters' lies. Flying F 102 interceptors was not the refugee of cowards or deserters. Those who have said so should apologize and then slink away in shame.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Thanks to Tom Matula for getting this list of locations for open hearings of the Aldridge Commission:

Dayton, Ohio (U.S. Air Force Museum), March 3-4, 2004
Atlanta, March 24-25, 2004
San Francisco, April 15-16, 2004
New York, May 3-4, 2004 (Hayden Planetarium)
The Russians are developing a new spacecraft to replace its Soyuz series. It will be about twice the size and weight of the Soyuz, according to sources.
The Senate Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee is holding hearings in the Houston area tomorrow on the President's space initiative.

Via Jeff Foust.

Addendum: Here's a news story about how the hearings went. Looks like commercial participation got a good airing.
James Cameron is producing a disaster movie about a volcano that erupts and destroyed a sea side resort. Of course that resort was Pompei and the year 79 AD.

Monday, February 16, 2004

If the subject of the rumors had been a conservative, this denial would only whet the appetite of the media to dig deeper. I also have the sneaky suspician that had she confessed to everything, the media and a good portion of the electorate would not think it a big deal.
Taylor Dinerman offers a compelling rationale for going back to the Moon and on to Mars. It's not doing good science.
A new human civilization beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, influenced by American pioneering values and by the basic human desire to build a better life, will shift the long-term balance of power away from the angry dictators and would-be dictators of this world and towards the free and potentially free peoples of planet Earth. The safety of the American people requires this evolution.

Dwayne A. Day offers part one of a (so far) melencholy history of attempts to define a direction beyond Low Earth Orbit for NASA in the wake of Apollo.
Not to hit this one too hard, but why isn't Kerry being forced to prove that these adultery rumors are untrue? Why isn't he being asked for credit card slips, motel records, travel schedules, and so on? President Bush was certainly forced to prove that the National Guard thing was a non story, after all.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Please stop teasing us. Exactly how nasty was what happened?

Saturday, February 14, 2004

This upcoming US News and World Report is publishing a splendid series of articles on explorers of the past. Unfortunately the concluding piece, No More Frontiers?" contains an incredibly stupid statement on robots vrs humans in space exploration.
There is, of course, still outer space. But the sad fact, revealed in the tepid response of space scientists to President Bush's push to send astronauts to Mars, is that fragile humans are a liability to space exploration, not an aid. The real work of exploring the solar system will be done by robots, with any humans who tag along adding billions to the cost but not much by way of discovery. Besides, the golden days of exploration were far more democratic; any Spanish sailor with a case of wanderlust could sign on with a conquistador; a Canadian voyageur needed only a strong arm and a sack of pemmican to hop in a canoe and make the kind of first contact with native tribes that would make an anthropologist swoon. Today's astronauts have Ph.D.'s and M.D.'s, and marathon times that would have shamed the tough guys of the past. Space may indeed be the final frontier, but it's one that few of us could ever hope to see.

There are so many idiotic suppositions in that paragraph, it is hard to figure out where to start.

First, there are plenty of scientists (Paul Spudis, for instance, a lunar geologist who is on the Aldridge Commission among them) who are very enthusiastic about the President's space initiative.

Second, considering the number of robotic probes which have been lost over the years, I wonder if humans are any more "fragile" than machines. In any case, humans hace an ability to observe, to evaluate, and react that cannot be duplicated by machines. Robots are hard and slow to operate over interplanetary distances. As one wag who works in Mars exploration suggested, a single geologist could perform in a day all what the two Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, will perform during their entire missions.

Third, Spanish conquistadors had to have capital to buy and provision ships and to hire cxrews. They also needed royal favor to set out on their voyages of exploration and conquest.

Finally, I suspect that in a generation (or less) the expanding market of space tourism will lower the cost of space travel and open up the high frontier of space for far more people for the well educated supermen now employed by NASA and it's equivilents in Russia and China.
George Will poses the first 28 questions to John Kerry which, I think, Kerry wll decline to answer.
In yet another bone headed moved by programming suits at a major network, Angel, the drama about a tortured vampire with a soul in search of redemption, is being cancelled after five seasons.
Imagine if the dock from which Columbus sailed had been preserved in all of its historic detail. We have the equivilent opportunity to preserve the launch tower from which the first Apollo missions blasted off to explore a new world. Please sign the petition.
The new Moon race is shaping up between the United States and China.

Friday, February 13, 2004

Here's one Democrat office holder who is not hung up on WMDs and thinks President Bush was right to take down Saddam Hussein regardless.
The father of the woman at the center of the Kerry sex scandal seems to imply that the center of it all was less sex than sexual harassment.
An Orthodox Rabbi rallies to the defense of Mel Gibson's The Passion of Christ.
I wonder exactly why the Kerry bimbo eruption story is being spiked by the mainstream media? This is an interesting question, considering the media's willingness to pursue unsubstantiated allegations about the President's National Guard service into the swamps of conspiracy theory land.
Apparently people working for the Australian Broadcasting Company cannot call the Hezbollah, Hamas, or Islamic Jihad terrorist groups because the UN has not so designated them. However:
Tulloh's memo reportedly continues to say that while the groups shouldn't be called terrorist, it is appropriate for the ABC to describe "a suicide bombing or similar outrage" as an act of terrorism, and to call a suicide bomber a terrorist.

So an organization composed of people who are terrorists and commit terrorist acts is not therefore terrorist. Interesting.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Keith Cowing has an excellent story on the first public meeting of the Aldridge Commission.
There are two ways to approach this story about a Kerry bimbo eruption from Drudge.

The first way is to assume that this is another replay of the various Clinton scandals. There will be a lot of sound a fury, signifying nothing, and in the end Kerry's reputation will be enhanced. And for bonus points, the scandal will distract from various other more serious Kerry foibles (see below.)

The other way is to suggest that only Clinton can skate from this sort of thing, the this will comsume Kerry and, even if he still gets the nomination, he will be fatally wounded. Also, Theresa did promise to maim him if she ever caught him doing this, so she won't--if she is a woman of her word--stand by her man like Hillary did.

We'll see how it plays out.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Here's the complete text of John Kerry's infamous testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Comittee in which he smears his fellow Vietnam vets as war criminals.
If Spock had been this broad minded, Nurse Chapel would have been a much happier woman.
More evidence of John Kerry's radical past. Now, someone needs to ask him, "Do you still believe this?"
I guess there are some Democrats who are not mad at President Bush, as evidenced by this Democrats for Bush blog.

Via Glenn Reynolds.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

One of the reasons John Kerry's playing up of his war record is so noxious is the fact that he wasn't always that proud of it. As when he smeared Vietnam vets as war criminals during a Senate Committee hearing as a leader of Vietnam Vieterans Against the War. (And I wonder if the "Band of Brothers" Kerry veteran supporters are aware of what their hero really thought of them three decades ago and for all I know, still does.) However, the strategy may have hit a snag as a picture is worth a thousand sound bytes.
Mel Gibson, who has been smeared as an anti-Semite for his upcoming film, The Passion of Christ, may have the last laugh. All the way to the bank.
Wolfgang Petersen will direct a film based on Orson Scott Card's classic Ender series.
The Aldridge Commission has a web site. Included is an E-Mail contact address for the public to offer suggestions.
Michael Ledeen says that the road to victory in Iraq goes through Tehran.
The race for the X Prize is entering the home stretch.
A former "expert witness" who helped John Edwards seperate money from a lot of doctors, now has some interesting things to say about the effect the Presidential candidate has had on the cost and quality of medicine.

Monday, February 09, 2004

Alan Boyle echoes a point Your Humble Servant made (see below) about the ultimate "spin off" of the space program. Human survival.
Harry Vanderbilt thinks the President's space initiative could be a good thing.
Al Gore went completely berserk.
"He betrayed this country!" Mr. Gore shouted into the microphone at a rally of Tennessee Democrats here in a stuffy hotel ballroom. "He played on our fears. He took America on an ill-conceived foreign adventure dangerous to our troops, an adventure preordained and planned before 9/11 ever took place."

Tom Matula, over at the Return to the Moon BBS, has an interesting economic impact analysis of the President's space initiative:
This new vision IS about America's economic future and it will have a role in helping the nation recover from the recession triggered by the bust.

First, in terms of jobs. RIMS II (Regional Impact Multiplier System) is the basic tool used to estimate impact on employment, household income and economic output by SIC sectors. RIMS II estimates are based on near term historic impact of increased spending in those areas.

Using the $800 million dollar increase for this year and using the sector for basic research and test labs (closest to NASA's function) the economic impact IN the year the funds are spend will be

a net gain of 19,000 new jobs
an increase in GDP of 1.7 billion dollars
an increase in household earnings of $673 million dollars

Pretty good bang for the buck. Of course if you spent more the stimulus would be greater :-)

BTW since government revenues run about 20% of GDP the government will get $340 million back in tax revenue next year as well.

Long term, based on studies done on the impact of Apollo the effect on the economy based on spending on space is significant.

A study by the Midwest Research Institute showed that the $25 billion (1958 dollars) spent on Apollo produce an return of 181 billion (1958 dollars) of increased economic activity for the next 20 years, a 43% return on investment. Again assuming that 20% of the increased economic output found its way back to government in the form of tax revenue then that would mean the government received a little over $36 billion (1958 dollars) in increased tax revenue as a result of the $25 billion it spent. Or put it another way for every dollar spent on Apollo the government received $1.50 back. Of course this doesn’t include the time value of money, but still it would be nice if other federal spending produce that type of return.

Bottomline is that as far as increasing the national debt goes, spending on space is at worst neutral, and usually generates an increase in tax revenues that offsets it in later years.

BTW it is probably no accident that the second longest expansion of the U.S. economy coincides with Project Apollo (1962-1969)….

FYI a good source for information on the impact of Apollo on the American economy is

As for education, states education budgets are in trouble because of the economy, boost the economy and you will boost state tax revenues which will boost education spending.

There is also another greater impact on education. As documented in the report of the Aerospace Commission
a new bold space initiative is important in stimulating students to study math and science. Its one thing to fund good programs its another to have students that want to learn.

These are the arguments we should be using to make sure this initiative gets funded. The vision stuff is great icing but the votes will be on dollars and cents. Show how this makes America more competitive in global markets and makes our economy stronger and it will sell!

BTW if you did plug in that "strawman" figure of a trillion dollars opponents are using you get an increase, based on that 100 billion (1 trillion/10 years) a year of 2.4 million new jobs, an annual increase of GDP of 221 billion and annual increase of household earnings of 84 billion. Annual tax revenues would increase by 40 billion. (bye bye jobless recovery….)

Long term economic return would be around 7.25 trillion dollars, with a cumulative gain of 1.5 trillion in tax revenue over the next twenty year. Of course this is just from basic spending on a new space intitative. Focus on some goal like using space for energy independence, space tourism and working hard to get new private ventures going as well and you would get an even bigger impact on the nations economy and jobs.

MacKubin Thomas Owens compares President Bush's and John Kerry's military records, and finds that in the long run, Bush is the braver man.
Finally, it is important to look more closely at what George W. Bush was actually doing as an officer in the Texas Air National Guard. If Bush looked more convincing last May on the deck of the Abraham Lincoln in a flight suit than Michael Dukakis looked in a tank in 1988, it is because the former was, after all, a fighter pilot. Many individuals strive to become fighter pilots. Only a few succeed. The implication that President Bush lacked courage because he joined the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War misses an important point. Although he did not see combat, piloting a high-performance aircraft is an inherently dangerous undertaking, from start to finish. Flying a jet fighter when someone is not shooting at you is only marginally less dangerous than when someone is shooting at you. It is not for the faint of heart.

The fact is that previous combat experience or not, President Bush has acquitted himself well as a wartime commander-in-chief. Like Lincoln during the Civil War, he has been single-minded in his pursuit of U.S. security since 9/11. He has weighed options, assessed risk, and made often-unpopular decisions. As a wartime commander-in-chief, President Bush has operated successfully at the level of statesmanship, which, as Winston Churchill once remarked, constitutes the summit where true politics and strategy meet. Sen. Kerry may have demonstrated bravery on the battlefield of Vietnam, but for many of us, he forfeited our comradeship by what he did upon his return. But even if he had not, the performance of our most successful wartime presidents illustrates that combat experience does not in itself qualify one for presidential leadership during a time of war.

An American President proposed to send explorers into the wilderness. It was a time of great turmoil for the United States. The economy was fragile. The country was engaged in a war with Muslim terrorists.

Of course that President was not named Bush, but Jefferson. The wilderness was not the Moon and Mars, but the American West. And those Muslim terrorists were the Barbary Pirates, not Al Qaeda.
Jeff Foust has some interesting observations about the Zubrin-Park Debate. Jeff also suggests that rationales for space exploration beyond doing "good science" needs to be articulated to generate public support. It's a supposition I agree with.

Here's my stab at that question. With the growth of human population on Earth and the attendent progress of technology, human civilization and indeed human existence has become increasingly fragile. The ways that civilization, and even humanity itself, could end, either through natural causes (say, an asteroid strike) or through human folly (say, a bioengineered plague spread by terrorists) have increased. The way to make certain that human civilization continues and flourishes is to colonize other worlds.
John Podhoretz gives the back of his hand to fellow conservatives who have been dissing the President.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Larry Miller says to forget about trying to justify going to space with spin off arguments. He says there is one sufficient reason. It's the sentance that starts with, "To boldly go..."
Bob Zubrin, of Mars Direct fame, and Robert Park, the leader of the "robots uber alles" crowd had a debate recently on the whole humans vrs robots contraversy. I think that Zubrin trampled Park under his feet. Here's a sample:
DR. BRENT BOS: Thank you. I’m Brent Bos from NASA Goddard. This is a question for Dr. Park. I’ve heard you tonight and in other various venues talk about how our robotic landers on Mars are superior geologists to a human. As a graduate student I worked on Mars Pathfinder and have also had the opportunity to go on various field exercises with geologists. I was very surprised to find out that a geologist was about a thousand times more effective on site -- when he can examine the rocks, pick them up, have that dynamic interaction with them.

But it seems like you have very strong opinions that a robot is much better than a human on site. I was wondering how many field exercises you have been on with geologists to form that opinion, and how many robotic missions you have been on.

DR. PARK: I haven’t been on a robotic mission.

But in fact, I have been on missions with geologists. They use the hands. They don’t have those hands when they’re locked in a space suit. They’re looking through a visor. They’re hands are - if you watch them use tools, they’re almost as limited as my hands.

It’s not the same thing at all. You can’t pick a rock up and heft it, you don’t get any feel of its composition, any sense of hardness or texture. These things are all missing in a spacesuit.

If you can get the guy outside the spacesuit --. Terraform it first, I guess.

DR. ZUBRIN: Well, before we terraform Mars, a simpler -- a simpler approach is just to bring the rock inside the hab. And then you can hold it in your hand, and look at it, and do absolutely everything that a field geologist on Earth can do with it.

Too bad the Emperor Justinian didn't have a space program.
I think the President's performence on Meet the Press was solid. He gave careful, deliberate answers to a lot of difficult questions. I think I'm back upin this assessment by most real Americans, though apparently not the pundits whose judgement seems to be clouded by idealogy.
Dwayne A. Day takes on Alex Roland and the other lying liars who lie about President Bush's space initiative.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

Ray Bradbury muses on Mars, space exploration, and science fiction. As unlikely as it may be now, I do hope he lives to see that first human on Mars.

Friday, February 06, 2004

Jennifer Granholm, Governor of Michigan and ignoramous, dissed the idea of returning to the Moon.
Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, campaigning with Kerry and Gephardt, said the state had lost 300,000 jobs since George W. Bush became president, including 170,000 in the manufacturing sector of the economy.

"We don't need a mission on the moon," she said, referring to the president's new space initiative. "We need a mission on manufacturing. We do not need a mission on the moon, we need a mission on jobs."

The problem that Ms. Granholm refuses to face is that quite a few of those manufacturing jobs are gone forever, due to improvements in automation and productivity. Going back to the Moon might just help spark entirely new industries, which of course would create jobs. But this fact is glossed over in Ms. Granholm's zeal to score partisan, political points.

Remember that silly argument about the Ten Commandments in the Alabama Judicial Building. Well, courtesy of the Christian Coalition, they're back, along with the Constitution, the Magna Carta, and several other documents. Oddly enough, Judge Moore is not pleased. No word yet from the ACLU.
Rand Simberg and Tom James each gives Patrick Stewart the back of their hands. I agree with all the sentiments expressed, for the most part. It is also an occassion when one wishes Gene Roddenberry was still alive. Roddenberry regarded the dream of the spread of humanity to the stars, which Star Trek reflected, not as something "nice to have" after all the world's problems get solved, but rather as a necessary process in addressing those problems.

It also seems to me that Stewart is biting the hand the has fed him so well. Without the great dream of space flight, which he dissed, there would have been no Star Trek. Without Star Trek, no Jean Luc Picard. No Jean Luc Picard, and Stewart would still be a minor charecter actor living out a hand to mouth existence on bit roles, rather than making millions per movie. Something to think about.
Happy Birthday President Reagan.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

In response to charges that he's the greatest recepient of special interest money, John Kerry claimed that those interests never got anything for their largess. That seems to be the latest of Prince John's lies.

Addendum: Some more examples of why being a contributer to Kerry can be very lucrative indeed.
Here's the tentative schedule for Project Constellation. I'd like a more detailed explanation about the three year gap between the prototype flight and the Block 1 flight (2008 and 2011 respectively) and the two year gap to the Block 2 flight (2013). It is budget driven or is there some other reason?
Prince John F. Kerry, the populist who proposes to wrest the White House from the "rich and privledged", conducts himself in a style that would shock the sensibilities of a Tudor Monarch.
The President's space initiative is just over three weeks old and not actually funded by the Congress yet. However, NASA is proving it's seriousness by moving at warp speed to execute the plan.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Patrick Stewart's inane statement slamming space exploration in specific and human civilization in general ordinarily wouldn't elicit a lot of comment. Actors are, after all, given to speaking such drivel when they have to ad lib. For example, look at Alec Baldwin or Barbara Streisand. But Stewart is best known as having played Captain of the Enterprise on one of the Star Trek series, so his gaffe is seen pretty much as if John Wayne had advocated pacifism

Even so, I'm not sure that Stewart's ravings have much cosmic significence. Except, I would tell him to stick to Shakespear and stop making public statements on subjects he obviously knows little about.
Rand Simberg (cautiously) approves of the prize line item in NASA's exploration budget.
Gay marriage is now legal in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, thanks to a high court ruling. While I suspect a lot of people who are for gay marriage are celebrating, they really shouldn't. The imposition of gay marriage by judicial fiat will very likely cause a backlash leading to an amendment to the Constitution that wil not only forbid gay marriage, but civil unions as well.

On the other hand, watching John Kerry tap dance around this one will be amusing.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

The Kistler K1 may actually fly, thanks to a unique launch contract with NASA.
It looks like Europe is eying sending people to the Moon and then Mars. I guess imitation really is the most sincere form of flattery.
With the adoption of President Bush's space exploration plan, NASA has given up on Reusable Launch Vehicle Development. Considering NASA track record in this area, some might consider this a good thing. However, there are other things the government can do to encourage the development of RLVs besides NASA trying to build them.
Tom Matula, over on the Space Frontier Foundation's Return to the Moon board, weighs in on the Moon vrs Mars question:
It really depends on your reasons for going into space if Mars or the Moon should be the focus of America's space efforts.

If it is for high adventure, photo ops and the advancement of science then Mars is a good goal. Exploring at the bottom of a deep gravity well, under a highly variable atmosphere will guarantee a variety of photo ops and high adventure from the blazing entry into the atmosphere to fighting global dust storms. Even with robots there is high adventure from the speculation on the lost Beagle and Mars 1999 Lander to the problems of working with robots light minutes away with only short windows for communicating with Earth. Mars is also complex enough to occupy scientists for generations. Unfortunately high adventure, photo ops and science are all that Mars offers the Earth.

Discovery of any life on Mars will be a collective "ho hum" for the general public the majority of whom already believe UFO's are visiting the Earth. Its only impact on science will be to confirm or deny a few theories on how life begin, but so many biologists expect life to be found elsewhere its impact there will also be less then folks expect. A few discovery channel specials and then it will fade into the textbooks. Its major impact will likely be on environmentalists since they will have the burden of another planet to protect and giving more reason to oppose space exploration.

There is no real economic value to the Earth in going to Mars.
The overall impact on the economy of a Mars mission will be minor, just the direct effects of the money spend. There is little chance of Mars providing the spark for new industries or for commercial firms to have a role like the Moon. I rather gamble on a untested but potential economic model like lunar resources than the nonexistent one (even in theory!)for Mars.

Basically Mars is a great goal for personal glory in science or for high adventure, but will not be of much value in meeting the challenges facing the Earth in the 21st Century. It’s the perfect illustration of the saying from Robert Heinlien's "This Planet is about used up, time to go find another." It is a therefore a good goal for those that dream of running away from the Earth's problems rather then helping solving them. The old west and manifest destiny is actually a good illustration for Mars as many pioneers headed for the frontier as a means of escape.

The Moon is just the opposite. It has the potential to play a key role in helping overcome the challenges facing the Earth in the 21st Century. What the moon offers is the opportunity to create new industries that will help human civilization meet the challenges of a sustainable civilization for the future. Energy from the Moon, regardless if its He3, SSP, PGMS or a combination of all three will help replace fossil fuel. The cumulative economic impact of OPEC since 1973 has been a 7 Trillion dollars premium on energy costs to the west so the economics will work out once the basic research is funded.

The Moon may also be a source for raw materials or unique products developed in its high vacuum/low gravity environment. Mass drivers have the potential to ship whatever resources the Moon produces to Earth as a low cost. Remember the Moon shipping wheat to Earth in RAH's "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress"?. While wheat would not be worth it PGM's and other products may well be. In any case the lack of an atmosphere and low gravity are an asset for the Moon that Mars just doesn't. And being only a three day flight from your biggest market in the Solar System, versus months away like Mars, is not a bad deal either.
The close proximity to Earth also allows easier remote operation of robots and easier support of humans at a lunarbase. Unlike Mars, the Moon has the potential to create new industries that may well employ tens of thousands, perhaps millions of "remote" workers on Earth. Environmentally friendly jobs that will be in industries that will help make this world a better place. Local Chamber of Commences will love the new industries created and will probably have more impact on Congressional support then any combination of space advocates have had once these industries started to emerge from the new space initiative. Remember all politics are local and members of Congress know who they must keep happy. Talk to a member of Congress about solving the secrets of the universe or opening a new forntier and they will nod to be polite. Tell then how to create new high paying jobs in their district and you will have their undivided attention and support.

Unlike Mars, the Moon offers numerous opportunities for the same type of government/commercial alliances that were so critical to opening the American West. Its even close enough that space tourism is feasible, another industry Mars will not be able to offer for generations and a way to generate even more new jobs.

Sure the Moon is dull to folks seeking the glory and adventure of Mars. That is actually one of its advantages since the public is "bored" with the Moon there will be less focus on photo-ops or missions designed to hype the public on it. This is good since the public is often fickle (Apollo showed that!) and any venture depended on public support like a mission to Mars will suffer from shifts in the public's mood. By contrast the very lack of public interest in the Moon may allow a space initiative focused on it to be consistently implemented since support will be based on the tangible economic and security benefits to the nation from a lunarbase, not the intangible ones associated with Mars. Unlike Mars, the Moon will be a world for the working class, not for folks seeking a new frontier to escape to from society.

That is why I am working for a return to the Moon, instead of a rush to Mars, Because I am not interested in space for the glory or science or a place to escape to, but because of its potential to make America more competitive and secure. The Moon will contribute to those goals, Mars will not. Its that simple.

In terms of the history of the future it is the missions to Mars that will be looked on as the cul-de-sac just like the European search for a Northwest Passage is a now seen as a sideshoe to the history of North America. A lot of effort and no real results except high adventure and some scientific glory. That is Mars and is what draws folks to it like a moth to a flame....

It looks like the Sci Fi Channel's splendid reimaging of Battlestar Galactica (and by that I mean better than the original) will be picked up as a full series.

Monday, February 02, 2004

John Kasich, who helped balance the federal budget the last time, has some common sense suggestions on how to do it again.
Alex Roland, a person who sometime in the distent past was an "historian for NASA", offers a conspiracy theory worthy of Oliver Stone, but without Stone's artistic gifts. Nor apparently does he have any technical expertise nor a proper understanding of the history of space flight. You be the judge.

In the meantime, Tom James provides a pithy examination of Roland's ravings.
Here's a more detailed analysis of the 2005 NASA budget proposal over at SpaceRef. Notice that there is twenty million allocated for prizes under the Exploration Account. This should please our libertarian friends, though I suspect some will not be satisfied.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

A year ago today, the space shuttle Columbia was lost with all hands. About a week later, I published these words in the Houston Chronicle and they have as much relevance today:
We Are Called to Open Up the Heavens

By Mark R. Whittington

The funeral pyre of the crew of Columbia 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.

There should be no months long orgy of self-doubt and recrimination. For one thing, the need to sustain our presence on board the International Space Station will not permit a grounding of the shuttle fleet for longer than a few months without horrific disruption to that program. The inevitable voices will use this tragedy as an excuse to end human space flight. They should not be heeded. Find the problem, fix it, and then push on.

However the loss of Columbia and her crew does illustrate with great urgency a great problem in the area of access to space. The United States has only one vehicle, the space shuttle, as a means for carrying people to and from space. Building a replacement shuttle for Columbia is probably not a viable option. Even the tooling for building shuttles no longer exists and replacing it would be an effort of years and billions of dollars.

This situation should not be allowed to continue. The nation should figure out how to expand our means of space travel in the most expeditious way possible. While one idea along those lines will be to accelerate the development of the Orbital Space Plane, one hopes that commercial solutions will be pursued as well. Small companies like Armadillo Aerospace and XCOR have been quietly and diligently working on the problem of space access. Let the genius of the private sector finally be brought to bear, to develop new and creative means of space travel. Thus the cost of space travel can finally be brought down and its reliability enhanced.

Finally there have been stories in the media about the intentions of the Bush Administration to find great things for NASA to do, beyond just being a glorified space trucking company. The Bush Administration has proposed a new research and development initiative called Project Prometheus. Prometheus will develop space based nuclear power and nuclear-based deep space propulsion technologies. Just as the original Prometheus brought fire from heaven for humankind, Project Prometheus will harness the unimaginable energy of nuclear fire to open up the heavens for human civilization.

Project Prometheus should not be deferred while we find and fix the cause of the Columbia Disaster. Prometheus should proceed with all due speed and diligence. While Robert Heinlein was right when he said when you get to low Earth orbit, you’re half way to anywhere, nuclear power and propulsion is the key to get us the rest of the way.

The things that will become possible to do when these new technologies are in our grasp are breathtaking. Prometheus will allow astronauts and their robotic counterparts to cross interplanetary distances in weeks instead of months. It will facilitate the extraction of life giving water from the lunar poles and comets. It will make possible the mining of resources from the Moon and asteroids to spur a space based industrial revolution. It will give power and light for people who will settle the high frontier of space.

Imagine if an asteroid, large enough to destroy all human life on the planet, were detected in a collision course with the Earth. Space nuclear power could be the tool that would divert that asteroid in time, saving human beings from suffering the fate of the dinosaurs.

The Bush Administration and NASA already envisions testing Prometheus with a probe to Jupiter which would orbit and examine each of the major Jovian moons one after the other. That’s a good start. But space nuclear power and propulsion can also be used to send humans back to the Moon and on to Mars and to sustain them on those worlds for long stays.

Let this be the memorial for the crew of Columbia 107, as well as those of Challenger 51L and Apollo 1: a renewed purpose to open up the high frontier of space not just for the few, but for all people. If, within the lifetimes of most people reading this, human civilization will have expanded to the Moon, to Mars, and beyond, then these heroic hearts will have not given the last full measure of devotion in vain.