In one of his periodic rants against NASA’s apoach [sic] to returning to the Moon, Rand Simberg states something that is just incredible:
In my mind, what Constellation should be is the development of an infrastructure that allows us to go anywhere we want in the inner (if not outer) solar system, and then let the national priorities determine what we’ll do with it once it’s in place.
This statement is fantastic because Rand seems to expect that a government agency is going to do this. The problem is that it is not NASA’s job nor is the space agency institionally [sic] capable of building and operating transportation systems in the manner he seems to want.
I don’t understand what he’s saying here (which is often the case, though it’s far more often the case that he doesn’t understand what I’m saying…).
What is the difference between the space transportation infrastructure that NASA is currently building (Constellation) and what I’d like them to apply the money toward instead, other than that the former is horrifically expensive to develop, and will be equally horrifically expensive to operate, assuming that it can make it past the technical problems inherent in the fundamental approach? Is it NASA’s job to build an expensive space infrastructure that only it can afford to use (if even it can) but not to build one that’s useful to the nation at large?
Nor should we want NASA to do this. It would be sort of like asking the Department of Transportation system to build a national, high speed rail system.
You mean the way that the DoT built and continues to help maintain the Interstate Highway System? Does Mark think that’s not working out? And does Mark think that Mike Griffin was wrong when he said that NASA was building the space equivalent of the IHS? I do, not because that’s not NASA’s job (it could possibly be) but because the way he proposed to do it is a bad joke.
Look. I don’t want NASA in the space transportation business at all. But if they’re going to spend billions of dollars in taxpayers’ money on space transportation, I don’t think that it’s unreasonable to ask that it be spent sensibly, and not have the architecture driven by Alabama and Florida (and Utah) politics and pet designs of individuals, while keeping hidden from the public the technical and economic assumptions behind their choices.
I think that the Shuttle was a tragic error of historical proportions. But the error wasn’t in the vehicle design per se (though it was a flawed concept as well). The error was in the notion that the government could build a launch system that would serve all of the nation’s space transportation needs. Now, Constellation isn’t quite as erroneous as that — this time, NASA is only indulging in a conceit that it can build a single launch system for its own needs, and to hell with anyone else’s. But we cannot have a monoculture. NASA has repeated the mistake of the Shuttle by making its plans and architecture dependent on a single vehicle type (actually, two vehicle types, either of which will shut them down if it fails). There is no resiliency to it, any more than there is currently with the Shuttle.
What I want NASA to do, and would be just as much “NASA’s job” as building an entirely new redundant launch system, is to invest in the technologies and hardware needed to allow us to leave LEO, given that private industry has largely solved (and will continue to improve on solutions for) the LEO problem.
NASA has proven that it is pretty good at exploring space, which is what Constellation is all about. Mind, a lunar base (and Rand is quite wrong again; Ares V could deliver inflable habitats to the lunar surface to create a small, lunar base) can be he destinition [sic] of a lunar COTS program that could grow into a commercial space tansportation system.
Mark can’t read again. Nowhere did I say that Ares V couldn’t deliver lunar base elements to the moon. But Constellation has nothing to do with “exploring space.” To the degree that NASA is good at that, it is good at it with unmanned systems on (now) commercial rockets. We got a lot of good science from Apollo, but that wasn’t the reason for Apollo, and if it had been, it would never have happened. Similarly, “science” and “exploration” are not the justifications for Constellation — jobs in Huntsville and Utah are.
We have to decide whether or not becoming spacefaring is important. Policy decisions made to date, over the past half century, indicate that it has not been. I see nothing in Washington, even with Mr. Hope And Change, to give me hope that that has changed. But it doesn’t hurt to continue to demand it.
[Update a few minutes later]
Is “radical sanity” coming to NASA?
[Early evening update]
Oh, this is precious. Mark has a couple new posts up. First, in response to the news that the government has come to its senses and that the Ares decision is going to be revisited, he hilariously complains:
…the only thing I can say to my friends in the Internet Rocketeer Club is careful what you wish for. The idea of the administration that inflicted upon us the stimulus bill, among other things, now doing rocket engineering should fill everyone with dread. At the very least it will cause months of delays.
Ignoring his imaginary friends, if I could get just months of delay, it would be a huge improvement over Constellation, which seems to be delaying us more than a year per year. Then he goes on (get ready to hold your sides):
At worst, it will open up the return to the Moon to the political process to such an extent that we might have to start learning Mandarian [sic] if we ever want to see the lunar surface.
One of the most amusing things about the ongoing train wreck that is Mark’s blog is his complete indifference to spelling, despite the fact that Firefox has a spellchecquer built in. Perhaps he’s stuck on IE. Anyway, the notion that a private company is going to have to speak Mandarin to land on the moon, in ten, twenty or fifty years is side splitting. I wish that Mark would explain how that works.
And then, he moves on to pathetically attempt to respond to this post (and I’m always amused that any time I write something with which he disagrees, it’s a “rant” — apparently his vocabulary is as limited as his spelling ability):
Rand is proposing that NASA repeat the same mistake it did with the space shuttle, build some kind of system that everyone can use. Not jst a national space line, but a national lunar line.
The mistake of the Shuttle was not in “building some kind of system that everyone can use.” It’s probably too nuanced for Mark to understand, but the mistake of the Shuttle was in building a system that everyone would be required to use, with no other options. Their current mistake, with Ares, isn’t that bad, but the other mistake with the Shuttle was thinking that a single system, with no redundancy or resiliency, would be sufficient. They repeat that mistake with Ares. He goes on:
…leaving aside the quaint notion that private industry has largely “solved” the LEO problem (strange, my trip to the orbiting hotel is not on for next week)
My point is that private industry can get payloads to LEO, and is not far off (certainly not as far off as NASA is) from getting humans into LEO, given that SpaceX is much further along with Dragon development than NASA is with Ares/Orion. That Mark can’t afford to go is his problem, not private industry’s.
…what Rand seems to be saying is that NASA should just get out of the exploration business and be a technology hobby house for private industry and that we should wait until private industry deigns to build lunar craft.
I only “seem to be saying that” to someone with a native inability to comprehend written English. I said nothing of the kind, as anyone who scrolls up can see.
Rand’s big problems is that he thinks that the commercial is all. All other considerations, especially national security, are bogus. It would be like campaigning against the Lewis and Clark expedition because it would not build the transcontinintal [sic] railroad while pushing west.
I think nothing of the kind, and no one who reads what I write for comprehension could believe that. I simply think that commercial is not negligible. Moreover, I think that national security is extremely important, but NASA has decided that it will have nothing to do with it, not even using the same rockets that carry military payloads and thereby reducing overall costs.
The Lewis and Clark analogy is completely bogus. We don’t need to “explore” the moon. We understand the moon in great detail, and if we don’t, we aren’t going to learn a lot more by sending a few astronauts to it a couple times a year. Now is the time for the transcontinental railroad (which, I’ll remind Mark, was built by private enterprise, using government incentives). There are many ways to build it. Constellation is not one of them.
Mark lives in this continual delusion (“commercial is all”) that I think that the government has no role to play in opening up space. I can’t imagine how anyone who reads this blog regularly can believe this. I’ve stated repeatedly, including in this very post, what I believe that the appropriate role for government in space is, to make it effective in actually opening up the frontier. I won’t repeat it here, because clearly Mark wouldn’t understand, anyway.
Shoveling corporate welfare to rocket companies is not the way to incentivize commercial space.
Does he mean like giving a sole-source cost-plus contract to ATK? If not, what is he talking about?
Perhaps some of my commenters are right. He’s just trolling for hits because he can’t get them any other way.
[Update late evening]
Mark continues his delusions:
Rand is really mad now…
No, Mark. I continue to be both calm and amused. Like Democrats who accuse me of “rage” and “hate,” and (my favorite) “racism,” you seem to have a problem with recognizing and identifying emotions. Perhaps you should see a therapist. Or something.
[Wednesday morning update]
The hilarity continues:
Now Rand takes his inevitable trip back to the eighth grade by boasting of his own humor and then suggesting that your humble servant is mentally unbalanced.
I’ve no idea what he’s talking about (as usual), at least with regard to “boasting of my own humor.” And obviously, if you don’t want people to think you mentally unbalanced, don’t talk about your imaginary friends who are “full of rage.” Particularly when no one else can see either the friends, or the “rage.”