At GLEX, I just asked Mike Griffin from the floor what the payload was which demanded to be sent up in a single launch that demanded a Saturn-class vehicle. He responded by saying that this wasn’t the place to debate it, and then with a straw man about sending things up screw by screw. Buzz had previously softened him up with a comment about the need for more innovation and fewer jobs programs for the launch vehicles. He initiated the discussion with a slam at propellant depots.
[Update later evening]
I typed that from my phone. Here’s a fuller story. Mike (without prompting) stated that heavy-lift is the highest priority for space exploration, and that depots would be useful, but not immediately so. Ian Pryke agreed with him. Buzz responded (from the second row) as noted above. I then asked the panel (not Mike specifically) from the back of the (full) room the question above. His response (from memory, not an exact quote):
Rand, we’ve been arguing about this for years and this isn’t the place to debate it. It’s possible to break a vehicle down to individual nuts and bolts, and launch it that way. But there is a reason that we deliver crude oil in large tanker ships and [several more examples of large vehicles delivering stuff]. I don’t understand why space transportation is different than any other kind of transportation. We can argue about this forever, but at some point we just have to rely on common sense.
My response (here): Note that he didn’t answer the question, nor did he explain why a quarter of a million pounds was the right answer. The nuts and bolts thing is a strawman. Surely there is some optimimum, some happy medium between one fastener at a time, and a Saturn V delivering everything at once, fully fueled.
The reason that space transportation is different (at this time) than other kinds is because it is a new industry with a limited market, and there is insufficient traffic to amortize the development of such a large vehicle that will fly so rarely. It makes sense to build dozens of oil tankers to carry millions of tons of oil. For a vehicle that will deliver a hundred-plus tons once or twice a year, not so much. The first practical airplane, from an airline standpoint, was a DC-3, not a 747. There are other reasons it is different, but that one by itself should suffice.
Briefly, I refuse to concede to Mike’s condescending (and insulting) claim that he has a monopoly on common sense. And I understand that it wasn’t the right place for a debate. In his mind, there is no right place for a debate because a) he thinks there is no need for a debate and b) he knows that if he were ever to have one with me, he’d get creamed (at least judging by the last round between Space News and Competitive Space). Plus, he would never dare legitimize me or my arguments by debating me, just as Michael Mann and Briffa and Jones and Hansen refuse to come to the Heartland conference to debate.