Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Manchurian Candidate?

I think that John Kerry’s…revelation…that he’s the preferred candidate of some unnamed foreign leaders is a mistake on several levels. It will obviously sell well among his base that the oh-so-sophisticated-and-nuanced-himself Jacque Chirac thinks that Kerry is his man (and who else does Mr. Kerry intend for us to infer as his hopeful future counterpart?). But it’s not at all clear that this will sell that well with independents and undecideds. What will the campaign slogan be–”Vote Kerry–The French Choice”? I suspect that in fact most American want their president to be vetted and supported by Americans, not “furriners.”

But an even bigger mistake is making the claim, and then feigning outrage when someone questions him on it, or wants more details. It opens up an opportunity for his opponents (so far not capitalized on, at least by the White House).

Their current response is to claim that if he won’t name names, then he must be making it up. Maybe this will be an effective tactic, but it sounds dumb to me. There’s no doubt in my mind that there are foreign leaders, even former US “allies” who would prefer Kerry (or any Democrat, or even any non-simian cowboy) in the White House to George Bush, so the charges that he’s a liar or making it up don’t have much weight to me.

I think that a much more effective commercial would be something like:

John Kerry says that some unnamed foreign leaders would prefer him as president to our current president. If this is true, why will he not name them?

Is it because among those names might be Kim Jung Il, the brutal North Korean dictator whose state-controlled press has been extolling Mr. Kerry’s virtues? Or Bashir Assad of terrorist-supporting Syria? Or Yasser Arafat, who continues to sponsor terrorism in Israel? The mullahs in Iran?

Or Osama bin Laden?

What is Mr. Kerry trying to hide?

We believe that an American president should be the choice of Americans, not unnamed foreign leaders.

It would serve him right for such an odious and dumb campaign tactic, and considering that I just saw a poll indicating that sixty percent of registered voters think that terrorists would prefer Kerry to Bush, I suspect that it would be a very effective ad.

And you know what else? I’ll be that, despite his supposed chumminess with Bill Clinton, Tony Blair isn’t on that list.

Shock Wave Solution?

Maybe, but there’s no way to tell from this article.

I keep seeing these reports of how NASA and DARPA are coming up with techniques to “shape” shock waves and sonic boom, and how this is going to lead to a brave new world of overland supersonic flight. But I never see any quantification of the benefit of such techniques. The other thing that I never see is a discussion of the effect on wave drag, which is the other big factor that prevents economical supersonic flight.

As I’ve written before, there actually may be design solutions that can significantly reduce, and even approach elimination of both sonic boom and wave drag, but NASA and DARPA continue to refuse to consider them. Perhaps when this latest attempt doesn’t pan out, they’ll be willing to finally do so.

[Update a few minutes later]

Here’s a Usenet discussion on the topic from a few years ago among yours truly, and several others.

McDade: Man or Astroman?

In response to Rand’s request, here is my little bio. I am awful when it comes to telling my personal story, so you might want to skip this unless you have some time to waste.

I will tell you about my writing and reporting experience in a few paragraphs, but first…

Continue reading

My African American Co-Blogger

I see that Andrew has introduced himself. I have to relate that when he told me that he was going to Botswana for a family emergency, I told him that it seemed funny (not the family emergency–the fact that he had a family in Botswana, and not in the squirting-flower-trick sense) because, being a Person of Pallor, he didn’t look Botswanan.

He replied that that was because he was actually Zambian.

[rimshot]

Well, I thought it was funny.

He also said that he’s been tempted to check the “african american” box on various forms, but couldn’t quite work up the moxie, to which I replied that it seems to work for Theresa Heinz.

Double Standards

Mark Whittington has a cogent point about the congressional handwringing over the potential and uncertain costs of a mulit-decade space program.

I suspect that had Medicare been subjected to these kind of requirements back in the mid 1960s, it would never have passed.

Not to mention the president’s recent prescription drug program.

Someone Killed The Crickets

Well, ask, and ye shall receive.

I don’t have a lot of time to post, but I want to welcome Jim McDade. He brings a different (should I say more traditional?) space policy viewpoint to Transterrestrial, and I suspect that some intrablog sparring will liven up the discussion here. While I agree with him that a Kerry presidency shows no signs of boding well for our future in space, there are a number of other things with which I would take issue, particularly in his follow-up comments (particularly his trotting out of the old “broken window” fallacy). Unfortunately, I don’t have time to do so right now, because, as I said, I’m busy househunting in Florida, so I’ll let others discuss it for now.

I also hope that Jim (and Andrew) will put up a brief description of who they are, for the edification of the readership.

[Update around noon eastern time]

Jim responds in comments on breaking windows. My response:

With respect to boosting economies post hurricanes, no one disputes that it benefits the local economies of the people whose communities get rebuilt. The problem is that they’re not the ones who pay the opportunity costs–the taxpayers are. It’s easy to make things boom locally by taxing others globally (just as it’s easy to decrease entropy locally, at a greater cost in the rest of the universe). It’s also easy to boost a bank robber’s income by letting him rob banks. That doesn’t mean that turning everyone into bank robbers will increase the national wealth.

The point is not that we shouldn’t help people out after hurricanes and that it’s a benefit to them when we do so, but rather that we shouldn’t fool ourselves that this is in any way a good thing for the national economy, and that we should therefore wish for hurricanes.

Space programs have to be justified by their benefits to society as a whole, not by how much they benefit communities with NASA centers, at the expense of the taxpayers. If we make bad and easily refuted arguments in support of space expansion, it can be worse than making no arguments at all.

On The Road Again

I’m going back down to Fort Lauderdale tomorrow to do some house hunting. I’ll check in intermittently, but I won’t have constant broadband, and I don’t know how good the dial-up will be. I’m sure that my other mysterious co-bloggers here will pick up the slack any minute, though.

Right?

[crickets chirping]

Any minute.

Sure is quiet in here…

[High lonesome howl of a coyote in the distance]

Anyway, I’ll be back next Tuesday, and by then, I hope that things will be in full swing.

More Overkill

This was depressing. When I decided to do a little research on the venue of Friday night’s festivities, I discovered this little gem (actually, lump of coal):

Q: Is there an outside “Observation Deck”?

A: Actually, there is. But, unfortunately it has been closed to the public since September 2001 by airport officials for security reasons.

No Justice, No Peace

I place the blame firmly on the local police department, who should have anticipated, and prepared for, the feelings on the street in the wake of the verdict.

…corrections officials have tried to dispel the myth that white collar prisons are cushy.

“The sheets are 130 thread count un-ironed cotton, and the lack of windows results in almost no natural light whatsoever,” said Donna Buhmper a guard at Camp Elgin in Walton Beach, Florida. “For Ms. Stewart, this could be the closest thing to hell she ever sees- until she dies, of course, and goes there for real.”

Win Some, Lose Some

I haven’t found anything on line about it yet, but I heard on the television today that in analyzing the Yucatan crater, they’ve determined that the impact occurred hundreds of thousands of years before the dino extinction, so the original Alverez theory may not be true.

On the other hand, much closer to home, both in distance and time, a paper presented at last week’s planetary defense conference speculates that a comet may have caused the Chicago Fire.

Well, that would let Mrs. O’Leary’s cow off the hook. Bossy may be exonerated after all these decades.

Either way, it would still be prudent to keep looking for them and to quickly develop the technological capability needed to deal with any that appear to have our number.

Not Your Father’s Space Program

Clark Lindsey points out that the SpaceX Falcon is making steady progress toward first flight. Among all the other milestones noted, I found this one little bit extremely significant:

Regulators gave them “approval to fly the rocket with only thrust cutoff, rather than explosive termination.”… “[This] improves hazardous procedures in transportation, on the launch pad and particularly on recovery of the first stage.” This [was] allowed “due to the all liquid fuel configuration and six-fold valve redundancy.”

As far as I’m aware, the only previous launch system that received permission to fly without range-safety destruct was the SET-1 launch by the American Rocket Company in 1989. The general philosophy has always been that range safety must be able to not only terminate thrust, but destroy the vehicle, should it go out of control. Rockets have always had such range safety devices, and are unique among all other transportation systems in that regard. No ship, train or plane has had devices on board every trip whose sole purpose is to destroy the vehicle.

If SpaceX has gotten permission to launch without it, with only thrust termination, this may be a first for a liquid-fueled rocket (the American Rocket vehicle was a hybrid, with solid fuel and LOX). The big advantage, as it points out, is that there are now no pyrotechnic (explosive) devices on the vehicle, at least not for that purpose, which eliminates some of the steps in launch processing, and post-launch safing, and reduces one of the hazards associated with ground handling (not to mention greatly enhancing the probability of getting the first stage back, even in the event of a mission failure).

Getting such permission is obviously much more important for a reusable vehicle, which the Falcon first stage is advertised to be. They don’t want to have to destroy the vehicle just because it isn’t following the prescribed trajectory, if they continue to have control over it, because they want to get it back.

This is a key breakthrough in reducing launch costs. Let’s hope that it presages the future.

Not Your Father’s Space Program

Clark Lindsey points out that the SpaceX Falcon is making steady progress toward first flight. Among all the other milestones noted, I found this one little bit extremely significant:

Regulators gave them “approval to fly the rocket with only thrust cutoff, rather than explosive termination.”… “[This] improves hazardous procedures in transportation, on the launch pad and particularly on recovery of the first stage.” This [was] allowed “due to the all liquid fuel configuration and six-fold valve redundancy.”

As far as I’m aware, the only previous launch system that received permission to fly without range-safety destruct was the SET-1 launch by the American Rocket Company in 1989. The general philosophy has always been that range safety must be able to not only terminate thrust, but destroy the vehicle, should it go out of control. Rockets have always had such range safety devices, and are unique among all other transportation systems in that regard. No ship, train or plane has had devices on board every trip whose sole purpose is to destroy the vehicle.

If SpaceX has gotten permission to launch without it, with only thrust termination, this may be a first for a liquid-fueled rocket (the American Rocket vehicle was a hybrid, with solid fuel and LOX). The big advantage, as it points out, is that there are now no pyrotechnic (explosive) devices on the vehicle, at least not for that purpose, which eliminates some of the steps in launch processing, and post-launch safing, and reduces one of the hazards associated with ground handling (not to mention greatly enhancing the probability of getting the first stage back, even in the event of a mission failure).

Getting such permission is obviously much more important for a reusable vehicle, which the Falcon first stage is advertised to be. They don’t want to have to destroy the vehicle just because it isn’t following the prescribed trajectory, if they continue to have control over it, because they want to get it back.

This is a key breakthrough in reducing launch costs. Let’s hope that it presages the future.

Not Your Father’s Space Program

Clark Lindsey points out that the SpaceX Falcon is making steady progress toward first flight. Among all the other milestones noted, I found this one little bit extremely significant:

Regulators gave them “approval to fly the rocket with only thrust cutoff, rather than explosive termination.”… “[This] improves hazardous procedures in transportation, on the launch pad and particularly on recovery of the first stage.” This [was] allowed “due to the all liquid fuel configuration and six-fold valve redundancy.”

As far as I’m aware, the only previous launch system that received permission to fly without range-safety destruct was the SET-1 launch by the American Rocket Company in 1989. The general philosophy has always been that range safety must be able to not only terminate thrust, but destroy the vehicle, should it go out of control. Rockets have always had such range safety devices, and are unique among all other transportation systems in that regard. No ship, train or plane has had devices on board every trip whose sole purpose is to destroy the vehicle.

If SpaceX has gotten permission to launch without it, with only thrust termination, this may be a first for a liquid-fueled rocket (the American Rocket vehicle was a hybrid, with solid fuel and LOX). The big advantage, as it points out, is that there are now no pyrotechnic (explosive) devices on the vehicle, at least not for that purpose, which eliminates some of the steps in launch processing, and post-launch safing, and reduces one of the hazards associated with ground handling (not to mention greatly enhancing the probability of getting the first stage back, even in the event of a mission failure).

Getting such permission is obviously much more important for a reusable vehicle, which the Falcon first stage is advertised to be. They don’t want to have to destroy the vehicle just because it isn’t following the prescribed trajectory, if they continue to have control over it, because they want to get it back.

This is a key breakthrough in reducing launch costs. Let’s hope that it presages the future.

Empire in the Sky

Via Mark Whittington, a piece in the Washington Times on a new age of exploration. The author, Jeremi Suri, asserts that the Bush space policy could be the start of a new age of exploration similar to that of the 17th and 18th centuries. This is certainly the hope of the vast majority of readers of this blog. The devil, as always, is in the details.

The age of exploration had a lot to do with the efforts of Prince Henry the Navigator, who more or less kickstarted the whole thing. Take a look at the timeline from Henry’s early efforts (1420 onwards) until the beginning of real profitable trade (mid 1450s). The real overseas european empires didn’t really take root for another century. Had Henry and his compatriots thrown all their energies into building an empire spanning the globe, they’d never have had the resources to do the little things that lead to the big things. As it is, they had some adventures, made a name for themselves, and some of them got quite rich. Along the way they laid the groundwork for the empires to come.

We are currently at the Henry the Navigator stage, and we should not lose sight of that fact. The next steps are small and modest, but necessary if we are to move on to bigger and better things. Bush was right to put the emphasis on return to the moon first, despite the fact that most commentators can’t seem to get their minds off Mars. Mars will still be there in 30 years, or however long it takes. In the meantime we have the moon right there, staring us in the face. Near Earth Asteroids are being discovered so fast that it no longer makes news unless they are headed for a near collision with earth. Our Azores and our Guinea are waiting within reach.

Also worth checking out is the wikipedia page on Henry.

Good News

Sometimes Congress isn’t totally clueless. The new launch legislation passed today.

It certainly sounds like Chairman Boehlert gets it:

“This is about a lot more than ‘joy rides’ in space, although there’s nothing wrong with such an enterprise. This is about the future of the U.S. aerospace industry. As in most areas of American enterprise, the greatest innovations in aerospace are most likely to come from small entrepreneurs. This is true whether we’re talking about launching humans or cargo. And the goal of this bill is to promote robust experimentation, to make sure that entrepreneurs and inventors have the incentives and the capabilities they need to pursue their ideas. That’s important to our nation’s future.”

Now on to the Senate. I hope they don’t screw it up too much.

Apples To Apples

In this post, some have expressed skepticism about comparisons between marine hardware and space hardware. Fair enough (and amusing that such a minor item out of the post has consumed all of the discussion about it).

Here’s one that will be harder to argue with. XCOR Chief Engineer Dan DeLong has experience in both worlds, and offers this little tale:

In the mid 1960s, the U.S. Navy decided to upgrade its capability to rescue crewmen from a stricken submarine. The McCann diving bell had been in service for over 30 years and had severe operational drawbacks. A new program to develop a submersible that would perform far better was started. The Navy contracted with Lockheed Missiles and Space, and the two Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicles were created. The first DSRV was built for $41 million . The two DSRVs performed well in trials (they have never been called to do their primary mission) and are still in service today.

A decade later, the British Royal Navy decided it also wanted such a capability, but it did not have the money to commission copies of the US Navy boats. So the Royal Navy went to Vickers Oceanics (now part of British Aerospace) who were in the business of supporting North Sea oil drilling operations with manned submersibles. Vickers and the Royal Navy agreed to have a new boat built that would serve commercial purposes in everyday life and be reconfigured for the occasional Royal Navy rescue mission. (One could argue that such a dual-purpose boat would be more expensive than a simpler, single purpose boat.) Vickers contracted construction to a U.S. company that built commercial oil field submersibles, Perry Oceanographics. The boat performed well as the Vickers VOL-L1 for both commercial oil drilling support and occasional practice rescue operations for the Navy. Perry?s sale price was $750K including profit .

Why $41 million for DSRV-1 and less than $1 million for the VOL-L1? They perform the same mission, though details are different. DSRV is bigger and dives somewhat deeper, but these are small differences. I firmly believe the difference lies in the types of organizations that designed and built the boats. DSRV was started assuming a particular cost, and the program lived up to expectations. The government customer and its traditional contractors all agreed on the size and scope of the job before starting. The Perry boat came from a different world; a world of commercial profit and loss, a world where getting the job done is the primary requirement. Perry was in the business of building similar boats at the rate of about one per year for the previous decade.

I spent four years designing prototype and one-of-a-kind hardware for the U.S. Navy as an employee of Westinghouse Ocean Research and Engineering Center in Annapolis, MD. I then went to Perry Oceanographics and spent six years doing similar things for the commercial world. I believe that a similar difference exists between the current space launch industry and what could be done if cost and mission performance were the real priorities.

Going Group

Partly due to a paucity of time in which to post, and partly out of a desire to broaden the opinion bases here, Transterrestrial is becoming a group blog. I’ll still be posting, but there should be more content here as a result.

The first two victims that I’ve signed up are Allen Thomson and Andrew Case. Unfortunately, Dr. Case has a family emergency that’s taking him out of internet range, so we may not hear from him for a week and a half or so, but in general keep an eye out for new talent here (better, in all cases, than your humble correspondent).

[Update on Wednesday evening]

A commenter asks if I can provide some background to the new posters. I could, but I think that they could do so much better than I, and I expect that they’ll do so in their initial posts. Just keep sitting on the edge of your seats, folks…

So What About Tomorrow’s Announcement?

[Shrug]

Unless they say that Marvin wants to negotiate before we go up there and kick his scrawny Martian butt for sabotaging all of our probes, I’ve little interest.

I’ve been very busy (though I’ll have a little more time now), but even if I were posting at full speed, space science just doesn’t scratch my itch, and I hope that people don’t come here in expectation of either excitement or profound thoughts on the subject.

My interest is in getting earth life into space, not looking for non-earth life. If all they say manana is that there’s water on Mars, that’s not news. We’ve known it for years. If they say they’ve found amino acids, that’s more interesting, but no more so to me than, say, the discovery of some new form of life on the ocean bottom.

So What About Tomorrow’s Announcement?

[Shrug]

Unless they say that Marvin wants to negotiate before we go up there and kick his scrawny Martian butt for sabotaging all of our probes, I’ve little interest.

I’ve been very busy (though I’ll have a little more time now), but even if I were posting at full speed, space science just doesn’t scratch my itch, and I hope that people don’t come here in expectation of either excitement or profound thoughts on the subject.

My interest is in getting earth life into space, not looking for non-earth life. If all they say manana is that there’s water on Mars, that’s not news. We’ve known it for years. If they say they’ve found amino acids, that’s more interesting, but no more so to me than, say, the discovery of some new form of life on the ocean bottom.

So What About Tomorrow’s Announcement?

[Shrug]

Unless they say that Marvin wants to negotiate before we go up there and kick his scrawny Martian butt for sabotaging all of our probes, I’ve little interest.

I’ve been very busy (though I’ll have a little more time now), but even if I were posting at full speed, space science just doesn’t scratch my itch, and I hope that people don’t come here in expectation of either excitement or profound thoughts on the subject.

My interest is in getting earth life into space, not looking for non-earth life. If all they say manana is that there’s water on Mars, that’s not news. We’ve known it for years. If they say they’ve found amino acids, that’s more interesting, but no more so to me than, say, the discovery of some new form of life on the ocean bottom.

Who’s Best For Space?

The San Francisco Chronicle has some positions on space policy from the presidential candidates.

Sen. John Edwards: “I am a strong supporter of our space program. It reflects the best of the American spirit of optimism, discovery and progress. A manned mission to Mars is in the American tradition of setting ambitious goals for exploring space, but we must be able to pay for the program.”

What does that mean? Sounds like he’s saying it would be a nice thing to do if we can afford it, but he doesn’t know whether we can, and it wouldn’t necessarily be a priority of his to find a way to do it. And of course he focuses on the mission to Mars, with no hint of an understanding of broader issues or purposes.

This isn’t a statement that’s going to gather any significant support from the space activist community (not that it’s an important voting block). He’s just trying to avoid taking an actual position.

Sen. John Kerry: “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.”

Again, hardly a forthright declaration of intent, and again, the focus is on sending someone to Mars. And again, no sophistication or nuance, or indication of an understanding of the issues.

Also, it betrays either a fundamental ignorance of budgetary matters, or disingenuousness (you can guess where my money would be), because it implies that the budgets for space, and education and health care are somehow comparable, and that there is a scale on which we could place space on one side, and the social programs on the other, and it would be roughly balanced. The reality, of course, is that you could pay for a mission to Mars with a single month’s expenditure on those other items, and get a lot of change.

You could fund an invigorated space program with a tiny fraction of the education and health budgets, but if you took all the funding going into federal space activities and put it into education and health, it would hardly be noticed.

Both Kerry’s and Edwards’ statements are empty motherhood, but Kerry’s seems more cynical to me.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich: “An International Space Station in Earth orbit is a far more practical launch platform than a base on the moon. So, if we as a nation decide to send manned missions to Mars, I would not support construction of a lunar base. In regard to space exploration, we are faced with an unprecedented national deficit and a war without end, both of which will force this nation to abandon many hopes, dreams and aspirations, including space exploration, if allowed to continue.”

I actually like Kucinich’ position better. It seems much more honest.

I don’t agree with it, and he’s technically wrong, but it looks like he’s actually given the matter some thought, in the warped mindset in which he lives, and he actually has a position. It sounds as though he’d actually try to fund something (albeit at the expense of the Pentagon budget).

Al Sharpton: No response.

No surprise. No disappointment, either, except that he might have said something amusing.

President Bush: No response.”

No need for one. He’s on record as of January 14th what his space policy is.

From a purely space policy standpoint, I think that George Bush is the best candidate. His policy’s not perfect, but it’s a vast improvement over that of Clinton, and either Kerry or Edwards would be likely to return to a more Clintonesque policy, with emphasis on jobs and international cooperation, and a lack of interest in actual accomplishments. To the degree that the president’s policy is a good one, they can almost be counted upon to reverse it simply because it’s his, and there’s nothing in either of their stated positions here to indicate that their replacement would be an improvement in any way.