Category Archives: Space History

Columbia Anniversary

It’s been fifteen years. Challenger was the beginning of the end of the Shuttle program, less than five years after the first flight. Columbia doomed it, though it continued to fly for eight more years. But the decision to end it led to the much more hopeful future we have now, with new commercial vehicles finally demonstrating real reusability, and competing with each other to drive down costs.

Here are my immediate thoughts at the time. Click on follow-up posts for a lot more.

[Update a few minutes later]

Glenn Reynolds: We just entered a golden age of space exploration. Why all the pessimism?

More importantly, we’re finally entering an age of not merely exploration, but development and ultimately settlement.

[Afternoon update]

In rereading what I wrote then, I’m surprised at how prescient it was and how well it held up. Including the foretelling of the book that was to come a decade later.

[Update a few minutes later]

Note my comment there at the time:

Who has an operational solution that’s any better than NASA’s?

Who’s been funded to provide one?

The fact that NASA hasn’t done better does not imply that it cannot be done better. NASA operates under significant political constraints.

Note that fifteen years later (and the two people doing this had started two years earlier), that problem seems to have been solved.

Lunar Science Workshop

Light posting because I decided at the last minute to fly up to San Jose for the workshop at NASA Ames. Been listening to lunar stuff all day. Highlight: a talk by Jack Schmitt, the only geologist to walk on the moon, and the second to last to walk on it, a little over 45 years ago. And with the death of John Young a few days ago, only one of five remaining moon walkers. He’s looking pretty good at 82, and I think he stands a good chance of seeing the next person walk on the moon.

The New Space Race

…is postponed until next year. This is interesting, politically:

In one corner, we have the SpaceX Crew Dragon, a successor to the original Dragon capsule it’s been using to deliver supplies to the ISS. The seven-seater vehicle appears to be quite the looker, with fairly large windows to give passengers a stunningly clear view of their journey — a feature you’d definitely appreciate if you were a paying customer. The company already has a solid idea of what to do with the capsule outside of its Commercial Crew responsibilities. In fact, it already sold two seats to take private citizens on a trip around the moon next year … but only if it has already started taking astronauts to the ISS for NASA.

A successful Falcon Heavy flight (hopefully next month) is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for SpaceX to attempt an Apollo 8 recreation (the fiftieth anniversary is almost exactly a year from now). If they do it before they’re flying commercial crew, it will have the appearance of not keeping their eyes on the ball for NASA’s needs. But NASA can control the schedule by throwing up impediments to first flight, and some at the agency might be motivated to see that happen, because it would be politically embarrassing to see a private company do an Apollo 8 re-enactment before the agency can with SLS, causing even more people to question the need for the latter. It will be an interesting year.

Oh, one other point. Amusing to see a woman journalist using the terms “manned” and “unmanned.” I personally try to only use those terms to describe historical events (e.g., Apollo). It appears that “crewed” and “uncrewed” are gaining acceptance, but there remain two problems with that. First, “crewed” sounds like “crude” when verbalized. Second, not everyone who flies will be crew. Maybe we need to start saying “humanned” spaceflight.

Space Is Not A Global Commons

Scott Pace gave an important speech that is sure to upset many in the international space community at the Galloway Symposium a couple weeks ago. Laura Montgomery comments.

Speaking of Henry Hertzfeld, every time I see him, for over a couple decades now, we argue about the viability of reducing the cost of launch through reusability of rockets. I wonder what he’s thinking these days?