Category Archives: Space History

Forget Safety, We Need Our Own Spaceships

I have a follow-up to my Friday USA Today column, over at The Corner.

[Update a few minutes later]

At the suggestion of a colleague, lest I appear to be advocating kamikaze missions, the suggested language for the legislation might be: “The exploration and development of space is a national priority. Therefore, NASA’s first priority must be mission success in the critical steps toward reaching this goal. Consistent with this priority NASA shall strive at all times to achieve a level of safety comparable to that enjoyed by other critical national programs in extreme environments, such as deep-ocean and polar activities.”

The challenge and onus would then be on NASA and Congress to say why that is not a reasonable standard (which is currently met without all of NASA’s ridiculous safety/cost-plus/certification rigmarole).

John Houboult

Rest in peace:

In November 1961, Houbolt took the bold step of skipping proper channels and writing a 9-page private letter directly to incoming Associate Administrator Dr. Robert C. Seamans. Describing himself somewhat melodramatically “as a voice in the wilderness,” Houbolt protested LOR’s exclusion from the NASA debate on the Apollo mission profile. “Do we want to go to the moon or not?” the Langley engineer asked. “Why is Nova, with its ponderous size simply just accepted, and why is a much less grandiose scheme involving rendezvous ostracized or put on the defensive? I fully realize that contacting you in this manner is somewhat unorthodox,” Houbolt admitted, “but the issues at stake are crucial enough to us all that an unusual course is warranted.” Houbolt clearly saw that the giant Nova rocket and the expensive and complex Earth orbit rendezvous plan were clearly not a realistic option–especially if the mission was to be accomplished anywhere close to President Kennedy’s timetable. While conducting a rendezvous in orbit around the Moon was going to be a challenge, the weight, cost and savings of using LOR were obvious once one realized that LOR was not fundamentally much more difficult than Earth orbit rendezvous. This insights, and Houbolt’s brave and energetic advocacy of it, made all the difference.

It’s just a shame that they didn’t do earth-orbit rendezvous as well with smaller vehicles. We could have avoided the Saturn V and the Apollo Cargo Cult.

A Rudderless NASA

More thoughts from Mr. Papadopoulos. I don’t have time for a detailed critique right now, but I find it amusing that he thinks Neil Tyson is a reliable source about the history of exploration:

“In the history of civilisation, private enterprise has never led a) large, b) expensive, c) dangerous projects, with unknown risks,” said astrophysicist Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, during a talk for Big Think. “That has never happened.”

That is just nonsense on stilts, based on apparently a grade-school understanding. Columbus himself had already raised half the money privately. Cabot’s expedition was privately funded, based on a patent from Henry VII. Hudson’s expeditions were funded by British merchants who were seeking the Northwest Passage. The mouth of the Columbia was discovered by a seal trader. The vast majority of exploration of the Americas and the West was privately funded.

[Update at noon]

I’d forgotten about this post from last year. There is no evidence that Columbus got any money from the government.