Category Archives: Business

NASA Advisory Council, Day Two

I’m going to switch from listening to NTSB meeting to hear the status on exploration systems at 9 AM PDT. Phil McAlister will be discussing Commercial Crew status later this morning. I would note that in this morning’s meeting in the House, Chairman Culberson was very enthusiastic (as expected) about the Europa mission, but he still insanely imagines that SLS is the solution to it.

The NTSB Meeting On SpaceShipTwo

I’m listening in live now, but Leonard David already has a story up.

[Update a few minutes later]

Doug Messier has the executive summary. Full report won’t be available for a couple weeks.

[Update a while later]

Temporary adjournment to wordsmith final findings. Sumwalt wants to make clear that while it was pilot error (Finding 1), it was an institutional failure at Scaled that made it possible for such an error to be catastrophic. There also seems to be some (IMO, undue) criticism of FAA-AST, and talk of “political pressure” to prematurely issue licenses/waivers. People (including NTSB) need to understand that AST currently has no statutory authority to regulate safety of the spaceflight participants, including crew, and they are chronically under-resourced to carry out the responsibilities that they are authorized to do. In fact, George should be careful what he wishes for, because if the learning period expires this fall, he still won’t have the budget he needs to expand his authority.

One thing that’s not clear yet (to me): If part of the problem was inability to read instruments due to vibration under thrust. If there was a digital readout, that (and other critical information) should be replaced with an actual Mach meter.

[Late-afternoon update]

Here‘s Jeff Foust’s report.

Politicos Put Graft Before Progress

While this is a good general topic, nowhere is it more true than in human spaceflight:

Sometimes the new competition wins anyway. Uber has been good at generating a large base of mobile customers, then using them to pressure politicians: When New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio went after Uber, Uber used its app to let its users pressure de Blasio.

Happy Uber customer Kate Upton weighed in, producing more pushback than de Blasio could withstand — especially when it turned out he’d gotten over $550,000 in donations from taxicab interests.

Other services aren’t so lucky, and the ability to do an end run around regulators, though welcome, isn’t universal. And if, on top of setting up your lemonade stand, you need licenses, permits, lobbyists and subsidies to make it, not many new lemonade stands will get started. That’s good news for existing lemonade stands, and for the politicians they support, but it’s bad news for everyone else.

Including people who actually want to affordably accomplish things in space.


How’s that new minimum-wage working out for you, Seattle?

The notion that employees are intentionally working less to preserve their welfare has been a hot topic on talk radio. While the claims are difficult to track, state stats indeed suggest few are moving off welfare programs under the new wage.

Despite a booming economy throughout western Washington, the state’s welfare caseload has dropped very little since the higher wage phase began in Seattle in April. In March 130,851 people were enrolled in the Basic Food program. In April, the caseload dropped to 130,376.

At the same time, prices appear to be going up on just about everything.

Some restaurants have tacked on a 15 percent surcharge to cover the higher wages. And some managers are no longer encouraging customers to tip, leading to a redistribution of income. Workers in the back of the kitchen, such as dishwashers and cooks, are getting paid more, but servers who rely on tips are seeing a pay cut.

Some long-time Seattle restaurants have closed altogether, though none of the owners publicly blamed the minimum wage law.

“It’s what happens when the government imposes a restriction on the labor market that normally wouldn’t be there, and marginal businesses get hit the hardest, and usually those are small, neighborhood businesses,” said Paul Guppy, of the Washington Policy Center.

And then there was this exchange I had with Asantha Cooray over on Twitter earlier in the week:

Good Space Policy Advice

Stephen Smith has some for the presidential candidates:

U.S. Census statistics show that more people alive now were born after Apollo (185 million) than before (123 million). For the majority of the population, the 1960s Space Age is a page in a history book, and has little personal emotional resonance.

So do yourself and the nation a favor. Don’t invoke Kennedy.

As your campaign staff develops its space policy white paper, begin with a fundamental question — why should people be in space?


Remember Memogate?

The makers of a new Dan Rather documentary apparently don’t:

Now, I say “probably,” because I can’t exclude the very remote possibility that in the early 1970s Bush’s commanding officer, for reasons lost to history, decided to type up these memos himself (even though his wife said he couldn’t type) rather than getting his secretary to do it.

I can’t prove that he never got his hands on a rather exotic typewriter instead of using the ones that were in his office, spent some time working on it with a soldering gun, and managed to coincidentally produce a document that looked exactly like what you would get if you opened up Microsoft Word 2003 and started typing.

I can’t rule out the possibility that he, for reasons known only to himself, wrote these documents using Army jargon in several places rather than the terms that would have been used in the Air National Guard.

I can’t rule out the possibility that these documents somehow escaped from his office, roamed around in the wild for several decades, and eventually ended up in the possession of a retired lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard, who had an ax to grind against both the National Guard and one George W. Bush.

I also can’t rule out the possibility that somewhere in this vast universe of ours, there is a planet composed entirely of marshmallow, where the rivers run with honey.

This document ended up on the air because neither Rather nor his producer did their jobs right. They ignored glaring red flags about the source of the document, including the fact that he kept changing his story and finally settled on an implausible and uncheckable version about a mysterious woman who wanted the originals destroyed because … um, why? (Mary Mapes, the producer, speculated that she might have been worried about DNA evidence. Too bad she did not settle on the more likely scenario: that they were destroyed to conceal their creation on a laser printer.) Rather and his producer ignored experts who raised problems with the document.

They rushed the documents onto air, and then, when the story exploded in their face, they spent an unconscionably long time attacking the people who had pointed out the glaring issues with their source material. They clung to theories along the lines of Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Killian assiduously fiddling with the margin stops on his typewriter, such that they coincidentally lined up exactly with the defaults in as-yet-uninvented Microsoft Word. For two weeks, they dragged their network through a professional embarrassment of a scale that has rarely been reached again, because they didn’t do the most basic thing we’re paid for: properly vet their story before they started hurling serious, potentially election-altering accusations at a sitting president.

I find it amazing that there are still people who believe that document was genuine. This was my take, at the time, on the stupidity of Mary Mapes.

Busy Moon Day

First (as he told me last week he planned to do), Charles Miller rolled out his proposal for a return to the moon, using commercial launchers, at the National Press Club. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m sure it will contain a lot of good info to inform my own project.

Second, Elon had a press telecon to present preliminary findings on the accident. It was apparently a broken strut on the helium tank in the LOX tank, which failed at 20% of the rated strength (it seems to have failed in tension). Return to flight no sooner than September, depending on customer willingness to fly, redesign of strut (and new supplier). Falcon Heavy first flight delayed until Q2 next year. He admitted that it may have occurred due to “complacency” after long string of successful flights. Most current employees had never seen a failure.

[Update a few minutes later]

Alan Boyle (who seems to have retired from NBC, congratulations) has the story at Geekwire.

[Tuesday-morning update]

Here’s a description of what went wrong from the Space Access Society.

[Update a few minutes later]

Here’s Stephen Clark’s take over at SpaceflightNow.