Category Archives: Business

Back To The Moon

An Apolloistic interview with Bill Posey. I really hate this sort of thing:

Going to the Moon again would be exciting, but NASA’s already-minuscule budget (a mere $18.5 billion in 2016, compared to $585 billion for the Department of Defense) means that the agency can probably only afford one big dream at a time. Do we go back to the Moon or do we press ahead on visiting Mars? Right now, Mars is winning by a landslide. For the last few years NASA has been focused on its Journey to Mars, with no plans to send people back to the Moon.

“This bill proposes not just a visit to the Moon but a presence on the lunar surface,” Casey Dreier, space policy expert at the Planetary Society, told Motherboard. “This isn’t wrong by any means, but it’s one of those things that if you do this, you just won’t go to Mars for a long time.”

In fact, if we changed course from the Journey to Mars to Journey Back to the Moon, we might not see footprints on Mars in our lifetime. “It would put us back at least a generation,” Dreier said.

a) There is, and should be, no relationship between the NASA budget and the Pentagon (or any other agency’s) budget. Each agency’s budget request has to stand on its own. And as usual, note the assumption that we have to choose between one or the other. some people, including the so-called experts, cannot conceive of the possibility of doing both.

Note the implicit assumption of the next question:

Given NASA’s already underfunded budget, do you think it would be worth abandoning a mission to Mars to go back to the Moon? [Emphasis added]

It’s a matter of prioritization, and we’ve asked NASA to prepare a roadmap of what steps they’re going to take in a timeline given current funding, for increased funding or decreased funding. What steps are you going to take to get to the Moon? They have discovered there are resources on the Moon that they can make fuel out of, you know launching from the Moon, you can see many, many reasons why it’s good to have a Moon base. And that’s part of the process of getting to Mars. It’s been awhile since we’ve been on the Moon and we’ve had some technology to catch up on and practice so those are all important.

And note the omission in the next response:

I’m excited about any private industry that plans on doing any space exploration. One time NASA came up with a series of different ideas, they would touch an asteroid, land on an asteroid, then it changed to a bigger mission and then smaller mission but there was no tie-in to a Mars mission. A lot of the private sector are ready, willing and able to explore and mine asteroids so that we don’t need to do it. Anything that you can find in the phonebook that the private sector is doing, the government doesn’t really need to be doing. Exploring an asteroid is one of those things.

Hey, Bill, did you know that the private sector is interested in mining the moon, too?

And here comes the Apolloism:

Do you have a special memory from working on Apollo 11 that you’d like for the next generation to experience?

What inspired me so much was President Kennedy’s speech from Rice University, that was so inspiring to me when he said we’re going to put a rocket on the Moon. I wanted to go to work on that rocket and have my fingerprints on that rocket that takes men to the Moon. So that was a big inspiration for me and I think returning to the Moon will also re-engage the public’s interest in the space program and inspire a new generation of American students to study engineering and mathematics where we currently lag behind other students in competing nations.

How do you see NASA handling itself as we move forward between finally choosing between going back to the Moon or going straight to Mars?

We’ve spent somewhere between $20-24 billion on what we call “missions to nowhere” and we can’t do that again. The NASA budget is now about one half of one percent [of the GDP]. During the Apollo era it was 4 percent of the GDP, I would love to see it at 1 percent. Neil deGrasse Tyson explained very well one time, space is the only thing that Congress spends money on truly to benefit the next generation, and I think that’s a true statement. I’d like to see congress spend 1 percent, I’d even like to see a constitutional amendment requiring that 1 percent be spent on human space exploration each year so that we will have the survival of our species.

With all respect to Neil Tyson (OK, I don’t have that much) it’s mindless to have an arbitrary percentage of the federal budget for anything, let alone NASA. The only way to determine how much budget NASA should get it so decide what it’s going to do, come up with a set of plans to do that, and estimate the costs. Right now, I’d say that NASA has plenty of money, or would if people like Bill Posey didn’t force it to waste money on a giant rocket and capsule that it doesn’t need, in order for him to revisit his lost youth. The three billion a year that he’s forcing the agency to spend on SLS/Orion would go a long way, perhaps all the way, both a lunar return and a Mars mission in the next decade (with public/private parterships using Commercial Cargo and Crew as a model) if NASA was allowed to spend it instead on things it actually needs to do both those things

When Evidence Says “No”

…but doctors say “yes”:

WHAT THE PATIENTS IN BOTH STORIES had in common was that neither needed a stent. By dint of an inquiring mind and a smartphone, one escaped with his life intact. The greater concern is: How can a procedure so contraindicated by research be so common?

When you visit a doctor, you probably assume the treatment you receive is backed by evidence from medical research. Surely, the drug you’re prescribed or the surgery you’ll undergo wouldn’t be so common if it didn’t work, right?

For all the truly wondrous developments of modern medicine — imaging technologies that enable precision surgery, routine organ transplants, care that transforms premature infants into perfectly healthy kids, and remarkable chemotherapy treatments, to name a few — it is distressingly ordinary for patients to get treatments that research has shown are ineffective or even dangerous. Sometimes doctors simply haven’t kept up with the science. Other times doctors know the state of play perfectly well but continue to deliver these treatments because it’s profitable — or even because they’re popular and patients demand them. Some procedures are implemented based on studies that did not prove whether they really worked in the first place. Others were initially supported by evidence but then were contradicted by better evidence, and yet these procedures have remained the standards of care for years, or decades.

Even if a drug you take was studied in thousands of people and shown truly to save lives, chances are it won’t do that for you. The good news is, it probably won’t harm you, either. Some of the most widely prescribed medications do little of anything meaningful, good or bad, for most people who take them.

My faith in the medical profession has never been high, and stories like this do nothing to raise it. If you want to be healthy (and in some cases just stay alive), you have to be pro-active.

[Update a while later]

I hadn’t read the whole thing when I posted this (I still haven’t; it’s long), but I found this interesting:

In the late 1980s, with evidence already mounting that forcing open blood vessels was less effective and more dangerous than noninvasive treatments, cardiologist Eric Topol coined the term, “oculostenotic reflex.” Oculo, from the Latin for “eye,” and stenotic, from the Greek for “narrow,” as in a narrowed artery. The meaning: If you see a blockage, you’ll reflexively fix a blockage. Topol described “what appears to be an irresistible temptation among some invasive cardiologists” to place a stent any time they see a narrowed artery, evidence from thousands of patients in randomized trials be damned. Stenting is what scientists call “bio-plausible” — intuition suggests it should work. It’s just that the human body is a little more Book of Job and a little less household plumbing: Humans didn’t invent it, it’s really complicated, and people often have remarkably little insight into cause and effect.

“Bioplausible” also applies to terrible dietary advice: If you don’t understand biochemistry (and unfortunately, most nutritionists and even many MDs don’t) it makes sense that eating cholesterol gives you high cholesterol and eating fat makes you fat. You are, after all, what you eat, right?

Note also the story about the blood-pressure meds that have no measurable effect on reducing rates of heart attacks. I suspect that, like cholesterol lowering, such drugs are treating a symptom. It’s why despite my life-long high BP (really, my only health risk other than bad choice of parents), I resist using drugs to lower it, because I really have never had any evidence of other issues, and keep a close eye on things like peripheral arteries, carotid blockage, liver function, eye health, etc.

Climate Models

are flawed. That’s putting it mildly:

Professor Curry said: “It’s not just the fact that climate simulations are tuned that is problematic. It may well be that it is impossible to make long-term predictions about the climate – it’s a chaotic system after all. If that’s the case, then we are probably trying to redesign the global economy for nothing”.

I’ve been saying that’s likely the case for years. I’ll look forward to reading her paper.

The EM-1 Analysis

This is a good overview of the issues involved in deciding to fly crew on the first flight. If they decide to do this, I don’t want to hear a single word about delaying Commercial Crew until it is “safe” enough.

[Update a while later]

Wow, never been a big George Abbey (senior) fan, but he’s calling for cancellation of SLS:

Abbey thinks the architecture of NASA’s future plans should be thoroughly examined and redrawn. It won’t even require a budgetary increase — just a smarter allocation of the currently available funding. For instance, he suggests scrapping the SLS program altogether. There’s too much redundancy in the heavy-lift rocket market — SpaceX is working on their Falcon Heavy, Blue Origin is busy developing the New Glenn booster, and United Launch Alliance is drawing up plans for a Vulcan rocket.

From his lips to Trump’s (and Congress’s) ears.

[Wednesday-morning update]

Another call to end SLS/Orion, over at Scientific American, from Howard Bloom:

If NASA ditched the Space Launch System and the Orion, it would free up three billion dollars a year. That budget could speed the Moon-readiness of Bigelow’s landing vehicles, not to mention SpaceX’s Falcon rockets and could pay for lunar enhancements to manned Dragon 2 capsules. In fact, three billion dollars a year is far greater than what Bigelow and Musk would need. That budget would also allow NASA to bring Jeff Bezos into the race. And it would let NASA refocus its energy on earth-orbit and lunar-surface refueling stations…plus rovers, lunar construction equipment, and devices to turn lunar ice into rocket fuel, drinkable water, and breathable oxygen. Not to mention machines to turn lunar dust and rock into building materials.

This new Moon program could be achieved within NASA’s current budget. In fact, members of the group I run — the Space Development Steering Committee — estimate the total cost of what I’ve described (Moon landings plus a permanent moon base) at ten billion dollars. That’s just three years’ worth of the money currently being funneled into the SLS and the Orion.

At some point, this will become conventional wisdom.

[Update a few minutes later]

Wayne Hale has a prescription for NASA that is politically impossible to fill. I’d note that there’s nothing new about this; many of us observed these problems in the 80s and 90s. It’s what happens to a bureaucracy when what it does is not nationally important, it’s captured by its customers, and Congress can do whatever it wants secure in the knowledge that none of it will affect an election.