Category Archives: Space

Martine Rothblatt

As Glenn notes, I’m old enough to have known her decades ago when she was Martin. I saw her for the first time since the sex change a year ago at the New Space conference in San Jose. Anyway, a fascinating profile of her.

[Update a few minutes later]

D’oh! Now it makes sense. Gabriel Rothblatt is Martin’s/Martine’s son. He’s running for Bill Posey’s seat in Florida (at the Cape) on a space platform, and he was at this year’s conference. Unfortunately, he’s a Democrat.

Soyuz Mission Problem?

It may be in trouble. Initial tracking data tweeted by Jonathan McDowell indicates that their orbit is off in inclination by about 0.4 degrees, which is about 50 m/s (probably a hundred kg of propellant). Their total budget for the ascent is about 100 m/s, and it seems unlikely that they have that much margin. So it’s possible that they don’t have enough to both get to ISS and then do a later deorbit, which means they’d have to abort without going to the station.

But the most likely explanation is that it’s just bad tracking data (maybe measuring during a burn?). We’ll find out at the next trajectory update.

[Friday-morning update]

Well, they docked, so presumably, they also have enough to get home.

Jerry Pournelle

He’s posted a brief but complimentary review of the book (it’s buried deep in the post, after his lengthy discussion of his computer tech upgrades):

Safe Is Not An Option, by Rand Simberg is a reliability expert’s look at the space program. The book is discussed at length on its own web site. Those interested in the space program should read it: the book is quite critical of current space policies. It has endorsements from both astronauts and space policy analysts.

His general thesis is that NASA’s obsession, born of the days when “ours always blow up” and brought back with a vengeance by the Challenger disaster, is eliminating all human risk from spaceflight. That doesn’t work and the obsession is a huge obstacle to progress. There will always be risks, and we will always have heroes.

Simberg is an aerospace engineer with considerable experience and his analyses of various space incidents such as the Challenger Disaster are spot on, which is to say, I agree with them. Recommended.

Thanks!

Space Tourism

Is it being overhyped?

I fearlessly predict that, as with any other experience, some will be underwhelmed, and others will have their expectations exceeded.

In related news, tired of waiting, and fearing that they won’t get to the (arbitrary) von Karman line, some Virgin Galactic customers are demanding refunds.

[Update a few minutes later]

Richard Branson’s credibility is collapsing in the media.

Taylor Dinerman’s Take On Commercial Crew

Over at National Review. I obviously take issue with this:

Boeing has walked away with the biggest share ($4.2 billion) of the money, as its design was further along than that of the SpaceX proposal and, in the opinion of NASA’s leadership, has the best chance of meeting the schedule.

I’ve sent them a response. If they don’t run it, I’ll do it myself at Ricochet.

[Update a while later]

OK, my response is up at The Corner.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson

…and the science of smug condescension:

Here we see, in action, the signature scientific style of the Neil deGrasse Tyson era. Present a scientific theory in crudely oversimplified form, omitting any uncertainties or counter-arguments. Pass off complex claims as if they are obvious “basic physics.” Then dismiss any skepticism as the resentment of the primitive, ignorant, unscienced masses against their enlightened betters.

Or, you know, file law suits against critics.

It’s not a very good way to get valid scientific results—nor, for that matter, to promote the scientific method. But it’s what we get when we substitute, in place of respect for the actual methodology of science, an attitude of superior posing and smug condescension.

I’d like to say that I was disappointed with the Cosmos reboot, but honestly, I wasn’t that big a fan of the original. But I’d love to buy Tyson for what I think he’s worth, and sell him for what he does.

[Afternoon update]

Some more thoughts:

It seems to me that Neal deGrasse Tyson is a scientist. Heck, I don’t actually know, because I don’t read technical astronomy papers, but I assume he’s published something somewhere, actually done some science in his life. But that doesn’t appear to be his current day job. His current job, near as I can tell, is carnival barker. He’s a salesman, or an advertiser. That’s not science. Inspiring others to want to learn more may be laudable, but it’s not science. Making crap up isn’t science, either, but I’ll let the serial stalkers at the Federalist worry about that.

But here’s a misconception that I’ve discussed before:

Thing is, I’m no scientist. So while I would like to call myself a Science-ist – that is, one who believes in the nature of science and the good results it can produce – I certainly can’t pretend I am a scientist, which is one who does science. Stuff like collecting data, analyzing it, proposing hypotheses, testing hypotheses. You know, stuff that scientists do. Not just looking at cool pictures of galaxies and pretending that makes me smart. (Um, NSFW language at that link)

No. Science isn’t a profession, it’s a way of thinking about the world, and learning about it. Everyone does it, to some degree or another, every day. Check a door knob to see if it’s unlocked? You just did an experiment.

People who believe in “science” as some kind of special realm that “scientists” live in, and that “science” reveals “truth” (as many global warm mongers do, even though they don’t understand the science or, often, even basic math) are members of a religion, that is in fact properly called scienceism. I believe in science as the best means to learn about the natural world, and as the basis for engineering and creating technology, but I don’t worship scientists, and I don’t delude myself that scientific results are “truth.”

Anyway, finally, note this comment:

you make an ass out of neal tyson when it’s pointed out that he has not, in fact, published A SINGLE PIECE of academic work since having talked some committee into accepting the dissertation it took him 11 years (and an expulsion!) to co-author.

no, seriously. if you don’t believe me, you can put his name into the search bar at arxiv.org, where practicing physicists post our preprints:

“Search gave no matches

No matches were found for your search: all:(neal AND tyson)

Please try again.”

In the next comment, he notes that there is in fact one post-doc paper, but it appears that he’s just participating because the actual authors wanted a bigger name on it.

The Inspector General’s Report On ISS

I’m reading it now. It starts out with a nice brief history of space stations in general and of the ISS itself. Apparently it says that commercial crew will cost more than Soyuz. I want to see the basis of that statement.

[Update a while later]

“Although the risks involved in space exploration are apparent and subject to mitigation,
NASA cannot fully eliminate them.”

Someone should write a book about that. Oh, wait.

Musk Versus Bezos

Here’s the story on today’s announcement that ULA is teaming with Blue Origin to develop an RD-180 replacement. Thoughts anon.

[Update a while later, after the presser]

Clearly Jeff Bezos has declared war on Elon Musk. And ULA is showing how desperate it’s become. That’s what disruption looks like. More later, but I have to review our reply to Mann’s latest court filing. Speaking of which, I suspect that he regrets starting this hash tag.

[Update a while later]

Here’s Joel Achenbach’s take.

Over on Twitter, Trampoline Rocket is speculating that this is vaporware, like Amazon’s drones. He makes a pretty good case.

[Update a while later]

Here’s Alan Boyle’s take.

[Another update]

Aaaaaand, Aaron Mehta’s take.

Commercial Crew

There’s going to be an announcement at 4PM on NASA TV. Jay Barbree says it’s going to be Boeing and SpaceX. Which if true means two capsules, no wings.

[Update a while later]

Here‘s another similar report from the WaPo.

[Update a few minutes later]

Joel Achenbach has more, including the (bizarre, to me) part of the story about ULA getting a new engine for the Atlas from Blue Origin.

[Late-morning update]

OK, now James Dean is reporting that there will be two full awards, not “leader-follower.” I wonder if they have the money for that with a CR?

[Update just before noon]

Alex Brown has a story at National Journal. Annoyingly, everyone is calling them space “taxis” when, at least for NASA, it’s more of a rental-car model (if you insisted on a new car every time you rented). Also, everyone’s regurgitating NASA’s 2017 date. I’d at least note that SpaceX could possibly fly as early as next year, unless there is something else on the critical path than abort tests. Final point:

Boeing’s program is reported to be further along in its development goals.

I think that Pasztor story is BS. How can Boeing be in the lead when they haven’t even flown anything? I love this:

But people familiar with the process said Boeing, with its greater experience as a NASA contractor, appears to have become the favorite partly because it has met earlier development goals in the same program on time and on budget.

Everyone hits their budget. It’s a fixed-price contract. And who cares if they’re hitting program goals, if those are trivial goals (like design reviews)? How anyone can think that a paper vehicle is ahead of one that’s going to have its abort tests in the next few months?

[Update a few minutes before the announcement]

Here’s the link
.

[Update after the announcement]

Well, no surprises, except amounts. Here’s Eric Berger’s take.

[Update a while later]

Here is Jeff Foust’s story.

Don’t Go To Mars

David Attenborough takes a novel and courageous stand. Let’s “sort out life on earth, first.” [Paywall]

I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone make that argument before, except a lot of people, for decades.

“America? Let’s sort out life in Europe first.”

“Europe and Asia? Let’s sort out life in Africa, first.”

It’s obviously a mindless prescription for never settling new territory.