Inside Space-Activist Baseball

Terry Savage, a long-time space activist (and friend of three decades) is running to renew his term on the National Space Society board of directors. Here is his campaign statement, at his blog.

I link it because I find a strange cognitive dissonance within it:

Like any entity, NSS has limited resources, and the rules of “opportunity cost” apply. Any resources we invest in one activity, are not available for other activities. From my personal perspective, there is only one mission for the society that really matters: minimizing the time from this moment to the creation of thriving human communities in space. Space settlement. Space industrialization is essential to that result, as are many other supporting activities, but at the end of the day, space settlement is the bottom line. All activities should be tested against how well they support that core objective.

The problem isn’t primarily technological. Humanity is capable, right now, of creating self-sustaining human settlements in space. We simply choose not to do so.

On this note, I’ll say explicitly that the Obama proposal for NASA is a barely mitigated disaster. It has some good elements, like the emphasis on private sector development, but it has no clear focus of ANY KIND for the American manned space program. As a practical matter, Obama is proposing to kill the American manned space program. I think that’s wrong for the country, and I don’t like it.

There is a contrast between grafs one and three. Graf one is great — it matches up with the Space Frontier Foundation’s “Frontier Enabling Test,” (which, ironically, is not part of the NSS, but rather, part of the Space Frontier Foundation, which arose from the ashes of the L-5 Society/NSI merger, after the L-5ers realized that they’d been absorbed into the NASA-lobbying borg).

But the new policy meets that test much better than the previous one. There was little or no hope that Constellation would have opened up the frontier, even if fully funded. This is something that NSS generally, and Terry specifically, have never really understood. There is no plausible path from NASA’s “NASA uber alles” policy, in which billions are spent to send a few astronauts to a planet for some vague purpose, and space settlement. But NSS continually (despite occasional refreshing support for private activities) supports whatever NASA wants to do.

Well, until now, anyway. Which is doubly surprising and ironic, given that the people who came up with the new policy are former heads of NSS, including the Deputy Administrator, who said just last week:

Defending NASA’s new plans on both charges was deputy administrator Lori Garver. “We plan to transform our relationship with the private sector as part of our nation’s new strategy with the ultimate goal of expanding human presence across the solar system,” she said in a luncheon speech at the conference Thursday. “So don’t be fooled by those who say we have no goal. That is the goal.”

Turning to the private sector to launch both cargo and crews to LEO, she continued, actually lowered the risk to the agency in the long run by keeping it from relying on a single system for human access to orbit. “We will diversify our risk by funding a portfolio of highly-qualified competitors instead of a high-risk approach in which we fund only one system,” she said. “We’re going to see the most exciting space race that NASA’s seen in a long time, and there’s likely to be more than one winner.”

Does this sound like a policy to “kill the American manned space program”?

If so, I think that Terry owes an explanation of why, to NSS members he expects to vote for him, other than a belief in the Apollo Cargo Cult.

60 thoughts on “Inside Space-Activist Baseball”

  1. Don’t assign me opinions, Edward. I do not believe now, nor did I believe then, that multi-lobe composite tanks are a good idea. And this might surprise you–neither did the engineers of Lockheed. Chew on that one.

  2. Kirk, since you fail to specify what materials and structures you’re talking about, your statements are nonverifiable, hence meaningless.

    Venturestar had flaws that any freshman engineer should have recognized.

    It’s been said that a careful engineer never claims something is “impossible.” He simply says he doesn’t see a way to do it.

    You, on the other hand, tell us that everything is impossible if Kirk Sorenson doesn’t know how to do it.

    Also, X-33 was not SSTO. You didn’t fail to build an SSTO, you failed to build a Single Stage to Montana.

  3. Well, good for you, Ed, you saw so clearly when others didn’t. Go give yourself another pat on the back. And then another one for thinking up that “careful engineers…” line.

    Why didn’t NASA listen to you?

    I’m not sure who Kirk Sorenson is, but my opinion is that SSTO is impossible. Since you don’t value my opinion, why do you bother debating it? Leave me to be a “troll” or a “careless engineer” or whatever throwaway perjorative comes to your mind.

    I guess you assign the “imperial you” to me and ALL of the other engineers who worked on X-33. Thanks.

  4. please tell me if you a) believe that an asteroid diversion mission should be manned,

    Only if you want to have a reasonable chance of dealing with unexpected variables and having mission success.

  5. Kirk Sorensen wrote: “Pete, the physics I know are the ones based on a planet with a gravitational parameter of 398600 km3/s2 and a maximum vacuum Isp based on LOX/LH2 of 450-460 sec. Those preclude SSTO.”

    The rocket equation does actually mean something, and in the real world, clever engineers do actually have some latitude to fool around with mass fractions. While apparently impossible now, near SSTO performance was demonstrated around fifty years ago…

    As an engineer you should presumably know enough science not to assert the proof of a negative. What else are you seemingly wrong about?

  6. Kirk

    [[[Funding all three vehicles would have led to three failures to achieve SSTO instead of one.]]]

    All three were designed to be suborbital, but the data generated would have highlighted just what the barriers to a SSTO were and where the focus needs to be to create one, something people are still guessing at and arguing over. It would have also been valuable data for building a TSTO as a true Shuttle replacement.

    In addition, the test vehicles would have provided the technology to build some solid vehicles for the sub-orbital science/educational market which is where the operational breakthroughs are likely to be developed first for reliable orbital RLVs.

  7. We have a local author in Phoenix that wrote a book about the DC-X. I had a signed first edition that my brother dropped in a puddle of water overnight (how he found a puddle in Phoenix…) The author asserts that the clipper itself was a complete success, demonstrating all they expected of it and more (despite accidents.)

    Kirk, you appear to be asserting that the mass fraction required for SSTO is at or above 100% or so close it doesn’t matter. If not, I don’t see how you can claim it can’t be done. The author was very explicit that the X-33 was not the vehicle the DC-X folks intended to build.

    I don’t know what all the merits or flaws of your sub idea might be, but one problem I see is would we have the foresight to build them before we needed them (assuming existing subs would be less than satisfactory as an ark.) With space, we are at least moving in a forward direction (agonizingly slow, but still forward) including looking at deflection of objects so the possibility is we may be prepared (I’m not taking bets.)

    I hesitate to pile on, but you seem able to defend yourself.

  8. Yeah, I read the book, it’s called “Halfway to Anywhere” by Harry Stine. I read it before, after, and another time since my involvement with X-33, with more and more perspective each time. It’s good hearted but “fanboy” at its heart. And it doesn’t change the fact that neither the MacDac X-33 design, nor their “original” DC-Y design, nor their purported “RLV” design, would have achieved SSTO.

  9. Settling engineers in LEO to do research on space technologies has to be one of the least-cost-effective ideas (by several orders of magnitude) that I’ve ever heard of.
    I’m with you.

    And if someone had proposed such a thing, it might be worth complaining about. But they didn’t, so it’s not.

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