10 thoughts on “Half A Century Of Americans In Orbit”

  1. My piece is up now.

    Although not a manned spacecraft, I thought X-37B was worthy of mention if only to demonstrate that runway recovery hasn’t totally been abandoned.

  2. Good article Rand, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    And the Tietel article sure brought back a lot of memories. It’s just so hard to think that it all happened 50 bloody years ago! I can’t possibly be THIS old.

    Rand I’ve said here before that I’m a Heinlein guy. I always wondered, why we didn’t have a D.D. Harriman in U.S. private space. There may be in YOUR mind, but I’m a space ‘spectator’, for lack of a better term.

    I think we need a Steve Jobs / Bill Gates type character, for private space to get into the American ‘mind’ again. There may be one, but average Americans don’t know who it is. I think the MSM tried to put Richard Branson out there as THE guy, THE non-gov’t, privateer guy who would open up space to the masses.

    But most Americans don’t go looking for heroes or leaders whose name is SIR something or other. Americans need a guy, oddly enough, named Steve or Bill, or Gus, or Buzz, or Deke, or something that sounds like everyman.

    To bad nobody got John Glenn to push for private space years ago. We’d be on Mars by now IF Americans thought there was a dime to be made. But the bill of goods is that ‘space’ is for ‘science’.

    1. There were two great roadblocks to development of manned spaceflight in the late 20th century. The first was the Cold War, which made development of every launch vehicle a national security issue and thus not amenable to the normal process of entrepreneurial development while also causing an enormous brain drain on aerospace talent. The second was the Shuttle system, which was another sort of brain, money, and interest drain, keeping a lot of wheels spinning without actually advancing the state of the art much.

      1. You’re right. There are ITAR restrictions (a space booster can also be the basis for a long range missile) to consider. There’s also the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 which makes the launching country liable for damages caused by an errant space launch. That means the government of the launching country has a say-so in who gets to launch what.

        On a somewhat related note, we all know that increasing the launch rate is vital to lowering costs. One limitation on the launch rate from the US are our antiquated Eastern and Western Launch Ranges. It can take days to turn around from one launch to the next with the current systems. Until they fix that problem, it’ll be hard to launch more than a few times a week at most. There are alternative range architectures that would get rid of these limitations but the funding is limited and the people who run the ranges are extremely conservative.

        1. Launch range is a big issue that only private companies will address once they can afford to. Don’t be surprised if they start popping up all over the place this next decade.

          1. Until the day comes that we can launch over land safely (full recovery of stages like what SpaceX is proposing), the launch sites from the US will be limited. On the east coast, we have the Cape and Wallops Island. Out west, there’s Vandenberg, Alaska and Kwajelein. All of those sites use either the Eastern or Western Test Range and those ranges are under control of the Air Force. They’ve talked for years about upgrading the ranges to support operationally responsive space but very little has happened. The unresponsive nature of the ETR is highlighted in this story about the rescheduled Atlas V launch set for Friday. Until the ranges are reworked, we’re unlikely to have more than 2-3 launch opportunites per week.

    2. Some reasons the D.D. Harriman plan won’t work today:
      – The legal environment that allowed D.D. Harriman to buy the moon doesn’t exist today.
      – Nuclear rockets, as used in the book, are out of the question for legal related reasons.
      – Refitting a “mail rocket” to get to the moon isn’t viable, even assuming nuclear engines are an option.

      There are ideas for making a profit in space, but so far the cost of getting there seems to eat all the likely profit. Communication and earth observation satellites are the only exception I know of.

  3. When you look back at Mercury it seems like with todays production methods and advanced alloys/materials the “capsule” would be the easy part. Rocket engines haven’t changed a whole lot and controlling them still seems difficult. Valve and solenoid mechanics haven’t changed much in 100 years.

    1. I used to think that simple, cheap, tourist sub-orbital and orbital rides could be done with modest upgrades to Mercury or Gemini spacecraft designs.

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