A Good Word For The Obama Administration

It’s taken months, but they’ve finally done something praiseworthy, and never let it be said that I don’t give credit where it’s due:

the US Department of Justice finally applied some brains to the medical marijuana issue [AP | Politico]. They’re going to stop prosecuting sick people who are complying with their states’ laws, and use those resources for real problems instead. Yes, those laws do get abused by doctors who hand out free passes. On the other hand, they also get used to sensible benefit by terminally ill people, and how mean and stupid can you be to prosecute them? So, at last we have 2 synapses and a neuron wired up in DoJ. They still reserve the right to go after people who are using those laws as a cover for large-scale trafficking or other serious illegal activities. Which is also smart.

Not that it’s worth all the other damage being done to the nation and our national security, and it doesn’t go far enough, as Joe notes. I just hope that the policy will continue under whatever administration is in charge in 2013.

Lunar Uncertainty

…and Google Lunar X-Prize. The latest Lurio Report is out (subscription only). There’s a lot of good stuff in there (as usual), but I found this interesting and it was a new thought, at least to me (partly because I don’t pay much attention to GLXP):

…under the alternative exploration scenarios developed by the the Augustine group, lunar exploration and services demand from the government could be far lower than that assumed by the Futron study.

I think that for the most part the Augustine commission did a landmark job.

But the story above shows what happens as long as the political class feels it has to keep paying off the existing interest groups in and out of NASA, burning bucks on developing and operating high-overhead (instead of high practicality) systems, such as the Shuttle-derived heavy booster that is evidently in the cards, as discussed in a section below. From outside “the system” the obvious question is: Why don’t we go all the other way instead? Why not spend such money on multiple COTS/CRS-like projects and R&D items such as fuel depots, so that we can create a really sustainable and expandable system for exploration and utilization?

Of course, I understand the practical politics, and yes, it’s far better to make _some_ progress towards commercialization even when that must be “balanced” by larger and wasteful “protection money.” Mr.
Griffin left us with an unworkable exploration framework and a NASA with fictitious utility. Even new policy that just commits to elements that both “push” and “pull” to enable new markets for human access to Earth orbit would be very valuable – it alone is worth the chance that adequate private funding for the GLXP _might_ not be possible.

But it’s lousy to be left with that chance (see my item in Vol. 4, No. 16, “Lunar Water and the Google Lunar X-Prize”). Perhaps a combination of increasing private lunar market potential but with a smaller degree of NASA interest could ameliorate the situation. After all, the much discussed ‘flexible path’ option from the Augustine panel – seemingly getting close White House attention – would involve a lot of robotic exploration elements, admittedly distributed more widely than a lunar focus.

Go subscribe, and read the whole thing.

Hurricane Fidel

Some thoughts from someone who I hope will be Florida’s next Senator (though I no longer live there), and not just because he’ll knock out the oleaginous Charlie Crist.

[Update a while later]

Come for the disaster preparedness, stay for the totalitarianism:

I’m probably hitting my head against the wall here but, again, why is it acceptable for a neverending stream of Democratic politicians to make the trek to Cuba and kiss Fidel’s ring? Does having free health care* excuse a lengthy history of dragooning dissidents and gay people into prisons? Just last month Juan Carlos Gonzalez Marcos got a two-year prison sentence for getting drunk and ranting to a film crew about how widespread hunger is on the island. Somehow I doubt a visit to his prison cell is on Nagin’s itinerary.

I suspect that if Mao were still alive, they’d be doing the same thing with him. But Castro’s the best they have these days, short of Kim Jung Il. And what would they have said if the mayor of (say) Detroit, had gone to Chile to get advice from Pinochet on recovering an economy? He did, after all, have a lot better record of that than Castro does with disasters. And of course, that was Pinochet’s real crime — disappearing his enemies was just standard procedure for dictators, and they never seemed to have a problem with it coming from people like Fidel. It’s only when the enemies being disappeared are leftists, opposing free markets in their own nation, or being disappeared by a regime that supports free markets, that it’s a problem.

The Heavy-Lift Elephant In The Room

The lack of resiliency of NASA’s transportation plans is a point that I’ve made often. For instance, in The Path Not Taken, five years ago, I wrote:

The chief problem with the Bush vision for NASA is not its technical approach, but its programmatic approach—or, at an even deeper level, its fundamental philosophy. This is not simply a Bush problem, but a NASA problem: When government takes an approach, it is an approach, not a variety of approaches. Proposals are invited, the potential contractors study and compete, the government evaluates, but ultimately, a single solution is chosen with a contractor to build it. There has been some talk of a “fly-off” for the Crew Exploration Vehicle, in which two competing designs will actually fly to determine which is the best. But in the end, there will still be only one. Likewise, if we decide to build a powerful new rocket, there will almost certainly be only one, since it will be enough of a challenge to get the funds for that one, let alone two.

Biologists teach us that monocultures are fragile. They are subject to catastrophic failure (think of the Irish potato famine). This is just as true with technological monocultures, and we’ve seen it twice now in the last two decades: after each shuttle accident, the U.S. manned spaceflight program was stalled for years. Without Russian assistance, we cannot presently reach our (one and only) space station, because our (one and only) way of getting to it has been shut down since the Columbia accident.

The lesson—not to put your eggs in one basket—hasn’t been learned. The Air Force is now talking about eliminating one of the two major rocket systems (either Boeing’s Delta or Lockheed Martin’s Atlas), because there’s not enough business to maintain both. The president’s new vision for space proposes a “Crew Exploration Vehicle” and a new heavy-lift vehicle. The same flawed thinking went into many discussions in the last decade about what the “shuttle replacement” should be.

And it’s not a new idea. As Ron Menich points out in today’s issue of The Space Review:

…the following wording appears as Groundrule A-1 in the Space Transportation Architecture Study (STAS) from the late 1980s:

“Viable architecture will be based on a mixed fleet concept for operational flexibility. As a minimum, two independent (different major subsystems) launch, upperstage and return to Earth (especially for manned missions) systems must be employed to provide assured access for the specific, high priority payloads designated in the mission model.”

The words “independent (different major subsystems)” can help us to see a value that international partners can provide in large space architectures. Soyuz was not grounded at the same time that the Shuttle fleet was after the Challenger and Columbia disasters, and a future failure of, say, a Progress resupply vehicle would likely have no effect on the HTV’s ability to supply the stations. The fact that different nations developed their own independent launch capabilities has had the happy side effect of increasing redundancy, even though the original motivations (such as political or national pride goals) for developing those separate systems were far removed from reliability considerations.

I worked on (and later managed) that study for Rockwell, which was kicked off (at least for Rockwell) on the day that Challenger was lost.

And about three months after the Challenger loss, there was a Titan-34D accident at Vandenberg (the second consecutive failure for that vehicle), which shut that program down as well, leaving the US with no heavy-lift capability for a period of time. So even dual redundancy isn’t always enough. So all through the eighties, on STAS, on Advanced Launch System, and other architecture studies, it was a groundrule that we have a mixed-fleet capability in any future plans.

But even though Ron’s article says nothing new, apparently the lesson remains unobvious and unknown to the people who planned Constellation. As they did with the requirements to be affordable and sustainable (and in fact having redundancy is one of the ways of making it sustainable), they completely ignored the need for redundancy in the design of the architecture, to the point that they didn’t even attempt to explain why their architecture didn’t have it. It’s in fact frustrating that this wasn’t an issue that even came up in Augustine deliberations. No one wants to talk about it, even though it’s the biggest Achilles Heel in space transportation, as evidence by the fact that once we shut down Shuttle, we’ll have no means of getting to ISS independent of the Russians (at least NASA won’t — SpaceX and ULA may be another matter). And the reason, I suspect, that no one wants to talk about it is that it is a fatal flaw in their plans, and one to which they have no sensible response. If people admitted that this is a requirement, it drives a stake through the heart of heavy lift, once and for all. At least, that is, until there is enough traffic to justify the cost of developing and operating not just one such vehicle, but two.

And of course, every day that they delay doing the sensible thing, and figuring out how to carry out their plans with the vehicles they have, is another day of delay in reaching that far-more-distant goal.

Another Good Thing About LA Living

Pippin apples. I could never find them in Florida, and they’re my favorite. Tart, crispy, and they make great pies. No need to add lemon. Or at least not as much. I’m munching on one as I type this.

Also, Bevmo. For years I’ve thought that there was a market for varietal apple juices and ciders. And lo and behold, this weekend I scored a six-pack of Granny Smith cider, 5% alcohol content. Better than beer for watching a fall football game.

A Benefit Of Being Back In LA

If I were still living in Boca Raton, I wouldn’t have been able to drive up to Hollywood (the one in California, not the one south of Fort Lauderdale — I could drive to that one whenever I wanted, but why bother?) last night for drinks and sushi with Iowahawk, Iowahawk female-confrere-in-hotrodding, and Armed Liberal at Yamashiro. The former looks just like his picture, except they don’t allow dogs in the restaurant, so he had to smoke something else in his pipe. It seemed to be pretty high-octane stuff. It would actually explain much of his output. He also turns out to be both a gentleman and a scholar. No pictures, though — the pipe is very shy. Beer and old fashioneds were consumed, politics was discussed, last year’s electorate and the current leadership of the country were bewailed, other bloggists who had the effrontery not to attend were gossiped about brutally.

A good time was had by all. And by “all,” I mean of course, at least me. It’s at least conceivable that my drunken table-top fandango-kabuki may have put off my table-partners and some of the other patrons.

But it seemed like a great idea at the time. This morning, with the cat stomping around? Not so much.

[Update mid-morning]

I suppose that I should put out a standard disclaimer: The descriptions of some of the events and people in this post may have a truth value of somewhat less than unity. It is (sort of) an Iowahawk post, after all. Let’s just call it fake but accurate. If it’s not true it should be, and anyone who didn’t have a good time didn’t deserve to. That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.

Damn The Torpedoes

The glorious thing about the three-way race for New York’s 23rd district congressional seat next month is, who actually gets elected just massively doesn’t matter. Recent polls have the Dem at 33%, the Republican establishment candidate at 29%, and the insurgent Conservative at 23%. There’s a real chance this insurgency could throw the election to the Dem – and it doesn’t matter. Liberal Dem, squish Republican, or Tea-Party Conservative, the winner will make zero difference in Nancy Pelosi’s control of the House of Representatives through the end of 2010. At which point, the NY-23 seat will be up for another election right along with the rest of the House.

Tea-Party fiscal conservatives can back Doug Hoffman, the NY Conservative Party candidate, Admiral Farragut-style (“Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead”) with nothing to lose and everything to gain. If Dem Bill Owens ends up winning with 34% of the vote while Republican Dede “I’d have voted for the Stimulus Bill” Scozzafava and Hoffman each get 33%, the usual suspects will no doubt tout it as a triumphant endorsement of Obamanomics. 66% of the local voters, and we, will know better. And whether their handpicked squish loses or just barely squeaks in, Republican establishments across the country will have to think a lot harder than their people in NY-23 did about coming up with candidates for November 2010 acceptable to those damn Tea-Party troublemakers.

[Update a few minutes later]

A message from Doug Hoffman.

A Tale of Two Sound Bites

Thoughts on “racist” Rush Limbaugh, and Maoist Anita Dunn.

[Saturday morning update]

Now we know why he passed on the Dalai Lama.

By the way, there’s nothing new about this, folks, for anyone who has been paying attention. Despite all the desperate attempts to disavow his relationship with Mike Klonsky, a Maoist so devout that he split with the Chinese after they became insufficiently devoted to the cause of the Great Leap Forward and other monstrosities, it remains.

[Saturday evening update]

The Maoist explains. But not very well.

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