Making History

I’m not a big fan of Lindsey Graham, but once in a while he’s not a total waste of oxygen:

One would have thought that Holder would have been prepared for this obvious question. That he wasn’t just shows what an incompetent, political hack he really is.

[Update a few minutes later]

Andy McCarthy, the anti-Holder, expands on the subject:

The lawyer’s stock in trade is precedent. Whether you’re a prosecutor or any other lawyer faced with a policy question, the first thing you want to know is what the law says on the subject: Has this come up before? Are there prior cases on point? What have the courts had to say? Those are the first-order questions — always.

…How could Holder possibly not know the answer to this fundamental question — how could he, in fact, be stumped by it. If he studied and agonized over this decision as he says he did, this would have been the first issue he’d have considered: the fact that there was no legal precedent for what he wanted to do. Or, put another way, if there was a single case that supported Holder’s decision, it would have been the only case we’d have been hearing about — from DOJ, the academy, and the media — for the last ten months.

Hack. The country’s in the very best of hands.

[Update a few minutes later]

The insanity grows. Senator Leahy says it’s OK, we don’t need to interrogate bin Laden.

The Suborbital Refueling Dance

Jon Goff has an interesting variation on a concept that’s been around for a long time, but never implemented: refueling a suborbital vehicle in space to allow it to get to orbit. It’s in between Black Horse, which did an aerial fueling (or rather, oxidizing, since the propellant transferred was the oxidizer rather than the fuel), and standard orbital refueling. There’s an up side and a down side to it, relative to aerial refueling.

The down side is that unless the suborbital trajectory is fairly high, at least in velocity, you don’t have a lot of time for the operations before entering the atmosphere. You’d only have a few minutes, but that might be enough to transfer several thousand pounds of propellants. You’d have a trade as to whether to transfer just fuel, or just oxidizer or both. The latter would increase the likelihood of failure, since you’d have to mate two transfer booms, and simultaneously transfer two fluids.

The up side is that, out of the atmosphere, it’s easier and safer to fly in formation, because there are no wind gusts to worry about, and the physics is much more predictable (gravity doesn’t tend to vary much over non-astronomical times).

In a sane world, NASA would have long ago built an X-vehicle to prove out the concept, but that’s not the world in which we live. What I’d like to see is a prize for the first demonstration of such a propellant transfer operation, which all of the suborbital folks – Scaled (or VG), XCOR, Masten or Armadillo or others — could go after. You could have tiers of total propellant transferred, or total propellant transferred in a given time.

The other appealing thing about it is that, as Jon notes, it has benign abort characteristics. Which brings to mind another prize that NASA could offer (again, in a sane world). If reliability is really valued (the focus on heavy lift in general, and Ares in particular, would indicate that it’s not particularly, despite the advertisements), like low cost, it will only be achieved through high flight rates, and no one will really believe it until it’s been demonstrated. Fortunately, reusable suborbital vehicles are capable of lots of flights for low marginal cost per flight. So all they need is funding to do lots of flights. I would propose a prize for a consecutive number of successful deliveries to orbit (you could even start off with suborbital missions). Or, rather, consecutive number of non-failures, where failure is defined as losing the payload. In other words, you wouldn’t be penalized for an intact abort. The prize would be won when the requisite number of missions were flown with no losses. Abort rate could be a tie breaker for multiple winners.

If you wanted to have a demonstrated reliability (defined as non-payload loss, not mission success) of 0.999, you’d have to fly a thousand flights. If the marginal cost of a suborbital flight is, say, $10K, this would cost ten million, about the same as the X-Prize. So offer a fifty-million dollar prize, and see who goes for it. Once that’s won, offer half a billion for orbital.

The Latest Smear On Space Tourism

Clark Lindsey responds.

[Update a while later]

You know, when supposed captains of the European space industry are both able and willing to submit such an ignorant and illogical piece to a major industry publication, and it’s willing to run it, it tells us something about how screwed up that industry is, and explains why we’ve made so little progress in opening up space after over half a century.

George W. Hoover

Ilya Somin says that George Bush should, finally, stop giving a bad name to free markets:

Bush’s belated support for free markets follows in Hoover’s footsteps. After leaving office in 1933, Hoover wrote books and articles defending free markets and criticizing the Democrats’ New Deal. Some of his criticisms of FDR were well-taken. Many New Deal policies actually worsened and prolonged the Great Depression by organizing cartels and increasing unemployment. But by coming out as a free market advocate, the post-presidential Hoover actually bolstered the cause of interventionism because he helped cement the incorrect impression that he had pursued free market policies while in office, thereby causing the Depression. Bush’s post-presidential conversion creates a similar risk: it could solidify the already widespread impression that he, like the Hoover of myth, pursued laissez-faire policies which then caused an economic crisis.

What should Bush now do if he genuinely wants to help the free market cause? The best thing would be to take up economist David Henderson’s half-joking suggestion that he “express his regret at nationalizing airport safety, carrying out illegal surveillance of U.S. citizens, raiding medical marijuana clinics, bailing out General Motors, AIG and other companies, and socializing prescription drugs for the elderly [the biggest new government program from the 1960s until the present financial crisis].” Bush could also point out that he advocated an ideology of “compassionate conservatism” that included vastly expanded government, and an “ownership society” that (in his own words) involved “us[ing] the mighty muscle of the federal government” to incentivize dubious mortgages of the kind that helped cause the financial collapse of 2008. The greatest contribution Bush can now make to free market policies is to dispel the impression that he pursued them while in office.

Unfortunately, as Somin points out, the likelihood that he will admit his perfidy to markets, or the disastrous nature of many of his domestic policies, is pretty low, so the best thing he can do for free markets now is to just shut up.

Political Trouble Brewing

for the Donkeys:

A Gallup Poll released last week offered a disturbing glimpse about the state of play: just 14 percent of independents approve of the job Congress is doing, the lowest figure all year. In just the past few days alone, surveys have shown Democratic incumbents trailing Republicans among independent voters by double-digit margins in competitive statewide contests in places as varied as Connecticut, Ohio and Iowa.

Obama’s own popularity among independents has fallen significantly, too. A CBS News poll Tuesday showed the president’s approval rating among unaligned voters falling to 45 percent — down from 63 percent in April.

The marks are finally catching on to the game. But this was the part I found most interesting:

Michael Dimock, a pollster for the Pew Research Center — which reported in a new survey that only 45 percent of independents want their own representative to return to Congress — also believes Democrats have suffered for their inability to move the ball on key agenda items such as health care.

Emphasis mine. Usually, people say they hate Congress, but think their own representative isn’t like the rest of the bums to be thrown out. When they say they want to replace even their own, there’s a revolution in the making, and it won’t be a happy one for the majority party. And as for the nonsense that Demos are “suffering for their inability to move the ball on key agenda items such as healthcare,” no. They are suffering because they’re overreaching on those items. But I hope they continue to believe this fantasy. It will make the blowback all the greater a year from now.

[Afternoon update]

When reality catches up with rhetoric:

We are left with two conclusions. 1) A very inexperienced president has discovered that all the easy, Manichean campaign rhetoric of 2008 does not translate well into actual governance. 2) Obama is in a race to push a rather radical, polarizing agenda down the throat of a center-right country before the country wakes up and his approval ratings hit 40 percent.

We may see one of two things happen: Either the country will move more to the left in four years than it has in the last 50; or Obama will take down with him both the Democratic Congress and the very notion of responsible liberal governance, thereby achieving a Jimmy Carter–type legacy.

My money’s on number two.

Prepare To Be Shocked To Your Core

Bob Zubrin is poo pooing the LCROSS lunar water findings:

While the results obtained from the LCROSS mission are of some scientific interest, it needs to be understood that the amount of water discovered was extremely small. The 30 m crater ejected by the probe contained 10 million kilograms of regolith. Within this ejecta, an estimated 100 kg of water was detected. That represents a proportion of 10 parts per million, which is a lower water concentration than that found in the soil of the driest deserts of the Earth. In contrast, we have found continent sized regions on Mars, which are 600,000 parts per million, or 60% water by weight.

…For the coming age of space exploration, Mars compares to the Moon as North America compared to Greenland in the previous age of maritime exploration. Greenland was closer to Europe, and Europeans reached it first, but it was too barren to sustain substantial permanent settlement. In contrast, North America was a place where a new branch of human civilization could be born. The Moon is a barren island in the ocean of space; Mars is a New World. Mars is where the challenge is, it is where the science is, it is where the future is. That is why Mars should be our goal.

Let’s ignore the fact that NASA disagrees that the moon is drier than earth’s driest deserts, in light of the latest findings. As Michael Turner notes in comments, the problem with that analogy is that there is a huge difference in travel time and expense between the moon and Mars, whereas they were essentially equivalent between Greenland and the rest of North America, in terms of the technology required to get there.

Is there more water, easier to process on Mars than on the moon? Sure, as long as you’re on Mars. Therein lies the rub. This sort of reminds me of the old joke about the guy searching for his car keys in the street at night. Someone walks up and asks if he can help. “Where did you lose them?” “A couple blocks over that way.” “Well, why are you looking here?” “There’s better light.” I say sort of, because it’s not clear what are the keys and what is the light in this analogy.

Anyway, if we can use lunar water to facilitate trips to Mars, isn’t that a desirable goal? Not to Bob, who wants to go Right Now, which would be fine if he were doing it with his own money. He understandably fears that lunar activities will prove a diversion from The One True Goal, in both money and time, as ISS has. But whether or not that would be the case is a function of the reason for the lunar base. If its focus is on utilizing resources (and indeed, if it has a focus, which iSS never did, other than as a jobs program for NASA and later the Russians), there is no need for it to be a diversion — it could in fact be a major stepping stone to not just Mars but the entire solar system. On the other hand, the way that NASA currently plans to get back to the moon (the “Program of Record”) would almost certainly bear out Bob’s worst fears. But the argument shouldn’t be about destinational priorities; it should be about the most cost-effective means of developing the capability to affordably go wherever we want.

A Vision Of The Future In Space

In comments over at Space Politics, “Ray” responds to the Ares boosters over there (who are hilarious in their blind adulation of the program, or would be were it not so sad — as I say over there, they haven’t just drunk the kool aid, but are snorkeling around in an Olympic-sized pool of it):

Kaylyn63: “…fasten your seatbelt and hang on for the ride Ares is going to give the United States”

Ares has already taken the United States on quite a ride, so I can only imagine what’s next:

– ISS science and engineering cut beyond the bone
– ISS dumped in the ocean in 2015
– Ares 1 delivered in 2017 – 2019 to service the long-gone ISS
– huge commercial space opportunities lost for U.S. industry
– NASA Aeronautics vanished
– Planetary science robotics, including missions to scout human spaceflight destinations, fading to a shadow
– NASA research, development, and technology demonstration work cut and limited to Ares investigations
– NASA Earth science missions few and far between
– Ares V delivered in 2030, but no budget to put anything on it
– EELVs, Falcons, and Taurus II greatly underutilized (and thus more expensive per launch than necessary) by the loss of commercial crew transport to LEO, fuel launches, early destruction of the ISS, and lack of budget to launch robotic missions – resulting in U.S. launch industry not being competitive in the global marketplace

Thanks, Ares!

So speaketh the ghost of Christmas future. If the goal was to destroy most of the useful things that NASA is, and could be doing, then perhaps it is the “Invention of the Year” after all. It has managed to accomplish much along those lines already, even though it won’t fly for years…

The frightening thing is that Chairwoman Giffords has bought into the hype as well. Of course, she has sort of a conflict of interest, in that she’s married into NASA.

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!