How Risky Are The Russians?

Some thoughts from Jim Oberg.

This slow-motion policy train wreck has been going on for years. Decades, in fact. We knew back in 1986 that we needed a more robust transportation architecture, but we trusted NASA to fix it when it just wasn’t up to the job, and never will be. Jobs have always been more important than space, and that will remain the case until space becomes important again, as it was briefly in the early sixties. The only way out is to promote competition and market development in the private sector, which is finally starting to happen with the new policy, if Congress doesn’t screw it up (again). What is so frustrating is that if we’d had sensible plans for the VSE five years ago, and Bush hadn’t allowed Mike Griffin to copulate with the chihuahua for this past half decade, we’d be very close to not having a gap at all.

[Update a while later]

In that two-year-old PJM piece that I linked last night, I just noticed this bit of prescience:

In hindsight, if the goal of Apollo had been to open up the space frontier, rather than a crash program to send half a dozen astronauts to the lunar surface, it would have been better to state as a goal that we would establish an affordable and sustainable transportation infrastructure to and from the moon. As it happens, that was in fact what George W. Bush proposed four and a half years ago in the Vision for Space Exploration, but NASA apparently missed the memo. But that never was the goal of Apollo. The goal of Apollo was to simply prove that a democratic socialist state enterprise was technologically superior to a totalitarian one. Once we had beaten the Soviets to the moon, it was mission accomplished, and no need to go back. The remaining missions after Apollo XI were simply programmatic inertia, using up the hardware after the production was shut down in 1967, when it became clear that we were going to win.

The problem was that, as already noted, Apollo cost a lot of money. So much so that after landing only six crews, we flew the last mission thirty-six years ago, and shelved the technology that enabled us to achieve it, because it wasn’t providing an economic return commensurate with the cost to the taxpayer. In fact, it spurred a new use of the phrase among frustrated space enthusiasts. Since 1972, they’ve been able to ask “If we can send a man to the moon, why can’t we send a man to the moon?” The answer is that we couldn’t afford to continue to do so, at least not the way we’d been doing it (which is a reason why NASA’s plan to redo Apollo, pretty much the same way, will likely not be sustainable, either). To use Apollo as a model for the provision of our most vital commodity — energy — would be economically ruinous.

Emphasis mine. Did I call it, or what?

Sorry, It’s Not The Manhattan Project

…or Apollo. I suffered through the president’s speech so you don’t have to.

The most egregious part of it was when he compared energy independence to Apollo. Here’s my response from the campaign:

He’s never met a problem that, in his mind, the “full power of the government” can’t solve.

It’s an understandable appeal, but it betrays a certain lack of understanding of the problem to think that we will solve it with a crash federal program, at least if it’s one modelled on Apollo.

Putting a man on the moon was a remarkable achievement, but it was a straightforward well-defined engineering challenge, and a problem susceptible to having huge bales of money thrown at it, which is exactly how it was done. At its height, the Apollo program consumed four percent of the federal budget (NASA is currently much less than one percent, and has been for many years). Considering how much larger the federal budget is today, with the addition and growth of many federal programs over the past forty years makes the amount of money spent on the endeavor even more remarkable.

But most of the other problems for which people have pled for a solution, using Apollo as an example, were, and are, less amenable to being solved by a massive public expenditure. We may in fact cure cancer, and have made great strides over the past four decades in doing so, but it’s a different kind of problem, involving science and research on the most complex machine ever built — the human body. It isn’t a problem for which one can simply set a goal and time table and put the engineers to work on it, as Apollo was. Similarly, ending world hunger and achieving world peace are socio-political problems, not technological ones (though technology has made great strides in improving food production, which makes the problem easier to solve for governments that are competent and not corrupt). So most of the uses of the phrase never really made much sense, often being non sequiturs.

It’s important to understand that landing a man on the moon (or developing atomic weaponry as in the Manhattan Project — another example used by proponents of a new federal energy program) was a technological achievement. Achieving “energy independence,” or ending the use of fossil fuels, are economic ones. And the former is not necessarily even a desirable goal, if by that one means only getting energy from domestic sources. Energy is, and should remain, part of the global economy and trade system if we want to continue to keep prices as low as possible and continue to provide economic growth.

Nothing has changed. My commentary remains true today.

[Wednesday morning update]

If we can put a man on the moon, why can’t we stop the leak, Mr. President? That’s a much better Apollo analogy.

But Don’t Call Them Fascists

Ed Schulz says that the president should act like a dictator tonight. Does he mean that Obama should be “the decider”?

[Update a while later]

This seems related somehow:

Remember, there are Americans who believe that if you run into your congressman and ask him a question, the congressman has a right to not merely hit you in response, but to have you arrested. And their vote counts every bit as much as yours.

Not that it’s an excuse, but it looked to me in that video like Etheridge was at least two sheets to the wind, with a third coming loose.

[Update a couple minutes later]

Oh, and no need to play Name That Party! They just lie about it. Because obviously, only Republicans are violent and have scandals.

Clueless In London

Giles Whittell had a misanalysis of the US space program at the Times of London yesterday (registration required):

President Obama is nothing if not rational. He came to office facing the collapse of the US economy and has since ordered a freeze on discretionary non-security spending. He has ring-fenced his education budget, committed the Treasury to paying $1 trillion (£690 billion) over ten years on health insurance subsidies, and still has two wars to fund. In the circumstances, Nasa’s quixotic lunge toward Mars with a “new generation” of distinctly old-fashioned rockets looked vulnerable at best. If Mr Obama has his way, it will be doomed.

I would dispute the assessment of the president’s rationality, but NASA (why can’t the Brits learn to capitalize acronyms?) wasn’t making a “lunge toward Mars,” quixotically or otherwise. It wasn’t even making a “lunge” toward the moon. It was more of a slow crawl, unlikely to ever get there. And it was a smart decision, regardless of the economic environment. No matter how wealthy we are as a nation, it would be foolish to spend tens of billions on so little capability as Constellation offered when we could have much more for much less, and much sooner.

The last graf doesn’t make much sense, either:

There are stronger strategic arguments for maintaining America’s lead beyond Earth’s orbit. If it steps back, China will become the world’s dominant space-faring nation and its goals there remain unclear. Mr Obama understands this. He also knows that the idea of journeying to the next frontier retains a powerful hold on the American psyche, which is why he claims that his plan to outsource research and development for new propulsion technologies will lead eventually to Mars. Yet the frail US economy leaves his hands tied. For at least ten years American astronauts will fly to space in Russian capsules, or not at all — because American consumers borrowed too much for their houses.

It’s not clear who would be the dominant space-faring nation if we were to truly “step back,” (in reality, by any sensible understanding of the phrase, there are no space-faring nations on this planet, and there never have been). China is certainly in no hurry to go anywhere, at their current pace, and the Russians remain far ahead of them. But as I noted in a comment over there, the notion that it will take ten years to put a capsule on a Delta or Atlas, or to get Dragon ready for crew, is a ludicrous one. And it was going to be at least seven years before Ares/Orion would be ready (for a cost of at least a billion dollars a launch, a point that the defenders repeatedly ignore).

Anyway, as a result of the shoddy reporting, Daffyd Ab Hugh (is that a pseudonym?) has an uninformed Anti-Obama rant over at Hot Air:

…it’s hardly a surprise that Barack H. Obama is in the process of killing the Constellation program proposed by (of course) President George W. Bush to return human beings, Americans, to the Moon, this time to stay; to explore lunar science and geology, investigate the origins of our solar system, and exploit the vast mineralogical, energy, and environmental resources found on our nearest neighboring planet.

No, it’s not a surprise to anyone who read the Augustine Report (and particularly to those who read between the lines) — the program was a disaster. But it wasn’t proposed by George Bush, and that’s not why it’s being cancelled. Bush proposed the Vision for Space Exploration, which survives in much better shape than it did under Constellation (with the exception of an explicit goal of moon first). Constellation was Mike Griffin’s deformed brain child.

And in quoting Congressman Bishop, he fails to note that he is the Congressman from ATK, whose oxen is most severely gored by the Constellation cancellation — the SRBs are built in his district.

I actually agree with the criticism of the president’s indifference to (and ignorance, perhaps even loathing of) American exceptionalism, but there are many better pieces of evidence for it than finally fixing a screwed- up space policy. I might email Ed Morrissey to see if I can get space for a rebuttal.

Computer Problems

OK, so I decided to upgrade my video card in my Fedora 11 box. But when I fire it up, it won’t load X, or even boot. I look up what to do, and the instructions seem to say to install the latest Ndivia video drivers. So I put the old card back in and do so. Still no joy. So I put the old card back in, and this time it won’t even boot with the old card.

OK, so I have to somehow undo what I’ve done. But I can’t boot the machine.

Here is the problem. The machine pays no attention to keyboard commands during boot (e.g., I cannot get into the BIOS with DEL.) Which means that I can’t tell it to boot at a lower level to bypass X. In other words, I cannot boot.

Well, OK. So I burn a DVD of Fedora 13, and figure I’ll just rescue and upgrade at the same time.

But the Fedora DVD doesn’t recognize my keyboard either, until after it gets into the upgrade process, so I can’t just do a rescue. So I go ahead and upgrade. It says all the packages are installed, and reboot. I reboot, and it still can’t boot, because apparently the upgrade didn’t fix the video problem. And because I don’t have keyboard at boot, or even DVD initialization, I still can’t boot into terminal mode to fix the problem. I tried loading Knoppix, but I can’t figure out how to use it to see the Fedora drive. When I try to mount the drive, it says it doesn’t recognize the lpm2vp filesystem type.

Does anyone have any suggestions?

[Tuesday morning update]

OK, I’m updating from the machine using Knoppix, and I’ve mounted the drive. Now I just have to see if I can figure out what to do to fix it. Ideally, I’d uninstall the drivers that I installed, but I don’t have yum available in this mode, so I’m going to see if blacklisting Nouveau will fix it.

[Update a couple minutes later]

Dang. Nouveau is already blacklisted (it must have happened automagically when I installed the Nvidia drivers). Now I don’t know what to do to fix the problem.

[Update early afternoon]

OK, so I can boot into runlevel 3. I can’t bring up eth0 (it says that the device is not managed by NetworkManager — Google provides no clue as to what the problem could be), so I have no network connectivity with the box. When I telinit 5, it tells me that it’s disabled the nvidia drivers because it’s missing the nividia.ko for the new Fedora 13 kernel. The default driver in xorg.conf is vesa. As it continues to try to get to runlevel 5, it flashes a few times, but then quits. And the last line it displays is “Starting NMB services” which is says failed. It then just sits there until I ctrl-C out of the attempt, at which point I’m back to runlevel 3.

Any ideas?

[Update a few minutes later]

Well, the good news is that the machine is bootable, so in the last resort I can just back up /home and do a clean install.

[Update a few minutes later]

Hoorah! I stopped NetworkManager, and brought up eth0, and I now have an ssh connection to the machine from my laptop, so I have a place to back up. Though I’m starting to think that I should just go out and buy a new drive for a clean install, and then copy files over to it, and use the old drive for a mirror.

[Update a few minutes later]

OK, I removed akmod-nvidia, but I still get the same behavior when trying to telinit 5, and it still hangs at “Starting NMB services.”

[Update a while later]

Success! Almost. I reinstalled the nvidia drivers, following the instructions for Fedora 13, including editing grub.conf to blacklist nouveau. Then I shut down, put in the new video card, and rebooted. This time, when I telinited 5, it finally came up. The only problem now is that the screen isn’t displaying fully (that is, there is an inch of so of black on each side and a half inch top and bottom on my 22: LG monitor). Also, the highest resolution available from screen preferences is 1280 x 1024 (and I’m actually using 1280 x 720 to better match my screen ratio). I’m looking at the monitor manual to see if there’s anything I can do to enlarge the display, but I may also have to hack the X config file to get higher res. I assume that I can now reset the default to boot into level 5.

If Abolishing the Department Of Education Is Extreme

…then call me an extremist, too.

And extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

[Update a few minutes later]

An Office of the Repealer?

Bring it on, Senator. In fact, that’s a job I wouldn’t mind having.

Interestingly, Brownback is one of the few Republicans to have expressed support for the president’s new space plan. Probably because he asked Pete Worden’s advice.

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!