The Coming Train Wreck

…for commercial space. A warning from Wayne Hale:

NASA at its highest leadership level has committed to try to allow commercial space flight providers a great deal of flexibility and cost control. There are ways to do this which will not compromise safety in design or operation. But having NASA civil servants as the arbiters of whether or not thousands of requirements have been satisfied is not the way to accomplish neither safety nor cost efficiency.

So whether Commercial Space Flight gets $6 billion or $3 billion or $50 million, the entire effort is on the way to a train wreck.

NASA must change or this effort will fail.

No doubt. Part of the point of the new policy was to get NASA to change, but it’s going to be a very painful process, and there will be vicious guerilla warfare in the trenches. The draft requirements are just one of the skirmishes in that war. At some point, they will have to be revealed, to allow them to be properly critiqued before they become something more than draft. If NASA had a strong administrator, he would note that they will be signed off at the top, where the buck stops. But if NASA had a strong administrator, Ed Weiler wouldn’t still be in charge of SMD.

If the train wreck occurs, it will be NASA’s problem, though, not that of the commercial providers. There will be commercial human spaceflight, sooner or later. NASA can make it happen sooner, but they won’t be able to prevent it, and once everyone sees other people flying on SpaceX/ULA/Boeing/Whoever vehicles to Bigelow (and perhaps others’) facilities, it’s going to be impossible for NASA to get the billions some (either at NASA or on the Hill) will request for their own doomed programs, in the coming austere fiscal environment. There is only one way forward for human spaceflight, and that’s commercial providers.

[Update a few minutes later]

I should add that I am not surprised, of course, in any way by Wayne’s report.

Bleeding And Purging

…to balance the humors of the economy:

The Keynesian idea of stimulus has no empirical basis, but the only active tool the government has in a time of economic downturn is its ability to borrow and spend. Surprise, surprise: during the Great Depression, governments fell all over themselves to embrace Keynes’s idea of borrowing and spending to “stimulate” the economy. They did so not because it was proven to work (then or since) but because it justified the one action that would make the government larger and more powerful and the political class larger and more powerful as well.

The Fed is now doing the same thing with inflation “Quantitative Easing”. There is no particular reason to believe that inflating the money supply will produce more real economic activity, indeed the history of the 20th century proves exactly the opposite. However, it is all the Fed can do right now so it is going to grab a convenient theory to justify inflating the currency.

For centuries, doctors tortured and killed their patients because neither they nor their patients had the courage to simply admit that there was little good the doctors could do. They created elaborate and detailed theories to justify their counterproductive interventions. Worse, after a time, everyone, doctors, patients, philosophers, proto-scientists, etc. all came to regard the tool driven rationalizations as facts. Not until the discovery of the germ theory of disease, quantitative chemistry and a general science of diagnostics did the nonsense theory of humors fade away. The invention of new tools drove the development of new, scientific theories.

We are doing the same damn thing with the current economic travails. Rather than admit there is little that the government can do to correct its colossal real-estate screwup, we get to witness the economic equivalent of bleeding and induced vomiting all based on a economic theories that have no other reason for existing that to justify the government bleeding and inducing vomiting in the economy.

“… but it’s what can be done,” could well be one of the most dangerous phrases in the English language. In very many cases, not just economics, the best thing to do is nothing. For any particular bad circumstance, there are near infinite number of actions that can make the circumstance worse but only a very few that can make it better. Indeed, there is no natural law that says that every circumstance can be improved with the capabilities at hand. Sometimes a “can do spirit” backfires. Some circumstances are like earthquakes or tornadoes: you can’t stop them, you just have to ride them out.

Don’t just do something; stand there.

A Brief Stint

…in the Wilderness. An amusing piece by Emmett Tyrell:

I had hoped my years in the Wilderness would last a bit longer. Out there with the chiggers and the poison ivy, I had hoped to find the pulchritudinous Sarah Palin. I understand that she has a terrific recipe for sautéed elk. Or perhaps I could catch a member of the World Wildlife Federation torturing butterflies.

But now we have returned to civilization, and I do not know what to do with all that stuff I bought from the L.L. Bean catalogue back in that dratted year ’08. Maybe I can give the stuff to Sam Tanenhaus, the goofball editor of the New York Times Book Review. If there be justice in this world, Tanenhaus will be consigned to the Wilderness for the rest of his life after writing that exceptionally imbecilic The Death of Conservatism, first in the New Republic, which is understandable. Everything in the New Republic, at least on politics, is imbecilic. Then, as a book. That was a little over a year ago. A little over a year ago! The Death of Conservatism! If I ever write such a stupendously stupid book, burn it!

…Now President Obama has fled the country. It is too soon to say if he will return or not. Let us assume the worst. He returns. What kind of country is he returning to? Actually the same country he left. The country about which he knows very little. And Nancy Pelosi knows even less. It is a country in which American conservatism has been providing the bulk of political ideas since the 1980s. You do not run for high office in America and promise to raise taxes, not since Fritz Mondale in 1984. You do not run for office promising enormous deficits. The mainstream in this country was shaped by the Reagan Revolution. When a Liberal runs for national office he or she lies to you. When a conservative runs for office he or she has no trouble telling you honestly what he or she is going to do. It is not terribly controversial except in Massachusetts and how long that will be true is in question.

Read all.

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!