And So It Begins

The astronaut office has provided their view of the transition to commercial crew. I have some heartburn with it:

As commercial providers become integrated with NASA flight operations, questions pertaining to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) versus NASA certifications and standards arise. Currently, FAA (Office of Space Transportation) standards are only designed to protect the public from over-flight hazards associated with a launch. In contrast, NASA’s Human-Rating Requirements (HRR) for Space Systems (NPR 8705.2B) and Flight Rules have evolved over decades and are set in place to protect both the flight crew on board the vehicle and the public. It is anticipated that NASA and the FAA would collaborate in the future to determine rules and regulations for space control and commercial space vehicle licensing. Even with collaborative efforts amongst licensing agencies that evolve for human space vehicles, the NASA Human-Rating Requirements are the only current benchmark standards and should be used as the controlling document for certifying human rating of crewed spacecraft.

You mean the human-rating requirements that NASA hasn’t designed a vehicle to meet in decades, and had to waive when Orion couldn’t meet them? There needs to be severe pushback against this from the CSF.

One other point. I disagree with this requirement:

While on the ISS, each crewmember requires a path to return to the Earth in the event of a catastrophic station failure or medical emergency. A ready vehicle (lifeboat) attached to the ISS, in lieu of a ground based launch-on-need vehicle is required for ACR. A de-orbit in this ready vehicle must be executed to a targeted ground site capable of post landing support.

These are two different requirements, and may require two different vehicle types — a “lifeboat” and an ambulance. It also ignores the requirement of a non-catastrophic station failure, which might necessitate temporary abandonment, but not a wholesale evacuation all the way to the ground. I’ve always found the designation of “lifeboat” for a vehicle designed to return crew to earth to be a misnomer. A lifeboat is a temporary vehicle to provide protection until the survivors can be picked up by another vessel, not something that takes the Titanic passengers all the way back to Southampton.

There is an intrinsic assumption in this requirement that spaceflight remains expensive and rare, and that there are no other facilities in orbit to which to repair if there are problems on the station. But part of the idea of the new plan is to fix both these problems (or at least the former — I’m not sure much thought has been given to the latter, but cheap regular access makes it easier to solve). So, the notion of simply going somewhere else and waiting out either a repair of the station (if possible) or a rescue vessel from earth doesn’t occur to them, hence the (IMO, ridiculous) requirement that everyone has to go back to earth any time there’s a serious problem.

And it becomes doubly absurd if you insist that the assured return vehicle be an ambulance as well. If you use it for that purpose, it may kill the patient, since the design requirement for a crew return vehicle might assume healthy passengers, and have several gees on entry. In addition, it means that the station will be without a return capability for the rest of the crew, if the vehicles are one-size-fits-all. It would be a huge waste of (say) a six-person vehicle to use it to deliver one sick or injured crewperson. Again, this assumes that either a) there is no capability of getting an ambulance up from earth or b) no ability to so so in time. Now (b) is certainly a possibility for certain emergencies, but should we really let that drive transportation requirements? As I’ve pointed out in the past, the people wintering at McMurdo have no “assured crew return” capability, and when they get sick, they tough it out (including Jerri Nielsen, the woman physician who came down with breast cancer and treated herself until spring — she died last year). Why are astronauts more special than polarnauts? I’m sure that if we wanted to spend a few billion, we could come up with a vehicle that could extract people from the south pole during the winter. Why haven’t we done so?

These requirements are based on old mind sets and architecture assumptions. I think that they need rethinking, as part of a larger set of infrastructure requirements.

[Late afternoon update]

From a high-level government source:

The astronaut office, as well as many other NASA parties, have been making their views known for some time to the COTS team led by Geoff Yoder in ESMD. Industry will also be given an opportunity to provide input.

Allowing the astronauts to provide input is appropriate, as they are a “user”, but they are not in control.

That’s what I assumed. And hoped.

The HondaJet

A review, by Glenn Reynolds, over at Popular Mechanics. A commenter claims that the engine development is having certification problems, but I don’t know how credible the commenter is.

I found this interesting:

Honda is also saving development money by taking advantage of modern computer power. Fujino notes that it’s possible to do serious design work on a laptop nowadays, where not long ago it took an expensive engineering workstation. And Honda is making heavy use of simulations, with a sophisticated whole-aircraft simulator that allows real parts to be swapped in and tested against virtual parts and vice versa, allowing many stages of refinement before parts ever reach the test-flight stage.

I wonder why these kinds of development-technology savings aren’t making their way into the spacecraft design world. But they probably are, actually. It’s one of the reasons that SpaceX has accomplished so much for comparatively little money. And when you’re on a cost-plus contract, you can always find other ways to spend the money.

Chicago’s Pointless Gun Ban

Thoughts from Steve Chapman:

If we were starting out in a country with zero guns, it might be possible to keep such weapons away from bad guys. But that’s not this country, which has more than 200 million firearms in private hands and a large perpetual supply of legal handguns.

Only a tiny percentage of those weapons has to be diverted to the underground trade for crooks to acquire all the firepower they need. While gun bans greatly impede the law-abiding, they pose only a trivial inconvenience to the lawless.

This is especially true at the local level. Banning guns from one city makes about as much sense as banning them on one block.

It’s hard enough to halt the flow of guns over international borders, where governments police traffic. It’s impossible to stop them from crossing municipal boundaries—which are unmonitored, undefended, and practically invisible.

Tens of thousands of cars enter Washington and Chicago each day from places where guns are easily and legally obtainable. Any of those vehicles could be transporting a carton of pistols to sell to willing thugs. If you’re on an island, you’re going to get splashed by the waves.

This is also why gun buybacks are an idiotic waste of money.

Uh Oh

Walmart’s customers are running out of money.

That’s both a symptom of and a bad portent for the economy.

[Update a few minutes later]

Somehow, I can’t help but think that this is related: consumer confidence in the economy’s future is at the lowest point yet in the Obama presidency. And it wasn’t high when it started.

I suspect that won’t change before November. And even then, we’ll be stuck with him for another two years, though at least he’ll be defanged. As Glenn often says, another Jimmy Carter is a best-case scenario.

[Update a couple minutes later]

This was particularly disturbing:

Forty-six percent (46%) of all adults now say it is at least somewhat likely the United States will enter an economic depression similar to the 1930s within the next few years, showing little change in this view over the past two months. That number includes 21% who say it’s very likely. Another 46% see a 1930s-like Depression as not likely, but just nine percent (9%) say it’s not at all likely.

I think that the probability of that depends on the voters, this cycle and next. If they keep reelecting people who enact policies that, for whatever reasons, continue to sicken the economy, as they did in the thirties, it could get really bad. I hope that the voters are smarter this time around. It’s possible to learn from history, at least in theory.

It Should Have Been Folklore And Mythology

Notorious con artist and fraud Al Gore is going to be given an honorary doctorate by the University of Tennessee:

Gore will receive the degree — an Honorary Doctor of Laws and Humane Letters in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology — at the spring commencement exercises of the College of Arts and Sciences on May 14.

Instapundit is likely quite embarrassed.

[Late afternoon update]

You know, I think that this is pretty much a guarantee that UT commencement is going to be snowed out this spring.

“The Dam Broke Today”

Charlie Rangel may be on the verge of being forced out of his chairmanship.

Too bad. I was hoping that he would continue to bleed the Dems on the subject of their corruption all the way to November. Not to imply, of course, that there isn’t abundant other evidence of it.

[Update a few minutes later]

The Republicans shouldn’t give them any cover on this. They should all vote “present.” Make the Donkeys clean up their own road apples.

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