How Much Does Safety Cost?

And how much should it cost? Over at my Pajamas Media piece this weekend, frequent TTM commenter “bbbeard” comments:

SpaceX has a launch record of 3 complete failures and two successes. What is disturbing about the SpaceX failures is that they hinged on relatively major oversights. Take the Demo2 flight, for example. SpaceX’s post-flight analysis showed that incorrect propellant utilization parameters were uploaded into the engine computer, a textbook case of sloppy configuration control. There was a recontact during staging, which initiated a slosh event — that was not mitigated because the LOX tank had no baffles. These are the kind of rookie mistakes that get you labeled as a “hobbyist”. It will take more than two successful flights to show that Elon Musk’s company has outgrown its hobbyist mentality and is ready to tackle human spaceflight.

Safety is the elephant in the foyer that you have not addressed. STS has suffered two launch failures in 132 missions (counting Columbia’s foam strike as a launch failure) — and what no one in NewSpace seems able to admit is that that loss rate is unacceptable. You can deny all you want that NASA is up to the job of designing a vehicle significantly safer than STS, but it is a fact that Ares is being designed to tough and unprecedented requirements for loss of crew rates — and Atlas and Delta never were. You claim Atlas has an “unbroken string of many dozens of successful flights” but by my count only 20 of the 21 flights of Atlas V have been successful — and that is an unacceptable loss rate. Only 2 out 3 Delta IV-Heavy flights have been successful — and that is an unacceptable loss rate.

Unlike SpaceX, the engineers at Boeing and Lockheed are the best in the business. But they were never directed to make Atlas and Delta reliable enough for human spaceflight. Using those platforms as human launch vehicles would be a step backward from STS safety levels, which are already unacceptably high.

What your argument boils down to is that you, Rand Simberg, think that the extra reliability that Ares aspires to is not worth the price tag. You may be right, you may be wrong. But why won’t you explain that that is your argument, instead of simplistically blaming NASA for poor cost control?

Man, there’s a lot to unpack there. I don’t know if I have time to deal with it right now, but let me at least lay out the issues. One is what an “acceptable” level of safety is (particularly relative to the reliability required to deliver a satellite worth a billion dollars). Another is how it is achieved. A third is how much it should cost to do so. A fourth is how much someone who had pretty much the same experience as other “professionals” in developing rockets for the first time can be said to be a “hobbyist.” (I would note as an aside that I don’t intrinsically accept “hobbyist” and “amateur” as pejoratives vis a vis “professionals” — many amateurs and hobbyists can be better than professionals — they just don’t choose to do it for a living. Space historian Henry Spencer comes to mind. I don’t think that there is anyone on the planet who is more familiar with both space history and space technology than Henry, but it’s not his day job.)

Anyway, I’m trying to figure out how to earn a living myself, so have at it in comments for now. I may weigh in later.

Payton Comes Around

Remember a few weeks ago, when the Ares huggers were seizing on comments by Gary Payton that cancelling Ares would double costs for the Pentagon’s solid motors? It never made any economic sense, but it was used as cudgel, however dull, in the battle over the new policy. Well now he’s saying that not only will the effect be trivial, but that it actually benefits the DoD to have more users of the EELVs:

Q. What does the cancellation of Constellation mean for the Air Force?

A. If there are increases to the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) annual launch rate, that’s a good sign. Right now, we have a plan for United Launch Alliance to do eight launches a year, notionally five for the Air Force, two for the National Reconnaissance Office and one for NASA. So if we can increase that one for NASA up to two or three per year, that would be great for everybody, because we would be buying more rocket engines per year and flying more rockets per year, and that helps with the proficiency of the launch crews…

Q. Are you concerned about the Constellation decision’s impact on the solid-rocket motor industrial base?

A. We’ve come to find out that it has a trivial impact on space launch because we don’t use the big 3½-meter segmented solids on our EELVs; we use solids that are about 1½ meters in diameter.

Well, pardon me, but DUH.

I could never understand why the Pentagon went along with Constellation in the first place.

[Via Parabolic Arc]

Fact Checking The EPA

I was doing a little research on the mess, and wanted to get some data on the Gulf. According to the EPA, it has a volume of 642 trillion gallons. This seems off by three orders of magnitude to me (that is, I think that its 642 quadrillion gallons — 1015th, not 1012th — which is what a trillion would be).

My calculation is based on the stated area of 600,000 square miles (which seems reasonable to me), and average depth of 1600 meters (why do they have to mix their units?), which is about 5100 feet. Multiply the square miles by 5280 squared, and you get about 17 trillion square feet. So the volume has to be three orders of magnitude more than that, and it’s another order of magnitude (7.5 gallons per square foot) when you convert to gallons.

Am I off, or are they?

Yeah, I want these people to be in charge of regulating carbon emissions (including, no doubt, my exhalations).

[Update late afternoon]

Why do I care, you ask? Because people are saying that with the new estimate of the leak rate, this is the equivalent of “n” Exxon Valdezes per week, where n varies with the commentator. But the Gulf isn’t Prince William Sound. Based on the number of 11,000 square miles affected in Alaska, and an average depth of a thousand feet (generous, I think — the deepest point in sound is 2000, and most of it is a lot less, even when you get out around the Kenai Peninsula), I get a ratio of volumes of on the order of 300, so we’d need a lot of Exxon Valdezes to make it comparable to that disaster. I don’t know whether the warmer temps of the Gulf make things better, or worse, though.

Is Kagen Anti-Gun?

Probably. I’d be pretty surprised to learn that she agreed with Heller, for instance. I have to say, I’m in no big hurry to see Stevens replaced, because any of Obama’s nominees are likely to be disastrous for decades. This was in fact the biggest reason to prefer McCain in 2008 — to prevent, or at least mitigate, such long-lasting damage to liberty.

America Is A Campus

…and Obama is our dean. Complete with speech codes, apparently. Glenn Reynolds disagrees somewhat:

Nonsense. No Dean would rock the boat so rashly, or offend the money folks so gratuitously, or put the college into so much debt. On the other hand, Hanson hits the nail on the head in other ways.

Yes. Like the president’s credentialism hypocrisy on Kagen versus Miers. Not to mention himself.

[Early afternoon update]

Related thoughts
from Jay Nordlinger:

I hope I have read that incorrectly, or am interpreting it incorrectly. Did we, the United States, talking to a government that maintains a gulag, that denies people their basic rights, that in all probability harvests organs, apologize for the new immigration law in Arizona? Really, really?

…Do you ever get the idea that our government is a bunch of left-wing undergraduates come to power?

Every day.

A Space Glossary

The other day, a commenter said that he thought that Constellation was just the rocket and capsule. Many people don’t know what Constellation (and other things) are, and aren’t, which is what feeds part of the ignorant hysteria that we’ve seen in the press and on the Hill since the new budget was bumblingly introduced in February (and unfortunately, the administrator remains poor on his messaging and communications capability, with his talk about “bailouts” for the commercial sector). Anyway, as a probably futile attempt to clear the fog, I have a glossary and explanation up over at PJM today.

The Global Green Meltdown

…gains momentum. Some thoughts on our justified loss of faith in technocrats, from Walter Russell Mead. One point I would add is that much of the green movement was and is driven by the watermelon socialists, who leaped on to it with the collapse of the Soviet Union and (temporary, unfortunately) corresponding collapse in the credibility of socialism. I’d like to think that the current mess, including the collapse of Eurosocialism, will be the final stake through its heart, but I’m afraid that we’ll have to wage this ideological battle over and over, because every generation or two, we forget what a disaster it is everywhere it’s tried, and the basic tenets are a siren’s song to human nature.

An Interesting Head Case

Alcor just won a lawsuit to allow them to disinter a body that had been buried for two years, and cryonically suspend the rotted head.

Yes, it’s pointless, as far as that patient went (as far as I’m concerned, his family murdered him), but Alcor had to do this, to assure their other customers that it would do whatever was necessary to fight for them, and fulfill its contractual responsibilities. It was also a useful reminder to obstreperous relatives that they have to obey the wishes of the deceased. What’s particularly disgusting about this is that it appears they did it for the money. I thought it seemed like chutzpah to prevent Alcor from fulfilling the contract, then demanding the money back for it.

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!