Sigh…

NSS has released a response to the Augustine summary:

In response to the release of the Human Space Flight Committee executive summary, the National Space Society’s Vice President of Policy Greg Allision prepared the following statement.

The National Space Society (NSS) welcomes the release of the Summary Report of the Review of U.S. Space Flight Plans Committee, better known as the Augustine Commission. NSS thanks the Commission for its hard work and due diligence, and for a thorough job given the time and resources available to its members.

NSS does question the cost estimates since the Commission did not have the time nor inside resources available to NASA to develop their Constellation cost model. NSS does, however, agree with the Commission that NASA needs and deserves at least $3 Billion more per year in order to accomplish the planned missions. NSS further asserts that NASA should receive this level of funding, as NASA has stimulated the economy like no other agency, stimulated American youth to seek higher education, shored up America’s edge in technology, enhanced our defense, and established American prestige around the world. Even more importantly, this wise investment would enable NASA to take the lead in research and development that could ultimately provide access to energy and resources from space such as space based solar power beamed to Earth, helium-3 for fusion power, platinum group metals for fuel cells that could enable a hydrogen economy, and strategic metals important to our economy and national defense. These programs offer capabilities that can lead to asteroidal resource development and the means to protect the planet from their potential impact. Ultimately this could enable humanity to live in and “green” the cosmos.

NSS supports the development of a family of cargo and crew transportation options to Low Earth Orbit and beyond. We recognize that the development of commercial launch vehicles is integral to extending our economic sphere into the solar system. That said, the foundation of the ARES Flight Systems Development Project that leads to a mission enabling heavy lift launch vehicle can and should be part of the mix. NSS agrees that the Space Shuttle should fly at least until the payloads already built for it have flown, and perhaps longer, depending on national interest and prudence.

NSS agrees that ISS should be extended making the best possible use of the station as it was originally intended for science, technology development, and operations — funding it accordingly. In time, the management and operations of the station can and should transition to other entities as appropriate.

The NSS vision is that NASA should be charged with ever expanding the zone of exploration and development beyond Low Earth Orbit while commercial entities then provide operational services to fill in behind that “bubble” as it expands outward. Together these efforts should ultimately lead to settlement of and expansion through space by humanity.

Emphasis mine. The implication is that we cannot do the “mission” without a heavy lifter (oh, and “Ares” isn’t an acronym, at least in this context). If they really insist on this, the extra three billion a year won’t do the job. I don’t know if they really believe this, or if their arms are being twisted by corporate donors.

NSS has always had a problem of being more of a cheerleader for whatever the iron triangle wants to do than for things that would actually lead to space settlement, largely as a result of its National Space Institute heritage. Von Braun set up NSI as a citizen’s lobbying organization for NASA, and after the merger, the L-5 Society really got absorbed into the NSI borg. It’s almost reflexively assumed that whatever NASA is doing is on a path to space settlement, even though, in almost everything that it’s done since Apollo — Shuttle, Station, now Constellation — there is no plausible path toward that goal with those projects. They are doing nothing to reduce the costs of access, and Ares won’t, either. NASA has essentially given up on that goal. If I were Greg, I’d be getting behind ULA in its innovative ideas, which while still expensive, at least start to develop actual crucial space-faring technologies. Instead, they continue to try to prop up the rotting carcass of Constellation.

Time To Take Private Space Seriously

So sayeth The Economist:

Five years ago the idea that the private sector might have been capable of transporting cargo and people reliably into low Earth orbit was viewed as crazy. Much has happened since, and two things in particular. One was that Virgin Galactic, an upstart British firm, said it would develop a space-tourism business based around a craft that had cost only $25m to build. The other was that an equally upstart American entrepreneur called Elon Musk, flush from his sale of PayPal, created a company called SpaceX (whose Falcon rocket is pictured above, dropping its first stage on its way into orbit). He said he wanted to make it cheaper to launch people into space and wanted, ultimately, to send a mission to Mars—but that he would start by launching satellites.

It would be an understatement to say that both ventures were treated with scepticism. But they have now come far enough to be able to thumb their noses at the cynics. On September 3rd SpaceX signed a contract worth $50m with ORBCOMM, a satellite-communications firm. The deal is to launch 18 satellites for ORBCOMM’s network. Meanwhile, at the end of July, Aabar Investments, a sovereign-wealth fund based in Abu Dhabi, bought a 32% stake in Virgin Galactic for $280m. Aabar was not just interested in space tourism. It was also keen on a proposal to use Virgin’s White Knight launch system to put satellites into low Earth orbit. Will Whitehorn, Virgin Galactic’s president, said that one of the things which attracted Aabar was the fact that White Knight (an aircraft which lifts to high altitude a rocket that can then take either passengers or satellites onwards into space) could be flown from Abu Dhabi.

The “Giggle Factor” continues to dissipate.

An Impression Of The Protest

…from Matt Welch, who wandered out to the mall to see it..

[Late evening update]

Per the discussion in comments, a graphical tale of “left” versus “right” events on the mall.

[Late Sunday night update, with a bump]

Henry Vanderbilt (who should start a blog on space transportation and other topics) sends an analysis of the crowd size via email. He says it’s clearly six figures — hundreds of thousands: Continue reading An Impression Of The Protest

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!