Another Blow To The Space Policy Myths

Some people have been counting on the CAIB to support their nonsensical assertions about safety of government versus commercial vehicles. Well, they’re out of luck:

Our view is that NASA’s new direction can be a) just as safe, if not more safe, than government-controlled alternatives b) will achieve higher safety than that of the Space Shuttle, and c) is directly in line with the recommendations of the CAIB.

Just one more nail in the coffin of space policy mythology. There may be good arguments against the new plan, but for the most part, for the past few months, most of the ones I’ve seen have been both tragic and hilarious in their illogic and non-factuality.

[Update a few minutes later]

In reading the whole thing, I think they’re being far too kind (though I understand that they have to be diplomatic):

Second, the CAIB recommended that future launch systems should “separate crew from cargo” as much as possible. This statement is sometimes taken out of context. What it does mean is that human lives should not be risked on flights that can be performed without people; the new plan to procure separate crew and cargo transportation services clearly is consistent with the CAIB’s recommendation. But the recommendation does not disallow the use of a cargo launch system to also fly, on separate missions, astronaut flights. Indeed, the fact that Atlas V and Delta IV are flying satellites right now, including extremely high-value satellites, has helped to prove out their reliability. And the many satellite and cargo missions that Falcon 9 is planned to fly will also produce the same beneficial result.

This is a very important point. First, that people have always misunderstood the “separate crew and cargo” lesson. To the degree it ever made any sense at all (we don’t do it for trucks, or airplanes), it never meant to have different vehicle designs for crew versus cargo. And one of the craziest notions that the Ares defenders had was that it would be “designed” to be so safe that crew could fly on it on its second flight, whereas rockets with a proven record of dozens of consecutive successful flights under their belts were somehow less “safe” than one with only one flight. As the CSF pointed out today:

The demonstrated track records of commercial vehicles, combined with numerous upcoming manifested flights, means that the family of commercial vehicles already has, and will continue to have, a much stronger track record than other vehicles such as Ares I. The Atlas family of rockets has had over 90 consecutive successes including 21 consecutive successes for Atlas V, and additional unmanned flights will occur over the next few years before any astronaut flights begin. Similarly, many flights of the Delta and Falcon vehicles have already occurred or will occur before astronauts would be placed onboard. Astronauts will not be flying on vehicles that lack a solid track record.

By contrast, NASA was planning to place astronauts on just the second full-up orbital flight of the Ares I system. Ares I would have many fewer test flights than Atlas V, Falcon 9, or Delta IV. Furthermore, the first crewed flight of Ares I will not occur until the year 2017 as determined by the Augustine Committee. Thus, at the planned rate of two Ares I flights per year, it would take the Ares I rocket until at least the year 2025 to match the demonstrated reliability that the Atlas V rocket already has today. That is, the commercial rocket has a fifteen-year head start on safety.

Demonstrated reliability through multiple actual flights to orbit is crucial because paper calculations have historically been insufficient to capture the majority of failure modes that affect real, flying vehicles—especially new vehicles flying their first few missions. As the Augustine Committee stated, “The often-used Probabilistic Risk Assessment (PRA) … is not as useful a guide as to whether a new launch vehicle will fail during operations, especially during its early flights.” Demonstrated reliability is crucial.

And it’s something that would have taken decades for Ares to develop, given its horrific costs and low flight rate.

And then it’s nice to see people with these credentials dispense with this nonsense:

It has been suggested by some that only a NASA-led effort can provide the safety assurance required to commit to launching government astronauts into space. We must note that much of the CAIB report was an indictment of NASA’s safety culture, not a defense of its uniqueness. The report (p. 97) notes that “at NASA’s urging, the nation committed to build an amazing, if compromised, vehicle called the Space Shuttle. When the agency did this, it accepted the bargain to operate and maintain the vehicle in the safest possible way.” The report then adds, “The Board is not convinced that NASA has completely lived up to the bargain.”

To put it mildly. And there’s no reason that it would be any different in the future. The institutional incentives haven’t changed, and never will, with a government-run program. Private industry has a very strong motivation not to kill people — it could put them out of business. Government agencies, on the other hand, tend to be rewarded for failure.

At Least Caligula Sent A Whole Horse To The Senate

It looks like ACORN only sent the rear end of one:

The final recount vote in the race, determined six months after Election Day, showed Franken beat Coleman by 312 votes — fewer votes than the number of felons whose illegal ballots were counted, according to Minnesota Majority’s newly released study, which matched publicly available conviction lists with voting records.

Furthermore, the report charges that efforts to get state and federal authorities to act on its findings have been “stonewalled.”

“We aren’t trying to change the result of the last election. That legally can’t be done,” said Dan McGrath, Minnesota Majority’s executive director. “We are just trying to make sure the integrity of the next election isn’t compromised.”

Good luck with that.

Bolden Goes Under The Bus

Despite the confusing double negative in the caption, White House spokesbuffoon Robert Gibbs is denying that the White House tasked the NASA administrator with Muslim outreach.

[Update a while later]

Keith Cowing is far too credulous of the White House spokesbuffoon. If I have to choose between the credibility of a decorated Marine General, or the guy who said he never heard any anti-semitism in twenty years of holding down one of Jeremiah Wright’s pews, I know who I believe.

Obama Is Not A “Socialist”

Technically speaking, anyway:

I’ve already commented on this issue twice, remarking that Obama technically is a fascist, but that it is much better to call him a statist or corporatist. But there is the tricky issue of whether a word should be defined by experts (to the extent economists are experts on anything) or whether it is more appropriate to accept the common understanding of what a word means. I don’t have a firm opinion on that issue, but if socialism now means someone who believes in lots of government intervention and redistribution, then Obama is a socialist (heck, Bush also would be a socialist). But if we stick with the official definition, which involves government ownership of the means of production, then Obama has relatively few policies that meet that standard.

He does have a Marxist outlook, though (as all true fascists do).

[Update a few minutes later]

Why Obama is failing. Because he lied his way into office:

…we were lied to about this by Obama and the MSM winked. Yet it was a far more significant lie than Clinton’s proclamations about Monica Lewinsky, which only peripherally affected affairs of state and were obviously the desperate acts of a man caught cheating. Obama’s prevarication was about the very essence of his political views. Widely desirous of electing its first black president — I felt this myself but did not act upon it — the nation gulped and swallowed the lie, but, consciously or unconsciously, it did not forget.

Now we are where we are. We have a president that no one wants to listen to because we do not fully believe him. His own party is deserting him not just because they know his ideas are unpopular. They also know he is unable to convince anyone. We have shut him off.

The irony, of course, is that his biggest supporters, who still continue to support him — young people and blacks — are being hurt the most by his policies.

No Self Esteem

I would find this to be a pretty big incompatibility. I had no idea that Robin Hanson’s wife was so opposed to cryonics:

“You have to understand,” says Peggy, who at 54 is given to exasperation about her husband’s more exotic ideas. “I am a hospice social worker. I work with people who are dying all the time. I see people dying All. The. Time. And what’s so good about me that I’m going to live forever?”

First of all, it’s not about living “forever.” It’s about living as long as you want to live. What’s so bad about you that you don’t want to do that?

If I were him, I’d be very worried about her fidelity to my wishes, if he goes first.

It’s a very interesting article with insight into the transhumanist subculture, by Kerry Howley.

Which Senator?

…will save the space program from a Shuttle-derived parasite eating up all the technology funding?

This bill, however, will probably not get very far. Note Jim Muncy’s comment to the NASA Watch item:

Fortunately, most authorization bills can’t proceed in the Senate without unanimous consent. Which means one Senator can stop this monstrosity.

We continually hear about how “The” Congress is opposed to the Administration’s plan for NASA. However, most all of the vocal opposition to the plan has come from a limited number of Congresspersons protecting Constellation related projects in their states and districts. They deliberately biased the hearing witness panels to eliminate voices of independent support for the administration’s plan.

I’m thinking maybe Sam Brownback.

As a commenter somewhere (maybe over at Space Politics?) said, the key to settling space isn’t going farther now — it’s reducing the cost of access and making it routine. Commercial crew will do that for LEO, and the new technology development programs will do it for beyond. And heavy lift, particularly a Shuttle-derived version, will just continue to delay the day that we become spacefaring, as the falsely perceived need for it has done for forty years.

[Update a few minutes later]

What is Bill Nelson thinking?

A draft of the bill, obtained by the Orlando Sentinel, was presented to NASA last week by the committee, chaired by Florida Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. So far the White House has not commented on the bill, but several Florida Space Coast leaders have expressed concern about its impact here.

Of particular concern is the fact that Nelson — Florida’s main space supporter — would take away billions of dollars from commercial rocket and technology development that over the next decade would have diversified the aerospace industry in Florida and provided KSC with new jobs and prestige.

…Frank DiBello, the president of Space Florida, the state’s aerospace development body, is not pleased. “We don’t want to sacrifice Florida seed corn for an increased R&D role to be politically expedient and save jobs for Utah and other states,” DiBello told a Brevard County jobs-development meeting Saturday.

“The Senate bill kills outright the promise of a real R&D opportunity for KSC. It’s not good for Florida. I don’t know who Bill Nelson is listening to, but it’s not his constituents,” DiBello said.

Of course, the question itself is generous in its assumption that there is any cognition at all going on here. Bill Nelson has never struck me as the sharpest tack in a drawer of pretty dull ones, and this is just more evidence of it.

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