Iron Rush

Did a meteorite find drive the Inuit migration across Canada hundreds of years ago?

Nah, couldn’t be. Nothing that happens in space is relevant to what happens on earth.

For some reason, this reminds me of the global warming debate. Not to mention the difficulty that Alverez had in selling the dinosaur extinction theory.

[Update a few minutes later]

This is also an interesting example of how technology, or the desire for it, can influence human migration patterns. It may have some relevance to space policy…

Space Policy Thoughts

…from the head of the Space Policy Institute (who I should disclose is a good and long-time friend and former colleague):

Scott Pace: I am disappointed that they chose not to fund the Constellation program or add the additional funds that the Augustine committee said would be necessary for a robust human spaceflight program. I think the NASA [budget] increase is good, and there is some good science and technology spending in the program, but it really did not restore a lot of the reductions that had been made in the fiscal year 2010 budget, so it continues a pattern of reductions to exploration, even though the NASA top line did go up somewhat.

TR: Are these reductions going to have a significant effect on the U.S. space program?

SP: The real issue is the future of human spaceflight and the question is, what [is NASA] doing after the space station? Because that is not very clear. [The administration] has made a commitment to the space station through 2020, which really gives us an opportunity to use it as a research facility, but it’s not clear what, if anything, is to come after the space station. Right now, with the canceling [sic — rs] of the Constellation program, there are no announced plans for going beyond low Earth orbit. The deeper question is what NASA will be doing. What is it going to do when we rely on commercial rockets, and how is it going to maintain its skills as a good customer and overseer?

The new effort does not have an overall architecture yet; it may get one, but right now [the plan] has a heavy technology development effort, and there is a lot of new technology that one could do, but without an architecture, how efficient is that technology development going to be?

The question of how it’s going to maintain its skills as a good customer and overseer presupposes that it has now, or ever had such skills. NASA is a terrible customer, always has been, and is likely doomed to always be, but one step toward improving it is forcing it to buy services instead of labor by the yard.

As for the lack of architecture, it’s too early to expect that. They didn’t even know what their proposed budget was until a couple of weeks ago. I imagine that there will be studies over the next few months to come up with one, but the agency could do a lot worse than to dust off the CE&R results that Steidle commissioned, and Mike Griffin ignored, at least as a starting point. And there are some technologies that are fundamental, and independent of architecture (e.g., on-orbit propellant storage and transfer). I don’t see how the “efficiency” of their development will be impaired by a lack of one. As Charles Miller reportedly said today at the FAA event, NASA is going to do something that it’s needed to do since it absorbed NACA and became an operational agency half a century ago — get back to basics of supporting technology development that industry needs to thrive.

[Update a few minutes later]

I’m afraid that Scott has fallen into the trap of thinking only of SpaceX when he talks about the “risk” of commercial not being able to step up to the plate. Regretting the loss of Orion is one thing, but there was no risk reduction with Ares, at least none worth the cost. There would be much less risk in modifying an existing vehicle (e.g., Atlas) to carry the NASA capsule, and it’s not like ULA knows nothing about rockets. And of course, there is always a tradeoff of risk versus cost. The cost ratio between commercial and NASA-centric (at least an order of magnitude) justifies the “risk,” at least in my mind. Of course, I don’t think it’s very high.

[Update early evening]

I think that it’s a mischaracterization to say that there are no plans to go beyond LEO. The administrator has been quite vociferous in saying that the goal is Mars. I don’t necessarily agree with that, and he hasn’t laid out a timetable and goals to achieve it, but to say that there are no plans is to imply that we will be in LEO ad infinitum, which I’m quite sure is not what the administration intends. At least not the NASA administration.

Still Waiting

In my PM piece (and in my piece for The New Atlantis), I continue to make this point:

Beyond that, a single-vehicle architecture is as fragile as the Shuttle was: What if something happens to the heavy lifter that shuts it down for months or years (as happened twice with the Shuttle)? We are out of business until it comes back on line. And suppose that we build such a vehicle for the moon, and then decide to go to Mars? Do we need yet a bigger vehicle? Where does this fetish for heavy lift end?

I never get a response to it from the heavy-lift fetishists. So I throw it out, once again, this time on its own, to make it more difficult to ignore.

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!