A Vision Of The Future In Space

In comments over at Space Politics, “Ray” responds to the Ares boosters over there (who are hilarious in their blind adulation of the program, or would be were it not so sad — as I say over there, they haven’t just drunk the kool aid, but are snorkeling around in an Olympic-sized pool of it):

Kaylyn63: “…fasten your seatbelt and hang on for the ride Ares is going to give the United States”

Ares has already taken the United States on quite a ride, so I can only imagine what’s next:

– ISS science and engineering cut beyond the bone
– ISS dumped in the ocean in 2015
– Ares 1 delivered in 2017 – 2019 to service the long-gone ISS
– huge commercial space opportunities lost for U.S. industry
– NASA Aeronautics vanished
– Planetary science robotics, including missions to scout human spaceflight destinations, fading to a shadow
– NASA research, development, and technology demonstration work cut and limited to Ares investigations
– NASA Earth science missions few and far between
– Ares V delivered in 2030, but no budget to put anything on it
– EELVs, Falcons, and Taurus II greatly underutilized (and thus more expensive per launch than necessary) by the loss of commercial crew transport to LEO, fuel launches, early destruction of the ISS, and lack of budget to launch robotic missions – resulting in U.S. launch industry not being competitive in the global marketplace

Thanks, Ares!

So speaketh the ghost of Christmas future. If the goal was to destroy most of the useful things that NASA is, and could be doing, then perhaps it is the “Invention of the Year” after all. It has managed to accomplish much along those lines already, even though it won’t fly for years…

The frightening thing is that Chairwoman Giffords has bought into the hype as well. Of course, she has sort of a conflict of interest, in that she’s married into NASA.

Bringing Martial Law To America

That will be the result of this insane decision to try KSM in New York:

For over two hundred years we were careful to keep a firewall between civil and martial law. We did so because civil and martial law are polar opposites. Civil law is focused on protecting the rights of the accused against the overwhelming power of the state. When there is doubt, the accused walks free. Martial law is focused on imposing a minimal order on bloody chaos. It was focused on allowing the military to complete its mission and win wars. When there is doubt, the accused is presumed guilty.

Now, Obama wants to bring martial law into a civil court room in Manhattan. In order to let a civil conviction of KSM stand, the higher courts will have to overturn almost all the current constitutional protections of the accused.

They will have to overturn the requirement for Miranda warnings. They will have to overturn the Fifth Amendment protection against self incrimination. They will have to overturn the right to face one’s accusers and to examine all evidence and evidence gathering methods.

Even if the courts throw out his conviction, the government will never allow him to go free, so we will toss out protection against double jeopardy if they try to convict with a military tribunal, and toss out the right of no imprisonment without trial if they don’t.

Our system of justice relies on precedent and equality of procedure. The same rules apply to every civil trail. We can’t say that it’s okay to deny the right against self-incrimination in one person’s trial while saying it’s okay in another. If the courts overturn the rights of one individual accused, it must overturn the rights of all of them.

Nothing good will come of this trial.

Of course it will. It will show how evil the BusHitler was.

[Afternoon update]

Memo to Obama: these detainees are not soldiers in this war, they are the weapons.

[Update mid afternoon]

How hard will it be to convict KSM?

[Update late afternoon]

Here’s a hall of shame: the list of Senate Republicans who supported Eric Holder for Attorney General.

[Update a few minutes later]

A history lesson:

Remember what KSM said after his capture: He would tell us everything when he got to New York for his trial. We told him: You’re not going to New York. First, you’re going to spend a little time talking to the CIA. And under CIA questioning, KSM — together with other CIA detainees — gave us vital intelligence that helped stop a number of attacks, including a plot to fly an airplane into the Library Tower in Los Angeles; a plot to fly airplanes in the Heathrow Airport and buildings in downtown London; a plot to blow up our consulate in Karachi; a plot to blow up our Marine camp in Djibouti; and many others. His interrogation produced thousands of intelligence reports, and helped us wrap up the two main terrorist networks still at large at the time of his capture: the remaining members of the KSM network that had planned the 9/11 attacks, and the key members of the Hambali network that was working with al-Qaeda on follow-on attacks.

Once we had exhausted KSM as an intelligence source, President Bush transferred him and 13 other detainees from CIA custody to Guantanamo Bay so that they could face justice. If it had not been for the legal obstacles Andy cites, their trials would have begun soon thereafter.

And had it not been for the Obama administration, KSM and his partners would now be sitting on death row. KSM and his co-conspirators offered to plead guilty once their military commissions got underway and proceed straight to execution — until the Obama administration suspended the proceedings. This means that, with his decision to give KSM a civilian trial, Eric Holder effectively rejected KSM’s guilty plea, and told him, “No, Mr. Mohammed, first let us give you that stage you wanted in New York to rally jihadists to kill Americans and incite new attacks.”

Thanks, Eric.

[Evening update]

The worse the terrorist, the more rights he gets. Great incentives, guys.

Apollo Is Over

But some people can’t get over it:

The Flexible Path tries to satisfy everyone with a long laundry list of destinations, but it is more noteworthy for what it pushes back to the end of the line. The Program of Record (Vision for Space Exploration) has the objectives of manned landings on the Moon and Mars. The Flexible Path does the opposite—an anti-Vision—and tries to do everything except manned landings on the Moon and Mars. Lunar landings are replaced with lunar orbits, and Mars landings are replaced by Mars flybys and possibly Mars orbits. “Look but don’t touch” eliminates the servicing of surface equipment, in-situ resource utilization, and sample return for the Moon and Mars. Manned flights are two-way missions, so removing sample return is particularly short-sighted. The Augustine report includes part of a quotation from President Kennedy: “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…” If the Flexible Path had been around during Kennedy’s time, all the Apollo landing missions would have been cancelled.


I’m sorry that Mark Whittington’s stupid “Look but don’t touch” phrase seems to be picked up by more and more people, because it’s so misleading. Not doing the planetary surfaces first is not an “anti-vision.” It is simply a different vision, and much more practical one. I will say that “flexible path” is not my preferred plan — I would in fact go chase the lunar rainbows sooner than later, but it’s the best path of any of the proposed Augustine alternatives, because the methods that NASA has chosen for lunar return are simply unaffordable. And it doesn’t eliminate planetary excursions — it just puts them off until they do become more practical, and we’ve developed more deep-space experience. The commission continues to see human Mars landings as an eventual goal. But if you’re going to do that, it makes a hell of a lot more sense to me to go to Phobos or Deimos first, which requires much less earth-departure propellant, with the potential for getting more propellant from those bodies for expeditions down the gravity well.

And suppose that instead of the lunar goal, Apollo had in fact been about beating the Russians to an asteroid, or Phobos, in an unsustainable manner (as the lunar missions were performed)? How would we be any worse off today? In neither case would it have been about opening up space.

The Flexible Path attempts to replace the Ares 5, capable of lifting 160+ metric tons to low Earth orbit, with a less capable launch vehicle, going as low as the 75 metric tons of the EELV-derived vehicle. The notion that the Flexible Path brings us closer to Mars is dispelled by this push for a less capable launch vehicle. Being physically closer to Mars, in terms of distance, does nothing if it runs away from the energy and mass requirements of a Mars landing. The variety of missions possible using the Ares launch vehicles is actually wider and more diverse than what the Flexible Path allows. The Ares launch vehicles are certainly more than capable of launching missions to Lagrange points, near-Earth objects, and any other destination on the list. Reduced capabilities make the Flexible Path decidedly inflexible.Sigh…

This is an extremely simple-minded view of “capabilities.” Is a vehicle with a larger payload better than one with a smaller payload? Yes, all other things being equal. But all other things are rarely equal. One has to take a total systems approach to determine the optimum, and not just focus on a single system element (this applies to safety as well as cost, by the way). If, for example, one can buy ten flights of the smaller vehicle for the cost of a single flight of the larger one, which is better? It’s hard to say, unless one looks at the total mission cost, including amortization of development, as well as legacy value toward the future. Unless one imagines that one will be able to do a Mars mission with a single launch of Ares V (and even its proponents admit that you can’t), then eliminating it does not necessarily affect ability to get to Mars at all.

Consider two alternate architectures. One invests in the development of a large launch system sized for (say) a lunar mission, and ignores the orbital operations necessary to assemble pieces in orbit, or to fuel them. The other takes the money that could be spent on launch systems and instead focuses on the latter technologies, using them to leverage the transport capabilities of existing or slightly modified vehicles.

At completion of development, the former has a lunar transport system (as long as it doesn’t go down for some reason) that has no other capabilities, because it is too small to go anywhere else, and there was no investment in the orbital technologies necessary to do multiple launches with it. And if it goes down for some reason for some significant period of time (as every launch system has to date, other than the EELVs, and it may just be a matter of time for them), the entire enterprise is shut down. If one wants to go to Mars, it will be necessary to either develop those technologies originally spurned, or to develop a (perhaps impossibly) larger-yet launch system. And each flight will be horrifically expensive, and the vehicle will never develop high reliability, because its flight rate will be too low. This is taking the fundamental mistake of the Shuttle (which was not reusability) and tripling down on it.

On the other hand, the latter course provides a system which can assemble arbitrarily large interplanetary missions in orbit to any destination, using a variety of launch systems, ensuring that any one of them standing down does not prevent human space missions beyond LEO. So which one is truly flexible, not to mention resilient?

The Flexible Path replaces set destinations and set dates with a hazy cloud of uncertainty. NASA did not achieve Apollo like this. If the Flexible Path is as good as its proponents say, why will it be applied to human spaceflight exclusively? The entire space agency should have a chance to experience this new transformative policy. But with lesser objectives, lesser launch vehicles, and a lesser budget, it is unlikely the rest of the agency would enjoy the experience.

Let me say it one more time. It doesn’t matter how NASA achieved Apollo, for two reasons. First, Apollo had nothing to do with space. Second, NASA had an essentially unlimited budget with which to accomplish the goal, which was not to open space to humanity, but to beat the Russians in a technological joust. Until we understand this, and stop yearning for something that never was, and never will be, we will continue to waste billions of taxpayers’ money on Cape spectaculars, and never make much progress in space.

I would add one more point, for those who fear the Yellow Menace on the moon, or any other nation that follows the Apollo paradigm. Space will not be opened by throwing large vehicles away a few times a year. If we couldn’t afford it, at the height of our power and influence in the sixties, why should we believe that any other country can?

[Update in the late afternoon]

Incoherent in his apoplexy, seething with unreined rage, foaming at the mouth and eyes bulging, beard afire, Mark Whittington leaps so hard at his chain that he breaks it, and pounds out incomprehensible gibberish on his keyboard about this post and the previous one.


I’m exaggerating? You don’t say…

I also think it’s hilarious that his permalinks still have double page markers, after all these years of running that blogspot blog.

[Update a few minutes later]

Ray from Vision Restoration blog makes a very good point over there:

The Program of Record has virtually nothing to do with the Vision for Space Exploration except at the most superficial level, such as the initial destination (the Moon). The Flexible Path as outlined in the report is a lot closer to the Vision for Space Exploration than the Program of Record. Check out the Vision for Space Exploration documents, the Augustine Committee report, and the status of Constellation – or see some (of many) examples here of how far the Program of Record is from the Vision for Space Exploration.

It is really annoying to have to deal with commentary by people who have no idea what they’re talking about, and don’t even bother to read the class assignment. Including Mark Whittington.

Setting It Up

…and knocking down a straw man, over at The Space Review, by Dr. Day:

Occasionally, space activists critical of NASA claim that whereas the civilian space agency is a badly-run bureaucracy that ought to be eliminated and replaced with something else, the military manages to do a much better job with its space program. The military, which they believe to be immune to congressional micromanagement and political interference, somehow manages to do great things in space.

Which “space activists critical of NASA”? With whom is he arguing? Can he name names? I wouldn’t claim that this argument has never been made, or that there aren’t people who hold such a view, but I’m not aware of any. It certainly isn’t representative of “space activists” in general. So I’m not sure what his point is. He then goes on to kick the straw out of the thing with a list of past and current DoD space (and other) procurement screwups, with which anyone who has been following things is quite familiar. And his conclusion?

By now you might have detected a common theme here: procurement of complex hardware is hard. Many projects are over-budget and behind schedule, not just at NASA, but everywhere.

Actually, that’s not the common theme that I detect. The common theme that I detect is that the government procurement system for space is seriously FUBAR, whether civil or military. One of the places that such cost and schedule problems aren’t the case (at least not to the huge degree that the government programs are) is SpaceX. Yes, things have taken longer than they hoped, and probably cost more, though we have less insight into that, because we don’t know what the original estimates were, but here’s the bottom line: they have mostly developed both a launch system and a pressurized return module, capable of carrying crew with the addition of life support and launch escape, for about a hundredth of the cost that NASA estimates it will take to develop Ares I alone. And what is the “uncommon” theme here? SpaceX is doing it with their own money, and not subject to government procurement rules and the dictates of porkmeisters on the Hill.

[Early afternoon update]

Clark Lindsey has further thoughts:

SBIRS and many such projects at least have the virtue of advancing the state of the art. ARES I retreats from the state of the art. Rather than building on lessons learned from the Shuttle and taking a step forward towards practical, low cost reusable space transport, Griffin backtracked the agency and led it down the Ares I dead end where no development path to lower cost space access exists. Furthermore, it was known from the start that Ares would be hugely expensive both to develop and to operate. It is just an added insult to the taxpayer that, on top of all that, Ares turned out to have several serious technical problems that resulted in delays and even more costs. Hanging around with a rough crowd offers no excuse for this miserable project.


Health Care

Mafia style:

Where would meals be better and cheaper? A city where customers could choose between restaurants competing in a free market? Or a city where everyone was forced to buy all their meals at a few mafia-controlled restaurants?

Like the mafia, Congress wants to make you an offer you can’t refuse. At least the mafia doesn’t pretend that it’s acting for your own good.

Hey, it’s the Chicago Way.

Everyone’s Getting Into The Act

A reusable suborbital rocket company based in New Zealand. Call it Kiwispace.

[Monday morning update]

Clark Lindsey has more. Apparently I misinterpreted the project in my quick read. Payloads are recovered, but the vehicles don’t seem to be reused. I also have to say that someone who legally changes his last name for this kind of thing is a lot more fanatical about it than I am.


…is the only season that I miss in my home state. Springs are nice, but they’re basically southern Cal standard. Summer, while it can have some nice days, tends to be hot and humid. I don’t mind cold and snow per se, but southeast Michigan winters are unpredictable (a white Chistmas is hit or miss), and generally on the edge of freezing, with slush, slick ice, and ugly mud. But fall… The closest thing I can find to it in CA is to go up into the Sierra with the aspens and sycamores. And south Florida? You’re joking, right?

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!