RIP, Outpost

And RIP, Apollo mentality:

The Outpost was an icon of the previous generation of NASA – test pilots, rough-and-tumble guys who blazed trails into outer space with their grit and determination. Or so the story went – when you delve deeper into the details, you find out that really it wasn’t their grit at all – the Right Stuff that we all know so much about really had very little to do with humanity reaching space. The world, America, even NASA allowed the myth to continue because it made much better press – some superhuman beings stretched us from the ordinary to the extraordinary. To glamorize the engineers who actually made it happen: how boring!

Unfortunately, that view was allowed to persist long after it was useful. Today’s NASA is hampered by many forces; one of the most detrimental is the crew office. The crew office is the greatest bastion of the Space Ego, where test pilots, sports heroes, and other mythical creatures can take refuge in perceived greatness.

Time to let go of the Cold-War past, and face a bright new free-enterprise future.

[Update Sunday afternoon]

A lot more (depressing) discussion in comments at NASA Watch. What this comes down to (a recurring theme here) is that space isn’t important. If it were, we’d fix things.


[Update a few minutes later]

I think that this is related. As far as I’m concerned, shrinking the astronaut office is a good thing — they’ve had too many for years. And what they’ve really had too many of (with exceptions, of course) is people with attitudes like this:

Ross personally does not like the idea of turning to commercial providers to fly astronauts to the International Space Station.

“My personal druthers are to keep the program totally within NASA like we’ve done in the past – the vehicle, the launch team, control, everything – because I know, I’ve seen, how difficult it is to do and I’ve seen what happens when you don’t pay attention to details,” he continued. “Even as hard as we’ve tried to pay attention to details, being what I will call a professional flight launch team, and processing team and flight crew team and flight control team, we still miss things.

“We’re going to have some people that are very much novice in what they’re doing, and trying to do things as inexpensively as possible to make a profit and we’re now going to be putting our crewmembers onto those vehicles and trusting them to launch them safely and that concerns me,” he adds. “You can do it. I’m not going to say that you can’t. It all depends on how much insight, oversight, control, leverage that NASA is given in the overall process. That’s the big key to it,” Ross said.

I grow increasingly weary of the oft-repeated (and much too oft-repeated in the last year) canard that private transportation providers will cut corners and be unsafe because they have to make a profit. The other one is that NASA somehow has some magical expertise and insight that private industry doesn’t have into human spaceflight safety, when in fact much of that, to the degree it exists is in private industry at places like USA and Boeing (who is building a commercial capsule).

Last time I checked, Southwest Airlines had a perfect safety record. Last time I checked, it was one of the most, if not the most profitable airline. And they seem to do both without any oversight by the “professional flight launch team” at NASA. Because, you know, those at Boeing and SpaceX and other places (many of whom are NASA veterans), are just “amateurs.” By these peoples’ theory, Southwest should be killing passengers every week or so. Why don’t they?

Gee, could it be because that they know that killing your customers is bad for business, and that if you go out of business, you don’t make any profits? On the other hand, the agency that not only hasn’t had to worry about profits, but had so much vaunted expertise in human spaceflight, and “knew what they didn’t know,” destroyed two multi-billion dollar Shuttle orbiters, and killed fourteen astronauts, while spending untold billions of dollars of other peoples’ money in apparent futility to make them “safe.” And each time that happened, the agency was rewarded with budget increases and new programs, which they then proceeded to screw up.

So you tell me, who has the more useful incentives, in terms of both cost and safety?

Mind, I’m not complaining that they kill people occasionally — this is a new frontier, and people are going to die. What I’m complaining about is that they’re spending so much money (and again, other peoples’ money) to do so, for so few results.

A New Low

Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, Amanpour has Meghan McCain as a panelist on This Week. I really felt for George Will, having to share it with her ignorant blathering.

Who is it, again, that anointed Ms. Ditz to speak for her generation? Oh, yeah. I forgot. She’s the media’s favorite kind of “Republican” — one that will criticize conservatives and real Republicans.

Only A Person Gripped By Fear

..and unable to think clearly could believe in “shovel-ready projects.”


The completely unjustified condescension of this lightweight continue to amaze. He’s an arrogant man with much to be modest about.

[Monday morning update]

More thoughts from Mickey:

Maybe Obama was cynically making a pitch to his immediate audience—a small crowd of Massachusetts donors who might be expected to respond to the idea that they were defending “facts” and “science” against confused know-nothings. But Obama should know, especially after the 2008 San Francisco incident, that a candidate can’t keep his words confined to a fundraiser. And this apparently wasn’t a closed-to-press event like the one in S.F. We didn’t have to rely on a donor/blogger like Mayhill Fowler to spill the beans. Reporters reported on it. Obama couldn’t have been trying to cyncially play to the donors—he’s not that naive! This must be what he really thinks.

Now I’m scared! What yesterday’s comments suggest isn’t just that Obama will get clobbered in the midterms. It suggests that after he gets clobbered he won’t be able to adjust and turn the setback into a longterm victory the way Bill Clinton did. Clinton reacted to his 1994 midterm loss by acknowledging his opponents’ strongest arguments and pursuing a balanced budget and welfare reform. Obama seems more inclined to just tough it out until the economy recovers and the scared, confused voters become unscared and see the light. Meanwhile, he’ll spend his time in a protective cocoon.

A few weeks ago a right-wing reporter told me that worried Dem congresspersons who met with Obama left their meetings more worried than when they went in. I discounted the gossip, but now it’s beginning to ring true. We thought he was a great salesman. He turned out to be a lousy salesman. We thought he was a great politician. Instead he makes elementary mistakes and doesn’t learn from them. He didn’t know “shovel-ready” from a hole in the ground, and then somehow thinks admitting this ignorance without apology will add to his appeal.

I continue to be astonished that so many people were mesmerized by this clown two years ago.

An Open Letter From Ken Langone

Stop bashing business, Mr. President:

A little more than 30 years ago, Bernie Marcus, Arthur Blank, Pat Farrah and I got together and founded The Home Depot. Our dream was to create (memo to DNC activists: that’s build, not take or coerce) a new kind of home-improvement center catering to do-it-yourselfers. The concept was to have a wide assortment, a high level of service, and the lowest pricing possible.

We opened the front door in 1979, also a time of severe economic slowdown. Yet today, Home Depot is staffed by more than 325,000 dedicated, well-trained, and highly motivated people offering outstanding service and knowledge to millions of consumers.

If we tried to start Home Depot today, under the kind of onerous regulatory controls that you have advocated, it’s a stone cold certainty that our business would never get off the ground, much less thrive.


Two Weeks To Go

An email from the executive director of the Space Studies Institute:

Space Manufacturing 14 begins two weeks from today, with pre-registration and the Friday night round table at the Sheraton Sunnyvale Hotel. The full agenda is posted on the website.

Today is the last day to book hotel rooms online.

After today, please call the Sheraton Sunnyvale sales manager direct at 408-542-8284 and ask for the Space Studies Institute group rate.

A reminder: Tickets for the Saturday night dinner event are extra. We hope you will join us for a talk by Prof. John Lewis about Asia’s Road to the Moon.

Register here.

Warning: I’m planning to attend.

Back To The Moon

People are making a big deal of the latest story that Buzz Aldrin has seemingly changed his mind since April about the need to go back to the moon:

Aldrin believes NASA should move in stages toward a manned mission to Mars, by building outer space fuel stations and developing the moon. He said NASA has already spent hundreds of millions researching the projects, and their investment should be utilized — as recommended by Norm Augustine, former chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board and chairman of the Review of the U.S. Space Flight Plans Committee.

What’s more, Aldrin said, the American government should not simply shrug off the considerable experience we have with lunar travel. “The U.S. has the most experience in the world, of any nation, in dealing with the moon,” he told “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that flexibility is needed here.”

Back in April, this was what was reported:

Aldrin prefers that NASA forgo our moon in favor of a trip to the Martian moon Phobos and then a permanent settlement on the Red Planet itself. President Obama’s proposed $3.8 trillion federal budget request cuts NASA’s moonshot Constellation program, which has cost $9 billion over six years, instead proposing to hire private contractors to fly resupply missions to the International Space Station. It also focuses research money on new rockets that could one day be used to send astronauts into Mars, its moons or an asteroid.

So what happened? Let’s leave aside the common confusion between Constellation and returning to the moon (there are many ways to get back to the moon, almost all of them better than Constellation). Let us also stipulate that Buzz can be…mercurial (no pun intended). It could be that what he meant at the time was that he was opposed to redoing Apollo, which was essentially what Constellation did, by Mike Griffin’s own admission, and that this was misinterpreted as an opposition to going to the moon at all. But even if he has changed his mind, aren’t people entitled to do that?

This is the first time that I’ve heard him talk about “fuel stations,” but once one starts thinking about fuel stations in cis-lunar space, it’s inevitable that one will think about the moon as a source for the fuel (and oxidizer).

A couple months ago, I had (non-alcoholic) drinks with Buzz for an hour and a half after Bill Haynes’ funeral, where we bemoaned the current state of space policy. Afterward, I emailed him the link to my piece from last year at The New Atlantis. Perhaps he read it. It would account for his new-found enthusiasm for fuel stations.

Maybe I’ll give him a call and ask.

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!