Why “Progressives” Like Trains

Thoughts from George Will:

Forever seeking Archimedean levers for prying the world in directions they prefer, progressives say they embrace high-speed rail for many reasons—to improve the climate, increase competitiveness, enhance national security, reduce congestion, and rationalize land use. The length of the list of reasons, and the flimsiness of each, points to this conclusion: the real reason for progressives’ passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.

To progressives, the best thing about railroads is that people riding them are not in automobiles, which are subversive of the deference on which progressivism depends. Automobiles go hither and yon, wherever and whenever the driver desires, without timetables. Automobiles encourage people to think they—unsupervised, untutored, and unscripted—are masters of their fates. The automobile encourages people in delusions of adequacy, which make them resistant to government by experts who know what choices people should make.

Stupid proles.

By the way, just to preempt any further commentary along these lines, comparisons between my opposition to government-subsidized high-speed rail and my support for smarter government spending on space transportation are spurious and idiotic. Not that this will prevent them, of course.

Jeff Greason

US government space efforts in difficulty if not crisis. Could be talking about almost anything in space — reconnaissance satellites, human spaceflight BEO. Long-time problem, growing in severity, and it’s a crisis because legacy systems being called on to do things that they were never designed to do in terms of lifetime, but every time we try to replace, go over budget or get cancelled or reduced in scope, so that they never serve as replacement for what we used to have. When you find time and again that goals exceed resources, you can either downscope goals, get more resources, or change the game. Human spaceflight is not a luxury — need a frontier, need a place to maintain dynamism, and find elbow room. DoD is definitely not a luxury when it comes to recon, but all replacements are not working. Scaling back goals is not an option. Financial crisis is now upon us. Non-defense discretionary is going to stay flat at best and probably go down. If NASA is going to even maintain flat budgets it will have to show more for the money (need more Buck Rogers for the bucks in order to get the bucks). Technology isn’t “ten times better this or stronger that”). It’s just a fancy word for knowing how to do something. One of the root causes of our current problems was the submergence of the NACA, and then Apollo, when NASA started to focus on technologies for its own needs rather than those of industry. ITAR has been another problem crippling our industry, and one of the more pernicious effects has been to starve the industry of funding for its own research. This conference is a small part of the problem, but it will play a key role in solving it. Suborbital vehicles will add a lot of technologies. Learned from Augustine that the addition of just a few key technologies can enable NASA to do a lot more with a lot less. Many of those technologies can be demonstrated suborbitally. Won’t get all the way where you need to be for human exploration, but can provide a critical foundation, and the more we can have had experiments on suborbitally, the more that the expensive orbital tests will be successful. Examples: cryo quick-disconnects, propellant acquisition and gauging in weightlessness, crucial for orbital propellant storage and transfer. Real pieces of hardware are sitting in real labs sitting at as far a level of maturity as there can be sitting in a lab, gathering dust, waiting for flights to mature in the environment. Frightening overruns in military satellites arise from untried tech in the satellite, but no ongoing efforts to mature those technologies in non-critical systems, and many of them can be tested suborbitally. ISS also provides excellent testbed (as will Bigelow) for longer-duration technology tests.

Pure science also important, but in doing science, they also push technology. At low flight rates, expendable launch systems are most cost effective, but as rate goes up, we want reusability. Shuttle demonstrated that a vehicles that requires so much effort to turn around have no advantage over and expendable. Suborbital flight is the “school” where we will learn how to do orbital reusable right. Most of those lessons will drive the recovery of a reusable upper stage. We have to return to the kind of environment we had between the Wright brothers and WW II, but it’s hard because of the government domination over the past half century. Have to develop environment in which many approaches are tried at hight rates. Science missions are a significant market segment for suborbital, and government is most substantial funding sources for science, so government policy is important. CRuSR important, but execution has been slowed with management changes and direction changes, and lack of current budget doesn’t help. Don’t expect to see the government become the lion’s share of an market segment, but it’s needed as an initial anchor to help overcome “wait and see” attitude from other customers. Availability of of government funds critical to prime the pump through transitional period. That’s the great value of government funding. Initial payloads can fly at considerable risk, and there should be no additional hurdles for this, and modest investments needed to encourage this industry could be the most important money spends in this decades in terms of technology payoff that allows us to open up the solar system.

George Nield

Talking about managing risks of suborbital spaceflight.

Offers a lot of comparisons of perception of risky activities —

A lot of people have been saying that after Shuttle retirement NASA astronauts shouldn’t be flying on commercial vehicles until they have been established to be “safe.” But spaceflight is inherently a risky business. Shuttle has a fatal history of one in sixty-six flights. Commercial airliners ten thousand times safer (on the order of one in a million). Doesn’t mean that NASA isn’t doing a good job, but we can’t think that only NASA can do it well, and to say that commercial can’t operate safely is not only unfair but “flat-out wrong.” We have to work with industry to come up with better designs and approaches to getting to space. As with aviation, the only way to get safer, cost-effective space vehicles is to build a lot of them and fly the heck out of them. It’s been fifty years since the first human spaceflight, and what do we have to show? A lot of spectacular achievements, but a pretty pathetic record when it comes to diverse cost-effective spaceflight. Only half a dozen vehicle types and only 500 people. Compare to the first fifty years of aviation — hundreds of companies and thousands of flights, allowing us to learn what worked and what didn’t, what was important and what was not, and we created a save affordable transportation industry. Government has played important role in pushing state of the art, and establishing regulatory framework, but government didn’t specify designs or operate airlines in the early years. That’s why he’s excited about Commercial Crew. For first time NASA will be enabling industry to get people into LEO instead of just doing it itself, with competition, and a variety of spacecraft to get our astronauts to orbit. No more single string, not more sitting on the ground after an accident. The last thing we need after the next accident (and there will be one) is another presidential commission and congressional hearings. Just get the NTSB involved.

So he’s excited about orbital, but in the near term even more about suborbital. In 2010 there were very few orbital missions in the US, but by 2012, he expects to see hundreds of suborbital flights, with a high pace of learning and incremental improvement. And many of them will be applicable to the next generation of orbital vehicles.

FAA-AST has established a Center of Excellence for commercial space transportation, using New Mexico State as the administrative, but also including Stanford, Colorado, Florida Tech and others. Last year was the first year to give out spaceport grants. FAA gives out $3B per year in airport improvements, but now we’re doing the same thing for spaceports. Only $500K to start, used for Kodiak, Mojave, Spaceport America and Cecil Field (Jacksonville). Also getting $5M for an “access to space” prize in the 2012 budget request. Finally, there is a new FAA technical spaceflight center. Office needs additional help with ramp up of suborbital, so they’ve proposed it to be inside the gate at KSC, to allow the nation to continue to benefit from many of the skilled workers that will be seeking employment over the next few months as Shuttle winds down. Spaceflight safety, engineering, range operations and space traffic management. Will support about fifty people initially. Tremendous value to having FAA personnel co-located with operators rather than in an office inside the Beltway. Excited about writing a new chapter with suborbital space travel.

Alan Stern Speaks

Building a new community, something out of nothing. It is 1979 and the PC is about to appear in the next year.

When suborbital took off after X-Prize win, was all about tourism. Last year we saw at the first conference that research and education had come to the fore. A lot of surprise last year when over 250 people showed up at first conference, but now providers talking about this as primary market. Life science, earth science, space physics, astronomy and solar physics, lots of new ideas that we couldn’t have imagined a year ago, just heard an idea last night about how to detect extra-solar planets using suborbital flight. Will be able to get more useful microgravity time for many areas than on ISS. Last year over 80 presentations, with double that this year, three hundred pre-registered with a lot of walk-ins this morning. Last year SS2 had just rolled out, but this past year we’ve seen vehicles actually flying. Spaceport America dedicated in October (many here were there), SS2 is doing approach/landing tests, XCOR, Masten and Armadillo manifesting payloads, Blue Origin has announced their cabin payload system, NASTAR offereing regular REM training courses, CRuSR funded, Commercial Spaceflight Federation has new members, and new space policy that encourages commercialization. Flights will be beginning soon with SwRI and others, and next year we may start to see results at this conference.

George Nield of FAA up next.

Frank DiBello Speaks At The Suborbital Conference

Thanking SwRI and UCF for planning/hosting conference. Industry facing challenges, though most fun one for Florida. Excited about providing platforms for new areas of research. Investors still skeptical, know that space is good place for innovation, but can’t rely on government. Have to seek opportunities for industry-driven research. Celebrated ten years on orbit of permanent habitation of ISS and more research on Shuttle. Decades of good foundational research, but is it enough? We are believers in NASA and space, but we are the choir and have to not just listen to our own song. Not everyone understands potential in same terms we do, including the average citizen who sees lots of money that gets spent on infrastructure that gets cancelled. Need to expand research beyond peer review to involve industry in more concerted way. Florida ready to stand up to opportunity, will support community in very aggressive way. Have invested $30M in life-science center with hundred thousand square feet of space for animal care/integration for flight. Seen a significant increase in suborbital research interest, want to see a lot of coordination between suborbital and orbital research, from a hundred kilometers to Bigelow orbital facilities. Seeking collaboration on these activities and reaching out to industry for corporate dollars to broaden activities. Announcing that they will be releasing a program for matching funds for corporate investment in the next month. Will join with NIH and other sources for ways to find more bang for the buck. Welcome XCOR’s announcement of flight sales to SwRI. Looking forward to more such deals with Masten and others to operate out of Florida. Hope to spawn many new companies in research and applications, bring benefits back to earth and keep America a leader in space.

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!

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