Problems With The Policy

Daniel Handlin has a critique of the new space policy, over at The Space Review today. Many, indeed most, of his concerns are valid, though I think that he overstates the concerns of safety and human rating. All of the plausible vehicles — Delta, Atlas, and even Falcon 9, are most of the way there already, and no major changes will be required to any of them, despite all the FUD thrown up by the Ares supporters over the past few years. The new policy isn’t just imperfect — it’s not even particularly good. But then, we’ve never had good space policy, in the entire history since Sputnik, from the standpoint of becoming spacefaring, so it doesn’t have to be very good to be the best we’ve ever had.

Those who have seen me defending it here for the past three months may have had the impression that I think it’s great, but that’s a consequence of a) the fact that whatever its flaws, it’s such a huge improvement over the previous plan that it looks great in comparison and b) the complaints about and attacks on it have been so ridiculously hyperbolic, nonsensical and over the top that any pushback against them is going to look like great praise. It’s sort of like the idiots who thought that I was a big George Bush fan, for no other reason than that I didn’t think that he went into Iraq to steal the oil, or try to get his daddy to love him.

So of course the policy can be improved upon. And the questions about HLV and Orion are valid, but don’t seem to recognize the politics underlying the decisions. This piece, like many space policy analyses, presumes that the goal of the policy is to actually accomplish things in space. And for some policy makers, of course, it is, but that will always be in conflict with the more salient goals — to feed the pork to the most politically connected interests.

The purpose of the (up to) five year delay is not to figure out the best HLV design, or to develop “new technology” for HLVs — as the piece points out, we’re not going to learn much about that. At best, we may develop a new engine to replace the Russian RD-180 used by the Atlas (though this is for national security issues — it certainly won’t save any money). The thing is, if we develop an HLV now, we know that it will be very expensive, because it will be based on Shuttle infrastructure, and if we know anything about Shuttle infrastructure, it is expensive to maintain and operate, even without the orbiter. I can’t know for sure, of course, but I assume that the point of the delay is to kick the HLV can down the road long enough for the policy establishment to finally figure out that we don’t need one to do serious exploration, and that in fact it would hold it back due to its high costs (as it has for decades). It would be nice to make this decision now, but there’s insufficient consensus for it, because too many continue to be members of the Apollo cargo cult. So a bone has to be thrown to Marshall, and a few billion wasted on HLV “technologies.”

With regard to the now-you-don’t-see-it-now-you-do Orion “lifeboat,” that was clearly a sop to Colorado, which (unlike Texas, Utah, or Alabama) the president still hopes to pick up in 2012. But a full restoration would have guaranteed unwillingness on the part of players like Boeing to risk their own money on a new capsule that might have to compete with the government-subsidized one by Lockheed Martin. Making it a lifeboat only was an attempt to alleviate this concern, but it’s probably not enough, because the hardest part of capsule design is entry, and it wouldn’t take much (including internal LM investment) to convert it back to a vehicle to carry crew to orbit (basically, all it would need is an abort system). The challenge is going to be how to fence off its requirements in such a way as to provide some confidence on the part of the other players that they won’t have to compete with it (and it may in the end not be possible to do so). I have some ideas on that, but they’re available only on a paying basis for anyone who wants to hire me as a consultant…

Anyway, yes, the policy could stand a lot of improvement (though it remains vastly superior to what came before it). The question is whether or not it’s possible to get anything better in the current political environment. And my biggest fear is that out of ignorance and kneejerk reaction to anything Obama, the incoming Republican House (and perhaps Senate) will bollix things up even worse.

[Update late morning]

I think he’s way off here:

In some sense, anyone can design a spacecraft on paper. But the decades of institutional memory, expert systems engineering experience, and management skills for large space projects that will be lost by dissolving NASA’s role in spacecraft development can never be recovered.

If such a thing ever existed at NASA in any useful form, it disappeared decades ago. Part of Mike Griffin’s justification for Ares was to recreate it. To the degree that such institutional memory exists, it’s more in the contractors than at NASA. The same contractors who are now going to be putting up crew on their launch systems.

When Did Barack Obama…?

really meet Bill Ayers? I think that the speculation that it was Columbia is entirely reasonable, and that he doesn’t want us to know that, not just because of the Weathermen connection, but because it would put the lie to the claim of “just a guy in my neighborhood.” And that may be one of the reasons (and perhaps a big one) why he won’t let us see his transcripts.

And I remain in awe at the continued incuriosity of the media about this. But if the honeymoon is really over, maybe we’ll start to hear more about it. I won’t hold my breath, though.

The Left’s War Against Science

Speaking of what is and is not politically correct in academia, there are a lot of interesting posts over at Volokh’s place on the “racist” email incident at Harvard. I agree with Eugene:

I, for one, am disheartened that — for perfectly understandable reasons — a student at a research university feels the need to apologize for having the temerity to be open to scientific evidence on a scientific question, and for deciding to express her openness to her friends.

Now there was something “sad and unfortunate” and lacking in “responsibility” in the circulation of the original e-mail: As best I can tell, the recipients forwarded the sender’s e-mail without the sender’s permissions. That is generally not proper with regard to personal mail, especially personal mail that refers back to an earlier conversation and may be hard to evaluate fully without knowing that conversation. If that were all that the Dean was condemning, I would agree with her. But my sense is that the Dean is condemning the sender, not the forwarders.

Hernstein and Murray were unjustly condemned for The Bell Curve, in my opinion. It may indeed be true that their research wasn’t valid, but that’s not what they were condemned for. They were condemned for even asking the question.

I have no idea whether blacks are on average less intelligent, or more intelligent, than whites (and of course there are different flavors of intelligence, so they could be smarter in some ways, and less so in others). But I’m open to believing that either could be true, because it seems obvious that blacks are unlikely to be exactly as intelligent as whites on every axis. In order to believe that they are, you have to believe that intelligence is not heritable (i.e., you have to be a leftist who denies human nature and believes in the tabula rasa). Because any trait that is heritable, like height, or athletic ability or…skin color, is going to have different averages within a population.

But while it would be ludicrous to argue that blacks don’t have darker skin, on average, or that Inuit tend to be more stout than Kenyans, on average, to have such a discussion about intelligence is completely taboo in academia. Stephen Jay Gould took this to the greatest heights in his Mismeasure of Man, in which he took great pains to gather as much research as possible to “prove” that all homo sapiens, everywhere, have the same innate capacity to learn. And he did this not in the interest of science, though I’m sure that he flattered himself that he did, but in the interest of his Marxist ideology, which could not morally tolerate any other conclusion.

Do I think that such research is socially useful? No, not particularly, but that doesn’t mean that I oppose its being done, as long as it isn’t with my money. But the left considers it socially dangerous research. It’s clear why they consider it so, but the reason that I consider it pure research (that is, not having any societal implications) is that unlike them, I am an individualist, whereas they are collectivists. I treat people as individuals, whereas they treat them as members of favored or disfavored groups. So for them, any research that can result in a group being favored or disfavored, particularly if it isn’t derivative from their own notions of social history, is beyond the pale.

Me? I say what difference does it make how smart the average black is? I’m uninterested in averages — I only want to know how smart the particular black that I’m considering hiring is, and I don’t particularly care whether or not she’s black. Suppose we did find out that blacks were ten points higher, or lower, than whites? Does it mean that we’re going to educate them differently simply because they’re black? I would certainly hope not, but that’s the instinct of the collectivist.

And of course, this is why I find complaints from the left about the “war on science” by the “right” so tendentious. Because in many ways, theirs is even more serious, and unrelenting. Trofim Lysenko, or Margaret Mead, or Margaret Sanger were certainly not right wingers.

[Update a few minutes later]

This seems somewhat related: Why can’t a man be more like a woman?

Echoes Of The Thirties

The words of John Mearsheimer, and others. It’s truly appalling how respectable these sorts of views have become in academia. Not to mention on the left and among Democrats in general.

As a side note, while Coughlin did hate communism, it was only because it was a competing form of socialism to his own — it’s nonsensical to call a man who thought that Roosevelt wasn’t socialistic enough “right wing.” To do so is simply more of the rewriting of history by the left over the past decades.

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!