First Contact

Just for the record, I think that the UN is about the last entity that I’d like to have that job.

And yes, per comments, it is pointless to ask someone how long it would take the Shuttle to get to the nearest star. I would have no idea how to go about answering that question with anything but a “forever.” As other commenters said, it’s like asking how long it would take to get to the moon with a bicycle, or a submarine.

[Via Alan K. Henderson]

[Update a few minutes later]

More thoughts from Kevin Williamson:

I do not propose to test the hypothesis that it would take 5,000 times the recreational dosage to overdose on marijuana, but I would like to know how much bazooka one has to smoke before deciding to appoint a UN representative to alien civilizations. Is there data on that?

I’m not sure I want to know the answer.

[Update mid afternoon]

Even more thoughts from Claudia Rossett:

…if the Malaysian head of OOSA ends up doubling as a UN envoy tasked with crafting a program for representing the “sensitivities” of all mankind to aliens, it would be nothing more than normal UN procedure should she end up huddling with Talebzadeh, head of the Iranian space agency, to draft a plan for the planet. That might be less worrisome were Malaysia and Iran a tad less cozy these days — but as it is, Malaysia was one of the three countries which last November at the UNs International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna voted against rebuking Iran over its sanctions-busting nuclear program.

Just a coinkydinky, I’m sure.

Support For The Senate Bill

Most of the recent action alerts on space policy have been vociferous opposition to the House bill, but today the Commercial Spaceflight Federation has come out with one strongly in support of the (already passed) Senate version, urging the House to vote for it, while not mentioning their own odious work. This seems like a good strategy, since it sounds more positive. Of course, the action message has always, for the most part, been to call your congressperson and have them support the Senate version, but now it’s the focus of the alert itself, rather than just instructions what to do.

[Update a few minutes later]

It looks like Gordon is waving the white flag:

House Science and Technology Committee chairman Bart Gordon issued a statement Monday afternoon saying that he anticipated the full House to take up the Senate bill on Wednesday. “It has become clear that there is not time remaining to pass a Compromise bill through the House and the Senate,” he says in the statement. “For the sake of providing certainty, stability, and clarity to the NASA workforce and larger space community, I felt it was better to consider a flawed bill than no bill at all as the new fiscal year begins.”

This is the first halfway-good policy news I’ve heard since the new budget was released in February. An undirected CR would have wasted billions and months more.

The Great U-Turn

James Bennett, on the resistance of American political culture to “progressivism:”

For decades — at a minimum, since the beginning of the Progressive Era, and arguably earlier — America had been on a course toward a more centralized society, one in which individualism as it had been understood since before the Founding — a society built on independent families living on their own properties, most of them farms — was being replaced by a different vision. The progressive vision was one of citizens as employees whose existence was mediated by negotiations among large corporations, unions, and government agencies. For such subjects, “rights” were to be a designated set of entitlements granted by those organizations.

America had gone some distance down this road by 1980, although not as far as Canada or Britain, and nowhere near as far as Germany or France, which had never been all that laissez-faire in the first place. But 1980 marked the point at which the nation reversed course. Thenceforth it would be headed in the opposite direction, toward a new vision of individualism and decentralism, driven by the computer rather than the plow.

It’s long, but worth a read.

Innovators

There’s an interesting piece at the Journal today on “tomorrow’s winners” in new technologies. Several of them will be familiar to regular readers of this site:

Space Travel and Habitation

“Commercialized space travel will see a lot of innovation,” says Jeffrey Baumgartner, founder of the JPB innovation consultancy.

“Much of it will be incremental in nature, but the result—low-cost, easy travel to space and potential bases on the moon and, in the longer term, Mars—will involve substantial innovation.”

Some firms to watch, says Mr. Baumgartner, are Space Exploration Technologies Corp., known as SpaceX, Virgin Galactic LLC and Bigelow Aerospace LLC.

Human habitation in space so far has taken place in rigid vehicles like the International Space Station. Bigelow, based in North Las Vegas, Nev., is developing inflatable modules that should be easier and cheaper to launch. Bigelow already is orbiting two unmanned, expandable prototypes and says it is planning assembly of four new spacecraft by 2015.

“The key here,” says Mr. Baumgartner, “is that aeronautics is leaving government control and being taken over by industry, where cost-cutting and profitability, rather than contractors milking the state for as much as they can get, will lead to a lot of innovation, affordability and efficiency.”

Heavy-Lift Launching

A critical obstacle to any sort of space-based future is getting some rather sizable objects beyond the reach of the Earth’s gravity.

But Langdon Morris, a partner with the InnovationLabs LLC consulting firm, notes that while state-invested companies in the U.S., Russia and Europe have developed “heavy lift” launch capabilities, one private firm is moving to surpass them all in terms of payload capacity—an innovation that could slash launch prices and make larger payloads commercially viable.

SpaceX, of Hawthorne, Calif., says it hopes for a 2013 launch of its Falcon 9 Heavy rocket, which is designed to carry payloads of up to 70,000 pounds into low Earth orbit, about one-third more than the Space Shuttle, which is the largest-capacity launch vehicle now in operation.

“Cost-effective heavy-lift launch will enable new space commerce industries,” says Mr. Morris.

Space-Based Solar Power

“Once heavy-lift launch is solved, space solar power will be close behind,” says Mr. Morris. “Space solar power could transform the Earth’s economy.”

The idea is for satellites in geostationary orbit to collect the sun’s energy and convert it into radio waves for transmission to surface stations, where it will be converted into electricity for local power grids.

Mr. Morris thinks there are several companies that could achieve this.

One is Manhattan Beach, Calif.-based Solaren Corp., which last year reached an agreement to sell 200 megawatts of electricity a year to California’s largest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., for 15 years, starting in 2016. Solaren says it plans to test key systems and deployments in space in 2014, and launch its Space Solar Power Plant into geostationary orbit in 2016.

A competitor, Switzerland-based Space Energy Group, says it hopes to launch a test satellite within three years, assuming it gets expected funding.

Emphasis mine. I have higher hopes for the space transportation companies that the power satelliters, but more power to all of them. So to speak.

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!