Spaceflight

If there were any hitches, they weren’t apparent from the viewing stand. They hit the apogee of at least a hundred kilometers, and had a smooth entry and landing. I took some pictures, but until I can figure out how to get them onto a big screen, I won’t know if they were any good, or worth posting. If you watched live on television or webcast, I’m sure that the pros did a better job than me (if for no other reason than they have much better equipment.

The question now is what effect, short and long term, this will have on the growing prospects for this new liberating industry. XCOR has gotten a lot of good publicity out of this. Here’s hoping it means investors as well. And we still await announcements from Paul Allen and Richard Branson about future plans.

[Update at 9 AM PDT]

Leonard David has filed his report from Mojave.

[Another update]

Here’s a copy editor for whom the president’s new initiative can’t come a moment too soon. The San Francisco Chronicle says that SpaceShipOne made it all the way to the atmosphere. [Hat tip to Orbital Mind-Control Laser]

[Another update]

I should mention that Dale Amon has been describing this over at Samizdata as well.

Preparations

The sun is up now. I’ll have pics later. The XCOR hangar is right on the flight line, and I hear the sounds of helicopters and other aircraft (perhaps including chase planes), getting into position prior to the rollout.

I’m heading down to the viewing area, so no blogging for a while.

[Update a few minutes later]

OK, one more. They’ve got White Knight halfway out of the hangar, fueling and prepping it to taxi over to the viewing area at 6:30.

Ceiling And Visibility Unlimited

During the day in the Mojave desert, the sun beats down on the ancient rock and sand through cloudless skies. Its rays are reflected back upward, and it heats the dry air. Following the inexorable law of Boyle, with no volume to contain it, it expands, and as it does, it has to go somewhere.

What this eventually means, as the late morning and afternoon progress, is wind. And not just high wind, but dynamic, changing, don’t-know-from-what-direction-it-will-come-from-one-minute-to-the-next wind, grabbing-a-seemingly-tranquil-hangar-door-right-out-of-your-hands wind. The natives know this, and expect it. In fact, overlooking the town of Mojave, along the road leading up to Tehachapi, is a wind farm, a crop of subsidized windmills. In fact, some wag last night suggested that this wasn’t a natural wind–Burt, a natural showman, had simply decided to pay for the electricity to run them in reverse to build up the suspense for the next morning’s flight.

When we arrived last night, it was gusting at (my estimate) thirty to forty knots. In XCOR’s hangar, you could hear the groans of the old metal walls straining against it. The rave last night was sandblasted by it–I could taste and feel the grit in the watermelon slices left to its untender mercies. Many, with no experience with Mojave, had two questions: could the flight occur in conditions like this? And if so, would the conditions be like this in the morning?

The answer to the first is almost certainly no. A steady wind can be managed, if one can take off into it, but no prudent pilot would attempt a takeoff or landing with high and unpredictable potential crosswinds, which could suddenly flip over a twenty-million-dollar one-of-a-kind investment, just before it was about to bear fruit.

Fortunately, the answer to the second question is also probably no.

When I got up this morning, the desert had cooled and the atmosphere had calmed, and the notorious Mojave gales had settled down to a gentle breeze, as they almost always do. It looks like it will be a gorgeous morning for history.

Yes, Virginia, There Was A Rave

Just as Leonard David predicted. Much beer was consumed, much loud hideous noise that was proclaimed to be music was heard. The good thing about it was that it did seem to be bringing in young people, and as I realize every time I look at my cohorts and see the graying of the hair, the space movement can certainly use some new blood.

I’m off to sleep, with rollout a little over six hours from now.

President Announces Controversial New Educational Initiative

LOS ANGELES (APUPI) June 20, 2004

Standing in front of the Los Angeles Times building on Spring Street and surrounded by aides, President Bush put forth a new and long-overdue proposal today, to the cheers of thousands of long-suffering readers of that paper, to start to repair the tragic situation with the American journalism system. He called it “No Reporter Left Behind.”

“For too many years have we seen the sad evidence accumulating that our nation’s media outlets and journalism schools simply aren’t achieving what they must for our nation to maintain its first-place ranking in freedom of speech and a properly informed public,” he declared. “Compared to journalists of a few decades ago, today’s reporters show an increasing inability to comprehend simple English or basic statistics, to exercise logic, or to even recognize that they’re Americans.”

“Now, many accuse the media of bias against my administration, but I don’t believe that. I’m here to change the tone in Washington and the nation, and I refuse to engage in such accusations. I’m sure that journalists are well meaning. As a compassionate conservative, it’s clear to me that they simply haven’t been given the education and training that they so desperately need, and we need to help them and their hardworking editors.”

The president went on to illustrate the growing problem.

“Certainly, we’re all familiar with the examples of journalistic incompetence that seem to be increasing almost daily.”

“Even after a great number of speeches and explanations, many reporters still don’t seem to understand why we are at war, or are able to even comprehend the fact that we are at war. There’s a concept in logical argument, called a ‘straw man,’ in which the debater sets up a weak argument that was never made, but pretends that his opponent did, and then knocks it down, pretending to have somehow won the argument.”

“The press, many of whom seem to suffer from attention-deficit disorder, seem to have trouble focusing on my stated reasons for this war, instead being easily distracted by these kinds of strawman arguments.”

“For instance, many of the slower journalists continue to mistakenly claim that, because we haven’t yet found stockpiles of WMD in Iraq, the threat from Saddam wasn’t imminent, and that the war therefore wasn’t justified. This despite the fact that I never used imminence as a justification for the war, and in fact clearly said that the threat wasn’t imminent, but that we couldn’t wait until it was.”

“They then claim that I somehow implied that the threat was imminent, even though I explicitly denied it. They clearly lack the ability to comprehend not just written English, but spoken English as well.”

“Had these slow journalists been held back until they understood logic and basic reading and listening comprehension, instead of simply being promoted up to some other assignment, some of the mistakes of the past few days might have been avoided. For example, just last week, this newspaper and many others reported that the 911 Commission had shown that there were no ties between Saddam and Al Qaeda, and that, again, this had somehow taken away a justification for liberating the Iraqi people from Saddam’s tyranny.”

“The facts, of course, are that the 911 commission only stated that there was no involvement of Saddam with 911, and the commission members themselves have said that there’s little distance between our position and theirs. This is, of course, irrelevant to justification for removing Saddam, since we have never claimed that Saddam was involved with 911, and in fact we’ve taken pains to make clear that we had no evidence to that effect, and we’ve never used that as a justification for removal.”

“These are just a couple examples of a much larger and broader problem.”

“We’ve all seen the damage that policies of social promotion do to promising young people like Jayson Blair, who was simply passed along from assignment to assignment without having to demonstrate the ability to meet the most basic standards of ethics.”

“We’ve seen too, the damage caused to journalists by award inflation, in which they get gold stars, or Oscars, or Runyons and Pulitzers for sub-par work. It gives them a false sense of achievement, and inhibits their ability to truly progress. We do them no favors by falsely boosting their self esteem, to the point that they are given honors of which they can’t even comprehend the significance.”

“We can no longer afford to sweep such tragic incompetencies under the carpet. This ongoing deterioration of reportage is having seriously debilitating effects on our nation’s health, on its economy, and its national security. In many important, and frightening, ways, our reporters are our future. If a foreign power had somehow foisted upon us such a system of news reporting, in the same way that we’ve somehow done it to ourselves voluntarily, we would justly consider it an act of war.”

Turning around and pointing at the building behind him, he intoned, “On this day, I stand here in front of one of the foremost symbols of that failure, a poster child for shoddy journalism, to announce a major new federal program to start to address this looming crisis. For details, I’d like to introduce Rod Paige, my Secretary of Education.”

Secretary Paige stepped up to the microphone, and after thanking the president, laid out a new proposal of federal assistance to journalism outlets and schools of journalism.

“The president’s new program is two-pronged. We all recognize that early education is key so, modeling Head Start, we’re developing a curriculum for the schools of journalism to emphasize the basics–math, science, logic. In order to encourage the use of our curriculum, we will be issuing federal grants to these institutions, up to ten percent of their annual budget, as long as the student’s test scores show improvement.”

“In addition, we are going to set up a mentoring program with local bloggers, so that these aspiring reporters can learn how to do research and fact check.”

“The second prong of our proposal is to provide grants to media organizations as well. Like the grants for the journalism schools, this will be a ten percent solution, through which, in exchange for providing them with a trifling amount of money, we will dictate reporting standards from Washington. Some of this funding will be earmarked to provide adequate dosages of Ritalin in the water systems, to help the journalists stay focused on the actual justifications for the war, and minimize distractions by red herrings.”

“We’ve had a pilot program for years with PBS and NPR, but it clearly needs to be restructured before we expand it to other press organizations. There have been no strings attached to the taxpayers’ funds, or accountability. This appalling situation has to end.”

In response to a question from the audience as to why a media organization or journalism school would be willing to sacrifice its autonomy for a small amount of its operating budget, he replied, “It’s a mystery, but it seems to work quite well for the public school system, and many of these people are products of that system, so we expect to quickly get most of them on board.”

Reaction to the proposal from the media itself was mixed.

Many members of the press in attendance seemed elated at the thought that their plight had been recognized, and that the government was finally going to help them. All had seen, and many had participated in the many documentaries about the growing problem. They, like much of the public, had viewed the sad images of rooms full of reporters scratching their heads over global warming theories, and the Bill of Rights, struggling to accomplish such seemingly simple tasks as distinguishing an automatic from a semi-automatic weapon.

Others, though, were skeptical. “It’s not a problem that can be solved by just throwing money at it,” said one editor. Another woman in attendance, a professor at the USC School of Journalism, expressed concern that budding reporters would be “taught to the test,” and unable to properly focus on critical areas such as Lacanian metacontexts of transgressive gender oppression.

No reporters from the LA Times seemed to be present, having all been assigned to dig up fresh dirt on Governor Schwarzenegger. In response to a question from the LA Daily News as to whether he thought that this seeming attack on California’s largest newspaper might cause them to further increase their support for Senator Kerry and damage his electoral prospects in the fall, the president replied, “I don’t know. You might want to ask Governor Davis about that.”

(Copyright 2004 by Rand Simberg)

Painting & Drawing on Mac OS X

I’m running into some pointless frustration trying to put together simple illustrations for a talk I’m going to be giving. The software I have access to is simply too powerful for the task. I’m using Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop to knock out simple technical illustrations. The crapware paint program that comes with powerpoint is too crapware for the task, but the learning curve required for Illustrator and Photoshop isn’t worth climbing for tasks I’ll be doing maybe once every couple of months.

Back in the early nineties there was a program for the Mac called SuperPaint. It hit the spot exactly. It had a drawing layer (vector based), a painting layer (pixel based), and the ability to copy stuff from drawing to painting layers. There was a modest selection of tools, an intuitive interface, and a trivial learning curve. I can’t believe that such a program doesn’t still exist somewhere, but I can’t seem to find it. It’s such a basic and useful thing that someone has to be making it. There’s no reason there should be a large gap between kiddie-style drawing programs and the full fledged professional graphical design software. I can’t be the only person who occasionally needs to put together a simple illustration that looks halfway decent.

If anyone in out there knows of a suitable program, please let me know about it, either in email or comments.

[update a few minutes later] Of coursee, as soon as I post this I discover how to do something in Illustrator that I’d been assured was impossible, by people who use the program almost daily. It occurs to me that a lot of high powered software would be made vastly more usable by have a Beginners Mode, or Simple Mode, in which much of the more sophisticated functionality was pushed into the background. My Illustrator learning curve is made considerably worse just due to the sheer number of menus and options I have to dig through to find what I’m looking for. We have this problem at the lab with ProE (CAD software) – the guy who really knew how to use it left, and now we have a detailed set of drawings of the machine that we can’t really work with because nobody has the time to learn the ins and outs. If ProE had a Beginners Mode we could just dive in and and at least get some basic use out of the drawings.

Another Regulatory Milestone

According to Aleta Jackson of XCOR (see comments), Mojave Airport is now an FAA-licensed spaceport, the first inland one in history (note: probably not a permalink), as of yesterday, with Launch Site Operator License # LSO 04 009. I’m sure that it’s just by coincidence, but it’s just in time for Burt’s flight on Monday.

[Update at 6 PM PDT]

There seems to be a lot of confusion in the comments section. When I say spaceport, I mean a place that the FAA has specifically licensed for commercial launches under American jurisdiction. As far as I know, that doesn’t include, for example White Sands (which is one reason that Armadillo probably won’t be able to make an X-Prize attempt this year). And it has nothing to do with Shuttle launches or landings.

A Mainstream Columnist Gets It

Jeff Jacoby says that space should be given over to the private sector.

…if human beings are truly meant to slip the surly bonds of Earth, as the poem “High Flight” says — if we are destined to live on the moon, walk on Mars, explore the solar system — we will need to draw on greater reserves of imagination and creativity than government bureaucracies can manage. Solid rocket boosters can get human beings off a launch pad, but getting them permanently into space will require something even mightier: the unmatched power of competition, incentive, and free enterprise.

Even More Aldridge Thoughts

I’ve skimmed the report. It’s got a lot of good things in it, and it’s probably the best report of its kind to ever come out in terms of policy recommendations (which is to damn it with faint praise). I agree with Andrew that absolutely the most damaging recommendation in it is to initiate a heavy lift program as soon as possible, and to imply (with that photo of a Shuttle-derived vehicle on page 29) that the Shuttle would be a good basis for such a program. It provides absolutely zero support for its contention that (from page 30) “…Heavy-lift capability is a critical enabling technology for mission accomplishment and a plan for achieving this capability needs to be developed now.”

A major omission in the section on engaging the public was any mention about public space travel. This was disappointing–I had hoped that they would have paid attention to Tony Tether’s testimony. Apparently they didn’t. Instead, they fall back on the same time-worn calls for better propaganda:

The Commission recommends that industry, professional organizations, and the media engage the public in understanding why space exploration is vital to our scientific, economic, and security interests.

The poor proles just don’t seem to be able to understand why we should take money from their wallets to send government employees off to other planets so they can watch on teevee. Apparently we haven’t been explaining it well enough. This time for sure!

It was particularly disappointing that in support of a repeat of this flawed approach, they chose this comment from an audience member, rather than Tony Tether’s:

And so my One Urgent Request