Category Archives: Space

Strategery?

Laughing Wolf thinks that there may be a method to Dubya’s madness in not mentioning private enterprise in tonight’s speech (beyond the fact that he gave the speech at NASA HQ). Here’s hoping he’s right, but even if it isn’t the president’s intent, it may be the effect, which is just as good if it works out.

‘…Headed Into The Cosmos”

The new space policy expected since the loss of Columbia almost a year ago was finally announced by President Bush today.

In his speech, the president correctly pointed out that in over three decades since astronaut Eugene Cernan was the last one to kick up lunar regolith, no American, or indeed human, has been farther from the earth’s surface than four hundred miles or so. In response to this tragic statistic, in stirring words, the president pronounced that “humans are headed into the cosmos.” After years of watching science fiction movies, like 2001, and television shows like Star Trek, it’s a message that we have grown to absorb culturally for decades, but now, for perhaps the first time, it’s formal federal policy.

Whether or not it will actually result in achieving the goals that Mr. Bush laid out remains, of course, to be seen. Only the most minimal one, of starting preparatory robotic exploration of the moon in 2008, will occur within his term of office, and that only if he wins reelection this year. The rest of the objectives–completing the station and phasing out the space shuttle in 2010, manned visit to the moon in 2015, lunar base in 2020–will all occur, if at all, after he has left office.

The speech was broad brush, with details and specific architectures to be left for later, which is appropriate. Some of the few details that were revealed are a little troubling.

It’s apparently the end of the Orbital Space Plane project, which is a good thing–it will probably transform itself into the new Crew Exploration Vehicle, which is apparently intended to become a modern version of the old Apollo capsule. But if I heard the speech correctly, that vehicle isn’t to be ready for a decade, in 2014, while the Shuttle is scheduled to be taken out of service upon planned station completion in 2010. This implies that there will be a four-year gap during which we have no ability to get people into space, at least on a government-funded American vehicle. I suspect that this, and other issues, will be fleshed out over the next few days.

It should be noted that on that schedule, it will take us over a decade to get back to the moon, whereas we did it much faster the last time, when we knew much less about how to do it. Of course, the last time, funding was no object–a circumstance that no longer holds. It should also be noted that if the station is completed in 2010, it will be over a quarter of a century after the program was initiated–results from the new initiatives will have to be more timely to keep to the stated schedule.

Many have pointed out that the goals are not new–they’re the same ones that Vice-President Spiro Agnew presented as a follow-on to Apollo during the Nixon administration, and that the president’s father laid out on the Washington Mall on July 20, 1989. In both cases, they fell flat, and were eviscerated by the press and the Congress. Indeed, in the latter case, NASA itself played a role in subverting them by coming up with an outrageous cost estimate of half a trillion dollars, thus removing this potential distraction from its desired focus on the space station.

The challenge of the administration will be to prevent this initiative from similarly faltering, at least during its term. From this standpoint, the proposed schedule and funding profile is convenient, because the majority of new expenditures for this will occur, like the milestones, after the president is out of office. Most of the initial funding will come from a reallocation of already planned NASA resources, with very few new funds to be requested.

The other strategy will be to have an independent commission come up with the implementation approaches that were absent from the speech, and the president announced he was doing exactly that, to be headed by Pete Aldridge, a veteran aerospace executive. It’s not a choice that I find particularly inspiring–I’m afraid that Mr. Aldridge is too deeply steeped in space industry business-as-usual, but there will be others on the commission, and I hope that there is an outreach program to seek fresh ideas and approaches.

While I’m glad that the president has stated a national goal of finally getting humans beyond earth orbit, I’m disappointed that those humans are apparently to continue to be NASA employees, who the rest of us watch, voyeuristically, on television. NASA was not just given the lead–it was apparently given sole responsibility. There was no mention of private enterprise, or of any activities in space beyond “exploration” and “science.” It was encouraging to hear a president talk about the utilization of extraterrestrial resources, but only in the context of how to get to the next milestone.

This is the part of the policy that should be most vigorously debated in the coming months–not whether or not humans, and American humans, are heading into the cosmos, but how we get humans doing that who aren’t only civil servants, and whether or not there are roles for other agencies, and sectors of society. Given NASA’s track record, and in the interests of competition, the administration should in fact consider setting up a separate organization to manage this initiative, and put out portions of it to bid, whether from NASA, DARPA, other agencies, or the private sector.

Most of all, I hope that the administration can break out of the apparent NASA-centric mindset demonstrated in the president’s speech today, and come up with a broader vision, rather than a destination, and help create a space program for, as Apple Computer used to say, the “rest of us.”

‘…Headed Into The Cosmos”

The new space policy expected since the loss of Columbia almost a year ago was finally announced by President Bush today.

In his speech, the president correctly pointed out that in over three decades since astronaut Eugene Cernan was the last one to kick up lunar regolith, no American, or indeed human, has been farther from the earth’s surface than four hundred miles or so. In response to this tragic statistic, in stirring words, the president pronounced that “humans are headed into the cosmos.” After years of watching science fiction movies, like 2001, and television shows like Star Trek, it’s a message that we have grown to absorb culturally for decades, but now, for perhaps the first time, it’s formal federal policy.

Whether or not it will actually result in achieving the goals that Mr. Bush laid out remains, of course, to be seen. Only the most minimal one, of starting preparatory robotic exploration of the moon in 2008, will occur within his term of office, and that only if he wins reelection this year. The rest of the objectives–completing the station and phasing out the space shuttle in 2010, manned visit to the moon in 2015, lunar base in 2020–will all occur, if at all, after he has left office.

The speech was broad brush, with details and specific architectures to be left for later, which is appropriate. Some of the few details that were revealed are a little troubling.

It’s apparently the end of the Orbital Space Plane project, which is a good thing–it will probably transform itself into the new Crew Exploration Vehicle, which is apparently intended to become a modern version of the old Apollo capsule. But if I heard the speech correctly, that vehicle isn’t to be ready for a decade, in 2014, while the Shuttle is scheduled to be taken out of service upon planned station completion in 2010. This implies that there will be a four-year gap during which we have no ability to get people into space, at least on a government-funded American vehicle. I suspect that this, and other issues, will be fleshed out over the next few days.

It should be noted that on that schedule, it will take us over a decade to get back to the moon, whereas we did it much faster the last time, when we knew much less about how to do it. Of course, the last time, funding was no object–a circumstance that no longer holds. It should also be noted that if the station is completed in 2010, it will be over a quarter of a century after the program was initiated–results from the new initiatives will have to be more timely to keep to the stated schedule.

Many have pointed out that the goals are not new–they’re the same ones that Vice-President Spiro Agnew presented as a follow-on to Apollo during the Nixon administration, and that the president’s father laid out on the Washington Mall on July 20, 1989. In both cases, they fell flat, and were eviscerated by the press and the Congress. Indeed, in the latter case, NASA itself played a role in subverting them by coming up with an outrageous cost estimate of half a trillion dollars, thus removing this potential distraction from its desired focus on the space station.

The challenge of the administration will be to prevent this initiative from similarly faltering, at least during its term. From this standpoint, the proposed schedule and funding profile is convenient, because the majority of new expenditures for this will occur, like the milestones, after the president is out of office. Most of the initial funding will come from a reallocation of already planned NASA resources, with very few new funds to be requested.

The other strategy will be to have an independent commission come up with the implementation approaches that were absent from the speech, and the president announced he was doing exactly that, to be headed by Pete Aldridge, a veteran aerospace executive. It’s not a choice that I find particularly inspiring–I’m afraid that Mr. Aldridge is too deeply steeped in space industry business-as-usual, but there will be others on the commission, and I hope that there is an outreach program to seek fresh ideas and approaches.

While I’m glad that the president has stated a national goal of finally getting humans beyond earth orbit, I’m disappointed that those humans are apparently to continue to be NASA employees, who the rest of us watch, voyeuristically, on television. NASA was not just given the lead–it was apparently given sole responsibility. There was no mention of private enterprise, or of any activities in space beyond “exploration” and “science.” It was encouraging to hear a president talk about the utilization of extraterrestrial resources, but only in the context of how to get to the next milestone.

This is the part of the policy that should be most vigorously debated in the coming months–not whether or not humans, and American humans, are heading into the cosmos, but how we get humans doing that who aren’t only civil servants, and whether or not there are roles for other agencies, and sectors of society. Given NASA’s track record, and in the interests of competition, the administration should in fact consider setting up a separate organization to manage this initiative, and put out portions of it to bid, whether from NASA, DARPA, other agencies, or the private sector.

Most of all, I hope that the administration can break out of the apparent NASA-centric mindset demonstrated in the president’s speech today, and come up with a broader vision, rather than a destination, and help create a space program for, as Apple Computer used to say, the “rest of us.”

‘…Headed Into The Cosmos”

The new space policy expected since the loss of Columbia almost a year ago was finally announced by President Bush today.

In his speech, the president correctly pointed out that in over three decades since astronaut Eugene Cernan was the last one to kick up lunar regolith, no American, or indeed human, has been farther from the earth’s surface than four hundred miles or so. In response to this tragic statistic, in stirring words, the president pronounced that “humans are headed into the cosmos.” After years of watching science fiction movies, like 2001, and television shows like Star Trek, it’s a message that we have grown to absorb culturally for decades, but now, for perhaps the first time, it’s formal federal policy.

Whether or not it will actually result in achieving the goals that Mr. Bush laid out remains, of course, to be seen. Only the most minimal one, of starting preparatory robotic exploration of the moon in 2008, will occur within his term of office, and that only if he wins reelection this year. The rest of the objectives–completing the station and phasing out the space shuttle in 2010, manned visit to the moon in 2015, lunar base in 2020–will all occur, if at all, after he has left office.

The speech was broad brush, with details and specific architectures to be left for later, which is appropriate. Some of the few details that were revealed are a little troubling.

It’s apparently the end of the Orbital Space Plane project, which is a good thing–it will probably transform itself into the new Crew Exploration Vehicle, which is apparently intended to become a modern version of the old Apollo capsule. But if I heard the speech correctly, that vehicle isn’t to be ready for a decade, in 2014, while the Shuttle is scheduled to be taken out of service upon planned station completion in 2010. This implies that there will be a four-year gap during which we have no ability to get people into space, at least on a government-funded American vehicle. I suspect that this, and other issues, will be fleshed out over the next few days.

It should be noted that on that schedule, it will take us over a decade to get back to the moon, whereas we did it much faster the last time, when we knew much less about how to do it. Of course, the last time, funding was no object–a circumstance that no longer holds. It should also be noted that if the station is completed in 2010, it will be over a quarter of a century after the program was initiated–results from the new initiatives will have to be more timely to keep to the stated schedule.

Many have pointed out that the goals are not new–they’re the same ones that Vice-President Spiro Agnew presented as a follow-on to Apollo during the Nixon administration, and that the president’s father laid out on the Washington Mall on July 20, 1989. In both cases, they fell flat, and were eviscerated by the press and the Congress. Indeed, in the latter case, NASA itself played a role in subverting them by coming up with an outrageous cost estimate of half a trillion dollars, thus removing this potential distraction from its desired focus on the space station.

The challenge of the administration will be to prevent this initiative from similarly faltering, at least during its term. From this standpoint, the proposed schedule and funding profile is convenient, because the majority of new expenditures for this will occur, like the milestones, after the president is out of office. Most of the initial funding will come from a reallocation of already planned NASA resources, with very few new funds to be requested.

The other strategy will be to have an independent commission come up with the implementation approaches that were absent from the speech, and the president announced he was doing exactly that, to be headed by Pete Aldridge, a veteran aerospace executive. It’s not a choice that I find particularly inspiring–I’m afraid that Mr. Aldridge is too deeply steeped in space industry business-as-usual, but there will be others on the commission, and I hope that there is an outreach program to seek fresh ideas and approaches.

While I’m glad that the president has stated a national goal of finally getting humans beyond earth orbit, I’m disappointed that those humans are apparently to continue to be NASA employees, who the rest of us watch, voyeuristically, on television. NASA was not just given the lead–it was apparently given sole responsibility. There was no mention of private enterprise, or of any activities in space beyond “exploration” and “science.” It was encouraging to hear a president talk about the utilization of extraterrestrial resources, but only in the context of how to get to the next milestone.

This is the part of the policy that should be most vigorously debated in the coming months–not whether or not humans, and American humans, are heading into the cosmos, but how we get humans doing that who aren’t only civil servants, and whether or not there are roles for other agencies, and sectors of society. Given NASA’s track record, and in the interests of competition, the administration should in fact consider setting up a separate organization to manage this initiative, and put out portions of it to bid, whether from NASA, DARPA, other agencies, or the private sector.

Most of all, I hope that the administration can break out of the apparent NASA-centric mindset demonstrated in the president’s speech today, and come up with a broader vision, rather than a destination, and help create a space program for, as Apple Computer used to say, the “rest of us.”

Real-Time Speech Blog

Starts with obligatory paen to the dedicated people at NASA. Some of it is nonsense, of course–“bold,” and “risk takers” hasn’t described NASA personnel for many years, but it’s obligatory nonetheless.

Now he’s using the Lewis and Clark analogy. Not too bad Going through the litany of benefits from space exploration, including weather, GPS, communications, imaging processing, etc.

Hyping Shuttle and station, talking about space telescopes and probes, and finding water on other planets, and current searches for life beyond earth with robots. Pointing out that we haven’t been further than four hundred miles from earth in thirty years.

“expand a human presence across our solar system.”

Finish space station by 2010, and use it to focus on long-term effects of space on humans. Return Shuttle to flight ASAP. It will be used to complete ISS assembly, and then retired in 2010.

Develop new spacecraft, CEV–first mission by 2014. That means a gap of four years when we don’t have a government vehicle for manned spaceflight.

Return to the moon by 2020, with initial robotic missions in 2008. Now he’s saying 2015 for manned mission, so maybe the 2020 date is for a lunar base.

Talking about moon as base for deep space missions, including lunar resources for propellants. It will be used as a learning experience for Mars missions. We need to send people to really explore the planets.

“Human beings are headed into the cosmos.”

“…a great and unifying mission for NASA…”

Commission of private and public-sector experts to figure out how to implement it. Pete Aldridge to head it. Lousy choice–we need someone who’s less steeped in government programs.

“We choose to explore space…”

[Speech over]

OK, no big surprises, other than fleshing out dates. Nice speech, but it really is picking up where Apollo left off in terms of goals. In fact, it’s exactly the same goals laid out by Spiro Agnew during the Nixon administration, which was promptly shot down in the press and Congress. It’s also the same goals that his father laid out on July 20, 1989. It’s not at all clear to me what’s going to be different this time.

Listening to it, NASA was clearly given not only the lead, but the sole responsibility for this–there was no mention of private activities in space, or how they might play a role, if for nothing else, getting stuff into LEO. My disappointment of last week is confirmed–there’s little hint of new thinking in the administration how to approach space policy.

However, for as long as it lasts, it is nice to have as national policy that “humans beings are headed into the cosmos.” It may at least provide a rudder for activities across the federal government, not just at NASA, but at the FAA and other places. I continue to believe that ultimately this program will not get humans into the cosmos, at least not in any large way. If the schedule laid out by the president holds, I won’t be at all surprised to see the first NASA expedition to the moon in 2015 greeted by the concierge at the Club Med Luna.

[one more point]

Jay Manifold has already laid out a “triple-constraint” program summary.

[Update]

I’ve gathered some more-coherent thoughts in the next post.

Zubrin Festival

Here’s that interview with Bob Zubrin that Linda Seebach told me about yesterday.

And speaking of Dr. Zubrin, he sent me a review copy of his new science fiction novel, The Holy Land, a few weeks ago that I read and enjoyed at the time, but didn’t get around to formally reviewing. I was reminded of this by a review of it at NRO yesterday by Adam Keiper.

I have to confess that I was surprised by it, because I’d previously had no idea that Bob wrote fiction. If this is his first attempt, it makes it all the more impressive.

Everyone calls it a satire, but it’s not really, or it’s more than that. Monty Python’s The Life Of Brian was a satire of the modern Middle East (among other things), but this book is allegory, which has a long tradition of being a pointed way of illuminating issues to which we may be too close to have the proper perspective.

I found the parallels striking (though I naturally would, because I shared Bob’s apparent views on the Middle East situation prior to reading it–I’d be interested in reading a review by someone whose mind was changed by the book to see how truly effective they are), but I don’t really have anything to say about the nature or quality of the satiric parallels that Mr. Keiper didn’t already–you should go read his review. I’d like instead to point out something that I’ve seen no other reviewer do.

While the political points are sharp, one can completely ignore them and still enjoy the book, because it actually is a good story in itself. It’s yet another retelling of Romeo and Juliet (though it’s hardly love at first sight), except it has a happy ending.

Let us hope that the tragic situation that it spoofs ultimately does as well, as unlikely as that may sometimes seem, given the ancient hatreds and irrationalities that still seem to prevail there.

Mission To Nowhere?

Speaking of blindered and dyspectic views on space, the usually-smart Anne Applebaum disappoints with this WaPo editorial.

Mars, as a certain pop star once put it, isn’t the kind of place where you’d want to raise your kids. Nor is it the kind of place anybody is ever going to visit, as some of the NASA scientists know perfectly well. Even leaving aside the cold, the lack of atmosphere and the absence of water, there’s the deadly radiation. If the average person on Earth absorbs about 350 millirems of radiation every year, an astronaut traveling to Mars would absorb about 130,000 millirems of a particularly virulent form of radiation that would probably destroy every cell in his body. “Space is not ‘Star Trek,’ ” said one NASA scientist, “but the public certainly doesn’t understand that…”

…Too often, rational descriptions of the inhuman, even anti-human living conditions in space give way to public hints that more manned space travel is just around the corner, that a manned Mars mission is next, that there is some grand philosophical reason to keep sending human beings away from the only planet where human life is possible….

Right, and the Arctic isn’t the kind of place where you’d want to raise your kids. Nor is it the kind of place anybody is ever going to visit. Even leaving aside the cold, and sparseness of plants, there are the deadly polar bears. If the average person in temperate climates has to contend with wolves, an Arcticnaut traveling to that hostile clime would risk storms that might drown him in the frigid waters, or expose him to sharks.

No, space is not Star Trek, Anne, but it is an environment that is conquerable, and people exist who wish to conquer it. It’s only a matter of technology levels. African bushmen wouldn’t survive high latitudes, but the Inuit figured it out. Radiation can be shielded against. It’s very costly to do so now, given the high launch costs, but that’s a problem that’s solveable.

Earth may today be the only planet where human life is possible, but before we developed the right clothing and weapons, tropical climates were the only region of earth where human life was possible. This is not a persuasive argument for confining ourselves to a single planet, any more than it would have been to do so to a single continent.

Crowded out of the news this week was the small fact that the troubled international space station, which is itself accessible only by the troubled space shuttle, has sprung a leak.

Meaning what? That it’s therefore impossible to send people into space? There are two errors here. First, she makes the mistake that many do in believing that it can’t be done any better or cheaper than NASA does it. But even if the station springs the occasional leak, so what? So did whaling ships. It didn’t stop them from whaling–they had pumps and repair techniques. Space vehicles will be the same.

It’s interesting in the way that the exploration of the bottom of the Pacific Ocean is interesting, or important in the way that the study of obscure dead languages is important. Like space exploration, these are inspiring human pursuits. Like space exploration, they nevertheless have very few practical applications.

But space exploration isn’t treated the way other purely academic pursuits are treated. For one, the scientists doing it have perverse incentives. Their most dangerous missions — the ones involving human beings — produce the fewest research results, yet receive the most attention, applause and funding. Their most productive missions — the ones involving robots — inspire interest largely because the public illogically believes they will lead to more manned space travel.

This is simply untrue. Manned missions return much more science than robotic missions, at least when it comes to planetary exploration. We got much more science from Apollo than from all of the other lunar probes combined. The problem is that it costs a lot more money to send people (at least the way we’ve done it to date), not that they return less science.

And of course, she falls into the other trap of assuming that the only reason to send people or robots into space is for science, ignoring the potential for new resources, planet protection, and most importantly, new environments for the expansion of human freedom.

I can agree that it may not be a worthwhile expenditure of taxpayer funds to send people to other planets right now, or into space at all, but the notion that it has no value to anyone is utter nonsense. We will explore and settle space, because there are many people who wish to do so, and the means to do so are growing rapidly as technology advances and wealth increases. The issue is not if, but how and how soon, and with whose money.

[Update]

Mark Whittington has fisked this piece as well.

[Another update]

Linda Seebach (editorial writer for the Rocky Mountain News) points out via email that the Applebaum piece is an opinion column, not a WaPo editorial. She’s correct, of course.

She also says that she’ll have an interview with Bob Zubrin up tomorrow–I’ll post a link when it happens.

More Year-End Space Reviews

Fresh from a tour in the belly of the space beast, Laughing Wolf describes the sad state of NASA at the end of 2003, and offers hope for the future similar to mine.

Clark Lindsey has some good roundups as well.

[Update at 4 PM Central Time (I’m still in Columbia, MO)]

My New Years Fox column is up. As some may have guessed, it’s a reprise of this post. I should issue a correction, since my editor is probably out partying by now and won’t be fixing it any time soon (it’s my fault, not hers–she ran it as submitted, instead of correct). I say that Lockheed is the only remaining provider of large commercial expendable launchers. That should have read, of course, the only domestic one. There are others, in Europe, China and Russia.