Category Archives: Space

On The Subject Of Space Heritage

As Jim mentions below, it looks like the battle to save the Apollo launch tower has sadly been lost.

But I’ve been wondering about another space heritage site. Does anyone know what the situation is with the old North American plant in Downey, California? It’s been vacant since Rockwell/Boeing moved all of the space operations there to Seal and Huntington Beaches, but it’s got a lot of history (not just Apollo/Shuttle, but going back all the way to the war, when it cranked out warbirds, including the P-51 Mustang, which took off over orange groves and dairies).

In particular I’m wondering what the status or plans are for the little “walk of fame” in front of Building 6, which had several astronauts’ hand and footprints in cement, a la Sid Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Are they still there? Are there plans to move the cement to a safer location? I’d hate to think that it would just get demolished, like any other bit of sidewalk, whenever they decide to use the site for something else. I’m also concerned about the DEI room, with its full-scale half mockup (it’s only got one wing) of a Shuttle orbiter.

A quick search shows that someone else was as well, five years ago. According to this site, the city was supposed to fully acquire the property last year. Plans for commercial development are shown there.

Anyone know the current status? Last time I drove by everything still seemed intact–it was a ghost plant.

[Noon update]

Here’s a site dedicated to preserving our aerospace heritage, describing Downey.

I should add, I don’t know if it’s still there, but one of the original McDonalds’ restaurants was in Downey as well, preserved just like the fifties (it was outdoors).

[Quick Google search]

Yup, as of last year, it was still there. The post claims it’s the world’s oldest (could be–it was the third one built over half a century ago, before Ray Kroc bought the chain). Here’s a picture of it, and some more taken in 2000.

Aldridge Thoughts

Michael Mealing attended last week’s hearings in Atlanta, and has a useful summary. In particular, he has thoughts and concerns about the inputs from organized labor, which I share. I was going to write something about this last week, but hadn’t seen any of the testimony:

It was my determination that this group is one of the main problems with how space is done these days. They are organized and seem to hold a very large amount of political capital because of that. Apparently their members have been a large determining factor behind ISS and Shuttle. They view these programs as purely ways of creating what they view as “high tech jobs”. At one point Paul Spudis threw out a strawman (transcripts aren’t available yet so I can’t quote directly) that asked that, if the goal of our space program was to “keep our technological sharpness” then should all of it belong as part of DoD as simply a national strategic priority? They answered yes! Not only did they agree with the premise but with its conclusion as well.

One of them even went so far as to suggest that the reason the US is loosing [sic] jobs overseas is due to the cultural decay caused by television and the lack of good morality plays like they had during the old radio days! If this is what Big Labor has to offer these days no wonder we’re loosing [sic] jobs overseas…

…Daniel is saying something that Tom Peters is saying in Re-imagine. That the future of America is in its core value: that this land, this system that we’ve developed, is about radical opportunity. Simply ‘earning a living’ isn’t enough. Simply ‘manufacturing’ isn’t enough. Simply doing what we did last century isn’t enough. Every moment has be to worked at the tip of innovation; at the sharp edge of creative distruction. And these labor guys find that to be the worst evil that could be visited on man because it means there is no such thing as job security. It means no such thing as jobs. Period. Every American’s new responsibility is to be his/her own CEO of Me, Inc.

It means things like re-thinking the relationship between ‘labor’ and the processes it supports. It means having a worker in a factory actively spending his/her own time to figure out ways to not just increase his/her production, but to obsolete his own current job. It means things like figuring out how to build dark factories so that where one ‘factory worker’ ran one stop along an assembly line, that same ‘worker’ is the owner of an entire factory that runs itself. It means thinking of space as an opportunity and a market segment and not as a source for government ensured job security.

These are the people who have killed America’s greatness in space. I lay Columbia and Challenger at their door.

This point cannot be emphasized enough. The commission needs to have someone talk to it about wealth creation, instead of job creation, or we’ll remain mired in the failed policy of the past four decades.

Forty-Five Minutes Till Launch

You can follow the progress of today’s Hyper-X test here, starting at noon Pacific time.

[Update at 12:23 PST]

Fox News says they’re going to cover it, if you want to see it on television instead of your computer.

[Update about 1 PM]

As Hefty notes in comments, the B-52 is in the air. Listening to Fox is a little irritating. First they have the PR guy from the program on, and he’s talking about how this will enable a five-hour trip to Japan. That’s nonsense. First of all, you don’t need scramjets to do that–supersonic flight will. A scramjet flying at this speed would do the job in an hour and a half. But there’s nothing about this technology that deals with the real issues of supersonic/hypersonic flight–the drag and the sonic boom. This is a military technology, first and foremost, and its first application, if there is one, will almost certainly be in hypersonic cruise missiles. It’s also unlikely that it will be used in launch vehicles for a very long time, for reasons that I explained here, with responses to criticism of that article here.

I’m also irritated that they reflexively go to John Pike as their “expert.”

[Update at 4:45 PM PST]

The test appears to have been successful. Leonard David has the story.

The Wrong Author

Steven Weinberg has a 5500-word essay in the New York Review of books on the president’s space initiative. It repeats the same tired nonsense and myths, about how space is for science, that there’s no reason for people to go, that it will cost a trillion dollars.

The President gave no cost estimates, but John McCain, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, has cited reports that the new initiative would cost between $170 billion and $600 billion. According to NASA briefing documents, the figure of $170 billion is intended to take NASA only up to 2020, and does not include the cost of the Mars mission itself. After the former President Bush announced a similar initiative in 1989, NASA estimated that the cost of sending astronauts to the moon and Mars would be either $471 billion or $541 billion in 1991 dollars, depending on the method of calculation. This is roughly $900 billion in today’s dollars. Whatever cost may be estimated by NASA for the new initiative, we can expect cost overruns like those that have often accompanied big NASA programs. (In 1984 NASA estimated that it would cost $8 billion to put the International Space Station in place, not counting the cost of using it. I have seen figures for its cost so far ranging from $25 billion to $60 billion, and the station is far from finished.) Let’s not haggle over a hundred billion dollars more or less