Category Archives: Space

Fear Of Flying

Leonard David (who I hope I’ll see at next week’s Space Access Conference) has an interesting article today on the prospects for returning Shuttle to flight, and the potential consequences, political and otherwise, of delaying or failing to do so.

There’s a fear expressed in the article that a NASA that’s afraid to risk a Shuttle launch isn’t a NASA that can accept the risk of sending people back to the moon, let alone Mars.

I think that’s right. The first step toward a bold new space program is defeminizing our space policy. And while Dwayne says that his intent was to point out the feminine language of the rhetoric of our policy, I do think that this irrational risk aversion is in fact a feminization of the policy itself.

I’m with Jack Schmitt. My position is that we should quickly decide whether or not we’re going to continue the program. If we are, then start flying now, so people don’t forget how to fly it, and we don’t wear it out in the hangar. Stop wasting all these hundreds of millions of dollars and all this time developing improvements for something that we’re only going to fly another couple dozen times and are probably just political bandaids anyway, and just get on with it, while putting into place a plan to develop alternative capabilities as soon as possible. Tell the nation to recognize that the vehicle has risks, to expect to lose another one, and to suck it up and stop crying about dead astronauts who, now more than ever, accept the risk with eyes open, just as do our troops in Iraq. Fly them until we either finish station (and fix Hubble), or lose two, at which point the remaining one goes to Dulles.

If we can’t do that, then just shut the thing down now, so we can take the billions that it costs to keep the standing army sitting around and apply them to something useful. As it is now, we have the worst of all worlds, with wasted money and time, and continuing uncertainty as to whether or not we’ll get any value out of the wasted money and time. Let’s just do it or get off the pot.

A Bad Precedent?

I’ve been meaning to post about this for a while, but haven’t had the time to get back up to speed on it, after all these years, but the Law of the Sea Treaty has reared its ugly head again, and once again, it’s looking like it’s stalling in the Senate, though the Bush administration seems to be supporting it, at least in theory. It went into force ten years ago, but the US has still not ratified it, and Doug Bandow explains why we shouldn’t. Here’s the part that concerns me the most as a space enthusiast:

The treaty’s mining scheme is flawed in its very conception. Although many people once thought untold wealth would leap from the seabed, land-based sources have remained cheaper than expected, and scooping up manganese nodules and other resources from the ocean floor is logistically daunting. There is no guarantee that seabed mining will ever be commercially viable.

Yet this has not dimmed the enthusiasm of the Authority. Like the U.N., it generates lots of reports and paper and obsesses over trivia. Protecting “the emblem, the official seal and the name” of the International Seabed Authority has been a matter of some concern. Among the crises the Authority has confronted: In April 2002 the Jamaican government turned off its air conditioning, necessitating “urgent consultations with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade.” A year later Jamaica used the same tactic in an ongoing battle over Authority payments for its facility. Oh yes, half of the Authority members are behind on their dues.

Were seabed mining ever to thrive, a transparent system for recognizing mine sites and resolving disputes would be helpful. But the Authority’s purpose isn’t to be helpful. It is to redistribute resources to irresponsible Third World governments with a sorry history of squandering abundant foreign aid.

Those familiar with the history of the L-5 Society may recognize this. The Law of the Sea Treaty was the model for the 1979 Moon Treaty, which, like the sea bottom, declared everything off planet the “province of all mankind.” Here’s the key part:

The exploration and use of the moon shall be the province of all mankind and shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development.

In other words, if you or I were to go develop some extraterrestrial resource (and “moon” in this phrasing really means “moon and other celestial bodies”) we would have to share in the proceeds with all other countries, including those that in no way contributed, per the decision of an as-yet-undefined international authority under the auspices of the United “Oil for Palaces corruption” Nations. I can’t think of a better way to guarantee that space will not be developed, which is perhaps the intent of the authors.

While the L-5 Society was largely ineffectual in terms of achieving its goals, it did manage to almost singlehandedly prevent the US from ratifying this treaty (an issue that few others cared about at the time except a few bureaucrats at Foggy Bottom), and that in itself probably made the existence of the society worthwhile, even for as brief a time as it lasted. Just for historical interest, note some of the names in that L-5 history of people who were instrumental in defeating the treaty. In addition to Keith Henson and Carolyn Meinel, Eric Drexler and Chris Peterson, of more recent nanotechnology fame, were also lobbying hard for this outcome.

If the Law of the Sea Treaty is ratified by the US, it would set a precedent and make it harder to argue against similar ratification of the Moon Treaty (which while in force has not been ratified by a single spacefaring nation). I’d say, thanks, but no thanks to both.


Today is the 23rd anniversary of the first Space Shuttle flight, and the forty third anniversary of the first human space flight, by Yuri Gagarin. Which also means that tonight is Yuri’s Night. Here’s a column I wrote two years ago for Fox News about all three events. Get out tonight and party.

First Flight In History

…of a licensed piloted spaceship this morning. Henry Vanderbilt, head of the Space Access Society, reports that Burt wasted no time in using his new launch license. Early reports of 105,000 feet and a thirty-five second burn time, with a safe landing.

More details when I find some–there’s nothing at the Scaled site yet.

And speaking of Henry Vanderbilt, it’s less than a couple weeks until the annual Space Access Conference in Scottsdale, AZ. For anyone interested in the emerging launch industry, this is a must-go event, and this year’s should be particularly interesting with all of the X-Prize activity heating up.

[Update at 1:25 PM PDT]

That altitude is about twenty miles, or about a third of the distance required to win the X-Prize. I wonder how many more flights they plan to do envelope expansion before they do full altitude?

Also, Jim Benson should be pleased that he’s now demonstrated two successful flights of the hybrid engine. Between this, and their new Air Force contract, SpaceDev seems to be on a roll.

[Update at 2:20 PM PDT] has the story now. The first flight went supersonic. This one apparently went to Mach 2.

Save The Nigerian Astronaut!

Jim Oberg forwards an amusing variation on the Nigerian email scam:

Date: Sat Apr 3, 2004 3:20:10 PM US/Eastern
Subject: Nigerian Astronaut Wants To Come Home
Dr. Bakare Tunde
Astronautics Project Manager
National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA)
Plot 555 Misau Street
PMB 437 Garki, Abuja, FCT

Dear Mr. Sir,


I am Dr. Bakare Tunde, the cousin of Nigerian Astronaut, Air Force Major Abacha Tunde. He was the first African in space when he made a secret flight to the Salyut 6 space station in 1979. He was on a later Soviet spaceflight, Soyuz T-16Z to the secret Soviet military space station Salyut 8T in 1989. He was stranded there in 1990 when the Soviet Union was dissolved. His other Soviet crew members returned to earth on the Soyuz T-16Z, but his place was taken up by return cargo. There have been occasional Progrez supply flights to keep him going since that time. He is in good humor, but wants to come home.

In the 14-years since he has been on the station, he has accumulated flight pay and interest amounting to almost $ 15,000,000 American Dollars. This is held in a trust at the Lagos National Savings and Trust Association. If we can obtain access to this money, we can place a down payment with the Russian Space Authorities for a Soyuz return flight to bring him back to Earth. I am told this will cost $3,000,000 American Dollars. In order to access the his trust fund we need your assistance.

Consequently, my colleagues and I are willing to transfer the total amount to your account for subsequent disbursement, since we as civil servants are prohibited by the Code of Conduct Bureau (Civil Service Laws) from opening and/ or operating foreign accounts in our names.

Needless to say, the trust reposed on you at this juncture is enormous. In return, we have agreed to offer you 20 percent of the transferred sum, while 10 percent shall be set aside for incidental expenses (internal and external) between the parties in the course of the transaction. You will be mandated to remit the balance 70 percent to other accounts in due course.

Kindly expedite action as we are behind schedule to enable us include downpayment in this financial quarter.

Please acknowledge the receipt of this message via my direct number 234 (0) 9-234-2220 only.

Yours Sincerely,

Dr. Bakare Tunde
Astronautics Project Manager

The web site appears to be genuine. It makes no mention of stranded astronauts.