Category Archives: Space

A Reminder

I’ll be on the radio tonight, discussing the anniversary and the ceremony we came up with to celebrate it.

[Update a little after noon]

I should add that it’s another anniversary (several, actually–the Hitler assassination attempt was sixty years ago today, and Vince Foster’s body was discovered in Fort Marcy Park eleven years ago, though how it got there still remains unclear). It has been twenty-eight years since the first Viking landed on Mars.

A New Generation

Thirty-five years ago, the first men from planet earth walked on the moon.

I was fourteen years old, watching it on a black and white television (though it would have made no difference if we’d had color–the images were black and white themselves). I saw Neil Armstrong step down from the ladder onto the surface, and heard him say “…one giant leap for mankind.”

I wasn’t thinking about the future as I watched, but as a naive teenager, I assumed that this was just the first of many such flights, that were the precursors for bases on the moon, and then flights to Mars and other places. I didn’t know that Lyndon Johnson had made the decision to end the Apollo program two years earlier.

I grew up with the space program–one of my earliest recollections was sitting in my pajamas in front of the teevee, watching John Glenn become the first American in orbit. I couldn’t imagine then that the last manned flight to the moon would occur in less than four years, and that it would be at least four decades, and probably more, after that before humans would return.

But later, as Apollo wound down, and Vice President Spiro Agnew’s proposals for continuing manned space exploration were ridiculed, it became clear that we weren’t going to see the future in space that I’d been promised by grade-school teachers and science fiction, and my interest waned through high school, to the point that I got perfunctory grades, and made no plans to attend college.

I didn’t know that in that same year that the first men trod the lunar regolith, a physics professor at Princeton was doing class projects to determine the feasibility of building huge colonies in space, and moving polluting industries off the planet. And later, thirty years ago this coming September, as I spent my first year after high school working as an auto mechanic, I didn’t read the issue of Physics Today in which his first seminal paper on this topic appeared.

But, laid off from the VW dealership in the wake of the 1974 recession, as Michigan unemployment hit levels not seen since the Depression, and disillusioned at the thought of spending the rest of my life unable to ever really get my fingernails clean, I decided to go to community college. I took math and science classes, and a couple years later transferred to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. There I met people who were aware of Professor O’Neill’s work, and introduced me to it. My interest in space was rekindled, and it led to the career that’s made me the wasted wreck of a man you see today.

Thirty-five years after Neil and Buzz walked on the moon, we have neither the NASA Mars base, or the huge spinning space colonies. But we’re finally seeing new progress on a front in between those two visions. Forty years after the end of the X-15 program, we’re recapitulating some of the early NASA program privately, and diversely, with the efforts of Burt Rutan and the other X-Prize contestants and suborbital ventures. They won’t be diverted down a costly dead-end path of giant throwaway rockets. Instead they’ll slowly and methodically evolve capabilities and markets, creating the infrastructure for low-cost access to space. Once we can afford to get, in Heinlein’s immortal words, “halfway to anywhere,” we’ll finally be able to return to the moon, to complete the job begun by those first voyagers, and this time we’ll be able to stay.

Thirty-Five Years Ago

Alan Henderson has a photo tribute.

Jim Oberg has some thoughts as well.

I don’t agree with his thesis. If we return to the moon, I want to see it done for that other traditional motivator–not fear, but greed. And it’s not obvious to me that international cooperation in space has the benefits he thinks it does, but read and judge for yourself.

[Update an hour or so later]

It’s still not too late to plan a commemorative dinner tonight.

[Continuing updates]

Alan Boyle has a roundup of links, and commentary. I was sorry not to see him this past weekend at the Return to the Moon Conference.

Mark Whittington has an optimistic view of the future.

Here’s space.com’s tribute.

SubOrbital Scenario Planning

Over at The Space Review Sam Dinkin has a piece on scenario planning for suborbital companies. Some thoughts:

I think the most likely scenario is that the suborbital launch services industry will segment into three divisions. There will be the tourism oriented businesses, the earth observation (or reconaissance) businesses and the science oriented businesses. Obviously anyone with a vehicle can attempt to serve all three, but the requirements are not the same for the different mission profiles. Some of the science can be done on just about any vehicle, namely experiments which merely require a couple of minutes of microgravity. This covers a fair number of little experiments in materials science. Only time will tell if it’s enough to sustain a business alone (I suspect not), but it’s certainly enough to add a little to the revenue stream of any company willing to go after it. Other scientific missions require launch at specific locations in order to study the environment of near earth space. I suspect there’s a market for launches near the poles for plasma experiments, but again, that’s probably rather limited.

Earth observation requires a mobile launcher, since mobility greatly expands the number of sites that can be watched. This argues against horizontal takeoff or landing since that imposes limits. For earth observation a vertical takeoff, vertical landing vehicle like TGV’s MICHELLE-B or Armadillo’s Black Armadillo are most likely to be successful, though a mixed mode vehicle like Pioneer’s XP which has both jet and rocket engines can overcome at least some of the limitations on range imposed by the need for a runway.

Tourism imposes few requirements on the vehicle other than safety. Tourists can reasonably be expected to travel to the launch site, and the operator can have a significant fixed infrastructure without impacting the ability to serve the target market (though the infrastructure may be expensive). The real driver for the tourism market has to be safety. Losing a ship taking pictures or running some grad student’s PhD thesis experiment is bad, but it’s not necessarily a killer for the business. If, on the other hand, you lose a ship with a couple of tourists on board you significantly impact your ability to recruit future customers. This suggests that tourism oriented businesses ought to be as conservative as possible in their vehicle design, and should focus on passenger survivability to the exclusion of nearly all other factors. The lowest risk incremental path forward is probably horizontal takeoff/horisontal landing, keeping operations as airplane like as possible, which is the path taken by XCOR and Scaled. The dangerous part of the flight profile is near the ground. Having a vehicle with the ability to glide (basically prolonging the fall) makes a lot of sense from the standpoint of keeping failure modes as graceful as possible. There’s certainly an added appeal to VTVL from the thrillride standpoint, but from the standpoint of the operator of the vehicle keeping the passengers alive under a wider range of failure conditions probably trumps giving them the most exciting experience.

Tourism implies HTHL and earth observation implies VTVL is a little too tidy to capture the messy realities of the way the marketplace is likely to evolve. Nonetheless, the future evolution of the suborbital launch services market is almost certainly going to end up picking a prefered launch/landing mode with specializations depending on the business model of the operating company. In the very long term, when there is a large experience base of operations on VTVL ships, I suspect that the orbital vehicles that evolve from the suborbital vehicles of today will end up being DCX style tailsitters.

Better Than Expected

Despite (or perhaps because of?) the recent lack of selling it on the part of the president, the public seems to support his new space plan:

More than two-thirds (68%) of the American public say they support a new plan for space exploration that would include a stepping-stone approach to return the space shuttle to flight, complete assembly of the space station, build a replacement for the shuttle, go back to the Moon and then on to Mars and beyond.

With funding for such a program expected not to exceed 1 percent of the federal budget, 42% of adults surveyed say they support the program and 26% strongly support it.

Gallup must have screwed up.

They obviously forgot to ask the question properly: “Many experts estimate that the new Bush space initiative will cost a trillion dollars, most of which will probably go to Halliburton and Enron on a no-bid contract. Do you support it, when there are so many other pressing needs, involving starving children, women and minorities, right here on earth?”

History

This past Friday, July 16th, was the thirty-fifth anniversary of the launch of the first mission to land men on the moon. Tomorrow, July 20th, will be the thirty-fifth anniversary of that landing. I and Bill Simon, primary authors of the Evoloterra Ceremony, will be on The Space Show tomorrow night at 7 PM Pacific to discuss the anniversary and the ceremony. You can listen live here.

It’s not too late to plan to get together with family and friends for dinner, and celebrate our first human visit to another world.

Reflections on Mike Mealling’s RTTM summary

Over at RocketForge Mike Mealling has his RTTM trip report up. One line stands out, regarding changing perceptions: “What does work is creating value for a customer from their point of view and then slowly educating them through direct interaction with the product over time. But it requires the customer to have already made a decision to buy.”

This is an excellent point. Only after the purchase decision is made (which may be in a metaphorical sense) can you expect the customer to be sufficiently engaged to stick with a line of argument that may fly directly in the face of things they “know” to be true. As always, it’s not what people know that’s an obstacle to understanding, it’s what they know that ain’t so. Once you have buy in (either literally or in the sense of getting seriously interested) there is a possibility of getting people to change their view. It’s not just physical products that have this dynamic, it’s ideas too. In fact, I’d argue that in the case of a physical product it’s the idea associated with the product that’s important, not the product itself.

Unfortunately people tend to be very committed to their beliefs, usually without regard to how well supported they are. Everyone likes to be told stuff they already believe to be true. It takes active effort and a commitment to truth before comfort to actively seek out opposing ideas and to take them seriously. Unfortunately very few people choose that path.

Applications to RLV development, politics and anything else is left as an exercise for the reader. Bonus points for figuring out how to get the initial buy in to RLV development needed to start the process of changing perceptions. Hint: begins with “Sub,” ends with “Orbital” ๐Ÿ™‚

Reflections on Mike Mealling’s RTTM summary

Over at RocketForge Mike Mealling has his RTTM trip report up. One line stands out, regarding changing perceptions: “What does work is creating value for a customer from their point of view and then slowly educating them through direct interaction with the product over time. But it requires the customer to have already made a decision to buy.”

This is an excellent point. Only after the purchase decision is made (which may be in a metaphorical sense) can you expect the customer to be sufficiently engaged to stick with a line of argument that may fly directly in the face of things they “know” to be true. As always, it’s not what people know that’s an obstacle to understanding, it’s what they know that ain’t so. Once you have buy in (either literally or in the sense of getting seriously interested) there is a possibility of getting people to change their view. It’s not just physical products that have this dynamic, it’s ideas too. In fact, I’d argue that in the case of a physical product it’s the idea associated with the product that’s important, not the product itself.

Unfortunately people tend to be very committed to their beliefs, usually without regard to how well supported they are. Everyone likes to be told stuff they already believe to be true. It takes active effort and a commitment to truth before comfort to actively seek out opposing ideas and to take them seriously. Unfortunately very few people choose that path.

Applications to RLV development, politics and anything else is left as an exercise for the reader. Bonus points for figuring out how to get the initial buy in to RLV development needed to start the process of changing perceptions. Hint: begins with “Sub,” ends with “Orbital” ๐Ÿ™‚

Reflections on Mike Mealling’s RTTM summary

Over at RocketForge Mike Mealling has his RTTM trip report up. One line stands out, regarding changing perceptions: “What does work is creating value for a customer from their point of view and then slowly educating them through direct interaction with the product over time. But it requires the customer to have already made a decision to buy.”

This is an excellent point. Only after the purchase decision is made (which may be in a metaphorical sense) can you expect the customer to be sufficiently engaged to stick with a line of argument that may fly directly in the face of things they “know” to be true. As always, it’s not what people know that’s an obstacle to understanding, it’s what they know that ain’t so. Once you have buy in (either literally or in the sense of getting seriously interested) there is a possibility of getting people to change their view. It’s not just physical products that have this dynamic, it’s ideas too. In fact, I’d argue that in the case of a physical product it’s the idea associated with the product that’s important, not the product itself.

Unfortunately people tend to be very committed to their beliefs, usually without regard to how well supported they are. Everyone likes to be told stuff they already believe to be true. It takes active effort and a commitment to truth before comfort to actively seek out opposing ideas and to take them seriously. Unfortunately very few people choose that path.

Applications to RLV development, politics and anything else is left as an exercise for the reader. Bonus points for figuring out how to get the initial buy in to RLV development needed to start the process of changing perceptions. Hint: begins with “Sub,” ends with “Orbital” ๐Ÿ™‚

First Book Review Of “New Moon Rising”

I’ve started reading the book, but I had to drive home from Vegas yesterday, whereas Michael Mealling flew, and had time to read the whole thing. He already has a review up. Mine will come later, hopefully this week.

Also, I’ll note how much faster things happen today. The book was rushed to print (which, as Michael points out, shows), but it’s extremely timely, and only two days after its release, we already have a published review from the buying public (not from someone given a pre-publication copy).