Category Archives: Space

They Still Don’t Get It

According to Aviation Now, NASA is now focused on airbreathers, or to be more precise, Rocket-Based Combined Cycle (RBCC) propulsion for the next generations of space transport.

Although virtually all of the third-generation reusable launch vehicle (RLV) concepts currently being considered by NASA rely on some form of combined-cycle propulsion to get to orbit, the space agency is still not insisting on single-stage vehicles.

Well, it’s nice that they’re not insisting on SSTO, I guess…

Obviously, the RBCC hobby shop at Marshall is winning the bureaucratic turf war.

Here’s a concept, guys. How about just putting out an RFQ for X pounds and Y people delivered to orbit, and let the market figure it out?

Nahhhh, that would mean the technology sandbox might get emptied…

They Still Don’t Get It

According to Aviation Now, NASA is now focused on airbreathers, or to be more precise, Rocket-Based Combined Cycle (RBCC) propulsion for the next generations of space transport.

Although virtually all of the third-generation reusable launch vehicle (RLV) concepts currently being considered by NASA rely on some form of combined-cycle propulsion to get to orbit, the space agency is still not insisting on single-stage vehicles.

Well, it’s nice that they’re not insisting on SSTO, I guess…

Obviously, the RBCC hobby shop at Marshall is winning the bureaucratic turf war.

Here’s a concept, guys. How about just putting out an RFQ for X pounds and Y people delivered to orbit, and let the market figure it out?

Nahhhh, that would mean the technology sandbox might get emptied…

Dodging Cosmic Bullets, Part Trois

I previously missed this column by Jim Pinkerton at TechCentralStation from December 31st (thanks to Ralph Buttigieg for the link). Though he’s generally a political commentator, he’s a closet space enthusiast (I met him briefly at the Cato conference last spring). This is a general piece about space policy, some of which I agree with (though not his assessment of Dan Goldin), but I cite it because he expends quite a bit of it on the asteroid defense issue.

He claims that it is not a NASA responsibility, but a DoD one. I agree, with the caveat that it shouldn’t even be viewed as planetary defense per se. The DoD should definitely be in charge of defending us against willful agents (i.e., bug-eyed monsters from Zeta Reticula, or Marvin the Martian and his disintegrator ray), but not natural events.

No, the natural terrestrial analogue for asteroid management is flood control, or fire control. Thus, I believe that it should be made the responsibility of the Corps of Engineers. When the populace lies in a flood plain, they build dams to mitigate the danger. When earth lies in the path of potential planet-busting objects, they should land things on them to divert them. Taking NASA out of the picture would have the effect of forcing an emphasis on more practical solutions, rather than “science,” or “international cooperation,” or endless “technology development” that only feeds sandboxes in Huntsville or Hampton.

Also, as Ralph points out, it would provide NASA with some useful and much-needed competition.

This needs to be thrown into the space policy mix with which Sean O’Keefe is grappling right now.

Dodging Cosmic Bullets, Part Deux

My, it’s a red-letter day. I’m compelled to disagree with Iain Murray twice in a single day, on two different subjects.

The Professor is worried about asteroids on InstaPundit.Com. I take his point that he’s not worried about this particular rock, but Steve Milloy’s point on JunkScience.com is important here:

Gasp! Shock, horror! Er… hang on. Doesn’t this particular rock cross the orbits of Mars, Earth, Venus and Mercury (twice) every 1,321 days (3.6 Earth years)? And hasn’t it been doing so for millions of years? Wow! That was a close call alright…

Mr. Milloy is indulging in a fallacy here, similar to the one of the man who jumps off the building, and calls out as he passes every floor, “Doing fine so far!”

It was a very close call in astronomical terms. And in fact it doesn’t “cross the orbits” of those planets with any regularity–space is three dimensional. There is no way to know for how many millions of years that particular object has been avoiding hitting planets (it may be a chunk broken off from a larger one that did, in fact, collide with some planet, such as our own Moon).

Of course we shouldn’t lie awake now sweating over the fear that this particular object will hit us the next time around the carousel. The point is that it’s a reminder that many such objects are out there, some of them have our number on them eventually (as evidenced by past extinctions, and the cratered surface of the Moon, which didn’t get that way from too many sweets during adolescence), and that now that we have a civilization worth saving, and the technical means to save it, we should be thinking about it and devoting appropriate resources toward that end.

Of course we must colonize whatever worlds we can, but at the moment that’s beyond us. So let’s just keep on with our lives until we have the technology. Until then it’s best for us to treat this as the interplanetary equivalent of crossing the road. Look both ways, don’t build a bridge.

I’m not sure what Iain’s point is here. It is not, in fact, beyond us to colonize other worlds now–we simply choose not to. Will it be more affordable in the future? Of course. But that rationale can also be used to put off forever the decision to buy a new computer.

When he says, “just keep on with our lives until we have the technology,” one might infer from that that acquiring this magical “technology” is a passive act, like receiving manna from heaven, or cargo from the airplanes and control towers built from palm fronds. Technology is something that we develop (active voice), in response to some perceived need. Glenn and I point this little event out as a reminder that there might be reasons to develop space technology sooner rather than later.

How much we should devote to such an endeavor depends on the expected value of it (i.e., the probability of a catastrophic extraterrestrial event times the cost of it should it occur). I haven’t done that computation, partly because I don’t know the probabilities (because we aren’t even spending the trivial amounts necessary to adequately fund the sky surveys to gather the data with which to do so). But it’s certainly not zero, which is approximately how much we’re currently spending on it.

And as for “…Look both ways, don’t build a bridge,” I have no idea what this means in the context of the discussion. The point of the article was that even if we “look both ways” (right now, as I said, we are barely looking at all) we currently have no policy options if we see the car is bearing down on us–bridges are entirely beside the point.

[Update at 10 PM PST]

A reader who calls him/herself “skeptic” asks:

What is the probability and how was it calculated? If it is based on known events and conditions, that is fine. But what is it?

As I pointed out, we don’t know, because we haven’t even spent the money needed to gather the data necessary to do the calculation. The known events are many (e.g., in 1910 a meteor or comet known as the “Tonguska Event” hit a remote region of Siberia. Had it occurred in a populated area today, it would have caused billions of dollars in damage, and thousands, perhaps millions, of lives).

If it is based on what we don’t know, that is *not* fine. I don?t care what it is; it is speculation.

So we should ignore it if it’s based on willful ignorance?

What can we do about it? It would take a massive, massive amount of energy to alter the orbit of anything substantial.

Do you have some calculations to back up this claim? In fact, the amount of energy required to divert an object from its path sufficiently to prevent a collision with earth is quite small.

Hydrogen Bombs would be insignificant.

Ummm… no. Do you have any idea whatsoever what you’re talking about?

Even if we could amass the required energy, how would it be delivered?

By landing a small probe on the body, setting up a solar-powered or nuclear de-vice that could utilize its own mass as a rocket to divert it the few meters per second that would be required to prevent the catastrophe.

I am all in favor of space exploration. But I am not big on tax-funded research: who gets to set priorities? Politicians ? I hope not. Speculators ? I hope not. Scientists – How do we choose?

I said nothing about tax-funded research. Presumably we would choose based on who would do the best job of providing results.

A New Beginning

It was an improbable-looking harbinger of a new age in space.

Tiny, white, at the east end of the Mojave Airport runway, it looked fragile and miniscule next to the support truck, and surrounded by busy ground crew, readying it for its upcoming public debut. Finally, they moved away, leaving the pilot, Dick Rutan, in the cockpit. The Long-EZ chase plane approached it from the rear at a couple hundred feet, and we could see the sudden shimmering of heat in the cool desert air over the craft as two toggle switches were flicked in the cramped cockpit, and twin engines of the XCOR Aerospace EZ-Rocket were lit.

It took it no time at all to start heading west into the gusting wind, its long wings wobbling tentatively as it was buffeted by the ever-shifting forces of the invisible medium in which it was about to take flight. About the time it was almost level with us, a few seconds after we first heard the roar of its engines, Rutan rotated the nose, and it almost leaped off the runway. The sound was similar to that of a jet, of which there are many in Mojave, and loud, though not as loud as, say, a fighter on afterburners.

It started to climb, more rapidly than I’ve ever seen any Long-EZ ascend–the chase plane couldn’t keep up with it. It made a slow turn to the left, still climbing at a seemingly-impossible, ever-steeper angle as the propellant load rapidly decreased and its acceleration increased, until it finally leveled out at what appeared to be several thousand feet, and the chase plane eventually caught up with it, albeit at a lower altitude.

There were some scattered clouds at altitude, and we occasionally lost the planes in them. But they were scattered only, and we eventually reacquired the object of our momentary devotion. As it headed back west over our heads, we could hear the engines start to sputter as they became starved for oxygen, and then a sudden eerie silence as the rocket engines were shut down, and the altitude was too great to hear the faithful pistons of the chase plane.

The two planes made slow, beautiful circles over the airport, gently spiraling down over a period of several minutes until, finally, as they approached the east end of the runway, they dropped gear, made a final sharp left bank, lined up and gently touched down, buffeted once more by the capricious gusting winds. The Long-EZ braked and taxied back over to the viewing area, and the EZ-Rocket slowed to a stop at the end of the runway, to be towed back to the waiting crowd.

OK, I know. You’re asking, why is this a big deal? We are (literally) in a war to save western civilization. Millions are starving in the world. Millions (often the same millions) live in depradation and slavery. An airplane just crashed in Queens, and we don’t know why. So just why am I wasting bandwidth talking about a home-built airplane that has a couple little (400-lbf thrust each) lox-alcohol rocket engines installed where the pusher prop used to be?

To ask that question is, to me, akin to asking, what was the big deal about the fact that a couple bicycle mechanics in Dayton, Ohio put a crude gasoline engine and propeller on a big kite, and managed to controllably get it off the ground, for a shorter distance than the wing span of a Boeing 747, almost a hundred years ago?

First of all, I think that space is important, for lots of reasons, but primarily for its potential for future human freedom. But I’m not going to argue that here–I’ll just assume that people who read this weblog agree.

As I pointed out in my recent disquisition on the wrong-headed Economist editorial of a couple of weeks ago, what is keeping us from getting into space in the way that many of us want is its unaffordability to any but governments. And what is keeping it unaffordable is the fact that only governments do it, and they don’t do very much of it, and when you don’t do very much of something, the unit costs get very high.

While we need technology development, we don’t need it in the way that NASA likes to think (with billion-dollar failures like X-33, to develop unobtainium, and fancy new propulsion systems). The only technology that we need is to integrate what we have in hand into actual vehicles, and learn how it works, and what doesn’t work, and fly it, day in and day out, and accumulate hours on engines and airframes, just the way we do with airplanes.

XCOR Aerospace is doing just that.

And, I should add, our need for technology development is nowhere as intense as our need for market development, and sensible FAA regulations, and a rational (as opposed to the “Right Stuff”) approach to space operations. What XCOR Aerospace (and other companies–I don’t mean to slight anyone, but I am writing about the XCOR rollout here) is doing will contribute to that also, in a way that NASA is not, and cannot.

While EZ-Rocket doesn’t fly high, or fast–unlike NASA’s reusable rocket programs–it actually flies. And in fact, though it doesn’t fly particularly high, or fast, it is a testament to the neglect of this field that, had XCOR bothered to call the appropriate French certification agency to have them witness today’s flight, they would have simultaneously awarded it the new world’s records for height, speed, and time to climb for a rocket plane.

It not only flies, but it can, given small amounts of money (equivalent to just a fraction of the overruns on programs like X-34 and X-33), fly every day, or twice a day, for mere hundreds of dollars per flight. And the experience developed from it can lead to bigger, faster rocket planes, that can also fly every day, or twice or thrice a day, and teach us how to fly rocket planes, and by selling experiment time, or even (heaven forfend!) rides to wealthy people who want a thrill, make a little money while doing it. We may have rocket racing competitions, sponsored by ESPN, or the Xtreme Sports Channel, or Pratt & Whitney.

And the records will get faster, and higher, and the revenues will grow, until we are offering rides to orbit, and people (with fortunes less than Bill Gates and Larry Ellison) are buying. And then some crazy fool will develop a space suit, and haul up enough parts to build a space hotel, and we’ll offer week-long stays, instead of barn-storming joy rides. And someone else will actually rent space in the hotel and perhaps do some research, or figure out how to build something bigger, like a Mars mission vehicle, that can be afforded by the Planetary Society, or the Mars Society, or even the (renamed?) National Geographic Society.

Why isn’t NASA doing this? They are institutionally incapable of it. NASA gets its funding, unfortunately, not to get us into space, but to maintain the jobs base in places like Houston, and Huntsville, and Cocoa Beach, and Huntington Beach. And even if NASA wanted to do something like this, and the Congress agreed to fund it, they still couldn’t–there are too many government procurement regulations, and budget cycles, and fragile ricebowls to be protected. NASA can’t do this because…well, because, as Hayek and others have pointed out, socialism doesn’t work. Capitalism does.

There are two fundamental drivers to progress–greed and fear. Because we initiated our space activities in the middle of a struggle between fundamentally-incompatible ideologies, almost four-and-a-half decades ago, the focus was on the fear. We made some progress, but ultimately, and in a most politically-incorrect (but traditionally American) manner, we must now harness greed. XCOR has figured this out, and their efforts, as well as those who emulate their philosophy, will ultimately open up the space frontier for all.

Unmanned

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: sending people into space is pointless.

They say this as though it’s a fact, rather than an opinion, and a rather uninformed opinion at that.

It is dangerous, costly and scientifically useless.

Yes, human spaceflight is currently dangerous and costly, but to read this sentence, and the rest of the piece, one would infer that these are intrinsic features of space, rather than contingent properties of the way that we’ve chosen to go about it for the past four and a half decades. To say that it’s scientifically useless is flat-out wrong. It may not currently provide scientific value commensurate with the cost in dollars and risk, but its value is certainly not zero. And the statement itself betrays a common and damaging misperception among journalists and policy makers alike–that science is the raison d’etre of space.

But this clearly can’t be the case, because if the purpose of space is science and science alone, NASA, even the unmanned bits, would never be able to justify the money that it gets. Just compare NASA’s space science budget (leave out Shuttle and station for the moment) to the National Science Foundation’s budget. It dwarfs it. Add the manned portions back in and it becomes much worse. If one were to measure only by federal expenditure, space science would be more important than all other types of science combined, if the purpose of space spending were for science. But we know that it’s not–it is for national prestige, foreign relations, jobs in favored congressional districts, national security, etc. Science is a very low priority, but it makes for a more idealistic and lofty-sounding motive than the real ones. To continue with the editorial…

Most of these crises have been budgetary (the combined cost of the International Space Station and the fleet of space shuttles needed to service it is almost $5 1/2 billion a year). But even the explosion of a shuttle in the mid 1980s, which killed its crew and a civilian passenger, was not enough to close down the manned-spaceflight programme.

They write this as though it’s surprising, as though.. “of course, we should quit doing something simply because we have a setback and a few people die.” People die every day, in lots of ways. Vehicles have accidents and are destroyed by the dozens. Yet we continue to fly, to drive, to ride bicycles, to…well, get out of bed. They don’t explain why we should treat human spaceflight differently than other human endeavors, and give it up in the face of a little adversity; they simply seem perplexed that we don’t. Well, so much for the first paragraph. On to the next.

At the moment, this is kept alive by three things. The first is showmanship. NASA feels (correctly) that it has to keep the taxpayers on its side, and also (more dubiously) that manned flights are the way to do that.

I should stop here to point out that if this is true, that NASA is probably in violation of the spirit, if not letter, of the law. Federal agencies are not supposed to lobby or drum up support for themselves among the populace or the policy makers. Of course, if this were a crime, most agencies would be doing hard time…

Second, the space station helps diplomatic relations with Russia, the number-two partner in the enterprise, and also keeps lots of Russian rocket scientists out of the pay of countries such as Iraq and North Korea.

Well, that’s the theory. But not the effect, based on the evidence. Ask Congressman Weldon, and he will be pleased to show you unclassified evidence that brand-new IMU’s from Russian ICBMs have been showing up in Iranian (and probably Iraqi) missile technology.

Also, I suspect that ESA, Japan and Canada will be a little miffed to find out that Russia is the “number-two partner,” particularly since the Russians have had trouble coming up with the money for their end (quite a bit of it, including the US contribution that was supposed to go to hardware, somehow got diverted to Mercedes sedans, summer dachas, yachts, Cayman accounts, and whatnot).

They also (perhaps because they’re a pseudo-European publication) fail to mention the fact that by involving ESA and Japan in the ISS, we minimize the (already quite low) probability that they will go off on their own and actually doing something useful or interesting in manned space–it keeps them on the reservation, as well as the Russians.

And by the way guys, there’s no such thing as a “rocket scientist.” They’re called engineers.

Third, and most disgracefully, it puts billions of dollars into the pockets of aerospace companies like Boeing. It is, in other words, a disguised industrial subsidy.

Well, sure. This is true, as far as it goes. But they neglect to mention the billions of dollars that also go into the various empires, fiefdoms, and duchies at the major NASA centers, like JSC, Marshall and the Cape, which also keeps various congresspeople and Senators on key appropriation and authorization committees happy.

So, OK, they’ve gotten some of this part right.

There is now a chance to change direction. In the past few days both Daniel Goldin, the agency’s boss, and Joseph Rothenberg, the man in charge of the space station and the shuttle programme, have resigned. New brooms can therefore sweep. And, during his time, Mr. Goldin pointed the direction in which they should be sweeping. He conceived, and delivered, “faster, better, cheaper” unmanned scientific missions. In the old days, a mission could cost up to $1 billion. Now, stuff gets done for a fraction of that sum. Mars Odyssey, which has just gone into orbit around its intended target, is regarded as expensive at $300M

Well, let’s see if I understand the logic here. Mr. Goldin, champion of “betterfastercheaper” is leaving, therefore now is the time to implement FBC. Huh?

And notice, again the emphasis on science, as though there’s nothing else in space worth doing. Newsflash, guys. Science is not very important.

NASA knows, even if The Economist doesn’t seem to, that if they tried to justify what they are doing on the basis of science, they’d get almost no budget at all, as already discussed.

Also, while I actually do like the idea of launching planetary probes cheaper and more often, it’s a little simplistic to compare Mars Odyssey to, say, Galileo. One has to look at bang for the buck as well–the expensive battlestar galacticas really did provide a lot of science, when they worked. Also, we must take into consideration the fact that many of Goldin’s FBC missions were total failures (because, f’rinstance, someone forgot to convert from nautical miles to kilometers, and so they had controlled flight into terrain). But at least NASA can fail much more cheaply these days…

“Faster, better, cheaper” is a hard philosophy to apply to the manned side of the agency’s remit.

More unsubstantiated and unsubstantiable opinion masquerading as fact.

How do they know this? Has NASA ever actually tried to do FBC manned spaceflight? Noooooo, because it doesn’t need to be fast, or good, or cheap–as already described, it just has to provide jobs in Texas, Alabama and Florida, and midnight basketball for the Russians, and in fact it does those things better if it’s slower, worse and more expensive. Or do they mean that it’s hard precisely for those political, as opposed to technical and economic, reasons? They don’t say, but they should, because the two cases require entirely different policy prescriptions.

First, therefore, America should kill the space station.

Meaning what? Abandon it to the elements (to eventually fall on our heads)? Put it on the auction block? Cut it up into pieces and return it in the Shuttle? This is a very vague recommendation.

That would upset Russians and the aerospace industry, but would have a negligible impact on science.

And that’s OK, because science is the only thing of any value, right?

And if all those Russian rocket scientists are still seen as a threat, a liberal showering of American work permits ought to disperse it.

Sure, as long as the “rocket scientists” (I hate that stupid phrase) aren’t competing for jobs with those good ol’ boy engineers down in Texas and Alabama and Florida and California, and their congressmen don’t get accordingly upset. Midnight basketball for the Russians in Russia is entirely a different matter than the same thing in the US.

Second, a plan for phasing out the shuttle fleet should be devised. Throway rockets can do the job perfectly adequately.

Well, that begs the question: What is “the job”? To read the last paragraph of the editorial, which waxes eloquent about what wonderful things NASA could do in space science if they weren’t distracted by all that yucky shuttle and space station stuff (and which I won’t include to attempt to stay out of “fair use” trouble), “the job” is science uber alles, and anything that anyone else wants to do in space be damned. And no need to come up with anything better than Shuttles–expensive expendables are good enough, for now and into the foreseeable future, as long as Congress comes to its senses and gives the planetary scientists all the taxpayers’ money that they need to fly on them.

And finally, leaving aside the Simon Legree management style, the lack of accounting and accountability, the clinically-diagnosable schizophrenia, the War against The Worm, letting George Abbey run the agency into the ground, and the annual lies to Congress, the real problem with Dan Goldin was that he had the same mind set as the editorial writers at the Economist. His goals for NASA weren’t to reduce the cost of access, or to allow ordinary people and companies into space (as evidenced by his manic vendetta against Dennis Tito’s flight) or to use space to solve earthly problems. No, in his strategic plan, his long-term goals were to look for planets in other star systems, and search for life, or meaning. Rather than get serious about whether or not cheap access to space could exist, he was more interested in if God exists, or if ET exists.

This editorial is breathtaking in its narrow-minded naivety. Editorial writers, like much of the public, seem to operate under a set of false assumptions. Some of them are:

  • The primary purpose of a government civil space program is science and exploration
  • Space is really really hard, and really really expensive, and this is an intrinsic characteristic of it, and it always will be, and its difficulty and expense has nothing to do with the dunderheaded way that we’ve been doing it since the beginning of the Cold War
  • Because space is soooooo expensive, only governments can afford to do things there
  • If only we’d quite wasting money on all this manned space stuff, we could shift the money that we’re currently spending on it to that much more valuable and interesting science
  • That if we could only convince the politicians and the public how wonderful space science is, we could just get them to fund that adequately (where adequately is more money than all other federal science expenditures combined), and we wouldn’t have all these silly turf fights, and lobbying by these evil aerospace corporations


Here’s the scoop folks. Space is expensive and dangerous because it’s done by the government, for governmental reasons. And it’s done by the government not because it’s too expensive for anyone else to do it, but because we simply fell into that rut in 1958, after Sputnik, when rather than being viewed as a new sphere of economic activity, to be developed in the time-honored American free-enterprise manner, it instead became a propaganda battlefield in the Cold War, to be developed in a socialistic way to demonstrate not that capitalism was better than socialism, but rather, that democracy was better than totalitarianism. We didn’t set it up as a competition of economic systems, because we wanted to keep the AFL-CIO and UAW on board at home, and the Eurosocialists on board abroad–both would have been offended at a brazen display of capitalism, but were comfortable with NASA as a democratic-socialist state enterprise. And after we won the Space Race, and even after we won the Cold War, we remain stuck with a socialistic space program.

Yes, we probably need to figure out how to make lemonade from Shuttle and station (notice that the editorial writers don’t get into any of the messy details about how one “kills” it). But what we really need to do is get people to stop equating NASA with space, and start identifying and quantifying markets, and putting together business plans, and building infrastructure to satisfy them, and to rearrange federal policy to encourage, rather than discourage, capitalists from doing these things, because the reason that space is expensive is, simply put, because we hardly do any of it. If Ford spent a billion dollars developing the Mustang (which is a reasonable approximation of what it costs to develop a new car model), and only built half a dozen of them, even Bill Gates wouldn’t buy one. But NASA would.

Once we drive down access costs by increasing space activities, The Economist’s (and Dan Goldin’s) sacred space science will become cheap and abundant as well. I used to have a sig on my emails, and it still applies: NASA’s job is not to send a man to Mars. NASA’s (and the rest of the federal government’s) job is to make it possible for the National Geographic Society to send a man (and woman) to Mars.

Lunar Zion

Now, what to make of Dr. Bob Zubrin?

Not being a current Space News subscriber, I haven’t read the opinion piece that he wrote a few days ago, though I saw the following excerpt at Keith Cowing’s NASA Watch web site:

With the [Islamic] fundamentalist takeover, the most glorious civilization humanity had ever known was turned into a dung heap of misery, mental slavery, degradation and ignorance. A quarter of the world has turned into a graveyard of the mind, which for the past 700 years has not produced a single significant scientific advance.

If I am informed correctly, Bob proposes that we really spite and put it to those scientifically-ignorant medieval towel heads by colonizing Mars. Now is that in your face, or what?

What with calls for new gun control, increased wiretapping, airline and hospitality industry bailouts, more handouts for the national strategic peanut industry, etc., I probably would have been shocked if Bob hadn’t also figured out a way to hijack last month’s atrocities for his own narrow political agenda. But even for Bob (again, assuming that it’s true–I’d appreciate being emailed a copy of the editorial if anyone has it), [Update about noon PDT on Sunday, someone posted a URL on s.s.p. It can be found here], it’s almost breathtaking in its verve and audacity.

Unfortunately for Bob and humanity’s near-term future on subdividing the Red Planet, I suspect that the political establishment will find his call to arms less than compelling. Even if it were viewed as an effective tactic for ending terrorism (“Take that, Osama, you unscientific infidel”), the time frame involved in implementing his solution to terrorism would likely strain the patience of the American people, who, if we are to believe the polls, are willing to wait a few weeks or months to see some concrete action, but probably not decades.

Apparently the National Space Society and the Mars Society (at least the Canadian branch) have disavowed his comments, and made clear that he spoke for himself alone. But the little imbroglio did get me to thinking. Is there some way to hijack^H^H^H^H^H^H assist in the War on Terrorism (still need a better name) that can also advance the cause of space development? Doing well by doing good, so to speak?

A week or two ago, I started a thread on sci.space.policy entitled “Lunar Palestine.” The thread quickly drifted off to the topics of single-stage-to-orbit, and gun control, and what asses various members of the newsgroup are (no, I’m not going to name names) as threads on s.s.p are wont to do, and we never really resolved the issue of whether or not, assuming that we did make the Moon at least as habitable as, say, circa-1982 Beirut, the Palestinians could be persuaded to move there in their own homeland.

But thinking some more, I now have a better solution. In a discussion with Jim Bennett, it was pointed out that the Zionists (being socialists, and largely atheistic) were originally not even seeking to live in what is today Israel–they were looking at places like Madagascar and Siberia. The Holy Land only became the favored destination after they joined forces with the Orthodox Jews already living there (who were actually opposed to a Jewish state, but eventually went along, as long as it would be in ancient Judea, and be a real Jewish state). This marriage of convenience resulted in modern Israel, with all its quirks, contradictions, and violence.

Perhaps, with what’s been going on the past few years (you know, intifadas and stuff), the Zionists could be persuaded to say, “To hell with it!”, pull up stakes, and move to Luna. A space colony is actually pretty well suited to a kibbutz social model, and they could get back to their socialist roots. They’re already used to living places that are short of water–they’d figure out how to make do. That would be a form of socialism that I could probably get behind, because it might save us more money in reduced oil prices than it would cost, and it would push the development of the technology, making it affordable for us capitalists to do stuff in space as well.

Obviously, this idea is just in the formative stages, and it’s possible that there are some implications that haven’t yet occurred to me. But I’m sure that I’ll get abundant feedback on just how stupid an idea this is…