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« His Lucky Day | Main | The Giggling Continues To Die Out »

The Race Is On

This should make Mark Whittington happy, seeing as how he likes space races (real or not). The Swedes have plans to colonize space.

At least that's what the headline says. Makes as much sense as saying that the Chinese have a program to be on the moon before us just because one of their bureaucrats say they have the technology.

Posted by Rand Simberg at March 13, 2006 01:46 PM
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Rand Simberg continues to be droll at the expense of being serious. Being serious, I will be concerned that the Swedes are going to spread their welfare state to the heavens when--like the Chinese--they have actually launched people into space on their own dime (or rather kroner.)

Posted by Mark R. Whittington at March 13, 2006 02:58 PM


> I will be concerned that the Swedes are going to spread their welfare state to the heavens when--
> like the Chinese--they have actually launched people into space on their own dime

So, that's the goal? Tto prove your welfare state is better than their welfare state?

And the fact that Burt Rutan has launched people into space doesn't count, because he doesn't have a welfare state? :-)

Posted by at March 14, 2006 12:22 AM

Clearly their final plan will be, build an IKEA on the moon, and they will come. :)

Posted by Joe Silva at March 14, 2006 03:19 AM

There's already an Ikeya in space (minor planet #4037). But I fear having to eat the pea soup, even with mustard.

Posted by Paul Dietz at March 14, 2006 04:03 AM

Burt Rutan hasn't put anyone in orbit, China has. China also has access to many times more resources than does Rutan.

Posted by Cecil Trotter at March 14, 2006 05:01 AM

China also has access to many times more resources than does Rutan.

Better to spend limited resources usefully, as Burt does, than to waste many more times that amount, as China does (at least if the goal is a realistic, affordable space program).

Posted by Rand Simberg at March 14, 2006 05:04 AM

I wonder how Rand thinks the Chinese are "wasting resources?"

Posted by Mark R. Whittington at March 14, 2006 06:33 AM

I've explained that many times, Mark, but I'll do so again, since you seem a little slow on this subject. They are wasting resources by building little capsules on expendable vehicles that will be thrown away after each use.

Posted by Rand Simberg at March 14, 2006 06:43 AM

How is that "little capsules on expendable vehicles" are "wasteful" when they've thus far been proven to be a more economical method than the US "reusable" spacecraft? Are the Chinese just stupid? And the Russians too?

When someone builds a reusable spaceplane or whatever it is that you think is "The Answer" Rand I'll agree with you, but it ain't happened yet.

Posted by Cecil Trotter at March 14, 2006 09:12 AM

I never fail to be amused by the illogic of people who think that we can draw general conclusions about the economics of reusable launchers from a single data point--a poorly designed launcher that wasn't fully reusable.

Posted by Rand Simberg at March 14, 2006 09:14 AM

And what other manned reusable spacecraft data points are there to draw conclusions from? I never said it can't be done, I only say it hasn't been done.

And you've come to the conclusion that there is something better than wasteful little capsules based on what data points?

Posted by Cecil Trotter at March 14, 2006 09:19 AM

If we only made improvements based on "data points," nothing would ever be done for the first time. We have many data points that expendables are horrifically expensive, and are not going to open up space. We have a lot of solid analysis that properly designed high-flight-rate reusables will cost much less, if anyone ever actually makes a serious investment in them. Your post does nothing to defend the (il)logic of using Shuttle as a useful single data point on the issue, let alone one from which a broad generalization can be drawn.

I need to sit down and write a long essay about all of the false lessons learned from NASA's manned spaceflight program, of which this is just one example.

Posted by Rand Simberg at March 14, 2006 09:24 AM

"If we only made improvements based on "data points," nothing would ever be done for the first time."

Well you said I hadnít produced enough data points; now youíre saying data points are irrelevant?

"We have many data points that expendables are horrifically expensive,"

True.

"and are not going to open up space."

What opening up of space that has been done thus far has almost entirely been done with expendables.

"We have a lot of solid analysis that properly designed high-flight-rate reusables will cost much less, if anyone ever actually makes a serious investment in them."

Analysis is nice, Iíd love to see some hardware before I jump on the bandwagon. As for high-flight-rates, there has to be a market to support high rates. I'm one who believes the market has to come first, and it just may be that the horrifically expensive expendables the government has been using may create that market. COTS seems, to me, to possibly be the beginning of that.

"Your post does nothing to defend the (il)logic of using Shuttle as a useful single data point on the issue, let alone one from which a broad generalization can be drawn."

As I said, it is the only real world non-viewgraph data point we have thus far.

"I need to sit down and write a long essay about all of the false lessons learned from NASA's manned spaceflight program, of which this is just one example."

That would indeed be better than continually calling out Mark with these "Iím right, youíre wrong na-na-na-na" posts, like kids on a playground.

Posted by Cecil Trotter at March 14, 2006 09:47 AM

Better to spend limited resources usefully, as Burt does, than to waste many more times that amount, as China does (at least if the goal is a realistic, affordable space program).

Space transportation is rarely a true goal in itself, but is usually a means to an end instead... and the parameters of "realistic" and "affordable" depend on the desired end. If the desired end is a viable economic return on investment, the statement above is probably right; if (as is often the case with governments) the desired end is something else -- national prestige, global leadership, military advantage, domestic job creation (or other "meddling" in the domestic economy), etc. -- all bets are off.

I don't pretend to know what China's plans are and I'm hardly famous for carrying Mr. Whittington's water, but I think it's a mistake to presume to judge what an emerging superpower nation-state with effectively unlimited resources might do based on what would be smart for a small entrepreneurial company to do.

Posted by Bill Dauphin at March 14, 2006 10:01 AM

"If we only made improvements based on "data points," nothing would ever be done for the first time"

Well you said I hadnít produced enough data points; now youíre saying data points are irrelevant?

Ummmm...no.

I can't imagine what kind of logic would lead you to that conclusion. I'm saying that when one lacks data points, one has to rely on other means of determining the appropriate course of action, rather than falling back on an absurdly flawed data point.

What opening up of space that has been done thus far has almost entirely been done with expendables.

Which demonstrates just how little can be accomplished with them, considering how little capability we have.

"We have a lot of solid analysis that properly designed high-flight-rate reusables will cost much less, if anyone ever actually makes a serious investment in them."

Analysis is nice, Iíd love to see some hardware before I jump on the bandwagon.

Of course you would. So would people have wanted to see hardware before jumping on the "airplane bandwagon" in 1903. Are you one of those people who is skeptical that something can be done for the first time?

As for high-flight-rates, there has to be a market to support high rates. I'm one who believes the market has to come first, and it just may be that the horrifically expensive expendables the government has been using may create that market.

That's an interesting belief, but four decades of experience belies it.

COTS seems, to me, to possibly be the beginning of that.

No, it's far too little activity. People might make money off COTS, but it won't be enough by itself to justify the investment. Fortunately, there are other markets.

"Your post does nothing to defend the (il)logic of using Shuttle as a useful single data point on the issue, let alone one from which a broad generalization can be drawn."

As I said, it is the only real world non-viewgraph data point we have thus far.

And as I said, it's almost totally irrelevant. You're like the guy who looks for his car keys a block over from where he dropped them because the light is better there.

Posted by Rand Simberg at March 14, 2006 10:11 AM

"I've explained that many times, Mark, but I'll do so again, since you seem a little slow on this subject. They are wasting resources by building little capsules on expendable vehicles that will be thrown away after each use."

You have fallen neatly into my trap, Rand. Sort of like Elon Musk is proposing to do. Yes, I know his system is supposed to be partly reusable, but there's no reason the Chinese system can't evolve into something much the same. Your problem, Rand, is that you're underestimating the Chinese. They may be run by a totalitarian government, but there is no law of nature that suggest that such people can't flourish in space just as well as the plucky entrepeneurs. So far, by my observeration, better.

Posted by Mark R. Whittington at March 14, 2006 11:21 AM

You have fallen neatly into my trap, Rand.

[laughing]

I don't think so, Mark.

Sort of like Elon Musk is proposing to do.

Sort of, but only sort of, as you point out.

Yes, I know his system is supposed to be partly reusable, but there's no reason the Chinese system can't evolve into something much the same.

No, there's no reason they can't, but there's zero evidence that they will, until someone else leads the way. Their current program is a waste of money, in terms of actual useful accomplishments in space, though it's probably good for prestige.

Your problem, Rand, is that you're underestimating the Chinese. They may be run by a totalitarian government, but there is no law of nature that suggest that such people can't flourish in space just as well as the plucky entrepeneurs.

There are laws of human nature that dictate that.

So far, by my observeration, better.

Only if one ignores the large expenditures of money that they've pissed away on it. If it's not cost effective, it won't survive when their economy collapses.

Posted by Rand Simberg at March 14, 2006 11:27 AM

Russia's economy has already collapsed.

Soyuz and Proton still remain the most cost efficient means of reaching LEO.

Posted by Bill White at March 14, 2006 11:44 AM

Rand, by your definition, then every alt.space effort ever undertaken has been a waste of time and money, especially the ones that have collapsed. Remember Beal? Kistler? Rotan? Each of them in turn were held out as the salvation of space travel and each of them are now in the dustbin of history. Now it's SpaceX, t/Space, and some others. Someone(s) will succeed eventually, but until then I don't think we need to compare them to a program that has actually flown human beings in orbit.

As for the Chinese economy collapsing, well, maybe it will happen. (I think it will happen soon if we push them over the brink, as we did the Soviet Union.) But I'm not proposed to ignore them in the meantime while waiting for the inevitable cycle of history.

I'm also fascinated by the fact that the alt.space companies who actually appear to be serious are all very much depending on big, bad gummit to help finance their dreams via the COTS program. Nothing wrong with that, but I cannot help but note that it flies in the face of libertarian idealogy that I have observed being expressed here and elsewhere. I guess that bit of realism seperates those who do and are prepared to do and those who just want to rant.

Posted by Mark R. Whittington at March 14, 2006 11:44 AM

Soyuz and Proton still remain the most cost efficient means of reaching LEO.

Only because they probably still don't really know what it costs, and they get the business because they have a long-established reputation.

Rand, by your definition, then every alt.space effort ever undertaken has been a waste of time and money, especially the ones that have collapsed.

Mark, apparently you didn't read my definition. Try again.

'm also fascinated by the fact that the alt.space companies who actually appear to be serious are all very much depending on big, bad gummit to help finance their dreams via the COTS program.

Except for all the ones that aren't. And the ones that are attempting to get on to that gravy train have alternatives, if they're smart (and most of them are).

Posted by Rand Simberg at March 14, 2006 11:55 AM

"You're like the guy who looks for his car keys a block over from where he dropped them because the light is better there."

You're like the guy.. no you ARE the guy.. who just makes smartass remarks about others position on an issue in an effort to make your position look better.

You don't have to be an ass, unless you just enjoy being one.


Posted by Cecil Trotter at March 14, 2006 11:57 AM

Tact is the knack of making a point without making an enemy. -- Isaac Newton

Posted by Cecil Trotter at March 14, 2006 12:05 PM

you ARE the guy.. who just makes smartass remarks about others position on an issue in an effort to make your position look better.

It's called an "analogy," and I think it's a damned good one. I find the flawed logic of using Shuttle to draw any conclusions at all, other than that it was a disastrous program, to be very tiresome.

Posted by Rand Simberg at March 14, 2006 12:05 PM

Well, actually, technically speaking, I guess it was a simile.

Posted by Rand Simberg at March 14, 2006 12:06 PM

Tthose evil socialist Swedes, what if they take over in space... cue pat flannery.

Posted by meiza at March 14, 2006 12:25 PM

More EU-nic funny business.

Posted by Bill White at March 14, 2006 01:07 PM

Personal a reuseable space ship like a shuttle, would may more sence cost wise. I would build a dozen or more, and different versions.

Posted by christopher coulter at March 14, 2006 03:50 PM


> Burt Rutan hasn't put anyone in orbit, China has.

China hasn't put anyone into space affordable. Burt Rutan has.

Why is it better to send people further into space, unaffordably?

Apart from "political correctness," that is?

Posted by Edward Wright at March 14, 2006 07:04 PM

Tact is the knack of making a point without making an enemy. -- Isaac Newton

Everything I've read about Newton suggests he may have said this but he sure as hell didn't live by it.

Why is it better to send people further into space, unaffordably?

Gosh, why do you ask these rhetorical questions Ed? It was rhetorical wasn't it???

Posted by Daveon at March 15, 2006 06:59 AM


>> Why is it better to send people further into space, unaffordably?

> Gosh, why do you ask these rhetorical questions Ed? It was rhetorical wasn't it???

Obviously not, since Mark and Cecil insist that is the only Politically Correct goal for the US space program.

Posted by Edward Wright at March 15, 2006 12:33 PM

Political correctness has nothing to do with the matter at hand Ed, you need to go back to building that personal spaceship of yours. Got your warp dirve installed yet?

Posted by Cecil Trotter at March 16, 2006 05:16 AM


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