Category Archives: Space

Legislative Emergency

I just got an email from Jeff Greason at XCOR Aerospace:

There is a last-minute move by some staffers in the Senate to heavily amend HR 3752. The amendments would completely change the charter
of the office of commercial space transportation (AST), placing the safety of the crew and passengers on equal footing with the safety of the uninvolved public. Since that is well beyond present technology, it would effectively stop development of the industry in the U.S.. It is too late to fix the bill before the session adjourns, but not too late to stop it. If you or people you know have connections to any Senator, please ask them to put a “hold” on HR 3752. That prevents it from passing by unanimous consent. We may have less than 24 hours.

If the bill is “held” there may be opportunity to fix it in a post-election session — but if not, we would still rather the bill die than pass with these poison-pill amendments.

I’m now wondering if the AIAA was aware of this, and if so, whose side they’re on.

[Update at 11 PM EDT]

Alan Boyle at MSNBC has the latest on the issue. Bottom line: the bill is almost certainly dead for this session, and will have to wait for next year. But:

That’s just as well, said Andrew Case, the acting director of the Washington-based SubOrbital Institute and a research associate at the University of Maryland at College Park.

“It leaves us with continuing uncertainty,” Case told, “but it’s better to have continuing uncertainty than the certainty of bad regulation.”

Perhaps more tomorrow, but thanks to Alan for quickly getting to the bottom of what’s going on in the murky labryrinth of what’s going on inside the Beltway in this matter. That’s why we have professional journalists with the resources and sources to ferret this stuff out. Too bad they don’t all do as good a job.

[And thanks to commenter “gs” for the tip to the MSNBC piece]

[Update on Friday afternoon]

There are some more follow-ups in this more recent post.

Costing Shuttle Rides

Tariq Malik has a piece on the new space prize today, in which he writes:

Former astronaut and U.S. senator John Glenn’s 1998 space shuttle seat cost NASA $50 million, and private orbital passengers like Dennis Tito and Mark Shuttleworth have paid about $20 million for jaunts to the International Space Station, McCurdy added. At present, British millionaire Sir Richard Branson’s announcement of suborbital flights on his newly christened Virgin Galactic venture will cost around $190,000.

I’d be curious to know where he got the fifty-million number. There is no accepted cost for a Shuttle seat–it all depends on how one wants to do the accounting. I’m guessing that he (or whoever gave him the number) came up with an average cost for a Shuttle flight in the year that he flew (perhaps $350M, itself a contentious number, and probably low), and then divided by the number of crew.

But this is a completely arbitrary way to do it, and in fact extremely overprices it, since it values the cost of delivering a payload bay full of tons of cargo at zero.

The reality is that John Glenn’s flight cost virtually nothing, at the margin. They could have flown seat full of John Glenn, or seat empty, and the cost of the flight would have been identical, other than training costs. Unless the services of the Shuttle are “unbundled,” there’s no definitive way to put a cost on a seat.

What A Day

And then there were three.

On the forty-seventh anniversary of Sputnik, on the day that the Ansari Prize was won, astronaut Gordon Cooper, one of the original Mercury Seven, has died. Of those seven, only Scott Carpenter, John Glenn, and Wally Schirra remain with us.

Of course, he was not an uncontroversial astronaut:

In his post-NASA career, Cooper became known as an outspoken believer in UFOs and charged that the government was covering up its knowledge of extraterrestrial activity.

“I believe that these extraterrestrial vehicles and their crews are visiting this planet from other planets, which obviously are a little more technically advanced than we are here on Earth,” he told a United Nations panel in 1985.

“I feel that we need to have a top-level, coordinated program to scientifically collect and analyze data from all over the Earth concerning any type of encounter, and to determine how best to interface with these visitors in a friendly fashion.”

He added, “For many years I have lived with a secret, in a secrecy imposed on all specialists and astronauts. I can now reveal that every day, in the USA, our radar instruments capture objects of form and composition unknown to us.”

Nonetheless, he was a hell of a pilot. Rest in peace in the cosmos.