by guest blogger Ken
Howdy all! I just got my NSS Board of Directors ballot. It looks like I’m running unopposed for Region 3, which means I’m a shoe in. Nyah, nyah! I haven’t quite decided what kinds of projects to work on on the BoD, but you know I’ll find something interesting and will probably ruffle a few feathers in the process. Most of the stuff I excel at is local work like displays and events to build citizen-level awareness of the importance of the space industry, which means that I need something different at the national level. I am thinking about membership, and ways to significantly up the membership numbers.
Looking through the list of candidate names for the other positions, I don’t see a lot of youngsters (i.e. Gens X and Y) in the list. It’s getting harder to think of myself as a youngster as I venture into my 40s. (time to start thinking about that law degree) Still, the basic demographic fact is that the Baby Boomers are in all of the important positions, and the efforts of NSS will continue to be flavored by their space experiences, which admittedly span a longer time frame than do mine. I was too young to remember Apollo, the mid-70s were spent in the UK (and we all know how the Brits officially feel about human spaceflight), and the shuttle got launched (again), to go in circles (again), and to do micro-g experiments (again). Then came Challenger. After that I really can’t say that I remember anything space-related in my life until the late 1990s, when my yearly project for the UNA-USA NYCitywide Model UN decided to be focused on the UN Outer Space Treaties, given the recent re-launch of John Glenn, the start of ISS construction, and the (then) upcoming UNISPACE III conference. That led me to the Space Generation Forum at UNISPACE III as a US Delegate, then to Space Camp (Right Stuff Medal), STAIF 2000, ISU (cum laude), NASA Academy, World Space Congress, NSS, Zero-G, Meteor Crater the VLA, and more.
My space ain’t your space. Trying to sway me with the glories of Apollo don’t cut it. I’m looking ahead, not behind, and I want to build new glory for this nation, not bask in the glow of the Greatest Generation’s Greatest Achievement the World Has Ever Known, nor the Baby Boomers’ Shuttle.
My space is stepping beyond LEO. I want an EML-1 station, which can be visited periodically starting from the ISS. I want fuel depots starting in LEO, so that every mission doesn’t have to carry everything from Earth. I also want them at EML-1, so that we can start looking at options like global sorties to the Moon for prospecting, freeflyers in low-energy trajectories that bring them right back where they started from for better micro-g materials science, sorties to GEO for commercial purposes, servicing centers for various observation platforms stationed at various Lagrange points throughout the Solar system and brought home on the Interplanetary Superhighways, sorties of opportunity to nearby NEOs, and the cheapest delta-V to anywhere else from anywhere in cislunar space. I want Polar Lunar communities and scattered outposts looking for resources. I want SBSP and off-planet materials sourcing so that we can stop tearing up our own planet.
Where does Apollo figure in all of this? It doesn’t, and that’s why the space field is losing the battle for the hearts and minds. It’s selling product that few in the new crowd are interested in. People are interested in going to the Moon, just not necessarily NASA’s way. They want to go to the asteroids, but not necessarily NASA’s way. So long as NASA is seen as being the equivalent of everything space, then the entire space field must bear the burden of NASA’s lowered expectations because that’s the way the budget cuts. Fortunately, I do think that the idea of space exploration and development is starting to divorce itself from the idea of NASA=Space, a process which I think will be complete when one of the usual suspects in the field (I’m looking at you LockMart and Boeing) fields an Earth to orbit crew transport vehicle irrespective of the pressure NASA brings to bear.
There could be a very bright future for America in the next decade. I don’t think ESAS is the path to that bright future, and long-time readers know I’ve been bellyaching about it for a long time. I wish SpaceX all the best, and when that IPO comes around I’m more than happy to buy in, in spite of the recent failure. That they’re having to relearn all of these things tells me that NASA has done a poor job in documenting space, or Elon has done a poor job of making sure his folks have enough time and resources and incentives to be doing their homework in all of the publicly available documents NASA has provided. At this point and with limited knowledge I’d have to put the level of blame at about 50/50.
I do think that RLVs are a better option for the Earth to LEO problem, but I don’t think our materials are quite there yet (one more of the reasons to be doing more research in micro-g). Expendables are the sucky alternative, and the only solution there is mass-production, the tried and true industrial method for achieving significant cost savings. That means EELVs, which make sense as they’re in the ~20 metric tonne to LEO launch class, making them commercially competitive. Heck, we did build a giant factory to crank out Delta IV cores, let’s put it to good use launching people as well as payloads. I think TSTOs can come sooner, but I don’t see true RLVs for at least another decade at best. What I think will happen is that there will be enough demand, provided in part by Bigelow balloons, that the expendables will have a run of maybe 20 years where they’re launching passengers frequently before RLVs really start taking over. The smart expendable guys will have invested in the RLVs to make sure they still have a presence in the market, just like it makes sense for OPEC nations to invest in SBSP. They don’t deliver oil, they deliver energy in potent oil form. For the sake of social order it makes sense to have a back-up plan for when the taps run dry, something that has happened time and again in human history.
I’m for business in space that helps clean up our planet. The solutions are there waiting for us, we need merely apply human thought and labor to unlocking them. That’s an exciting space message, but impossible without the right tools, which is why I am in favor of the Dragon capsule. The team mascot at Round Rock High School, from whence I graduated back in the day, is the Dragons. My view is that just as we at RRHS lost every single football game of my sophomore and junior and most of my senior years, we pulled through in the end and won the last two of my senior year with brilliant victories, and everything was cool after that. If Elon makes the Dragon, they will come.
And now for this week’s finance rant. Let’s talk about information. Information is the key to fair and open markets. When everyone has good information, prices will be at or near their equilibrium. It’s when folks start gaming the markets by hiding information from transaction counterparties that you start having problems. There’s a reason the Securities and Exchange Commission exists, and I have nothing but praise for their EDGAR system which I use abundantly. Anyone that buys stocks knows about the 10-Qs and Ks, and it’s by allowing a degree of transparency in the company that you induce investors to the comfort level of putting their stake in your company.
Back in the 90s, when I worked the Wall Street Desk at the Banque Nationale de Paris’ NY branch over on Park Ave, one of the routine reports that we would receive would be the FOCUS reports, mainly because we wrote it into all the loan documents that we had to receive them. These are Form X-17A-5 filings with the SEC that broker/dealers have to make every month. They provide a more detailed breakdown of the b/d’s assets and liabilities, allowing market regulators to keep an eye on capital levels as well as concentrations of risk. Individuals with stock brokerage accounts should be able to get a copy, but it would likely be the FYE one. Folks like SIPC, the Securities Investor Protection Corp, probably look at them as well. That was then.
Now, it’s like pulling hen’s teeth half the time. I happen to be working on a routine project where I need the ‘Statement of Financial Condition’ for a number of broker/dealers, and the ease of getting them varies from the simple to hideously complex with multiple levels of clearance. What’s interesting is the ones for whom it is easy, and those for whom it is difficult. I won’t name names, but there are a few for whom the process is grinding, which is incomprehensible given that other firms make it a snap, quite easily found. Then of course, there are the ones who can’t even figure out what’s going on. (“You want a what report?”) The most absurd moment to date came when I called up FINRA. This is the new & improved version of the old NASD, the National Association of Securities Dealers. On one of the pages of their website (you have to dig, but I have good Google Fu), it indicates that you can request a FOCUS Report for a financial insitution by calling a certain phone number, which I do. I indicate the financial institution for which I work, and ask about getting a Focus report on Company X. Reply: “…You can’t have that…”. Huh? (looks at monitor again to verify what I think it says) Well, I’m in the industry. This is a corporate project. Well, that didn’t matter. I recognized early on that I was on a snipe hunt and didn’t push it as I’ve got better things to do with my time. This kind of incident illustrates to me the extent of the damage wrought on our financial system by … sigh … a great number of selfish individuals who have enabled or cashed out so much of the value that used to exist in this great nation. Folks that paid 15% tax on the loot when they had to, less if they could figure out a way to do so. Mother Jones has three articles (1 2 3) on the mess, and the only beef I would have with it is that I don’t think the authors totally understand credit default swaps, but they’re mostly right.
Which leads me to a political rant. Unlike Rand over at Transterrestrial Musings, who seems to hunt for reasons to vote against someone, I spend my time looking for reasons to vote for a candidate. Obama ruled out my potential vote for him (because I was thinking about it) when he sold out to corporate interests on the Fourth Amendment. It demonstrated to me that as fresh as he is he is still too deep in the political sleaze in this country for my tastes. McCain has never been an option for me, nor Clinton. I consider them both to be too encrusted with the muck of what has been transpiring over the last several decades, and totally sold out to corporate interests. Bob Barr’s antics back in the 90s left a bad taste in my mouth which remains to this day. Nader I consider too marginal a candidate, and I don’t think he would carry any international heft. Oy, where’s Ron Paul when you need him?
I intend to carry a list of incumbents with me into the voting booth this November, and nary a one of them is getting my vote. I’m sick of it. I’ve voted since I’ve been old enough to do so, and I’m increasingly of the opinion that people who don’t vote shouldn’t have a voice in the commons under the old principle that you can’t gripe if you weren’t there to have your say in the decision you’re griping about. It’s not just your right as a citizen to vote, but also your responsibility and duty. The fact that only about half of our citizens actually bother to turn out to vote is pretty sad, and also the kind of thing that makes Rovian political calculus possible. Here’s how it works:
(1) Identify a core constituency comprising about 28-30% of the modern American demographic.
(2) Gerrymander the districts to have that core constituency represented in as many places as possible, especially politically powerful ones.
(3) So long as less than about 55-56% of the populace bothers to turn out to vote, then this core constituency will determine the outcomes because they vote as a fundamental block. With pressure they can raise the hurdle to about 60% turnout, which doesn’t happen often enough these days to be statistically meaningful.
Thus was a political dynasty crafted. I think what they didn’t count on was that so much damage would happen so quickly. I blame the profligate looting of taxpayer resources by ‘connected’ corporations and individuals, which probably exceeded all expectations of what would be enabled by the weakening and dismantling of governmental regulatory bodies.
We’ve done an awful lot of extracting of value from American assets. My feeling is that we’re going to need to buckle down and start working harder at creating value if we’re going to stop the backward slide in generational prosperity. Gen X is not doing as well as where their parents were at the same age. Gen Y may or may not do as well as the Boomers. A sad testament to the promise that is the U.S. of A. My secret, perverse hope is that the FBI is ignoring the White House and is conducting a RICO investigation on the looting.
At this point the only candidate I would really trust would be the one that says
“Yeah, I’m probably going to have to raise your taxes, and cut programs that you don’t want cut, but I’m going to try to spread the piss-offedness around as much as possible, so don’t think you’ll be alone in how much it’s going to suck in having to fix this mess.”
As an American citizen, I can dream of doing business on the Moon at some point in the not too far distant future that I just might live to see. That’s the beauty of this country – it’s not entirely an unreasonable ambition in this day and age, which is astonishing in human history. I think space is one of the few industries where the U.S. has a global competitive advantage, and we’re too scared to exploit it because of NASA. We need to be exploiting our space advantage, big time, so that we can sell its products and services to the rest of the world at a fair price instead of buying it from them in an impoverished future. We are at the threshold of both possibilities, and I intend to fight for the more promising outcome.
So, those of you who are National Space Society members, be sure to vote for Ken Murphy for Region 3 Regional Candidate to the NSS Board of Directors for 2008 – 2010. He’s the only choice you’ve got and you know he’ll do a reasonably good job at it.