The Box

guest blogger john hare

A great deal of fuss is made about thinking out of the box without clearly defining why this would be desirable. Seldom discussed also is why so many people are ‘in the box’ and so few think ‘out of the box’. The box must not be as bad as some people say if so many seem to find it a comfortable place to be. I have been described as “unable to find the box” at times. I believe that evidence to back this claim has posted here in the last month. The question is, which is better, in or out. I say neither.

The box can be thought of as a house. It is a refuge from the cold or heat, is comfortable and predictable within limits. Without a house, you are either homeless or a nomad. Some people are owned by their house with the bills and upkeep dominating every aspect of their lives while the homeless envy the comfortable lifestyle. Being a prisoner of your house is less desirable than not having one at all. There must be a middle ground between shut in and homeless. There must be a more desirable middle ground between box prisoners and people out of the box. Nomads usually carry some form of minimal housing with them.

The most successful home owners are the ones that have only a reasonable portion of their assets in the home. They have the time and financial freedom to enjoy the comforts of home, and resources to travel to see what else is out there. The most successful businesses have a solid home base and the ability to reach outside to bring in new people, process, equipment, and ideas without risking that base. Businesses solidly in the box are tied to their base and eventually out competed by businesses that can get outside. Businesses without a base come and go all the time with nothing solid to fall back on when the weather changes. My construction company had a weak base and it cost me 51% of the company to joint venture with a strong base business when construction practically stopped. I chose 49% of an operating company with financial reserves over 100% of one that was bankrupt. Roughly half of my local niche competition is now out of business with about three quarters of the rest in worse shape that I am. My out of the box merged with a strong base to form a business that neither of us could have done alone.

In the space business, the box is an important concept to understand. Many people claim out of the box is not doing the dinospace “cost is no object” model. Many of them nail themselves into the only what is proven and known box. This business of space is a long way from being proven and known. The most flagrant nail themselves into the airbreathing vehicle box by specifying that rockets are too fuel hungry/dangerous/expensive and always will be. One of the most dangerous trends I see is the tendency for people and companies to nail themselves into a box that is different from the other one and claim that they are outside the box. The problem is that they are just in a different box that is frequently even more restrictive than the one they left.

I work from a box that is restrictive also. One of the walls is that conventional practice almost always seems too expensive and complicated to me. Another is that I don’t speak the language of the professional community in this field since I lack the educational background or the experience to replace it. Another is that I don’t believe in government subsidies, though if a serious SBIR were offered I would  accept it. Another is that I believe that businesses should turn a profit from willing customers or go out of business.  And it keeps going to make a straitjacket of a box to compare with any other. That I can’t look at an interesting machine in construction or aerospace without wanting to know how it works and why it uses a particular layout is one of the walls that constantly shifts and makes it frustrating for me and others that are on the same road.

The strong businesses that open the space frontier will be nomads. They will carry a minimal box with them to better pastures so they can be protected from the weather, and move with the game. They will be able to enter and leave other boxes at will because many of them are in a tribe that looks out for each other. Many of them will work together on a hunt for fantastic game that people in the stationary boxes will never see. They will be able to trade with people in widely separated boxes for products they can’t make themselves, and pay for them with  products the stationary people can’t imagine. Whether it is a beaver pelt or nickle-iron asteroid, the nomads and the home civilizations are stronger as a team than either of them can be without the other. 

Don’t tell me you don’t have a box, we all do. If you insist on   scramjets and will listen to no arguments, that is your box. If you will hear no new arguments for or against pressure fed, that is a box. Each person needs to know where the walls of their personal box are, and if they are there to keep out the wolves and weather, or to shut out the ever changing reality that is life, and for most of us, the space business. Your box needs doors that can allow you to come and go while allowing friends in occasionally, and a strong lock to keep out the freeloaders.

Is it easier to find an optimum normal nozzle, and take the performance hit the rest of the mission, or to find an altitude compensation technique?

Is it easier to work with high pressure plumbing, tanks , and gas pressurant systems with the relative mass and performance penalties, or to find a pump system that eliminates enough of those problems to more than pay for itself?

Is it easier to get government funding, or to shoulder the burden of building a finance base without it?

Is proven technology always the right way to go when developing new spaceflight capabilities?

Is risky high tech development always the right way to develop new better capabilities?

What shape is your box? Are the walls your mansion or prison?

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johnhare

johnhare

I do construction for a living and aerospace as an occasional hobby. I am an inventor and a bit of an entrepreneur. I've been self employed since the 1980s and working in concrete since the 1970s. When I grow up, I want to work with rockets and spacecraft. I did a stupid rocket trick a few decades back and decided not to try another hot fire without adult supervision. Haven't located much of that as we are all big kids when working with our passions.
johnhare

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johnhare

About johnhare

I do construction for a living and aerospace as an occasional hobby. I am an inventor and a bit of an entrepreneur. I've been self employed since the 1980s and working in concrete since the 1970s. When I grow up, I want to work with rockets and spacecraft. I did a stupid rocket trick a few decades back and decided not to try another hot fire without adult supervision. Haven't located much of that as we are all big kids when working with our passions.
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11 Responses to The Box

  1. Habitat Hermit says:

    Great description and plenty to think about.

    Slightly off topic if I want to send you an e-mail where would I send it?

  2. john hare says:

    Habitat Hermit,

    rdnkspamtech@tampabay.rr.com

    Just take out a spam to get a real address.

  3. Arnie says:

    Are you outside the box if you’re through the looking glass?

  4. johnhare johnhare says:

    Arnie,

    No, with even more problems because some of the walls are reflected illusions. A lot of people that think they are out of the box are just delusional, including me at times.

  5. Jim Davis says:

    “The strong businesses that open the space frontier will be nomads.”

    John, this is your box. It is an article of faith in space advocacy circles that space *is* a frontier waiting for settlers. It may indeed turn out to be the case, but this is by no means certain. Space advocates have to learn to keep an open mind on this point.

  6. john hare says:

    Jim,

    John, this is your box. It is an article of faith in space advocacy circles that space *is* a frontier waiting for settlers.

    Exactly the point. I have a belief that colors my thinking to some extent. It is the not recognizing the slant that causes so much grief. Someone that doesn’t believe that their view could possibly be biased has a tendency to try to force their views on others.

    It may indeed turn out to be the case, but this is by no means certain. Space advocates have to learn to keep an open mind on this point.

    I agree that an open mind is good. I also believe that people that believe strongly in something, like I do, have no right to force others to pay for it just because they believe it. I think we need to find economical ways of doing this, and customers that will pay for it willingly. At the same time, I don’t believe others should have the right to stop me investing/squandering my resources in something I am passionate about.

    Does this qualify as open minded to you?

  7. Jim Davis says:

    “Does this qualify as open minded to you?”

    It works for me.

  8. The box that I find exasperating is what I call the “biting off more than you can chew” box.

    I’m referring to the habit of NASA in particular (but other agencies as well), because of the repeated pattern of taking what could be a sound development program and then pushing the envelope beyond what is reasonably achievable given the budget and timeframe allowed. The history of such an approach is littered with the wreckage of NASP, X-33, ALS, and so on.

    For instance: NASP:
    What’s wrong with ramjets? I’m all for pushing scramjet technology research with subsacle X-vehicles, etc., but ramjets can already achieve useful speeds for first-stage launch schemes. A quarter century ago, the ASALM air-to-air integrated rocket ramjet “inadvertently” reached Mach 5.5.

    X-33:
    This program had a host of problems contributing to its demise, such as trying to push aerospike propulsion while trying to develop reusable cryogenic tankage, AND a new reentry design, etc. It was doomed from the start. The single biggest issue in my view, however, was/is the stubborn insistence on trying to achieve pure SSTO from the technology. It would have made more sense to take one of the more conventional-based designs offered by the competitors, push the ability to reach orbit as far as was reasonable while maintaining robustness of design, and then make up the difference with a modest boost off the pad sufficient to enable the vehicle to get into orbit with margin to spare.

  9. john hare says:

    Roderick,

    Ramjets are the only point I disagree with. I will put some numbers together sometime to show where I am coming from.

  10. “”””””Ramjets are the only point I disagree with”””””””

    OK. I don’t know that much about ramjets anyway.

    My overarching point was that there are some near-term technologies that can be exploited to create more advanced systems than what are in use now without leap-frgging to something more complex just because it’s the”next new thing.”

  11. john hare says:

    Roderick,

    OK. I don’t know that much about ramjets anyway.

    I did too few numbers and wasted some bucks before reaching that conclusion on ramjets. I haven’t quite got around to putting all the numbers together here.

    My overarching point was that there are some near-term technologies that can be exploited to create more advanced systems than what are in use now without leap-frgging to something more complex just because it’s the”next new thing.”

    I agree that going to the next new thing just because it is new makes little sense.

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