Happy New Year

guest blogger john hare

We have another year of hope ahead of us, let us do what we can to fulfill that hope and further our dreams for a prosperous new year.

For a very long time many of us said that our new years resolution was to be less skilled at crisis management through less practice. For many of us in the construction industry, this was a case of “be careful what you wish for”. I have had considerably less practice at crisis management in the last two years as a result of having far less things on the plate to manage. I consider myself lucky because many of the former competitors have no recent practice at all. I will not make that resolution again. The crisis management of too much work, too few hours, and the difficulty of getting enough quality help are preferable to this week by week business survival. This year has a couple of bright spots for us in new products we now offer and less surviving competition for conventional work.

A few weeks ago the ITAR (International Traffic in Arms regulations, I think) subject came up again on ARocket. This time I saw something I hadn’t seen before that could possibly affect me. I was under the impression that a non profit communication on a public forum was safe for discussing rocket technology. According to Randal, discussing technology possibly applicable to weapons is not protected in conferences and blogs. It is only ink on paper that is properly considered protected freedom of speech. As far as I can tell from that discussion, some of the things I have posted concerning rocket technology could lead to jail if a sufficiently overzealous investigator took a notion to try. One quote was, “If you are wondering where the line is, you are too close.” I don’t think I will throw out concepts for engine design that might apply to weapons anymore. If I was convinced that my ideas would make the difference between us becoming a spacefaring society or not, it ‘might’ be worth the risk. I don’t happen to believe that the value of the ideas I throw out there are worth that risk. I’m not worried so much about getting in trouble for posting them now, as the possible effects if I do get into the rocket business and find myself and any business associates vulnerable to legal harassment.

It does go far to explain why so few relevant comments are made by experienced engine workers. Most if not all of the ideas I throw out have been thought of before. It is hazardous to the freedom and finances of the people that know better to get into a discussion that could be read by those evil spyin furriners with obvious aliases like Habitat Hermit or simply Pete, both probably dangerous furrin spys from Saudiiraqistan trying to fool us with those fake names.* I thought that the lack of discussion was mostly for good sound business reasons. It is annoying to me that my concepts are probably reinventing the square wheel for the most part and the people that know can’t straighten me out or take the few good ones further. That leaves most of the on line discussion of rocket technology to those of us without a dog in the fight. The ones that know and still provide some feedback must either censor themselves or stay on topics with no possible weapons application. Since almost anything in the world can be considered a weapon if used that way, safe topics are limited.

You have to wonder how much further along we would be as a spacefaring society if those artificial constraints were not there. Or at least just enough to honestly slow down information spread on actual serious threats. I probably throw out a dozen concepts a year that might be useful. There are thousands of people that can beat that and have the experience and training to back it up. How many ideas do you see in a year that are even somewhat original? How many of these ideas that you never see could make a difference? How many times do you see someone with possibly good ideas quit discussing them for lack of intelligent feedback? How often do you see someone with a bad idea push it until, everyone is sick of hearing it? How often do companies have to solve a problem from scratch because there is poor communication of solutions from people that have been there before? How many times have you seen the same bad idea discussed to death because the people with the answers can’t discuss it, leaving it to guesswork?

How can the NewSpace community solve this problem without risking their freedom? I believe that honest and open communication is one of the main keys to being on the moon, Mars, the various L ponts, and dozens of NEOs before 2020.

Depressing post for a happy new year. I think solving it is more important for us all than any technical idea I’ve ever had.

*Both are friends I’ve never met that apparently are not legal to discuss this subject around, in spite of them likely knowing more than me for the most part.

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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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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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21 Responses to Happy New Year

  1. MG says:

    One starts reversing this situation by petitioning Congress. As unlikely as success might seem, it is the only legal remedy. The State Department hasn’t the authority to relinquish its ITAR responsibilities back to the Commerce Department, and wouldn’t do it if it did.

    The President is unlikely to petition Congress.

    OTOH, the House Minority Whip, representing Kern County, might have some interest in the matter, and some clout if the 2010 elections alter the existing imbalance of partisan power in DC.

    Or, publish everything in ink on paper.

  2. Ya know, it’s an interesting point you make: shysters are free to push bunk ideas and knowledgeable people are prohibited from debunking them. Could this be the explanation for the on-going “UFO propulsion” phenomena?

    Of course, for this to be true the impact of ITAR would have to extend far beyond the shores of the USA.. so more likely it’s just under educated people “want to believe” and are easily parted with their money, so the practice is self-funding.

  3. Jonathan Card says:

    It’s worth noting that the authority was not originally with the Commerce Department; it was moved to where it is (I thought it went from State to Commerce to Defense?) during the Clinton administration because there was a very scandalous and inappropriate approval of weapons technology export by Commerce. I suspect it is probably not a good idea to advocate specifically for it to go “back to Commerce”.

  4. I wonder if ITAR restrictions could be placed on ideas or thoughts? Ideas about something not built.

    In 70’s there was a case Progressive Magazine v US in which an article about how H bombs work was to be published and government tried to suppress, using the theory that, in matters nuclear, ideas are “born secret”.

    The 1st amendment won then. Would it this time around?

  5. Habitat Hermit says:

    Happy New Year’s from Saudiiraqistan! ^_^

    During the winter heat I’m cleverly disguised with a big surplus (unused and incredibly cheap) US NAVY parka I bought a few years ago here in Oslo^W Mekkakabulipol which is incredibly warm. I should take the opportunity to complain: you people do the zippers wrong! ^_^ The zipper joining mechanism thingy is supposed to me on the left side, not the right (or did I get a Flander’s Leftporium version?) *gloatingly adds complaint to an incredibly long list of strange Americanisms that defy any reasonable definition of sanity* — joking of course and it only took me about a year or so to get used to ^_^

    The good part is that I doubt anything much is lost when it comes to my feedback, and that might well be the case with far more knowledgeable foreigners than myself: the hotbed of NewSpace is without a doubt in various places within the US and you seem to have plenty of all the right people available. But of course it’s going to be a pain to communicate efficiently if the internet is off limits (since there are plenty of foreigners inside the US as well there isn’t all that much one can reasonably do about that).

    The whole situation is incredibly strange as ideas and more or less academic discussions on chemistry, plumbing, and so on isn’t the stage at which one should worry. Instead it’s when people know something significantly novel is reasonably possible because somebody has managed to do it (like say Space Ship One reaching space) that one might want to worry. But at the very same time it will be too late at that point to do anything about that except protract the inevitable; which is the idea behind ITAR as far as I understand it (and doing that must surely be worthwhile in some cases although maybe not all that many).

    To thoroughly mangle an idiom: one moment the cat isn’t in the bag nor does it exist except as an abstract concept and the other moment (after much time and effort not easily duplicated from almost random details unless one is practically doing it all over again by oneself from scratch) it has not only sprung into existence but also jumped out of the bag. No wonder trying to deal with such a situation causes all sorts of headaches: the cat isn’t ever truly in the bag. I don’t envy anyone involved.

    By the way I also read/skim through the arocket list (the daily batch version) but I don’t post there (on purpose there and elsewhere because I don’t think I should “post everywhere”) and I’ve read the discussion.

    Differentiating between printed material and electronic material seems nonsensical but I don’t know the argument as it would go from the ITAR-enforcement point of view. Does the US government make any such argument in detail anywhere? Aren’t they required to make a binding statement on the specific issue so that it can be challenged in case people think doing so would be appropriate? Or does one have to breach the law to get the issue raised for example in front of the courts? That would seem extremely inefficient and inflexible if it is the case, isn’t it possible to instead take the government to court on the issue without breaking any laws? Lots of questions from someone who lives in what I think might be a very alien society ^_^

  6. john hare says:

    To me, the problem with ink on paper is that the discussion lag would be multiples of what it is here, would cost money, and in most cases wouldn’t be worth the paper. The discussion over a period of a week or so is usually enough to retire a bad idea or enhance one with potential. Many of the AIAA papers I have read seem to suffer from lack of feedback though the authors are far more qualified than I am.

    PT Barnum said that there is a sucker born every minute as you mention. One problem is that some fairly intellegent people never get access to good enough information to decide for themselves. How often have you heard the one about ‘some NASA engineer’ saying some concept is a bad idea. I’m fairly certain that that engineer is sometimes a sanitation engineer.

    I don’t know enough about what departments react which way to discuss them. I just have no interest in being a test case.

    I have an idea that might eventually lead to a fusion drive. How do I put the idea out there to be critiqued without risking prison? Among other things, I couldn’t afford the legal defense for even a trumped up charge.

    So, we finally get a confession from the evil furrin spi heer to steel oor secrits. 🙂 I must disagree that nothing is lost from your feedback or lack thereof. I think getting ideas forward is similar to pushing a wagon up a hill. Sometimes when you are close enough, people that agree help pull it for a little way. Almost as important is the people that disagree frequently block the wheels to keep it from rolling back, or help roll it off the path to make room for a better wagon. At the idea stage, a variety of viewpoints is a plus.

    Later when putting an idea into practice is the time to quit talking and start working. While the US is the hot bed of new space, I think that Henry Spencer (Canadian) among others is a signifigant positive force in the current activity. Sometimes a single sentence or even a word is enough to make a difference. That sentence or word often comes from someone with a more distant view of the problem and a different background of thought. I’m pretty sure that you have contributed several of those sentences or words at different times.

    To me, the ITAR thing is not well thought out. It seems to have at the base the assumption that Americans have all the ideas, and that other countries have to steal them from us if they get them at all. More disturbing personally is the possibility that I could have legal problems over a bunch of blue sky concepts when I thought I was being careful. Not likely of course, but possible.

  7. Sam Dinkin says:

    The Constitution will eventually be seen to protect free speech on the web. The alternative is that free speech has become moot in the age of the Internet. Just because you have the right to speak does not mean that you are protected from being prosecuted after the fact for spilling military secrets.

  8. john hare says:

    To me that just means that I might get away with it for a while before retribution. I believe you are right that free speach on the web will eventualy be protected. I would hate for me to witness that protection coming after ‘they’ decided I needed to be off the streets. How much damage is being done to this country in the meantime?

    Didn’t China’s lead rocket guy from the 1950s on get deported against his will from the US? Hsein? How much damage did the US do to itself with paranoia in the McCarthy era, and how much more again today?

  9. D says:

    3 thoughts:

    Virtually everything having to do with rockets and space in any way is covered by ITAR, intention to use as weapons not required.

    That a guy is named Pete makes no difference: ITAR applies even if you are only talking to Canadians.

    All that said, you really don’t need to worry. DDTC is not coming after a blog unless you start posting blueprints or something.

    [Disclaimer: IANAL. This is not legal advice, just common sense.]

  10. john hare says:

    I’m aware they are not coming after a blog unless somebody get really radical. Just like running the local stop sign for years though, eventually it could be a problem.

    Pete is from New Zealand and I was using him as an example. It is the Canadian that really gets me. Henry has helped a lot of us along on public forums, and yet it would be a major expense and hassle to get his help confidentially and legally. Private communication on this subject with a forien national is a really bad idea as you can be certain that some of the communications are read by the enforcers.

    It is the fuzzyness of the restrictions that make it uncertain. Apparently the line is where ‘they’ say it is unless you take it to court and win. Putting my freedom at risk really sounds like a bad idea to me. If everything space related is covered by ITAR, then my postings on tethers and gravity turns is a problem as well as say, injector design. By that metric, I have been in violation several hundred times in the last year, thousands in the last decade. That is upsetting.

  11. Neil H. says:

    Would it be a good idea to try to raise visibility of these issues, or would it be unwanted attention that could potentially cause problems? I imagine somebody could write up an article on it for the Space Review or some-such, and I could try slashdotting it (I have a fair amount of experience with this ;).

  12. Mike Lorrey says:

    You resist the tyranny by refusing to cooperate, you tell em to take this law and shove it. When the feds made 128 bit encryption web browsers an illegal armament that was prohibited to be exported (despite the factoid that the furriners already had superior crypto) I got the RS4 encryption algorithm in perl tatooed on my body so when I flew I was a controlled munition. So did thousands of others. Finally the gummint gave up trying to restrict crypto technology. When SCOTUS allowed New London to seize Kelo’s home to give it to a private developer, I and my friends responded by proposing eminent domaining the vacation homes of Breyer and Souter in NH.

    WRT missile technology, that horse is long since out of the barn. Continuing restrictions when anything needed can be bought on the international market from north korea, pakistan, and other countries, is plainly ludicrous. Like the old crypto restrictions, all the current restrictions do is restrain legitimate commercial trade. The crooks already have what is being restricted.

  13. Mike Lorrey says:

    I would argue that OldSpace is throwing ITAR around in an attempt to bottle up and restrict the market of Newspace.

  14. john hare says:

    The laws as applied are stupid, but telling them to shove it can lead to a long stay in a small room with undesirable room mates. You won’t be doing anything to correct the bad law while you are in there. You can have my share.

  15. Pete says:

    Well I can not say that my identity is any secret…

    I worked in the US 2007-2008 (alternative energy), and gained a little more appreciation for the practical realities of the US. ITAR is silly and highly inconvenient, but it is no more or less so than a great many other manifestations of government (immigration, health care, etc.). It would be nice to see reform (ITAR isolates and hurts the US – an own goal), but I am not holding my breath. I can still speak freely and there are lots of interesting things that are not ITAR sensitive. And it is not like any other country is perfect either, even with ITAR, New Space is still primarily happening in the US – and for good reason.

  16. If you want to know what kind of thing you’re dealing with when it comes to ITAR, read this:


  17. john hare says:

    Pete, this is my lie so let me tell it without confusing the issue with facts like you not being a secret furrin spy. 🙂 I’m not saying that other countries don’t have their problems that are in many cases worse than ours. In that regard, my point is something like that it is wrong to slap your wife even if almost everybody else beats their wives up.

    Trent, thanks for the link. What I would like to know is how far spaceflight control goes toward matching that attitude.

  18. Eric Collins says:

    First of all, in the American Justice System, there is the basic assumption of “innocent until proven guilty”. When this is taken into consideration along with the basic rights to freedom of speech, there should be a fairly wide range of discourse which is either protected, or would be very difficult for a prosecutor to obtain a conviction against you. Unfortunately, there appears to be more than just the criminal justice system at work here in the case of alleged ITAR violations. It would appear that fines and professional sanctions also work very well at making people very paranoid.

    On the other hand, there is the thought that none of us would want to find us in the position that certain flight instructors in Florida found themselves in during late 2001. I’m sure they thought there would be no harm in teaching properly credentialed foreign nationals how to pilot 747 aircraft. The fact that they could not have know how certain individuals would apply that knowledge probably offers little comfort to them now. As far as I know, none of these instructors found themselves facing prosecution for what happened. They were probably investigated pretty heavily, but I do not recall if any of the instructors were found to be part of the plot to fly planes into buildings.

    So, I can’t see how perfectly harmless discussion of plausible technologies for potential space applications on the open internet can be any more dangerous to national security than say… teaching foreign nationals advanced science and engineering topics in our universities. There is no telling how that knowledge will be applied in the future, but that does not prevent us from acting in good faith in the present.

    Now I do agree that there should be some reasonable controls put on certain technologies that are highly specialized (i.e. not already widely available) and with obvious military applications, but to continue to suppress such a wide variety of advanced technologies with primarily peaceful applications is counter productive to the nation’s economy and potentially crippling to honest scientific discourse.

  19. Mike Lorrey says:

    Good points Eric,
    Post 9/11, I demonstrated how easy it is to learn the needed skills to replicate 9/11 merely by downloading and using flight sim software like x-plane or microsoft flight sim, which can simulate accurately all commercial airliners with high fidelity. Taking off, gaining altitude, and setting a preplanned course of waypoints in the GPS autopilot is relatively easy to learn and once accomplished fully replicates 9/11 even allowing one to strike a given building at a preselected floor number provided you know its altitude. The 9/11 hijackers took the expensive and risky route by going to flight schools, risks they didn’t need to take and which resulted in Moussaui getting popped, almost blowing the whole operation.

    Even in the paranoiacally anti-freedom post-9/11 world, has any effort been made to limit the usage of flight sim software or preventing it being downloaded over the net? No not at all, even though they should clearly be categorized as controlled guidance systems under ITAR. However, they are not, because limiting such access would not prevent enemy operatives from gaining the desired skills.

    Based on this, I think any position that claims that discussing rocketry online is an ITAR violation is a position made by an extremely narrow reading of law with zero appreciation for context and conditions. In order to trigger ITAR, IMHO, would require that foreign based opponents of the US gain knowledge from such forums which is not freely available elsewhere (i.e. such as via books freely available from amazon, or googlable websites, etc).

  20. Titan says:


    I don’t know how to directly contact you so I am hoping that you will see this message. I am a member of CSTART, the Collaborative Space Travel And Research Team, and we would absolutely love to have you on our team if you have the desire. Our main project is the development of a system that can safely deliver and return one human to the Moon. Here is our most current concept: http://i.imgur.com/2pJgE.jpg
    Please visit us at http://cstart.org/forum/ if you think that you may be interested in working with us.


  21. john hare says:

    I looked at your site a bit and I would have the same problem there as I mention in this post here. It is an open forum that is not protected freedom of speech. If I discuss serious technical issues there, ITAR makes me a lawbreaker. Your main guy seems to be from Australia. While he might know more about the subject than I do, discussing it is arms export in the legal sense being discussed here. Keep aiming high.

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