I reread several times Jons’ post on NASA under the next administration that recommends against having NASA focus on anything one finds important. I think he made good points throughout and it should have made for lively discussion. I didn’t comment there as I didn’t have anything useful to add. I felt that I should have had strong opinions to throw out there, but couldn’t find them. A lot of people that used to jump in discussion of that nature were also conspicuous by their silence. Could it be because many of us have become indifferent to the flagship programs of NASA?
All of us know of good work by NASA in various programs. How long has it been since the NASA flagship program was the one that produced the good work? ISS, SLS, Orion and the James Webb telescope seem to be trudging along with the press releases at regular intervals celebrating some milestone or another. It is so hard for someone of my interests to see any of them leading to useful space settlement and development that indifference is probably the best to be hoped for. The alternative is to see them as roadblocks to progress and the enemy. I have enough on my plate without adding gratuitous enemies.
In response to someone calling for one of the flagships to be cancelled, Ed Wright noted that the congressional funding would just be diverted to another similar program by the congressman that kept the first one going. That’s just the way it is as SLS morphed from Aries, which derived from Shuttle, which kept the Saturn/Apollo teams together and so on. Tilting at that windmill will just lead to busted lances and bruises.
So what do I want NASA to do? I don’t know. I accept Jon’s point that it shouldn’t be anything I am passionate about. That is about as far as I can get. Some will no doubt suggest that NASA should put a base on the moon or some other favorite direction. Does anyone believe that ISS on the moon would be any more productive than ISS in LEO?
About half a layer down are the commercial partnerships. I thought it was far more separate than that up until the commercial crew awards. A couple of capsules to go on slightly modified existing launch systems for $6B+ and over half a decade sounds like the same thing only different. Billions for assured safety even as ISS crew transport is dependent on Russia, and Russia has acknowledged QA problems on some of its’ launch systems. Rand Simberg has covered this ground on his blog and in print. If there were a serious push for crew transport, Dragon 1 would have had taxi life support and fast rendezvous capability years ago for a fraction of the money. Boeing and Sierra Nevada could have pushed something through just months later if results rather than process oriented. I think it is sufficient to say that I find the current efforts uninspired.
Stepping a bit farther out, there are the efforts of SpaceX Blue Origin, and ULA among others for reusableÂ orbital systems, or at least some of the components. I guess I am a bit jaded on the various hypes and want to see some gas-n-go operations before I get exited. It is basic math that a weekly turnaround vehicle of 10 ton capacity could put 500+ tons of material in orbit per year per tail number. Basic observation also is that once development is done more vehicles are relatively low cost. Knowing that one company with a handful of such vehicles could launch far more annually than than the whole world does now is also less than inspiring until I see it start happening. It will happen sooner or later, and likely from a direction I don’t expect.
The suborbital companies that I expected to lead the way don’t seem to be forging ahead at the pace I expected. Lynx on hold, Blue Origin is a question, and Space Ship Two seems like it would be better named Bransons’ Braggadocio. For suborbital research flights of RLVs, Masten seems to be the last man standing. I have posted my thoughts that suborbital companies would develop teams, vehicles, and procedures for fast turnaround that would scale into orbital systems with the same characteristics. It’s hard to see that happening right now with the possible exception of New Sheppard.
I don’t see the big idea concepts coming together even by the private players. The Mars Musk plan doesn’t seem credible or well thought out. Monster rockets don’t have a good track record for affordability, or even reliability for that matter.
Space will be developed. It will likely happen in a manner that I don’t expect. That makes my chances of making a useful contribution quite low absent pile$ of luck. So right at the moment I am a bit indifferent to the current state of play in space development, or maybe it’s just holiday blues. Either way, I’m going to try to go to Space Access next year to try to shake this lethargy
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It may be hard to follow my argument, but I believe everything you mentioned is the result of the moral decay of society (most recently on parade by Sanders supporters but not at all limited to them.)
Progress stops when money is the focus. I’m not talking about a lack of money. Randy Barnette points out the myth of ‘consent of the governed.’ Others justify using tax dollars (for any purpose they champion) by arguing it’s only pennies per person. As if theft is defined by how much is stolen. That’s moral decay. All of our trillions of dollars of debt, all of it, is made up of pennies.
What does this have to do with indifference? Things used to be paid for by patrons. People that believed in a project and demanded to get their money’s worth. Modern society has done everything it can to divorce the source of money from those actually interested in a project. As an example a brilliant solution to the education crisis would be for colleges to directly make loans to students. Taxpayers wold be totally off the hook. If a college is providing something of value, then it would be in their interest to make the loans because they would have a high expectation of getting paid back.
Projects need champions. Sometimes you have to pick new ones to move forward. Musk’s idea to send red Dragons every launch window is brilliant and I support it. His ITS is too big a bite, too soon, and I do not support it yet (but do hope he proves me wrong.)
The fastest progress happens when the steps are not too big or too small. Patrons help regulate that. Wasting taxpayer money does just the opposite.
John, I’d really like to take you to task and show you the error of your ways, but I can’t… unfortunately I have to agree with you on every point.
What’s more depressing is that I see the same non-events happening this side of the Pond, with ESA plowing money into projects that effectively repeat what’s already been achieved or struggling to remain competitive with things like Ariane 6.
Like you, I see space launch as the principal bottleneck to real space development and, more fundamentally, truly reusable rocket engines (e.g. >100 flights between major overhauls) as *the* key enabling technology. However, with the exception of XCOR(?), I see virtually no one working towards this end.
It’s been a long time since we last met at a Space Access conference, so I look forward to seeing you in Phoenix where we can better contemplate these things… and maybe drowned our sorrows 🙂
Thanks for not ripping me a new one, though I would have preferred that if it would have shown me how to motivate myself in a realistic direction. I know that part of my problem is that I am a participant rather than spectator by nature. I will occasionally tell sports fans that watching sports is like watching pron, it’s not you so why bother. There are a couple of forums that I read but my computer won’t post to, even when I have something I really want to add.
One of them is transterrestrial where I just read of the passing of Aleta Jackson. She was a great person and one of the driving forces of new space and I can’t even add my condolences there. Even more ironic is that I read that right after putting up this post. Ad Astra Aleta, keep the wheels in the wells.
Amen. And thinking about Aleta, are you guys about done with 2016? Because I sure am.
This is very upsetting news… my deepest sympathies go out to Dan and her family.
I only knew her via Space Access conferences and a few visits to XCOR but I really did like her. She always made me feel like I was part of the ‘community’ and did everything she could to encourage my interest in this crazy space business.
John, sometimes I can’t get transterrestrial to load but it will with a proxy… but when I use a proxy I can’t post there.
I’m also forced to not pay for internet service. I don’t have a credit card and they will not give me service where I live without one. So instead I use their same service for free. I use a prepaid card for Amazon or Jet but that’s not good enough for the only internet provider in this town (national providers just refer us back to this same local provider that has this monopoly.)
The world is totally cockeyed.
I paid for a server at godaddy for three months. My sw had to get past 4 firewalls to work. I could open up 3 of them (my computer and 2 on the server side) but because I’m using free wifi I can’t get past the 4th. So my users could use my sw, but I the developer could not. I give up.
“Things used to be paid for by patrons. People that believed in a project and demanded to get their money’s worth. Modern society has done everything it can to divorce the source of money from those actually interested in a project. […] Taxpayers wold be totally off the hook.
Patrons help regulate that.”
Firstly, SpaceX, BO, Bigelow, Virgin all do have wealthy Patrons. Yet they are all areas where JH is frustrated by their lack of promised progress.
Secondly, the traditional “patrons” you are picturing were not private wealthy men. They were feudal oligarchs. They were effectively the government of the day, and their income came from their ability to tax those who farmed the lands the oligarchs controlled. The money they spent on their vanity projects and follies still came from “tax payers”, the difference is that those tax payers had even less say in what the oligarch’s did.